High50 http://www.high50.com A global community for people over the age of 50. Reach out. Reboot. Read on. Thu, 05 Mar 2015 23:01:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Feel better now! Eight natural ways to stop feeling depressed, including laughing, learning and baking http://www.high50.com/health/eight-natural-ways-to-prevent-depression-and-feel-better-now http://www.high50.com/health/eight-natural-ways-to-prevent-depression-and-feel-better-now#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 23:01:07 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73604
Mental health. How to prevent depression. Feel happy.

Tip number two: laugh more. Laughing releases stress-busting endorphins into your bloodstream

Feeling low? Got the blues? Touch of the black dog? Down? Depressed? Unhappy? We seem to have as many words for melancholia as the Inuit have for snow.

OK, so it’s not true about Inuit words for snow; but it is true about the rich and varied vocabulary we’ve developed to talk about how miserable we are, sometimes with rich and varied therapists.

According to the Office of National Statistics, one in five people in the UK has mild mental health issues. The highest levels are in people aged between 50 and 54, and women are more likely to succumb than men.

If you’re low right now, and I’m talking about feeling down rather than the despair that comes with deep-seated clinical depression (quite a different beast and one that does often need medical intervention), there are many easy steps you can take to beat the blues.

1 Eat right

Beware the three false gods: booze, caffeine and sugar. They are not your friends, no matter how much they pretend to be. They’ll pick you up, and then drop you from the high they’ve taken you to. Your true friends are water; selenium-rich foods such as eggs, brazil nuts and unrefined grains; proteins, including meat, fish, poultry, legumes and quinoa; and the all-round hero, the Mediterranean diet.

A study published some years back by University College London, which followed 3,500 people over five years, showed that those who followed a Mediterranean diet were 30 per cent less likely to become depressed than those who didn’t. 

2 Laugh

Laughter ­– even fake laughter – releases a surge of stress-busting endorphins into your bloodstream. Even of you don’t have anything to laugh about and remain immune to the best-worst of Basil Fawlty and David Brent, you can still have a go at faking it. Your mind will thank you for it, and so will your body, thanks to the boost in oxygen and the cardiovascular workout (yes really). If you’d like to do it as part of a group, join a laughter club. laughteryoga.org. There are hundreds nationwide.

3 Connect with other people

Dr Steve Ilardi, author of The Depression Cure, says that one of the most damaging aspects of depression is the fact that it makes us withdraw from others. According to him, our brains treat mental illness much as they would a physical one, urging us to retreat until we feel better, when what we really need when we’re low is company. So fight the impulse to switch off the phone and dive under the duvet and instead arrange to meet a friend.

4 Learn something new

If you’re in a rut, ploughing the same furrow will only take you deeper down that hole, so give your brain something new to think about. Learning a new skill, a new language, or even how to master all the functions on your smartphone can make you feel better about yourself and give you a sense of achievement.

Clinical psychologist Dr Linda Blair advocates learning to bake: “Baking is an antidote for the hectic approach we take to living. I would encourage anyone who is stressed or burnt out to start baking.” (Easy on the sugar, obviously; I refer you to point 1.)

But if baking’s not for you, the University of the Third Age, u3a.org.uk is a great place to start. It provides “life-enhancing opportunities” for retired and semi-retired people and operates on a local level, so there’s bound to be a group near you.

5 Give more love

Loving something or someone is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. If you don’t have a partner, and friends and children have moved away and you don’t know what to do with your love, find something you really enjoy doing. Or, even better, get a pet, or volunteer your time to someone who needs your care. Looking after someone or something will shift your focus and could lift you out of the doldrums.

The amazing Cinnamon Trust, cinnamon.org.uk matches volunteers with elderly or terminally ill pet owners who need help looking after their pets. You could have all the pleasure of walking someone else’s dog – and the accompanying health benefits – with none of the responsibilities of ownership.

6 Be active

Nothing slows down your brain’s recovery faster than slowing down your body. You don’t need to run or bootcamp or do anything more strenuous than walk, preferably every day (but failing that, at least five days a week). The NHS recommends 10,000 steps spread throughout each day. Walk It walkit.com is a city route planner that shows you the best way of getting from where you are to where you want to be, while tracking your calorie burn and step count. Walk 4 Life walk4life.info can help you find walks, and people to walk with.

7 Change your mind

Marcus Aurelius, the second century Roman Emperor, said: “The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.” In other words, life is all about perception. We can’t change any of the awful things that happen to us, but what we can try to change is how we think of them.

Rewiring the brain in this way and accepting situations is hard work, but it can be done with practice and through meditation, which teaches people how to stop automatic thought processes. There are many excellent apps available to get you started, including Buddify (£3.99, buddify.com) and Headspace’s freebie starter app. headspace.com

8 Challenge yourself

Angela Padmore, author of Challenging Depression and Despair, argues that people are often too soft on themselves, and that they need to “get a grip”. This sounds harsh, but it needn’t be.

A brilliant clinical psychologist I know taught me a very simple and effective trick to use whenever I’m wallowing or thinking destructive thoughts, which is this: I just ask myself “Is this helpful?”. If the answer is no, as it invariably is, then I stop that thinking and move on to something else. Logic is a powerful tool. Use it to challenge your negative thoughts. 

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Small house movement: five of the world’s quirkiest homes (and why anyone would want to live in them) http://www.high50.com/homes/small-house-movement-five-of-the-worlds-quirkiest-homes http://www.high50.com/homes/small-house-movement-five-of-the-worlds-quirkiest-homes#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 23:00:43 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73665
Small house movement. The Exbury Egg. Photo with permission from Homify

The Exbury Egg is a temporary, energy-efficient live-work space on the River Beaulieu. Photo courtesy of Homify

Five years ago, if somebody said the words ‘small house movement’, most of us would have furrowed our brows, tilted our heads and grunted in confusion. “What on earth is the small house movement?” we might have asked.

Well, the small house movement is simple: it is an architectural and social movement that promotes a simpler lifestyle, in smaller homes.

For too long, we’ve been told to strive for a large and extravagant home, with all the materialistic items that modern society tells us are the trophies of success and wealth. However, there are people of all ages and backgrounds who recognise the benefits of living more simply, and who are striving for other things aside from materialistic. These people are looking to live a more wholesome and carefree lifestyle.

These five small homes, in five very different settings around the world, contain the bare minimum needed to live in a fully functioning home. They go against the grain of what we’d normally consider a desirable home. They give an insight into how popular the small home movement has become, and how little space is needed for a beautiful and functional home.

If the kids have flown the nest, or you’re considering downsizing for whatever reason, you might be thinking about joining the small house movement. Or maybe you’re just curious to see how some people are living in a variety of tiny, functional dwellings.

The Exbury Egg, Southampton, UK

English artist Stephen Turner has chosen to spend the next 12 months living in The Exbury Egg; an energy efficient, self-sustaining work and living space. The Egg, made by Spud Group, proves that a combined living and work space can be as small as a single room of a house, and illustrates what little is really needed to live.

Turner will spend a year in his egg studying the life of a tidal creek off the Beaulieu River, near Southhampton. His aim is to raise awareness for climate change and rising sea levels, and the inevitable implications on flora and fauna. 

Small house movement Tree Snake Houses, northern Portugal . Courtesy of Homify

Use of native materials, slate and wood integrate the tree houses with their surroundings. Photo courtesy of Homify


Tree Snake Houses, northern Portugal

Treehouses such as this one in Portugal prove that they can be for both the young and the young at heart. The Tree Snake Houses by Architectural & Design Studio are in Pedras Salgadas, a small town in the north of Portugal famous for its mineral waters. This group of studios is set among the tree tops, offering small and unique spaces for living.

It seems the owners of the Tree Snake Houses never outgrew their desires to live in their dream treehouse, and have created fully functional homes built from natural materials and sustainable practices, two key elements of the small house movement.

Small house movement Boulder, near Verbier in the Swiss Alps. Courtesy of Homify

The Swiss Alps mountain shelter was was built by hand then transported to the site. Photo courtesy of Homify


Boulder, near Verbier in the Swiss Alps

At first glance, the landscape here looks like any other rocky mountainside. Upon closer inspection, you begin to realise this is no ordinary boulder. Inconspicuously hidden inside this huge rock-shaped structure is a living space; an installation and tribute to the long Swiss tradition of hidden bunkers.

The boulder, by Bureau A, sits in the Alps above the the famous ski resort of Verbier. The concrete shell looks like a rock, and conceals a wooden cabin that includes a bed, a fireplace, a table, stool and a window. Though not designed for living in long-term, the bunker shows we can easily survive in a space with the bare minimum. 

Small house movement A modern home in traditional Slovenian style. Courtesy of Homify

This stone house is built to the traditional Slovenian design but is thoroughly modern inside. Photo courtesy of Homify


A modern home in traditional Slovenian style

Traditional homes of many Eastern European countries are simple stone dwellings much like the one seen here. In a nod to the heritage of the homes of the region, a young Slovenian family built their new home in a traditional style, but complete with all the mod cons of a 21st-century home. With a time-honoured exterior and a contrasting, ultra-modern interior, this tiny home, by Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti, addresses the relationship between modern living, and the traditions of this part of Europe. 

Small house movement. The Pobble House, Dungeness, Kent. Courtesy of Homify

The Pobble House is the newest of Dungeness’s curious buildings, and is a family home. Photo by Charles Hosea Photography, courtesy of Homify

The Pobble House, Dungeness, Kent

The beaches along the coastline in Kent are dotted with weathered shacks, and their gracefully aged facades were the inspiration for the Pobble House, a modern home designed by architect Guy Hollaway. It is built from larch wood and Corten steel, materials specifically chosen for their aesthetic properties. As the exterior ages naturally, it will begin to look old and rustic, yet it will retain as much strength as the day it was built.

Local building restrictions only allow new builds to be constructed in place of another, and of roughly the same size and proportion. This means that as time goes by, the Pobble House will begin to look more and more like the existing small homes of the surrounding beaches and countryside. 

Small house movement. 10 smart sqm, Virserum and Lund, Sweden. Courtesy of Homify

Tenbom needed permission to build this ten square metre home as the legal minimum in Sweden is 25. Photo courtesy of Homify


10 smart sqm, Virserum and Lund, Sweden

When you think of student living, the first image that comes to mind is probably something far different to this minimal and modern design. This unit designed for students is, believe it or not, just ten square metres. It was designed by Tengbom in collaboration with students from the University of Lund. 

How somebody lives in a space so small might baffle you, but with a shrewd layout, the space is more than adequate. The project was designed to meet the needs of students in a sustainable, smart and affordable way.

For more creative living ideas and inspiration, visit Homify 

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Win tickets to Twelve Angry Men, with Tom Conti http://www.high50.com/competitions/win-a-pair-of-tickets-to-twelve-angry-men-on-tour-with-tom-conti http://www.high50.com/competitions/win-a-pair-of-tickets-to-twelve-angry-men-on-tour-with-tom-conti#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 17:03:33 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=72883 Twelve Angry Men, competitionTwelve Angry Men follows 12 jurors who have murder on their minds and a life in their hands as they decide the fate of a young delinquent accused of killing his father.

But what appears to be an open and shut case becomes a dilemma for the 12, as their prejudices and preconceived ideas about the accused, the trial and each other turn the tables every which way, until the nail-biting climax.

As Twelve Angry Men get set to give their verdict across the UK, seven of the West End cast will re-join the acclaimed production following its record-breaking run at London’s Garrick Theatre.

Olivier Award winner, Tony Award winner and Oscar nominee Tom Conti returns as juror number 8, the role made famous by Henry Fonda. Tom is one of the most respected and celebrated actors of his generation, unforgettable as the leading man in hit films such as Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Shirley Valentine.

Twelve Angry Men is touring the UK now. For information on tour dates and venues visit Kenwright  

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Win an Elemental Herbology collection worth £150 full of natural beauty products for your skin type http://www.high50.com/beauty/win-elemental-herbology-natural-skincare-worth-150 http://www.high50.com/beauty/win-elemental-herbology-natural-skincare-worth-150#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 16:53:01 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73549 Elemental Herbology comp 620 x 349Luxury British skincare range Elemental Herbology combines unique, bio-active ingredients with sophisticated technologies and exquisite plant oils to create a range of products that nourish your skin. Acknowledging the impact of seasonal and lifestyle changes, Elemental Herbology skincare and spa products boost, balance, calm and condition the skin to restore balance and vitality.

The brand is committed to using no synthetic fragrance, artificial colour, mineral oils, parabens or preservatives and supports the responsible harvesting and production of all raw materials from the world’s most reputable suppliers.

Elemental Herbology was launched in 2008 and is now a global beauty brand, stocked by some of the world’s most exclusive department stores, beauty retailers and five-star spa hotels.

To enter, like the High50 Facebook page and share the competition post.

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World Book Day: we choose the books that changed our lives. What was yours? http://www.high50.com/culture/world-book-day-the-books-that-changed-our-lives http://www.high50.com/culture/world-book-day-the-books-that-changed-our-lives#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:04:04 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73610 World Book Day. Life-changing books. Catch-22, Sunday at the Pool. Pride and Prejudice.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

- Catch 22 confirmed what I knew from the black humour in adversity of my family background: bad, sad, mad, nonsensical concepts and events can be funny, and that almost nothing is as it seems.

- Yossarian, the hero, was flawed, deeply flawed, sometimes unlikeable, but he was still the hero. We were still on his side. It’s OK not to be perfect.

- It had a message that truly chimed with me when I first read it as a teenager: just because people are in authority doesn’t mean that they have the slightest clue about what’s going on nor what to do.

Chosen by Stefano Hatfield

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

- Scary abject poverty. I thought we were poor growing up till I read this.

- Amazing spirit and fight among any group of people

- The most memorable end to any other book I’ve read.

Chosen by Steve Drysdale

A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche

- Courtemanche paints, in vibrant detail, the Rwandan capital before the genocide. Then the killings begin. This book brings to light a time we should not forget, where an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days.

- Stark, unapologetic and incredible. It conveys the terror of Rwanda’s genocide through the eyes of the people.

- It changed me, and a book that makes you think, in my opinion, is worth its weight in gold.

Chosen by Chantal Borciani

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

- I wanted to be Elizabeth with her witty reposts, her strength, her playfulness and her flaws.

- I fell in love for the first time with Darcy. Kind, shy, generous, amusing, adventurous and, of course, rich. All girls dream of finding the one man that will stand up for you against all others and fall for you and only you.

- Elizabeth won Darcy from being smart not pretty; a good lesson to learn when you’re teenager. (Mind you, I’m still looking for my Darcy.)

Chosen by Rosanna Dickinson

Annapurna by Maurice Herzog

- French climber Maurice Herzog led the first ascent of Annapurna in 1950, at the time the highest mountain ever climbed. His account is a no-nonsense tale of triumph and frostbite that will make your toes curl (if you still have them). 

- The book inspired a generation of climbers and adventurers, including me. I walked the Annapurna Loop within a year of reading the last page, suffering severe altitude sickness in the process.

- This is a book about courage and determination, not whinging celebrities being paid a fortune to drink their own pee in the jungle. Read it – it might just change your life. 

Chosen by Jeremy Taylor

Groupie by Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne

- The title doesn’t do the book justice. Its heroine, Katie, is a great character: feisty, clever, independent.  

- Her take on sex , drugs and rock’n’roll was unique and inspirational. It certainly changed my life, not necessarily in a good way!

Middlemarch by George Eliot

- The first novel I read which made me realise that a book can be both deeply serious and a totally absorbing page-turner. 

- I learnt so much about human nature from this rich tapestry of English society. It’s got everything: gripping tales of personal downfalls, doomed love affairs, moral struggles, and characters you care deeply about, however infuriating they are.  

Chosen by Celia Dodd

This Book Will Save Your Life by AM Homes

This concerns a divorced stockbroker living in frozen isolation, seeing only his housekeeper, trainer and nutritionist. People disconnected from themselves and others is a theme with me. 

As he recovers from a heart attack, he faces all the things he’d been avoiding, and through random acts of kindness to various people he begins to reconnect with the world.

I love AM Homes’ sensitive and at times hilarious take on the subject. Reconnecting with the world is terrifying, but not doing so is fatal. 

Chosen by Xenia Taliotis

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

- It instilled a real sense of adventure in me

- It made me feel comfortable to imagine in normal day to day scenarios… to let my mind wander.

- This adventure and imagination combined with rural, rustic holidays to the highlands of Scotland empowered me to explore and led to a mass of memories and experiences which defined a few of my key values.

Chosen by Andrew Walker

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Pension Changes: A summary of the April 2015 UK pensions reform and what it means to you http://www.high50.com/money/pension-changes-1-summary-of-april-2015-uk-pensions-reform http://www.high50.com/money/pension-changes-1-summary-of-april-2015-uk-pensions-reform#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 23:01:53 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73570
Pension changes UK April. Summary. Don't be confused

If it’s all Greek to you, this overview of the new pension rules should make things clearer

In a matter of weeks, it’s out with the old and in with the new for pensions. Nearly every aspect of retirement saving has been revolutionised over the past year. The most important reform of all is that from April 2015 you can take as much cash as you like from a ‘defined contribution’ pension, with no obligation to buy an annuity.

New pensions freedom: save, spend or invest

The unprecedented pension freedoms give over-55s the power to spend, save or invest their money as they see fit:

  • You could can treat your pension as a bank account, dipping in and out as often as you like and taking a quarter of it tax-free (with the rest taxed as income).
  • Alternatively, you can keep the money invested and draw an income from it as you need (a process called drawdown).
  • You may prefer to go down the annuity route and convert some or all of your money into a guaranteed income for life.
  • Or maybe you want to cash in the whole lot and invest it somewhere else? The choice is yours.

Pensions have finally caught up with real life. Now people in the UK can save for retirement in the knowledge that their pension savings can be used flexibly,” says Alan Higham, retirement director at Fidelity.

“The system we had was broken and loaded against the consumer. People were funnelled into buying an annuity, which was good in providing a secure income for life; but not much else.”

Why pensions change is needed

These reforms come off the back of stark warnings that almost 12 million people aren’t saving enough money for retirement. The government’s auto-enrolment programme, whereby employees automatically join their workplace pension unless they actively opt out, is a major step forward in encouraging a culture of long-term saving.

The new freedoms go one step further and, with the restrictions swept away, pensions are starting to look like a no-brainer for retirement savings.

You still get tax relief from the government on the money you pay in – boosting a £60 monthly contribution to £100 if you’re a higher rate taxpayer – not to mention employer-matched contributions if it’s a workplace pension.

The big difference is that under the new pensions system you get that money back under much more relaxed and tax-efficient terms from retirement age.

So, if you’re still working, you will be free to draw small chunks over time, which could reduce your tax liability entirely. Or you can take the cash and put it into alternative investments such as property, the stock market, cash savings, or anything else that takes your fancy.

Equally, many people will prefer to combine several solutions, perhaps blending an insurance-style product with a drawdown product.

The risks of greater pensions choice

The downside of greater choice and control over your financial future is greater responsibility.

The new system has risks, namely that people may make poor decisions with their new freedoms. This could result in some of us paying more tax than we need to, or ultimately running out of money altogether.

The government has committed to giving half an hour of free guidance through its Pensions Wise service (online, over the phone, or face-to-face), which is designed to help people navigate the new system. But this will only provide broad guidance, not specific advice. So it’s important for you to increase your own financial awareness.

The challenges of the pension reforms

Pension schemes won’t be ready One major stumbling block is whether employers will actually be ready to deliver the level of flexibility being offered under the new regime. There is still a question mark as to whether pension schemes will have the time or administration in place to offer bank account-style services by April.

If they aren’t, the only option may be for members to sit tight and wait, or transfer their pensions to a third party which could incur hefty charges.

You underestimate your life expectancy Even if this is plain sailing, there is a danger that people who are retiring will continue making the same mistakes. For starters, more than eight in ten of us underestimate our life expectancy. The truth is that we are all living much longer and feasibly some of us will be looking at 30 years in retirement, so careful planning is crucial.

Not maximising your income Hundreds of thousands of people also miss out on extra cash every year simply because they don’t look for the best possible income. If new retirement products come to market it’s important that you shop around and compare charges, in order to get the most out of your retirement savings.

Your investments can go down as well as up Investment risks and tax consequences cannot be ignored either. While money in low-risk assets such as cash may not maintain spending power, money that remains invested is vulnerable to the ups and downs of markets.

Withdrawing your cash too quickly When the time comes to start drawing benefits, if you withdraw cash too quickly you could be pushed into a higher tax bracket, which could be easily avoided with even the most basic tax planning.

A chance for investment scams

With around 300,000 people a year able to access their pensions on demand post-April, experts have warned that it could be open season for con artists. Dodgy firms promising stellar returns will have the perfect opportunity to persuade unsuspecting savers to invest their entire pension in illiquid, risky or fake investments.

Morten Nilsson of NOW: Pensions says: “The new pension freedoms give shady operators a golden opportunity to target vulnerable yet potentially cash-rich retirees with illegal, expensive or highly speculative investment propositions.

“In the worst case scenario, victims of these scams can lose some or even all of their retirement savings, leaving them having to live off a state pension and benefits for the rest of their days.”

Get regulated financial advice

With so many potential problem areas, professional help is a sensible route. If you’re only going to pay for regulated advice once in your life, retirement is the time to do it and an independent financial adviser (IFA) should be able to tailor a plan to your personal circumstances and tax position.

More importantly, there is redress through the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if they go bust or give you negligent advice.


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The best book festivals around the country, starring Stephen Fry, Mary Portas and Sarah Brown http://www.high50.com/culture/the-best-book-festivals-around-the-country-to-book-now-starring-stephen-fry-mary-portas-and-philip-pullman http://www.high50.com/culture/the-best-book-festivals-around-the-country-to-book-now-starring-stephen-fry-mary-portas-and-philip-pullman#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 23:01:39 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73572
Culture_Best literary festivals 2015_Hay festival_press pic 620x349

Hay Festival runs from 21 to 31 May. The full line-up will be announced later this month

Bath Literature Festival, now until Sunday

It’s on right now, until Sunday, but there are still tickets available. Check out Salon London’s Helen Bagnall and co talking about 20th century sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in the capital on Friday night, or Sarah Brown discussing feminism in the digital age on Saturday lunchtime.

You’ll have to join the waiting list to hear The Remains of the Day author Kazuo Ishiguro, but he features at several other book events this year including the Oxford and Hay festivals.

Culture_Oxford Lit Fest_Mary Portas Hi-res _press pic

Mary Portas will appear at both Bath and Oxford

Further information on the Bath Literature Festival website

Words by the Water, Keswick 6 to 15 March

With ‘science of the mind’ and ‘science of the body’ sessions, as well as talks from writers Åsne Seierstad and Blake Morrison and comedian Francesca Martinez, this promises to be thought-provoking as well as pleasing on the eye. Held at the Theatre by the Lake on Derwentwater, it’s worth making a weekend of it in beautiful Cumbria.

Download the Words by the Water brochure here

Oxford Literary Festival, 21 to 29 March

Join Mary Portas, Anita Anand, Philip Pullman and Alan Bennett at various venues across Oxford, including the historic Sheldonian Theatre and various colleges. There is also a film location tour, a ‘lunch with the FT’ slot with Simon Schama and a talk by Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair, about how to talk to terrorists to end conflict.

If you missed Kazuo Ishiguro in Bath, you can see him in Oxford on 12 March, as a preview to the main event.

Further information on the Oxford Literary Festival website

Essex Book Festival, now until 31 March

A mixture of theatre, art, poetry and fiction, the festival is now on and stars Shopgirls author Pamela Cox, football correspondent Matt Dickinson on Bobby Moore and Death in Paradise creator Robert Thorogood. Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is also on at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre until 14 March.

Further information on the Essex Book Festival website 

Hexham Book Festival, 20 April to 4 May

Mona Siddiqui will talk about her life as a Muslim woman, Olivia Chapman will chair a group book club analysis of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, and if you fancy yourself as an author, Bea Davenport is running a workshop as part of the event.

Hexham is a pretty market town only a few miles south of Hadrian’s Wall.

Further information on the Hexham Book Festival website 

Culture_Best literary festivals_Bodleian Library and Sheldonian Theatre_Oxford Literary_Photo Chris Andrews Oxford Picture Library_620x349

The Bodleian Library and Sheldonian Theatre are venues for Oxford Literary Festival

Chip Lit Fest 23 to 25 April

Held in eight venues in and around Chipping Norton in the heart of the Cotswolds, the festival packs in more than 50 events over three days, and has four ‘hand picked’ schedules to help you choose what to see. 

Big names such as David Baddiel and 90-million selling Lee Child sit alongside ‘new voices’ like Renee Knight, a former BBC director, and actor Jason Hewitt whose debut is historical novel The Dynamite Room.  

Further information on the Chip Lit Fest website

Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival 25 April to 3 May

With big names such as Alastair Campbell, Paul Merton and former newsreader Charlotte Green. There are also discussions on how to survive your teenagers and Guardian writing masterclasses, plus a talk on the history of gin (with cocktail included).

Culture_Best literary festivals 2015_Stratford_RSC_press pic_620x349

Death of a Salesman is on at the RSC Stratford during the town’s literary festival

If you fancy a spot of theatre while you’re at the festival, you can also catch Death of a Salesman at the RSC, from 26 March to 2 May.

Further information on the Stratford Literary Festival website 

Hay Festival 21 to 31 May

Possibly the UK’s largest and most famous book festival, Hay on Wye’s annual shindig will feature the ubiquitous Stephen Fry discussing equality post-Election, Germaine Greer on Shakespeare’s women, and Dan and Peter Snow on The Battle of Waterloo. The full programme will be available by the end of the month.

Further information on the Hay Festival website 

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Why I Tried Ayahuasca, How It Changed My life For The Better – And Why I Don’t Touch It Anymore http://www.high50.com/life/why-i-tried-ayahuasca-how-it-changed-my-life-for-the-better-and-why-i-dont-touch-it-anymore-2 http://www.high50.com/life/why-i-tried-ayahuasca-how-it-changed-my-life-for-the-better-and-why-i-dont-touch-it-anymore-2#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 11:12:45 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73566
The ayahuasca drink is given during a traditional ceremony in Brazil. Photo from Corbis

The ayahuasca drink is given during a traditional ceremony in Brazil. Photo from Corbis

You’ve probably heard of ayahuasca, a hallucinatory drink from South America, since several popstars and other celebrities admitted taking it. You may even know someone who has, extending its reach as it has from the backpacking community to the the middle classes both here and in the States.   

Ayahuasca is brewed from two Amazonian plants containing the active psychedelic compound DMT. It is taken under the guidance of a shaman and users say it gives them deep revelations and spiritual awakenings leading to positive changes in their life.

But for all those who say it has changed their life for the better, there are people having bad trips and fake shamans in south America tempting tourists with the drink and ripping them off and making sexual advances. There have been a few cases of death. It is illegal in the UK and the US. 


I first came across ayahuasca during the 90s when my twin brother and his wife (who had lived with Osho, the famous Indian guru) would come to Europe and travel as helpers with a shaman from Brazil who was conducting Ayahuasca ceremonies.

The stories of this plant medicine that took you into mysterious deep and dark realms, revealing the shadow part of oneself – including purging and diarrhoea – seemed abhorrent to me, safe in my eyrie home in the media heartland of Notting Hill. This was not a place I could imagine I would visit any time soon.

A few years passed, my marriage broke down and I needed some answers, and I deeply desired a big quest into self-enquiry.

My first time on ayahuasca 

I first drank ayahuasca in the early 2000s with an experienced shaman and musician who is a good friend of my brother’s. We were lucky as there might only be five to a group, so they were intimate affairs and enabled one to journey really deeply. 

My first time was a magical experiences. It was like being in the most exquisite, cosmic, carnival ride in the universe. I laughed with wonder, I cried with an open heart, I wanted to do more…

But that’s Mother ’huasca: she lures you in the first time and then quite often the second time you face yourself, as I did.

I had a vision of a drawer opening out from under my heart. In this drawer was a heart with all its tubes etc pulsating. An angelic voice said to me in a gentle whisper, “You are now going to feel all the pain you have shut away.” I sobbed for about five hours (ceremonies generally start around 8pm and can go on until dawn) deep guttural, physical sobs.

Aya is not for the faint hearted. If you genuinely have an interest to explore your inner landscape, she will find you and the right shaman will accompany her.

What happens at an ayahuasca ceremony

If you go to a circle (as ayahuasca ceremonies are sometimes referred to), honour the dietary requirements: there are certain foods that have to be avoided for five days beforehand.

Go in humbly and respectfully, and know that you can navigate yourself through the Astral realm up to more celestial realms. The ceremonies are often beautiful, with altars and in a lovely setting. These are just the smoke and mirrors, in my experience. From what I’ve seen over the past decade, the key to this work is the follow-through on the insights that are given to you by the plant. 

It’s easy after a ceremony to feel loved-up and that you have gone on an epic hero’s journey. But if you don’t go and slay the dragons that have been highlighted to you in the following days or weeks, you can continue to attend circles and drink but she’ll slowly stop giving you the magical information. 

She is an extraordinary teacher and if you honour her, she will elevate you to a higher level of consciousness.

I have drunk all over the world including South America. It doesn’t matter what location you are in, you just need to be absolutely sure that the shaman is reputable. And generally if the shaman is good, the brew will be too.

Different shamans have different provenances, depending on which country or tribe they are from. In some ceremonies, you are asked to wear white; some shamans give you up to three cups to drink; some shamans divide the men from the women. 

If it’s your first time, don’t worry if you go alone, because you will make many new friends. Drinking ayahuasca with people is like spiritually sleeping with them. You see people bare their souls, and everyone comes together after the magic carpet ride that has transported everyone through the night.​

One of the lovely aspects of ayahuasca is that it’s very music driven and attracts beautiful, talented musicians. Exquisite hymns known as ‘icaros’, which have been downloaded or received by the musicians during ceremony, are sung during the journeying.

Many people become more aware of their musical selves after drinking and they find their singing voices and take up playing instruments.

There’s a saying in the ayahuasca community that “Aya is for everyone but not everyone’s for Aya”. Go in with the innocence and openheartedness of a child, as any resistance might make you a member of The Never Again Club.

Ayahuasca preparation and cooking. All images Wikimedia Commons

Ayahuasca preparation and cooking


How ayahuasca changed my life

One shaman I know says “Pain is inevitable, suffering optional”. This is not a recreational, fun night, unless you like throwing up or running to the bathroom, or in my case being a wreck on the floor sobbing. But when the light of dawn appears, there is such renewed feeling of hope and optimism, you feel rebooted.

But this is a journey between you and Aya; it’s almost irrelevant to anything else that goes on. The shaman with his musicians is there to help navigate you on your journey. They hold a sacred and safe place for you to go deep and discover and heal yourself.

Ayahuasca has been an extraordinary, beneficial experience for me. It has shown me aspects of my higher self, and how to relate to others and the world with compassion, love and forgiveness for those I might have once blamed for my troubles.

I don’t drink it so much any more as I feel she has shown me the way, and it’s up to me now to follow up what I learned on a daily basis. I like what Ram Dass says: “When you get the message, hang up.” 

I’m deeply grateful to ayahuasca as I’ve had some of the most profound, exquisite moments of my life with it. She has led me to be more in touch with nature and to lead a more simple life. As the shamans say to honour and thank her: Aho!’

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Sioned Wiliam, Christine Langan, Sonia Friedman: the women shaping British film, stage and comedy http://www.high50.com/life/sioned-wiliam-christine-langan-sonia-friedman-three-women-running-british-film-stage-and-radio-comedy http://www.high50.com/life/sioned-wiliam-christine-langan-sonia-friedman-three-women-running-british-film-stage-and-radio-comedy#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 23:02:27 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73479
Entertainment industry. Christine Langan BBC Films wins BAFTA. Sonia Friedman wins Olivier

Christine Langan won a BAFTA in February for BBC Films’ outstanding contribution to British cinema; Sonia Friedman won 13 Oliver awards last year, the most ever by a producer

We are living in a golden age for popular entertainment. The West End is the envy of the world, a place where challenging and provocative plays make money. British comedy has world-beating funny bones, from stadium fillers such as Michael MacIntyre to the Edinburgh Fringe and emerging talent on open door shows such as Newsjack on Radio 4Extra.

Despite regular reports of the demise of the British film industry, with television, video or online streaming variously in the frame to deliver the final blow, British-made films such as The King’s Speech continue to be box office hits.

For the first time, Britain’s popular cultural agenda is set by a triumfeminate, three women of our generation:

  • Christine Langan, 50, head of BBC Films, has just received a Bafta for outstanding contribution to the British film industry.
  • Theatre producer Sonia Friedman, 50 next month, is responsible for West End sell-outs such as the Book of Morman; has taken five plays starring Mark Rylance to Broadway; and picked up 13 awards at last year’s Oliviers. Her casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet brought a whole new audience to Shakespeare.
  • Sioned Wiliam is about to become commissioning editor for comedy at Radio 4, the incubator for television successes such as Little Britain and Have I Got News For You. As a TV producer and former head of ITV comedy, Wiliam was responsible for commissioning nights-on-the-sofa highlights such as Cold Feet, Harry Hill’s Show and Tonight with Jonathan Ross. She won two Baftas, for Cold Feet and The Sketch Show.
Women’s influence on screen and stage

Does having women leading the cultural agenda change things? Langan is adamant it does: “Women make change happen. It’s no stretch for me to think about [using] a female director.

“For every film that works, directed by a woman, that makes a role model for others coming up in the industry.”

A woman in charge also changes what goes on the screen, as well as what happens behind the scenes. “I am more into strong female roles, though I wouldn’t stand in the way of a fantastic male-led narrative. I do naturally promote women in intelligent roles.”

Sonia Friedman is more ambivalent about how much weight to give to gender. In an interview last year with the BBC’s arts editor, Will Gompertz, she said: “I’ve never set out to further women’s issues, or thought of myself as a woman in a man’s world. I just got on and did it, and in that sense I am a feminist.”

She adds that West End plays wanting to address social or cultural issues, must do so artfully and subtly. “There is no room for a soapbox in the commercial sector. If I didn’t make my investors their money back, I wouldn’t be here.”

Although modest about her own influence (“I don’t want to over-egg my role in shaping the national taste”) Langan believes the arts can prime wider social change. She says: “Both Made in Dagenham and Far From the Madding Crowd have women leading the narrative.

“Philomena was another wonderfully rich project that touched people’s lives. The film and the true story it was based on [the role of the Catholic Church in forced adoption in Ireland] led to access to adoption records, and had a cathartic effect.”

How will Sioned Wiliam change R4’s comedy output?

Sioned Wiliam Radio 4 Commissioning editor for comedy

Sioned Wiliam takes up her role this month as Radio 4′s commissioning editor for comedy

When Sioned Wiliam takes the reins at BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra this month, she will be curating the laugher of 5.25 million people a week. Radio 4 broadcasts more than 180 hours of original comedy a year, ranging from quizzes and panel shows to stand-up, sketch shows and sitcoms.

Some of these radio shows are a launchpad for relatively new comic talent to develop their writing and performance. Wiliam’s first book, a Welsh-language novel, Dal i Fynd, is about the friendship of three women who come to depend on each other during one eventful year.

She started writing it in English, but said it felt better when she wrote it in Welsh. “I wanted to write something that would reflect my life as a middle aged woman, and that’s where the idea for the novel came from.”

Wiliam’s comedy roots also reflect the formative experiences of our generation, male and female, growing up in 1970s Britain. “I loved Dad’s Army and so does my son now. We have three generations in my family watching Dad’s Army. The 1970s were a golden age of comedy,” she says.

The future of radio comedy

Wiliam’s exact plans for the future of radio comedy remain under wraps, until she officially starts her three-day-a-week post at the Corporation, but her love of humane, compassionate 1970s sitcoms, and creative engagement with the experiences of mid-life women, provide some clues.

Testosterone-filled quiz shows and the audience humiliation indulged by some stand-ups seem unlikely to be part of Radio 4’s new comic vision.

The future of the arts in Britain

The cultural legacy of our generation are also influencing the arts of the future. Just as Wiliam is sharing the pleasures of Dad’s Army with her son, Langan is introducing her six-year-old to the joys of Star Wars. (Generation X is said to be defined by Star Wars. ) Although currently content with Lego spaceships, Langan knows that when The Force Awakens  is released in December, her son will definitely want to see it at the cinema.

Langan insists that no matter how good home cinema is, it is only aping the experience of the big screen. “Cinema is a magical experience that we’re not going to give up any time soon,” she says. “Our generation is good at it,  we went to Saturday morning pictures, and had our first date there.”

And people going to the West End on first dates or indeed golden wedding anniversaries might soon be able to see more new drama, if Friedman can find more flexible spaces to revolutionise the theatre offer: “Something that I don’t believe we’ve cracked as an industry yet is the new work in the West End. New work that is play-driven, actor-driven. Dealing with subjects, big ideas.”

Thanks to its leading ladies, Britain’s cultural life looks sets to be more exciting than ever.

Far From the Madding Crowd is released on 1 May 2015

Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch will be broadcast live to cinemas on 15 October. Tickets on sale on 16 March

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Career hacks for over-50s: How to find a job you love by knowing what your values are http://www.high50.com/life/career-hacks-for-over-50s-how-to-find-a-job-you-love-by-discovering-your-values http://www.high50.com/life/career-hacks-for-over-50s-how-to-find-a-job-you-love-by-discovering-your-values#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 23:01:11 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73507
Jobs for over 50s. Job you love. Florist. Photo from Stocksy

We all take our values to work with us, says author John Lees, so being clear on what yours are is important

How to Get a Job You Love. John LeesThe most demanding question you’ll ever face if you see a career coach is not ‘What are you going to do next?’ or even ‘How are you going to get it?’, but How are you going to decide?’ Most people secretly believe that the answer will just come along if they take a test, read a book, or sit at home long enough with the curtains closed and think really, really hard.

The trouble with most of the careers advice we receive as young people is that it revolves around the question ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’.

A more authentic decision might be about what kind of person you hope to be. So, many people, particularly those taking a more spiritual view of life choices, say that the most important thing to consider is who you are, not what you do.

Others will say that it’s self-indulgent to focus on the individual, and more practical to focus on the work that is actually available.

The answer, I believe, is like so many of the most important truths in life, a matter of holding conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time, as the Three Career Circles make clear (made up of knowing, doing and being).


If you are considering a complete change of career it’s worth thinking carefully about the kind of topics you would like to read or talk about while you are at work.

Understanding the knowledge angle of work is also an insight into your motivation, both now and in the future, because it treats each job as a learning curve. Most roles are interesting in their first few weeks or months, but whether a job is intrinsically interesting in the long run is often about how much you will continue to learn and grow.


The activities that take up most of our waking hours have a strong influence on our effectiveness, the outcomes our work generates, and the way people see us.

Remember that word ‘occupation’? A job is what ‘occupies’ our time and attention.

Skills are powerful reinforcers of self-esteem and are the best way of making our values tangible in the world by getting things done. Skills need refreshing and updating, but more than anything else they need to be used. Using only part of your skill set, or using skills you really don’t value very much, can lead to long-term demotivation and cynicism.

Being (and valuing)

The question of ‘being’ is not just about the personality you were born with, but also a big clue about values. During life we also build up a sense of what is important to us. Some of those things are clearly demonstrated through the things we choose to learn about under the ‘know’ heading, but others are deeper still.

Think about the causes or charities you support (whether with time, money or sympathy). What issues energise you? What makes you angry?

Values: the bigger picture

We all take our values to work with us. Your values are expressed in work through the tasks and outcomes you find interesting and meaningful. Sometimes this is on a macro scale: you’re interested in what your organisation contributes to the world.

For others, values are expressed in relationships at work and the way colleagues are treated. Ultimately, you will be more motivated in work situations where the organisation and your colleagues share most of your values.

Values, in the simplest terms, are words which describe principles that you want to live out. Values often describe positive behaviours, for example, ‘doing the right thing’; ‘treating others as you’d like to be treated’. Sometimes it is easier for us to recognise our values when we are confronted with behaviours we don’t want to see, for example: ‘not reneging on your promises’, ‘not having to lie to customers’.

Exercise: discover your values

Values provoke strong feelings, and we often have a sense of what is important or true for us. This can be especially noticeable when you are faced with doing something that conflicts with your values.

Start a notebook page to write down the answers to the following questions. Use the following question sequence to identify your values. Share the results of this with someone you trust and who is interested in your development.

Find people you admire

1. Think of people you admire. Who are your role models? Who do you respect most?

2. What is it about these people you admire? (Think of how they live and work, not just what they’ve achieved.)

3. Write down one or two words which sum up each person, using the grid below. (Some words to start you thinking: modest, risk-taking, self-sacrificing, entrepreneurial, caring, creative, brave, honest, challenging, encouraging, ethical, reliable, consistent.)

Then consider your family members, colleagues, friends, mentors and famous people and write a list of words describing how they live and work. Look at the list, and work out what qualities and attitudes you admire most in other people.

You might want to think about people whose behaviour you find unattractive. What qualities and attitudes in others do you dislike? What behaviours and attitudes don’t you admire?

Then, think about how you want to behave at work, given the choice and how you want your working life to be remembered after you’ve retired.

Look at all the positive values you have recorded above. Highlight the five or six words that matter to you most. Now you have a working list of your values.

Prioritise your list. This list will help you to identify if a job or an employer matches or conflicts with your values.

This is an extract from How to Get a Job You Love (2015-2016 edition) by John Lees (McGraw Hill Education). To win a copy of the book, like our Facebook page and share the Find a Job You Love post

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