Book review #Wintering: A Season With Geese, by Stephen Rutt


I know September is a busy time in the book publishing calendar, but WOW, the timing of this one is just so impeccably perfect.

Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt, is an ode to geese. The day I picked it up and began reading, was the day the weather turned to autumn, and the first time I noticed those V-shaped skeins above. They were migrating geese, returning here for the winter from colder parts of the world, such as Russia, Canada and Iceland.

This book has lifted my spirits. I mourn a little when the swifts, swallows and house martins leave. I love summer and warmth and light, and when they go, I feel flat and resigned to the long months until they return. I’ve always noticed geese returning, but this book has opened my eyes to their beauty, their stories and their link to us.

I now rejoice to see them; small celebrations in the impending gloom.

And Stephen has written the kind of nature book I love because it is about him too; a move to Scotland, a change of climate that can impact mental health, a journey of discovery. It’s a reality that makes you smile, because it is your own too. When out goose watching, Stephen says, “I would have stayed on […], but I am subject to the whims of the bus timetable and I have to leave half way through the day; and anyway we have a Tesco delivery due.”

Thank you Stephen, for being a real human being with supermarket deliveries, just like me. Nature meshes with your life, rather than being something separate that we can always dedicate hours and hours to finding. I enjoyed the existential, honest moments many of us have; “I struggle with myself and why I am not the vegetarian or vegan that I think I probably should be.” Yep, me too. This makes Wintering relatable and real.

The book is split into categories of goose: Pink-footed Geese, Barnacle Geese, Greylag Geese, Brent Geese, White-fronted Geese and Bean Geese. Each an exploration and discovery that we take hand in hand with Stephen – for his love of geese is a new one.

It was delicious discovering the otherness and wildness of these geese, so different to Victoria and Albert, the two cantankerous, lumpen farmyard geese that I see on a daily basis.

History meshes with adventure and current conservation information, in a style that flows, bright and bouncy to read, cutting through the gloom.

This is a book to pick up right now, to discover the wonder of looking up to the skies and the obsessive pleasure of focusing on one creature, like a talisman. And maybe, just maybe, it will help me find the joy of winter months.

Wintering is published today, 26th September. I was gifted this book by Elliott & Thompson and this is my honest review.

Wintering: A Season With Geese, by Stephen Rutt (Elliott & Thompson, 2019), hardback, £12.99

Sustainable kitchen utensils; from wassailing to Eve’s pudding #gifted

CraftSeveral of my kitchen utensils met an untimely end, with a wassailing session. That’s the kind of thing we do in my village – visit the communal orchard in the dark, singing songs and banging a pan with a spatula, to ward away the bad spirits and encourage a good apple crop.

Whilst it may be good for community cohesion and apples, it isn’t the best for utensils. One split down the middle and the other now has alarming splinters. They were old and cheap, bought for my uni house two decades ago.

It was therefore very timely that I was gifted a beautiful utensil set by Flying Tiger Copenhagen.


The range is called CRAFT and it includes 14 beautiful Scandi-style utensils. The collection was designed by Lovorika Banovic, Flying Tiger Copenhagen’s Chief Designer and has been awarded a European Product Design award and an International Design Award.

What pleased me most was to discover that it is an eco-friendly range, made from FSC certified sustainable beech wood, treated with soybean oil.

They are attractive and functional – all smooth curves with an ergonomic fit in the hand and certainly bring a little Scandi style to the kitchen.

We used them to make a delicious Eve’s pudding, a gorgeous sponge-topped alternative to the apple crumble. The kids found them easy to handle too. They will be strictly for stirring apples in pans and whisking up a fluffy cake mix, rather than hitting pans.

Here’s the recipe;

Eve’s Pudding

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C

Peel, core and dice 6 desert apples

Place in a pan with a splash of water and cook for a few minutes until soft.

Make a quick cake batter by whisking together the following ingredients until fluffy;

2 large free-range eggs

110 g softened butter

110g self-raising flour

110g caster sugar

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp vanilla essence

Then add the apple to an ovenproof dish, pour the cake mix on top and bake for approx 25 – 30 minutes until golden and the cake is firm throughout.

Serve with custard, ice cream or cream.

Serves 4


This set of utensils was gifted to me by Flying Tiger Copenhagen. These are my honest opinions and not requested, influenced or checked by Flying Tiger.


Not feeling so shit

barefoot beach blur break

Photo by on

Life is full of stuff you can’t change. Stuff that makes you feel a bit rubbish, tired and old. In the pursuit of feeling more like the me of a decade ago, I’ve researched and tried lots of the options out there, from acupuncture to improving zzzs, and have found science-based approaches that help me Not Feel So Shit (NFSS).

In short, you need to focus on your three pillars of wellness; movement, nutrition and sleep. Get each one vaguely right and you will soon NFSS (obvs see your doctor for any worries).

  • Movement

The game-changer for me was Pilates 1:1s. It’s not a quick fix – it took 4-5 months to realise I no longer wake up feeling like an old crone and that my posture is subtly better and younger. I’ve done classes before but, if you possibly can, see someone 1:1 to start with as a really hands-on, personal approach will help iron out your particular imbalances. I basically didn’t even know how to raise my arms above my head properly. I now feel lighter, looser and hold much less tension – thus saving on my chiropractic/massage bills. I see Beth from Kefi Wellness.

It’s boring and obvious, but walking more is vital too. If you can get into greenspace then all the science stacks up that it will improve your health and wellbeing. I like the Go Jauntly app for finding walks wherever you are, whether that’s 20 spare minutes in the city or a proper walk on a weekend break by the coast.

  • Sleep

This ‘pillar’ is key. You won’t feel good if you’re not sleeping well. It’s probably the hardest one to crack too, especially if you have children. Obviously follow the usual advice (reduce screen time in evening, have a bath with Epsom salts, lavender and chamomile oils, try progressive muscle relaxation exercises blah blah blah), but I also found the following to be useful…

A memory foam mattress topper is a wise investment. I really love my husband but he was creating a vortex into which I fell, without consent, every night. This little beauty from John Lewis Partnership has fixed it and I am comfortable at last. The problem with a memory foam mattress is they don’t last. With a topper, you can replace more frequently without so much financial upset.

At this time of year, something really helpful at improving your sleep and general wellbeing is light therapy. I LOVE my Lumie Vitamin L lamp and just put it on when I’m sitting at my computer in the morning. I also shine it on my kids at breakfast in the manner of an interrogator. I don’t suffer from SAD but it has lifted the winter blues and makes me feel consistently sunnier, as well as improving my energy levels and concentration. Read some reviews on it and you’ll see I’m not alone. I am sleeping more soundly too and finding it easier to drag my carcass out of bed in the morning.

This next one shows the link between nutrition and sleep. Bimuno sachets, one in your hot cuppa each day, will improve your sleep. Recommended by the amazing Dr Michael Mosley, they are a prebiotic that feed your good gut bacteria and result in significant increases in your time spent asleep.

  • Nutrition

I can be a bit of a twat with food – either emotionally eating or being overly controlling. All the recent trends really add into this; I was avoiding gluten and dairy for no actual reason other than the whole clean eating thing seemed like the answer to NFSS. Despite this, I did not turn into a long-limbed 20-year-old doing headstands on a beach in my bikini.

Instead, I have opted for no rules and I feel more balanced than ever. This means focusing on adding in foods rather than taking them away – add in interesting veg, lots of fibre, fermented foods, wholegrains, dark chocolate and don’t turn down treats if it’s something you love. Yeah, there’s the alcohol thing – I try not go crazy too often, and to only drink at the weekend. I’d be better off without it but I’d have less fun.

Intermittent fasting is the lynch pin of how I eat now – that’s limiting your food window (when you eat) to 8 hours in the day (eg first meal at 11 am, last at 7pm). Some people can do it every day, but it just seems to reset my digestion and connection with what hunger feels like to do it once or twice a week. If I need to lose some weight, I do it more. There are lots of proven health benefits (eg actually REPAIRING YOUR DNA). Just do be aware of your own triggers and if you have history of eating disorders, this may not be for you. Again, Dr Michael Mosley is good on this stuff.

I was also taking loads of supplements until I read that people taking supplements are more likely to die (yes, I know this isn’t cause and effect, rather that if you are ill you tend to take supplements), so I cut back. Now, I mainly rely on vitamin D3 through the winter months (this minty oral spray is fab), with a bit of magnesium if my muscles are achy and twitchy, and vitamin C if I’m getting a cold. I also take a probiotic on days when I don’t manage any fermented foods. Symprove is the gold standard, but is a bit of an investment and tastes like monkey jizz. I also like this one.

On those days when anxiety hangs over me, then a quick spray of CBD oil helps.

Here’s to not just surviving, but feeling resilient, happy and full of energy.

What works for you?

I’ve (sadly) not been paid to endorse any of these products or been gifted any of them.

Mermaid boobs and how to check if your Instagram feed empowers women…

An exhibition is launches this week in London to celebrate brands which have empowered women with their advertising. Kantar’s ‘What Women Want – An exploration of 100 years of marketing to women’ showcases the ads that have built positive female role models over the last century.

The exhibition features adverts, many preserved in The History of Advertising Trust archives, including one from Vimto in 1920 with a rare portrayal of a woman playing sport, a 1942 war recruitment poster giving women a sense of purpose and power with their new roles, a 1980 Trustee Savings Banks image of a working woman with financial control and the more recent Dove campaign, started by Unilever in 2004 and showing ‘Real beauty’.

It’s about giving women a voice, power and confidence.

Today, in our in our #metoo world, advertisers have got to get it right. A brand doesn’t want to be accused of objectifying women or placing them into sexist, clichéd roles. Just think of the furore over the ‘Are you beach body ready?’ billboards in 2015.

The Advertising Standards Agency is responsible for deciding if an ad is the right side of the line – in recent years approaches including a ‘mermaid’ with her breasts bared selling propeller cleaner, a woman in her underwear advertising fast food and a crotch shot have led to ads being banned.

Damn right.

But there is a worrying sub-trend. Marketing these days isn’t of course limited to billboards and tv adverts, but is carried out through paid partnerships with influential bloggers and Instagrammers. Most of the time, these influencers produce their own content to promote brands or products. Many of them have massive reach and ability to influence their followers, which is, of course, why companies are keen to work with them.

The ASA has just published a guide advising influencers of the rules they need to follow for sponsored content, such as marking it clearly #ad in an obvious, upfront way. They also state that adverts are covered by the Code of Conduct – but in practice it is hard to police the vast amount of internet content.

Whilst brands may carefully vet content going out in their name, to ensure it is in keeping with the Code of Conduct, it is the wider portrayal of individuals on sites such as Instagram that is concerning. It is not just the ad itself which matters, but the wider ‘brand building’ on an individual’s account. That bikini beach yoga shot is not an ad, but it sells as lifestyle that makes the next, carefully labelled #ad post of a yoga mat more sellable.

All too often, influencers are creating a female perpetuated image of self that simply wouldn’t be tolerated by the ASA. Take these examples of ASA rulings and guidance as to what is not acceptable, all of which are regularly ignored on Instagram:

Posing in an exaggerated way that makes the person look unrealistic or unhealthily thin.

This is a widespread practice, and is also often coupled with digital enhancement, filters and contouring with make-up to create the illusion of a flawless, thin body, many of them advertising diet products. There is evidence of body positive accounts – showing bodies that don’t fit the stereotypical ideal, whether with disabilities or higher BMIs, but they remain few and far between, and crucially, are often not the ones with sponsored content.

Objectification or fragmentation of women

Surprisingly common, even amongst those which might be considered feminist, this includes showing just body parts, or excluding the face from a shot. This may be in some cases because of the difficulty of taking your own photo – but it has the same impact: women are portrayed as just bodies, or clothes horses.

Over sexualised images and gratuitous nudity or semi-nudity.

Full nudity isn’t allowed on Instagram, but there is plenty of semi-nudity. A search for #bodygoals brings up literally millions of semi-naked images, mostly of women in lingerie or revealing swimwear in provocative poses.

It is of course a woman’s choice as to how she portrays herself – a feminist can wear what she likes and pose however she wants. However, I can’t help but question if the way many women are choosing to present themselves is not a true choice, but rather a societal pressure to appear a certain way and to be more ‘perfect’ to attract followers and sponsored work.

We’re right to celebrate the achievements of mainstream advertising in challenging stereotypes and cleaning up the portrayal of women, yet women themselves are creating brands in ways that mainstream advertising wouldn’t, and couldn’t, do today.

Responsible brands need to be aware not only of the adverts going out in their name, but the way women are representing themselves across their whole feed. We’ve still got a long way to go.

Here’s a quick guide to keeping your Instagram feed empowering….

  1. show your face – not just your body.
  2. if you wouldn’t stand/pose/dress like it at the supermarket, don’t do it on your photo.
  3. don’t pick a photo because it is the slimmest one – focus on your smile or your eyes instead.
  4. don’t be afraid to show imperfection.
  5. don’t use filters or digitally edit yourself.
  6. challenge cliches: don’t just show yourself in very stereotyped roles.

 What Women Want? Exhibition – An exploration of 100 years of marketing to women. Open  from 21 – 29 November 2018, free entry. Book your ticket on

 I wrote this on behalf of the History of Advertising Trust (HAT). With thanks to HAT for the images from their archives which also feature in the exhibition.

Book review of The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal

light in dark cover

I used to fear winter. Not just for its darkness and bleakness, but because it took away my coping mechanisms. Working full time in an office based job, I was forced to either run in the dark outside, which scared me, or to go to the gym – a much less effective mood booster for me.

Now that I’m a footloose and fancy free writer, I am master of my own day. I can take a break from my screen to go for a run or walk in daylight and, my god, it makes a difference to how I feel about this season.

So I no longer dread winter, but I also can’t escape that it makes life that bit harder. Even getting the kids out of the door in the morning seems more of an ordeal, when there are layers and scarves and wellies to find. Darkness means more time stuck indoors, and that can mean, for us, more family conflict.

As Horatio Clare puts so well and lyrically in The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal, “It is not fair to blame the winter, but it does set the stage so well, with its clamped-down rains, its settled and introverted darkness, its mean rations of light, its repetitions.”

Horatio’s book tells of his Seasonal Affective Disorder and his dread of winter, the way it brings self-doubt and a depressive sense of gloom. It is in part linked to the farming calendar, his mother is a sheep farmer in Wales and early on in the book we are faced with a horrific passage describing how badger baiters have brutally maimed his mother’s sheep.

“I drive to the murder field. There is an absolute silence and blackness beyond its fence. I know the shed is piled with dead animals. There is a complete dark nothingness there, something utter and eerie, a nihilism, a nothing you should not be able to feel, but cannot mistake.”

It is terrible, and serves as a motif of what winter does to Horatio; a dark fear that cannot be seen, but nevertheless pervades his life. I feel for his family. He describes his wife Rebecca like some sort of wondrous goddess of love, warmth and strength. She sounds formidable. I welcome the way Horatio has given himself permission to show his weakness – we all need to do that – but I wonder about Rebecca; for living with gloom is hard to do. This book feels like a thank you to her, as well as a celebration of the lifeline that a loving family brings.

It feels personal to say that, to comment on their relationship, but this is a deeply personal book. At times it feels like I am cooped up in a dark, leaking house with Horatio, gloom outside like thick smog. Does that mean I found it depressing? Yes, I think it does, but that is not a bad thing. As someone who has also experienced anxiety, depression, compulsion, hypochondria and insomnia, it is oddly comforting. We don’t need a Pollyanna-ish account – it wouldn’t ring true or be authentic.

The end though, does bring a note of hope that I trust is genuine. This sort of book almost forces a natural arc- from problem to solution, from dark to light, from winter to spring, from depression to health. The end is jubilant; Horatio has been told that he is not bipolar as her feared, or indeed depressed. Simply “cyclothymic – but we’re all cyclothymic to some degree,” and that supplements and therapy will be helpful.

And then that great reprieve from seasonal symptoms, spring, arrives.

Right now, as we fall deeper into the dark months – I write this with the light on for outside is gloom and drizzle – I find myself thinking of Horatio and his family, and wondering if this winter will be ok.

This book is easy to read – it flows and Horatio’s voice is warm and chatty, the prose lyrical and beautiful – but it is not an easy read. You will need to confront your own feelings about winter, about mental health and about how society views it. You’ll go to some dark places, and will have to trust that you can find your own light in the dark.

The Light in the Dark, by Horatio Clare, is published on 1st November by Elliot & Thompson.

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for giving me a copy to review.


Pre-school tractor addicts ALERT

Tractor ted

Whoa. Picking up the book was a bit like stepping in a time machine… There I was, back to being giddy and sleep-deprived with a sicky muslin on my shoulder, a newborn in my arms and a three-year-old tractor obsessive making me read Tractor Ted in Springtime for the MILLIONTH TIME.

Driven by my son’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge, we learnt everything about tractors. I’m a farmer’s daughter, but I soon knew NOTHING compared to him. He loved front loader diggers, back hoe loaders, double-wheel tractors and caterpillar tracks. He knew his Masseys from his Fords from his John Deere’s and his Claas as well as the niche McCormick. I once embarrassed myself by exclaiming to a colleague, on the way to a meeting, “Tractor there!” when we passed one, so complete was my indoctrination to cult tractor.

We were in deep, and there was nothing better than the Tractor Ted series, although he did enjoy a browse through the pages of Farmer’s Weekly. He liked the proper, accurate farm detail of Tractor Ted. I liked the non-cutesy approach – like piles of steaming manure and real animals. His Tractor Ted top was worn to death. I couldn’t agree more with the Amazon review of Tractor Ted All About Tractors, describing it as the “seminal work for infant tractor fanatics.”

Back to now, and I’ve just picked up the new series of Tractor Ted books, which I have been asked to review. My two still hold a fondness for Tractor Ted, but are no longer the target audience. For this, I needed the plethora of pre-school cousins that we are blessed with.

We looked at Who Goes Moo? and Toot Toot, both of which are a move towards story books, rather than the more factual series, but they are still packed with real life images and real life educational farm facts. I’d say they are more suitable for the younger end of pre-school, say age 1-3. A gateway to full farm, detail hungry obsession. Tractor Ted himself features more, as does a cute dog. They are fun, friendly reads.

The Munchy Crunchy DVD will also prove popular with all pre-schoolers, and because it is genuinely so educational, then maybe that removes an iota or two of the guilt that comes with plonkage in front of the box.

You know what, I miss those simple days when a double-wheeled tractor sighting and Tractor Ted books were all we needed to be happy and occupied. Before Minecraft and hoverboard cravings, before being cool mattered and he’d avoid walking anywhere near embarrassing mum because she’s wearing a knit that looks like a cricket jumper (honestly, it’s a nice jumper!).

Ah, you know what, if you are in those tractor and farm-loving days, it may have degrees of tedium, but soak it up and feed their interest. It will be gone all too quickly.

To find out more about Tractor Ted, check out their website, which also has lots of lovely downloadables in the Funzone:

I was sent the newest Tractor Ted books and DVD in exchange for an honest review.

Can you green your Nespresso? One Green Summer #7


Latte o’clock with Sealpod

My coffee drinking habits are a guilty pleasure. A coffee or two a day is necessary fuel for a freelancer and parent, but I know my way of getting a caffeine fix is far from eco-friendly.

We were given a Nespresso and whilst we do recycle the pods, it is a horrifying amount of waste for one cuppa. Not to mention the ongoing expense. At 30p per cup, a two a day habit is going to set you back nearly £220 a year.

I was interested in finding a reusable option, to take the bitter taste of guilt out of my coffee.

The premise is simple – Sealpod makes reusable plastic pods that you simply fill with ground coffee and cover with a little lid – either aluminium or paper filter (if you don’t mind losing a little of the crema).

I find the Nespresso range limited and I also prefer my coffee at little milder, so being able to step away from their enforced selection is appealing. There’s nothing quite like grinding your own beans either.

The pods themselves are very neat and the sticker lids are easy to use – it was time to give it a go.


So did it work?

Not at first. My first couple of attempts yielded dirty dishwater, with zero crema. Given that Seapod advertise themselves as the only resusable option that still gives crema, I knew it wasn’t working properly. Attempts #1 and #2 went straight down the sink and I tried a different coffee: Lavazza’s espresso blend. From reviews, this was the option that seemed to work well for lots of people who’d been down the dishwater route.

After a few more attempts – varying the amount of coffee and tamping it down differing amounts, I got it working. It made a decent coffee. Still less crema than the Nespresso pods, and a slightly less intense flavour, but one that suited me perfectly.

I tend to use one espresso shot for my latte. I also discovered that for lungho coffee, you need to use two pods.

And that I suppose is the delight of this; there is no ‘one size fits all’ you can vary your bean, the grind, and your intensity and play around with it until you get it just right for you.  In short, this is coffee with a ritual. Coffee that you need to work a bit for.

Mind you, the pods themselves are very neat, the stickers are easy to use and they are quick to clean too.

If you currently get your fix from a cafetiere or stove top pot, then I wouldn’t swap, but if you have a Nespresso or similar and feel the eco-guilt, these are well worth a bit of fiddling around.

For more info, check out the Sealpod website:

I was sent these products for free in exchange for an honest review.