Valentines Day

Are You In or Out of Love with Valentine’s Day?

For many Valentine’s Day is associated with candy hearts, cards with anonymous declarations of love, romantic dinners and red roses, but its history is far more gruesome with beheadings, martyred saints and pagan rituals.

The History of Valentine’s Day

The origins of Valentine’s Day remain lost in the mists of time. Some historians believe that the day’s origins date back to Roman times. The ancient pagan feast of Lupercalia was held from February 13th to February 15th.

Those within the Catholic Church are in the opinion that the day was named after one of 3 martyred saints; all named Valentine. Popular belief is that it is Saint Valentine of Terni, who was executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II on February 14th 278 A.D. for secretly continuing to perform marriage ceremonies when the practice was outlawed by the emperor in an attempt to encourage men to join the army. It is believed that before he was beheaded, he left a farewell note “From your Valentine”.

In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius declared 14th of February as a feast day of St Valentine, it is unsure whether this was to honour a saint or to “Christianise” the pagan ritual.

The day readily gained popularity through the 19th century thanks in the main to the printing press and cheaper postage. In the US in the 1840s, Esther A Howland began selling the 1st mass produced greetings cards with Hallmark entering the scene in 1913. Today it is estimated that those romantics among us send out approximately 145 million cards each year around the world.

Commercialisation

Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to spend some quality time with the one you love, so are we still romantics at heart or is commercialisation sounding the death knoll of this declaration of love.

What used to be a sentimental tradition with valentine cards sent anonymously; by children as well as adults, has become more of an affirmation of relationships.

Valentine’s Day after Christmas is the most lucrative time of the year. To the more cynical among us, it seems that everyone is jumping on the exploitation band waggon from travel agents, hoteliers, restaurateurs and venues to those retailers selling chocolate, flowers, jewellery and greeting cards.

Did you know that it is supposedly said that the first bird a single woman sees on the morning of Valentine’s Day dictates the type of man you are to marry? No! Well in what sounds like a desperate effort to drum up tourism Worcestershire is promoting bird watching as a cure for lonely unmarried women. Having apparently consulted the experts (no we have no idea who they are) if you see a blackbird then your husband will be a vicar, if it’s an owl he will be an academic but for those lucky ones sighting a kingfisher means he will be rich. What you don’t want to see is a woodpecker because it means you won’t get married at all.

Even the media are in on the act running dozens of articles each year on what to do, where to go and even on how to behave and what to eat.

Still, Valentine’s Day is the 1 day a year that you can go all out and spoil your partner rotten and remains the people’s favourite day for proposing marriage.

Need some ideas on where to go to celebrate the big day:

http://www.timeout.com/london/valentines-day-in-london

All said and done remember Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be about how much money people spend or the cards they give but the attention you exchange. So go hug your other half and tell them that are appreciated and loved and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

Protecting Your Pets This Christmas. Boxer dog laying on his side with a santa hat placed on top of his head

Protecting Your Pets This Christmas

Christmas can be a hazardous time for our four legged friends and with all the excitement we need to take extra care to keep them safe and well.

So beware of the following hazards in order to avoid a “Nightmare Before (During & After) Christmas”;

Christmas tree:

Ensure your tree is secured, cats love to climb and you don’t want it toppling over causing damage or injury. Beware of pine needles as they can get stuck in paws and if swallowed can puncture the digestive tract. Don’t let your pet drink the water used to hydrate the tree as it causes stomach upsets.

Tinsel:

Cats cannot seem to resist swinging and chewing on tinsel. Not only a choking hazard but it can get stuck in the digestive system causing problems.

Christmas decorations:

They come in all kinds of fun shapes and sizes and look like the perfect toy to play with and chew.

Christmas lights:

Twinkling lights may look pretty but can be a great danger to your pets who like biting down on them. Be cautious and vigilant placing your lights within easy access to your pets to avoid unwanted shock.

Poinsettia, Holly & Mistletoe:

These traditional Christmas plants can cause drooling and severe gastrointestinal upset. Other plants that are harmful to animals are lilies and daffodils.

Chocolate:

Poisonous to both cats and dogs, containing a chemical called Theobromine which affects the heart, central nervous system and kidneys. There is no antidote and dependent upon the amount eaten it can be fatal. Specialist pet chocolate is available.

Caffeine:

Like chocolate, caffeine is a stimulant and has the same effects, so don’t leave your mug on the floor.

Onions/garlic:

Particularly toxic to cats and dogs causing gastrointestinal irritation and possible red blood cell damage. So don’t be tempted to give them a bit of stuffing.

Alcohol:

Alcohol is more dangerous to animals than humans. In addition to suffering the same effects of vomiting, disorientation and loss of coordination they can also suffer cardiac arrest, seizures and sometimes even death. So keep an eye on your glass and make sure they don’t try and steal any.

Avocado:

Containing a substance called Persin, it causes vomiting and diarrhoea. Never feed to birds or rodents as this can cause difficulty breathing and fluid accumulation around the heart.

Grapes, Raisins and Sultanas:

Lethal to pets, the unknown toxic substance causes kidney damage. So keep the mince pies and Christmas pudding to yourself.

Dairy products:

The majority of dogs and cats are lactose intolerant and eating dairy products can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Specialist cat milk is available.

Macadamia nuts:

Not only do nuts, in general, pose a choking hazard, eating these nuts causes vomiting, weakness, tremors, depression and hyperthermia.

Xylitol:

This artificial sweetener is found in numerous foods and drinks. Causing potentially fatal low blood sugar levels, it has been linked to fatal liver disease and blood-clotting disorders.

Yeast dough:

If you are making your own bread this year, keep it up out of the way of nosy dustbins, the yeast will continue to swell inside their little tummies causing pain and possible blockage.

Cooked meat bones:

“Give a dog a bone” but not if it is cooked as they splinter easily and can puncture the digestive system causing problems.

Over excitement and overeating:

Christmas can be as exciting for animals as it is for children and we all know that too much food, excitement and late nights ends with fractious little ones and upset tummies, so if you don’t want Tiddles scratching Aunt Betty or Fido throwing up over Uncle Albert, don’t give them mountains of food they aren’t used to and ensure they have a place they can get away from it all and rest.

Please note that above is only intended as a guide if your pet becomes unwell and you suspect that he/she has eaten any of these items, please make a note of what was eaten, when, how much and contact your vet for professional advice as soon as possible.

Staying Safe at Christmas. Close up of Christmas tree with bauble in focus

Staying Safe at Christmas

Christmas is a time your home is likely to be filled with friends and family. In the excitement of it all, accidents can happen.

More than 80,000 people attend A&E with Christmas related injuries each year. With a little care and planning, most accidents can be avoided.

Tree

According to RoSPA about 1,000 people each year are injured by their tree; either by falling whilst decorating or the tree falling on top of them.
RoSPA Christmas Safety

When buying a real Christmas tree, select one that is fresh with no needle drop. Place it in a water-holding tree stand, keeping it topped up daily and the room cool. As a tree becomes dry it becomes highly combustible.

If using an artificial one, make sure that it is fire retardant.

Ensure your tree is the right size for the room, secured to prevent it toppling over, away from heating equipment or ignition sources and doesn’t block escape routes.

Fairy Lights

According to RoSPA around 350 people are injured by Christmas lights each year; from children swallowing bulbs to electrocution.

Before decorating the tree, cables and bulbs should be checked for damage. Top tip: plug into mains to ensure they are working before spending time placing them around the tree.

You should consider replacing older sets of lights and illuminated decorations for those with low voltage LED bulbs which conform to BS EN 60598.

Always use in accordance with manufacturers instructions.

Never decorate the tree with the fairy lights on.

Remember if you are decorating the garden only use lights specifically designed for outdoor use.

Keep lights clear of decorations and remember to switch off at the mains when unattended or on retiring at night.

Decorations

Remember when positioning decorations not to block intruder alarm sensors.

When hanging decorations use a step ladder safely and don’t overreach.

Beware of children and pets climbing the tree or trying to eat/play with the decorations.

Christmas plants

Mistletoe, holly, lilies, daffodils, Christmas Rose, Christmas Cherry and Poinsettia are all toxic; keep out of the reach of children and pets.

Candles

Take care with candles; never place them on the Christmas tree.

Always use an appropriate holder to avoid spillages of hot wax, even tea lights that come in their own metal container have been known to burn through baths and TV sets.

Stairs

Make sure that stairs are free from obstacles and well lit especially if you have guests.

Presents

Always purchase age appropriate gifts for children from a reputable retailer and which conform to The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011.

Remember to buy batteries for toys that need them to avoid being tempted to take out the ones from the smoke alarm.

Have a screwdriver ready and a pair of scissors to assist in opening packages. Open carefully to avoid cutting fingers.

Clear up as you go and keep an eye out for small items that could pose a choking hazard for children and pets.

Always read instructions.

Kitchen

Sharp knives, boiling water and hot fat make the kitchen a very dangerous place.

Try and keep others including pets out of the kitchen and wipe up any spills as soon as they happen.

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and cook the dinner.

Avoid drinking alcohol until you have finished cooking.

Consider a fire blanket, smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm.

Indigestion and food poisoning.

Studies by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveal that, on average, we gain 2kg (5lbs) in weight during the Christmas period.

Overeating not only leads to weight gain but can lead to a nasty case of indigestion and heartburn which can sometimes be confused with a heart attack (or even a heart attack being ignored because you think you have indigestion!)

To avoid food poisoning always read the instructions and cooking times.

Alcohol

Apart from the health risks, alcohol reduces your awareness and co-ordination. Alcohol relaxes you so you lose awareness about everyday risks.

Ensure all items such as glasses and tins are removed and thrown away to avoid little ones and pets drinking the remains if they get up during the night or early in the morning whilst everyone is still asleep.

Travelling

Plan any journeys you have in advance with frequent breaks to avoid driving tired.

Never drink and drive.

Stress

One of the most stressful times of the year, the combination of Christmas shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, relatives and lack of sleep can lead to arguments and tears.

Don’t spread yourself too thinly and try and give yourself some alone time even if it is a walk in the park or a hot scented bath.

Unfortunately for some, Christmas is not full of excitement, they may be homeless or own their own with no one to share it with or have lost someone or be unwell.

If it all gets too much, find someone to talk to like the Samaritans.

You can call the Samaritans 24/7 365 days a year on:

Fireworks

Plan fireworks well in advance and follow the Firework Safety Code.

The Living Years by the London Hospices Choir and Paul Carrack. Help us make this UK Christmas Number 1

Christmas Number 1

Help us make ‘The Living Years’ by The London Hospices choir and Paul Carrack UK Christmas number 1 this year.

Today is the big day!

Greetings pop pickers, straight into the charts at number 11 we have a heartwarming single The Living Years by the London Hospices Choir and Paul Carrick.

Help raise funds and make their dream come true by buying or downloading the track and help them get to the No. 1 spot in the charts this Christmas.

At least £1 from every CD and 50p from every download goes directly to the 18 hospices that took part.

Available from;
HMV – CD http://smarturl.it/nfgerp
AMAZON – CD http://smarturl.it/e872qp
AMAZON – DIGITAL http://smarturl.it/ad3krd
iTUNES http://smarturl/it/4sk7sm

Feel that warm glow and feel proud when you hear the Living Years played on Christmas morning that you helped make it happen.

Christmas trees in an outdoor setting one in the foreground and the other blurred in the back with fairy lights wrapped around it

A Guide to Buying Your Christmas Tree

A guide to buying a Christmas tree and keeping it looking good over the holiday period.

There is nothing like the nostalgic scent of a real Christmas tree but with so many types and varieties, finding your perfect Christmas tree can be a challenge.

We have listed the most popular varieties available and our top tips on keeping them fresh over Christmas.

Nordmann Fir

This year’s top choice of Christmas tree with excellent needle retention and strong branches with lush, glossy, rich green needles are soft and dense making it easy to decorate and support the lights and decorations to create a stunning display.

Fraser Fir

Often sold with fir cones still attached, this tree has dark green foliage and a gorgeous citrus scent. Compact and upright in nature, this is a great choice for smaller rooms but as with other firs, it must be kept well watered to help retain the needles.

Noble Fir

With soft green-blue needles, this neat and compact tree has a heavenly fragrance and excellent needle retention, making this beautiful tree is a perfect choice for a festive home.

Scots Pine

A superb choice for needle retention, the Scots pine with it’s twisted green/blue needles will fill any room with a pine perfume throughout the festive season.

Norway Spruce

This ‘traditional’ Christmas tree has unfortunately gone out of fashion due to its sharp needles and tendency for needle drop, especially in centrally heated rooms. A lovely tree nevertheless with strong branches and easy to decorate.

Blue Spruce

Blue-grey in colour, this tree has a rich festive scent combined with great needle retention. This is a strong tree; often with a wide base, is a perfect place to place the presents under.

With potted and pot grown varieties also available, there is a large variety of choice.

Plan ahead

• If this is the first time buying a real tree, you should consider family members who suffer from allergies. Trees grow in damp conditions so they can be a perfect place for mould spores to grow which can cause respiratory problems known as (Christmas Tree Syndrome)

• Choose and measure the space you want to erect your tree in before leaving the house. (Remember that a tree stand can add 15cm to the height)

• Decide on the variety as they differ with shape, size colour, scent and needle retention

• Take a pair of gloves as transporting the tree can be a bit prickly

• Remember the size of your car!

Choosing your tree

• Look for a tree that has been freshly cut and has bright shiny needles

• Gently shake the branches to check on the flexibility and how much needle drop there is

• Do not buy a tree that has been stored netted as heat builds up inside and causes needle drop

• Check if the base has been cut straight and had it’s knobbly bits removed to make it easier to sit in the base

Caring for your tree

• Leave your tree outside until ready to decorate

• To avoid Christmas Tree Syndrome wash down the tree before bringing it in

• Make a fresh cut in the base to allow for water absorption and prevent needle drop

• Avoid positioning next to a heat source or in direct sunlight

• Stand your tree in a water holding tree stand and top up 2x a day

If you don’t believe in cutting down trees, or are worried about its irregular shape, possible allergies, carbon footprint to the environment, the mess caused by shedding of needles, topping it up with water 2x per day, the cost as it can only be used once or how to dispose of it, then opt for an artificial tree, they too come in all shapes and sizes.

A close up of a cup off coffee being held by someone wearing thick grey wool gloves

Protecting Your Home this Winter

Every year numerous accidents and millions of pounds worth of damage are caused by the colder weather. By planning ahead and taking some basic precautions, the effects of the damage can be minimised or averted altogether.

How to be prepared

Have a ‘charged’ torch to hand in case of a power cut or emergency during the night.

Keep a note of reputable contractors or insurance claims line numbers to call in a convenient spot.

Ingress of water, storm damage, flood, and damp

Particular attention should be paid to the maintenance of flat roofs and repairing of loose tiles.

Keep guttering and downpipe hoppers clear of leaves to avoid a back up under the tiles causing ingress of water.

Trees should be inspected annually and remedial action taken where necessary. All work should be carried out in compliance with BS3998.

Attention should be paid to the maintenance of boundary walls and fencing.

In the event of high winds, secure or store items such as garden furniture and dustbins.

Be aware of severe weather warnings http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/warnings

Observe the amount of snow fall on roofs such as conservatories and if safe to do so, clear before the amount can reach unsafe levels.

Clear pathways of snow before it becomes compounded, use grit salt or sand to stop it freezing over.

If you are in a flood area, sign up for emergency flood alerts https://fwd.environment-agency.gov.uk

Consider investing in flood defences such as sandbags or flood barrier.

Keep damp course line clear of soil and plants.

Remove climbing plants that cause damage to the brickwork and pointing; such as ivy.

Avoid condensation by allowing air to circulate, invest in installing air blocks or using small portable dehumidifiers.

Burst Pipes

Know where the main (in the street) and subsidiary (within your home) water stopcocks are and check that they are in working order.

Have your boiler and central heating annually serviced?

Lag your pipes and water tanks to BS6700, include any outdoor drainage and condensation pipes to protect the boiler.

Repair dripping taps & faulty ball valves to avoid frozen pipes.

For unoccupied properties or during extreme cold conditions, leave your thermostat on low.

If you have one, leave the loft hatch open to allow heat to rise and avoid frozen pipes in the loft space.

Fire or Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Install a smoke alarm and invest in a small fire extinguisher and fire blanket.

If you have an open fire, have your chimney cleaned annually and use a fire guard.

Do not dry clothes indoors near bar fires or naked flames.

Use surge protectors on electronic equipment.

Bonfires and fireworks should be a safe distance away from buildings and fences.

Install a carbon monoxide alarm.

Security

Ensure you always lock your windows and doors when you are away from the property or asleep at night.

Don’t leave keys or handbags near the front door; burglars poke long poles with hooks through letter boxes.

Purchase a timer to turn your lights on and off to give the impression someone is at home.

Don’t advertise that you are away on social media.

With Christmas around the corner don’t leave presents under the tree on view from windows.

Consider investing in an alarm.

Keep side/rear gates locked.

Don’t leave items lying around outside that can be used to break in such as ladders.

Car

Ensure your vehicle has an annual service and MOT.

Check your tyres for wear and ensure your lights are working.

Check your fuel, oil and water levels adding antifreeze/coolant.

Don’t be caught out by the weather; the following items should be carried in your boot; dry food & bottled water, thermal blanket, snow shovel, hi viz jacket, torch, first aid kit, warning triangle.

Although added weight in the boot uses more fuel, it aids grip and helps avoid skidding whilst driving in ice and snow.

Adhere to the advice given by the emergency services and do not travel unless absolutely necessary.

Whether by car, public transport or on foot, if travelling in inclement weather, wrap up, take extra care, carry a fully charged mobile and always tell someone where you are going.

Water leak

Turn off the subsidiary stopcock and turn on all taps in the house including flushing the toilet to drain the system as quickly as possible and call a plumber.

Never use a naked flame to thaw frozen pipes

Gas leak

Open all windows and doors

Turn off all cooking appliances. Extinguish all cigarettes/cigars/pipes. Call your gas company’s emergency number

Never light a naked flame or turn on any electrical switches

Winter Driving Tips. Interior view from the inside of a car looking out onto a winter scene of a motorway

Winter Driving Tips

Driving in winter is very different to other times of the year, bad weather conditions and longer periods of darkness can make even familiar roads treacherous and unpredictable.

When planning on driving in adverse conditions listen to the weather warnings and ask yourself if your trip is really necessary.

If travel is unavoidable, ensure everything on your car is in good working order, especially your tyres, lights and windscreen wipers. Keep a full tank of fuel and emergency kit in the car in case of accidents, breakdowns or jams.

Before setting off make sure all internal glass surfaces on your car are clear of mist and externally clear of ice and snow. It is illegal and dangerous to drive if visibility is impeded.

Always put safety before punctuality and leave plenty of time for your journey. Get your speed right to maintain the correct stopping distances between vehicles.

Remember your journey can contain many micro climates so always beware of the weather and driving conditions.

Here are a few tips to driving safe in our changeable weather;

Heavy rain:

Use the windscreen wipers to aid visibility.

Reduce speed to avoid aquaplaning. Should you find the car sliding, ease off the accelerator and brake until your speed drops sufficiently for the car tyres to make contact with the road again.

Remember you need twice the braking distance to slow down and stop.

Do not attempt to drive through deep or fast flowing flood water.

Remember to test your brakes after driving through water.

Snow & Ice:

If you start to skid when driving in snow or icy conditions, don’t panic, reduce your speed, apply the brakes slowly and smoothly, release and de-clutch, keeping the wheels pointing towards where you want to go and allowing your speed to fall.

Remember you need up to ten times the braking distance to slow down and stop.

When driving downhill, reduce speed, keep in a low gear and avoid using the brakes.

When driving uphill, choose a suitable gear in advance, keep at a constant speed and avoid stopping.

If stuck in a rut, move the vehicle slowly backwards and forwards using the highest gear you can. Do not rev your engine as this will make matters worse.

If you are truly stuck, do not leave the vehicle, switch off the engine and call your breakdown service for help.

The biggest danger is “black ice”, not really black but transparent and invisible. It forms most commonly when the temperature is at their coldest. It forms readily on Bridges and on parts of the road where the sun doesn’t shine such as under overpasses as they are normally the first to freeze and the last to thaw.

Fog:

In gloomy conditions reduce your speed and always use dipped headlights, never use full beams in fog as it reflects light back.

Put your fog lights on if visibility drops below 100 meters.

If visibility is very poor, it is advisable to approach junctions and crossroads slowly and wind down your window to enable you to listen out for approaching traffic, however; if you really cannot see, you should consider pulling over and stopping until it is safe to continue your journey.

Strong winds:

Reduce your speed.

Avoid driving a high sided vehicle.

Keep tight control of the steering wheel.

Take extra care on bridges and exposed roads.

Low sunshine:

Reduce your speed

Ensure your windscreen is clean and streak free inside and out

Have a pair of sunglasses to hand

For further information:

http://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/winter-driving

http://www.rospa.com/road-safety/advice/drivers/better-driving/winter-tips/