Monday, July 23, 2018

Health Matters: I No Longer Drink Alcohol

Warning! I am about to say something controversial and unpopular. I no longer drink alcohol. Alcohol is a poison that damages you mentally, emotionally and physically.

There’s nothing new in this fact. So why do we persist in this toxic habit? Because like drugs, cigarettes, meat, dairy, junk food, war and all harmful practices, alcohol is normalised for mass consumption so that Big Business makes loads of money.

Family History

My father was an alcoholic when I was little. That’s not shocking. Millions of people are alcoholics. The substance is addictive.

My mother felt the full force of his drunken fist late at night when my brother and I were asleep, oblivious to the violence.

But I carried the emotional wound of my unavailable, intimidating father all my life. When Dad was home he was often passed out on the floor or slumped in a chair in a drunken stupor in front of the telly. We took turns to close his mouth to stop him snoring.

My parents were young and wild in their 20s. Dad taught Mum to swill beer like a man but she couldn’t control her sarcastic humour when tipsy and often embarrassed and shamed me in front of laughing drinking buddies.

At 18, I had my first glass of red wine in a rowdy folk club in Melbourne and immediately staggered to the Ladies and threw up. But I persevered through my natural aversion until I could drink socially. I disgraced myself more times than I can now remember.

Brain Attack

Alcohol affects the brain. The beta-endorphin receptors grab the alcohol and give you an instant temporary high. Alcoholics have more receptors. Alcohol also triggers the hormone dopamine, for another feel-good blast!

Alcohol decreases the brain’s gaba neurons, lowering inhibitions. All our inner demons come wafting out; aggression, sadness, loneliness, neediness. We can pick fights, start blubbering, talk rubbish while believing we’re hilarious and charming and intelligent. Or we can have casual sex, piss in the street or get hit by a car.

We lose control of our mental processes, our emotional states, our bodily functions and co-ordination and our usual cautious behaviour. Being intoxicated in public or even at home is high risk.

The Morning After

Awful hang overs – terrible headaches, churning nausea and crippling lethargy – that make you want to die or at least sleep until noon - are caused through extreme dehydration, as your body works hard to flush out the poison.

And the really bad feelings are also caused by a chemical called acetaldehyde, released by your over-worked liver, which can only metabolise one glass of alcohol per hour.

On top of the hang-overs, when you get regularly wiped out binge drinking will lower your immune system, making you susceptible to sickness.

No Real Loss

Giving up alcohol is no sacrifice. I have discovered that I like being stone cold sober. I can enjoy food, conversation, music, dancing and making love when I am clear-headed and feeling all my genuine emotions and senses. In fact I feel pure joy in social occasions without being tipsy. I now get my bubbles from mineral water instead of champagne and my elegant glass of Red is really grape juice. 

It is easier to make the decision 'I don't drink alcohol' once and for all, the way I did when I decided 'I don't eat animals' in 2010, than to face a fresh dilemma every time I'm offered a drink. By setting this firm boundary, I've eliminated the delicate tightrope balancing act of of choosing WHAT type of alcoholic drink and HOW MUCH I can drink - one glass, two glasses, three glasses? - without getting tipsy and losing control of my behaviour and suffering a debilitating hang-over. The one-off decision is easier and I feel empowered for having the discipline to make the clear choice. 

The track we take on the journey of life is made up of a series of decisions; the major, life-changing decisions and the small daily decisions. And, as we all know, each decision takes us in a certain direction and leads to the next place. Do I make wise choices that lead me to a tranquil, shady forest near a beautiful river or do I take a wrong turn and end up staggering on a dangerous rocky cliff in the blazing sun? 

Carefully consider each decision, the big and the small. And don't be misled on your path so that you end up in a unsafe place.  

I see young people I love smashed off their faces, wrecking their health, their dignity, their relationships, their talents, their careers and their lives by partying hard and believing alcohol is benign and normal. But alcohol, my friends, is really poison in disguise. Resist the cult. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Living the dream on the revived Darling Buds Farm in the idyllic Kent countryside

Classic Car enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys a fun day out will be in heaven at The Darling Buds Classic Car Show in Kent on Sunday July 5, 2015.

The gates open at 10am with more than 900 classic cars and a vast array of stalls and a fun fair for the children.

The Classic Car show, organised by the Rover P5 Alive Club, is in its 20th year at the idyllic Darling Buds Farm where the famous Darling Buds of May TV series was filmed.

This year`s attractions include Pop Larkin`s yellow Rolls Royce, the Woodchurch Morris Men, a Supercar display, a falconry display, Kent Fire and Rescue demonstrations, a vintage fair, arts and crafts, local produce, a range of scrumptious food venues and well-stocked bar.

This is one of Kent’s most popular annual attractions, not to be missed! And there is plenty of parking!

 Simon's Dream becomes a Reality 

When the heart-warming show, The Darling Buds of May was screened from 1991 to 1993 it was the most popular TV series in Britain and acclaimed internationally. Since then the box set has sold millions. Produced by Yorkshire Television for ITV, the show, with its stellar cast, was based on the novel written by H. E. Bates in 1958 and its sequels. The phrase ‘darling buds of May” comes from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.   

Simon Coulson, at the age of 20, sat transfixed by the TV in his granny’s cosy living room, after a hearty roast dinner, and fell in love with the mesmerising beauty of sultry teenage Catherine Zeta-Jones and the idyllic rural lifestyle glorified in Darling Buds of May. In fact the charming show set in beautiful Kent in the optimistic era of the 1950s captivated not just Simon but the whole of Britain and viewers around the world.

Now at 44, Simon, as proud owner of the Darling Buds Farm, is a man who is truly living his dream. At the start of 2013 he bought the run-down Larkin farmhouse and derelict historic buildings set on 35 acres of prime countryside for a flat one million pounds.

And two years, spending another cool million, he has restored and renovated the sprawling property into magnificent holiday accommodation for escapees from the pressures of the daily grind whom long to embrace the romance and nostalgia of the Darling Buds of May and the homespun values of the loveable Larkin family.

Crews of specialist workmen have restored and modernised the original Oast House and cart lodge to immaculate, luxurious standards. The spacious 300- year-old barn conversion with original Tudor timber beams is spectacular. There’s even a traditional village hall. And the ramshackle farmhouse, featured in the TV show, is being lovingly transformed with funky retro furnishings.

The impressive buildings are surrounded by lush fields, tranquil duck ponds and a tinkling stream, pretty apple and cherry orchards, groves of ancient oak trees and woodlands bursting with spring bluebells and wildlife and yes, if you are lucky, you can hear the amorous singing of nightingales!

Simon lives in this little slice of heaven with his three bouncy border collies and his six-year-old son shares all the fun of the farm with his dynamic dad at weekends.

How did all this happen? Simon recalls what ignited his passion. “Well firstly there was of course the stunning character of Mariette played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in her first role before becoming a Hollywood star, and then there was the character of Charley, who was like me really, a bespectacled office worker trapped in a soul destroyed job, who experiences an awakening and transformation.

“I was living a frantic lifestyle, commuting to London, spending four hours on trains to and from the office every day and working overtime and weekends and I longed to jump off the treadmill. Charley’s journey from a wage slave to a magical, carefree life in the country planted seeds in my imagination.”

Having landed a respectable job with a major company straight out of high school, Simon, as a dedicated and hard-working employee, was quickly promoted to Customer Service Manager responsible for 120 staff and implementing systems.

Seduced by promotions, pay rises and perks such as a company car, private health cover, pension plan, bonuses and shares, he felt “trapped by golden handcuffs” for 14 years.

Recognising his talent and upper management potential, the company sponsored Simon to do an MBA. But armed with his business qualifications, Simon, at 32, was ready to break free into a new career as a creative entrepreneur. 

Parallel to his corporate life, Simon was a musician playing keyboards in a rock band. It was driving home, elated from a Coldplay concert in Brighton, he had a stroke of genius to create a tribute band called Coolplay.

“We went from being a pub band, getting a hundred quid playing to 70 people to suddenly getting paid two thousand quid to play for 2000 people backed by famous bands as support acts!”

And in 2003, he “foolishly or bravely” gave a friend £4500, the last of his redundancy money, to invest in property in Bulgaria, hoping his investment would yield £20,000 when Bulgaria joined the EU. When his sceptical friends started asking questions, he decided to write an e-book on ‘How to Invest in Bulgaria’.

Before long he had created a publishing empire from his spare room, hiring a team of writers to churn out How to Invest in property in Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Florida, Turkey … 34 countries in total.  

“When I ran out of countries, I thought ‘What else can I do?’ and I discovered that when you find a market where people are hungry for information, you can make money so I looked at other subjects. 

“I saw that a lot of people were being made redundant and looking to start a business so I developed ‘How to Start A Business’ e-books. A friend was starting a cleaning business so I wrote about how to set up and run your own cleaning business. Another friend was a schoolteacher who worked around the world so I did a guide on How to Become an International School Teacher. Another friend ran a home secretarial service. I produced guides for start-ups and also hobbies and interests such as a DVD training course in yoga.”

Simon made his first million in 18 months selling more than 150 information products online from his website and having a ball playing in his band.

“And I was jumping on planes to America to attend seminars to learn about the Next Big Thing in internet marketing and discovered the concept of membership sites and started a website offering independent reviews of franchises and business opportunities for subscription fees. This was hugely successful, turning over £2000 a day.

“I went on to sell physical products such as air conditioning systems from a website. I then became a licensed online gambling operator for fundraising for sports clubs. I’ve had to continually reinvent myself and learn as I go!”

But there was more astronomical success to come as an acclaimed public speaker telling his rags to riches story with thousands of people in lavish venues around the world. He shared the O2 Arena stage with famous speakers such as Anthony Robbins and Bill Clinton.

By the age of 40, he’d generated more than £12 million from his online businesses and was living his boyhood dreams of buying himself a Porsche and Ferrari - that he now admits was “vanity over sanity!” - and hanging out with his hero Sir Richard Branson and other elite guests on his private tropical island, cruising the ocean in his luxury yacht. 

“I was just an average guy who made a leap of faith and left a job I hated and started a bedroom business and made millions!” Today he operates eight companies including an international internet business school.

And now this “average guy” with the Midas touch is all set to make more magic! Simon has a grand vision for the Darling Buds Farm over the years ahead. He sees the gruelling restoration work as a “labour of love and a lasting legacy”.

He hopes that guests of his beautiful accommodation will boost the local economy by visiting pubs and restaurants and tourist attractions in the picturesque district.

He will continue the popular Classic Car show held annually in July, now in its 20th year, with Pop Larkin’s canary yellow Rolls Royce as an irresistible draw card for Darling Buds fans and car enthusiasts.

In 2015 the peaceful farm will host retreats for songwriters, artists, entrepreneurs and health and fitness lovers. And in the future he hopes to host an array of tasteful functions, romantic weddings and fun-filled events.

Simon will fill the glorious green fields with glossy horses and adorable farm animals to delight children and adults. He plans to develop the orchards, strawberry fields and vegetable and flower gardens and protect the precious pockets of woodlands.

With so much open land, he envisages offering ‘glamping’ in comfortable shepherd’s huts and imagines that ramblers will be in their element exploring the nature trails topped off with a luscious Ma Larkin-style cream tea! 

And in May 2016, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Darling Buds of May phenomenon, Simon hopes to entice the stars, Catherine Zeta Jones, David Jason, Pam Ferris and Philip Franks to join legions of fans in a grand celebration down on the farm, complete with Ma’s Larkin hearty food, warmth and hospitality and spectacular fireworks. As Pop would say, just “perfick”.     

Growing Myself Up

I want to grow up. In my 50s I’ve decided to finally become an adult! This sounds ridiculous but being fully adult despite the number of years we’ve clocked is harder than we realise.

That’s because we keep regressing to Adapted Child and morphing into Critical Parent. And these states are not just generic concepts but specific ways of thinking, feeling and behaving hardwired into the brain in childhood.

I’ve been studying Transactional Analysis (TA) at the Wealden Psychology Institute in East Sussex and what a revelation! I thought it would be fun to learn this system. I didn’t realise it would be so challenging to dig deep and gain awareness of parts of me I don’t like!

TA is a theory of personality developed by Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne in the heady sixties, which is still flourishing today around the world.

This insightful Jewish doctor, who grew up in the poor, migrant district of Montreal, developed a model of the psyche that marked a radical departure from the pioneering work of revered father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

While Freud’s famous ‘Superego, Ego and Id’ are theoretical, abstract concepts, Berne’s Parent, Adult and Child ego-states are very real mental states we enter based on our own unique childhood experience.

According to Berne’s ‘PAC’ structural model, the Critical or Controlling Parent (CP) contains the thoughts, feelings and behaviours we have absorbed from parents and parent-figures growing up (and continuing throughout life).

There’s lots of positive, useful content in your CP like how to cross the road, using nice table manners and keeping your room tidy but there is also some nasty stuff too; your parents’ narrow beliefs and harsh admonitions like “Do as you’re told”; “Keep quiet” and “Work Hard” “Don’t Cry” and memories of your parents’ behaviour at their worst.

I discovered a domineering, aggressive, self-righteous ‘Dad’ in me who comes out in arguments with my husband. Your CP usually makes an appearance when you feel threatened and defensive to protect your vulnerable Child.

Berne’s Adapted Child is an ego-state containing the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of the way you were growing up trying to adapt and follow the rules of your family. The AC also has a rebellious side!      

You can access your AC by doing a visualisation and remembering how you were as a child at different ages.

I remember desperately trying to please and be liked, being obedient at home and clever at school; Teacher’s Pet, first with my hand up to answer questions and win approval.

At times in my childhood I also felt disconnected, isolated and unloved, ignored, unimportant and helpless and I can go into these intense Child feelings when triggered.   

In an Adult ego-state I am functioning in present time using the full powers of my intellect and skills to engage with the here and now, feeling calm with moderate emotional responses appropriate to the current situation.

At first glance the PAC model might seem simplistic but as I study more I discover it‘s as complex as a set of Russian dolls. The CP contains the PAC of your parents, that contain the PAC of their parents going back generations. Likewise your AC contains a PAC.

In fact the Parent ego-state of your Adapted Child can be a potent force in your psyche responsible for bizarre and destructive behaviour. The Child’s distorted thinking can be both magical and punitive; giving yourself magical powers such as ‘I can use my charms/looks/sex to get what I want’ while  
the negative part of the Child’s Parent might believe you deserve to be punished, which explains self-sabotaging, masochistic behaviour.

Psychologists have developed Berne’s theories in the last 50 years. The Functional TA Model includes two other ego modes: the Nurturing Parent  (NP) and the Free Child (FC).

The Nurturing Parent is the kind, caring, understanding, empathic and compassionate part of the psyche that nurtures yourself and others.

In my view, NP is a combination of the innate biological maternal/paternal instinct, role modelling on the loving acts of our parents, triggered when we become parents ourselves toped up by what we consciously learn in adulthood. For example it’s possible to learn how to Active Listen and cultivate empathy and compassion throughout life.

The Free Child is the uninhibited part of the child that lives in the moment, with all senses firing, is creative, spontaneous, playful and full of joy in being alive.

I remember riding my bicycle really fast with the wind in my face, feeling euphoric at the sight of spring daffodils, singing at the top of my voice and playing silly games with giggly friends on the front lawn when the grown-ups were not around.

So now at this mature age, with this new awareness, I want to strengthen my Adult, Nurturing Parent and Free Child and minimise time spent in Adapted Child and Critical Parent.

The constant shifting between ego-states and ego-modes usually happens unconsciously, out of our awareness. By bringing the psychological dance into awareness, we can manage our internal states and behaviour leading to autonomy and freedom from the past.

PAC mastery gives me power to be the person I want to be, a grown-up with the capacity to be mature, strong and capable, kind and compassionate, playful and full of joy.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Finding Tranquillity at Middle Piccadilly Rural Spa Retreat in Dorset

I wrote this feature for 50 Connect, a popular online publication dedicated to people over 50

Dominic went the extra mile, literally! I missed my stop at Sherborne Station and he had to hurtle through the lush Dorset countryside to retrieve me from remote Yeovil Junction. I waited stoically wrapped in my thickest, longest winter coat deep in the belly of rural southern England on this drizzly, foggy day. 

I had journeyed two hours by train from London’s bustling Waterloo for a relaxing stay at an enticing retreat called Middle Piccadilly run by Dominic and Lisa Harvey; a beautiful, historic guesthouse founded by his artist parents, Eliana and Gerry Harvey in 1985.

So now I am finally here, this Friday afternoon in January! Dominic shows me to my charming, private room, and then leads me across the crunchy courtyard to the cosy living room where tomorrow I will recline on a comfy sofa before the therapist collects me for my keenly anticipated treatments. The hub of the homestead is the rustic kitchen with warm earthy tones, a rich terracotta floor, forest green tiles, unique handcrafted timber cupboards and weathered wooden table where guests dine on scrumptious vegetarian meals or pure fresh juices if they’ve opted for a revitalising Detox.

Lisa greets me and does a health consultation. Fortunately I’m a straightforward case, with no medications, allergies or major health problems, just the persistent extra poundage I can’t seem to shift! But I’m not here to diet; I’m here to enjoy the therapies and the tranquil get-away!

Friday evening I meet fellow guests, two young women, lifelong friends who are having a girlie weekend away from stressful hospital jobs, and we chat over our delicious lentil and feta stuffed roasted peppers and veggies followed by apple crumble. Versatile Dominic is the accomplished chef who can cater to all tastes and dietary needs.

That night in my warm and toasty room, I snuggle down with facebook friends on my laptop and the Graham Norton show on the wall telly before drifting off to sleep with no sound but the hooting of a distant owl.

Saturday morning, it’s the sweet birdsong I hear, not a blaring alarm, and after breakfast I’m all set for my first treatment.

I’ve never had LeStone therapy before and I’m feeling wary because those stones are scorching and I’m prone to hot flushes! I’m worried I’ll start sweating like I’m in a sauna! But Maya places the smooth volcanic stones in a row and covers them with a cloth and I lay on the massage table so that my spine is resting on the hot rocks! It is surprisingly comfortable as the heat seeps into the neglected tense muscles that support the spine.

With my spine relaxing, Maya massages my legs and feet with a smooth hot stone. The sensation is divine. The heat gently eases tight muscles without digging in and stimulates blood flow. And then she applies a cold stone for a tingling rush! She gives the same luxurious attention to my arms and hands, my stomach and neck and shoulders before I turn over. The velvety stone glides all over my aching back, unravelling knots caused from endless hours of laptop hunch!

The lovely Maya, skilled in a range of therapies, explains that LaStone, which originated with the Native Americans, is her favourite style of massage because the heat works very deeply but gently. I have to agree, my body feels relaxed all over without any painful deep tissue pressing and probing.

After Dominic’s homemade courgette soup, crusty bread, a selection of irresistible cheeses and fresh salad, the other girls bravely head off for a country walk in the blustery, icy wind while I relax in my room and later have a wander around the garden.

Guests can take a country stroll on the Peaceful Lane circuit, which takes about 70 minutes, explore Dogbury Wood or venture to the Cerne Abbas Giant, a famous turf-cut outline, depicting a large man wielding a club. The intriguing figure, listed as a scheduled monument on a site owned by the National Trust, dates back to the late 17th century and locals say it is well worth a visit.

Back at Middle Piccadilly, facilities include an impressive mini spa with a sauna and Japanese soak tub and the awe-inspiring towering Starhouse, a six-sided building for meditation, yoga and pilates that exudes tranquillity.

The vast array of exotic therapies on offer tantalise with names such as the Ginger and Cocoa bean Wrap, Mulled Wine Scrub, Green Tea Body Wrap, Atlantic Seaweed treatment, Acupressure, Indian Head Massage, Thai Foot Massage, Organic Facial, Exfoliating Body Scrub and Shamanic Healing.

The intimate retreat can accommodate up to nine guests seven days a week and privacy and seclusion is assured for those wanting to de-stress or guests keen to socialise have plenty of opportunities to chat over meals, in the living room or outdoors.

Dominic excels himself on Saturday night with a gourmet nut burger dressed with hot spinach and drizzled with tasty gravy, served with a hearty dollop of ratatouille and fluffy baked potatoes. Dessert of rich chocolate tart with berries is just heavenly.

Come Sunday morning I am scheduled for a session of Shamanic Healing with Maya and slightly apprehensive. I’ve done loads of psychotherapy over the years and figure I don’t really need any emotional release however I decide to try it out. 

And I’m so glad I did. I rattle off my “story”; all the things that are troubling me in my life and Maya is the perfect listener, silently present and empathic and then she guides me, using a soothing, resonating drumming through a powerful relaxation and visualisation that has me connecting with Nature, the elements of fire, earth, water and wind, and drawing on Spirit to find my connectedness with all living beings in my belly and heart. This stillness is just what I need to disentangle from my overactive brain.

I see a vision of my future, all my cherished dreams wrapped together in a joyful scene of family and friends laughing and loving together in a cosy room with an open fire, and outside a vibrant garden of fruit trees and veggies, hens, puppies and grandchildren running free. It is a vision that guides me now and I am grateful for the kindness and sweetness of Maya who led me there.

A tranquil, nurturing stay at delightful Middle Piccadilly retreat in rural Dorset with the lovely Dominic, Lisa and Maya and the rest of their talented therapists might be just what you need too.