Hoarding awareness week – 15th to 19th May

To mark Hoarding Awareness Week, a new book has been published on the subject by a Newbury author

A comprehensive guide to hoarding has received an official launch at Broadway House in Newbury this week.

The book, Understanding Hoarding, has been written by Jo Cooke from Thatcham. She runs a decluttering company and co-founded a Community Interest Company called Hoarding Disorders UK in 2014.

Mrs Cooke has used her extensive experience to collect case studies and suggest practical ways of helping hoarders and their families. The book covers every aspect of hoarding disorder from the factors that trigger it to who can help a hoarder and how.

Chapters in the book include case histories, useful information and tips, plus how to assess the level of clutter. Uniquely, the book also shows how therapies such as emotional freedom technique, also known as ‘tapping’ can help.

Jo said: “Thanks to everyone who attended the launch – industry professionals and people with an interest in the subject matter. I hope this book will raise awareness of hoarding and provide not only a better understanding of the condition but also tools and techniques for those wanting to help. I also hope to reduce the stigma surrounding hoarding. While I find it enjoyable and satisfying to work with people who hoard, I want to be able to help them to come forward without feeling that they will be judged and subjected to a forced clear out without their consent. It’s important that people should feel free to ask for help, not to have it forced upon them.”

“Understanding Hoarding” by Jo Cooke will be published by Sheldon Press on 18 May and is available priced at £9.99.



Vile Din

Sunday was the end of an era. A short era – a quaver really. It was small son’s last violin lesson.

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At £20 for each lesson, plus the outlay of a quarter size violin, a book and some rosin, it wasn’t cheap, but I was determined not to apply undue pressure or utter the words “but you could be in the Levellers”.  And the screeching that learners produce was not a problem. In fact, when I was waiting for him one day, I was listening to the beautiful piano music coming from room 3 and the melodious guitar riff from room 5, and nearly doubled up laughing when small son burst out of room 4 in the middle shouting : “listen to this mummy” before unleashing a discordant wailing noise on the A string.

But the battles to make him practise for just 10 minutes a day were not worth it. Or the teacher’s face.

But on the other hand, I didn’t want to teach him it was ok to give up.

This will be your last lesson I said.

No problem, he replied, on the way out. As we got to the door, we stopped briefly to survey the shop sadly before I realised that he’d picked up a guitar on the way out and had a hopeful look on his face.

Cake expectations!


A recent clear out has turned up a photo of me on my third birthday. In it, I’m blowing out one candle on a simple, plain, round Victoria sponge. It has no icing, no cream, no jam. In between shifts as a night nurse, my mum spent more money than we had on ingredients and made it for me. It was a rare treat and I was delighted with it.

Fast forward to the children’s parties I accompany small son to and boy things have changed. There’s an unspoken, unacknowledged need for every cake to be a “showstopper”. I blame Mary Berry. (I blame her for quite a lot of things).

I hadn’t noticed this trend until I started attending a play group with small son when he was a babe in arms. This was a group of beautiful, thin, perfect mums with perfect children. Lumbering, awkward me and my enormous noisy son didn’t fit in. And that was before I was asked to join the cake rota. Every week, someone (usually with a minimum of two small children) made the cakes for the group. These were things of beauty. If I’d seen these in the shop, I would have assumed that I couldn’t afford them.

And it continues. In the last year or so, I’ve seen cakes that are taller than me, cakes resembling fairytale castles, replicas of race cars, guitars, film-themed cakes. Every cartoon character, every CBeebies character has been make into cake form, and every party sees a bigger and better creation each time.
All of this is great. However, am I the only person who feels that this is yet another way of people assessing your parenting skills? Is it just me who feels that if you don’t have time or if your icing is not professional standard, then it looks a little as though you’re not a good enough mum? As a mere mortal, or if you work, or if you (put your hands over your ears, Mary Berry), hate baking, then this is one of the worst parts of modern parenting. For me, it’s all three.

One way around this is – of course buy a cake. This is what I planned for small son’s last birthday until I got a quote of £80. £80! That’s a week’s worth of groceries, for a pretty standard round cake with a cartoon character on top.

Our school this week found a new way to bring ritual humiliation to anyone in the same boat as me. We were asked to make a cake to bring in, and then you could buy a raffle ticket. Raffle tickets were placed next to the cake you wanted to win and one winner was drawn.

By this time, work had stacked up and I was up to my eyeballs in writing. I made a cake that somehow looked more like an omelette than a baked good. I got rid of the evidence by putting the bad half in the bin and eating the semi-edible bits.

I returned to the supermarket – this time I BOUGHT a cake and MADE the icing. Go me! But a combination of small son eating my efforts and then producing icing that wouldn’t co-operate made cake number 2 look more like Boxty.

So with time running out, I decide to return to a trusted recipe of small lemon pies. Easy enough and they taste ok, but somehow, not aesthetic enough.

I place them up for adoption and notice that not one person has put their raffle ticket in this particular pot.

Then I see some of the other cakes. One is a faithful reproduction of a bucket of popcorn IN CAKE FORM. There are all manner of beautiful objets d’art. They are so brilliant in fact, that when I congratulate a parent on their creation, they can see that I don’t even own an apron, and ignore me, sweeping past me triumphantly and leaving me to cry into my cake mix.

Then, something happens that completely lifts my mood. I am not alone! Small son’s name is called and he is invited to collect his prize which is…a shop-bought packet of Mr Kipling’s fondant fancies. Whoever donated that is an exceedingly good person!