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From the archive: a nation of gamblers, 1972 | Life and style

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The Observer Magazine summed up the gambler’s fallacy – the belief that random past events have an effect on future outcomes – in its cover headline of 10 September 1972, the first part of an investigation into Britain’s gambling mania: ‘Tomorrow I’ll Win It All Back’.

‘Nine Britons out of 10 now gamble,’ revealed Des Wilson and Joe Steeples, ‘and those who don’t are frowningly referred to by sociologists as “deviant oddities”… the law has given up any attempt to ban it and is now satisfied if it can keep it under control.

‘This year we in Britain are staking more than £2.1bn on the turn of a card, the fate of a horse, or the result of a football match – more than we invest in education or in hospitals and 2.5 times what we spend on bread and cereals.’

An astonishing 9 million people went to greyhound races. ‘An evening at the dogs can be fun,’ it was argued. ‘When the grandstand lights dim and the gaily dressed dogs are led on to the track, it is like a form of theatre.’

Gamblers Anonymous said there was evidence that ‘some gamblers subconsciously want to lose to punish themselves’. They even quoted Freud: ‘The fluttering movements of a card dealer’s hands, the thrust and withdrawal motions of the croupier’s rake, and the shaking of the dice box can all be identified with the sublimations of copulation or masturbation.’

These days, gambling has largely moved online and become ever more niche in what one can bet on, but one thing remains constant: ‘The gambling empires are being built upon the one inescapable truth in a business full of myths and theories: the profit in gambling is for the promoter, not the punter.’

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Weight loss: "I eat bhakri and sabzi for lunch"

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Who amongst us wouldn’t call Sachin Tendulkar an inspiration?For 31-year-old Ameya Bhagwat, his idol’s message to get fitter and healthier changed his life. For someone who once could finish up an entire pot of butter chicken in a go, Ameya’s diet has overhauled so much that even cheat meals don’t tempt him anymore. He also bid health complications goodbye!

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Never too late: ‘I was one of the oldest ones there, and I also had no hair. But it was wonderful’ | Australian lifestyle

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Name: Allison Barnes

Age: 62

Public servant turned visual artist

When I left school I trained as a teacher. Back in those days, teaching was what girls from the country did: teaching or nursing.

When I graduated, in the early 80s, there were no jobs for teachers at all. There was a recession. I was underemployed for years; did casual teaching, worked in a bank, cleaned houses, did screen printing at a factory, sold photographs in Kings Cross, worked in catering and as a security guard. Then finally I got a job in the public service, at the Royal Australian Mint, in Canberra. When I was there I heard of the Office of the Status of Women and I thought “I want to do that”. I managed to get transferred to Office and I worked there for about eight years. That was, for me, a very big break. Following that I worked in policy and research for all of my career, in a whole lot of different areas in the public service.

It was great. I could work on really interesting things. I really loved it. While I was working, I became aware of how little superannuation women had, so I decided that I would try to make sure that my own retirement income was OK. I always intended to go at 55, when I was allowed to access my super. When I got to 55 I had done 30 years, and that felt like plenty. I felt like a change and I took up a redundancy package.

It wasn’t like I had a big plan about what I was going to do after I retired. Initially I started teaching English to new migrants. Doing environmental weeding. I participated in a refugee action committee. I did repairs and things around the house. I also started on a graduate certificate of environmental science at ANU. However, when I got to uni I found not having a background in science at all was difficult. So I wasn’t enjoying it. I withdrew.

I travelled overseas, and while I was away I found I had a lump in my breast. When we got back, for six months I underwent surgery, chemotherapy, radiation – you know, the whole shebang. Cancer is quite an isolating thing. Your friends are very supportive, but at the end of the day, it’s just you that it’s happening to. You’re the one who sits there having chemo. You’re the one who loses their hair. When I finished radiation I took up a short-term contract to make myself feel a bit normal. I was coming out of work after four or five weeks, and I was thinking “It’s so wonderful to be leaving work in the daylight!” And then I thought to myself, if that’s the best thing I can say about this, why am I here?

‘I’d never done drawing, really. What art I had done, I hadn’t done since I was in high school,’ Barnes says of enrolling in art school.
‘I’d never done drawing, really. What art I had done, I hadn’t done since I was in high school,’ Barnes says of enrolling in art school. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

That’s when I enrolled in CIT [Canberra Institute of Technology] for a certificate IV in visual arts. It was just great. Probably about three-quarters of my class were under 25. I was one of the oldest ones there, and I also had no hair. But it was really, actually, wonderful.

I stayed on at CIT and started the diploma. By the time I completed it I had lots of artwork, so I applied for ANU art school and was offered a place in print and drawing. This year I’m starting honours.

When you leave work you’re usually an expert in whatever you did. Then you start something new and everyone is younger than you, they know more than you do, they’re probably better at risk-taking, I think they’re better educated. It’s easy to feel intimidated. But remember you have skills that you’ll be able to build on.

I had never done printmaking. I’d never done drawing, really. What art I had done, I hadn’t done since I was in high school. Two or three times I had enrolled in night-time art courses, but it was just really difficult. About half of the time I wasn’t able to leave work in time to make the classes. Periodically I’d do a little bit at home, but I didn’t do anything really.

When I was in the public service, you’re writing cabinet submissions and things like that. You might write something, but up the line other people decide what goes in and what goes out. It’s not yours. No matter what you’re working on, it’s public policy and you don’t own it in any way. Art, on the other hand, to borrow an idea from Marxism, it’s like doing “un-alienated labour” – when the product of your labour is the thing you own.

I’ve been in a couple of exhibitions. It’s quite an affirming thing to see your work exhibited. Your friends see it, and that’s really nice. When it’s shown in public, and particularly when it’s been selected to be shown in public, it says that someone else thinks it’s worth looking at.

Art gives me a different place in the world. A different place to look at the world from. When I’m working hard on something it’s pretty much all I think of. It’s very all-consuming. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it, and how I’ll do things.

One of the things it really does give me is a real sense of joy. When I’m making stuff, and I’m hard at it, I feel very joyous.


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The green cleaner: 15 natural ways to spruce up your home – from nettles to rainwater | Life and style

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It was a filthy washing machine that prompted Nancy Birtwhistle to embrace the power of eco-friendly cleaning. “I was nearly at the point where I thought I needed a new washing machine, because it was a disgrace,” she says. “And that’s the sort of culture we’ve become: ‘I’ll replace it.’” Instead, she gave it a thorough clean and switched to homemade detergent. She says her machine no longer gets gunked up from chemical overload.

Birtwhistle, a no-nonsense retired GP practice manager and grandmother of nine, won the fifth series of The Great British Bake Off in 2014, but she has also become known on social media for her green cleaning tips. Once a fan of bleach and strongly perfumed products, she now makes everything herself. “We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that natural products are inferior to synthetic ones. I used to use bicarbonate of soda in the 1970s, but I stopped using it because there were products I thought would do a quicker job, but they’re causing such a lot of damage to the environment.” She has now written a book, Clean & Green: 101 Hints and Tips for a More Eco-friendly Home, which is packed with advice and ingenious tricks. Green cleaning, she says, is “accessible for everybody. I made the point of making it affordable.” Here are a few of her tips to get you started.

Nancy Birtwhistle at home … ‘I made the point of making it affordable.’



Nancy Birtwhistle at home … ‘I made the point of making it affordable.’ Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

Bulk-buy ingredients

Birtwhistle buys her most-used ingredients in bulk – an initial outlay, but money-saving in the long run. Her main ingredients include bicarbonate of soda, “because that’s used a lot”, a big bag of citric acid, a bottle of surgical spirit, sodium carbonate (known as washing soda, which can be a skin and eye irritant) and a bag of sodium percarbonate (known as “oxygen” or “green” bleach; it’s not as toxic as chlorine bleach, though you still have to be careful with it, as you do with all these ingredients, which, while considered acceptable natural cleaning alternatives, aren’t entirely benign. So keep out of the reach of children, wear gloves if needed and follow the safety instructions on the packaging). “And I bought myself a variety pack of essential oils, because I do still like a little bit of perfume in fabric conditioner, or my ironing water.”

Forage for soap

It sounds miraculous, but Birtwhistle swears by ivy as a laundry detergent (about 60g, cut up and put in a muslin bag, then put in the drum). “It excites me so much; my husband thinks I’m crackers. I knew in the depths of my memory something about ivy and saponin [a natural foaming detergent], so I Googled it. Conkers have it as well.” Birtwhistle uses ivy “when I can be bothered to go out and cut some. I’ve got lots of it in the garden.” (Although remember that ivy can be a skin irritant for some people.) In the autumn, she collects conkers and boils them up to create a creamy laundry liquid.

Take water from your water butt for your iron.



Take water from your water butt for your iron. Photograph: EJ-J/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Harvest rainwater

This is what Birtwhistle uses in her iron, rather than buying expensive distilled “ironing water” or using hard tap water, which can fur up an iron with limescale. She takes it from her water butt a litre at a time. “Boil it and, when it’s cold, add two or three drops of lily of the valley essential oil.”

Make an all-purpose cleaner

Birtwhistle’s recipe is 150ml water, 60ml white vinegar and 40ml surgical spirit, with essential oil for fragrance. “I use it pretty much for anything,” she says. “It’s non-streaky and quick-drying. It started off as a kitchen cleaner for worktops, the hob, cupboards, cutting through greasy marks on shelves and things like that. Then I moved it into the bathroom and everywhere else. It’s good for mirrors, glass, inside the car. It’s brilliant for tiles.”

Decrease dry cleaning

The chemicals used at the dry cleaner are notoriously toxic. “When I worked in offices and used to wear suits, I would often send jackets to the cleaner just because the collar was grubby. But all you need is a pad dipped in surgical spirit; it will clean it up without having to use the dry cleaners.”

Bicarbonate of soda and water can work as oven cleaner.



Bicarbonate of soda and water can work as oven cleaner. Photograph: filistimlyanin/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Clean the oven without harsh chemicals

“Start by softening all the burnt-on bits with steam,” says Birtwhistle. Put a large roasting tin in the bottom of the warm oven and fill it with boiling water, close the door and leave it for 20 minutes. A paste made from bicarbonate of soda and water (add some xanthan gum if you want to make it a bit stickier) can then be painted all around with a pastry brush. Leave for 30 minutes, then remove with a scraper and fine wire wool.

Miracle oven-shelf cleaner

A horrible job – and one for which Birtwhistle used to use harsh chemicals in a big plastic bag. There are two methods, she says. “One is to simply put them out on the lawn overnight. The best results I’ve had is to do it when the grass has just been cut, and cover the shelf with grass clippings as well. It creates a sort of steamy environment and then the next day they just wipe clean.” One of her social media followers from South Africa gave her this tip. However, if you don’t have a garden or grass, “submerge them in washing soda overnight”.

Stained casserole dishes

Birtwhistle says she “lived for years and years” with stains on the inside of her cast iron casseroles. “Then it just took a tablespoon of sodium percarbonate and a kettle of boiling water and it was clean.”

Brightening whites

Yellowing fabrics, such as pillow cases, can be transformed, says Birtwhistle. “Put them in a lemon juice or citric acid solution [3tbsp added to 600ml hot water], with salt, and leave to soak. You need a sunny day. Peg them outside – don’t rinse or wring them – and the sun will bleach them.”

Screen clean

A fine mist made with white vinegar and surgical spirit, diluted with water, makes a good screen cleaner, says Birtwhistle: it removes dirty fingerprints and bacteria from keyboards. The vinegar reduces the static cling, she adds, “so it stops your TV collecting dust”.

Citric acid will dissolve limescale and kill germs.



Citric acid will dissolve limescale and kill germs. Photograph: kali9/Getty Images

Deep-clean the loo

Birtwhistle says citric acid will “dissolve limescale and kill germs. When you move away from bleach, you find all these stains appearing, because all you’ve been doing is bleaching them out, but the limescale is still there. Use citric acid to get rid of that.” She makes her own loo cleaner using 200g citric acid and 150ml water, emulsified with a squirt of eco-friendly washing-up liquid. “The only downside is you need to rinse your nozzle afterwards. Otherwise, it does crystallise there.”

Restore shower screens

Marks on glass screens come from “a combination of soap scum and limescale. Make a spray of citric acid and water and it comes off in a jiffy. Make sure you rinse it off, because it dries sticky.”

Banish mould

This will work on mouldy spots on grout, sealant and fridge seals, says Birtwhistle. “Salt and vinegar will kill mould. I keep white vinegar in a spray bottle, so you can get it into awkward places like that. I squirt it, then dip an old toothbrush into ordinary table salt and rub away at it. Once you’ve done that, you could then use a spray of sodium percarbonate if there are any stained bits.”

Conkers … contain natural detergent.



Conkers … contain natural detergent. Photograph: Katie Shires Photography/Getty Images

Remove scuff marks

After a run-in with a rubber parking bollard (“These things happen”), Birtwhistle dabbed some bicarbonate of soda on the mark with a damp cloth and it was as if it had never happened. It also works on walls, skirting boards and appliances.

Home-brew pesticide

Last summer, Birtwhistle had two different sprays to keep bugs at bay. She made one from nettles (60g boiled in 600ml water) and another using rhubarb leaves (500g of leaves in a litre of water). Both also contained clove bud oil, thought to deter insects. “The oxalic acid in rhubarb is a mild poison, so I didn’t use that on my veg,” she says. “I used the nettle spray there and I used the rhubarb spray on non-edible plants.” Both were effective, she says. “I was delighted.”

Clean & Green by Nancy Birtwhistle is published on 21 January by Pan Macmillan (£12.99). To order a copy for £10.39, go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply



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