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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 09.22.43.png

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!

Petersfield Lido

My tour of the UK’s lidos continued last weekend with a visit to Petersfield Outdoor Pool – a cutesy, old school pool in the middle of the town.

Though it took a bit of finding after driving through the beautiful South Downs – I drove round and round, unable to see the lido from the road, it was worth it.  The building is unassuming, but nicely decorated with bunting and pool artwork and entered by a beautiful wrought iron gate:


Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 12.07.21.png

Through the gate there’s a turnstile, and I waited here for a woman dressed as a cowgirl (it later transpired that the cast of Annie Get your Gun were launching their show here!) to see me so I could pay my  £5 and enter the heated pool via the Mondrian-esque changing rooms.


The pool is gorgeous and well-attended but not crazy busy. I’d swum a mile (a 25m pool, so about 66 lengths) before I knew it, so kept going, captivated by the 3m deep end, complete with diving board and also the way the sunlight was captured through the trees and onto the water.

The shower was clean and hot and the whole experience made for such a relaxing morning that I couldn’t find my way out of the car park – I think it was my brain’s way of making me stay….



In the Jumble

I have just finished this fantastic book by Newbury author and image consultant Victoria Lochhead.

Much like the charity shops, jumble sales and other outlets this book champions, In The Jumble is a treasure trove!  

Victoria’s friendly how-to guide shows you how to find clothes that look great and complement your body type.  It then shows you where you can pick them up for a fraction of the price of new clothes that will be out of season in a matter of weeks. If you are new to shopping in charity shops or at jumble sales, this will show you how to compete with the veteran old ladies!

As well as useful advice, there are hilarious anecdotes from Victoria who apparently started her fashionista journey in unflattering t-shirts and combat trousers. Now she is glamorous but clearly comfortable and she loves nothing more than finding a bargain outfit in a charity shop. I once went shopping with Victoria and it was the most fun I’ve ever had while shopping and for less than £50 I came away with two bags filled with great things for me and small son that I wouldn’t normally have considered.


Highly recommended!

Marathon bid to raise money for Daisy’s Dream

A NEWBURY mother-of-two will be running this year’s London Marathon to raise funds for children’s bereavement charity Daisy’s Dream after losing a family friend to a brain tumour.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.25.11.png

The charity supported Catherine Cox’s friend Sarah Jones and her two young children after Mrs Jones’ husband died earlier this year, aged 44.

This year’s event, on April 23, will be Mrs Cox’s third London Marathon and seventh marathon in total.

She said: “Each year I try to raise funds for a local charity that works miracles in our community.

“This year is no different.

“To leave a young family behind is just horrifying and I wanted to do something to help.

“I’ve known Sarah and Dave for a while as our children were at pre-school together and want to raise money for an amazing charity in Dave’s memory.

“Any money that we raise will go towards helping families like Sarah and Dave’s to work through the difficult moments and to move forward positively and with hope and happiness.”

Daisy’s Dream fundraiser Gemma Gittins said: “This year, we have eight runners taking on the London Marathon to raise money for Daisy’s Dream and we are so grateful to them for the miles they put in, plus the support of their friends and family.

“The money raised will help us to deliver services for bereaved children and families throughout Berkshire.”

Established in 1996, Daisy’s Dream is a professional support service which responds to the needs of children and families affected by life-threatening illness or bereavement.

The Berkshire charity was originally set up to meet the needs of children who had been bereaved, but over recent years it has expanded its service to encompass families where there has been a serious illness diagnosis.

To donate, visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CathRunsforDaisysDream

Brockwell Lido

I have spent the last 20 years under the illusion that I was a teenager.  My visit to Brockwell Lido proved that I am not. It may have been the most existential swim I’ve ever had.


I set myself the goal of visiting as many lidos as possible during the course of 2017 and to help me, I’ve been using social media to read about other people’s outdoor swimming experiences.  The downside of this is that the more I read about other people enjoying cold swimming, the more I seemed to believe I myself was also made of tough stuff.


I ‘brocked’ up at Brockwell Lido on a cool morning, ready to swim a mile. There’s   a small, but free, car park outside, and there were no spaces when I arrived.  Two people sneakily drove the wrong way round and nabbed spaces before me, meaning that when I finally got inside, it was 9.45am, meaning that I’d only have 45 minutes before the session closed at 10.30am.

I was delighted to pay just £3, ambled into the very clean changing rooms, and was caught off guard by a compliment on my dress. As an utter scruff bag, this doesn’t happen often, so it might have been a factor in blindsiding me and making me unable to work out how the lockers functioned.

I then spent another 10 minutes berating myself for somehow forgetting my wetsuit. Fortunately, the nice lady who liked my dress reappeared and helped me work out how to use the locker and with time ticking by, I walked quickly to the pool. There were about 3 other people in it – 2 of them in wetsuits.

The pool was 11 degrees. “Toasty” I thought to myself before getting in. My maths is rubbish whatever the temperature. I got in and it felt cold, but my body didn’t register just how cold until I’d pushed off from the side and submerged my whole self under. I actually thought I was going to die.

I had pins and needles throughout my entire body and my heart felt like it was going to explode. I then realised the weird noise I could hear was my breathing – it sounded like I was having a panic attack.  I kept going – I might be about to die, but stiff upper lip and all that. It was marginally better if I didn’t go underwater, so I did a total of four lengths, making my  £3 (75p per length) now feel expensive.

My body did start to get used to it, but after 200m, I had to admit defeat. I got out, trying to walk and act normally back to my locker. Which I then couldn’t open. Surprisingly, I wasn’t shivering, but I looked quite red and my internal organs felt like they’d been packed in ice. I was so cold, I couldn’t remember how to put my jumper on.

I got back to the car and composed myself and congratulated those people who can swim in the cold. It takes practice, I guess, so I’ll be back! But note to self: You are not 17 and you need to remember your wetsuit.



Enterprising children at Cheam School in Headley presented an incredible £7,643.14 to local bereavement charity Daisy’s Dream this week.


The money was raised at the school’s successful Christmas Fair in December and presented to Daisy’s Dream fundraiser Gemma Gittins.


Jacqui Marriott, head of pre-prep at Cheam School said: “We decided to support Daisy’s Dream because we know what a devastating impact bereavement or long-term illness can have on a child.


“Dealing with such issues is never straightforward and is different for each individual.  Daisy’s Dream provides such a fantastic support network not only for the children affected but also for their families, carers and schools.  We believe that this is crucial for ensuring that each child is able to cope with their circumstances whether at home or at school and always has someone to turn to should they need it.”


“The Cheam Christmas Fair was a great success this year and everyone had such a fun time visiting Father Christmas, playing pin the tail on Rudolph, feeding the live reindeer, delving into the lucky dip and shopping for presents. We had such an amazing team of volunteers and want to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped us to raise this fantastic sum in aid of Daisy’s Dream.”


Gemma Gittins from Daisy’s Dream added: “To raise such a great amount at a Christmas fair is nothing short of amazing and we are extremely grateful to everyone at the school who contributed.


“The money raised could help us support as many as ten families across the area for a whole year. With increasing demand for our services, we are so indebted to Cheam School for their generosity.”


Daisy’s Dream is a professional support service which responds to the needs of children and families across Berkshire affected by life threatening illness or bereavement.