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Archive for the tag “health”

The Tale of the Turmeric Tree

At the beginning of Lockdown 1, I planted this:

Turmeric's health benefits are not proven but many respected sources agree that curcumin can be a positive boost to the immune system.

Eight months later it looked like this:

I tuned into turmeric five years ago when I had bowel cancer and had chemotherapy. I’d read somewhere that curcumin – one of turmeric’s constituents (the one that gives it its trademark orange colour and stains your fingers) – has antioxidant properties and a whole raft of immuno-positive benefits. I decided to drink a daily mug of ginger, turmeric and lemon – which became known as ‘hot water on my bits’.

Jackie’s ‘hot water on my bits’

Obviously, I have no idea if my hot water and turmeric infusions have boosted my immune system or helped ward off a recurrence of bowel cancer. But I do like to think that turmeric has played its part alongside the gruelling but effective doses of chemo and a healthy, balanced diet.

Turmeric, the curry essential isn’t proven to have health-giving benefits but this little study from the BBC programme Trust Me, I’m a Doctor makes interesting reading. I’m particularly taken with the idea that heating in food with fat may make turmeric’s active ingredients more absorbable. In some chats I’ve seen, people suggest that a grind of black pepper may also help with absorption.

Overall, the suggestion is that turmeric may have a positive impact on depression, asthma, eczema and some cancers (others also suggest it’s useful with arthritis). In our household we’ve become partial to a turmeric latte (fresh turmeric and a piece of cinnamon warmed in milk, with an optional splash of maple syrup and sprinkling of cinnamon to serve).

Turmeric latte. Vibrant colour, delicious flavour.

Research around turmeric and its possible benefits are limited. However, potential health benefits aside, turmeric’s such a brilliant, vibrant, versatile and delicious aromatic – why not add a teaspoonful to your daily diet? And, as it turns out, it’s also a rather a dramatic plant.

My Sri Lankan friend Dewa who I collaborated with on Sri Lankan meal in a book We don’t write recipes down encouraged me to plant my piece of turmeric. Dewa remembers her family using it in cooking and as a face wash – although not the bright orange root, a paler part of the plant – when she was growing up in Sri Lanka. The root I planted (indoors) a year ago was shooting within days of potting up. I transplanted it a few times to ever bigger pots.

After about eight months or so, it grew into the giant on the right. Who knew that turmeric could be such a fine houseplant?

We kept wondering when we should dig it up and see how much (if any) turmeric was lurking beneath. Everything I read online suggested that once the leaves began to wilt, the roots should be ready to harvest.

So, almost exactly a year later, the eldest daughter and I took the plunge.

And what a thrilling harvest it turned out to be! We are now grating and chopping turmeric liberally into our food and drinks. When I don’t have a liberal supply of homegrown turmeric, I get my supply of delicious fresh root from our organic Green Shop here in Berwick.

We’ve already planted another shooting root to do its thing during the course of the forthcoming year – although, hopefully, we won’t have to endure three lockdowns before harvest.

Turmeric bounty: from little shoots many roots will grow

Save our hospital facilities!

In 2016, the spades were nearly in the ground. Berwick Infirmary was to be refurbed, substantially rebuilt and updated with comprehensive clinical services from X-ray to day surgery, physio to A&E, and chemotherapy to beds and wards. Crank forward two years and a very different plan is on the table.

Northumberland County Council (NCC), Northumbria Healthcare Trust and the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are moving forward with an integrated facility on the site of the Swan Leisure Centre. Hospital and Leisure Centre would sit side by side on one site. And why not? As long as both services are delivered effectively and infrastructure, access, safety and other core issues are addressed, surely co-location doesn’t matter a fig.

However, a local group ‘A Better Hospital for Berwick’ views things very differently. The group evolved after Nigel Szczepaniak, a local pharmacist and hypnotherapist, made an impassioned video statement on Facebook about the whittling away of health and hospital facilities. The joint statement from the CCG, NHS and NCC states that ‘every service currently present at the existing site will continue to be provided at the new one’. Szczepaniak points out that, over the years, the services available at the Infirmary have been substantially reduced.

The suggestion is that the promise of NCC, Northumbria NHS Trust and CCG is therefore a shallow one. A sleight of hand to conceal reduced healthcare facilities whilst addressing the problems of a leisure facility which is losing money.

Nigel set up a Facebook page A Better Hospital for Berwick which is led by local woman Kirsty Jamieson . In the space of 10 days or so it’s gathered nearly 3000 members. Last night (Wednesday 5 September 2018), an open meeting in the Salvation Army Hall attracted some 150 people. The welcome from the Lieutenant in charge of the hall included a request to ‘remember this is a place of worship and please use appropriate language’. The plea was unnecessary.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, crowd and indoor

(Photo Gayle Skelly)

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

(Photo Jim Herbert)

People from all political persuasions and all ages had crammed into the hall to discuss how to stop hospital facilities being disappeared from the town. These include endoscopies which have been relocated to Alnwick – a 70–mile round trip – and will not be returned under the new plans. The campaign to halt the CCG agreeing to the co-location plans as they stand is a pressing issue. There’s a cabinet meeting on Monday 10th September at 10.00am at Berwick’s Swan Leisure Centre to approve the plans.

The group discussed what their aims should be and shared moving and often tragic stories of the ill and elderly traipsing  to Ashington or Cramlington for short appointments or invasive treatments (a 120-mile round trip), of sick children being airlifted out of Berwick and women having babies in ambulances on the A1. Others spoke of no longer being able to have pre-ops at Berwick – that’s another 70-mile round trip to Alnwick.

People were, on the whole, realistic: Berwick cannot expect a state-of-the-art all-singing all-dancing hospital facility. What it should expect and needs is a facility that delivers essential clinical services to the 13,000 residents of Berwick and the outlying population as well as to the thousands of tourists who visit the town and area each year. Given the challenges of the undualled A1, the two-strong Ambulance service in Berwick and an ageing population – it does not seem unrealistic to expect this. The town relies heavily on a voluntary helicopter ambulance and Berwick & District Cancer Support Group which provides free volunteer-driven cars for those who need to get to and from the Newcastle and Ashington facilities.

The group agreed that the focus of their action would be:

  • A fit-for-purpose hospital for Berwick – with the facilities, clinical services and room for expansion that were to be included in the hospital that was so nearly delivered in 2016

(Edit: I should make it clear that the campaign group A Better Hospital for Berwick suggest that facilities and services  ‘promised following the 2014 hospital consultation, should be the minimum provided’.)

A Better Hospital for Berwick claims that the consultation process was flawed and that the majority of people in Berwick hold strong views that are contrary to those presented to the health and wellbeing committee. A Better Hospital for Berwick says that many local people were simply unaware of the consultations, and that others felt their views had not been recorded correctly. The health and wellbeing committee has asserted that the process could have been better but had been carried out properly.

For those who wish to make their voices heard on the issue and find out more about the plans the group has in the forthcoming days, follow the hashtag #abetterhospitalforberwick on Twitter and click here to go the Facebook page. The group is urging people to contact those on the attendee list for the meeting on Monday to voice their concerns as soon as possible. The full agenda and papers and list of potential attendees can be found here. Calls were also made to lobby local MP Anne-Marie Trevlyan, local councillors and local media.

(c) Jackie Kaines

Words in my window: May

Why do we fill time in the ways we do? Does choice or necessity pull rank in how we occupy the hours of our lives?

I was busy enough during May to almost completely bypass the Royal Wedding. On 19th May, when my London Daughter sent an Instagram of a beautifully set afternoon tea, I asked what time the wedding was. Her reply: “It’s just finished, Mum!” Ooops.


However, I’d had the presence of mind to do a special Royal Wedding #wordsinmywindow earlier that morning. Worried about someone taking umbrage and smashing my window (see January’s words), I decided against OFF/WITH/THEIR. Instead I chose an allusion to the oft Marie Antoinette-attributed ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’: LET/THEM/EAT (using an upside-down 1 as an extra T). This prompted a variety of responses on social media, including:

Let them Eat…….Standing Up. Buffet style!!!!

Happily with family and friends

and the more prosaic:

Can’t be over soon enough, blurg…


‘Under the Sun’ (ellipted from ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ from Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament Bible book) would have been my choice to kick off May – prompted by the glorious Bank Holiday weather. However, there’s only one U in my light box letters. Hence UNDER/THE/SKY which, to me, seems to encapsulate the idea of being rather than doing, observing rather than striving to change and celebrating rather than denigrating. Of course, this rather leapfrogs the spiritual soul searching of the original. Is everything we do simply a reinvention of things already done? Does that make it all meaningless? Is true meaning only to be found through a connection with God/ a higher being?

20180513_111459.jpgThe next words of May feel almost like a double negative. I toyed with the equally nebulous ZERO/IS/CERTAIN. Suffice to say that the tenure of ZERO/IS NOT/CERTAIN was definitely uncertain. Our decorators turned up unexpectedly and kept removing the sign in order to paint the windows. On the upside, the window frame forms a slightly less frayed frame to my words now! One friend emailed and included a PS:

Zero may not be certain but I wouldn’t want to put too much money on it.

Another commented on the JOIN IN visible on a poster beneath it –  one of the many community notices that regularly feature in our windows – which highlights the opportunity to contribute a stitch or two to a tapestry being created to celebrate Berwick  à la Great Tapestry of Scotland.

Spirituality seems to haunt my words. WANDER/WATCH/WONDER was inspired by a brief stop in the beautiful Northumberland village of Felton and a wander in its Grade 1 listed church: St Michael And All Angels. Inside, we found a tenderly curated prayer trail based on Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd…). It meandered lovingly around the church. All that work to offer a relatively small congregation and passers-by like us a week to stumble across it and consider it; all in this obvious and yet, somehow simultaneously, unlikely setting.

The Husband is very good at spending time pondering things – whether it be a planning notice on a lamp post or a flower in the garden. I am much more of a ‘no time for hanging around’ kind of person. But this little oasis of calm in that lovely church made me pause. No matter what your beliefs, allowing yourself valuable time to reconceive thoughts and ideas must surely be central to a world that welcomes rather than excludes or condemns out of hand. Surely curiosity and wonder are the lifeblood of existence?



Because we held an Open Garden as part of a fundraiser for our local parks here in Berwick, I finished the month with TEND/OUR/GARDENS. A nod to the French writer Voltaire’s picaresque satirical novella, ‘Candide’ or ‘Optimism’. It was an unplanned link and counterpoint to the earlier words: LET/THEM/EAT, and neatly pulled May’s words full circle to UNDER/THE/SKY.


Running jogs your mind – and a few other bits and pieces too

I loathe jogging. There’s something incredibly intrusive about it. Runners, in their DayGlo lycra, are in-your-face: they pant, pound, puff and sweat into your vision and through your space – too exhausted to say, ‘excuse me’.

Jogging brings out the Homer Simpson in people.

But I am a fickle creature.  For the last month, I have been jogging. I’d like to say that this turnabout stems from a desire to be fitter and more responsible about my wellbeing; or to improve my bone mineral density. Which is important for women of my age – weight training and impact exercise help us ward off osteoporosis and suchlike. Apparently, we should have been at it for years – in between raising families, working, and generally enjoying life.

Who wouldn't want to run along the banks of the silvery Tweed on such a morning as this?

Who wouldn’t want to run along the banks of the silvery Tweed on such a morning as this?

Anyway, it isn’t health-enhancing factors that have coaxed me into trackie bottoms to shuffle along the banks of the silvery Tweed. No. I have been prompted to jar my joints because of: Competitive Spirit. Someone suggested that if I ran a 5km fun run, they would too. Let’s call this someone Berwick Bloke.

Instead of smiling enigmatically at Berwick Bloke and saying nothing, I said, ‘You’re on!’ Despite the fact that: (a) I have not even run for a bus in the last 30 years; (b) I am terrified that my suspect pelvic floor won’t cope with the jiggling of jogging and; (c) Berwick Bloke is rather younger than me. The fact is I couldn’t resist the challenge. The run’s not until January 2014 (I know) but, because of the aforementioned reasons, I thought I’d get out there and give it a go.

It turns out that jogging is rather fun. Once you stop. And recover from the searing pain in your chest and the leaden sensation in your legs. You get this sort of fizzing in your blood which gives you a huge high. Although you don’t necessarily lose weight (you have to eat at least three times your bodyweight in chocolate after 15 minutes’ jogging), you do notice a firming up of formerly floppy bits.

Some of us are fitter...

Some of us are fitter…

...than others.

…than others.

You also get thinking time. You have to think to distract yourself from your body screaming at you to stop and walk. The other day, as I lumbered past wildlife and discarded beer cans, I found myself pondering sponsored events and what a huge business raising money has become: extraordinary events in far-flung parts of the world, requiring intense organisation, publicity and mass participation.

Often we sponsor someone, not because of the cause, but because we know and like the person. Charities benefit from our benevolence and our friends’ endeavours. Just because our friend has always wanted to skydive into the Venezuelan rainforest at night, or walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats pushing a shopping trolley doesn’t make their fundraising any less valid, does it?

But I wonder if raising money has become a bit self-indulgent? It’s as if we all have to get something out of it – get fit, realise our dreams, entertain or be entertained. Also, how do sponsored events impact the planet – the post-event detritus, the travel? Do some events cost more than the money they raise? I wonder if events that chime with peoples’ situations are more effective – sleepouts for the homeless, fasting for the famine stricken?

Personally, I am more engaged by fundraising that connects with a cause – walking in bras for breast cancer, growing a manly moustache for prostate cancer (not personally). But what about Tourette’s and Multiple Sclerosis – I guess ingenuity is essential. Overall, I think understanding rather than objectifying others’ life situations generates empathy, and empathy leads to engagement and changed attitudes.

That’s what jogging seems to do: get you thinking. Oh, and just so’s you know, Berwick Bloke and I did talk about raising money for Berwick-upon-Tweed Lifeboats (he’s a lifeboat man) when we do our fun run (maybe it should be water skiing?) next January. Just saying.

Maybe Berwick Bloke and I should try this instead of running?

A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on 4 April 2013

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