Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin

This début novel, published by Inspired quill which “pledg[es] a percentage of profits to different charities, running heavily subsidised workshops, or donating books to those who may not have access to them otherwise” is a searing tale of personal discovery made all the more authentic by the fact that the author is a psychologist and knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the way human distress and disorganisation presents itself. My review is here The Psychologist and the book is here. It’s a cracking read.

A Personal Reader for Public Information Leaflets? Yes please!

readalongreads imageIf you’ve ever read a public information leaflet – from your doctor or dentist, social services or a local law firm – and tripped over some of the words they use, or found the sentences too long and windy to make sense of. That.

Or maybe you’re sitting there in a waiting room with a leaflet in your hands but you forgot your reading glasses? That too.

Perhaps you’re visually impaired; you can make out large-ish shapes on a page but not the writing. Or you have a specific reading difficulty or an intellectual disability and you just can’t read well enough for it to make any sense.

Well, here you are with something very personal to you that a stranger – or worse, your dad or your nine year old daughter – is going to read out loud to you. How does that feel? My best guess is not at all good. Embarrassing, demeaning, belittling at best; leaving you nakedly exposed and stripped of your privacy, your dignity. At worst, information that makes you vulnerable is given to you by the person who will exploit it.

So what if you could have it read to you in such a way that no one could tell you weren’t reading it yourself? A personal reader coming to you via ear-buds on your smart device? This is about to be demonstrated in a new anthology where short stories and poems are accompanied by voice files you can access directly from the printed page. The technology is simple, it could be applied to anything, and it could make loss of confidentiality, loss of dignity, loss of confidence with tricky words, a thing of the past. At the very least, it might put a stop to those unwieldy paragraphs that whoever wrote them never once had to read as a lay person, and you may suddenly discover that even experts fall over endocrinological if they have to say it too often!

The book will be out soon and when it is, the technique it uses will be seem completely obvious. I’ll post the details here then it’s over to you – tell your health professionals, your local councils, your solicitors’ offices, your libraries, that you want them to equip their leaflets with a Personal Reader so that you can make full use of the information they want you to have.


Readalongreads is not a commercial organisation. It sells nothing but will host a limited number of voice files free of charge for small enterprises wanting to try out the technique before setting up their own hosting platform.


Guest Post: 4 Healthy Living Tips for Seniors by Marie Villeza


health for seniors

Image via Pixabay

Healthy living as a young or middle-aged person looks quite different from staying healthy as an elderly person. While transitioning into new habits that’ll keep you healthy in your senior years can be a big change, it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. A few changes here and there are all it takes for you to live your life to its healthiest and fullest when you’re enjoying your golden years.

  1. Stay Active: Engaging in light to moderate exercise regularly can work wonders for your health. Light stretching, walking, and swimming are all great ways to get your body moving in a safe way.

Balance physical activity with a wholesome diet to keep your weight at a healthy level. Doing so will help you sleep, feel, and function better as you go about your day-to-day life.

  1. Keep Up with Checkups and Screenings: Keeping up with all your medical engagements can be a lot to handle, so it’s a good idea to use a calendar or planner to keep track of appointments, screenings, and checkups.

Hearing, vision, and dental checkups play a big role in keeping you safe and healthy. Immunizations and other preventative medicine are also great ways for seniors to make sure their immune systems are working as effectively as possible.

Talk openly with your doctor about your medical needs and don’t be afraid to ask all the questions you need to understand your health situation.

  1. Indulge in Your Favorite Pastimes: A fun way for seniors to beat the blues is to engage themselves fully in their favorite hobbies and activities.

Focusing on goals and self-improvement through your personal interests has numerous mental and physical health benefits[1]. Spend a bit of time on your hobbies each day and you’ll benefit from a stronger immune system, strengthened cognitive function, and reduced stress.

  1. Consider a Service Dog: We all know that service dogs[2] are great for the hearing or vision impaired, but did you know that they also make wonderful companions for seniors?

Service dogs can assist with daily tasks like getting up in the morning and even bringing you your medication (in bite-proof containers, of course). Plus, spending time with one can help improve your mood and ward off feelings of anxiety and depression. Service dogs can even improve your social life by encouraging more time outside the home[3].

While staying healthy as a senior may require a few lifestyle changes on your part, it’s simple to build these new habits one at a time. Take gradual steps to stay active, involved in your medical situation, and focused on your hobbies and you’ll be enjoying the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in no time.


Marie Villeza was inspired to start after she watched her son teach her father how to play Angry Birds™ on his smartphone. In that moment, she realized the importance of bringing the generations together so they can usher each other into the future, breaking down walls of fear and time. She is based in California and in her free time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and taking part in her monthly book club.


[1] The Japanese have a term for this; ikigai means ‘reason for being’ and it’s been associated with longevity over and above any other factors. See and

[2] Also known as Assistance Dogs. Here’s a link to some UK contacts

[3] For less mobile individuals and those with dementia, trials of a robotic seal that responds to touch are showing benefits and perhaps reflect that human need for responsive contact and giving.

NHS spending review public consultation

Snappy title, yes? No, and not so snappy writing, either. This is one of the questions on the so-called public consultation regarding the NHS. I say so-called because, not only was it barely publicised, as you ‘ll see from this example it’s also barely comprehensible.

What views do you have on our overarching objective of improving outcomes and reducing health inequalities, including by using new measures of comparative quality for local CCG populations to complement the national outcomes measures in the NHS Outcomes Framework?
Imagine the text you need to wade through to even place that in context. Then imagine your reading capacity isn’t, say, Oxbridge level and consider your response. After 40 years ploughing through NHS documents of one sort or another and a reading capability that arguably outstrips that of many, I struggle with this and I’m probably safe in saying that the majority of people – assuming they knew about it in the first place and also how to get it – will find it impossible. The average reading age in the UK is just 10 years and this government knows that. To pitch a public consultation at this level smells of cynical exclusivity even without the failure to give it widespread publicity.
It closes today (November 23rd) but I think we should press for its conclusions to be found null and void and for an accessibly written replacement to then be made available in as many public places as possible.

Post script: a quick and dirty (via Word) analysis of reading ease places this document beyond the reach of at least 54% or the population and that is scandalous. If someone could do a better analysis, please let me know and I’ll link to it.

NHS cons reading ease

Edit 16.34. I am asking Jeremy Corbyn MP to challenge the legitimacy of this document at PMQs, to ask if it will be withdrawn in the light of its inaccessibility to so many people, and if it will subsequently be replaced by a clearer version which is both easier for most to read and with wider availability with or without internet capability.

Edit 18.12. I was sent a form to submit my question, this is the question: The NHS Spending Review consultation document was poorly publicised but worse, it is written in sophisticated and complex language which is hard to read and harder to understand for more than 50% of the UK population. Will he scrap the results as invalid on those grounds and, with advice, make widely available a replacement document written to accommodate average literacy levels?   


Control is a story of abuse.

There were many parts of Rosa that acted outside of her direct control and she would watch from somewhere above or outside while they got on with it. Most of the time they just responded to whoever was in the room, but occasionally one took the initiative and went out on a limb, so to speak. 

It draws on my professional encounters with victims and recent reports of child sexual exploitation where victims were frequently not heard and were sometimes also criminalised and returned to their abusers. Although I have written many factual reports about the impact of abuse on vulnerable people – the detachment that goes from emotional disengagement right through to almost complete disowning of a body that is experiencing repeated assaults and violations – I sometimes think fiction can get a little closer. I hope this story feels real to the people who matter.

Depression: why we have to change attitudes & tell the rabid press where to get off

It’s a grim time to have a mental health condition.  Not that it was ever easy but this week there’s been the tragedy of a lost airliner with 150 people on board, its horrific end being attributed to the wilful act of the co-pilot. He’s said to have been treated for depression, to have been signed off sick for the day in question (illness unknown), but to have torn up the note and gone to work anyway. The headlines are screaming about the killer pilot, madmen, and murderers (see Rosie Mullender’s roundup) and any chance people with depression might have had of talking openly about their situation has suddenly been drowned by a ton of ill-informed hysterical bilge.

Talking about depression is not easy because it’s misunderstood. We’ve all been a bit down at some point, a bit fed up, and we’ve bought a new dress or had a couple of pints with our mates and got over it.  But that’s not the depression that sucks you dry, spins you around until you don’t know – or care – which direction you came from or where you’re going, that bleaches the colour out of everything you enjoyed, that screams inside but leaves you silent with no words to describe what it’s doing, that turns your logic and rationality in on itself so that the desperate need to end the pain becomes a desperate need to do whatever might end the pain. For some that’s suicide, for others it’s crawling into a nihilistic hole to live in a grey world of constant white noise and lead weights for guts. Depression is tricksy, wearing different faces and slithering around definitions just out of sight, tailoring itself specially to each person it tries to suffocate. A bespoke closet of worthlessness.

Another trick depression plays is that it often makes you smile, makes you play a game alongside all the people who aren’t depressed (or that you just don’t know are depressed because, well – One in Four?), turns you into a piece of foil or tissue that looks like normal but is too thin to bear the strain of anything more substantial than a fixed, glassy-eyed grin.

So nobody knows and nobody dare tell, so nobody knows and the stereotypes persist.

The bottom line with depression is that one in four of us will experience it and here’s the trick of that – it’s interchangeable, so spotting the one in your group that you think it is, doesn’t mean you can heave a sigh of relief that it isn’t you because it could be, in time, given the right set of circumstances.

Suicides among men are rising while those among women are falling and it’s the leading cause of death among young men aged 20-34. If we scratch the surface of that, perhaps we can see that women tend to talk and to identify feelings in a way men often don’t; women are permitted to be ‘weak’ (although that has its limits where mental health is concerned) where men are supposed to be strong, and women seek help for all sorts of things more readily than men. Maybe here lies the bedrock of the isolation, confusion, fear, and despair that drives so many young men to take their own lives.

We can’t know what was going through the mind of this particular young man – whether he had planned to do what he did and engineered the situation that left him alone in the cockpit, or whether that was entirely opportunistic – but we can guess at the depth of despair that so cut him off from everything that normally matters to people; despair that drives out empathy, connection, feelings for others and that left the gap that allowed him to take so many with him.

We absolutely must make it possible to talk about mental illness the way we talk about physical illness and it’s maybe no accident that,  along with not talking, mental health has, in the UK, been disadvantaged in terms of health funding in recent years. Mental health fluctuates, it’s on a spectrum, it isn’t all or nothing, it affects every aspect of our lives and it must have parity with physical illness in order to be openly addressed. In the UK, all manner of people and agencies are working on that.  Time to Change, Grassroots Suicide Prevention are leaders in this and Matt Haig’s superb book, Reasons To Stay Alive is worth a few quid of anyone’s money. They all say the same thing – you wouldn’t blame someone with a broken leg for not walking on it, or say that a man jumping from a burning building was being selfish, or describe someone with leukaemia as lazy. When something breaks it needs fixing and it can’t be fixed unless it’s recognised and talked about without fear of a prejudicial hoohah breaking out. If suicide was the intent for this young pilot who, like many, appeared to have everything going for him and to be doing his dream job, we have to ask ourselves as a society what we could have done to help him. We can’t undo this appalling tragedy but we might just prevent another.


Some resources:

You’ve seen Grassroots and Time to Change above. Also Matt Haig’s book but I’ll shamelessly plug it again and also recommend you go to hear him as well, if you can. Meanwhile, here’s 40 mins-worth on Soundcloud.

There’s also this letter from Lisa Rodrigues, ex CEO of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. It’s to anyone experiencing depression and recounts some of her own experience. That was a courageous coming-out for sure.

Then there’s the Men’s Mental health Forum.

And quite obviously, The Samaritans.

Men’s Movement

Rethink (mental illness)