As a dedicated grabber of life over 50 ( or #GLO50 for short) I’m always up for doing what I can to stave off the ravages of heart disease and cancer. And having been a fan of Weight Watchers over the years, I’ve grown to depend on lots of fruit and veg in my daily diet (they’re almost all 0 SmartPoints in their counting system). It can sometimes be almost too embarrassing to eat with others, as I down a whole bag of wilted spinach, a pile or carrots or (often ‘and’) a mountain of Brussel Sprouts with my grilled chicken or tuna.
So here is how I get my 10-a-day. Tell me how you do, or don’t, get yours……
My go-to breakfast: Skyr yogurt and red berries. Sprinke granola or seeds on top for added crunch.
Fruit: A crisp Conference pear and an apple during the morning = 2 portions of fruit and veg
All year round salad: OK there’s been a run on Iceberg lettuce lately but you can always find some leaf-based salad in the supermarket (forgive me the food-miles). My favourite salad lunch comprises leaves, chopped up raw courgette, baby corn, tomatoes and Pepperdew peppers topped with tuna in spring water, capers and a drizzle of dressing = 2 portions of fruit and veg
How to eat 10 fruit and veg a day
Home-made vegetable soup: It’s so easy to throw some veg in a big pan with water and a bit of veg stock. I’ve just made Kale and Turnip soup – tastier than it sounds – and a warming bowl is a great way to beat an afternoon hunger dip. Here are some soups I made earlier. I award myself = 2 portions of fruit and veg
3 veg dinner: I always have at least two or three veg with my evening meal, usually easy things like steamed carrots, broccoli and green beans – and LOTS of them. They are so filling and cheap (compared to meat, fish or ready-meals) and it doesn’t feel as bad going back for seconds of veg instead of more mash or pasta (although I have been known to do that too!). Creating a veg-based dish also makes it easy to add to the 10-a-day. Check out my Sicilian caponata recipe = 3 portions of fruit and veg
Banana: For good measure, and just in case I didn’t get my 10 portions of fruit and veg already, I may treat myself to a banana in the evening, perhaps with some sugar-free jelly or a bit of low fat yogurt = 1 portion of fruit and veg
Now let me know how you get your 10 fruit and veg a day. Or if you struggle to eat 5!
The Hive at Kew Gardens is a magical transformation of a set of giant metal rods and bolts into an amazing, delicate and vibrant structure set down in a bucolic corner of southwest London. It has to be experienced in person to be fully appreciated.
We visited ‘The Hive’ at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew as part of the ‘Kew Lates’ programme of events. We arrived just before dusk so were able to see this incredible sculpture as the light was changing. Very helpful guides were on hand to explain the work and the role of bees in pollination and the work they do at Kew Gardens. There were also activities and events in the Orangery including silk screen printing and jewellery making. It was a great evening and the weather was marvellous so we enjoyed a glass of wine on the terrace watching the fire jugglers afterwards.
The Hive structure at Kew Gardens is designed to highlight the importance of bees as pollinators. It’s been well documented that in recent years, the world’s bee population has declined. This is an important addition to the awareness of this phenomenon that affects us all. Specially commissioned music inspired by the humming of bees plays inside the structure to add to the experience.
The work was commissioned by the British Government and created by Wolfgang Buttress and he took his inspiration from the work of Dr. Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University on bee vibration and communication patterns.
The Hive at Kew Gardens featured on BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time on Sunday 10th July 2016. Listen here.
Emma says: Kew is so innovative in its approach to creating public interest in these amazing, world-famous gardens. I haven’t seen another ‘Lates’ event scheduled for the Hive but it’s there to be visited during normal opening hours for another year. And there are lots of other events planned at Kew Gardens, if you’re interested. Check out Kew after dark in the run up to Christmas for a spectacular visit.
Setting off for France with the dog. Jacob is clearly in charge!
With our grown-up kids all working this summer, we decided instead to take our dog Jacob, along on our latest holiday to the French Alps. And what a joy! With a bit of preparation before we set off, and given the French are very dog-friendly, we discovered a great four-legged holiday companion. If you are thinking of taking your dog to France, we hope our experience will inspire you.
Passport at the ready for his trip to the French Alps
1 Preparation and packing for a dog
Meeting passport and travel requirements
It’s not difficult taking your dog to France. But we did find we needed to be sorting out Jacob’s travel docs a few months before we set off. A dog (cat or ferret…not sure why the third one is listed on government websites?) has to be microchipped, have all its vaccinations up-to-date and have a rabies jab before the vet can sign off on a pet passport.Our local vet Sarah also flagged that we would need to find a vet in France to administer a worming tablet at least 24 hours before we returned to the UK.
Going by car meant I could pack all Jacob’s home-from-home doggy stuff, along with a few extras for holiday.
No worrying about what to wear. Jacob’s holiday packing…
a new, up-to-date ID tag for Jacob’s collar – with both our mobile phones on it (with the UK country code +44) – just in case he got lost
a few toys so he felt at home in our rented chalet
an old dog cushion to keep Jacob’s ‘undercarriage’ warm when sitting on cold pavements . This item was an absolute winner on this holiday – see next section on ‘creating a safe place’ for more info.
an adjustable car restraint lead that clipped from his harness direct into the seatbelt socket. It meant he wouldn’t go flying in an accident. But it was long enough for him to pad around a bit on the back seat without getting in a complete tangle.
2 Creating a safe place for Jacob
As a Jack Russell, Jacob clearly sees his job is to be highly anxious, nervy and often very barky when in unfamiliar territory. We weren’t sure how this was going to work on holiday. Luckily I took with us an old dog cushion we normally put on the sofa at home and this turned out to be Jacob’s comforting, safe place where ever we went. Whether we were people-watching in Evian, sailing across Lake Geneva, or eating out in a local restaurant, the minute the cushion went on the floor, Jacob happily settled down on it and stayed quiet. AMAZING!
The view from Jacob’s safe cushion
3 Travelling and stop-overs
Shuttle or ferry when taking your dog to France?
We chose the Shuttle over the ferry to get to France as it meant we could stay in the car with the dog during the journey. It’s also a very quick way to get across the Channel. Everything we’d read about the ferry seemed to suggest we’d have had to leave him in the car on his own and we knew this would be distressing for such an anxious dog.
Free doggy facilities
It was a real bonus to discover the facilities for dogs at the Folkestone Shuttle terminal. There is a big, fenced-in play area with an obstacle course, a podium to make your pampered pooch feel like a winner and a sheltered seating area if the weather is too wet or too hot. A lovely lady on duty awarded Jacob a rosette and a free bag of treats! We were very impressed at how easy they want to make taking your dog to France.
Jacob was made to feel like a winner at the Folkestone Shuttle terminal
France is much more dog-friendly than the UK when it comes to hotels. We chose the Ibis hotel chain to take an overnight break in, both on the way to the French Alps and the way back. We’d read good things from other dog-travellers.
Twickenham to Evian via Arras and Troyes
Stopping in Arras:(first red arrow on map): As we’d caught quite a late afternoon Shuttle on the start of our journey, the Ibis in Arras was a welcome stop only an hour and a half from Calais. The hotel was really central. Our basic room was pretty small but clean and the staff were very happy to welcome Jacob. And it was literally a minute to the centre of this picturesque old town with its two huge squares surrounded by narrow, tall, medieval-style houses. The original wooden structures were destroyed during the course of two World Wars – but they have kept to the spirit and ‘look’ in the rebuilding. We loved this place so much – and it’s so easy to get there – that we’ve decided to return for the Christmas Market in December.
Evening in the centre of one of the two main squares in Arras
Stopping in Troyes: On the return journey at the end of our holiday we chose another historic town about three hours drive north from Evian Les Bains to stop-over in (second red arrow on the map above). The Ibis here was bigger and more modern than the one we stayed in in Arras – but gave the same warm welcome to the dog.
The Ibis hotel in Troyes is only five minutes walk from the heart of the medieval town centre.
Unlike Arras, Troyes has kept its original medieval buildings. It’s very charming with its wonky, wooden-framed houses, old churches and of course plenty of cafes to watch the world go by.
A muddle of medieval houses and streets in Troyes. A charming town to visit.
Which one is the gargoyle? Jacob admires the church architecture in Troyes
4 Planning days out in the French Alps
Walking in the mountains.
Although Jacob’s nine-year-old legs are a little stiff these days, he totally loved walking in the Alps. We didn’t over-do it with our treks and he got a spring back in his step.
Thollon Les Memises is situated in the lower Alps just above Lake Geneva and Evian Les Bains
There was so much for him to sniff and explore in the beautiful Alpine meadows above the village of Thollon Les Memises where we stayed. We know the place well as my parents used to have a small ski flat there back in the day. The village has grown quite a bit since then but it’s still retains much of its rustic charm. And the mountains above it are stunning.
Gorgeous views as far as the eye can see
Visiting Evian Les Bains.
Immediately down the mountain from Thollon is the spa town of Evian Les Bains. This is a lovely place for a day out with a dog. There are plenty of opportunities to amble around the pretty streets, explore its Art Nouveau spa building (which seems to be under renovation), lake-side hotels, cafes and casino and take the rickety funicular railway up the hill for more views over Lake Geneva to Lausanne.
Filling up on free Evian water in this pretty spa town
Steaming across Lake Geneva to Yvoire.
We had to catch a regular ferry from Evian to Lausanne to pick up the restored 1915 paddle-steamer that was going to take us up the lake to the tiny, medieval, walled French village of Yvoire. Travelling on the water was a great way to see the mountains from a different perspective. The boat itself was pretty impressive too in all its restored, nautical glory.
Steaming across Lake Geneva with our furry friend Jacob
The paddle steamer offered a relaxing and peaceful hour on the water before hitting, what in the summer, is very busy Yvoire.
Jacob at the main gate into Yvoire
A tiny, walled town on the French shores of the lake, it is worth a visit if you’re in the area – just be prepared to share the place with alot of other visitors during the summer!
A day out in Geneva.
While John headed off with some of the family to CERN (that of large hadron collider fame – see John’s contribution below) I went with my parents on a trip to Geneva in Switzerland – only an hour down the busy lake-side road from Evian, taking Jacob with us.
Jacob in Geneva
With only a couple of hours to spare there, we jumped on board a little tourist train to take us around the key sights in the centre of the old town. It gave us a flavour of a fascinating, historic city that has so much more to its name than the Red Cross and United Nations.
Check out Jacob’s holiday video…
5 Dog-free days out
Because we had lots of family with us on holiday we had the luxury of being able to do a couple of trips without Jacob, leaving him in safe keeping back at the chalet.
I confess I didn’t know much more about this world-famous silent comedy star than what I’d seen as a child in the odd black and white film on TV. But this new museum (set in and around his family home in Switzerland near Montreux) turned out to offer the most enjoyable and fascinating insights into the ‘Little Tramp’s’ astounding professional and personal life. Using mocked up movie sets, a new ‘studio’ building literally walks you through his meteoric rise to fame from a poverty-stricken childhood in 19th century London to becoming a Hollywood legend in the 1920s and beyond. What I couldn’t get over, watching beautifully restored footage from his most famous films, was how contemporary and modern his humour was. It could have been Monty Python in black and white!
My niece Jacqueline in front of Charlie Chaplin’s famous Little Tramp outfit
His former home is also open to the public. Filled with pictures and home movies, this building focuses on his private life, his family life in Switzerland with his fourth wife, Oona Chaplin and their 8 children. Chaplin’s World offers a fantastic day out for a whole family – young and old. And it left me wanting to learn more about this intriguing man who achieved so much after such a terrible start in life.
CERN (John’s day out)
John in the hot seat at CERN
“While Emma was visiting Geneva with Jacob – and her mum and dad – I went to the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It’s the biggest, most complex and expensive scientific instrument ever built. It straddles the French/Swiss border and is 27km in circumference. It’s also home to some 6,000 scientists and engineers from all over the world. I’ve always been interested in science so this was a real treat for me.
Monument to Scientific Discoveries
The good news is that they managed to save some of the $13 billion it cost to pay for some excellent guides and the tours are free. You just need to book in advance. The tour takes about 2 hours and you will see the very first device they built here back in the ’50s. It’s decommissioned now so the control room plays host to an impressive 3D slide show with commentary.
You will then be taken to the ATLAS control room. This is where all the clever bods sit and watch and wait for the results from the collisions of protons screaming round the LHC at near-
light speed. You don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate what’s going on here but if you have technical questions, the guides are more than capable of answering them.”
CERN Website: http://visits.web.cern.ch
6 Returning home with your dog
There’s one thing you have to do in France before you can bring your dog home at the end of your holiday – and that is take them to a French vet to have them administer (and certify they’ve done it) a worming tablet. This has to be done within a specific window of time. That is no earlier than 7 days – and no later than 24 hours – before returning to the UK. One of our friends told us they hadn’t understood the 24 hour thing and turned up for their Calais crossing thinking they could get a local vet to give their dog its tablet just before they got on the ferry. They were made to stay another night in Calais in order to meet this restriction – that the dog had swallowed the tablet at least 24 hours before returning to the UK.
We took Jacob to a vet in Evian a couple of days before we were heading back to the coast. Sorry to say Jacob bit the vet and drew blood. If only I’d gone armed with a bit of cheese to bury the tablet in, I’m sure I could have given it to him with the vet looking on……..next time I will!
Pet check-in at Le Shuttle terminal in Calais
When you get to Calais you also need to go to a special pet check-in area. All very well run by Le Shuttle who have a friendly team on hand to check Pet Passports are in order and send you on your way home. Taking your dog to France – and coming home – is really straightforward with a bit of planning.
A mutt of many transport modes…
All in all though Jacob was a fantastic travel companion. What most impressed us was how he handled lots of different types of transport. It didn’t occur to me to think about this before we set off – but as a nervous dog he doesn’t usually take well to unfamiliar and often noisy surroundings. But on every mode of transport he tried, he didn’t make a murmur. See if you can work out how many he experienced during our road trip to France.
Souping, I’m reliably informed, is the new juicing. I’m really pleased about this because I have never understood the obsession with juicing. Soup is healthy, hearty and adaptable. Juice is often green, grim, full of fruit-calories and in my opinion overhyped.
I find it really hard to get excited by people waxing lyrical about slimey, green and brown juice mixtures made of fruit and veg. Served on their own, whole or chopped up, they would be perfectly delicious and filling. But mushed together (spinach, apple, celery, kale…..really?) they not only look disgusting (and often taste disgusting), they’re calorie-laden too. The amount of fruit ‘calories’ that can be crammed into one juice is often more than anyone could possibly eat at one sitting if they were consuming them whole. That’s why I love soup or should I say ‘souping’. Great for eating satisfaction, great for health and nutrition and great for being low in calories (thanks to all the water in soup). That means they are also great for maintaining my Grab Life Over 50 weight loss (1 stone 4lb so far and counting!).
To be fair, juicing and souping don’t really bear comparison. The former feels like a fad. The latter is just a great way to eat healthily and feel satisfied for longer.
The ‘souping’ I love is simply all about creating easy, delicious and healthy meals (usually lunches) made from lots of vegetables, water and stock. Each one is so quick to make. I batch cook it and freeze what’s left-over to have another healthy meal ready for tomorrow or next week.
And winter, or summer, there are plenty of inspiring soup recipes to try…
1 Ready – chopped veg
I avoid the excuse of not having time to peel and chop veg by buying them ready-chopped It also helps to speed up the process. I can make a really delicious dish – start to finish – in less than 30 minutes. And most of the time, I don’t have to do anything as the mixture simmers away.
Asda do a good selection of ready-chopped veg at a really good price (every little counts!). My favourites are their Spicy Butternut Squash Soup mix featured in the video above and the Mediterranean mix below. I think most supermarkets do veg like this too.
My soup basics
2 Go-To Soup Ingredients
I keep a stock-pile of stock (sorry) as it’s critical for making my soups really tasty. I also make sure I have light spray oil for frying off the veg at the start without cranking up the calories. I buy Taj frozen, crushed garlic (little blocks in a big bag mean it’s quick and easy to chuck one in the soup mix when needed) as well as good old Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. This is a must-have flavour maker as far as I’m concerned.
3 Soup-making kit
Soup making kit
a) A good liquidiser
A large, dedicated liquidiser can make short work of a pan full of tasty cooked veg and quickly turn it into delicious soup.
b) Plastic ‘freezer to microwave’ containers
These are vital if you batch cook your soups and want to portion them out and save some for later.
c) A Sharpie
However many times I tell myself I will remember which soup is which, I can guarantee that once they’re in the freezer, I almost always forget after a couple of days. I now make a note on the box lid. It’s easy enough to wash off when the soup is eaten and the box is re-used for a fresh, home-made batch.
Keeping track of my homemade soup is helpful when you have the memory of a gnat!
Simple Spicy Butternut Squash Soup
As featured in the video above, I take a couple of bags of Asda’s Spicy Butternut Squash Soup Mix. I throw them in a pan and quickly fry them off with some spray oil. Then I add a frozen block of garlic puree, two teaspoons of stock powder and plenty of water to cover the ingredients. I leave the whole lot to come to the boil and drop the heat to allow it to bubble for around 15-20 minutes. I finish off by adding a few dashes of Lea and Perrins or a hotter, chilli sauce if I”m feeling adventurous and adjust to taste before whizzing up the mixture in the liquidiser.
Next time, look out for my Summer-inspired Pea & Mint Soup. Delicious!
Whether you’re into the Beatles or not, there’s much more in a visit Liverpool than you might think. When we went recently, Emma and I found a vibrant city, full of great places to eat and drink alongside tons of culture and history. It’s changed beyond recognition from the down-at-heel city that we first dated in, back in the 1980s.
My last visit to Liverpool was thirty odd years ago, when Emma was at university there (around the time of the Toxteth Riots and huge unemployment on Merseyside). My memory of the place then is a lively but desperately poor city that had certainly seen better times. So I was really interested to spot the differences when we went there recently.
What a transformation! And what a great opportunity to practice my photography skills…
Albert Dock and the Waterfront
Waterfront near Albert Dock
Dating back to 1841 the dock was in use until 1972. It fell in to dereliction until it was renovated and reopened in 1988. It’s now a major tourist draw with bars, cafes and restaurants occupying the colonnades on all four sides. Visit the waterfront and riverside too to see the famous Liver building and the modern Museum of Liverpool. We spent an hour walking around here and taking pictures. You could easily spend a day around here if you took in the museums…
The Maritime Museum is host to the International Slavery Museum
The International Slavery Museum is the only national museum in the world dedicated to the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy. Four galleries: Life in West Africa, Enslavement and the Middle Passage, Legacy and Campaign Zone, represent Black history heritage. We found it a bit of a muddle in places but that’s partly due to the vast amount of material and testimony on display and it’s presented in creative and interesting ways. It’s well worth a visit and it’s part of the Albert Dock complex.
Yes, there are two, one Catholic and one Anglican. The Catholic cathedral (The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King to give it it’s full official name – and affectionately known locally as Paddy’s Wigwam) will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its consecration in 2017. It still looks very modern to me and I really like the stained glass windows which are spectacular and ever changing as the sun moves across the sky.
Inside the Anglican Cathedral
The Anglican cathedral (or simply Liverpool Cathedral) is much more traditional looking but it was in fact finished after its contemporary Catholic counterpart – its final section being consecrated in 1978! It is also the largest cathedral in the UK and there’s no mistaking that when you get inside, it really is an impressive space.
The two cathedrals are a short walk apart and are connected by the appropriately named ‘Hope St’. Half way between is the marvellous pub called ‘The Philharmonic Dining Rooms’. Pop in here for a pint and admire the exuberant Victorian use of wooden panels, copper, brass and tiling…..the men’s loos included.
City Bike Hire in Liverpool
Like most major cities, Liverpool has a city-wide bike hire scheme called City-Bike . They are dotted around the city and are easy to find and use. They’re cheap too, just £3 per day. They also come with a lock so you can park them without having to dock them. Take the time to download the app because this will give you a map of docking points and also contains the code for the lock. Very handy!
Eating and Drinking in the city
There are loads of really good places to choose from in the city. Here are a few we tried:
Button Street Smokehouse
Button Street Smokehouse
My son, Billy works here so I’m a bit biased but we had a great time. The ‘Flat Iron Steak’ was cooked perfectly and was a first for me. It’s got a nice atmosphere and is located just off the main pedestrian area near Matthew Street (and all the touristy Beatles focus). Service is excellent (obviously!) and they serve some super cocktails, I’d recommend the ‘Ginger Sazerac’.
Located on Bold St. this is a real gem. It specialises in ‘small plates’, think ‘large tapas’. Interesting and unusual menu but everything we had was fantastic. A highlight was the home made chutney with the cheese board. I went on about it so much, the waitress gave me some to take home! Gets busy so book ahead, especially at weekends.
This was a lucky find. It was just down from where we were staying. A lovely little bar/coffee shop that also serves food. We really liked the atmosphere and staff were really good. It attracts an interesting bunch of all ages. It’s on Duke St. right in the centre.
If you’re looking for a lively and fun-filled weekend away I highly recommend the ‘new-look’ Liverpool.
I’ve always been very fond of the city. It’s not only the place where I spent three great years at university at the start of the 1980s – it’s also where I got my first job as a news reporter on BBC Radio Merseyside in the mid-80s (at the time of Derek Hatton’s Left-Wing Militant Tendency take-over of the city council and the Heysel Stadium tragedy). Then the city was pretty much at rock-bottom. The docks were in huge decline. Unemployment was rife and the city centre was pretty grim. In spite of this, the world-famous Scouse sense of humour (so famously demonstrated by the young John, Paul, George and Ringo back in the day) was ever present. And the music scene was vibrant – producing the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Pete Burns and a Flock of Seagulls. And I loved it all – even then.
But I can hardly believe the changes that have occurred since. Liverpool looks amazing. It feels buzzy. There is high-end through to bargain shopping to be had. And every culinary taste is catered for.
My only watch-out: If you venture into the famous Cavern Club area of the centre be prepared for crowds of drunken stag and hen parties being encouraged into a slew of pubs and bars along a sort of Magaluf-style strip in Matthew Street. It’s all light-hearted stuff – but not everyone’s cup of tea (so to speak!).
My go-to breakfast: Skyr yogurt and red berries. Sprinke granola or seeds on top for added crunch.
Icelandic red fruit breakfast
This is one of my favourite breakfasts at the moment. It’s great to kick-start the day, especially when I’m watching my weight. Although it is very low in fat and high in nutritious fruit, it feels like a luxury, not a diet meal.
Handful of frozen red fruit – cherries, blueberries (0 Smart Points)
1 teaspoon Splenda (0 Smart Points)
20 g Lizzie’s low sugar granola (3 Smart Points)
To make this breakfast, I bung a handful of the frozen fruit into a bowl in the microwave with a teaspoon of Splenda sprinkled on, to take the edge of the sharpness of the fruit. I really like cherries and blueberries best. Defrost/cook them on High for around 2 minutes so the juices are running and the fruit is nicely warmed up.
Scoop 200g Skyr yogurt on to the fruit – or layer it with the fruit in a tall glass if you want to make this breakfast really visually pleasing, like I did in the picture above.
I finish off by sprinkling around 20g of low-sugar granola on the top of the yogurt and fruit for a bit of crunch. This is the most calorific part of the breakfast so if you’re feeling good, you could replace it with some seeds or toasted oats instead.
Having tried a couple of brands, I highly recommend the Skyr yogurt that comes in a small bucket from Costco. It is so creamy and smooth. It’s hard to believe it’s low fat. Costco also do big bags of frozen fruit and low-sugar granola too. If you don’t have a branch near you, I know Asda also has a brand of Skyr yogurt (it has a slightly different texture) and all the other ingredients you’ll need.
The whole breakfast comes to 5 Smart Points if you’re following the Weight Watchers plan like me – which is pretty good when you consider that 2 Weetabix and 1/4 pint skimmed milk come in at 6 smart Points – and 2 medium slices of toast with low fat butter would also cost you 6.
If you try it, let me know how much you enjoy my Icelandic- inspired breakfast!
Having worked for many years in the weight loss industry, I’ve heard all the myths that older dieters believe cause them not to lose weight. “My metabolism has slowed down”, “I’ve been on so many diets, my body is now immune to them”, “It’s too late to start eating healthily”. But it’s not true! And it’s not too late to lose weight.
In fact there is really very little you need to do differently to lose weight over the age of 50, compared to any other age group. The biggest challenge is that the older we get and the longer we live the more time we have to get comfortable with the bad habits that cause the weight to creep on. I know. I’ve been there more than once. By last Christmas my own weight had snook up to the same ‘tipping’ point of fat frumpiness that made me join Weight Watchers 16 years ago. If I felt fat and frumpy back then in a 38 year old body – you can imagine how much worse I felt this time around age 54. Old, fat and frumpy. And unfit too.
Dress too tight and white – feeling lumpen on holiday in Majorca last year
So at the start of this year I decided finally to do something about it.Of course I’ve started this effort many times over the years and soon given up . That’s because my head hasn’t really been in the right place. To be realistic you do need to find a personal trigger to get your mind-set right. Mine this time was the start of another year feeling rubbish about myself – and also a second year doing Dry January. Combined, these two things (one being how I felt about myself, the other about depriving myself of alcohol for a month) gave me the boot up my broadening backside to do the right thing for ME.
This picture of a slimmer, fitter me was taken almost exactly a year after the Majorca picture above
I got back on the weight loss wagon properly – and amazed myself by losing 1 stone in three months.What also helped was the marketing challenge from Weight Watchers at the start of this year: “Lose 10lb in your first 8 weeks and get your money back”. That sealed the deal.
Weight Loss over 50 made Simple
So having maintained my stone weight loss – and feeling fitter and healthier at 54 than I have in a long time – I want to share some straight-forward tips that I found really helpful.
I never share my actual weight but the dotted lines above represent intervals of stones on my Weight Watchers weight loss tracker. So here’s proof that I’ve dropped a stone since the end of last year. The green line was my Goal Weight. For a bit of wriggle-room, I aim to lose a few more pounds.
Say ‘S’ to weight loss
1. SMART POINTS
I’ve always found it helpful to take a structured approach to weight loss. This time I chose Weight Watchers – again. It worked for me before when I lost 2 stone so many years ago – and it has helped me lose again – this time using their new Smart Points system to keep account of everything I eat and drink. The Weight Watchers app is great for checking out foods and drinks – there’s a barcode scanner function to make this even easier. And there’s a a great social side to it with a community section to get support for yourself and help others on their journey too. But to be honest, Slimming World or any other sensible plan will do. It’s whatever floats your boat.
I can’t be doing with lots of choices and lots of tracking when I’m trying to lose weight. I tend to stick to a few, simple and healthy go-to meals to get started. Knowing the calorific (or in my case SmartPoints) values of a set of meals that I enjoy really helps me. I can be confident I’m creating the calorie deficit I need to lose weight and then – if I’m tracking – there’s no having to work it all out from scratch everyday. I have one special breakfast that is my absolute favourite and that I eat most days. It really helps to start my morning off positively as every time I eat it, it feels like luxury not deprivation.
My go-to breakfast: Skyr yogurt and red berries. Sprinkle granola or seeds on top for added crunch.
I’m clearly ahead of the game on this one. Only the other day I read in a magazine that ‘souping’ is the new ‘juicing’ .
Smash your weight loss with healthy soups packed with veg
I make my own soups for entirely selfish reasons when it comes to my weight loss. I get to fill my boots with lots of low-calorie (or low SmartPoint value) ingredients that I love so it never feels a chore to chose soup. It also helps me avoid feeling hungry between mealtimes.
I used to think making my own soup was hard work. But these days with so many ready-chopped veg available at most supermarkets, it’s actually very quick and easy to do. Asda do a great Spicy Butternut Squash Soup mix.
I find my weight loss is better when the foods I know I should eat are within reach – and plentiful. I can happily snack on fruit if there are crispy apples and pears in the fruit bowl. A soggy banana just won’t cut it though. So I have to make sure the healthy foods I know I will eat are there. Equally I try to get rid of tempting snacks that will sabotage my weight loss. I LOVE bread. But it’s so easy to scoff lots of it. So although John eats it, I never factor it into any meal at the moment – especially breakfast. You never know where one piece of hot, buttered toast will lead…..
My Fitbit! Wouldn’t be without it EVER
Activity trackers come in all shapes and sizes. Some offer the added paraphernalia and complication of things like texts, tiles, voice activation, GPS and so on. As you’ll have realised by now I like things nice and easy. That’s why I love my Fitbit. I’ve been a convert from the early days of the Zip which literally monitored steps and nothing else. I’ve now moved up to the Fitbit Charge HR. This little beauty goes with me everywhere, everyday. It keeps track of my steps and my distance and it tells me the time (vital). It has added functions – monitoring my heart rate and sleep too.
Weight loss apps I swear by – Weight Watchers tracker on the left and the Fitbit dashboard on the right
All of the information my Fitbit band collects is served up really nicely on the app and added bonus, it communicates with the Weight Watchers app – and let’s it know how active I’ve been. I don’t need to be an expert in mobile tech or be a gym bunny to get the most out of this activity device. In fact it’s the only thing that really keeps me motivated to move more.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like a drink. Probably more than I should. But I find it much easier to lose weight when I’m not drinking. Which is why ‘Dry January’ helped me kick-start my efforts this year. My biggest learning however, was to find a really good ‘drink’ replacement for those moments (usually at the end of the working day) when I crave alcohol. Non-alcoholic lager does the trick for me. A bottle can fool me into thinking I have actually had a drink. Big brands like Becks, San Miguel and Cobra produce non-alcoholic varieties. They really are quite good. I always have a few Becks Blue chilling in the fridge. And you can often order them a the pub too. They usually come in at around 4 Smart Points a bottle.
I am a stone lighter than when I started. Woo hoo! Not too bad for an ‘old bird’ over 50. And I’m fitter too. Having an amazing personal trainer, learning to run a bit and using my sturdy ladies bike for local journeys has helped as well. I’ll tell you about those another time….
And – did I get my money back from Weight Watchers after the first 8 weeks on the plan as advertised? You bet I did. I lost 10lb in that time – and have dropped another 4lb since. Now I have to get to work on shifting down another few pounds, ready for the summer. I’ll keep you posted on my results. Weight loss over 50 is just as achievable as it is at any age – you’ve just got to believe it!
Do tell me about your favourite weight loss meals and other tips for weight loss over 50. I’m always keen to learn more!
Emma and I went to see this film, based on some pretty positive reviews. Very good cast including Alan Rickman’s last appearance before his sad departure earlier this year. It is about the moral questions of drone attacks and collateral damage and the chain of command. As a drama it works OK even though it was clearly shot over a couple of weeks on three sets and one location. The interaction between the protagonists is done via an implausible mash-up of military grade Skype, army Snapchat and the MoD’s low spec version of WhatsApp. What doesn’t ring true (sadly) is the degree of moral analysis and high level scrutiny and challenge given to this one operation. From what I have read, operations like this have been happening on an almost daily basis for a decade or more. I doubt whether those involved would give more than a few seconds thought about collateral damage, especially if the strike was on a confirmed target as portrayed here. The reviews have been very good though. Maybe film critics are too busy to read reports about drone attacks in the papers. For our film review, I give it 5/10.
Emma says: I ask you, would seasoned US airmen really be blubbing over the potential collateral damage to a single child when, by targeting one house in a Kenyan town, they could save hundreds from death at the hands of suicide bombers? Sounds harsh to say it like that. And of course it’s not a choice I would EVER want to make. But that is the situation we are asked to buy into for the whole of this film.
Let me say, it’s not a bad film. The moral dilemma it raises of modern technology allowing us to identify bombing targets with pinpoint accuracy also means we can identify the human beings who are likely to be killed beyond the target itself (the over-used phrase “collateral damage”). It’s just the way it’s portrayed here is a bit saccharine. All that soul searching and all that waiting for a decision to fire the missile? And even then, any suspense created by this dilemma is punctured by scenes of unintended comedic and constant referring up the chain of political command by civil servants and politicians over coffee, over table tennis or even on the loo. Silly stuff.
The most enjoyable bit about this film? Watching it at the Olympic Studios in Barnes! For a couple of quid more than the local Odeon, we sat in spacious, red plush comfort; John with his carafe of wine perched on his personal table (me with my G&T) both of us munching on delicious, salted popcorn. It always makes movie night a real treat.
If you enjoy exploring off the beaten track, you’ll love this short country walk, part of hidden London. It takes you past two glorious stately homes, across the River Thames by boat and into a quirky rural hide-away where you’re as likely to brush past a dramatic glass chandelier as you are a leafy branch!
Dogs are welcome. It’s easy for kids, buggies and bikes. And you can get great coffee at stopping off points along the way.
We treat ourselves now and then to this walk with our dog Jacob on sunny Sunday mornings.
Follow the blue dotted line to get from Marble Hill Park to Petersham Nurseries
Start discovering hidden London at Marble Hill Park, Twickenham
Marble Hill House on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham
Marble Hill House is a picture-perfect 18th century stately home sitting in the centre of 66 acres of parkland. It was built in the 1700’s for the former mistress of George II on the banks of the River Thames. The lady in question, Henrietta Howard, the Countess of Suffolk, allegedly used her payoff from the king, when he moved on to his next mistress, to fund the work on this Palladian mansion.
While these days the grounds are used by all and sundry for summer picnics, walking dogs or playing football, the house itself remains true to its grand past. It’s owned by English Heritage and is open to the paying public in the Spring and Summer. It’s worth a visit if you have time to see how the ‘other half’ lived three hundred years ago.
If you’re willing to pay, you can park in or around the grounds of this Regency house to start the walk. Or if you’re coming from London why not jump on a bus from Richmond Station. The 33, H22 and 490 all stop right outside the gates. You’ll know you’re nearly there when you see The Aleksander (excellent bar and restaurant) on your right and St Stephen’s church on your left, as the bus takes a steep corner towards Twickenham.
Walk through Marble Hill Park to the river. If the house is on your right as you go past it, you will need to turn right when you arrive at the river and head towards the ferry. If the house is on your left as you pass by, then you’ll need to turn left when you hit the water.
Who will pay the ferryman?
Jacob goes free on Hammerton’s ferry
Next step of this mini adventure takes you across the Thames. Hammerton’s is a family-run ferry that’s been nipping back and forth across the river for more than 100 years. I don’t know what it would’ve cost back in the day, but now if you pay the ferryman £1 for an adult (or 50p for a child) he’ll take you on the 5 minute journey across the water landing just below another stately home, Ham House. The ferry runs all day and you normally only need to wait a few minutes to get a return trip back to the Twickenham side.
Head towards Richmond
From the ferry landing point turn left along the bank-side path in the direction of Richmond. The view up towards Richmond Hill has changed little in hundreds of years (give or take a few of the buildings) with its imposing row of Georgian houses, including one, Down House, owned by the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger.
A view of Richmond Hill that’s endured for a couple of centuries. The jogger is a more recent development!
Continue along the river path for about 5 minutes until you come to a road on your right hand side. This is River Lane (surprise, surprise). Turn on to it and follow it for another 5 minutes until it widens out slightly. Keep a look out on the left for a tiny pathway between two high brick walls. This path you need to take. It brings you out at the eclectic and pretty Petersham Nurseries. Ostensibly a high-class garden centre, I can guarantee you won’t have seen anything like this before.
Reflecting on Petersham Nurseries eclectic displays…
The turning point: Petersham Nurseries
This is the furthest point on the walk. And whether you’re searching for garden inspiration, some shabby-chic homeware or just a cup of coffee and some cake, you’ll find it all here. And it’s almost all under glass. There is so much great inspiration even if you don’t want to spend money at this point in your walk.
Jacob and the cute bird boxes
Either way I do recommend you browse your way through this oasis of rural charm and definitely stop for coffee and cake at least (after all it would be rude not to!) in the Tea House. Check out the fine dining to be had in the understated Petersham Nurseries Cafe. Rumour has it Madonna was once spotted here. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities.
Return via the woods
Head back to the ferry taking the same narrow path (left out of the gate of Petersham Nurseries) to get there. When you arrive at River Lane, turn right, walking towards the river. The eagle-eyed of you may spot a gateway into a little wood on the left. You can cut through here to get to the river. It’s prettier than the road but if it’s rained recently you may find it a bit boggy.
Flooded hide-away in the woods
The rest of the walk back is straight-forward. You just need to retrace your steps to the ferry and shout for service if it doesn’t appear to be coming over once you appear at the picking up point.
If you have time:
Check out the chukkas
If on your walk you hear the thundering of hooves, the clack of wood on wood and the chinking of glasses, you may well have arrived at Petersham on a polo match day. Close to the nurseries is Ham Polo Club. Although you’d need to be well-dressed (and have a ticket) to attend the event, there are lots of places you can catch a glimpse of the action taking place on horse-back. Now there’s something you don’t see everyday – unless you’re a Royal or extremely rich!
Explore Ham House
If you love history a visit to Ham House is highly recommended. This imposing, 17th century house is close to the ferry point on the Richmond side of the Thames. If you need another stop for refreshments, like all National Trust properties, you’ll find a good cafe here too.
Ham House is owned by the National Trust.
I like going on the ferry, you can takes bikes across on it too. The nurseries really are something else. If you want a distressed wardrobe for the price of a decent second-hand car, this is the place for you! Dusk is s nice time to do this walk but check the operating times of the ferry, especially in winter.
On C-day (Chipping by law day) #GLO50 Jack Russell, Jacob, reveals how every self-respecting dog can create a ‘bona-fide’, dog-friendly care team to ensure they live life to the full. As taken down by his human Emma.
Hello. I’m Jacob the miniature Jack Russell. Welcome to my world.
Now that we dogs all have to be chipped by law, we need to make sure our humans take our overall care very seriously. Here are my essential, ‘owner-friendly’ tips to making life over 50 as cushy for a canine as it can be (I’m 9 in human years, which makes me the grand old age of 63 in dog. I still look good, don’t I? Woof, woof…..).
My humans and me
Find your local dog-friendly coffee shop
Nothing ensures a good walk with your humans than a good coffee shop at the end of it. Find somewhere that will let them shelter inside when it’s cold or raining. I have it on good authority that there are no laws preventing dogs from going into cafes. It’s down to the discretion of the manager or owner. So behave well. No barking. No fighting. And you may get in. I just love Paws for Coffee, created for dogs and their humans. It’s at the gates of our local park in Hampton Hill. Meet my mates…
There’s usually a free bit of sausage in it for me when we go. And there is even a menu at doggy-eye level. Hmmm, what shall we have today?
Puppaccino is my favourite doggy beverage (goat’s milk & black pudding)
Same as with the coffee shop, a dog-friendly pub increases your chances of walks with your humans, particularly if they can’t resist a pint or a glass of wine of an evening. It’s a great place to catch up with your local canine community too. Landlady Paula can always be tapped for a doggy treat at The Rifleman round the corner from my pad.
And the Sussex Arms near Twickenham Green offers good dog snacks too. Let me show you round…
Select your human walker
I know, I know, it’s a travesty that my own humans don’t always walk me themselves. But apparently they have these things called jobs that take their attention for part of the day. So having a trust-worthy and friendly extra human on my canine care team to take me out is great.
Rana, my lovely walking lady picks me up a few days each week
Thank goodness for Rana from the Dog Squad. I might grumble when she comes to get me (after all I’m a selective Jack Russell not one of those bouncy, ‘I love everyone’ spaniel types). But that’s just a test. And Rana passes every time. She patiently sees past my growls to get me out of doors in rain or shine and takes me on great walks with my doggy friends. If I’m poorly, she’ll even pop by and spend some time indoors playing with me.
If, like me, you have luxating patellas (bad knees), suffer from bald patches now and then or need your toes clipping regularly, then you need a good vet to take care of you. Sarah, at our local branch of Medivet, is very kind and tries to put me at my ease when I have to go – but I am alway very nervous. Most recently I needed a rabies jab, in order to qualify for my very own Pet Passport. It’s even got my picture in there – just like my humans.
I also star in a pet insurance display at the vets to warn of the dangers of scoffing chocolate and getting very sick. Luckily I recovered after an overnight stay there. The nurses liked their cuddles with me….woof woof.
Don’t eat chocolate!
Connect to canine social networks
I have to depend on my humans for this but it’s well worth using Facebook to keep up with distant mutty mates. There are a couple of dogs I enjoy following. JackJack is a very handsome and intelligent Jack Russell Cross. And Reggie is the smiliest staffy I’ve ever seen. Dog Friendly UK keeps me up-to-date with lots of other doggy news and the endeavours of humans to find lost dogs (it’s good to know they care!).
Now tell me about your essential canine care team.
Who else keeps your canine care ticking over nicely?
And let me know if you have any tips for travelling to France. My humans are taking me with them this year – all the way to Evian. Are there any good dog-friendly stops along the way? What are your tips for travelling doggy-style? Woof, woof.