Medieval castle (XI century)
Image via Wikipedia

Taking time out to see a new version of the world is paramount for writers, so today I took time out. I looked at a medieval castle, ate in an organic restaurant and watched a workshop for quilters… that’s women making patchwork quilts, for the uninitiated! The surroundings were beautiful. I was in the middle of rolling fields; sheep grazed and new lambs ran about like lunatics in the Spring sunshine. It was good to be alive.

The castle was built when life was brutish and painful. People living beneath its walls died young. Serfs bowed to the landowners who were often viciously cruel and unconcerned, keen only to squeeze the last drop of labour from their impoverished workers. Laws were non-existent. Tyranny ruled. It wasn’t till William the Conqueror invaded, that any sort of coordinated government ruled the land, and it was hit and miss at that stage. William tried to standardise the law in England, but he had a tough job.Even as late as 1850, the people of Britain were subjected to an unclear legal system, that at times still bordered on tyranny.

As I looked up at that castle, with the sun shining on it, the stone walls didn’t seem that forbidding, until I started to think about  the present, because we are still witnessing great poverty and cruelty across the world. Leaders are still torturing and killing their people. There is pain and suffering everywhere.

Leaning on a field gate in the English countryside, looking at a castle that itself had borne witness to horrible events, it was hard not to feel guilty. I can’t go to Lybia and tell Gaddafi to stop; I can’t go to all the African countries where children are dying of starvation or AIDS and make it okay. I am impotent when it comes to making any real changes, anywhere.

That’s why, when I watched thousands of people marching against the cuts in London last week, I felt uplifted. At least they were doing something. There is more poverty and despair in this country than there has been for years and the cuts will only make that situation worse.

I am not naive. I know we are in serious financial trouble as a nation, but we put the politicians who made the mistake that got us here, into power. We voted them in. We let them behave badly.

We are a nation of ‘nice people’ – we wait and hope things will improve. This time, we couldn’t wait. We demonstrated. It’s a shame that some idiots turned a peaceful demo into a violent one. That will cost the country more money we haven’t got. Those arrested will have to go through our judicial system. That costs money. Some of them may be jailed. That costs money. The police will need to spend more money next time – even though there are plans to cut the force to the bone, so they will have to do more with less, but that will still cost money!

It seems to me that there must be a huge sea-change in the way we view our lives as the 21st century moves forward. We have to rely more on ourselves to survive. We have to learn all those ancient skills we have forgotten, because, let’s face it, in the past few years, we all wanted bonuses like those bankers… We all aspired to be rich, rich , rich.

The concept of ‘rich’ needs to change. In the future, you will be rich if you grow enough vegetables to feed your family. In the future, you will be rich if you generate your own electricity, collect enough rain to water your garden and wash in, cut your own hair, save enough to pay for the things you are not skilled to do like drill and fill your own teeth or visit a doctor. You will be rich if you manage to live safely and flourish without a car. You will be rich if you look after the old folk in your family instead of asking Social Services to do it for you – they won’t be able to because IT COSTS MONEY!

This change will have to come if we are to survive. We have to learn to live with the world, not off it! It’s not a never-ending resource. We have to replenish and retrench and rethink the way we live, otherwise we will not survive. This applies to everyone, not just those of us who want to go on marches or protest peacefully, nor does just apply to people who are a bit ‘hippyish’… Those bankers will have to grow their own food too.

Can you imaging living in a world where you have to be totally self-sufficient? Those kids running wild over housing estates, causing havoc to their neighbours, trading drugs and stealing will have to be in their gardens or a field tending the veg or else they won’t be eating. There won’t be any oil so how will you heat your house, cook your food? Do you know how to make fire? How to chop wood? How to hunt for game without relying on beaters, dogs and a gun? Do you know how to spin wool? Do you know how to sew, to knit, to weave, to build a house using wattle and daub or cob? Do you know how to clean wounds and heal someone without resorting to antibiotics?  By the way, antibiotics are running out, we are told. Do you know how to ring a chicken’s neck and pluck, clean and store it without a fridge? Do you know how to make a shelter with just the things you find in a forest? Do you know how to survive without help, without phones, without the Internet, without a supermarket, without hot water, without money?

Back to that castle in the distance. It was once very strong. It’s now a ruin. Be prepared. Nothing ever stays the same…


Winston Churchill
Image via Wikipedia

There are times in your life when it all goes wrong. No matter what you do, things don’t work out. It sometimes feels as if there is a reference book out there, with your name in it and a description that reads: FAILURE! The thought nags away at you. You ruminate on your mistakes and cannot shift a black fog that descends and enshrouds you for hours, days, weeks. You are finally told by your nearest or dearest that you should see ‘someone’… That’s a euphemism for a doctor.

So, you make an appointment and sit in a crowded waiting room, care of the NHS. Eventually, after a long wait, you sit in the consulting room in front of your harassed, exhausted GP and try to explain why you are there. GP looks at computer screen. Last time your records were examined, you had ear ache. That was four years ago.

The words for describing the black fog are difficult to say. The phrase ‘black fog’ sounds slightly fey. What does it mean? The GP stares at the screen and then at you, then back at the screen. Time is running out. Remember Winston Churchill, you say? Well, he was followed by a ‘Black Dog…’  Was he, says GP who is about thirty, so Churchill is about as relevant to her as Henry V111. Well, I have the same problem, you mutter, only I call it ‘fog’ not ‘dog.’

Oh, you think you might be depressed? GP looks relieved. All this muttering about dogs and fogs was making her nervous. There is a panic button under her desk, but she’s never had to use it, yet. GP now knows what to do. Furious typing delivers a prescription for an antidepressant. Time is up. Come back in a month. You walk out with your ‘black fog’ on a lead and make your way to the pharmacy.

Antidepressants take ages to work. You take them for a week, expecting every day to wake up happy. You don’t. You wait a month and still nothing. You ring the surgery. Antidepressants do take at least a month to kick in, says nurse. (GP is too busy to talk to you). But I actually feel worse. Ah, you often feel worse before you feel better. Yes, I know – my mother used to say that while shoving cod liver oil down my throat, thank you.

Should you persevere with the pills? Worrying about this makes you anxious and that makes your black fog denser. The pills might be doing you untold damage. They might be rotting your liver – you can’t see you liver so you can’t be sure, but they could be. The pills could send you blind – your glasses don’t seem to be working as well as they used to, but then you do need an eye test, so that’s you just being neurotic again. But the pills might be changing the way those little microbes fire messages across your brain – the messages might start going backwards; you might try and drive your car the wrong way up the motorway!

Nearest or dearest comes to the rescue. I know someone who took those pills regularly for six months and they felt just amazing! Amazing? You don’t want to feel amazing; just better…  Okay, I’ll give them time, you say. The months go by. You start to feel sick at odd times during the day. Your mouth feels strangely dry. Your hands tingle. Your neck itches. Your feet ache. You search for the leaflet that came with the pills. You put it in the bin without reading it. You remember doing this, so at least you haven’t got Alzheimer’s… But when did you go to see that GP?

On to the Internet. Thousands of sites referring to your pills. You can buy them for £2 a pill on one site. You can take them for years, says another site. DON’T TAKE THEM, yells another site. You turn off your laptop and head for the hills. Under your duvet, black fog swirls around your head. Downstairs, cat come in through cat-flap and howls for food. Even under the duvet, you can hear him. Decision time. Shall I stay here and examine fog? Shall I get up, feed cat and then go back under duvet? Shall I kill cat? Shall I phone RSPCA and say cat has rabies? Shall I take cat to bed, lock door and let us both starve? Decisions, decisions… Phone rings. It’s nearest or dearest. Is that the cat I can hear? Yes… Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten to feed the cat? Yes… You should have a memory test, you know. Alzheimer’s can affect even quite young people…

The good news is that eventually, the pills do work, but then you become dependent on them. The thought of life without them is too horrible to contemplate. Exercise, your friends say. That will help you get off the pills. Okay. Join the gym. Get a personal trainer. Trainer is gorgeous, healthy and mentally sorted. You feel unbelievably inadequate. This is not helping. Stick at it!  That voice in your head is having one almighty row with you. Stick at it? You must be joking! If the depression doesn’t get me, the heart attack will, if I peddle any harder on this exercise torture machine. You are doing soooo well, says trainer. NO I AM NOT! Trainer shrugs and goes to help a slim, beautiful person managing 80mph on her machine…

In a perfect utopian world, there would be no need for antidepressants, because we would all be happy, all be sorted, all be okay… Depression is the most common illness in the western world and it is growing in almost every community. Sadly, the biggest growth is among the young, particularly teens. At this rate it will be the second most disabling condition in the world by 2020, bar heart disease.

Are those facts enough to make you come off your pills and start to exercise?


Muammar al Gaddafi Mouammar Kadhafi Colonel Qu...
Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr

The horrifying scenes I have watched on TV recently, showing what this murderer Gaddafi is doing to his own people, have made me feel physically sick.

The situation in the beleaguered country of Libya has come about because it has been ruled for 40 years by a man and his family who have no morals, no social conscience and no care for the citizens. It amazes me that such men can manipulate thousands of people into believing their lies and move themselves into position as leader, when in truth, they are nothing less than brutal thugs.

France and the UK called the first tune in setting up the no-fly zone over Libya, but who will eventually be in command of the operation to change the country from a dictatorship to a democracy? For surely that is what the whole thing is about? Our own PM here in the UK assures us that the motive is simply to protect innocent civilians from Gaddafi’s torture and murder and that the United Nations mandate is quite clear and unequivocal. But no one seems to know what the final outcome – the endgame – will be and that is very worrying.

Gaddafi is a sly and cunning man who is used to lying. The only reason any other nation has courted him in the past, is surely because of Lybia‘s oil?  Democratic countries have sold him billions of pounds worth of arms which he has used against his own people. His Arab neighbours are also dictatorships and while The Arab league has been supportive of the UN’s decision, they must be sweating somewhat. The amount of hypocrisy spinning around at the moment is unprecedented…

Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary told us that the US would give control of the military operation to a coalition. This would include France, the UK or Nato. It would happen in a few days. Can it be as simple as that? As soon as any military conflict begins, others are drawn into it, almost by some sort gravitational force!

Gaddafi’s so-called supporters who are acting as human shields to protect his arms and buildings are puppets. They may be doing this out of fear or ignorance. They may have not had access to anything but the regime’s own propaganda. They are foolish beyond words and I fear for their lives. They will not get loyalty from Gaddafi or his family of henchmen. He will kill them too, if he gets half a chance, or if he has his back to the wall.  It was desperately sad to see women holding their babies standing in front of tanks, the green flags waving, showing their support for this corrupt and hateful regime.

To my mind, the UK government has all the right motives for engaging in this conflict, but I also hear the lone voice of the Conservative MP who voted against the motion that we send in the armed forces, all guns blazing. Of course we must listen to the United Nations, but other voices of dissension must also be heard. That’s democracy.

Gaddafi is quite possibly mentally insane. It is terrifying to think that it has taken so many years for other politicians across the globe to recognise this and why have they been so slow? Oil. We have to find a way not to be dependent on this commodity that has and will cause so many deaths, so many wars, so many despotic rulers.



exquisite, extremely hi-def Earth
Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

The events that have happened in Japan over the last week have haunted my dreams. Those images of a wall of water higher than my house rushing inwards, wiping out everything and everybody, will stay with me forever. The devastation of the towns and villages shown on TV cannot adequately represent what it must really like for those who have survived.

I look at the country town near my house and imagine what it would be like for me if the sea, only eight miles away, suddenly appeared on the horizon, a totally unstoppable force, rushing towards me and my family, my home, my town; it really is the stuff of nightmares, except that it is real and though it may never happen to me here in the UK, I know it will happen again, somewhere in this fragile world.

And now a manmade catastrophe is unfolding in Japan. Four nuclear plants are in trouble and nobody really knows, to date, what the outcome for the country and indeed the world, will be. We can only hope that the Japanese authorities will bring the situation under control. There does not seem to be much time left.

So, here we have three terrible events that have taken and destroyed many lives. Two of them are natural events that we humans have no control over and one, the nuclear situation, is in our hands. In the Middle East, more blood is being shed because of the way humans behave towards each other. Rulers kill their own people, devastate their own lands and fight against democracy. Like human Tsunamis, they sweep away anyone in their path to protect their cruel and tyrannical regimes.

But things are moving fast in other corners of the globe. The UN Security Council has supported a no-fly zone over Libya and ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians. Will this have any real effect?  Gaddafi‘s son showed defiance, saying he is not afraid of the Council and their decision. What arrogance.

It seems to me that power narrows people. They cannot see the bigger, global picture, and conflict is like a Tsunami. It starts small and then unleashes a power that no one can control. Wars are the outcome. Perhaps these despots need to look at the destructive power of nature and realise that no one living on this planet can escape from the cataclysmic events that have been happening here for millions of years.

It does put things into perspective for the rest of us and cuts people like Gaddafi down to size. But he and his like are still forces to be reckoned with. The difference is, unlike earth quakes and tsunamis, we may have the ability to deal with such situations.

Man and womankind have to rethink the future. We are not able to control our environment, even if we think we are. We are at the mercy of nature and always will be. Leaders must learn restraint and humility and put protecting the earth and the people who live upon it, first.

The nuclear industry also needs a reassessment. If we can harness some of that power we saw in the tsunami, we might be able to create the energy we need, without using nuclear fusion. If governments around the globe can focus on running their countries for the well fare of their own people and conservation of their land and can accept that democracy may not be perfect, but it’s the best we have at the moment, we may have a chance of surviving.



In a world full of social injustice, there are several meals that I cook now and then that make me really happy. One of them is the ubiquitous Shepherds Pie. Such a simple dish but so satisfying.

So here is my recipe for my wonderful Shepherd’s Pie only I don’t put in any shepherd. But if you must, you can find them at any NFU meeting! This will serve six people and if they are not greedy, there may be some for lunch the following day…

You will need:

2 lbs of lean ground steak

red onions

3 fat cloves of garlic

2 leeks

3 carrots

red pepper

Beef stock

6 large potatoes

Butter/olive oil

Salt and Pepper

A little milk or cream

Grated cheese


Peel and chop the onions finely and cook them in some olive oil and a little butter for about five mins on a low heat. Chop the garlic and add. Chop all the other vegetable and add them. You can put in as many other vegetables as you like. Let all this cook slowly for another 5 to 10 mins.

In another pan, add the mince and fry slowly, adding a little oil as you need until the meat in nicely browned. This will take about 20 mins. Add the veg, stir and then add enough stock to just cover. L:eave to simmer.

Peel and chop the potatoes and boil until soft. Drain and mash with butter and milk. Season.

Put the meat and veg. mixture into an oven proof dish. Pile the mash on top. Sprinkle the grated cheese all over the mash. Put in a medium oven until the cheese is melted and brown – usually about 30 mins.

Serve at once with extra gravy if you like and with a leafy green vegetable.

Delicious! Oh, one last tip. A glass of red wine goes well, but we often have a Brown Ale. And you really should listen to Brian Wilson‘s album SMILE. Along with the meal, it will do just that; make you smile!



Sitting at the bottom of my garden is a big black cat. He’s adopted my home. He doesn’t like me. In fact, he only has to see the toes of my right foot on the door step and he’s off, like a streak of black lightning. Yet, he comes back. Every day. He sits and stares at the house, morose and moody. A bit like and ex-lover who can’t quite let go.

I’ve tried working on the relationship. I’ve left plates of tasty food out for him and saucers of milk. All have been ignored. Then some mates came over for drinks at dusk and someone put a bowl of beer on the rockery to tempt the slugs. Next morning, as I was drying my hair, I looked out of the window to see Black Cat lapping away at the booze.

This was a break through. Black Cat likes beer. We have something in common. We now tolerate each other. He’s made it to the front step and waits for his daily dose of Pale Ale. The relationship won’t go anywhere else because he won’t tolerate my touch. I tried to reach out and stroke his big black head once and narrowly escaped having my fingers sheered off by his knife-like feline teeth.

He really is a bit like an ex-lover. He even looks like one I once allowed into my life. His thick black hair is very sexy and he has amazing green eyes – the cat, as well as the lover. And the moody stares are very similar. Beer is also something ex-lover liked and I could always win an argument if I produced enough cash to get him slaughtered at the local pub. The lover once tried to bit off the hand that fed him too, only unlike me and Black Cat, I bit back and it all ended up in casualty.

I look forward to my furry friend. If he’s not there, I worry about him. I’ve asked around my neighbourhood, but no one knows where he comes from. He appears and vanishes on a daily basis, just like my lover did. I didn’t know who he really was, either!

Ah, well. Animals can teach us a great deal. Black Cat will never break my heart or run off with my money. He won’t text me as I stand at the boarding gate of a flight across the world to see him, telling me not to come because he’d met someone else; he won’t blacken my name and tell me nobody likes me, say I’m a bunny-boiler, I’m fat, I’m ‘not his type’, we’re not compatible.

All BC will do is drink my beer and watch me.


This award winning project was one of the last for Turning Point Theatre Company. Commissioned by Lancashire County Council, the project started life as a three day training programme for those working at the cutting edge of child protection. A play was commissioned and The Lost Child was researched and written by Lyn Ferrand.  Performed as a forum theatre production it was used as the centre piece of three full days of training that included theatre games, discussion and forum, run by the company in collaboration with in-house trainers.

Following the training programme, The Lost Child became a training DVD, written and directed by Lyn Ferrand who also created the original project for Lancashire County Council. The Lost Child scooped a whole raft of awards. To know more about The Lost Child, please contact us at lynferrand@aol.com

Originally commissioned by Lancashire County Council as part of an multi-agency workforce development programme with support from the Cumbria & Lancashire NHS Workforce Development Confederation.



Star Rating: 4/5

I hope this DVD is an indicator of just how far on-a-shoestring, role play-reliant social care training has come. The fact that this is a DVD for one blows the cobwebs off the technophobe perception of top-loading VCRs, writes Graham Hopkins.

Back in the early 1990s, I remember having to use a video of Monty Python‘s parrot sketch on my courses on social care complaints just to have a visual break. But it is the top-notch quality of this professional production that stands out. Happily, it is a quality that training resources – often themselves the neglected child of social care organisations – are increasingly now providing.

Bravely commissioned by Lancashire social services to explore child protection and parental mental illness, the 30-minute film for the most part convincingly traces the relationship between Alison (Anita Parry) a make-the-best-of-it mum and Nick (Mike Berenger) a mentally-ill study in smouldering tension.

It is seen in flashback through the eyes of their 16-year-old daughter, Tina (Frankie Waller), the acting star of the piece – despite her accent occasionally wandering up and down the M1. Her line, “I’m not a child – don’t think I’ve ever been a child,” is the film’s sound central message.