An Organic Solution for Tomato Blight and Mildew

I am absolutely convinced that gardening in my patch of Portugal is beyond a challenge, or labour of love. Case in point: I’d no sooner tidied the patch and planted up all the vegetable plugs I’d bought from the market when I noticed brown spots on the leaves. Sigh …

Tomato Blight

Tomato Blight

There is NEVER a dull moment!

Searching the net to confirm it was indeed the dreaded blight I discovered various organic treatments; the base ingredient of which was baking soda. What the hell is Portuguese for Baking Soda, I asked myself? Okay, apparently it’s Bicarbonato de Sódio. So tomorrow I’ll be on a mission to buy some!

Yes, you can buy it. It’s located in the ‘baking’ aisle of major supermarkets such as Intermarche and Continent.

Further research also revealed that regularly spraying the plants with the following concoction also helps prevent mildew on squash, courgettes, aubergines and cucumbers etc. Fingers crossed.

Recipe (US)
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 US gallon of water
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)

All the recipes are pretty standard in ingredients but not measures. I discovered (by accident) that UK gallons are different from US. How on earth did I get to xx years old and not realize there was a difference? Ho hum…

1UK gal= 4.546090L
1US gal= 3.78541

So why Bicarbonate of Soda? Apparently, when you spray the leaves with the baking soda solution it lowers the PH on the leaves which in turn helps to prevent the leaf blight spores from growing.

Application: Apply using a sprayer.
When to spray: Early morning or late evening.
What to spray: Leaves (including underside) stems and base /earth round each plant
How often: Daily – weekly. I think this depends on the location and level of humidity. I’ll spray daily and see how it goes.

I found this video and website helpful.

Website: therustedgarden.blogspot

This evening I sprayed the plants just before sunset so the solution does not burn the leaves in the heat of the sun. Hopefully … we will see what tomorrow brings and if further leaves become infected over the next week.

Have you tried using this method? If not, watch this space.

Raised Vegetable Bed – Third Time Lucky!

There is a popular phrase: Third time lucky. And as this is my third attempt to grow vegetables in my ill-fated raised vegetable bed due, to problems with hedge roots, let’s hope it’s true and I am lucky!

Just to backtrack to my previous post, Gardening IS a Labour of Love!, there were various options.

– Do I dig out all the soil (again), concrete the base and then add another couple of tiers of bricks and replenish the soil?
– Cover with black plastic membrane to suppress the weeds and then move all my containers on to the raised bed? The latter would be the easier option but it would restrict the type of fruit and vegetables I would be able to grow?
– Knock the thing down and forget it existed and persuade Mr. Piglet to get some chickens?

Seriously, what would you do?

After Mr. Piglet read on my blog, and realised just how much my ‘patch of paradise’ meant to me, he suggested the first option but without the extra layers of bricks.

Here is a picture diary of progress.

The Rebirth of Piglet’s Plot

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After the price was agreed the ‘muscle’ arrived the following week to start work. Normally, this is the type of project we’d undertake ourselves but we ain’t getting any younger. Besides, we’d already filled the raised bed once with earth, then dug it out, then refilled it AGAIN, so we decided to take the easy route and hire some muscle. And boy did those guys have muscles! Last time we removed all the earth it took us over a week – one man emptied it in one morning!

Once the earth had been cleared and the root encrusted liner removed the land was leveled to include a slope to aid drainage. A layer of brita (small stones) was added to the base of the bed followed by a healthy layer of concrete to block the roots. If that doesn’t work – I’ll give up and grow chickens instead!

I must confess, the workers, who no doubt are only earning the minimum age and living barely above the bread line, must have wondered at my obsessive extravagance as Mr. Piglet joked about my home-grown vegetables probably being the most expensive in the Algarve, if not in Portugal!

After a few days the concrete and the fully hardened off we added some water to double-check the fall and where the drainage holes would be best placed.

Then we waited… and waited… and waited. The topsoil which was due to be delivered failed to materialize and I sighed with relief at the thought: at least the person chasing broken promises was Portuguese and could shout encouraging words of abuse in their own lingo!

A few days later there was a flurry of phone calls and the lorry arrived with the soil and another with more brita. My garden became a hive of activity as muscle ‘one’ knocked out the drainage holes and inserted pipes. Muscle ‘two’ started adding the brita for drainage and the third helped me clean up the old membrane so it could act as a barrier between earth and brita – well that’s the theory.

The soil added and hey presto! Piglet’s Plot is reborn!

Piglet's Plot is reborn and root free

Piglet’s Plot is reborn and root free

Is this a sign?

This week’s theme for the Weekly Photo Challengeis Wall. Armed with my camera – or should I say new iPad – I’ve been on a mission all week to find a sign that I could relate to. Now, as a self-confessed foodie this sign grabbed my attention. Not because it was bright and garish and demanded to be read, but because it was quietly enticing and sent a clear message about their passion for food.

Food for Thought - Ristorante Paesano, Alvor

Food for Thought – Ristorante Paesano, Alvor

And, enticing enough for me to want to go back and try the restaurant. We will see…

Mr. Piglet does not wait until lunchtime before he starts asking about dinner the discussion usually starts around breakfast!

Gardening IS a Labour of Love!

Growing fruit and vegetables was my labour of love and a hobby which gave me a great sense of fulfillment. Although my efforts in the vegetable garden were never destined to make us self-sufficient, the pleasure of eating something I’d grown from seed or plug was rewarding.

Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and spinach on 26th February

Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and spinach on 26th February 2012

Like a sentry I stood guard against the slugs and snails and other predators such as rabbits and birds; each eager to sample the tender green shoots. I watered and fed the young plants with the love of a mother tending a young family. I sheltered them from the harsh salt winds and shaded them from the midday sun until, like young adults, they were strong enough to fend for themselves.

White mold and other diseases often threatened the crop and I frantically searched the internet looking for an organic solution rather than using fungicides. Unfortunately, the limited options available and lack of success resulted in many organic pipe-dream failures. My main concern in using chemicals was the devastating effect on the bees and other wildlife.

I watched as bees pollinated the flowers of cucumbers, courgettes and tomatoes with the promise of a feast of home grown fruit and vegetables in the weeks to come.

Different varieties of lettuce grew in containers as were spring onions, radish, peppers, melons and chives; all basking in the sun just waiting to grace my next salad bowl.

The taste of fresh produce served straight from plot to plate within minutes and so different to that of irradiated foods which have been boxed, transported halfway round the world, and then dumped on the supermarket shelves.

My vegetable garden was like stepping through Alice’s mirror to my own wonderland where I felt at peace with myself and at one with nature.

So what happened?

My neglected raised vegetable area

My neglected raised vegetable area


Readers who have been following my blog for some time may remember my previous post about the root problem caused by the close proximity of the melaleuca hedge. A problem I thought I had resolved by lining the base of the raised bed with a membrane. All was fine for a year, and then I noticed the plants were no longer thriving. When I dug into the soil it was no more than a nest of roots, so you can imagine my language was a little more than sky blue!

Defeated by Mother Nature I abandoned my wonderland and retreated back through the mirror. I felt disillusioned, and even my tenacious spirit could not rally my enthusiasm as the fruit bushes and strawberries growing in containers were left untended and unloved…

As the winter turned to spring and the milder weather tempted me once more to revisit my vegetable area I was once again drawn to the family of plants under my care.

The cabbages and lettuce I had planted last October had barely grown in four months and the onions were even less enthusiastic about their living conditions.

Cabbage and lettuce planted last October have hardly grown

Cabbage and lettuce planted last October have hardly grown

The peach tree, which had been the source of such joy last summer when it yielded so many peaches followed by disappointment when I found they were infested with fruit flies, still seemed to be alive. Only time will tell if the lack of water during the winter drought will have an adverse effect.

The lemon tree which was bought as a lime tree four years ago, had one lemon and a multitude of tiny white flowers – well that was a result. The leaves yellow but still clinging to life and giving its all.

As I continued to examine the plants in the various containers I felt heartened that they had all survived. I surveyed the variety of large empty pots and crates and once again felt excited at the prospect of growing a salad crop. Now was the time for action and a visit to the market was required.

So what next?

Sigh… I don’t know.

– Do I dig out all the soil (again), concrete the base and then add another couple of tiers of bricks and replenish the soil?
– Cover with black plastic membrane to suppress the weeds and then move all my containers on to the raised bed? The latter would be the easier option but it would restrict the type of fruit and vegetables I would be able to grow?
– Knock the whole thing down and forget it existed and persuade Mr. Piglet to get some chickens?

Seriously, what would you do?

The cost of the first option could be prohibitive but on the other hand this is my hobby and it gives me great pleasure. It would involve employing some muscle to undertake the project and muscle costs money!

The second option would look and feel and like a bodge job.

The third option – well that’s a joke in case he reads this blog post.

I went to the market on Monday and bought lots of plant plugs and strawberry plants.

As for what happens next – watch this space!

Fat Clothes for Fat People

Or should that read Outsize clothes for Oversized people?
I’m sorry if this is not politically correct but I’m fat. I also come from an age where we did not cloak the truth in jargon as in: “I’m bodily challenged”. The harsh reality is that I’m a porker a porklet of grand proportions and I’ve been in denial for years. And I’ve had enough.

Fat clothes

Fat clothes

The final straw came when I was trying to buy some new clothes for Christmas and New Year celebrations. Okay, we are not exactly spoiled for choice for ‘fat’ clothes in the Algarve but I do expect shops to have a little more on offer than jumpers with horizontal stripes (or hooped jumpers as I call them), and round neck tops, both of which accentuate my bulging proportions rather than playing them down.

So here’s a plea to fashion designers: I beg you, please don’t design clothes that make us porkers look fatter. I can eat more cake and chocolate for that privilege. Design clothes that make us ‘appear’ thinner. I realise you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but I beg you to at least try.

Why the horizontal stripes on all the tops and cardigans? Do you really want to make us look as wide as we are tall? Are you the designers skinny minnies laughing at our body shape?

Will it make me look fat?

Will it make me look fat?

What happened to the flattering V neck tops and dresses? I’m looking for fashionable tops to slim me down to make me feel good about myself. Not some shapeless sack.

And flattering does not include dresses and tops which make me look like a marquee. I want style!

Nor do I want to be perusing the maternity fashion rails. Have you tried this? Sigh…

Please share your fashion horrors… or fashion tips.

Six Unusual Holiday Activities In The Algarve

The Algarve, is not only blessed with over sixty blue flag beaches, numerous golf courses, vibrant nightlife, glorious weather but also a host of other activities visitors to the area may not always be aware of. When booking hotels and flights for your trip to the Algarve, there are several helpful websites, such as First Choice. It couldn’t be easier!

Here are my six hot tips.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Stand UP Paddle Boarding is a cross between surfing and canoeing. The SUP board is similar to a standard surfboard and the paddle, similar to that of a canoe. You can paddle board on flat waters, such as Alvor lagoon, or in open water and surfing the waves.

Paddle Boarding with Lagos SUP

Paddle Boarding with Lagos SUP

When I contacted Lagos SUP School for more information, my first question was: Is there an age limit?

“As to age, there is no age limit. Two weeks ago I went to the Bravura dam with a magnificent group of four girls, some close to 60 years.”

Paddle Boarding with Lagos SUP School

Paddle Boarding with Lagos SUP School

Beginners are advised to start in a quiet place without waves such as Alvor lagoon. SUP is easy and great fun, why not try it?

SUP - Alvor lagoon

SUP – Alvor lagoon

Grotto Trips: € 30 per person
Lessons: € 30 per student
Private coaching: € 35 per student
Dam trip & Alvor Lagoon trip € 30 per person

Lagos SUP School
Telephone: 960199612


Looking for something different – why not take a boat trip up the Arcade river from Portimão to Silves?

River Trip to Silves

River Trip to Silves

There are currently three trips available:

Full Day Trip:
Visit magnificant caves along the local coastline. Navigate the Arcade River from Portimão and stop for lunch at a cosy riverside restaurant before returning to Portimao
Caves Tour:
Visit the caves along the local coastline – Trip Duration 1.5 hrs
Portimão to Silves

Sail up the Arcade river from Portimão to the ancient town of Silves where you can explore for 1.5 hrs before returning to Portimão

Please note: the trip to Silves is tide dependent, so do telephone first to check the time of departure.

Mobile: +351 914 983 967

‘Write Now’ Creative Writing Workshop (Holiday Inn, Armação de Pêra

If you are looking for a ‘something different’, then I suggest you look no further than a  creative writing weekend organised by award winning author, Anne Aylor. The two day workshop is held at The Holiday Inn, a beautiful hotel in a stunning location right on the beach.

Creative Writing - Holiday Inn, Armação de Pêra

Creative Writing – Holiday Inn, Armação de Pêra

Regardless of whether you are a complete beginner or a published author, the workshop is great fun and almost a retreat as you ‘connect’ with your creative side.

Creative Writing Weekend with Anne Ayler at the Holiday Inn

Creative Writing Weekend with Anne Aylor at the Holiday Inn

I have now attended two of Anne’s workshops at the Holiday Inn, and have thoroughly enjoyed them!

For more information about this workshop, and others held in London and Spain check out Anne’s website:

Related articles: Creative Writing Course “Write Now!” and Creative Writing Course in the Algarve

Monchique Sausage Fair

(Feira dos Enchidos Tradicionais de Serra de Monchique)

The sausage fair is held on the first weekend of March in the mountain town of Monchique. Situated in the Serra de Monchique the area is not only famous for it’s locally produced products, but also for the thermal spas at Caldas de Monchique. The area was also put under the spotlight when Prime Minister David Cameron enjoyed his two week family holiday in 2013.

The fair, a two-day event, is a great opportunity to sample the famous Monchique sausage, cured hams, locally produced medronho (fire water), fig liqueur, and delicious homemade cakes! There is also live music and other entertainment throughout the day and late into the night.

There are plenty of local restaurants serving traditional Portuguese food, so before visiting the fair you might even want to continue your journey up the mountain to take in the panoramic views from Foia which is 902metres above sea level. On a clear day, the panoramic views from Faro in the east to Cape Vincent in the west are fantastic!

Delicious Monchique  Sausage Festival!

Delicious Monchique Sausage Festival!

The fair is held in the Heliporto Municipal, Monchique. There is onstreet parking and easy access.

For more information check the local website, which incidentally does translate well if you use the ‘Google translate option’. If not, your resort Tourist Information Office should be able to access the information for you.


Related articles:
Fair of Traditional Sausages ~ Feira dos Enchidos Tradicionais de Serra de Monchique and David Cameron visits the sleepy town of Aljezur

Silves Medieval Fair

For anyone on holiday during the second week of August, the Silves Medieval Fair should be included in your itinerary. The ancient, and winding streets of the Moorish town of Silves are lined with stalls selling tempting food, crafts and other interesting sundries. Tips: Don’t eat before you go because there are numerous stalls where you can buy food and then sit on straw bales to soak in the ambience. When you order Sangria, it is served in a rustic terracotta mug. You are charged for the mug but then it is yours to keep and replenish with Sangria at the various stalls as you wander round the streets.

Silves Medieval Fair

Silves Medieval Fair

There are street entertainers, music and even a jousting event which is well worth a visit, especially if your feet ache and you need to recharge your batteries!

Silves Medieval Fair

Silves Medieval Fair

If you really want to sample the ‘Medieval Experience’, you can hire costumes. Adults €3.00 and Children €2.00. Although from personal experience the temperature in Silves often exceeds 30C so take this into consideration before hiring. It’s hot!

I also recommend good non-slip footwear as the cobbled streets are VERY slippery.

Silves Medieval Fair

Silves Medieval Fair

Duration of fair: 10 days
Opening hours: 18.00-01.00
Entrance fee to the fair is only €2.00. No charge for children under 1.3 metres.

There is some disabled parking but you will need to arrive early (17.30).

Facebook: Feira Medieval de Silves

Related Articles: 
Silves Medieval Fair 2010
Silves Medieval Fair 2011
Silves Medieval Fair 2012

Festival da Batata Doce (Sweet Potato Festival)

If you are on holiday during the last weekend of November and looking for a day out away from the beaten tourist track of the Algarve, why not venture up to the Moorish town of Aljezur to experience the Sweet Potato Festival? The event is held in the Espaço Multiuso de Aljezur and is well signposted.

Sweet Potato Festival - Aljezur

Sweet Potato Festival – Aljezur

Check out the local crafts

Craft Stall - Sweet Potato Fesitival

Craft Stall – Sweet Potato Fesitival

Sample the local liqueurs – they are delicious! I can highly recommend fig and almond. Did you know you can even buy liquors made from sweet potatoes? No neither did I!

Sample some Liquors

Sample some Liquors

Better still, try some sweet potato cakes!

Delicious Sweet Potato Cakes

Delicious Sweet Potato Cakes

Opens 12.00hm until 24.00h

Website: or your local resort tourist information should have the details.

Related Articles:
Sweet Potato Festival – Festival da Batata-Doce de Aljezur.

Photo Credits
Paddle Boarding:h Lagos SUP School
Creative Writing: Anne Aylor
Silves River Trips

Remembrance Day: A Tribute To Our Brave Soldiers…

Remembrance Day, or Poppy Day is a memorial day which has been observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War. It is the day when we remember the soldiers who have given their life in the line of duty.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall (London)

The Cenotaph, Whitehall (London)

I wrote this poem as tribute to our brave soldiers…

Lest We Forget

Two minutes silence marks your death
as we the nation remember
your sacrifice, with respect.
The silence echoes our private grief
while we the nation mourn our heroes.

Heroes, born to die in far away places
in battles old and new.
Haunting bugles lament your loss
while the Big Guns, salute you.
And we the nation remember
as we find solace in our thoughts.

Red poppies of Flander’s Field
their seeds from death and blood, reborn.
While we the nation wear with pride
our medal of respect.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

The theme for this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is ‘Signs’.

That’s lucky, because I have the perfect picture!

Are women always right?

Are women always right?

I spotted this sign outside the toilets in a restaurant in Ferragudo, Algarve. It made me chuckle so of course I just had to take a photograph!

Are women always ‘right’ or do men just let them think they are?

Let the poll reveal the truth!

and please don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comment box below this post…

Toilet Horrors… one for the ladies

Knowing I’m a bit of a toilet inspector a good friend shared this ‘toilet humour’. When I read it I nearly peed my pants with laughter!

Toilet humour

Toilet humour

When you have to visit a public toilet, you usually find a line of women, so you smile politely and take your place. Once it’s your turn, you check for feet under the cubicle doors. Every cubicle is occupied.

Finally, a door opens and you dash in, nearly knocking down the woman leaving the cubicle. You get in to find the door won’t latch. It doesn’t matter, the wait has been so long you are about to wet your pants! The dispenser for the modern ‘seat covers’ (invented by someone’s Mum, no doubt) is handy, but empty. You would hang your bag on the door hook, if there was one, so you carefully, but quickly drape it around your neck, (Mum would turn over in her grave if you put it on the FLOOR!) down with your pants and assume ‘ The Stance.

In this position, your aging, toneless, thigh muscles begin to shake. You’d love to sit down, but having not taken time to wipe the seat or to lay toilet paper on it, you hold ‘The Stance.’ To take your mind off your trembling thighs, you reach for what you discover to be the empty toilet paper dispenser.

In your mind, you can hear your mother’s voice saying,
Dear, if you had tried to clean the seat, you would have KNOWN there was no toilet paper!‘Your thighs shake more.

You remember the tiny tissue that you blew your nose on yesterday – the one that’s still in your bag (the bag around your neck, that now you have to hold up trying not to strangle yourself at the same time). That would have to do, so you crumple it in the puffiest way possible. It’s still smaller than your thumbnail.

Someone pushes your door open because the latch doesn’t work.

The door hits your bag, which is hanging around your neck in front of your chest and you and your bag topple backward against the tank of the toilet…

‘Occupied!’ you scream, as you reach for the door, dropping your precious, tiny, crumpled tissue in a puddle on the floor, while losing your footing altogether and sliding down directly onto the TOILET SEAT. It is wet of course. You bolt up, knowing all too well that it’s too late. Your bare bottom has made contact with every imaginable germ and life form on the uncovered seat because YOU never laid down toilet paper – not that there was any, even if you had taken time to try.

You know that your mother would be utterly appalled if she knew, because you’re certain her bare bottom never touched a public toilet seat because, frankly, dear, ‘You just don’t KNOW what kind of diseases you could get’.

By this time, the automatic sensor on the back of the toilet is so confused that it flushes, propelling a stream of water like a fire hose against the inside of the bowl and spraying a fine mist of water that covers your bum and runs down your legs and into your shoes.

The flush somehow sucks everything down with such force and you grab onto the empty toilet paper dispenser for fear of being dragged in too.

At this point, you give up. You’re soaked by the spewing water and the wet toilet seat. You’re exhausted. You try to wipe with a sweet wrapper you found in your pocket and then slink out inconspicuously to the sinks.

You can’t figure out how to operate the taps with the automatic sensors, so you wipe your hands with spit and a dry paper towel and walk past the line of women still waiting. You are no longer able to smile politely to them. A kind soul at the very end of the line points out a piece of toilet paper trailing from your shoe.
(Where was that when you NEEDED it?) You yank the paper from your shoe, plunk it in the woman’s hand and tell her warmly, ‘Here, you just might need this.’

As you exit, you spot your hubby, who has long since entered, used and left the men’s toilet. Annoyed, he asks, ‘What took you so long and why is your bag hanging around your neck?’

This is dedicated to women everywhere who deal with any public rest rooms/toilets (rest??? you’ve GOT to be kidding!!). It finally explains to the men what really does take us so long.. It also answers that other commonly asked question about why women go to the toilets in pairs. It’s so the other gal can hold the door, hang onto your bag and hand you Kleenex under the door.

A Friend Is Like A Good Bra…
Hard to Find, Supportive, Comfortable, Always Lifts You Up, Never Lets You Down or Leaves You Hanging And Is Always Close To Your Heart!!!

Related Posts:
A Turkish “experience” in France
Sexy Toilet Paper – They MUST be Joking!

Are All Care Homes Potential Cattle Markets? Interview with Steven Hawley

Steven Hawley’s novelette, Cattle Market, struck a chord with me as I reflected on the plight of my own mother and the difficult decision we made to place her in a care home. Before we moved her to a more ‘suitable’ facility I witnessed with my own eyes how the Matron, or whatever she was called, refused to let mum walk to the toilet. She also made her wear incontinence pads so mum was not a nuisance. When a kind Romanian carer tried to fight the Matron’s decision, she was met with a steely glare and total indifference. Fortunately it was only a temporary home but poor mum never regained control of her bladder or her dignity. I feel so strongly about the plight of the elderly and intrigued by Steven’s novelette I tracked him down and he kindly agreed to be interviewed. Thank you Steven.

Cattle Market

Is life in a care home really a Cattle Market?

Steven, please tell us a little about yourself?

I currently work within an NHS Trust supported living home. Slightly different to your stereotypical rest home in that I support 3 clients, not 30+ which means they generally receive a better quality of care. I’ve been in the industry for about 8 years now and have worked in a variety of different settings. My first job was in a residential care home where there were 4 staff delivering care to 40 residents. My interests are obviously writing. Ideally I would like to be able to write as a full time occupation, I’ll get there one day! Other than that I just live my quiet little life with my other half and dog in a quiet little house in the English countryside.

What inspired you to write “Cattle Market“?

I once supported a mid forties lady in a care home who had Huntington’s. She used to be a care worker and would often try to lend her services to us as we worked the shift. Unfortunately we couldn’t take her up on her offers but it got me thinking, one day we might all be in her position. That’s when I really started to notice how shit the care practices of most people were. I shamefully hold my hands up and admit that I was one of the less than decent carers, not that I did anything wrong mind you, but when I first started care I failed to see the person behind the backside I was cleaning. It was how my colleagues were, so it was how I became. It wasn’t until I got employment in a supported living environment I realised how dehumanising care homes can be and made efforts to get to know the people I was looking after. At the time I wasn’t mature enough to handle the situation any other way than to remove myself from it, but now that I’m able, I felt fictionalising my experiences is a good way forward. I’m pleased I got out of the care home because some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met have been people I’ve supported… I never would have been able to see that if I was still in that first job.

What is the novelette about?

Cattle Market is mostly based on my experiences at that first care home. Fictionalised, of course, for confidentiality reasons but still pretty accurate. It’s a novelette which tracks one young man’s experiences from 1960 and throughout his working life in an English “Institute” where abuse, neglect and the dehumanisation of life are commonplace. It goes right up to modern day where some stark realisations are made about the state of the care industry. The protagonist is loosely based on myself and my experiences. And Helen is the only true to life character I decided to keep. I have her to thank for teaching me to be a decent person. Unfortunately some other gentleman beat me to the privilege that the protagonist was afforded.

Please can you include a short extract from Cattle Market?

“What’re you doing?” Helen asks when she returns. She’s brought an electric iron. “Giving him a wash,” I reply. I have Mr Walsh on his side and I’m scrubbing his back, wetting the flannel in a porcelain bowl filled from the sink, like I was shown. He takes a sharp intake of breath whenever the cold cloth touches a dry patch of skin. “Can you pass the razor?” Helen asks as she plugs in the iron and leaves it to warm up on the bedside table. I turn to fetch the safety razor from the basin. My breath catches as the frigid contents of the wash bowl cascade down my back. I look over my shoulder, Helen is holding the now empty bowl. “If you like I can give you an idea of what a shave with that razor might feel like too,” she says. I look at the razor in my hand. Old skin and beard are compacted into the blade and the edge looks about as keen as a beaten dog. “There aren’t any other blades. They don’t get changed ’til the end of the month,” I protest. “Another apostle of the great Amanda in the making. Go to the laundry room and get a dry tunic for yourself. Bring a mop and bucket back with you and I’ll show you how to behave like a decent human being.”

From your research, how has the care industry changed since the 1960s?

It hasn’t changed by much, I’m afraid to say. Care homes are still the over populated, foreboding prisons they’ve always been. I’ve yet to find a care home that doesn’t treat their clients like detainees. Just recently there was a second world war veteran who had to escape his care home just to make the D-day celebrations. There’s locks on the main exits and no one leaves without a truck load of red tape being put up first. The carers are under paid in care homes so you generally get what you pay for. The meal times are institutionalised and regimented. They’re just horrible, controlling old fashioned institutes. There’s no place for large care homes in this day and age if you ask me. Supported living, however, is a different bag of tricks. There are some services better than others, but generally they all support their clients out in the community. The staffing levels are high and the staff generally receive a better rate of pay (though still not enough in my not so humble opinion). The clients often get many hours of one to one interaction with staff. And their lives are lived like any other persons. They have input over their finances, shopping, clothing. All the simple choices we all take for granted. Supported living still has faults, but it’s certainly the way forward. Care homes, by comparison, appear barbaric.

If you could wave a magic wand, what changes would you implement to make residential care homes for the elderly more comfortable and why?

I would destroy them and build a 5 building complex on the land they’re built on. Four of the buildings would be two bed houses, one client per bed (or even doubled up if they come as a pair!). The remaining house would be a staff base of operations. That way the staffs belongings, filing, mission notes and hostages would be separate from the clients which would give the illusion of minimal interference in their lives. One of the problems with supported living is there’s often a homely feeling about the house until you find bits of paper work laying around, or staff backpacks tucked into a corner.

Based on your ‘insider’ knowledge if you could offer three top tips for choosing a care home what would they be?

If the staff are wearing a uniform, don’t bother with that home. It’s a clear sign that the home is a business and run like one. In my experience, a uniform is more than just clothing… it’s a reflection on the type of care a person might get: sterile; generalised; not person centred… uniform. If you’re going to visit a care home to see if it’s right for a family member, try to do so at or just after the main meal. If you can visit while the clients are eating you can see what the staffs attitudes are like when it comes to one of the most important times of the day. If all the clients are crammed into one dining room eating the same slop, it’s a good sign that there are many other institutional practices happening within that service. Also, arriving 20 minutes after the main meal, you can see if the staff have bothered to clean up their clients or just left them with food all down their front. Ask for a list of the activities the home encourages. If they provide a list of things they like to do in house (crafts, karaoke, needlework etc.) it’s a dead give away that bugger all activities actually get accomplished. Looks good on paper but the reality is the staff employed will be too busy to actually spend any time co-ordinating those activities. If the provider waxes lyrical about day trips out for those who want to go… ask to tag along. While not all homes are guilty of this… some will bullshit you to fill a bed. I’ve seen it happen. I’m going to give you a fourth tip: Try to avoid large care homes in general. Anything over 15 clients is too many unless there are as many staff on each shift. In my previous working environment, we had 4 staff for 6 clients. They received good quality person centred care. In many large care homes there have been 4 staff for 30+ clients. They received minimal basic care and very little staff interaction.

What social media platforms do you use to promote your book?

Twitter mostly @PottyWhite. I try to avoid Facebook if I can, I’ve been stalked on there once too often!

I love the cover of your book did you design it yourself?

Designed yes, created, no. I had a rough idea of what I wanted as my cover, an oversized cow being washed by a care worker wearing an above mentioned uniform. But I have no ability when it comes to drawing. My sister, Jo, on the other hand does. I sheepishly rang her up one day and pitched my idea. She was kind enough to get on board and together the cover was created.

What are your plans for the future?

The release of a Science Fiction novel, as yet untitled! Then I might try my hand at world domination.

Where can people buy Cattle Market? it’s available in both kindle and paperback formats.

Steven Hawley, Author of "Cattle Market"

Steven Hawley, Author “Cattle Market”

Steven Hawley, author of Cattle Market (Available for download on and Thanks For The Memory (First prize winner of Writers’ Forum magazine’s national short story week competition and later adapted for internet radio), lives just outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon and spends what little free time he has putting pen to paper. He enjoys science fiction, fantasy and occasionally dabbles in the darker side of writing. You can follow Steven on twitter @PottyWhite.

Last year we made the agonizing decision to move mum to a care home. Not only did she have mobility problems but she also suffered with dementia and therefore unable to look after herself in the comfort of her own home. My sister and I viewed twenty-six care homes before finding the little gem where Mum would end her days. It was a heart wrenching decision as we clung to memories of Mum before the dreaded dementia stole her mind. We soon discovered the common theme to all the homes, bar one, was that the residents sat around the outside of a communal lounge so they could only talk to the person either side. The focal point was usually a TV which muttered away to itself and was barely audible to us, yet alone those with hearing difficulties. There is a good reason why residential care homes are called “God’s Waiting Room”: These poor souls wore the resigned expression of those who had lost their dignity and were just waiting to die. We realised the whole care home industry was nothing more than a money-making enterprise and a “Cattle Market”. What is your experience of care homes and how were your loved ones treated? If you have any questions, Steven has kindly agreed to share his ‘inside’ knowledge. Thank you Steven…

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