New year, same me!

It’s easy to get caught up in the post-Christmas guilt and to make a ton of new year’s resolutions that are impossible to keep.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to set goals and to try to lose weight, ditch the bad habits and cake, or to get healthier, but January is entirely the wrong time to start these things. It’s cold outside, everyone’s skint and miserable. Plus we have the added uncertainty of what the B word will bring.

Knowing that I am guilty of overstretching, I decided to keep things simple and that my only resolution this year, would be to do 10,000 steps a day.

Day one was great – it was more than 20,000. Day two was 18,000. And day three. Well it barely registered. DS got ill and I spent the day looking after him, so counting steps was the last thing on my mind. And so I have failed after two days.

So my resolution this year is just to do the best I can. I always feel like a failure, whether it’s on the school run, whether I don’t run as far as I should, or when a client doesn’t get as excited as I do about a successful project. I even beat myself up a couple of days ago when I failed to put a nice even amount of petrol in the car – £30.09!

So instead of being a better version of me, I am just going to continue being me. And we should let everyone else be who they truly are too. We all spin too many plates and everyone is too eager to criticise everyone else’s choices. Let’s just BE.



Happy 90th birthday to Tintin!

“Billions of blistering blue barnacles!”

Quoting Tintin’s friend Captain Haddock, small son starts running when he sees the angular frontage of Musee Hergé. After taking the train to a small town outside Brussels, and walking through a grey shopping centre, Tintin’s profile, peering into the distance is a welcome sight, whether you’re a fan or not.

With his enduring energy, distinctive quiff and exuberance, it’s hard to believe that comic strip hero Tintin first appeared in 1919, captivating children from several generations. The 90th anniversary of his first appearance as a comic strip in Le Petit Vingtieme seemed like a good excuse to take my Tintin obsessed son to the spiritual home of everything Georges Remi, Tintin’s creator.

The building is quite a sight, with high ceilings and angular colourful walls, complete with poured concrete floors and feels like a fitting tribute to Herge’s massive creative output.


The first room shows his early life and his early illustrations which give a flavour of what was to come, leading into another room on Herge’s advertising work, before you descend a floor and find yourself immersed in the world of Tintin.


There’s lots to see, and small son wasn’t sure where to start. There’s plenty of pictures, early drafts and facts about the creator and his most famous work, including info on the characters -not just his beloved dog Snowy (known as Milou in the original) and constant friends Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus plus ne’er do well ‘twins’ Thompson and Thomson, but also the wealth of background characters that appear in the 24 books.

We had incredible fun having a picture taken in the midst of a Tintin scene, and there are interactive elements, plus models of the shark submarine from Red Rackham’s Treasure and a rocket model, used as the inspiration for Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon.


Although small son was eyeing up a 5,000 Euro Tintin model in the gift shop, we managed not to spend anything in here. It’s still worth a browse as is the on-site café. We both danced back to the train to Brussels eager to re-read the books.


We stayed at the Hilton Bruxelles City, just north of the centre after a painless Eurostar journey from London. Travelling around Brussels is affordable and easy, with efficient trams, trains and buses, reasonably clear signage and plenty of helpful English speakers around. We stayed overnight before taking the train on a Sunday to the small town of Louvain-la Nouvelle, not to be confused with Louvain (Leuven). We’re grateful to Sally Murray Travel Counsellors for doing all the bookings for us!

Musee Herge is giving a day of free entry on Sunday, 6th January, but admission is usually 12 Euros for adults. Closed Mondays.

The Christmas Wedding Planner

Now we’re in December, there’s been a bit of discussion over whether Die Hard is a real Christmas film.

The real question should be: Is the Christmas Wedding Planner a real film?

I happened to watch this the other day as I was cleaning and sorting Christmas stuff as Netflix stuck it right in my face. No one expects much from a Christmas film, but this is truly one of the worst things I have ever subjected my eyes to. The ‘plot’ (and I use that word loosely) is that a woman plans her cousin’s wedding, her first client after setting up a wedding planning business and a private investigator tries to ruin the wedding.

The PI does end up ruining the wedding, so the wedding planner ends up marrying him (whom she met a couple of days prior) at the same ceremony, using the jilted bride’s bouquet and organist. The original bride doesn’t even seem that irritated that the man she married has knocked up the maid. Or in fact, that there is a maid in this day and age.

The nonsensical plot isn’t even the worst bit. The acting is atrocious.  The main character keeps repeating the ludicrous mantra “I am a fierce warrior” and texting someone who died before mobile phones were invented. There are oodles of scenes in empty restaurants. All of the bridesmaids are no more than cliches. There’s a scene where the main character ignores the barista and another where a lobster is served up less than a minute after it was ordered.



And yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie…..

Blackberry Cottage Christmas puddings for everyone this festive season!


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Blackberry Cottage have launched their Christmas puddings for the 2018 festive season, including one suitable for most dietary requirements.

The ‘free from’ Christmas pudding is free from gluten, dairy, egg, nut and soya with no added refined sugar. Each is handmade in small batches, using juicy currants, sultanas, raisins which is steeped in brandy, then combined with the spices and the rest of the ingredients.

Her Christmas puddings are handmade and come in three more flavours:

The ale and carrot Christmas pudding uses a traditional old recipe with ale and carrots, handmade in small batches.

After steeping the juicy currants, sultanas, raisins in ale, they’re combined with carrots, spices and the rest of the ingredients.

The rum cask cider Christmas pudding is made of cider-soaked fruit, handmade in small batches. The cider is produced by a local cider maker, who use a variety of eating, cooking and crab apples mainly from within West Berkshire, which has been fermented and matured in oak rum barrels.

The Stout Christmas pudding is full of stout soaked fruit, handmade to an old family recipe.  After steeping the juicy currants, sultanas, raisins and figs in stout they’re mixed with the rest of the ingredients including a special pudding spice mix.

Each of the four is steamed for six hours and wrapped before being left to mature before being wrapped in muslin and finished with a pretty ribbon. All four come in two sizes 450g (£8) and 900g (£15).

Kate will be selling these at food festivals around Berkshire and can also be ordered online at

Kate has also launched her unique cookbook Blackberry Cottage: Cakes with Secret Ingredients from Aubergine to Zucchini. The book draws on her unique expertise and the thousands of cakes she has made through her award-winning business.

The recipes include incredible combinations such as savoy cabbage and mocha torte to Jerusalem artichoke, mango and lime cake – all delicious with the vegetables adding to the texture and moisture.  There are festive options for Christmas such as sweet potato mince pies and a delicious and unusual turnip Yule log.

Cakes with Secret Ingredients from Aubergine to Zucchini is priced at £24.99 including postage and packaging via and independent bookshops.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a bespoke present for a foodie, Kate offers vouchers for her courses throughout 2019, ranging from ‘Winter comfort’ courses to ‘Spring Sweetness’.

Click onto

Newbury ranked the 6th happiest place to live in Great Britain

In this era of fake news, very few headlines have the ability to surprise any more. But when I saw this story about Newbury being the 6th happiest place in GB to live, I would have spat out my cornflakes, had I been eating them.

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I have lived in Newbury for the past fifteen years, punctuated by a two-year long break where I moved to London and I truly don’t get the impression that people are very happy here. The 6th happiest place in Great Britain? It’s not even the 6th happiest place in Berkshire!

Have a walk down Northbrook Street and count the happy faces.  Try striking up a conversation with someone! I bought some shoes from a shop this morning and the assistant conducted almost the whole transaction without speaking to me, ignoring my cheery “hi” and only finally bothering to address me when grunting something about a 5p carrier bag.

Friends who come to stay with us frequently comment on how Newburians are an unfriendly bunch. One friend couldn’t get into our driveway because a neighbour had parked across the access.  “Any chance you could just move it for a minute please?” was answered with an expletive, rather than an apology.

I have travelled to a number of places around the UK just this week and can tell you that the people I met in Cornwall,  Bristol, Liverpool and Rugby – to name a few, are much happier.  Newbury has a relatively transient population, brought in by big employers and perhaps the fact that it’s located near to the intersection of the A34 and the M4, giving a real sense of people just passing through. It’s also fairly wealthy with higher than average house prices, leading to a huge disparity between the rich and poor. This is never good for average happiness or social cohesion.

I’d be delighted to hear that I’m wrong about this. And to be fair, there are some great things here; eg the lido, the Corn Exchange, the canal, the fairly buoyant economy. But I honestly can’t see any joy on people’s faces in the way that you can in some communities – Leigh-on Sea and Christchurch being in the top five makes perfect sense.

Perhaps Newbury is the 6th happiest and the whole UK is chronically depressed.  Perhaps it’s me.  But next time there’s a survey about the happiest place in the UK, I’m definitely going to take part! What do you think?



How to avoid selling the family home to pay for care

We’ve all heard the traumatic stories of people being forced to sell their family homes to pay for astronomical care fees. The subject of elderly care, writing a will and what happens to our estate when we die is never an easy one, but with just a bit of planning, unnecessary fees and a lot of stress can be avoided.

Sam Francis of Assured Wills is an expert in this field and helps families to protect their estates to ensure they can pass as much as possible onto their families.

He says: “Fees for end-of-life care are affecting more ordinary families than ever before. In the past, few gave much thought to having to pay for care fees as they were unlikely to live long enough for this to be a problem. Nowadays, the burden for financing social care has now fallen to the individual who requires it, and the local authority where they live.

“The average cost of a week’s care in a residential home is now nearly £1,000, so it doesn’t take long before you lose significant wealth to pay for nursing care.”

  • If your estate is below £14,520, then the local authority will pay for your care.
  • If you have between £14,250 and £23,250, then you will pay a proportion of the cost of your care on a sliding scale.
  • However, any savings, investments and assets over £23,250 mean that you will pay 100% of your own care should you require it.
  • If you own your home and, by taking residential care, you will be leaving it empty, then the value of the house will be included as an asset that can be sold to pay for the care.

According to Mr Francis there are three important steps to protecting your estate and your home when you die. These are perfectly legal and accepted in estate planning.

The first is to ‘sever the tenancy’. Usually people buy together as a Joint Tenancy meaning they own the property as a couple. This meant that should either of them die, the remaining partner will own the whole property.

If you sever the tenancy means each has a 50% share and if one partner dies, they can pass their share in their will to someone other than the surviving spouse. The process of Severing the Tenancy is straightforward and involves each of them signing a written statement and submitting a form to the Land Registry.

The second step is to make sure that on the first death, the property passes into a protective will trust. This is a trust such as a Property Protection Trust (PPT) which guarantees a right of residence to the survivor so they can continue to live in the property. And on the second death, it will benefit the children and grandchildren. As a side-effect of this trust, it is highly likely that the entire value of the home would not be included in an assessment for care fees.

A great advantage of this type of trust is that should either remarry after their spouse’s death then the home would be protected from forming part of the new marital assets which means that any new husband or wife would not have any legal right to inherit any part of the family home that is in the Trust. Anything tied up in the Trust would also be protected from divorce or bankruptcy.

Mr Francis added: “We have recently worked with a family where the husband died very suddenly and unexpectedly and everything was left to his wife. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke very soon afterwards and needed residential care.

“The local authority decided that she needed to pay all of her care fees and that the family home should be sold to pay for this. They have worked so hard all of their lives and wanted to pass on their inheritance to their children so they could get onto the housing ladder or pay for university.

“The tragedy is that others in the same care home have constructed their wills differently when both partners were fit and well so that half of the house passed into a protective trust and meant that only savings were used to pay for care. When they had nearly run out of saving, the state stepped in and covered the cost of care. It seems so unfair and a real catalyst to ensure everyone has proper advice on getting their affairs in order.”

For more information and to find out more about how to plan to avoid care fee costs, visit

In My Life; a Music Memoir by Alan Johnson

Some say that Alan Johnson is the best Prime Minister we never had. But if he himself has any regrets about his career, it’s that rock stardom hasn’t called. Yet.

His most recent book is about the musical influences that have shaped his life and most of these are related to the Fab Four. Much like his previous three award-winning memoirs, this latest book too, takes its name from a Beatles song.

Johnson writes engagingly about his life in poverty in North Kensington, hearing Lonnie Donegan for the first time, of playing his first guitar and envisaging a life as a rock star, despite the fact that the first record he bought was Fings ain’t what they used to be by Max Bygraves.

In 1963, he hears the Beatles for the first time and you can almost hear the colour that comes into Johnson’s black and white world.

Buying their first album coincides with the tragic death of his mother at the age of 42 – the same age at which her mother and grandmother had also died. Incredibly Johnson’s amazing older sister Linda took on social services at the age of 16 and ensured the siblings were not split up.

At the age of 18, his music career is put on hold as he starts work as a postman, a job that will eventually lead to him to politics. This in turn means he finally meets his favourite Beatle Paul McCartney when as education minister, he was invited to a graduation ceremony at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

Typically modest and witty, he summed up the experience: “I thought Paul would be in a room somewhere on a throne but instead of that, it was in the canteen. I met him when I was eating a cheese sandwich and was genuinely lost for words.”


No more dreary packed lunches; MrsB set to open a new cafe in Faraday Road, Newbury



Newbury’s latest food offering is about to open in the heart of one of the town’s burgeoning business districts catering for corporate lunches, weddings and events and for anyone who enjoys healthy wholesome food.

Emma Benson, who runs Mrs B’s Kitchen, an established local catering company, will be opening a new café in the former Crescent Signs site on Faraday Road site later in November. Mrs B’s Kitchen Café will be open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea six days a week. The ethos is to provide an informal space where people can come and meet and enjoy simple good homecooked food.

The café will seat 30 indoors with further covers outside. The menu will change daily and will cater for a range of dietary requirements including vegetarians, vegans and free from.

Emma said: “The catering kitchen and café are in a warehouse, and everything will be visible and open – it will be like welcoming our customers into the heart of the kitchen itself.

“We will be offering everything from home-made sausage rolls and cakes to salad boxes and simple wholesome food that will sustain you without breaking the bank. Pretty much everything will be made from scratch on site and ingredients are sourced locally where possible. Just as important as the food, will be the fantastic coffee from Extract Coffee in Bristol.

“The menus will change daily, so you’ll be able to see what’s on offer on social media or on the chalk boards outside.”

As well as informal dining, there will be a meeting room that can be hired and a bespoke room for event tastings. The new venture will run alongside ‘Mrs B’s Kitchen’ catering business and will create an additional full-time job and between three to five part-time jobs. Mrs Benson is passionate about employing people that share her love of food and are willing to pitch in throughout the whole business.

She said: “Everyone will be trained in every aspect of the kitchen café and I want it to be a place where my staff can be proud to work.

“There are many capable people out there who don’t necessarily want a stressful career anymore but are looking for a job where they feel part of a dynamic team.  I am looking for high energy, multi-tasking people who enjoy serving delicious food to the public!”

Mrs B’s Kitchen has a minimal waste policy and uses plastic only where necessary.

She added: “As a catering company, we’ve been established for 15 years, growing by personal recommendation and repeat business. We are so excited about opening this new venture in Newbury and the café will open up our food to a whole new group of people, as well as providing a central venue for our existing customers!”

Mrs B’s Kitchen was started when she was asked to provide the canapes for a friend’s party and grew from there. The new business is set to open in November and an official launch will take place shortly after that.

Click onto for more information


The Red House and the Castle Pubs raise £1674 for West Berkshire Mencap

The Red House at Marsh Benham and its sister pub the Castle on Oxford Road have so far raised an incredible £1,673.50 for West Berkshire Mencap thanks to almost a year of fundraising initiatives.

A successful comedy night held at the Red House in April was attended by more than 60 people and raised £300 for the charity. Further funds were raised via donations by a special ‘West Berkshire Mencap Dish of the Day’ and other events and incentives.

Events manager Tim Hirst said: “We’ve been proud to support this great local charity and are delighted with the support from our customers in helping support this important work, caring for people with learning disabilities.

“Everyone on the team really gets behind the quizzes and events and we are particularly happy to support a charity based here in West Berkshire.”

Leila Ferguson, CEO of West Berkshire Mencap, said: “We are delighted at the inventiveness and enthusiasm shown by the teams at the Castle and Red House pubs and would like to say thank you to all of their customers who got involved and donated.

“The money raised will support 18 children with learning disabilities to attend West Berkshire Mencap’s “Summer Play Scheme.”


Athena visitors day – come and try women’s networking!

The Athena Network is holding a ‘visitor’s day’ for potential members to come and try out women’s networking at a discounted price.

The visitor’s day takes place at Thatcham meeting at the Regency Park Hotel on Tuesday, 20th November from 12 – 2pm and costs just £20.

As well as structured networking, there’s a light lunch and refreshments hosted by the Athena Network regional director Debbie Miles.

She said: “We are fortunate to have Nicola Lyle from Fired Up Careers as our speaker at this meeting. She’ll be sharing her wisdom on time efficiency and helping us to look at how well we use our time as well as offering tips on how to get more done in our working day.

“With many women juggling work, business and home life, Nicola’s advice will be invaluable!

“If you are looking to increase your customer base, or simply would like the support of other women in business across West Berkshire, you are very welcome to come and tell us about your business and share your passion.”

For more information and to book, contact Debbie via