Saturday, 26 May 2012

Mental Health Awareness Week

It's Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Mental Health issues are often the "elephant in the room" - we all know people who have been affected, but we might not realise because it's a taboo subject. But it needn't be.

Let's break this down using some facts and figures from the UK Department of Health:
  • 1 in 4 people will have a mental health issue at some point in their lives. That means you already know people who have been affected
  • 9 out of 10 sufferers experience stigma and discrimination
  • People with mental health issues are more likely to become victims of violence (not cause it).
A large proportion of mental health issues are related to anxiety and depression.

People with a diagnosis won't necessarily ask friends for help and support. They may be afraid of discrimination, or they may even be in denial. Of those who do reach out to friends, some will be pushed back because their friends are afraid of saying the wrong thing.

If you're a friend in this situation, please keep the friendship going as normally as possible. It is almost always appreciated. If you're stuck for words, the web site Time To Change has ideas and e-cards that you can use to strike up a conversation.

After all, you never know if you'll be the 1 in 4 next time.

Don't be afraid to talk about mental health
Click image to enlarge
Image copyright © 2008 Time To Change, used with permission,

Friday, 18 May 2012

Can you dig it?

I hated gardening when I was a youngster. My parents lived in a house with a large garden, and grew their own fruit and vegetables. I was given my own corner for planting, but I hated weeding and hated waiting for things to grow.

Not much has changed. The wife and I have our own house and garden, but still the old bugbear about weeds and waiting. But we're more aware of the benefits of growing your own fruit and vegetables, and they're certainly worth the effort.

We don't have a greenhouse. We don't have any special expertise, other than the advice our parents give us, and what it says on the seed packets. We don't have a big garden area, and we have probably some of the worst soil to work with (heavy clay).

But if we can grow tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes and purple broccoli, then anyone can! Some things we've learned are:

 - not much grows in heavy clay soil, and it's very difficult to improve it. You'll know if you've got some if it sticks together in large clumps when you dig it, and it tends to crack in hot, dry weather. Growing things is a hit and miss affair, but...

 - old buckets, plastic bins and washing-up bowls are great for planting veggies. We clean them thoroughly, drill some holes in the bottom for drainage, then fill with two-thirds topsoil, one-third organic compost, and some "fish blood and bone" mix. All are available from a garden centre. You can even decorate the outside if you're feeling arty!

 - slugs can be kept at bay by burying old glass jars in the ground, so they are flush with the soil. Then fill them with beer. Slugs love the ale, but they get drunk, fall into the jar, and drown!

Hopefully I'll be able to show some of our gardening results later in the year. But for the moment, here's a photo of some of our plants that are well on their way to the dinner table.

Photo of seedlings. Parsnip, bell pepper, potato, broccoli and carrot
Seedlings. From left to right: parsnip, bell pepper, potato, broccoli, carrot
(Photo: mpmedia)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Positive News

Image: NS Newsflash
As they say, "No news is good news". And I've found that one of the ways to keep a positive outlook is to ignore many of the stories in popular media. I still read newspapers occasionally, but I'm careful which paper I buy. I don't like to start the day on a negative note if I can help it.

A surprising number of friends have adopted the same attitude, saying that many news outlets seem to have a negative tone. And it can be difficult to tell a real news story from marketing and political "spin".

I'd like to share a great example that I encountered last week. We were with some friends in a local pub at the time, when the barman started talking about the news.

He had read in his newspaper that 1 in 5 convicted criminals in the UK are residents of other countries, and the majority of those are from Poland. Someone at the bar overheard. "That's ridiculous", he said, "all those foreigners coming over here to commit crime".

I pointed out that, by the same figures, 80% of convicted criminals are UK residents. And only a fraction of the remainder are Polish nationals.

A few people's eyes widened. "Oh yeah...". There was a sudden realisation that the shocking news story wasn't shocking after all. It was, I suspect, written by someone with a hidden agenda. Now, hopefully, no-one will be suspicious of the Polish customers who wander into the pub. Or the locals who buy imported Polish beer.

This all reminded me of a legendary story from the cold war era, where a car race was organised between two teams, from America and Russia.

The Americans won the race, and the US newspapers reported that the Russians lost. However, the Russian newspapers reported that the Russian team came second, and the American team was next to last.

Both stories look like they have opposite views, but in fact they are presenting the same facts in completely different ways. Just goes to show that there's always another side to the news.

Photo credit: Newspapers B&W (4) by NS Newsflash, CC-BY licence, via Flickr

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Quest for new socks

Hand-made re-soleable socks,
without anti-bacterial agents
(not my legs. or my socks.)
credit: krysaia
It's that time again. I've had to throw away a bunch of socks with holes in them. Part of me wonders what happened to darning, which seems something of a lost art. But back to the main topic...

New socks are hard to find in the shops. I'm talking about plain, ordinary socks.

If you've bought any in the past year or so, you may not have noticed that they weren't as plain as you thought. Yes, even the humble sock now comes with anti-bacterial agents and "freshness technology". And it's almost impossible to buy men's socks in the UK without it.

Now, no-one likes smelly feet (well, apart from one of our cats, who seems to be developing a strange fetish for socks that have been through a hard yoga session). But there is becoming no choice whether to have socks with chemically-treated fabrics or not.

Plain, ordinary cotton socks (bless 'em) are a rare species.

The packs don't say what the chemicals are. I might feel better if the manufacturers came clean on the label. And I'm sure this would be welcomed by people with skin allergies.

It seems to me that we've survived for a long time without anti-bacterial socks, even when socks had a longer lifespan (through darning). Do we really need them now?

Photo credit: "Sharks socks redux" by krysaia, licenced under CC-BY-SA licence, via