Follow me on Twitter: @janemcintyre12



I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Monday 27 May 2013

One for sorrow? Hope not....

I`ve never liked magpies. There`s so much folklore surrounding them. In fact, even though I`m not really that superstitious, I spent most of my teens and twenties whispering: "Good morning, Mr Magpie, where`s your friend...? " every time I saw one alone--just because a friend convinced me that it would be bad luck if I didn`t. (Good grief--I`ve never admitted that to anyone before.)

What`s more--they make an earsplitting squawk and every day, they dive-bomb the bird table, scaring off the robins and bluetits.

But then yesterday,a baby magpie fell out of its nest into the garden.

For several hours, it cried out for its mum. And somewhere, high above, mum cried back. But when a fledgling can`t fly, there`s not a lot even a concerned mother magpie can do. And there`s really no wildlife equivalent of an RAF Coningsby escort back to base .

So we tiptoed close enough to check on the baby bird. It could spread its wings, but kept turning itself upside down and getting stuck there. We threw breadcrumbs, and left a little pot of water close by. Even tweeted for advice. `Leave it--they`re very resilient,` was one reply.`Pull the curtains, it`ll be gone by morning,`was another.

Hoping it might make some miraculous recovery, but fearing the worst, we left it sheltering in the undergrowth as night fell.

And this morning, having survived the dip in temperature, the lack of a nest, and a countryside garden full of prowling predators, it was still there. Still cowering; but quieter. Still turning itself upside down and round again. Loving a fighter, I googled for help. And then remembered covering a story once about the Cuan Wildlife Rescue centre in Much Wenlock.

Anna took my call, so we followed her advice, gently wrapping it in a tea-towel and placing it in a box on the back seat. Twenty minutes later we were in Cuan`s `casualty` department. Anna reckons the bird`s only a couple of weeks old--the third baby magpie she`s taken in recently. There`s nothing broken--but she thinks it probably had a bump on the head falling out of the nest, and needs painkillers and time. If it survives the next three or four days, she says it could have a chance. Either way for now, it`s warm and safe, and the dedicated, caring team at Cuan will do their best.

PS...and...oh dear..they did do their best, and even took baby Magpie to the vet. But he didn`t make it.The good news is...that loads more `customers` at Cuan DO make it...thanks to their skill, and love and care. So maybe think about them next time you see a bird or wildlife creature in distress? They need donations too, to carry on their good work. Thanks guys !

Read more about the team at Cuan House Wildlife Rescue here

From @just3nita on Twitter:

We had a magpie, found abandoned, for years. Dad built a run for it. We called him Budge. I released him one he was eyeing a 'tiding' of magpies. Never saw him again. Always say 'hi, Budge' when I see a lone magpie........he used to call the dog!

Thursday 23 May 2013

Cake: it`s a family affair

It`s not bad going--having your own business when you`re only five months old.

OK, well, bobbing along in a little bouncy chair while mum and dad run the business around you.

The baby entrepreneur whose name fronts a brand new cake company in Shropshire is Betty Joyce. I met her quite by chance while dashing to the supermarket on the Gain`s Park housing estate just outside Shrewsbury.

Opposite the supermarket, there was a `Now Open` sign on the window of a shop which had sat empty for  months. I sauntered over, and peered through at the delights inside; pleased that cakes were again being sold at this former bakery. "You can go inside, you know, " said a small voice beside me. "Yes, you are allowed," said another, reassuringly. "And if you go inside, you can buy one of dad`s cakes."

The opportunistic sales reps-- seven year old Chandler, and Owen, two years younger, were standing right beside me in their school uniforms; willing me to open the door. How could I refuse?

Inside, they explained that it was their dad over on the far table, busy constructing a camper van cake for someone`s birthday. "That`s what he does," said Chandler, "and he wants to make lots of money."

They looked so welcoming, and eager, and full of hope--the boys, little bobbing Betty, cake maker Darren and his partner Kerry Thorley, that I abandoned them for five minutes, and legged it across the square to buy a shorthand pad and pen to make some notes about their new venture.

Because that`s what so many people are being urged to do, now, isn`t it? Start up alone. Find backing. Explore grants that are available. But even with a shed load of business advice, it`s still a huge venture to take on premises, and establish yourself in the marketplace.

For this family though, it was something they had to try. Their home based cake-making business was growing nicely--and taking up all their available space. They`d heard about this shop from a customer, had a look, out of curiosity, and decided to go for it.

But Darren, who learnt to cook in a Michelin starred chain of pubs and restaurants after leaving military life, said it wasn`t all plain sailing.

"We approached the banks and were told `no`--we didn`t have enough money in place. Even with some help from Kerry`s dad, they still said no initially--sometimes it seems it`s easier if you`re working business to business, rather than starting up on your own."

But they persevered. And fitted their new shop out by themselves. And when I met them--on day three--they were happily taking on suggestions from new customers about what kind of products will prove the most popular, and not afraid to admit it`s quite a steep learning curve.

"We make the bread every day for sandwiches," said Darren. " And one lady asked for a bag of rolls--we realised we didn`t know what to charge her!".

But the price list is sorted now, and the daily counter sales of delicious cakes, sandwiches and coffee will be Kerry`s responsibility, while Darren works through a growing order book for the wide range of celebration cakes he`s now being asked to bake; grateful for Kerry`s creative eye and design ideas.

"We`ve done everything from a Wallace and Gromit cake, to the camper van design I`m working on hen party cakes and divorce cakes, " he said..."they`re actually getting quite popular!"

I left with a carrier bag containing the cakes I`d bought: coffee and walnut, and a chocolate one for luck. And got a thumbs up from Chandler and Owen.

I hope their little sister`s got them on commission.

Find out more about Darren and Kerry`s business here :
Or call in to their shop on Gain`s Park in Shrewsbury.

And they`re on Twitter too-- @BettyJoyceCakes

Thanks for reading--please retweet?

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Angelina and Helen: big risks; big decisions

The actress Angelina Jolie has revealed that she`s had a preventative double mastectomy to reduce drastically her risk of developing breast cancer. Her risk was rated as very high. It`s one of the biggest, most sensitive and emotional decisions any woman can that nurse Helen had to consider too, because of the high incidence of the disease in her family: my family. Here`s a reminder of my brave cousin Helen`s story, in her words .

"Having my annual check ups was always an interrupted night's sleep and that absolute breath holding moment until the doctor said everything was clear. I knew this was my breast cancer prevention. Then a month before my annual check I dreamt that I had a breast lump, I even dreamt the location. It was one of those dreams that when you wake up for a split second you think it may be real life. I was so disturbed by my dream that I checked myself...and there it was. It wasn't an easy find, and the consultant couldn't believe I'd found it as it was right against my rib cage." 

"So all in that one afternoon I had mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsy and a diagnosis of a grade 3 invasive tumour. It absolutely blew my mind. I like to feel I am Mrs Together but I could never have imagined how that diagnosis would have reacted with me. I instantly felt like my breast was filled with a growing dog poo or some filthy alien that had to be removed at all costs.When my biopsy results came back that it wasn't cancer, I actually felt little relief. The diagnosis was still affecting me greatly. After my lumpectomy and subsequent all clear I knew that I never ever wanted to go through that experience again, and  I knew I didn't want to have to tell my husband, my children, my sister, my mum that I had breast cancer ever again. 

"It was then a year of research, finding my dream team of surgeons, choosing my surgery type, the best support network and counselling, that I had my preventative bilateral mastectomies."

"I was emotionally and physically ready. I had every piece of information to hand, I had logistics sorted. It wasn't until I was recovering from my surgery that it really hit me how BIG it was. Nothing can prepare you for that. Immediately after the surgery you live for the minute, the absolute helplessness of the days after major surgery are overpowering but you have to just get on with it as the deed is done and you don't have an option but to do anything else. It was tough, really tough. I went through times of feeling like a freak show, being a medical display mannequin! 

"Now, I am back to life as normal. The relief of no more scans, no more 'back of your mind' fears is more than I could have hoped for. Knowing my risk is now about 1% is a fantastic feeling." 

If you want to talk to someone about genetic risks for or preventative treatment, call our helpline on 0808 800 6000 from 9am

Find out more about breast cancer in families, genetic factors & risk-reducing surgery

Monday 13 May 2013

Want to help? Just listen.

I hate killing time; it`s too precious. But I had a spare 20 minutes  in London`s Piccadilly last week. It was too rainy for Green Park, too much of a rush for the Royal Academy; anyway, I`d missed Manet. With money, the world`s your oyster here: hundred pound hampers; swish suits from Savile Row, Ritzy tea n` tasties at £45 a pop. This street isn`t exactly paved with gold; just pounded by people who love the stuff.

Over the road I could see a little green space and maybe a shelter from the showers, so I zigzagged between cabs, couriers and the odd Clapham omnibus and dashed down into a tiny square. There, in front of a church, was a little street market that I`d never seen before. Antiques, jewellery, bric a brac, scarves...Russian dolls, brightly painted plates....But it was this that caught my eye:

How about that? Right there, in the centre of the screaming city, a little oasis of calm. You can`t even hear yourself think in Piccadilly, but here, you stop; they listen.

It turns out the service has been running for 30 years; first a `counselling caravan`, now in a larger, brand new, watertight Shepherd`s Hut, thanks to `special delivery` from the UPS courier company.

It`s here that counsellors- in- training, along with the fully accredited professionals who run the service, see people from all walks of life, and in all kinds of crisis.

I called the coordinator, Zak Waterman today to find out a bit more.

`These are often people whose prognosis is poor; and people with very low expectations of the outcome, ` he told me.

Here are just a few of the cases he remembers well:

+ a homeless man; down on his luck in pretty much every respect, on the streets with no job, who decided to follow the counsellor`s advice about agencies that could help. Four years later, and settled in the West Country, he sent a donation and his thanks.

+A man who`d battled with a drink problem; and won. He`d received a medal from his alcohol advice group after five years without booze. He chose to donate it to the green caravan team

+ A woman with schizophrenia, with prescribed medication that she didn`t always take. She was so frightened, Zak recalls, of being sectioned, that she would often stay away from her bedsit after dark just in case `they` called for her; preferring instead to spend all night in an internet cafe, turning up in the mornings, `sleepy eyed` at the caravan. The team were able to liaise with her medical and clinical specialists, without becoming part of her case team. `It was important for this lady that we were outside that set up,` Zak said.

So many stories, so many sad experiences have been retold in the caravan; and seemingly, so many people have found it to be the turning point in their lives.

`There are plenty of just "ordinary" people who live in the area, ` said Zak.` People in bedsits, maybe, with communication problems, mental health issues, people who are just about surviving. For them, this is just one of the places they`ll visit in their week, along with soup kitchens, day centres and so on. We see people who might be highly educated and articulate--but things for them have just broken down, and they can`t get back on their feet. Often, they just come in for human contact.`

And along with the people who might need help from other professionals or crisis intervention, are those with `everyday` problems--with a partner, with their health, or their job--who just need a listening ear, as a one off, or on a continuing basis.

And so there it is. A Shepherd`s Hut in the city. Because, as Zak said, plenty of people who need help, and plenty of esteemed professionals, rate a listening ear more highly than almost any other intervention or clinical help.

`People in these situations don`t just need to hear you`re going to "fix" them, ` he said, `or that you`ve got a solution, or that, yeh, you`ve been through that, too. They want to be able to say, " at last-- somebody accepts me as I am. Somebody gets me" `.

+++Here`s where you can find out more:

The Co-ordinator
The Caravan Drop-In & Counselling Service
St. James's Church,197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL
Voicemail/Fax: 020 3137 9984


": " 》 if you've only got a few seconds read the last paragraph; you'll go back for the rest!

: How to help? Just listen. ” this is so right. Every city should have one.

  1. no problem. Many people need this yet when they go to NHS they get told 6 month waiting list. 5 minute chat can change lives

We all just want to be accepted for who we are - lovely uplifting writing Jane xx

Hi Jane Thanks so much for your message. Thought your piece was excellent and as one of your responders said 'very moving' . 
Best wishes 

Sunday 5 May 2013

Caring, coach trips and that bloke off Countryfile .

Know Adam Henson--the smiley farmer on TV?

He hasn`t got a clue.

Don`t get me wrong--he knows his Cotswolds, and his countryside and his conservation.

But when it comes to grasping just how happy he made Phyllis by signing a couple of autographs at his Farm Park the other day; he`s in the dark. No idea at all.

This was a long awaited outing for Phyllis, and meeting Adam was the icing on the cake. She`s a country girl; and loves Countryfile on a Sunday night on BBC1. The local coach company was offering a day trip to Adam`s place, and she managed to get the last three tickets, taking her brother and a friend, too.

It`s not easy for Phyllis to get out for the whole day usually, because she lives with, and looks after my dad, who has Alzheimer`s.We`re in the process of trying to sort out a better pattern of care for him, which may include respite, but on this occasion my sister and I were able to step in. This was the first time, since dad`s dementia really took hold, that we`ve been alone with, and `responsible` for our dad. And we were very anxious about it.

Apart from being very forgetful, and seemingly bewildered a lot of the time, he has additional health issues, and we were lucky to have the help of a care assistant to visit twice during the day to attend to the personal stuff. That went well...the first time. The second time was more challenging than cheery. The lady was lovely, but Dad wasn`t happy, and was clearly frustrated at needing help in the first place. He took his anger, and embarrassment, out on an elderly bloke he spotted on the telly when he walked back in the lounge.

"See that old fool..?" he hissed, waving his stick at the screen, "well he couldn`t have bloody managed it on his own, either."

That was one of the many moments during the day that my sister Ali and I looked at each other, gulped, sniffed, and put the kettle on.

And one of the small mercies of dementia was that the sharp words were forgotten in moments.

We knew we weren`t there to step into Phyllis`s shoes. The `job` is too hard for that. There are plenty of quiet times, when, just as you`re grateful when your fretful baby has a nap, you can breathe, and get on with some jobs, or read the paper. But the times are quiet because dad`s brain  is slowing down. So you feel sad about that; all the time. It`s draining.

He insists on reading the Times, still. He used to love poring over the law reports; boring the pants off us all sometimes with the minutiae of some court case or other. This day, I watched as he held the front page close, then closer, scratching off a speck of dust. Then turning it over, gazing at the soccer shot for a while, and placing it back down on the table beside him.

I`d brought some art stuff with me. Dad was always a competent painter--watercolours mainly, and loved to sketch, too. After lunch I unpacked a clipboard, some paper, some pastel crayons, and a pack of sketching pencils from 3B to 2H. I scribbled on the paper with a couple of the pencils, and the pastels, by way of encouragement. He signed his name on the empty sheet with a flourish in green , then placed the whole lot on top of the Times and turned away. You can`t be hurt when an idea doesn`t work, or when a smile or a hug isn`t returned. That`s just how it is.

When he nodded off in the chair, Ali and I caught up on family news, then she polished off some ironing and we made some calls. And drank tea. And thought about how, if you were caring alone, you might really consider climbing the walls around now. We were lucky to have each other there, and to have a professional to call by, and we`re going to get down more often so that Phyllis can disappear for a day, or even a weekend. She needs it.

Anyway, when Dad woke, we got on to music, and some of his favourites. Al Jolson singing `Mammy` via YouTube on my phone had him nodding, smiling, but looking close to tears. Mind always did. Gear change.We laughed about the hot summer of `76 ; a holiday in Somerset, that David Dundas track.....a flicker of recognition at the rhythm of those opening bars....but not what I`d hoped for. I tried Ray Stevens` `The Streak`. He ALWAYS used to shout `Don`t Look Ethel...!!! `. But not today.

Next stop...the Seekers, singing `I`ll never find another you`. It was a black and white clip from their Farewell concert, with the pure, clear voice of Judy Durham. Surely he`d remember that? After all, he`d made a right pig`s ear . decades before, of trying to record the gig off the television .Yep...on to a reel to reel tape recorder, holding the mic up to the screen. Low tech at its finest. But this song had clearly made its mark.


Tears sprang to his eyes, and ours, as he joined us singing......`I could search the whole world over..........until my life is through.....` ("How LOVELY"...he interjected....before his baritone rendition struck up again....)...`but I know I`ll never find...another you....`.

And I realised, that with one phone playing that again via YouTube, and the other phone held in front of the three of us on `video`, that we could, in the next two minutes, sing it again together, record it, and produce something pretty special.

I`m not sure how many times I`ve played that back now. But I`ve laughed and cried every time.Dad in his chair. Ali perched on one side. Me at the back, giggling through the high notes.It`s backed up on my computer for safe keeping, and is currently my most treasured possession.

Phyllis loved it too, when she got back from the farm, with her Adam autographs, and her souvenirs of a top day out. She landed on the sofa and kicked her shoes off--little tiny size 3s, she wears, so neither of us could literally spend a day in her shoes.

But we got a taste of her day....a day in the life of a carer; one of millions of carers around the UK who take on that role without warning or planning, or training.... because of what life throws at them, and because of their love.

PS: I write about Dad, and his dementia from time to time. Click on the links below if you want to read more, and please get in touch if you have any thoughts on what you`ve read, or advice for us about caring, or respite. Thanks so much already to Lee Lewis from the WRVS where I live in Shropshire, and to Mandy Thorn, for their expert and professional advice and contacts.