Monthly Archives: September 2018


The Moon continues to enthrall us. Scientists now believe that it may have supported simple lifeforms twice in its existence. The arid, cold and cratered surface was potentially habitable 3.5 billion years ago. This was because water from lunar volcanoes was trapped under the Moon’s surface. It could have been there for up to 70 million years, shielded by an atmosphere which has also now disappeared. So early forms of bacteria could have survived.

These would have arrived in clouds of debris caused when huge meteorites smashed into Earth. While now they would be blitzed immediately by deadly solar winds and cosmic radiation, at that time, the churning volcanic magma is thought to have created a protecting magnetic field on the lunar surface. With the presence of water, carbon and a thin atmosphere, the main building blocks for life were in place, according to Professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch, from the Technical University in Berlin. The astrologist, who has worked with Professor Ian Crawford from Birkbeck University, London, to analyse data from recent probes and rock samples, said: ‘If liquid water and a significant atmosphere were present on the early Moon for long periods of time, we think the lunar surface would have been at least transiently habitable.’

The study, published in journal Astrobiology, suggests the water came as amounts of hydrogen and carbon dioxide were released in a molten magma similar to what happened during volcanic lunar eruptions. So for life to exist, it only needed a meteor strike to transfer bacteria from Earth, which 3.5 billion years ago was much closer to the Moon.

The authors identify a second – less likely – time life could have survived, shortly after the Moon formed 4 million years ago. Until a decade ago most experts thought the Moon had always been dry – possibly because any channels formed by water, as seen today on Mars, were eroded by solar winds. Experts now say it may once have been home to vast lakes.

New theories such as these will probably lead to further expeditions to the Moon to unravel more discoveries, which will give more credence to their suppositions so far.

If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild

Last evening we celebrated the launch of a remarkable book ” If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild” by Jane Haynes at The October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL.


Here is the short address I made to an illustrious crowd which came to pay tribute to Jane who deserved all their attention.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

We are here this evening to mark the publication of a remarkable book: If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild: A Memoir of Self & Other by Jane Haynes.

My first encounter with Jane was in 2015 when Quartet had the great privilege of publishing Jane’s Doctors Dissected co-authored with Martin Scurr. The book was a great success, summarised by Hilary Mantel’s endorsement: ‘Is medicine a job or a vocation? Does healing sometimes run in the family? What happens when doctors fall sick? How does the intimacy of the doctor/patient bond survive when medicine becomes the state’s business? Doctors speak in their own words in this fascinating book and the result is a provocative insight into bodies and souls.’

A paper edition followed and the book has now established itself as a classic to be reckoned with. Earlier this year, I received a synopsis of her next book in its very early stages, for my reaction. As I read what was written I was mesmerised. It was bold, controversial and the best manuscript I had come across in a  very  long while. My response was immediate. I encouraged her to speed ahead in the same vein and undertook to publish it as soon as possible.

Here is a fragment of what she has to say in this outstanding memoir:

‘If I could be granted some more foolish wishes, I would choose to have reincarnation as a vodka-swigging, sun-worshipping, gender-bending courtesan who could sing in tune. Such wishes will not be well received by my family but I cannot eradicate them. I feel some regret that I have over-compensated for the ravages of childhood by trying to take control of my life in a doomed devotion to Apollonian symmetry, beauty and discipline. There have been earlier times in my life when I experienced and celebrated Dionysus’s subversive revels, albeit in modest form, and when even if my limbs were not flayed, others were.’

This gem of a book is a masterly work, whose every word will no doubt trigger off deep thought, controversy and admiration all at the same time. This gathering should now endorse it big time by buying multiple copies of the book and spreading the good word throughout the nation so that it will top the bestseller lists this Christmas.

In the meantime, please let us see the colour of your money, particularly the ones of high denomination. This will start the ball rolling and will certainly give comfort to Jane as well as her publisher, given the current climate is full of gloom and doom.

I am currently away and will not be posting on my blog. It will resume on the 25th September.I hope you will not desert me then.


Coconut oil, touted as a miracle ingredient which can help you lose weight, with Angelina Jolie reportedly having a spoonful at breakfast, has now been denounced as pure poison by a senior academic. Dr Karin Michels of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health said the fashionable oil is ‘one the worst foods you can eat’. She made her comments during a lecture in Germany – where she is head of the University of Freiburg’s Human Research Centre – entitled ‘Coconut Oil and other Nutritional Errors’.

Dr Michels was critical of the fat for super foods, saying we can get the nutrients we need from commonplace fruit and veg, but was particularly scathing of coconut oil. She said it was worse than lard due to its high level of saturated fats and added: ‘There isn’t one human study that has found a positive outcome from coconut oil.’

The initial enthusiasm for the product came from observational studies of Polynesian Islanders in the Pacific, who consume large amounts but do not suffer increased heart problems. In the early 2000s, studies by Columbia University showed that those who ate a diet featuring medium–chain fatty acids, a type of fat present in coconuts, burn fat quicker than people on standard diets.

It led to sales rocketing – from around one million pounds sterling in 2012, to sixteen million pounds sterling in 2016 – according to market researchers KANTER. Many saw coconut oil as a way to enjoy fat and burn it off at the same time, despite it typically having more saturated fats – at 82 per cent – than butter, which is 63 percent. Many enthusiasts said it curbed their hunger after being blended into their morning cup of coffee. Jolie was said to have started the day with little more than a scattering of cereal and a spoonful of coconut oil, while model Miranda Kerr consumed 4 tablespoons a day, using it in cooking, salads and green tea. Jennifer Anniston would spread it on toast.

But subsequent studies have warned against using the oil. The British Nutrition Foundation published a review in 2016, saying coconut oil is likely to increase the chances of heart disease by raising fat levels in the blood. A second review, last year, suggested that when it comes to lowering cardiovascular disease, it might be best to stick with polyunsaturated oil and fats such as sunflower oil.

It all goes to show that marketing can lure people to eat poisonous products, if they can persuade film stars to unwittingly promote them. It also proves that stupidity has no barriers.


Having a grandchild for the first time, I have learnt a great deal about children, their awareness and their habits. Researchers say that when very young children have just begun learning how to express themselves, toddlers already care about what others think of them. It seems children under two have the same instincts as adults to make people like them, a study has found.

Psychologists presented 144 children aged 14-24 months with a robot which lit up and moved when buttons on remote controls were pressed. In one experiment, an adult said: ‘Wow!’ after using one remote control to move the robot, while saying ‘Uh-Oh” when using a second remote. When being watched by an adult, the toddlers were around twice as likely to use the remote that the grown-ups had preferred. A second test found children operated the robot 7.7 times on average in front of a woman who liked the toy, but only 5.7 times in front of one who did not.

Commenting on the report, published in the journal Developmental Psychology Studies, author Sara Botto, of Emory University in the USA, said: ‘We’ve shown that by the age of 24 months children are not only aware that people may be evaluating them, but that they will alter their behavior to seek a positive response.’

How very true. My granddaughter, who will be 24 months old in December, is unbelievably aware of what other people do, and learns so fast how to emulate their actions, I often wonder if the new generation is more endowed than we’ve ever been at that age.


The indomitable Basia Briggs is a woman who refuses to be sidelined by the media. Her book, Mother Anguish, tells the story of her struggle to survive against unimaginable odds. A wounded tigress who will fight to the bitter end to defy the Establishment, not only for her own sake but also for other women who experience a similar tragic fate but refuse to succumb to the vagaries of time.


If you read her book you will no doubt raise your hand in horror and yet applaud the tenacity of a woman who underwent a most tragic period in her life and rose from the ashes to conquer a new world and achieve great success.

What is rather curious about this whole affair, and given the pain she had to undergo during the time she spent in Australia, the book has so far failed to achieve the attention one should expect from a normally sympathetic public whose absence is hard to explain on this occasion.

Her story is full of pathos, heart-melting and despite its soberness is nevertheless not lacking that element of humour which pops up from time to time to make the narrative not bereft of some very entertaining episodes.

I recommend you buy the book with an open mind and judge its merit for yourself.


Exercise in moderation is vital to keeping healthy. Now we are told by researchers that moderate exercise improves mental health but overdoing it does more harm than good. A huge study of 1.2 million people found those who exercised were – on average – stressed and depressed on fewer days than those who did not. But experts also discovered a threshold beyond which the benefits began to be reversed. Those who did the most exercise – more than five times a week or more than three hours a day – actually had worse mental health than those who did nothing at all.

The scientists, led by experts at Yale University in the USA and Oxford University, found that exercising for 45 minutes, three to five times a week, was associated with the biggest benefits; doing more than this saw the benefits decline. The researchers, whose findings are published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, believe excessive exercising might be linked to obsessive behaviour. But they stressed that more moderate exercise was definitely beneficial. Even doing chores around the house or pottering in the garden cut the time spent depressed by 10 per cent, they found.

Dr Adam Chekroud, assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale, said: ‘Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and there is an urgent need to find ways to improve mental health through health campaigns. Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income and education level. Excitingly, the specifics of the regime, like the type, duration, and frequency, played an important role in the association. We are now using this to try to match people with a specific exercise regime that helps improve their mental health.’

The researchers tracked 1.2 million people in the US and asked them about 75 types of physical activity ranging from childcare, housework, gardening and fishing to cycling, going to the gym, running and skiing. Participants were also asked to estimate how many days in the past 30 they would rate their mental health as not good based on stress, depression and emotional problems.

The scientists found that team sports reduced the time spent in poor mental health by 22 per cent, cycling by 21 percent, going to the gym by 20 per cent, jogging resulted in 19 per cent and walking, 18 per cent. Dr Chekroud said: ‘ Our finding that team sports are associated with the lowest mental health problems may indicate that social activities promote resilience and reduce depression by reducing social withdrawal and isolation.

Professor Stephen Lawrie, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘I suspect we all know people who seem addicted to exercise and if this starts to impact on other aspects of life like forgoing social activities because one has to be up at the crack of dawn to run several miles – it might actually be bad for people. Activity and especially social and mindful exercise is good for mental health. Every second day for 45-60 minutes might be optimum.’

I know exercise is vital to our mental health. As I do very little of it, I always make a decision to do it on a regular basis but alas I never succeed. Perhaps a time will come when my unfulfilled decisions will come to fruition.