Category Archives: Happy at home

Happy at home #18 –  Staying healthier and happier for longer

This is to be the last of my Happy at home posts. It’s been great fun to do and I’ve learnt a lot, including some very simple (and mostly successful) recipes. It’s also confirmed my belief that being creative is good for your health and wellbeing.

Staying well

How to stay healthier and happier for longer is how I started this series of posts on 2nd June) and that’s how I plan to end it – with some great advice.


I have my 3 Cs (Connect, Create and Carry On) to stay well, Phil Hammond has his CLANGERS. Dr Phil is a practicing doctor in Bristol, a stand-up comedian, and he is also ‘MD’ in Private Eye magazine. CLANGERS is a mnemonic – hopefully fairly self-explanatory 

Connect – Learn – (Be) Active – Notice – Give back to others – Eat well – Relax – Sleep

Here’s Dr Phil explaining more about CLANGERS in relation to post viral fatigue

If your mood is low, Dr Phil recommends you think of 5- 10 things to do before you listen to your negative thoughts. This could be listening to your favourite piece of music, watching an episode of your favourite sitcom, wandering around your garden (if you have one), treating yourself to a favourite snack, stroking your dog or cat – or someone else’s!

Some of you may also know the New Economics Foundations ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ on related themes?


Connecting with nature

This has been a recurring theme over the past 20 weeks in my weekly mailings – whether it’s learning to identify birds and their songs or upcycling plastic containers to make feeders for your garden, or growing things. Here’s evidence about how nature positively affects our brains and bodies

The miracle cure

So, what is the ‘miracle cure’? Take a listen here and find out

Looking after ourselves

I’ve included some of the Action for Happiness calendars in previous posts. This month it’s  Self-care September – very appropriate because we need to look after ourselves to be able to support others.

Happiness in dark times

Also from Action for Happiness, this is a lovely talk from Dr Maria Sirois on how to grow through difficult times, including bereavement and other kinds of loss.

7 types of negativity to banish

If you’re a ‘glass-half-empty’ kind of person, you might like to take a look at this list at the start of each week (or even each day!)

21 brilliant ideas to remake the world

There’s been lots of dreaming going on about how the world might be improved following Covid-19 and the enforced lockdown – I say ‘dream on’!

The Guardian newspaper recently published 21 ideas for making the world a better place and I think they’re wonderful and you can read more here See also

Do face masks matter?

Face coverings – how to wear them and how to make them – have been another recurring theme in these weekly mailings. Here’s a readable recent piece from the USA about the scientific evidence in favour of wearing face masks.

And to lighten the mood… here’s how one artist has used face masks (and toilet rolls) to create a miniature world One to go with the pothole gardener’s creations that I shared some weeks ago?

And finally… have a laugh

It’s a cliché to say that humour is the best medicine, but I certainly find a good laugh makes me feel better. August would have been the annual Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival. So, I’ve selected 5 one-liners from the 2019 Festival that amused me:

“As a kid I was made to walk the plank. We couldn’t afford a dog.” Gary Delaney

 “I like to imagine the guy who invented the umbrella was going to call it the ‘brella’. But he hesitated” Andy Field

I have two boys, 5 and 6. We’re no good at naming things in our house” Ed Byrne

I never lie on my CV…because it creases it.” Jenny Collier

I’m entering the worlds tightest hat competition. Just hope I can pull it off.” William Andrews

Click here for over 100 jokes from previous Fringe Festivals

That’s it – best wishes and stay well

See other posts in the “Happy at home” series here 

Happy at home #17 – Get things done

Following my last Happy at home post’s reference to that wonderful TEX Talk on procrastination, this post continues the theme of ‘getting things done’.

Below are five tools, hacks, tricks – whatever you like to call them – for doing something you probably don’t want to. It could be a difficult phone call, or an e-mail you need to take time to plan carefully. Or maybe your head is spinning with ‘things to do’ and you can’t decide what to do first.


The Pomodoro technique

Named after the kitchen timer (shaped like a tomato – pomodoro in Italian) that belonged to the Italian inventor of the Pomodoro technique

This works for me and my daughter when we have to do something that will take time, but we just can’t find the time to start it… like tidying, decorating, writing a difficult letter or a long report.

The idea is that you break down the time you give to your task into short chunks – 25 minutes works for me – with a short break (5 minutes) in between each chunk. Every 4 chunks (so after two hours) you take a longer break. For me this gets over the thought of having to sit down for a solid two-hour slog – 25 minutes is a much more manageable prospect for getting me started.


Imagine you’re about to write an e-mail, a letter, make a phone call, or design a poster. How do you start planning what to say? One way is to use AIDA which stands for…

Action: Think what’s going to interest the recipient? Grab their attention? In the case of an e-mail it could be a clear, concise, but positive message in the subject box.

Interest: Building on the attention-grabber, how can you keep their interest and attention? Think of the other person when writing this – why do they want to hear what you have to say?

Desire: Spell out another part of your message that’s going to interest the reader – explain how they can benefit by responding to your communication

Action:  Be clear about what they should do next – how they could/should contact you (by phone, by e-mail, or how?)

This technique is traditionally used for writing publicity materials, but I’ve been using it for planning all sorts of communications for years. You’ll find more details here

The Pareto Principle

Also known as ‘the 80:20 rule’, this principle is over 120 years old.

Broadly speaking it says that just 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results. In other words, if you have a to-do list with 10 tasks, two of those tasks will account for 80 percent of the value of what you do.

For using your time well, the trick is to work out which those two tasks are, and to get them done first! This in turn depends on knowing what each task is meant to achieve. This article explains more

Begin your day with the hardest task

You have a list of things to do, but one of them is worrying you more than the others. It might be a difficult phone call, an application that needs to be just right, or a meeting you’ve been putting off for a while.

The best advice is to tackle that task first. The temptation is to put it to one side (hoping it will go away) but, more often than not, it nags away in the back of your mind and can ruin your day.

In my experience, the ‘hard task’ is often not as bad as I thought it would be; in my mind I’ve made it more challenging than it turned out to be. If it goes badly, at least it’s out of the way, if it goes well, it’s downhill all the way.

One thing to add – if your task involves writing and you can leave your written work over night, for a final check before you send it off the next day, you’ll often see improvements to make when you read it again in the morning.

The Urgent – Important matrix

A simple but effective technique for sorting your to-do list tasks into what’s urgent and what’s important, and then deciding which to do first (and which to cross off the list!)

Draw a matrix with urgent along one axis and important along the other and then place each task in one quadrant of your matrix – depending on how important/urgent it is.

For example, if you’re overdue by a month on checking that your fire extinguisher is working OK, it’s important rather than urgent to get it checked. But if your front door lock is broken, getting it fixed is both urgent and important. So, your matrix might look like this…

More on the urgent-important matrix (also called the Eisenhower Matrix) is here


When all your tasks are under control, reward yourself by making some easy Chocolate Fudge Crinkle Biscuits – recipe below

PREP: 20 MINS   COOK: 10 MINS             MAKES 35-40 MINI BISCUITS


  • 60g cocoa powder, sieved
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 60ml vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 180g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 35g icing sugar


  1. Mix the cocoa, caster sugar and oil together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until fully combined.
  2. Stir the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt together in a separate bowl, then add to the cocoa mixture and mix until a soft dough forms. If it feels soft, transfer to the fridge and chill for 1 hr. Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Tip the icing sugar into a shallow dish. Form a heaped teaspoon of the dough into a ball, then roll in the sugar to coat. Repeat with the remaining dough, then put, evenly spaced, on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  3. Bake in the centre of the oven for 10 mins – they will firm up as they cool. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool. Will keep for four days in a biscuit tin

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here

Happy at home #16 – effective communication

I’ve spent most of my adult life sharing ideas about effective communication – how to get noticed, how to (try to) get your message across and understood and, importantly, how to get someone to respond the way you want them to.

Whether it’s writing a job application (and the covering letter), responding to a volunteering opportunity, or asking a favour of a friend or someone you don’t know – getting the words right can save you a lot of time and effort.

My interest in communication was born out of an interest in language (written and spoken) and a frustration that, although we start learning how to communicate the moment we’re born, most of us fail to do so effectively for most of our lives!

This post shares a couple of simple tricks to make your communications more effective – they’re tried and tested and, more often than not, it’s about making your messages simpler, not more complicated.

Wearing face coverings

Nowhere is the issue of effective communication more important than during a pandemic – now. More particularly it’s important to be clear when giving guidance/ laying down the law about, for example, wearing face coverings.

So I thought I’d start by sharing the government’s advice on wearing face coverings

What do you think about this information?

  • Has it been written with you in mind?
  • Does it use short sentences and words that are easy to understand?
  • Does it explain anything that might not be clear (for example, do you now know the difference between a face covering and a face mask?)
  • As you clear what you’re meant to do as a result of reading the government’s information?
  • How does this information compare with the two pieces I sent you last week?

Writing e-mails, letters and other pieces

As with most written communication, when writing e-mails to get your message across, you should follow some simple (but often ignored) rules, including…

Get to the point – be clear to the reader why you’re writing to them (this could go in the e-mail subject box or at the beginning of your letter) and keep the whole thing short. Make it easy to understand – use short paragraphs (with only one idea in each), avoid long sentences and unfamiliar words, feel free to use bullet points for lists if it makes reading easier.

For more advice on writing good e-mails, check out

For writing in other situations, there are some brilliant tips (29 to be precise!) here

Three of those tips are:

  • Think before you write (sounds obvious but many people don’t)
  • Write for a particular reader – not everyone – visualise them in your head
  • Grab your reader’s attention in the opening line (the article tells you now to do this)

Using the spoken word

Whether it’s simply knowing how to have a good conversation with someone, making a phone call to someone you don’t know, or giving a talk to a group of people – there’s lots of advice around – all of it free.

The art of conversation: Yes – there’s a skill to being good at conversations and like most skills, they can be learned. This is a useful article on the subject including these three tips:

  • Show interest and be curious (about the other person)
  • Be an active listener – keep good eye contact
  • Relax, smile and be friendly [but don’t overdo this!]

This is a useful piece on good communication skills from the same writer

Overcoming phone call phobia:

Most people I know (including me!) have a fear of making phone calls – particularly to people they don’t know. If that’s you, you’re not alone. There are good reasons for it – as this article explains  Luckily, there are also ways to get more comfortable about making phone calls, including:

  • Prepare yourself for the call – physically and mentally
  • Don’t expect to have all the answers immediately
  • Plan which calls you make when

Presentation skills:

The thought of making a speech to a group of people (even people you know) sends many people into a spin; their palms start sweating just thinking about it.

Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need to give a talk, you can adopt good presentations skills in your everyday communications – a lot of the techniques can be used for helping you have better conversations and photo calls.

There’s loads of advice on the internet about making better presentations, here are three sources:

How to (try to) ensure your talk is interesting

Tips for better talks

Watch an expert – this is a wonderful talk – see how well the speaker uses timing and humour to get his message across (one of many thousands of brilliant TED Talks on YouTube).

And finally…

Last week I told you I’d be sharing an easy recipe that none of you will know – This is the recipe for making Scotch Woodcock!

Serves 4 Preparation and cooking time 15 minutes




  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cream
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 8 slices bread, toasted
  • 12 anchovies, sliced in half
  • Sliced chives, to garnish


  • Whisk together eggs and cream.
  • Heat butter in a large non-stick pan over medium low heat. Once butter has melted, add the eggs and turn the heat to low.
  • Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, constantly stir the eggs until they have just set. They should have a loose, custardy texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Divide eggs between toast, then top each piece with three pieces of anchovy. Garnish with chives if desired and serve immediately.

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here

Happy at home #15 – creating more

As we come to the end of my ‘get creating’ alphabet (U to Z), I’m not going to tie myself in knots (ref earlier mailings) trying to come up with ideas to stick under ‘V’ and ‘X’ – you can do that!

U & W – two for the price of one – Upcyling for wildlife What could be better than reducing waste and creating a wildlife friendly green space? You’ll find some really neat ideas here

W – Wild Swimming During lockdown there’s been was a lot of chat about the delights of wild swimming. If, like me, you find that too… er, wild, you might want to start with safer, more organised Open Water Swimming. Find your nearest location here

And here are a couple of TV programmes about wild swimming generally and open water swimming at Hampstead Ponds

W – Wellbeing and creativity You’ll know by now that I believe that creativity is good for keeping us healthier and happier for longer. But here’s the evidence that it isn’t just me that thinks so, and online creativity works as well as in face-to-face groups

Welsh Rarebit

Recipe of the week – a nod to other countries in Great Britain and a culinary delight that sounds impressive but isn’t!

Prep Time 10 minutes   Cook Time 5 minutes   Servings 2


  •  250g cheddar cheese
  • 70ml ale or beer
  • 5 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 20g unsalted butter melted
  • 1 tbsp English mustard or 1 tsp English mustard powder (French mustard also works)
  • 4 thick slices good quality bread


  1.  Lightly toast the bread under a preheated grill or in a toaster.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the grated cheese, beer or ale, butter, Worcestershire sauce and English mustard. Stir until thoroughly combined.
  3. Spread a generous layer of the mixture over each slice of toast, ensuring it covers the crusts too.
  4. Transfer each slice onto a baking tray and place directly underneath the grill for five minutes or so, until golden brown and bubbling.
  5. Carefully remove from the grill, cut each slice in half and serve hot, either alone or with a crisp green salad and rich, fruity chutney.

Adapted from: where you’ll find much more about Welsh Rarebit and variations on the basic recipe

You may know about Welsh Rarebit but I’ll bet you haven’t heard of (or tried) the recipe in the next ‘Happy at Home’ post!

 Wearing a face covering – Looks like we’ll all be wearing face coverings at some stage so here are a couple of sources on the subject to add to the references I’ve made in past mailings.

This is an American source, but I find it quite readable

And a recent UK source with some further questions answered –

And finally….

Zipper repairs Who hasn’t had a problem with a zipper at some time? Here’s everything you need to know to fix it!

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here

Happy at home #14 – keep creating

We’re still on the trail of creative activity in this post. My suggestions for activities are truly random and really stretch P to T of the creative alphabet!








P – Photography Can you sum up your local area in pictures? Remember the photo composition tips from a couple of weeks ago, the link is here See if you can portray your locality in up to five photos. Above are two views of Royston in North Hertfordshire showing the A10,  a couple of old pubs, Therfield Heath and the golf club, and Johnson Matthey – a major employer.

P – People fixing the world Recently we were discussing insomnia; it seems a lot of people are having trouble sleeping these days – a combination of warm nights and uncertain times maybe. I said that listening to the radio is one thing that sends me off to sleep and I mentioned a great series of programme on the BBC World Service that they broadcast in the middle of the night. This is the series
including one with which I was involved And you can see linked short film clips here 

Q – Quizzes I don’t know about you, but I love doing quizzes (as long as I have a chance of some success!) You may remember I joined around 150,000 people for a Thursday night virtual pub quiz for a couple of weeks at the beginning of lockdown – that quiz is still happening

For me the YouTube quiz has been replaced by an online fortnightly quiz I do with a group of walking friends (we take it in turns to organise them). Have you ever thought about designing a quiz, or would you like to? If so, here are some tips. Creating a quiz

R – Reclaimed materials I threatened to show you the things I’ve been making from driftwood and pallet wood in recent weeks – here are two with a summery theme.








S – Staying safe If you’re confused about the latest lockdown regulations/ guidance? I’ve found this BBC ‘explainer’ quite helpful

T – Thriving with nature We know that the natural environment is good for our health, but here are creative ideas for making the most of getting outdoors.

T- Tying knots By special request (following my earlier piece about tying knots) Here’s a source for lots more knots at

 And finally…


Recipe of the week: Although my version didn’t include bread or butter, Bread and Butter Pudding is what it is! The very easy recipe is below and, although I tend to associate it with cold weather, I find it goes well with ice cream in summer.


Serves 4

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 mins in the middle of a moderate oven – Gas 3–4/ 170-180C


4 – 6 slices of bread I used brioche buns)

75 gms dried fruit (I used sultanas)

2 eggs

40gms sugar

425 ml milk

Although it’s called bread and butter pudding I don’t use butter, but you can spread some on one side of each slice if you like. I’ve seen it made with strawberry jam instead of the butter, and no dried fruit.


Unless already sliced, cut the bread in quite thick slices

Put bread slices in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle fruit on top

Beat the eggs with the sugar and milk and pour over the bread

Leave the mix in fridge to allow the bread to soak up the liquid a little

Bake in the centre of oven for 45 minutes (move to the top of over for five to ten minutes before it’s ready, to brown and crisp up the bread)

Serve hot

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here

Happy at home #13 – getting creative

Before launching back into my ‘A – Z of getting creative’, I thought I’d share with you the main points of a recent Financial Times article on Keeping safe as lockdown is eased. The headlines are…

Three key factors determine risk of exposure to Covid-19: proximity to people; duration of exposure; and how confined the environment is. The greatest peril lies where the three overlap ie on a crowded tube train.

Transmission of Covid-19 is much less likely in outdoor spaces than indoor settings.

While passing someone in the street can bring you within 2 metres of that person, the risk is thought to be very low because the exposure time to any clouds of virus they produce is minimal.

A recent article in The Lancet medical journal said distancing policies of 1 metre or more seemed to be “strongly associated with a large protective effect” while distances of 2 metres “could be more effective” still.

Face masks and other coverings [ref past mailings] are likely to have most value in high-risk indoor environments where they can block the spread of respiratory droplets from wearers’ noses and mouths.

Health authorities generally do not recommend wearing gloves. But experts cite two other good practices that have remained relevant since the earliest days of the pandemic: don’t touch shared surfaces any more than you have to (such as buses and trains), and make sure you wash your hands before and after if you can.

For the full article (and the research behind these observations) go to

Getting creative…

You may decide that the safest place to be right now is staying at home. So, thinking about things you can do to be both productive and purposeful – both of which I find can be very personally rewarding – here are my K – O ideas…

Apart from keeping safe, Hazel has suggested knitting and knotting.

Our friends at the Institute of Making have a free online knitting circle today (21 July) at 3.30pm. Book

If your childhood didn’t include the Scouts or Guides, you can catch up on your knot-tying here (I’ll keep Karaoke and Karate for another time!)


Literature online

Two for the price of one – ‘L’ and ‘O’. If you haven’t already discovered there are lots of sources of free books to read online, including and, as well as your local library (which you can join online for free) You can also listen to interviews with authors from a virtual Literary Festival

Map reading

We all know that men never get lost… But just in case they do, here’s some guidance to learn how to map read

Mental agility

How did you get on with mental workout in last week’s mailing?

Anagram challenge: the letters in M O N D A Y can be arranged to spell dynamo (which is not only a generator of power, but is the stage name for a well-known young magician who got his ‘first break’ through The Princes Trust).

How many of these chocolate bars did you get right?

Can you solve this? The answer is 66. some people say ‘35’ because they mis-read the last line of the puzzle.








National Theatre Live

See a different play free each week from Thursdays for a week. You can watch Amadeus until s 7pm Thursday

Oopsie Bread

Recipe of the week. Also known as cloud bread (but that doesn’t begin with O) I’ve not made this one yet – it’s a suggestion – only two ingredients!

Prep Time 10 minutes Cook Time 25 minutes


3 large eggs (whites and yolks separated)

85 gms softened Mascapone cheese (or you can use cream cheese)


  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (149 degrees C). Line a baking tray with baking paper and grease lightly.
  2. In a bowl, use an electric mixer (or hand whisk) to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. This is easier if the eggs are at room temperature.
  3. In a second bowl, beat the mascarpone and egg yolks until smooth.
  4. Carefully and gradually fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture with a spatula (do not stir!) Use a folding motion to incorporate, without breaking down the air bubbles in the egg whites. It should end up fluffy not runny.
  5. Scoop the mixture into six circular discs onto the parchment paper. Bake 25- 25 minutes until golden.


  • You need to bake these slowly at a relatively low temperature because the cloud bread is so delicate. It can go quickly from ‘ready to burnt’!
  • Don’t use foil in place of baking paper as the bread will stick

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here

Happy at home #12 – train your brain

The previous post in this ‘Happy at home’ series was talking about physical exercise, this time it’s ideas for keeping your brain fit and well. For me, this isn’t just about stretching your little grey cells, it’s also about relaxing, with pleasurable experiences, or using your imagination to think about things you may not have had time to until now.


The world seems to have gone crazy with online quizzes with mainly general knowledge questions. I did two virtual pub quizzes – with 150,000 other people. I did really badly and gave up!

Personally, I prefer word puzzles – crosswords, anagrams, and ones which are more visual. Here are a couple (answers next time!) …

Anagram challenge: rearrange the letters in M O N D A Y to make a word which is both powerful and magical.

Ken’s Chocolate Quiz: without buying up all the chocolate in your local sweet shop, how many of the 20 bars shown here can you identify?  Lots more of Ken’s quizzes can be found here

Can you solve this? Are numbers and pictures your thing? If so, see below.

Travel They say travel broadens the mind – so too can virtual travel…

Discover Venice through these ‘live postcards’ or take a walking tour

View the Northern Lights over Lapland

Creating food

I stretched my brain and my waistline last weekend with this recipe for Lantern Tray Bake.


  • 6 ounces, Baking spread
  • 18 ounces, Chocolate, Divided
  • 16 ounces, Digestive Biscuits
  • 8 ounces, Raisins or Sultanas
  • 4 ounces, Glace Cherries, Chopped
  • 7 ounces, Condensed Milk


Melt baking spread in a pan along with 8 ounces of chocolate. Be careful not to overheat – you might prefer to do this in a bowl over a pan of boiling water

Place digestives in a resealable bag and bash with a rolling pin until there is a mixture of small and big crumbs. Add crushed digestives to the melted chocolate.

Add raisins/sultanas and chopped cherries to the mixture, followed by condensed milk. Mix until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Press mixture into a tin. Melt the remaining 10 ounces chocolate and pour over the mixture in the tin, making sure everything is completely covered. You can use less or more chocolate depending on the depth of your tin and how much you love chocolate. I used milk chocolate in the mix and white chocolate on top.

Refrigerate overnight. Remove and cut into squares. I tend to prefer smaller pieces as it is quite sweet.

A recommendation from Chris (another one) neither he, nor anyone else, seems to know why it’s called ‘lantern’. Chris has happy memories of this from his childhood and I can see why – it’s easy (doesn’t involve baking) it’s sweet and very ‘more-ish’.

Resting your brain

Reading: As you may know, I love reading – both fiction (for pleasure) and non-fiction (for inspiration). I’ve just finished a book called How To Be Alive: A guide to the kind of happiness that helps the world. Details about the book are here I think it’s a timely read for anyone thinking how they’d like their lives to be when life returns to some sort of normality.

And finally…

Next time I’ll include some advice on keeping safe if you’re going out and about but, for now, I thought I’d share a link to an instruction video for making a face covering using an old T-shirt and no sewing. Popular with Men’s Sheds in Wales I’m told!

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here

Happy at home #11 – get active

The government is easing the lockdown – opening more shops and allowing gatherings that are socially-distanced. We’re all hoping that this doesn’t increase Coronavirus infection rates – something that some say we’ll not know for some weeks.

Understandably, many are getting impatient for this greater freedom – not least for our mental and physical health – but there’s lots you can do right now to keep fit and well.

And if you’re feeling tired during lockdown, you’re not alone – there are good reasons why you might be finding it hard to adjust The good news is that exercise can help get over your fatigue

Get your body moving – indoors and out

Here are some great ideas for staying active at home

This is a great link to videos, tips and other useful sources to support your effort to keep on moving – whatever your situation

Workout from home

If all that activity hasn’t exhausted you, our friends at the Herts Sports Partnership have others ways you can ‘join the movement’ at home


I understand a lot of people around the UK have taken to cycling in past weeks – while roads have been relatively free of traffic and the weather had been kind. It’s obviously a great way to get fresh air and exercise – and it’s not too late to get started!

This is the best single source I’ve found for information on all aspects of starting to cycle

Or try Freegle for a bike that gives you the exercise but doesn’t take you anywhere!

Getting a free bike might be a little harder now than before the pandemic, but it’s worth signing up to your local online sharing sites. In Royston we’ve got Freegle, Nextdoor and a local free exchange page on Facebook. Our local Recycling Centre (which has just reopened) had affordable bikes in different states of repair before the lockdown.

Before taking to the road, you’d do well to learn about bike maintenance – here are some tips and there are lots more tutorials on YouTube.

If you prefer two legs to two wheels…

Walking: They say that a 20-minute fast walk (one that leaves you feeling slightly out of breath) is pretty much as good for you as a run.

For all areas, here’s a useful source and to find walks near you, you can always go to the Walking Britain website walks finder

Running: If you need a bit of persuasion to even think about taking up running, read this I love running because it’s cheap, I can do it from my door at any time, in any weather.

I won’t go on about parkrun – primarily because it’s been suspended during lockdown. But if you’re new to running, feeling a bit nervous, and you want to join a really friendly and supportive community of all ages and abilities (some people walk the 5kms route), you should check out your nearest parkrun for when lockdown is over

Before then, you can check out this running guide for absolute beginners

Finally… feed the body and the brain

After all that physical exertion, why not reward yourself with a jacket potato? They’re cheap, easy to prepare, and healthy. I’ve just discovered 20 really tasty suggestions for fillings here

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here

Happy at home #10  – Getting more creative

I so enjoyed prescribing creativity in the last ‘happy at home’ blog post, I thought I’d give you a second dose – five more letters from my alphabet pharmacy…

F – Photography (yes – I know it isn’t really an f…)

In my very limited experience, the difference between taking an average photo and a very good one is as much about technique as ‘having a good eye’ (I’m sure photographers would disagree). For technique, some accessible top tips for photo composition are here

For more advanced beginners, there are free guides to every aspect of photography here


Fakeaways – save money, and your waistline – these are low-calorie recipes

Store cupboard heroes for tricky times – and check out some of the tasty-looking recipes.

G – Growing

Tomato corner – “Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad, creativity is putting a tomato in a fruit salad.”

So get planting and get cr-eating

And, if you prefer potatoes to tomatoes –


If you haven’t got a garden here are two suggestions – find your nearest city farm or community garden here

Or create your own space to grow things

And if you’re growing weeds better than plants ….


When I was growing up, my Mum admitted that for a long time she thought the popular board game was called Monotony. This photo of a lockdown version that shows she wasn’t entirely wrong!

H – Home hacks

The BBC demonstrates its skill in upcycling old material with a new series showing lots of household fixes, upcycling ideas, other things to make and do around your home with Jay Blades Home Fix 10 programmes





I – Informal Learning

Harking back to my mailing around the joys of learning – just for the sake of it … Have you ever thought of learning another language? Now’s your chance with It’s a free and fun way to learn another language. One of my walking friends is learning Spanish with Duolingo. (that wasn’t meant to sound like an advertisement…)

Inkblot art – an excuse to make a mess and call it culture! 

 J – Jigsaws

Making jigsaws it not as difficult as you may think – And the other way of doing it…

Jewelry-making (and with reference to last week’s mailing – you can sign up for a free 14 day trial).

Also try

Junk art I took a ‘week off’ in June. As I wasn’t going anywhere, I thought I’d try something creative – turning wooden offcuts into skylines (see photo – not my work) I’ll let you know how I got on in a future post.

 And a final J …

Even though we’re into July – you can still follow Joyful June – an action for each day to help make your month better

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here


Happy at home #9 – Getting creative

If you read my first post in the ‘happy at home series’, you may remember that ‘create’ is one of my 3Cs (along with ‘connect’ and ‘carry on’) for staying healthier and happier for longer.

So the theme for this post is ‘getting creative’. That’s not about becoming a writer, photographer, gardener, woodworker or chef overnight (or at all…) it’s about discovering the delight of producing something you’re personally proud about. Here are an A – E of ideas…

A – Art






Some of you may have heard of Rosie the Riveter – she’s a real-life person who worked in munitions factories in the USA in World War II when women were doing things no one would ever have imagined. Her image became iconic. Now, a 14-year-old girl has redrawn Rosie for our time (and her mum says she didn’t even know her daughter could draw!)

 ‘Art is where the home is’ say FirstSite – an organisation based in Colchester – they’re offering three free activity packs to help you develop your artistic flair.

B – Baking

This is what I like – a recipe with only three ingredients – peanut butter cookies. No flour needed (and they taste great!)

Peanut butter cookies

25 minutes to make and bake 16 cookies*


200gms peanut butter (crunchy or smooth is fine)                                                                     175gms golden caster sugar (other sugar will work)                                                                               1 large egg


  1. Heat oven to 180C /gas 4 and line two large baking trays with baking paper
  2. Measure the peanut butter and sugar into a bowl and mix well. Add the egg and mix in well to form a dough.
  3. Take golf ball sized chunks of dough and place, well-spaced apart, on the trays. Press the cookies down with the back of a fork to squash them a little.
  4. Bake for 12 mins, until golden around the edges. Cool on the trays for 10 mins, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Store in a cookie jar for up to 3 days.

*I used half measures to make 9 cookies. This meant the egg made the dough less firm. The ‘chunks’ were spooned dollops and didn’t need squashing down!

C – Creative writing

Poetry corner – continuing the key-frontline-workers appreciation theme, here’s a cheeky little ditty credited to Mark Graham

 The NHS is wonderful

If masks were gone I’d kiss

The doctors and the nurses

Who helped me get through this

But having left the hospital

The one I’d ‘specially miss?

The funny young urologist

Who always took the piss

Also below is lovely little poem from Spike Milligan…


Check out this lovely song – ‘These are the Hands’ – based on a poem by Michael Rosen (who is on the road to recovery after 47 days in intensive care with Covid-19)

If you want to get started with creative writing projects (not poetry) take a look at this link


D – Drawing

Drawing as self-discovery is just one resource from what looks like a really great website for helping us create. You can sign up for a 14-day free trial.

E – You were wondering what I’d do for ‘E’ – it’s obvious…  Environmentally friendly cleaning products of course!

F – finally…

A colleague shares what she says is one of her favourite songs Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen – well worth five minutes of your time for lots of wise words.

That’s all for now – getting creative can be really tiring so don’t overdo it!

See other posts in this ‘Happy at home’ series here