Posted in Family, Travel

Putting the Up in Sidcup

(This post about revisiting Sidcup, where I was born and raised, was originally written for the February 2015 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser)

 

Cotswold landscape photo across green fields to SomersetM Monument
View from the village in which I live now

“Quaint”, “timeless”, “historic” – all of these epithets will drip from the lips of tourists as they return to the Cotswolds, their numbers growing as the days lengthen. They will inevitably marvel at the ancient architecture and landscape that we take for granted, and they will boost the local economy via our tourist attractions and shops. (That’s always my excuse for splashing out when I’m on holiday: “Just boosting the local economy, dear”.)

When I first visited the Cotswolds decades ago, I would have been one of those tourists. Now that I’ve lived here for nearly a quarter of a century, a refugee from London suburbia, I realise the area is not as static as it looks. Edge-of-town superstores have effected a sea-change, while high streets evolve less perceptibly but just as unstoppably. I can’t even remember now what preceded Tetbury’s Tardis-like Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (was it the bike shop?), which feels and looks, in the nicest possible way, as if it’s been there forever, and I’m glad that it’s there. The same goes for Hobbs House Bakery.

While some changes will always be more welcome than others, it’s natural to be sceptical and even fearful if too much changes too fast, even though change often brings fresh blood, new ideas and younger populations to keep cherished traditions and old institutions alive.

Photo of house in Burnt Oak Lane
The house in which I lived from ages 3-14

A recent trip to the land of my birth – Sidcup, Kent, on the edge of London’s urban sprawl – made me look afresh at the nature of change in residential areas. Many years ago, I was outraged to discover that half the garden of the house I grew up in had been sold to developers. A three-bed semi on a corner plot in a 1930s garden suburb, it had the generous proportions that came as standard in an era when housebuilding land was cheap and plentiful. When subsequent owners built a new house on that plot required the demolition of my old swing, my father’s garage and his beautiful rose bed, I was outraged.

Photo of 52 Corbylands Road
The house where I was born (when it had neither loft conversion, garage nor cars)
Photo of woodland with brook
The brook in which we played behind my Grandma’s house still looked the same

Revisiting just before Christmas with a more mature eye, I noticed that newcomers had addded style, substance and care to the whole neighbourhood – double glazing, extensions, new doors, smart signage. Even the humble bungalow where I was born had been extended upwards and outwards and had expensive cars on the drive. As a child, I travelled everywhere by bus. The area had leapt upmarket, yet the many parks and green spaces remained. I found myself thinking: “What a lovely place to bring up a child!”

 

Photo of 262 Old Farm Avenue
Where my maternal grandparents lived (the house with the blue car)

So I started the New Year feeling twice blessed for the double life I have led: half in the suburbs, half in the country, and grateful for the subtle changes that help both places to evolve and survive for future generations to enjoy.

Photo of 34 Oaklands Avenue
Where my paternal grandparents lived the house with the black front door – it still has the same 34 on the wall by the door as when they lived there)
Photo of Beaverwood School for Girls
My secondary school – once Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar School for Girls, then Beaverwood School for Girls in my day (and still a Grammar), and now Chislehurst School for Girls
Photo of Days Lane School
My primary school – exactly how I remember it, without the new security gates (not in photo)

Do you ever revisit the place you grew up? Or do you prefer to keep your memories intact? I’d love to hear your story. 

 

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver Suggesting What He Should Have Said About Sugar and Diabetes

New post in response to ill-informed and offensive PR piece by Jamie Oliver, influential chef and campaigner for healthy food

NO, JAMIE OLIVER, NO!

An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver, Top Chef, Food Writer and Campaigner for Healthy Eating

Dear Jamie

On my Facebook timeline this morning, a friend whose child, like mine, has Type 1 diabetes, alerted me to this provocative photo of you on your own Facebook page, as part of your campaign to encourage children to drink water instead of colas and other sugary drinks:

Jamie Oliver in front of a can of cola misleadingly labelled "Diabetes"
NO, JAMIE OLIVER, YOU’VE GOT IT ALL WRONG!

Now, I have a lot of respect for you, because instead of coasting on your high income and national treasure status, you have stuck your neck out with a substantial and controversial campaign to encourage families and schoolchildren in particular to embrace a healthier diet. When I say controversial, most of what have said in your campaigns is a no-brainer to anyone who is not a hardened McDonald’s addict: avoid processed food, eat a balanced diet, turn your back on fast food. (Some misguided parents continue to shove BigMacs through school railings to kids averse to trying your lovingly prepared, home-cooked school lunches, for fear of the unknown.)

But Jamie, you – or at least your publicists – really should know better than to make the schoolboy error indicated by your photo. You may be self-made, but you surely have some qualified dieticians as part of your team. And as any dietician will tell you: drinking Coke instead of water does not cause Type One diabetes.

Let me expand upon that statement.

Contracting Type 1 Diabetes has nothing to do with diet. It is an incurable immune disorder that affects people at random through no fault of their own. The part of the body responsible for producing insulin – the hormone that enables your body to process sugar (and all carbohydrates) – stops working. Extensive research is trying to identify what triggers this malfunction, but it is definitely not consumption of sugary drinks such as the brand your photo clearly alludes to.

I should know: my daughter had never touched a drop of Coca Cola before she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 3.  My husband, diagnosed in his late 40s, can’t bear the stuff.

What I think you really meant and needed to say is this:

“Drinking sugary drinks, if done without being part of a controlled, balanced and healthy diet, increases the chances of becoming obese. Obesity carries increased risk of disorders which include TYPE 2 diabetes which is a completely different condition to TYPE 1 diabetes. Therefore it is wise to discourage drinking sugary drinks if you wish to avoid increased risk of obesity and its complications, of which there are many more, besides Type 2 diabetes. Sugary drinks are not great for your teeth either, due to the acid content, and fruit juices, though perceived as the healthy option, are also packed with sugar, causing unhelpful blood sugar spikes and a roller-coaster of energy levels.”

What you should also say is:

“I apologise to those with Type 1 diabetes for my error, which is likely to have added to the burden you carry daily of having to live with a serious condition requiring multiple daily blood tests and insulin injections to keep you alive.”

You might also like to say (because you are very influential for the excellent work you have done in schools to date):

“Please, guys, do not confuse Type 1 with Type 2 , and do not accuse anyone of bringing this horrible illness on themselves by eating too much sugar. Please do not bully them or abuse them when they test their blood or take their insulin – they need to do this many times every day simply to stay alive. Please be supportive to them and watchful – and if they suffer a hypo (which means they do not have enough sugar in their blood – a condition that can potentially kill them), make them drink a sugary drink such as full-sugar Coca-Cola which is the fastest way to restore their blood sugar imbalance to a safe level. If they cannot drink it because they have fallen unconscious, immediately call the emergency services who will save their lives another way. Yes, sometimes sugary drinks will save lives, not threaten them. Don’t make the mistake that I did, and you may well one day be a lifesaver yourself.”

With the facts set straight in this way, Jamie, your campaign to encourage children to drink water – the first choice now of many children, thanks to campaigners such as yourself – will have much more credibility and will garner much more support, including from those with diabetes of all kinds.

Thank you for listening, and please continue the fine job you are doing to raise standards in cooking and eating, for the benefit of present and future generations everywhere.

With best wishes

Debbie Young

English mother and wife, lover of home-made healthy food, and carer for two precious people whose lives have been turned upside down by a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes through no fault of their own

Author of Coming to Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, “a lovely uplifting little book, full of insight, wit, and practical know-how” (Dr Carol Cooper, President of the Guild of Health Writers)

Cover front page only

 

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

Tour of Hope at Southmead Hospital

Group photo of JDRF team, Laura and Dr Gillespie
From left: Lee and Danielle of JDRF, Laura with her JDRF mascot bears Ruby and Rufus, and Dr Kathleen Gillespie

Just before the summer holidays, my daughter Laura and I were lucky enough to be invited to tour some of the research laboratories of Southmead Hospital. The purpose of the tour was to see at first hand some of the work being co-funded by the JDRF to search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Regular readers of this blog will know that Laura was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of three, a few years after Gordon, my husband received his own diagnosis of the same disease.

JDRF logo and URLJDRF funds a lot of research projects all around the world, and by chance some of these happen to be based in the hospital that helps us manage Laura’s diabetes. It’s also the hospital in which she was born. So there were lots of good reasons to go along for a look behind the scenes, even though the tour happened to fall the day before we were about to depart to Greece on holiday. I’m very glad I made the slightly reckless decision to abandon our packing and go for it!

What We Saw on our Tour

Photo of Dr Gillespie syringing liquid
Dr Gillespie demonstrates DNA extraction – from a kiwi fruit!

Accompanied by our regional JDRF team, the lovely Lee Newman and Danielle Angelli, we were shown round the labs by Dr Kathleen Gillespie, a researcher in molecular medicine with special interest in the genetic mechanisms underlying immunity. Apparently 50% of the occurrences of T1D are thought to be genetic-related – although it’s by no means straightforward, as there are incidences of identical twins, one of whom develops the disease and the other doesn’t.

Photo of technician with full tray of samples
“And here are some I prepared earlier”

Dr Gillespie introduced us to her cheerful and welcoming team of staff who have dedicated their careers to amazing projects investigating the prediction and prevention of the development of Type 1 diabetes. We toured a series of small laboratories, each with a special set of expensive machinery – but the machinery would be worthless without the intelligence and imagination of the extraordinary staff who operate it. Their kit included some less costly items that you’d find in any kitchen, such as fridges and microwaves. When Dr Gillespie showed us how to extract DNA, she did so on a kiwi fruit!

“Our work does look a lot like cookery sometimes,” said Dr Gillespie. “People who are good at cooking are usually good at lab work too!”

How the Work is Funded

Every research project that goes into the jigsaw of the search for a cure has to be funded separately, in blocks, with submissions made to fundholders in order for the work to continue. The tour made us all aware of the importance of raising funds for the JDRF long-term, so that their work can continue.

We all came away motivated to work harder to raise funds and awareness for JDRF. We were also inspired by the imagination, creativity, positive attitude and dedication of Dr Gillespie, her team, and their equivalents around the world, for helping bring the cure for diabetes ever closer.

Photo of Laura looking at contents of test-tube in lab
“So that’s what DNA looks like!”

My Book Launch in aid of JDRF

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Cover design by SilverWood Books

This November, to mark World Diabetes Day, I’ll be launching the paperback edition of my book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, to make more widely available the ebook that I published for WDD last year. A new chapter will be included entitled “Diabetes Is Always With Us”. If you’re within reach of Bristol and would like to come to the event launch at Foyles Bookshop, Cabot Circus, on Thursday 13th November, the eve of World Diabetes Day, please send me a message to reserve you a place at the event. I’ll also send you more details of the launch.

For more information about the JDRF, please visit their website: www.jdrf.org.uk.

For more information about Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, see this page on my website here: Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes

Posted in Family, Personal life

The Wisdom of Estate Agents

(This post was originally written for the September edition of Hawkesbury Parish News, my local community’s newsletter)

Photo of Laura in purple frock and tiara
My daughter Laura as Carnival Queen’s attendant at this year’s Village Show

Twenty-three years ago, when I was negotiating to buy my house in Hawkesbury Upton, there were four significant facts that I’m glad I didn’t know at the time, because they’d have made the process much more stressful. But with hindsight it seems remiss of the estate agent not to have told me:

  • there is an excellent village primary school
  • the village is in the catchment area for an equally good secondary school, with admission pretty much guaranteed for anyone who lives here
  • the extraordinary annual village show – the undisputed highlight of the village year – would make me proud to call Hawkesbury Upton my home
  • climate change and the subsequent increased rainfall would make me very glad indeed to have a house on high ground
Photo of Laura in her new school uniform
Laura ready for her first day at secondary school (still inadvertently wearing the purple sparkly nail polish from the Show)

All four of these factors have given me cause for celebration this year, when my daughter left the primary school with a glowing report, gained a place at KLB, and was picked as Carnival Queen’s Attendant for the Show – and on numerous occasions throughout the year we’ve watched copious rainwater flowing away from our house, downhill, down the middle of our road.

But as September begins, I’m mindful of two more facts omitted from the estate agent’s blurb that I was left to learn from my new neighbours:

  • the day of the village show is the last day of summer
  • when it’s jacket weather in Chipping Sodbury, it’s overcoat weather in Hawkesbury Upton

Perhaps that estate agent was smarter than I gave him credit for. Now where did I leave my overcoat?

 

Posted in Family, Personal life

It’s Show Time! (Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, that is…)

This post was written for this month’s edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News, in anticipation of the Village Show at the end of this month. Looking back at the photos of our float last year, I am wishing hard that we’ll have such blue skies for this year’s show!

Photo of Pandamonium float with children dressed as pandas
Our float for last year’s Show (I was the Chinese Ambassador, Gordon was the Scottish zookeeper)

Close up of panda reading "Panda Baby Names" bookI hadn’t lived in Hawkesbury Upton very long before I realised the importance of the annual Horticultural Show in the village calendar. Since I moved here in 1991, I haven’t missed a single Show, and I always arrange my summer holidays to make sure I’m back in time to prepare for it.

I’ve put plenty of entries into the Show over the years and won a handful of prizes in categories as diverse as crochet, hen’s eggs, jam, wine and – my favourite prize of all – the oddly-shaped vegetable (sadly no longer in the schedule).

I’ve been on many floats, from Youth Club’s Global Warming in the 1990s (Arctic scene at one end, tropical island at the other) and St Trinian’s, to more recently The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with After-School Club, and Edinburgh Zoo’s Giant Pandas with my daughter and her friends last year.

Close up of children in Pandamonium float

It’s always exciting to win a prize, even third in a category in which there are only two other entries, but you don’t need to win prizes to enjoy the Village Show. The most satisfaction comes simply from feeling like you’re part of a huge, traditional act of community.

It’s also rewarding to serve on the Committee, which I did for 13 years. I’ll never forget seeing at one meeting an elderly judge demonstrate his set of brass shallot-measuring rings, as used by his father before him. The Hawkesbury Show is living history.

But the most unexpected buzz relating to the show struck me only recently, when, at my daughter’s 11th birthday party, I was chatting to her friends’ mums in our garden. One of them, relatively new to the village, was taking photos of the children’s antics.

“You ought to enter that into the Village Show,” I remarked, admiring a particularly good one.

“Spoken like a true Hawkesbury villager!” said another mum, whose family has been in Hawkesbury for generations.

23 years after moving here, I’ve finally arrived.

Happy Show Day, everyone!

The 2014 Show will take place on Saturday 30th August. For more information, visit its website: www.hawkesburyshow.org.

Pandomonium float seen from other side showing sign saying "all the way from Edinburgh"