Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under rated organ



gut cover

This international bestseller “sets out to free toilet talk from its taboo,” according to The Times. In my family there is no such taboo! We talk about our guts, stools and movements often and openly. This isn’t out of vulgarity but more out of necessity as almost all of my nearest and dearest suffer with our guts – from the severity of diverticulitis to that familiar, uncomfortable bloated feeling.

I read Giulia Enders’ superb book in the hope of finding out more than my pill-pushing GP would ever bother to tell me. What I found has really opened my eyes. Enders shows the reader that rather than being the embarrassing, often overlooked body part, the gut is actually a spectacular miracle.

gut pic

We are shown what makes us vomit, the difference in dietary fibre and its effects on us plus how probiotics and prebiotics can help us. Whilst I struggle with mice being used in these experiments (humans please!), researchers are beginning to investigate the importance of “the gut-brain axis.” This includes how bacteria found in the gut can be linked to depression and the true impact of stress on our gut and in turn our mental health. Enders describes how an “emergency situation” develops between gut and brain when a person experiences anger, pressure or anxiety.

This book combining the perfect blend of accessible language with amusing, explanatory graphics (drawn by her sister), makes Gut as entertaining as it is informative. Enders compiles the latest scientific research that shows how the gut can play a role in everything – obesity, allergies, Alzheimer’s – and presents it as simply as one can such a complex organ. (That said the chapters on bacteria needed several re-reads before I got my grey matter around it!) Gut is a brilliant handbook that proves we can all benefit from getting to know our wondrous inner workings a lot better. Read on for some of the bits I found particularly fascinating: Continue reading

The Land Where Lemons Grow

lemons books



This time last month I was in sunny Italy travelling the Amalfi coast and marvelling at the beautiful scenery. I adored the bright pink purple Rhododendrons that spilled from rocks and clung to roadsides and the lemon grove terraces perched precariously above them overlooking the sea.

Then, I had not been home more than a few days when I saw this book reviewed and missing all of the above as much as I did, I purchased it straight away. So glad I did! Helen Attlee’s book is a sensuous exploration of citrus fruit in Italy, a fusion of history, horticulture and travelogue that made me yearn for an immediate return.

Her writing is vivid and cheerful, elegant and charming and it is both an academic and anecdotal account of the story behind the plants we so lovingly eat, drink and smell.

From those Amalfi lemons that have been grown on those terraces since the 12th century to the blood oranges that thrive in the shadow of Mount Etna, we follow the citrus scent all over Italy and learn about the vast differences in tastes and techniques.

Perfumes, Limoncello, battle weapons, tarts – citrus can seemingly offer the lot. The fruits first arrived in Italy in AD70 in the form of citrons brought by Jews fleeing Jerusalem and settling in Calabria. Then Arabs brought sour oranges when they invaded Sicily in AD831, and particularly interesting for me was reading how in the 19th century Bergamot began to be used not just as an antiseptic but to flavour Earl Grey tea (my favourite!).

As I read each page I could feel the sun on my back (even when I wasn’t in the garden or down at the beach!), smell the oranges on the trees and taste the lemon tart (with a little glass of limoncello to serve) – bliss!

A completely gorgeous book for fans of Italian food, gardens and history.


Notes on the author – Helen Attlee:

  • Author of four books about Italian gardens
  • A fellow of the Royal Literary Fund
  • Worked in Italy for 30 years





Flappers compiles the fascinating stories of 6 women who spectacularly came of age in the roaring 1920s. Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Limpicka transcended class and background to become the new women of the world. Dance writer Judith Mackrell is an engaging storyteller who pushes the cliches of this era aside to show us how these ‘Flappers’ did a lot more than just dance the Charleston.

The exceptional young girls, some from privileged families, others from poor, were talented artists, dancers and actresses who blazed a trail for women to choose their own lifestyles – from haircuts to sexual relationships – for the first time with varying consequences. They decided on their own sexual conquests (often many and of either sex), they earned their own livings, shortened their hairstyles and their skirts and let loose smoking, drinking, flirting and cussing in public. The “narrow-hipped, flat-chested flapper silhouette” became the desired look of the time though most admirers could only have dared dream about emulating their raucous behaviour as well as their style.

Marriages, affairs, lovers lost at war, drink, drugs, art, acting and dancing…oh and lots and lots of sex! Then there’s the jazz, art deco, Coco Chanel, the Left Bank cafe culture and monied luxury. These audacious women were on the fringes of society, equally at home in a palace or the gutter and throughout this book their stories seem to flutter as such. Rags to riches, riches to rags and back again.

The locations are exotic –  London, New York, Paris, Monte Carlo – and their lifestyles are lavish and the opulence extreme making this a fantastic piece of escapist reading. The Flappers took risks, political and sexual, that leave you breathless at their daring.

When the Jazz era is swallowed up by depression, political and racial shifts and another war, the Flappers’ days of homosexuality, nudity and drunken dancing are numbered….

Continue reading

Don’t hang the DJ




The Bird and The Beeb is the story of Liz Kershaw’s thrilling career as a Radio DJ. I expected it to be full of name drops and celebrity anecdotes but happily it is much more than that. Kershaw is someone who has fought for her slice of the airwaves from her Rochdale youth dancing round her Dansette to saving the UK’s greatest music station, she has stood up and been counted. She’s been called “controversial,” “outspoken” and a feminist but none of these are bad things in my book – or this one!

As a reward for passing her O-levels early, her Dad allowed her to start buying pop records with her pocket money. As Liz says his timing couldn’t have been better as 1972 was “a belting year for music.” Only a matter of years later she was forming her own girl group Dawn Chorus & The BlueTits with Countdown smart-ass Carol Vorderman. Whilst they didn’t reach the dizzy heights of Bananarama, she did get to record a Peel session.

Her career at the BBC took off at Radio Leeds – a case of literally in the right place at the right time. From there she went on to huge success on Radio One’s Weekend Breakfast show with Bruno Brookes rubbing shoulders with pop megastars on the Radio One Roadshows and introducing the latest hits on Top Of The Pops. Kershaw describes the mass hysteria surrounding acts like Bros and Spandau Ballet when they visited the BBC all of which evoked huge memories for me. Growing up in the 80s I was obsessed with pop music, radio DJs and Top of The Pops and more than anything I can remember I wanted to be onstage as a presenter at a Roadshow. Liz Kershaw was doing all of that – lucky thing!

But of course where there are highs, there are often lows. Kershaw has been vilified for her northern accent, labelled as thick, rough and common in the snobby world of broadcasting. She has battled cervical cancer, lost friends to drink, drugs and depression and seen her own brother broadcaster Andy (“our Andrew”) jailed for violating a restraining order. Continue reading

The age old questions



This is a charming, escapist travelogue memoir by best-selling author Daniel Klein. We follow him as he packs a suitcase full of books by his favoured philosophers (Epicurus, Sartre) and travels to the Greek Island of Hydra to contemplate life’s big questions. Hanging out with the local old folk and immersing himself in ancient philosophies, and even the lyrics of Frank Sinatra, Klein tries to figure out whether it is better to try to remain forever young or to grow old authentically.

This is a guide to living well in old age for the modern age. At a time when the world is youth-obsessed and where many try to delay the arrival of old age by remaining active and setting goals, this books offers a welcome alternative. Epicurus believed that old age was the pinnacle of life, the best it gets, once we free ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs. In going from forever young to old old age, Klein, like Epicurus, believes that we miss out on the chance to be a fulfilled old person “docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness.”

As Klein adds: “Old people do not have to fret about their next move because the Chess game is over. They are free to think about any damned thing they choose.” Sitting, thinking, meditating and just being idle is advocated throughout this lovely book. Continue reading

The psychology of willpower



 marshmallow test book

A child is presented with a marshmallow and given a choice: eat this one now, or wait and enjoy two later?

This is the iconic experiment that renowned psychologist, Walter Mischel, is famed for and one of the most important in the history of psychology. In his fascinating new book he uses this simple test to explain to us what self-control is and how we can master it.

Years of studying the outcomes of The Marshmallow Test has allowed him to develop proof that the ability to delay gratification is critical to living a successful and fulfilling life. Mischel describes how self-control not only predicts higher grades in school, better social functioning and a greater sense of self-worth but it also helps us manage stress, pursue our goals and cope with painful emotions.

I bought this book as I have very little resistance to temptations such as flapjacks and vodka whereas I can delay gratification quite easily if the consequences affect my future self financially. I wanted to know whether willpower is prewired or can it be learned?


  Continue reading

Giving your city a break



This is a wonderful short book that I read in just a couple of hours. Like many of us city dwellers, I regularly find myself falling out of love with my surroundings. The traffic, noise, pollution, neighbours, anti-social behaviour – the list goes on, if we let it. Adam Ford’s book tackles breaking this cycle of negative thoughts about the city we live in and embracing our urban lives instead.

“Mindfulness,” he says, “is a way of living, a way of knowing oneself and the world. It involves taking stock regularly of the way things are, living consciously, becoming more aware and realistic about life.”

He encourages us to apply this approach to the way we live our lives in cities throughout the world by making time to think about ourselves in the here and now and to notice more, to look for the peace and for the beauty when moving around our neighbourhoods. Ford explores creative uses of small spaces in cities with inspiring ideas for urban gardens, allotments and even bee-keeping. He asks the reader to look around again at the wealth of parks, gardens, galleries, buildings and vistas that we may have taken for granted or been too busy rushing past to have ever really observed properly. Continue reading