Helen P. March 29th.


The Corona Diaries

Yesterday I was overcome with boredom.  We have been on lockdown for one week now, I usually go out with my dog when I`m bored but of course I can only do that once a day in these corona virus times.

So I cooked. I cooked a saag aloo of potato with spinach and spices.  I cooked an orzo and cream cheese risotto with spring onions and I baked several large vegetable pasties.

I took everything out of the freezer where my ex husband with whom I live, hoards his stash of reduced items from Morrisons.  We have an awful lot of  fish, I think he does this hoarding deliberately because he knows I cannot bear to waste food and that means the onus on cooking will rest with me.  I put everything back in the freezer in order of category, fish, meat, bread, frozen vegetables and so on.


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Charity grumbles…..


Following the recent bush fires the Australian Red Cross have been accused of hanging on to publicly donated money of almost 115 million Australian dollars, that`s about 59 million British pounds. They have refuted this and say that there will be staged phases when money is needed as the people rebuild their lost communities, so they are helping in a planned and proper way.

Years ago, a high-profile charity I worked for, which was a drop in facility for people with HIV and AIDS, experienced what the Health and Local Authorities referred to as “a crisis in management”. Funding was withdrawn from all the charities in Birmingham supporting HIV positive clients. We were ordered to immediately shut up shop and go home. A large grant of £85,000 which I had obtained from the National Lottery, was rescinded and it was chaos for a time.

This morning I read that a charity I was also employed by is now under fire with accusations of inhouse bullying. Naturally their PR people state that the charity has a rigorous anti-bullying policy.  I did not witness bullying myself however there were whispered conversations regarding senior managers. Gossip was not encouraged but people will gossip! My main beef with the charity was that the most senior managers were being paid high levels of salary compared to those at the coal face, the correlation I suppose would be nurses` pay as opposed to hospital managers` pay.

Charities need to be very careful with how they spend donated public money. As they become larger and corporate, then it must be made transparent to the public, just where their donations are going.

An article published in The Sun in 2015 stated the (then) Cancer Research chief executive was receiving a salary of £240,000 a year. That year the CEO at the NSPCC earned £162,000. Amnesty International`s Secretary General received £200,000 and Marie Curie Cancer Care’s top earner received £170,000. In the same article it was alleged that the charity I worked for was paying 50p in every £1 donated, to staff salaries. If it`s true then that`s an awful lot of money.

Charities carry out some sterling work and feedback from the public is generally positive so I know they are doing a grand job but in order for charities to survive in this increasingly competitive and austere world, it is essential they maintain and keep the goodwill and trust of the public or they will go under. Remember Kid`s Company?  The public will stop donating and actually, the numbers of people making charitable donations is falling in the UK but fewer people are giving more, so we still manage to raise around ten billion pounds a year in donations.


Let`s just be clear about where that money is being spent.


The sadness of suicide.


Most of us have read about the recent suicide of the TV presenter, Caroline Flack.  Her death made me sad, she was only forty and until recently seemed to have the world at her feet having won a series of Strictly Come Dancing and been a major success in Love Island. The outpouring of sorrow from those who knew her has been huge and in some ways has reminded me of when Princess Diana was killed, the genuine grief being fuelled by the media so that in the end, this ordinary human takes on an almost saintly persona.

Since 2014, suicide rates in the UK had been on the decline but they have begun to surge again, especially amongst young men.

Lots of us will have lost family or friends to suicide and understand all too well, how painful this can be. When my friend Simon took his life in 1991 the HIV community where I worked, were all devastated. Simon was a beautiful person, a tall, gangly, young gay man who was HIV positive. His father was a preacher and when Simon came out he was banished from the church, his dad telling him he would taint the holy atmosphere with his unholy behaviour. In-spite of this, Simon was gregarious, warm and very funny, a delight to be around and extremely well loved by almost everyone he met. No matter how much he was loved by us, nevertheless his father`s words must have had a major impact on Simon`s self-esteem. When he split up with his older boyfriend, he engaged in a relationship with an older, married woman, (not me) so he was certainly unsure of himself and his sexuality. At the time I thought this relationship was unhelpful to Simon and maybe I was right. I shall never know.

The day that Simon died he rang me to chat and I realise in retrospective moments, to say goodbye. He gave me no clues; he quietly took himself off into the countryside, attached a hose pipe to his exhaust and passed away in the sunshine. He just couldn`t do life anymore. When I was told of his death, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I was tasked with ringing up his ex- boyfriend to tell him the news, it was awful.

Simon`s father must have relented in some way as he chose to conduct his own son`s funeral. Finally admitting Simon`s body to taint the air of his church, it was a sombre affair and bore no resemblance to the bright, vivacious friend we had all lost. The church was packed out, standing room only and we wore all the colours of the rainbow. We were not welcome to join his family at the wake, so we all piled back to Body Positive and had a wake of our own and celebrated the wonderful young man we had lost.

If Caroline Flack`s death has done anything at all, it has highlighted that the media must take responsibility for some of how she was feeling and must learn lessons from that. In the last few months of her life tabloids, trolls and social media have harassed and harangued her following an alleged assault to her partner. It must have helped to push her to the very edge in it seems, an already complicated life.

The biggest question I asked myself after Simon died was, “why couldn`t he come to me for help? I could have helped.” But this is the thing with suicide, when people have really made up their minds, they make a plan and the plan does not include asking for help. The Samaritans organisation exists partly to effectively help those who are considering suicide and that is a good thing yet some people cannot manage life, it is far too painful in which case death must come as a welcome release.

RIP Simon, Caroline and all those who have decided their time has come. You are and will always be missed.

The strange case of the snow lady and the disappearing boobalinkas.


In the early nineteen eighties, Tony and I bought our house on The Avenue in Acocks Green. I was working as the co-ordinator of Rape Crisis in Birmingham at that time and Tony was an art teacher.  He was also a potter and he loved to create unusual ceramics.

One year we enjoyed a particularly snowy winter, I do miss the snowy winters I am very much a winter person and I love the cold weather. I can become quite low in the summer months, so I suppose I have the opposite of SAD. Anyway…….

Tony decided to build a snow lady in the back garden. She was magnificent standing almost six feet high. We were so pleased with her;  we lay her on our wheelbarrow and wheeled her round to the front of the house for everyone to enjoy.

Snow lady

One of our neighbours commented that she didn`t exactly strike a blow for women`s liberation (that was your pa Nicky Hopkins) so we decided to paint a bikini on her, to cover her modesty. Tony was also a portrait painter, so we had no problem in finding some suitable paint and immediately covered her with a blue and yellow striped bikini, she looked great!

The following day we arose and were perplexed to discover that during the night, someone had removed her icy breasts. A double mastectomy for our lovely snow queen, the children were most upset! We decided that when we had all returned from work and school, we would rebuild her.

When he came home, Tony called in at the corner shop to buy some milk. The man who owned the shop greeted him with, “Ah Tony! I was hoping you`d call in, I think I have something belonging to you.” Crossing over to his large shop freezer he opened up the lid. Reaching down he stood up beaming broadly, holding our lovely snow lady`s boobalinkas, one in each hand.  He had found them, kicked half way down the street by boys I expect.

Tony walked across the road to our house, with a jubilant smile upon his face, he smacked those boobies back on our snow queen. I am happy to report, they did not go missing again – for the duration of that wonderful, snowy winter.

Have a very happy Christmas everyone!

More mental health stuff…..


Some of the people who read my blog will already know, last year my grandson had a crisis in his mental health which was triggered by drugs, in his case a mixture of cocaine (cut with who knows what,) very high strength weed and we know not what else. He was extremely unwell and one year later slips in and out of different states of ok-ness and not ok-ness. He cannot settle anywhere for very long so he has become a serial transient which makes it more difficult for us to help him. His mother has bust a gut to sort out accommodation for him, but he reports back that it is always unsatisfactory and the places are full of “the dark side.” She has researched mental health services in depth and offered him various options of therapy none of which he tries. We flit from one idea to another already knowing he probably won`t do anything we suggest. He has taken himself off all medication and struggles a lot, to achieve a sense of normality in his life. We`re at an impasse and have sometimes come to blows, as a family, over how we should proceed from here. Mental health impacts not just on the person who is unwell, it impacts on their whole family. Services across the UK are sparse and certainly in our experience, not terribly helpful, so it is unsurprising that our homeless hostels and prisons are full of men and women who cannot find a way to `get better` and manage their symptoms, whatever they may be. Lots of people self-medicate with drink or drugs or both and for many this will work and for the rest it will exacerbate those very symptoms that trouble them the most.

I recently had an interesting conversation with the matron of Oleaster Psychiatric Hospital in Birmingham. A lovely, warm, engaging and compassionate man he said that most of the people who come into the hospital on a mental health section are young men who are often so high from street drugs, the hospital has to first manage their come down and then wait, often for weeks for individuals to have settled enough to begin to work with them in any kind of useful way.  He explained that many dealers are manufacturing new and increasingly stronger chemical highs usually in their own houses.  It is almost impossible for health staff to keep up with what new drugs are being designed or their chemical content, how they will affect the individual`s thoughts and behaviours and so it is inceasingly difficult to offer antidotes that will help.  It terrifies me, drugs terrify me, but legalising drugs would reduce the need for people who want to use drugs to have to approach dodgy dealers and would certainly be helpful to extremely vulnerable people like my grandson who are currently preyed upon by those who are pretending to be their friend. “The drugs are free, go on mate have some, you can pay me back when you next get your benefits.” Dealers rely on people running up huge debts of hundreds of pounds to ensure their money keeps on rolling in. The people they prey upon then are then coerced to commit crimes of various degrees of seriousness in order to get more money for more drugs.  It`s a horrible scenario.

Our family has sometimes begun to fragment under the weight of worry and there are very few services for families like us so we have to remain strong and hold each other. Oleaster run a family support group and when we visited it, there was only us and one other regular but it still helps to get other perspectives on the issues we are facing with our grandson. So I don`t know what the future holds for our beloved boy-man, it often seems rather bleak, we are certainly not in a sprint, we are in a marathon but I was heartened by the matron who said as we were leaving,  “Many people will go on to work out quite a lot for themselves simply by trial and error. So eventually they moderate the habits and behaviours that repeatedly make them unwell, unpopular, broke and unhappy, so take heart, the likelihood is that it will eventually pass.”

A holiday in Bulgaria…..


Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay with a friend`s family, all expenses paid at their home in Bulgaria. How lucky am I! My brother has been to Bulgaria two or three times before and he was considering buying a house there, however he felt at the time that the presence of the mafia was too great and decided against it, so I wasn`t sure what to expect. There is still a mafia presence in Bulgaria but as a visitor or ordinary resident there, it is most unlikely you will become involved or influenced by them or even notice them at all.

Houses in the villages in Bulgaria are extremely cheap if you don`t mind putting in the graft. I found a place on the `net today for £2,800 euros which included a 2 roomed house, a large (and convertible) barn and quite a big swathe of land. It`s out in the sticks but with amazing potential, water and electricity is already in supply and it is situated by a large and beautiful lake. You would need to install windows, doors, floors, probably a new roof and a septic tank but how lovely it will be if someone eventually purchases it. As you would expect, houses will go up and up in price, the nearer your residence is to a large town or city and they range from under £10,000 euro`s for a proper do-er upper to a lot of dosh for something fabulous overlooking the sea or the mountains.

My friend Mike and I began our stay in the capital Sofia, named in the fourteenth century after Saint Sophia, the saint of wisdom. Sofia is a busy, bustling city similar to Berlin with buses and trams travelling along wide boulevards lined with trees, statues,  shops and hotels and where to the west, you can see the peak of Mount Vitosha. We spent the night at Hotel Lion which is a beautiful, old and elegant hotel with rounded walls and balconies overlooking the town. The décor is greys and beiges and very calming. We ate our breakfast in the dining area and I was amused to see on the menu, “eye of egg” which is a Bulgarian description for scrambled egg. We noticed the hotel welcomed evidently very poor people, to collect small parcels of food from the dining area to start their day and discovered this is a common practice, to share food with those less fortunate. Sofia has a food bank, the first of its kind in the country and is attempting to address the massive 620 tonnes of food currently wasted in the country each year, by sharing it with those people who are poor and hungry. Every year through a network of social agencies, the food bank collects and distributes around 850 tonnes of food to thousands of Bulgarians who are living below the poverty line.

Mike drove me over three hundred miles across the country to arrive in Rudnik, a village in the municipality of Burgas where he and his sister Jackie`s home is situated. We drove up high to reach the village, the roads can become treacherous in winter conditions but while we were there, the weather was a sunny and very hot 28 degrees, with stunning views of the Rhodope mountain range along the way. The Rhodopes span an enormous area of Bulgarian land and the remaining part of the range sits in Greece. On the drive up to Rudnik, Mike pointed out pull ins where young girls stand alone in the hot sun. You might wonder what they are doing half way up a mountain but they are sex workers, waiting for customers and I felt sorry for them, they will no doubt have to hand over the cash at the end of the day.

There are several Unesco world heritage sites near to Rudnik. The closest is the ancient city of Nessebar which we visited, it is unspoilt, beautiful and charming with cobbled streets and houses with windows that overhang the street below, it reminded me of The Shambles in York. There are also very pretty public gardens running alongside gorgeous, panoramic views of the Black Sea. Places of archaeological interest are being discovered all the time in Bulgaria and it`s important to consider this if you are buying, renovating or building property because in many areas you will be expected to foot the bill for an archaeological survey to be carried out prior to the work beginning and then there is the wait.

Wherever you drive in this part of Bulgaria you will find lots of roadside stalls along the way selling fresh fruit, vegetables, honey and jams. All produce is home grown and much of it is organic. The tomatoes are the best I have ever tasted and HUGE! I found the Bulgarian people I met extremely friendly, helpful and genuine and language did not prove to be a barrier, we communicated with nods and gestures and my understanding the lev currency. It was roughly speaking, two levs to the British pound but of course that is changing at the moment because of all the uncertainty around Brexit. In any event, it is still incredibly cheap to eat out in Bulgaria. A typical dinner for four people would be around 35 – 40 lev or less than twenty pounds depending on where you eat. You can add on around 70p for an alcoholic drink. Bulgarian gin is delicious and their single measure is the equivalent of about three shots in the UK so I was squiffy on one drink!

We visited some lovely places, somewhere different every day. Varna city is majestic with lots of churches, clothes shops, fountains, street markets, lovely architecture and a very beautiful cathedral. I was surprised to see fur on sale there but there are many fur and leather goods outlets in the larger cities so there is still a massive market for fur. The country`s main faith is orthodox Christianity but Bulgaria is tolerant of all beliefs including atheism and you will see mosques, temples and synagogues in many of the large towns and cities. We visited Sunny Beach which is an area a little bit like our Blackpool and which attracts mainly young people. Unlike other beaches I visited, Sunny Beach is very commercial and there are lots of massive hotels there, a big waterpark as well as some interesting galleries and lots of supermarkets. We had dinner on Sunny Beach and it was lovely and quiet as it was the end of the season so we could look out over the sea, very pleasant.

Wherever we went, we had to first consider the needs of Jackie`s son Andrew. Andrew is a young, cheerful, disabled man who uses a wheelchair and has a very entertaining sense of humour. He works with a personal assistant, a very nice man called Mick. Bulgaria still has a way to go in planning for the needs of people with disabilities and there are loads of places Andrew would very much enjoy visiting but the lack of provision makes that an impossibility for him at the moment. Even in the cities, there are steep verges with no wheelchair access but hopefully that will be addressed over time. In spite of these challenges for Andrew and his family, we all went out together as a large party every day which was great. We visited friends in other towns and other villages, we visited lots of different places to eat, we had some lovely drives through stunning, mountainous scenery with occasional, breath taking views of the ocean. Mike and Jackie drove me all over the place, they are both super drivers and took me to two other beaches, a harbour, very different to Sunny beach, quiet and picturesque and for the final part of our stay, to Plovdiv, the second city which is roughly half way between Rudnik and the airport at Sofia.

We stayed at the Hotel Leipzig in Plovdiv, a unique experience in a delightfully idiosyncratic building. Each room a different colour, knock your eye out orange, purple, lime green with fake leopard skin sofas and in my case, a silver armchair. I absolutely loved it and breakfast there is fabulous, an array of cold meats, bread, croissants, jams, cheeses, eggs, sausage, fried bread, toast and fruit with fresh coffee. Lovely!  The hotel is next door to a really impressive shopping mall with lots of nice places inside to mooch and eat such as The Cake Shop café and The Victoria restaurant which I can highly recommend.  If you ask for tea in Bulgaria you will be given chamomile. Ask for black tea with milk and you`ll get a familiar cup of tea.

Bulgaria has been taken over and occupied so many times in its centuries of history. It is bordered by many other countries and this has made it vulnerable but it has a history of friendship with Russia and we noticed references to Russia in lots of street names, cities and buildings. It was the Russian Empire who made liberation from Turkish occupation possible in 1878, however the relationship between Russia and Bulgaria went awry during WW2 when the Soviet Union`s Red Army marched into the country in 1943 and declared war. They voted to abolish the monarchy who promptly went into exile. King Boris the third whose reign spanned WW2, had already infuriated Hitler by refusing to allow the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to the death camps in Germany.  Even though he eventually allied with Germany and declared war on Britain and the USA, he also eventually suffered a mysterious illness and death probably brought about by a slow acting poison slipped to him by someone in the Nazi party. Today Bulgaria is a Republic and it seems to me, remains a democratic country in its attitudes. Having said that, there is a razor wire fence on the border with Turkey spanning over one hundred miles. Commissioned in 2013 by the then president, there are plans to put up more fences at the borders with other countries to stop illegal immigration and to hinder so-called ISIS sympathisers from making their way into Europe from Iraq and Syria.

Above Plovdiv standing tall on a high hill is an enormous statue of “The Russian Soldier.” Some people want it taken down as they see The Red Army as their oppressors, some wish it to remain as they view the Red Army as their liberators.

So – what a fascinating and sometimes tragic history this beautiful country has. Mike asked me if I would go back and at the time, I paused because the experience was so full on, I needed time to process it all. Now I have, I hope I do get to visit again for I am hooked and if you go down to the woods in Bulgaria, you might indeed be confronted by a bear, a boar or a wolf, so watch out!

Review. KD Lang Ingenue Redux tour, July 2019. Birmingham Symphony Hall.


I have always adored KD Lang and I have seen her twice before in the UK. The first time was many years ago at Nottingham`s Royal Theatre where I met up with my sister Sue and we had a wonderful night. Ingenue, possibly KD`s best known album, had been released just a couple of years before this. The second time was within Birmingham`s NIA complex in the small theatre there. It only seats around 200 people so it was a very intimate experience.

Last night it was at Symphony Hall in Birmingham where the acoustics are so good, it is always a pleasure to visit.

We were offered a splendid supporting act in the shape of the Grigoryan Brothers, Australian musicians who play beautiful classical guitar. Their final piece Jango, by Brazilian composer Elias Álvares Lobo was truly stunning, KD announced at the end of the show that the brothers have just won Best Independent Classical Album at this year’s AIR Awards in Australia.

When the curtains opened after the interval and KD was up on stage, there was a rapturous and noisy welcome for her even before she began. I teared up because my sister passed away in 2007 and she would have loved to have been there with me, hey ho.

KD, shoeless, dressed in her signature grey suit and white shirt kicked off with “Save me,” it was fantastic. Her voice is as pure and as powerful as it was 25 years ago. She sang the entire Ingenue album, my favourite song by far is “Wash Me Clean,” such a haunting melody I get lost in that song. “Miss Chatelaine” was of course hugely welcomed, lots of people up and clapping by now, adoring women clustered around the front of the stage. KD floating around and posing and laughing at herself. She has such a good connection with her audience and makes everyone feel special.

KD has recently returned to live in her native homeland of Canada having left LA. She made it clear she is not a Trump admirer and cracked a joke about the UK now being not far behind America, politically speaking. She cracked lots of jokes, she was great. She introduced her band members and each one took centre stage for a glorious moment, playing on their own, she has been making music with one of them, her bass player for thirty years.

For her finale, KD chose three songs by some of her favourite composers. The first she introduced as a song written by “a scary woman because she is a genius, whose name is tattooed onto my soul,” and then sang Joni Mitchell`s “Help Me,” which was lovely especially as Joni Mitchell`s name is tattooed onto my soul also. She then sang Crosby Stills Nash and Young, “Helpless,” also beautiful and putting entirely her own stamp onto it. She finished with Leonard Cohen`s “Hallelujah”. Not a massive favourite of mine but she sang it perfectly and so movingly.

KD also gave a shout out to Bittersweet Catering who are a Birmingham based team of caterers and she said their food was outstanding and urged us all to use them for any catering requirements and I thought that was also really nice of her.

All this for £45. The best forty-five quid`s worth I have enjoyed in many a long time.

I can`t smile without you.


An old friend of my family passed away just over two years ago. Ours was not a close relationship however, I was very sorry to witness her demise as she became terribly frail with dementia.

It had been problematic for her family to organise the scattering of her ashes since her grandchildren wanted to be there as did her great grandchildren and all of them are scattered to the four winds, pardon the pun. As a result, the ashes were safely kept, until everyone could attend. Actually, I`m not sure where they were kept, I just Googled it and Google says at the Cricket Museum at Lords so that wasn`t terribly helpful. Anyway, with the patient and thoughtful arrangements of a member of her family, a date was finally arranged. I kept out of the proceedings.

There was some discord around the final date of the scattering as it fell on a school day meaning great grandchildren could not come along to say goodbye. No matter, the morning arrived and as it happened owing to unexpected circumstances, it had to be cancelled.

Another week went by and finally with everyone in agreement, a new date was arranged. The difficulties around school days remained the same, so a separate, small urn of ashes had been prepared for them so that the great grandchildren could celebrate their great grandma`s life and say their goodbyes in their own time.

I only came to understand these proceedings as I am friends with the deceased person`s son. I asked him one day recently if he would kindly take me to our local tip with some garden rubbish which was duly bagged and good to go in the back of his van. As I got ready to get into the vehicle he said, “Oh, don`t sit on that Sainsburys shopping bag,” (which was on the passenger seat,) “my mother`s inside it, can`t have you sitting on mother,” and that is how the story has unfolded to me.

Now I am a rather irreverent person and I found this quite an amusing tale but not as amusing as when he went on further to say, “yes, I have her false teeth somewhere in the back of this van, I really must clear it out.”  (I knew his van had become a holding place for all manner of items as he was somewhat of a hoarder but this revelation surprised even me.)

I said, “You have your mother`s false teeth in the back of the van. Why? Why do you have your mother`s false teeth in the back of your van?”

He replied, “Oh, I suppose it`s from when we cleared out her house and they were just in a pot amongst all her possessions.”

I said, “Most people would have thrown them away,” and off we drove to the tip.

He`s had his mum`s false teeth in the back of his van, for two years. You couldn`t really make it up could you……………