November 2018


Here for us all


With a new shop to open in Wanstead this month, Saint Francis Hospice will raise its profile in the area. But the service provided by the Havering-based charity has always been here for us, says Amanda Green.

This time two years ago Saint Francis Hospice entered my life as my mum entered Saint Francis Hospice. It was life-changing on many levels. Mostly, of course, because my beloved mum was dying and went into Saint Francis to receive end-of-life care.

But it was also life-changing because once I and my family experienced what a hospice does, and in particular the care which Mum received, there was no way we couldn’t feel anything but compelled to support the charity by raising funds and awareness.

For me, this awareness takes on two forms. General awareness about the differences between a hospital and a hospice as well as awareness that Saint Francis Hospice in Havering-atte-Bower serves the whole of the borough of Redbridge as well as other areas. It has an 18-bed, in-patient unit as well as Hospice at Home, which provides palliative care to Redbridge residents. Saint Francis serves to maintain life for those with life-limiting illnesses and give the most comfortable and dignified end-of-life care possible for the terminally ill.

If you have no experience of a hospice, as it was for me, you may imagine them to be frightening, cheerless places full of sickness and death. Like me, you couldn’t be more wrong! They are full of laughter, love, compassion and camaraderie. They become ‘home’ for a few days or a few weeks, not just for the patient but for their family too. The family are supported through this terribly difficult time just as the patients are. The moment my mum entered Saint Francis, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and the support and concern for us all was tangible. And it doesn’t stop when the patient passes away, either; the hospice offer a bereavement counselling service too.

The opening of the Saint Francis charity shop on Wanstead High Street will hopefully raise awareness in these parts. Much-needed awareness for a charity that receives just 28% of its funding from the NHS and needs to raise £7.8m a year (that’s £21,000 a day) to cover the costs of its specialist end-of-life care services. Some 1,693 patients were cared for by Saint Francis in the past year.

So, now you see why it is so important to us to raise funds and awareness for Saint Francis. We have done this through walks and runs. My 84-year-old father accompanied us on the 10k Starwalk for the hospice this year and my son ran the Bristol Half Marathon in his nanny’s memory last year. And hopefully, this article will have raised awareness locally and encouraged a few readers to dig deep and donate to this wonderful cause or get involved in fundraising for the hospice – none of us know when we or a loved one might need their help.

Saint Francis Hospice is located on Broxhill Road in Havering-atte-Bower, RM4 1QH. Visit or call 01708 753319

Busy doing nothing


Before the internet, boredom was something to be feared. Today, experts are wondering whether it is good for us. Wanstead resident Steve Wilks examines why this may be the case.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard thought it was the root of all evil. Writer Mary Renault considered it intellectual defeat. French sociologist Jean Baudrillard declared it the world’s second-worst crime. But where boredom might once have been something to fear, today we are never truly bored. In our era of non-stop notifications, how can we be?

According to a survey, the average Brit checks their smartphone 28 times a day – at least once per hour. That’s more that 10,000 times a year. “Those little spaces of ‘no work’, like walking through a park, are disappearing,” says Tom Hodgkinson, founder of cult journal The Idler, which advocates a slower-paced approach to life. “You can now work while walking to work. By contrast, you have to make a special effort to create situations for idleness.”

Psychology writer Oliver Burkeman states: “The reason patience and stillness are so important right now is that the whole direction of culture is the opposite. You’d think we should be able to relax – we’ve got technology to do things and do them faster. But that is exactly nobody’s experience. The faster that technology drives, the more impatient we are.”

Scientific understandings of what happens in our brains during periods when nothing is happening has proved elusive so far. However, a recent study by Dr Deniz Vatansever from Cambridge University has discovered the default mode network, which represents a collection of brain regions used to determine brain activity. It concludes the brain is operating at a high level even when we don’t give it anything to do. The extra activity when we give it a task is actually a much smaller increase than the process carried out during idle states. In other words, boredom – a state of inactivity – seems to take as much effort as actively doing nothing. In fact, it might help to drive creativity in the background, so boredom might actually be good for you.

Hodgkinson goes on to argue that idling is not not doing anything. It is thinking, reading and talking. The Romans called it vita contemplative and there was much debate about which was better, the life of contemplation or the life of activity. Then later on, Protestant thinking was that contemplation was sinful.

The original ‘Protestant work ethic’, much like our modern ‘always working’ culture, scorned the appearance of indolence. However, an upside may be found: the idea that periods of idleness enhance productivity during periods of activity. So, next time you find yourself reaching for your phone, stop. Let the scratchy feeling of boredom invade your brain. It could be the most rewarding thing you do and help you be more productive in the future.

For more advice on becoming idle, visit

Cuban knees-up


Independent local travel advisor Jack Leaf offers an overview of his recent luxury cruise around Cuba, which allowed him to tick off a music-related travel ambition.

Whilst cruising between the Spanish colonial cities of Trinidad in Cuba and Cartagena in Columbia, it struck me that I should be writing about MV Silver Cloud and the Silversea expedition cruise I am currently enjoying.

I have long wanted to visit Cuba but the rumours of food scarcity and poor quality deterred me, until I heard about this cruise itinerary. Silversea is one of the finest international cruise lines, so one is assured of a high standard of accommodation and cuisine on relatively small ships (300 to 400 passengers) and their expedition cruises include a full itinerary of shore excursions, interspersed with on-board lectures and an absence of on-board formal entertainment.

The cruise was scheduled to depart from Nassau in the Bahamas, but I flew first to Miami to adjust, following the transatlantic flight with three nights in one of my favourite cities. A one-hour flight from there to Nassau and a 30-minute onward journey by road to the seaport enabled an unexpected and rapid highlights tour of Downtown Nassau.

After a day at sea, MV Silver Cloud sailed majestically into Santiago de Cuba, a city founded in 1515 and where Fidel Castro launched his overthrow of the Batista regime. One of many Cuban cities that exhibit what I call ‘charming dereliction’, it is often overlooked by tourists due to its distance from Havana and the coastal resort of Varadero. Highlights of the city tour included Changing of the Guard, a 12-minute ceremony twice an hour at Santa lfigenia Cemetery, and a visit to Casa Diego Velazquez, the colonial mansion lived in by the Spanish conqueror of Cuba. We also toured the Moncada Barracks, from where Castro launched his failed coup and which is now the chilling museum that recounts the callous put-down of that first attempt.

The next stop, Havana, was the highlight of the cruise. I’d made arrangements to have dinner at the capital’s only true five-star hotel, Gran Hotel Manzana, on the sixth (top) floor overlooking the crumbling city – perfect food in a perfect setting. From there, we travelled by vintage car to the Buena Vista Social Club for an evening show of fantastic singing and instrumental accompaniment; one of my decades-old travel ambitions achieved.

Our last day in Cuba saw us on an excursion from Cienfeugos to Trinidad; a colourful city that became rich from sugar exports. When I hear old people in London refer to their East End childhood, remarking that their families were hard up and they didn’t have much but were happy, that’s how I will remember Cuba. No-one looked hungry, no-one begged, everyone smiles and you’re never far from their equivalent of an East End knees-up!

Jack is based in Snaresbrook – visit or call 020 8989 6764. To read more of Jack’s travel stories, visit