Thursday, 29 September 2011


Clutter, stuff, things, jumble and general disorder. We all have a room, drawers or cupboards where clutter accumulates don't we? You know what I'm talking about, the things you believe you can't bear to part from or that might have a future use. Open the door and it all falls out much to your shame and embarrassment. The spot that's conveniently hidden away and fails to offer your prize when you seek it.

September-October are apparently the months to declutter. A new academic year and a time for getting our affairs in order. I've never had a problem throwing stuff out. In fact I'm ruthless about it. Enjoying ripping up, shredding old papers, and donating clothes to charity. The problem I have is replacing the old with new. I get rid of the old, well used and worn out, and neglect to replace it. Frankly, if I continue to clear I'll be left with only the clothes on my back, standing in a very bare flat. No evidence suggesting I live there. Yes, it's great to dejunk and find possessions a new home, but I've taken this feel-good to an extreme.

Then there's other extreme of course. The hoarders. Never throwing anything out. Every living space consumed with clutter. Akin to a disease of the mind. Hoarders possessed by their own possessions. The inbetweeners, halfway between clutter – no clutter. Clearing out a loathsome chore, far easier to accumulate more, stuffing the rest in the loft, garage or shed. My parents fall into the latter. Old clothes, china, books never read, and general paraphernalia. Drawers and cupboards stuffed with inherited loot that one day I'll have to go through. I keep telling them, “Make a start. At least tackle the garden shed!” My plea hasn't galvanized them into action. Clutter is sneaky. What you can't see you forget.

How do you decide what to hold on to? I have rules for myself. If I haven't used, worn, or read in over a year and frankly don't intend to, it's out. If there's no longer a reason to hang onto for sentimental value, it goes. I only replace if there's a genuine need, which explains my present predicament. I like getting rid, but hate to shop. How many women do you know that say that? The items I always keep are journals and photo albums. Stepping into the past, reliving captured moments of time is my idea of a legacy.

Create space, allow new doors to open. Welcome new opportunities in. Save something for the future, but don't accumulate so much stuff you're bogged down

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Have you got a USP? No, I'm not talking sci-fi, aliens, spaceships and physic phenomenon. That's ESP, like ET and his “ET phone home” glowing finger. USP is your Unique Selling Point. Everybody has to have one or invent several. USPs are being drummed in as the way to get ahead, beat off stiff competition, go forward. The term used to only apply to marketing products, but in recent years it has spread to recruitment. The wow that makes you stand out from the crowd. Make employers sit up and take notice. People packaged up like commodities.

I hate being judged on this basis. The typical response: “It's a dog-eat-dog world. Everyone is out for themselves.” Competition is good, but is this attitude healthy? I have to trample on everyone else to get to the top. Show others exactly what I'm made of. It makes me wince when I think what people do to put themselves out there. You know the show stopping stuff. The kind of stuff that gets posted on youtube or The Apprentice contestants CVs. This blog is me being brave, but I draw the line in how far I'd go to promote it. I don't even like having a personal profile. A basic description of me. How do you sum up in so many words what you're like? Words fail to provide an accurate representation. I like being an enigma.

In going for jobs we're told your cover letter and CV is the platform to the main arena. The job interview stage, or the lion's den as I call it. Dragons too tame for this process. The unflinching stare of the panel, pouncing on you with question after question. “What are your strengths and weakness?”, “Give an example of a challenging situation you've dealt with”, “Where do you want to be in 5 years time?” the interviewers roar. Confidence evaporating, answers getting meeker. Every nervous pause and tic duly noted. How do you reply? Reel out the attributes you know they want to hear. Organised, reliable, motivated, team player etc. How do you make sure you have the edge over your competitors? Do you keep it quirky? Tell them you can revive dead plants like ET. You can use a stapler. Inform them of the skills you've perfected with experience. Exaggerate your qualifications and become an overnight high achiever.

Decoy tactics sum up the interview process. The hustle to be what others expect or how we'd like to be perceived. What happened to genuineness? No false claims or stating the obvious, unlike some product packaging today. Shouldn't being you be enough? The ultimate USP.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Calcium Enriched

Have you ever felt sick after milk? Lactose intolerance is increasingly talked about, but little is heard about reactions to calcium fortified products. I'm not making this up. It's true. What do you do if you're lactose intolerant? You switch to more digestible milks, such as goat's milk or lactose-free. Problem solved right? What if you decide to give dairy a miss? The alternative options are plentiful – rice, oat, hemp, coconut, soya, even pea, but some of these will be fortified. A standard practice. Just don't be surprised if you feel nauseous. Most will assume it's a one-off, or if this symptom occurs frequently, blame the product. I can't tolerate soya milk people will say. What if the main ingredient is not the cause, but its fortification?

This is what happened to me. No person is immune to developing an allergy or intolerance, nor does it just have to be to common foodstuffs, e.g. dairy, wheat, gluten etc. All types of foods, additives and chemicals can act as a trigger. Calcium fortification is different however. I've found reactions can be much more widespread, and it's still not treated as suspect. The form of calcium used to supplement is an under-acknowledged culprit. It's not a bio-available form. In other words it's not recognised or easily absorbed by the body. Often described as chalk. There are natural forms which could be better assimilated, such as seaweed, but as its present form is not seen as a risk, there seems little point in making that substitution. Ironic when you consider the fact that supplementation as it currently stands is virtually useless.

Our uptake of calcium is variable, dependent on a host of factors from what we eat, to how we digest, and emotional stress. This being said, I question whether it's wise for all of us to supplement our diet? Particularly if it's of little benefit and causes nauseousness. Many of us, (veggies, vegans, and Joe Public) rely on enriched milk products to boost our calcium quota, but perhaps we don't need to. Far better to obtain this from natural sources, such as tahini, green leafy veg, tofu, grains, cooked dried beans, nuts and seeds. Supplement with a bio-available form if need be. Dairy-consuming, non-veggies may snigger, and think glad it's you not me, but you don't get off scott free. Some over-the-counter supplement brands and prescribed medications also contain this chalk. On the alternative white stuff and felt sick? Switch to the unfortified versions and see if the symptom persists.

Fortification is a market leader. Products with extra nutritional benefits considered superior. Too early to state otherwise. This fortified trend may not be a benefit in all cases. Calcium enriched supposedly a big plus, but could it be at the expense of our health?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Peel Here

I'm standing in the deli section of a well-known supermarket store. “Something for lunch, something for lunch...” I murmur. Once again I wanted something for Friday's lunch. Something that was possibly reduced and appealing. What can I eat in half an hour? I scan the shelves, my eyes falling on a reduced cous cous salad. That'll do. I'll just check the ingredients. I check all sides of the transparent container searching for the list. “It must be underneath”, I mutter. Holding it up, I spot a label. Peel Here it says.

Have you ever tried peeling here when you're holding the item above you? It's infuriatingly impossible. What is this? A dexterous challenge to buying food? It makes you look very unhinged, furiously clawing at the packaging. Usually I give up and fling the product back, to continue the hunt elsewhere. Suitable for veggies it said, so this time I chose to believe it. Short of cash, the reduced sticker was too big a plus to miss out on. In this case, my instinct paid off, but even out of the shop peeling the label was a good ten minute job.

So how did I do it you're wondering... The container now positioned upside down, I tried to prise open the label. Even with my slender fingers and thumb it wouldn't budge, so I carefully peeled the whole label off the packaging. It was only once I stuck it to a sheet of plain paper, I could achieve the needed manoeuvre. With a pincher-like grip I successfully peeled and read the ingredients. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was fine. Friday's lunch officially sorted.

Yes, I confess I'm one of those shoppers. I want to know the contents and nutritional info. Being veggie has very little to do with it. This is an act of personal responsibility for my health. I won't put blind faith in the manufacturers. Take their description at face value. Do they purposely make it difficult to assess this in-store? Believing our senses will be so tantalized with appearance we'll just throw it in the basket. Is that what the majority do?

Packaging size and the amount of info required by law is often the excuse. This to me is not good enough. Peel here labels suggests a very long list of ingredients, with too much sugar, salt and fat. This isn't always the case, but if the manufacturers want to lose out so be it. If it's nutritionally dubious, improve it. Why sell something that's as nutritious as sawdust or packs in way too many calories, additives and E numbers?

The public is bored and annoyed with this branded secrecy. Manufacturers, be upfront with consumers. All we want is clear product labels, which can be easily read without any faffing about.


Thursday, 1 September 2011

Finger In Too Many Pies

What makes you squeamish? Blood and guts, pus, vomit, the dentist's chair, drills and needles, or the overpowering smell of decay. Maybe it's bugs, even ones so microscopic you can't see them. Me? A single letter of the alphabet sums it up. The letter my name is shortened to. The capitol letter H. Hands and Hygiene. H-classified areas guaranteed to make me say “Yuck!” or feel faint. Before I pass out I'll delve deeper...

We all have our own yuck-meter. A personal measure of “It freaks me out!” Bothered by or unable to observe some things more than others. What governs this I wonder... Blood or needles are typical “I feel faint” culprits, but these have never fazed me. Poor hygiene is my bugbear. I hate feeling grubby. Clean hands, my number one rule if you want to come anywhere near me. Everyone washes their hands don't they? Hmmm, depends what you mean by wash. A quick splash, no soap the majority. Believe me, I've seen this plenty.

The thought of where hands might have been often puts me off tinned or cook-chilled food. In my mind's eye, all I see are factory floors with big vats of ingredients. Soups, stews, and sauces bubbling away. Workers clothed in white and hairnets, focused on their roles. Peeling, chopping, sorting, overseeing the production line... A seamless operation of quality control. Why for me does this rate high on my yuck conveyor belt? I think it's the number of hands food goes through, even with gloves and machinery. The menacing image of Sweeney Todd overshadowing the positive. Do we really know what we might be eating?

I understand the need for manufacturing, especially today. Many hands make light work as they say. We all benefit from this process in some way. A packaged sandwich, sausage roll, or tinned spaghetti hoops. All churned out quick, and it's this that makes me nauseous. Have we gone a step too far in what we manufacture? More convenient to grab and buy, than make your own at home. Are we giving manufacturers too much trust in the hygiene and safety stakes? HACCP is by no means a guarantee. There's too many fingers in too many pies for my liking.

Is there a way to avoid this? No, afraid not. It's impossible. You could not eat out, cook only from scratch, and boycott all processed goods. If the thought of this is making you giddy, then take my advice: keep it simple. Wash your hands, don't think, and for God's sake don't watch Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares!