How to Overcome Fear of Flying (aviophobia)


Planes at Logan Airport - Constitution Beach - East Boston - 2014-06-01

I know what it’s like to dread flying: to book yourself onto a holiday then spend weeks of sleepless nights imagining all the dreadful things that might happen; to feel fear that you’re going to embarrass yourself and your family by throwing some kind of loud, wild panic attack at the airport; to sit on the plane in a state of rigid tension responding to every slight noise the plane makes, every tiny grimace on the face of the steward, every message that the pilot does or doesn’t give out.

I existed in this state for about 30 years, but I’m pleased to say that I have now overcome this fear without hypnosis, drugs, therapy or the expense of attending a fear of flying course (although of course I realise that all these things can and do help many people.) It’s been a gradual process, but I’ve got there in the end. I recognise that some people’s fear of flying takes a more serious form and causes them more distress than mine did, but nevertheless I’d like to share my approach, in case it can help someone else – one of the estimated 10% of the western world who suffer from aviophobia – even a little.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to analyse what it is exactly you’re afraid of. There are probably several elements to your fear, as there certainly were in my case. Once you have identified the specifics of your phobia, you can take small steps to tackle each element. I found that there wasn’t one big thing which helped me overnight, but a lot of little things which gradually changed my thought processes and behaviour. These were the aspects of my phobia and this is how I dealt with them:

I didn’t feel in control. This is an obvious one: only the pilot has control and maybe he’ll have a heart attack at the controls or make the wrong meal choice and contract food poisoning or turn out to be crazy and fly the plane into a mountain or the sea. Ultimately I couldn’t do much about this. I had to trust the pilot in the same way that I trust the bus or train driver or my husband when he drives me to the airport. But I did take control in a different way: instead of travelling with someone else, I usually travelled alone. At first this was more through necessity than choice because I thought I needed someone to “look after” me, but when I had to take flights alone for family reasons I soon learnt to enjoy the fact that I was more in control of little things when I was alone and only had myself to please. For instance, I always pay the extra £8 to choose my seat on the plane and I like to sit on the gangway (it’s less claustrophobic) near the front of the plane. On low cost flights this means you get to board and leave the plane first, that your luggage will always fit in the overhead locker and there may even be some empty seats near you. It’s a way of minimising some avoidable stress and goodness knows you need to do that. If you’re travelling on your own there are no issues with a partner who doesn’t feel the extra £8 is warranted, or a child who wants you to sit in the middle seat or a friend who doesn’t care if she’s the last one to board a crowded plane and her hand luggage (and yours) ends up in the hold. When you’re on your own, you can indulge in your own little rituals and routines (take Teddy to cuddle if you like!) without having to bother about anyone else’s comments or criticisms – even well-meaning family or friends. If you want to arrive three hours early at the airport or wear your favourite comfy old clothes, just do it. It’s no-one’s business but yours.

Flying was just a miserable experience for me. I couldn’t totally overcome this of course since, even before you board the plane, there are plenty of things at the airport that can stress you out. But I could give myself some little treats that make life slightly nicer. I’ve already mentioned the £8 “speedy boarding” upgrade. Then there are other little indulgences such as buying yourself a new magazine or book, taking some favourite sweets or chocolate, buying yourself a nice drink and snack at the airport or on the plane if you fancy it. All these things in small subtle ways add an element of “treat” to the experience which mitigates against the misery you’re feeling.


Every time I flew I was afraid that there would be a plane crash. I recognised that this was illogical but it took a time to reason with myself about this. Facts about the safety of air travel are readily available: write some down and believe them. For instance, the risk of dying in a flight is about 1 in 3,000,000. If you live to 80 you have been alive only 29,200 days so three million represents roughly 103 lifetimes. In other words, if 103 eighty year-olds had flown every single day of their lives, on average only one of them would have had a fatal air crash. Bearing in mind that most of us fly not every day but only a few times a year, the statistics look far better still. And you are twice as likely to have a fatal train accident and 100 times more likely to die in a car crash.

I am very bothered by the fact that planes stay up in the air. It just seems so illogical and this has always been part of my fear of flying. You can read books about how planes stay up there and they explain it to you on Fear of Flying courses. I find the explanations too technical for me and have had to accept that this is something (like many things!) which is beyond my comprehension. As far as I’m concerned, planes stay up there because they just do. At one time I tensed up and fretted over every single noise and movement of the plane. Gradually, as I have flown more often, I have learnt to recognise these little noises and movements and know what most of them are. Travelling by plane has become ordinary to me in a way it wasn’t before. I have taken fairly frequent short flights and would recommend this as a way of training yourself to deal with air travel. Look around you at the airport on low cost flights: it’s just like a bus service and that’s how everyone treats it. See all the signs that it’s very ordinary for 99% of the other travellers. If you sit at the front of the plane, watch how relaxed the stewards are: hear them talking about what they did at the weekend and what they’re cooking for dinner tonight. Another thing I used to do when I lived near London (and it works for every other big city) is to look up in the sky at night or on a clear day and count how many aeroplanes you can see. We didn’t live near an airport but I could usually count six or eight. See? They’re flying around in huge numbers all the time. Flying is very very ordinary.

I used to think too much about it all. In all the ways I’ve mentioned above, the prospect of a flight or the flight itself would be going round and round in my mind endlessly, stoking up anxiety and feeding a sense of imminent panic. Nowadays I recognise when I am over-thinking and don’t allow myself to do it. Over time I have managed to mentally shut all thoughts about the flight into a little compartment in my brain until I get to the airport. I try to do the same on the plane itself, although of course that’s not quite so easy. You wouldn’t find me relaxing and enjoying the flight – I haven’t managed that yet. From the second I sit down on the plane to the second it lands I am either reading a very engrossing book or trying to solve a very engrossing puzzle, pausing only to enjoy my cup of tea and chocolate muffin or glass of wine and peanuts if I fancy them. Only when the plane lands do I think about the flight to note with gratitude that it’s been another safe one – and usually smooth and comfortable too.

How to Improve your Memory



How to Improve your memory

When I was a child I found it easy to remember things: faces, names, tiny details of insignificant events, many of which I can still recall fifty years later. Learning French and German vocabulary at school came quite naturally – often I only needed to see the word once for it to stick in my memory.

But how very different things are now! It’s a struggle to remember faces and places and there’s absolutely no chance of remembering a name, date or appointment details. As for foreign languages (which I still enjoy studying): I have to work so hard to remember any new vocabulary that I find it quite discouraging to even try.

I’ve read that the human brain is limitless, that its capacity to store data is huge, and that our brains don’t necessarily perform worse as we get older, but they may be better at some things and worse at others. For instance, although it becomes harder to store new information, our long-term memory actually improves as the years go by. Maybe we just need to try new ways of remembering new things. So I’ve done some research, asked around and come up with a list of methods that can be used to improve memory recall.

  • Repetition: watch a small child learning how to do something: he or she will repeat the same action over and over again until it is thoroughly known. Try repeating the same thing in different contexts.
  • Little and often. Write a couple of things on post-its every day and put them somewhere you are bound to see them.
  • Make learning part of your regular routine: learn something each time you brush your teeth or while you eat your breakfast.
  • Say it out loud. Add rhythm and different voices to make it memorable. Maybe even turn it into a song.
  • Revise regularly. When you feel you know something, go back to it briefly every week or two to check that it’s still embedded in your brain.
  • Write things down using coloured paper or pens to categorise and make it memorable. Draw diagrams and make links between items where this will help. For instance, you may be able to represent information as a tree with branches and leaves.
  • Make visual links between what you’re trying to remember and objects or pictures which can act as symbols or reminders.
  • Plan a walk in a street or building you know well. Mentally “place” the things you’re trying to remember at landmarks or furniture items along the way.
  • Place things in pairs of opposites or similar things. Maybe they start with the same letter or you can make some other association between a group of things you’re trying to remember.
  • Use the first letter of each word to spell out a mnemonic e.g. ROY GBIV as a way of remembering the colours of the rainbow.
  • Make up a story using all the words that you are trying to remember. This will form links between them.Image result for facts and figures


  • If trying to remember numbers, try to make the numbers mean something e.g.151256 could be remembered as 15th December 1956.
  • Find a different way to make your information interesting. Link it to something you’re interested in.
  • Make links between what you’re learning to things you already know – perhaps you are adding detail to something you have an outline knowledge of.
  • Practise writing out what you want to remember, or give a talk on it to a friend. Or stand in front of a mirror giving a lecture to an imaginary audience!
  • As you lie in bed at night, test yourself on what you know before you go to sleep.
  • Take a walk and, as you go, test yourself on what you’re trying to remember. When you get home, check up on any weak areas.
  • If listening to a lecture, take notes of the key points. Later, rework your notes as a diagram using colour and lay-out to help you.
  • Be good to your brain: eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, take regular exercise and drink plenty of water.

So I intend to give all these methods a try – and hope to regain the memory abilities of my 15 year-old self!

Have you tried out any of these ways out? How did they work for you?

What other tips do you have for developing and maintaining a good memory?

St Edmund for England!




“But St George is the patron saint of the English!” you must be exclaiming, possibly with indignation.And of course that’s correct,except that St Edmund was also our patron saint, well before St George was.

The night before King Richard the Lionheart won the battle of Lydda in  1199 during the Crusades he had prayed at the tomb of St George so, after his victory, he adopted George as his  own personal patron saint. Before long, English soldiers were wearing the cross of St George into battle and by 1348 he was officially the patron saint of England.

But before Richard I’s adoption of St George, Edmund had been the saint that the English most revered and looked to as a brave and virtuous example. In the ninth century, Edmund had been king of East Anglia, where he is known to have spent time in Bures, Attleborough and Thetford, among other places. He courageously led his Anglo Saxon troops against marauding Vikings who were intent on occupying the area and who tried to make him renounce his Christian faith. When he refused to do so, they fired arrows at him and cut his head off. Legend says that a wolf guarded his head until his followers found it, whereupon it miraculously sprang back onto his body.

Edmund’s remains were taken to the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk where they attracted pilgrims for many years until the dissolution of the monasteries during Henry VIII’s reign. It is believed that his bones arrived by a circuitous route at the chapel in Arundel castle where they remain to this day.

St Edmund statue.jpg

In the 21st century there have been two unsuccessful campaigns to reinstate Edmund as the English patron saint, to adopt his flag of the white dragon on a red background and to celebrate his day of 20th November as a national holiday. (One of the campaigns was led by a brewing company in Bury St Edmunds – presumably hoping for the title “official brewers to the patron saint”.) After all, his supporters argue, Edmund was our patron saint before George was, and Edmund was an Englishman who fought for the English against an army of invaders before finally being martyred on English soil. Surely he has more right to be an English icon than St George, a Roman soldier who never set foot in England?

As a matter of fact, though, not many countries have a patron saint who came from that country: patron saints are supposedly chosen for the noble qualities they display and not necessarily because they are a local hero. But George is a pretty common old saint in a way that Edmund is not: his day is celebrated in at least 20 other countries, areas and organisations including Catalonia, Moldova, Canada and Lithuania to name a few, not to mention his patronage of archers, soldiers, farmers, lepers, scouts and syphilis sufferers.

At least if we decided to re-adopt Edmund as our patron saint we could claim that he would just be special to the English. And a bank holiday on 20th November would brighten up a gloomy time of year…..

Top Twenty Healthiest Foods #4 Blueberries



Once upon a time you would only hear of blueberries on sentimental TV dramas, usually in the context of how much some freshly scrubbed all-American boy loved “Momma’s blueberry pie”. For years I didn’t know what a blueberry was and I had never tasted one until I was about forty. But that was before blueberries became a regular on the shelves of every supermarket all year round.

I’ve become used to them now and often have them on my morning cereal, even though I do find them very expensive  – and sometime a bit bland and squishy. To be quite honest, they’re not a blackberry, are they? But they are pleasant enough and they DO have lots of health benefits.

For instance, blueberries are known to improve circulation so their consumption can help with conditions such as varicose veins and chilblains.  They can improve night vision and help with a range of other eye problems, such as cataracts. Like cranberries, they have been found useful for protecting against the main bacteria which cause urinary tract infections. In the past they were also used to treat diarrhoea. Not only all that, but they are also high in antioxidants which help build the body’s defences against ill health, including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

Blueberries  were originally native to North America, but it is now becoming increasingly common to grow them in the U.K.. They can do well in U.K. gardens or containers, provided they are planted in fairly acidic soil. In fact, it’s a good idea to have a go at growing your own, since they remain very expensive in UK shops, presumably because they are delicate to pick and to store. They freeze very well, though, so buy plenty when they’re reduced!

In terms of recipes for blueberries, I don’t find them particularly exciting. Nevertheless, they are perfectly pleasant and are simple to enjoy in all these ways:

  1. Fresh by themselves or as a component of a fruit salad. Try a combination of pineapple, kiwi and blueberries.
  2. A handful scattered over breakfast cereal
  3. Lightly cooked with other berries to make a compote which can be served with yoghurt or ice cream
  4. On top of a cheesecake or pancakes either raw or lightly cooked.
  5. As an ingredient in smoothies.
  6. Stirred into a sponge-like cake mixture – in blueberry muffins, for instance

And if your blueberries are particularly tasteless, try livening them up with a squirt of lemon juice – works wonders.

If you have any other tasty recipe ideas for blueberries, please let us know by commenting below.

Here’s the list of Top Twenty healthiest Foods.

And here’s where you can read about some of the others:

Natural yoghurt           Carrots      Pineapple      Oily fish        Broccoli


“Get” is getting to me



What an annoying little word “get” is. It gets everywhere. Like there, for instance. It’s a small, ugly monosyllable which, seemingly, we would find very hard to eradicate from English, especially from spoken English. Alternatively, you could take the view that “get” is an extremely useful and versatile word which gets you out of a few situations where you otherwise wouldn’t know what word to use.

Give it a go. For instance, in all the following sentences “get” (or “getting”) has a different meaning. In each case can you think of one word which could replace it? Or do you sometimes need several words? Sometimes you will probably need to change the sentence construction if you don’t use “get” and in at least one case it’s hard to think of any replacement at all. Have a go then check the suggested answers.

  1. She’ll get him to do it.
  2. I’m going to get a new car.
  3. He’ll get it from the library.
  4. He’s getting tired.
  5. That dog gets everywhere!
  6. He can’t get the knot undone.
  7. I’ll get you for that!
  8. We need to get there before ten.
  9. They get the 8.30 train every morning.
  10. That film gets me every time.
  11. Don’t you get the joke?
  12. They don’t get what he means.
  13. Get started then!
  14. Did you get it all down on paper?
  15. All that alcohol will get her in the end.
  16. How did they get to her house?
  17. I need to get dinner.
  18. His moaning really gets me.
  19. I don’t know how he got that catch.
  20. Get writing!

You can see some suggestions here. You might think of better ones, of course.

What an amazing range of meanings for one little word! And then, if you follow “get” with a preposition, it has an even larger range of meanings. See whether you can  replace the “get” phrase (get + preposition) with one word in these sentences. As before, you’ll sometimes need to use several words and maybe change the structure of the sentence if you simply can’t think of one word that will do it.

21  He gets about, doesn’t he!

22  He gets it across

23  I’m sure she’ll get ahead.

24  You’re just trying to get round me!

25  They may get round to doing it.

26  It’s too high – I can’t get at it.

27  She keeps getting at him for some reason.

28  We just can’t get through to him.

29  I’ve tried ringing, but I can’t get through.

30  Let’s get down to business.

31  It’s a problem, but you’ll get round it.

32  We need to get away early.

33  What are they getting up to now?

34  I don’t want to but I can’t get out of it.

35  She gets off lightly every time.

36  Get with it, will you!

37  How did he get to be famous?

38  Don’t worry – you’ll get through it.

39  Get out of here!

40  All this arguing gets me down.

41  You won’t get away with it.

42  He gets up at seven every day.

43  They just don’t get on.

44 She’ll never get over it.

45  There’s a lot of work to get through.

46  Sorry – I didn’t get to do it.

47  They have just enough to get by on.

48  How are they getting on with the new project?

49  Get down and boogie!

50  He’s getting on a bit.

51  It gets me out of a difficult position.

52  You’re just trying to get in with him.

53  I just want to get it over with.

Suggestions for 21-53 can be found here.


And, finally, a few other “get” expressions:

54She’s been trying to get hold of him for two days.

55  I need to get rid of it.

56  Sooner or later they’ll get even with him

57  Can you come to our get-together?

58  That’s a strange get-up you’re wearing!

59  He’s lost his get-up-and-go.

60  I told her where to get off.

Possible replacements for 54-60 can be found here.

Generally speaking, using “get” will sound more casual and informal than an alternative word or phrase. Sometimes, though, the alternative sounds just strange or contrived. Which examples in particular?

Looking back through the huge list of meanings, it’s obvious that this little word has made itself almost indispensible. Try it and see: set yourself the challenge of going a whole day without saying “get”. Can you manage it? Would the English language be better without “get”? Let me know how you get on!

And have you thought of any more uses for “get” which I haven’t mentioned?

Making precious memories: Thomas Hardy’s poems



Thomas Hardy  has always tended to be better known for his novels than for his poems, but among the hundreds of poems he wrote on a wide range of subjects, there are some very memorable ones. This has always been one of my favourites:

The Self-Unseeing

Here is the ancient floor,

Footworn and hollowed and thin,

Here was the former door

Where the dead feet walked in.


She sat here in her chair,

Smiling into the fire;

He who played stood there,

Bowing it higher and higher.


Childlike, I danced in a dream;

Blessings emblazoned that day;

Everything glowed with a gleam;

Yet we were looking away!

Hardy here is describing a scene from his childhood: it’s a family occasion with his father playing his violin as the young Thomas dances and twirls and his mother looks on smiling. The last two lines are the most poignant since they carry the message that this family time was a very precious moment  but, sadly, they had not appreciated this at the time. Continue reading

The A-Z of Buying Presents



We’re now entering a major present-buying period for many people, but of course we buy presents for all kinds of people for many different reasons. This list may provide some helpful suggestions, whatever the occasion and whoever you’re buying for.

Continue reading