Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Lousy Lung Club

(As this blog has been filling up with a lot of work stuff I've decided to open a new blog just for journalism which is here. )

And now for the post itself - Once a month a group of friends and I get together for a meal. It started just over a year ago, when my Swedish friend and I got together with one of my other mates. Then I invited another friend. Then another friend came along: her partner was ill and we thought she might like a bit of company.

That friend lost her partner just over a year ago. We had a meal the night of his funeral – she wasn't there but there was a surreal air to the evening. We drank too much but it was a strangely happy time and I felt blessed to have such good friends.
It was reassuring, like a close family.

More than a year on, I noticed that the dynamics change regularly. One of us who was newly divorced has a new man. For the two who are single, other men have come and gone (in every sense of the word). A new man in the offing for one but of course with Complications.

None of these women knew each other before I introduced them, and as someone who prefers meeting one-to-one, this was quite a new thing for me. I felt out of my comfort zone at first, but each time we meet it gets easier as the talk flows and ebbs like the tide. It's interesting to see how friendship shifts and grows, like a plant putting out feelers, winding round each and every one of us.

Something that three of them have in common is Lousy Lungs. So as Himself has been suffering of late, Nik suggested that he should come along as Honorary Girl. A notion that was loudly approved of by the others, I'm glad to say.

He refused, but the other night his health was discussed at length. I hadn't realised quite how much support we (he and I) have, and I am most profoundly grateful. It means more than I can possibly describe and gives me a warm, snuggly feeling, like an inner duvet, or that old Ready Brek glow.

The friend who lost her partner said to me one day that she has taken his advice and now takes each day at a time. And while I'm worried over Himself's health, I've discovered this is a really good way to try and be. In amidst all the What Ifs that the brain is so good at coming up with, there are moments of intense happiness that I treasure all the more.

So here's to all members of the Lousy Lung Club – of both sexes. What would I do without you?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Ten Pin Bowling

I'd naively thought that ten pin bowling would be really easy. Easy? Hah! But great fun..... Cornwall Today March 2010

2010 marks the 50th anniversary of ten pin bowling being played commercially in Great Britain. So it seemed fitting that, being very slightly over 50, I should have my first go at the game. After all, it couldn't be that difficult – could it?

Richard Harris, 45 has been General Manager of Ocean Bowl in Falmouth since it opened in 2002.
“I've bowled for the county, managed and captained the county team and played in various competitions,” he said in his quiet, unassuming voice. “It's an active sport, it's energetic and sociable. Because it's indoors you can play in any weather.” And judging by the bar next door, you could have a drink as well. Sounded good to me.

Richard undertook teacher training which helped him improve his game, and he is now qualified to teach beginnners and intermediate players. Looking around, the players varied a lot. Richard smiled: “Yes, we get all ages, from 5-80, though there are roughly 60% men to 40% women. Ten ten pin bowling attracts all kinds of people. We get children's parties, corporate events – staff events and bonding sessions,” he told me. “The Navy also come from Culdrose for sports events.” There are also various leagues for those that wish to play competitively, and 'roll offs' for selection of the county team.

But as I was having a lesson, first of all I had to change my shoes. “You have to wear special shoes but that's included in the price,” Richard explained as he kitted me out with a pair of rather fetching red, white and blue lace up shoes. “They're smooth so you can slide into a shot.” I had no idea what he was talking about but it sounded good and I had visions of myself expertly bowling the perfect shot.

I asked him about the lanes. “There are 12 wooden lanes, 60 foot from the foul line to the head pin. The lanes are made of pine and mahogany which is about six layers thick,” he explained. I watched other people having a go, and wondered why it was so popular. Richard smiled. “People can get addicted,” he said. “Particularly when you start scoring – you have to to score higher each time.” I nodded, though I couldn't imagine it.

But I had no time to think about addiction, as the lesson started in earnest. First Richard showed me the balls. “These vary in weight from 6-16lbs and you measure the ball by hand spec and weight,” he told me. He chose a large red number for me weighing 10lbs which seemed incredibly heavy, but “the heavier the ball the more pin reaction you get.” He showed me how to hold the ball: “Middle and ring fingers in the top holes and thumb in the lower hole. If you can hold it comfortably for 10 seconds it's about the right weight.” It wasn't exactly comfortable, but I persevered.

“You have to think of the ball as a clock face and your thumb at 12 o'clock. You want to release the ball with the thumb between 10 and 11 and the fingers between 4 and 5.” Richard could obviously see the completely blank expression on my face and explained further. “As you're right handed, the ball is released anticlockwise and that gives a hook which means the ball comes in at an angle which will knock more pins down.”

It sounded all right, but now to do it? Richard talked me through it, making it look incredibly easy. “The way to release the ball is either to think of shaking hands with somebody or having a drink if that's easier to learn. Then your arm comes up in a follow through which gives more rotation on the ball. Keep your shoulders level and parallel to the foul lane.”

My head was buzzing, but we then learned about where to stand. “The approach is the part leading up to the lanes, and there are markers on the approach to help you remember where to stand,” said Richard, “and wooden arrows on the lanes – you need to aim for the second on the right rather than the actual pins.”

All this and I hadn't even taken a shot. But that was next. Richard had me kneeling (hard on the poor knees on a wooden floor) with my left foot forward. “The left arm is out for balance, now swing the ball back and release it forward with the thumb at 10 or 11 o'clock. Aim for the second arrow, and don't forget the follow through.” Getting the hang of this 10 or 11 o'clock business was a lot harder than it sounded. Next we tried the one step drill, standing up. “The left knee has to be bent, and you slide into the shot with the right foot skewed behind to keep balance.” I also had to remember what to do with my hands and feet. How could I remember all that?

That, it turns out, was a mere warm up. Now for the four step approach. “Take four steps back and a half step, then pivot round on your toes and that's the distance you need to be from the foul line,” said Richard. “Get the stance: stand straight, feet parallel, and hold the ball in both hands, cradling it. Weight on the left foot, step on the right foot, holding the ball in both hands, extend the right arm, let go of the ball with the left hand which comes out to the left, at shoulder height, facing the lanes.” He'd lost me already, but I had a go. “With the second step, swing the ball forwards, then back, then the last step slides forward into letting go of the ball, and the right foot goes behind and across the left one to balance.” Richard executed the perfect shot, moving like a dancer from Ballet Rambert. When I tried I just lost my balance. And don't ask me where the ball went.

But I was determined to have another go – and another. And another. Waiting for my ball to return I glanced across at several teenagers playing with gusto, like true professionals. They played so fast, though Richard said I was probably bowling at about 15mph. It felt like 5mph – a granny version of the game.

After an hour and a half I had to leave, but I was glowing. Even if you're as bad as me, the temptation is just to have one more shot......

Ten pin bowling is believed to date back to the Egyptian Pharoahs, but the first written reference dates back to 1366 when King Edward III banned the game, fearing it would interfere with archery practice. A painting from around 1810 shows British bowlers playing the sport outdoors, with a triangular formation of ten pins.

Glossary of terms
Strike - When all 10 pins are knocked down with one ball. You get 10 points for these pins, plus the points of the next 2 balls thrown.
Spare - All 10 pins are knocked down with 2 consecutive balls. You get 10 points for this plus the points of the pins that the next ball knocks down.
Game - A game consists of 10 frames (or turns) per person.
Frame - A frame is one turn.
Foul Line - The black line at the start of the lane.
Foul - You will receive a foul if you step over the foul line.
A Double – When you get 2 strikes in a row.
A Turkey – If you get 3 strikes in a row.
Gutter – The sections either side of the lane where the ball ends up if they come off the lane or you miss.

Ocean Bowl, Pendennis Rise, Falmouth TR11 4LT
01326 313130
Open 11am-11pm, 7 days a week
Prices start from £3.50 per game

The Gramophone Man

A retired Chemistry teacher has become a gramophone specialist

John Sleep has been collecting vintage gramophones, phonographs and records at his workshop in Crantock, near Newquay since he retired in 1993 and now has a collection which dates back over 100 years. “It fascinates me to sell things,” he says. “I just find it great fun to buy something, repair it and sell it to some one who enjoys it. That's a great thrill.”

John is one of the few people in the country, and the only person in the West Country, to specialise in such things. “Whether you want to buy or sell, or have your machine properly restored, I can help,” he says. He also supplies records, cylinders, and new needles of various types. “The things I buy nearly always need work and I sell them with a guarantee,” says the ex-teacher now known as The Gramophone Man.

In 1993 John's life took a turn for the unexpected. “I was trained as a carpenter so when I retired I started repairing antiques for people – chairs mainly,” he explains. “I happened on a gramophone which I took to pieces and found out that it was quite simple – I don't like things being thrown away, so it was absolutely right for me because I can always get them to work.” From then on John cornered the market. “I don't advertise it very much because it's been unexpectedly busy so I've had to become self employed again!”

John used to buy from collectors' fairs but has found that expensive and time consuming, so now he mostly buys from auctions and on the internet. “The best thing is if I can find a collection of someone's who's died. Then I can perhaps buy a dozen at a time and that keeps me going for a while.” He gives a slow smile. “I've just tallied up and I've bought 1600 gramophones since I started which is a lot really. And that doesn't count the ones I've repaired.”

Having built up a reputation, John now buys increasingly to order. “I've got two or three regular collectors who want certain things, and that's very different from buying casually and hoping you're going to sell – that's a very chancy business.”

John also has a huge record collection that he sells on request. “I've got about 20,000 records dotted round in various people's garages because you never know what people are going to ask for,” he says. “I've just had an order to go to Ireland for the Four Tenors which is unusual – I don't normally keep them.” He points at the extensive collection, neatly labelled, in his workshop. “People are rediscovering records at the moment and they always like 1920s sound and Rock 'n Roll and comedy, music hall, monologues.” But the generations rediscovering this music never heard it first time round. “They've never heard of 78s which is what all of these are. A lot hasn't been transcribed onto modern format but the quality's pretty good.”

John undertakes a lot of repairs that need intricate work. “A gramophone that arrived today will involve new springs, cleaning the motor, and replacing the rubber in the diaphragm inside the sound box.” He also sells a lot of needles overseas. “Almost every day I'll send packets of needles – I've just sent a thousand to New Zealand today.”

Inside the house, John's studio is packed with different phonographs, gramophones and hundreds of books. “There are four types of gramophone,” he explains. “The portable, the table model, the cabinet and the elaborate horn ones.” He then proceeds to illustrate this. “ The sound is the vibration on the record - the sound goes up the horn, and the bigger the horn the louder it will be.”

One horn is so huge it extends the length of the workshop, like a witch's hat. “After the first horn gramophones, they started to make them more compact so the horn is folded back inside,” he explains. “Then you have cabinet sorts, and because people wanted to carry them round for picnics, there are the portable ones.” In the First World War portable gramophones were taken to the trenches to keep spirits up. “That one over there's called the Trench,” he says. “There was a famous advert of one with bullet holes through it.”

But the most popular is the last portable HMV model before they became electrical. “This one's worth £120 but it's not in fantastic condition.” He opens it up and selects a needle to start playing a record. “You change the needles frequently and that needle picks up the vibration in the groove. Everything comes from the soundbox – that's where the music is generated.”

John points to a gramophone by the wall. “This is a genuine HMV before it was called HMV. It was called the Gramophone company, and for a brief spell they were known as the Gramophone and Typewriter Company because they started the typewriter business thinking that gramophones wouldn't last. So this one's called a G & T and the scroll work makes it quite special.”

The prices vary hugely. “There are a huge number of machines made in the 1920s that were often imported and don't have proper names,” John explains. “They're perfectly functional but non-descript; you could buy those for a tenner and wouldn't get much more than £30 or £40 if you tried to sell them. Those are the least attractive. The ones I like most are the Senior Monarch,” he adds. “They're worth about £2,000 which isn't the most expensive but they are the most stylish. You tend to spend money on things which are historically valuable – an original Trademark would be £10,000, not for how it plays but for its historical importance.” He smiles. “It's very exciting when you find something special.”

As a musician, it's important to John that these lovely gramophones are in working order. But his buyers don't always agree. “One of the best I ever had – a Monarch - went to a lady who I knew would use it for decorative purposes: not what it was made for. But she was delighted.”

But however much he might enjoy a particular model, John isn't in a position to become sentimental. “I can't afford to keep them!” he says practically. “Though I'm always interested in miniature ones – if I had a speciality that would be it. But if I find a nice one cheaply I can afford to keep it.”

Looking ahead, John is determined to enjoy his work for as long as he can. “I should think I'd go on for another 5 or 6 years,” he says. “As long as I can travel around and find the items and am able to do the fine work. There's a lot of very fiddly work involved in the repairs, and arthritis is beginning to play a part unfortunately which restricts what I can do a bit.”

He strokes his red setter, snuggled up to him on the sofa. “I'm very glad I found this job,” he says thoughtfully. “It's very mind exercising and interesting. You build up an interesting network of people who help each other out. There are the same organisations here and abroad and I use them all. Without that network I couldn't do what I do.”

John Sleep, Stoke House, West Pentire, Crantock, TR8 5SE.
01637 830 415
07979 097 389

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A stormy Career

I was fortunate enough to meet David Barnicoat, one of Falmouth's harbour pilots, for what turned out to be a heartwarming meeting. It's wonderful to find someone who really loves what they do. In March Cornwall Today.

David Barnicoat has a refreshing attitude to his career. “I don't honestly think I've done a day's work since I left school!” he says. “It's been one fantastic hobby.” He shares this “hobby” on BBC Radio Cornwall's breakfast show on Wednesday mornings, and in his weekly column in the Falmouth Packet.

David is the only ex-Trinity House pilot still working in Falmouth. The safety of shipping, and the well being of seafarers, have been the prime concerns since Trinity House was granted a Charter by Henry VIII in 1514. In 1809 Falmouth became a Trinity House Outport, a status which it held until the de-regulation of Pilotage in 1988 when Falmouth Harbour Commissioners took over its administration.

“I'm possibly the only former Trinity House pilot working in Cornwall,” David says. “There aren't many of us left in the UK, but we remain fiercely proud of our deep-seated historic ties with Trinity House and always will.”

David was born and brought up in Falmouth. “I grew up on the harbourside and from the age of 5 I wanted to be a pilot because of my father,” he says. “He was a Tug Master and then became Assistant Dock Master, so when I was 7 or 8 I would go out with him. He taught me a lot.”

David's training involved 15 years at sea. “In order to become a Falmouth pilot you need to hold a Master Mariners Foreign Going Certificate of Competency. This involved a lot of study, gaining vital sea time and watch keeping experience. When I became a trainee pilot I had to work three months without pay learning the ropes,” he explains. “I did 4 years cadetship with the Blue Star Line of London and served with them till I came ashore, working in refrigerated cargo vessels, heavy-lift ships and container vessels.

David decided to become a pilot rather than stay at sea for several reasons. “I'd always wanted to be a pilot in my home port. Also, in the late 1970s you could see the demise of British shipping with a large number of foreign seamen being employed and I didn't want to sail with a non-British crew for the rest of my life.”

How does he manage now as a pilot, communicating with foreign crews on ships? He grins. “Most crews speak fairly good English but you can usually get through with a bit of Anglo-Saxon Merchant Navy language! I know the helm and engine orders in Russian, but we speak English all of the time.”

He is one of six pilots in Falmouth who are all self employed. “We go on 12 hour watches – from 8am-8pm or 8pm-8am but we have long rest periods which are strictly adhered to for Health & Safety reasons,” he explains. “Falmouth Harbour Office is the operational control centre for pilotage, but when a ship radios in for a pilot we can be called at home: as long as we are within one hour of the port.”

The job involves piloting ships into the bay, the harbour, into the docks, up the River Fal to Truro and to the stone quarry at Porthoustock on the Lizard Peninsula, but the work has changed over the years.

“When I first became a pilot we used to take ships to Penryn, little tankers to Coastlines Wharf, and to Dean Quarry on the Lizard,” he says. “But now there's nothing going to Penryn, Coastlines, or Dean Quarry, and the River Fal lay-up berths aren't as active as they used to be in the 1980s although there are 9 ships laid-up there now due to the recession.”

A few ships are still piloted to Truro every month, but Falmouth docks have changed. “They are geared more towards Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Ministry of Defence contracts, but they work on other vessels and we have the 24 hour bunkering operation now.”

The weather plays a vital part in a pilot's work, but David says it has to be “very bad” before they are prevented from bringing a ship into port. “It depends on the type and size of ship and where it's going: it's nothing you can quantify. A risk assessment is undertaken for each ship, which involves detailed paperwork.

“Everything now is regulated. Safety and the Environment are the two main words imprinted on a pilot's brain,” he says with a grimace. “I hate paperwork – and 'jobsworth' people with no experience who make stupid decisions.”

David has piloted many well known ships including the Royal Yacht Britannia on two occasions, but he loves a challenge. “I like the difficult jobs like the 100,000 tonners brought in and put on Duchy Wharf. It gets the adrenaline going and afterwards you have a great satisfaction.”

Shipping casualties can be exciting, such as the Egyptian factory ship Baltim, that went aground at the entrance to Helford, back in the 1980s. “It was quite rough with a heavy easterly swell and as the pilot boat came in, I leapt onto the pilot ladder to get aboard. Baltim was banging on the rocks but after about 45 minutes there was a big swell and I managed to get her off,” David says cheerfully.

Doesn't he get nervous? “When things start to go wrong you do get concerned but the worst thing you can do is panic,” David explains. “You have to look at the situation logically, make a decision, and stick by it. If you panic, everything compounds very quickly.”

The Falmouth pilots are responsible for piloting all the cruise ships in and out of the harbour. “We will have 30 this year which means about 30,000 passengers arriving in Falmouth; many go to tourist destinations around Cornwall, which is very good for the economy.” Then there is the much publicised proposed dredging of Falmouth Harbour. “The pilots are kept well briefed by the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners. We're hoping for some good news; this would be a massive boost for Falmouth and West Cornwall.”

It isn't just a love of the sea that inspires David: he has concerns for the welfare of seafarers, too. He likes to visit ships in port at Christmas with Mission to Seafarers volunteers to deliver presents to the crews. “The Mission do a marvelous job, throughout the year” he says quietly.

Thinking ahead, what has David planned for the future? “I don't want to retire (at 65) but the day is coming, so I'm trying to channel my interests elsewhere. I'm like one of my mentors, the late Peter Gilson - I'd like to continue researching local and maritime history,” he says firmly, “and leave my huge photographic collection for generations to follow.”

David is also a talented photographer, though he is too modest to admit this. He has also written a book about the shipping of the Port of Falmouth and the Pilotage service and “I'm going to write another one but I'm not sure of the subject yet!” He smiles thoughtfully. “I'd like to travel too – back to my old haunts down in Australia and New Zealand.”

David's enthusiasm shines through, and it is a joy to meet someone who loves their work as he does. “I have more passion for the job now than when I started over 30 years ago,” he says quietly. “I just love the sea and ships. It's been a great honour and immense privilege to have served as a pilot in the Port of Falmouth, a port I love with all of heart. It's my life, really.”

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Safe Harbours and Holidays

Fowey has long been a kind of panacea for me. I lived there twenty years ago having been made redundant in London and unable to get any work there. Unfortunately there was hardly any work in Cornwall either so I had to eventually go elsewhere for work, but the place has always kept a stronghold on my heart. And my local pub, which we stayed almost next door to last week, was aptly named the Safe Harbour.

I wasn't sure about a week there – Himself might get bored as he wasn't well enough to do much – but I can't believe how lucky we were. The weather was fabulous, my friends Deb and Richard stayed for 2 nights and we had great walks, meals and drinks. Then my mum came to stay for another couple of nights, and the last 2 days we spent with our friends from Devon who were staying in the pub at Bodinnick. They're great walkers, so we did two 8 mile walks on Wednesday and Thursday in perfect sunshine. My idea of bliss.

We also, with their help, got the inflatable boat out on Thursday morning. This is named EGO (as in inflated ego) – you can blame our Penzance cousins for that. The wind went down enough for us to enjoy an hour on the river up to Mixtow then round to Penpol, and Himself so enjoyed that, it was wonderful to see his happy smiling face.

There were several down days while we were away (health issues) but the week away really made me realise several things - how important my friends are (thanks to those of you who emailed saying Welcome Back!).

This week also made me even more aware how important good health is.

It was the first time for ages I'd really pushed myself beyond my comfort zone physically – and I loved it! Those walks with John and Annie will stay with me for a long time.

And lastly, I know that Fowey will always be somewhere I can go in times of need – to have wonderful times with friends, and also to restore myself. My own Safe Harbour.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Award and Canine Bowen Therapy

Debs has kindly passed on this award to me. There are a few rules that come attached to it:
1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers.
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners.
Got that?
Well, rather than choose, I nominate the next seven people who comment on this post - I'm frantically trying to get everything done before we go on holiday on Friday so excuse my cheating. Will be back in about 10 days time.

And I leave you with a piece about Canine Bowen Therapy, a little known treatment available to all our doggie friends. In March Cornwall Today.


Many people in Cornwall combine several jobs, but it's refreshing to find someone who really enjoys several very different careers. Frances Carter, 47, has run the Hibiscus (women's) Surf School in Newquay for the past 7 years, has been a complementary therapist for the past 25 years and is a lecturer at Truro College. “I'm a sports therapist,” she says cheerfully, as she sits on her kitchen floor making friends with Mollie Dog. “I treat animals and humans, and I teach complementary therapy on the Foundation Degree course. I do the surfing in the daytime and the rest in the evenings.”
While combining complementary therapy and surfing might seem a strange combination to some, for Frances it makes perfect sense. “Surfing is one of my passions and complementary therapy the other, so that's where the balance comes in.”
Frances trained as a human Bowen therapist and became interested in using these techniques to help animals. “I used to do complementary therapy on my dog and I've often thought that dogs are much more in tune with their own bodies than humans are, so that makes you more in tune as well,” she explains.
The Canine Bowen Technique is one of the fastest growing complementary therapies in Britain, based on the principles of the Bowen Technique developed by Australian Tom Bowen (1916 – 1982). Its adaption in the UK for use on dogs was started in 2001 by Bowen therapists Sally and Ron Askew, who integrated it into their own dog behavioral and rehabilitation work. In 2003 they founded the European Guild of Canine Bowen Therapists and designed a professional programme of training.
“My training took just over a year and covered five modules,” says Frances. “Anatomy and physiology (taught by a vet), nutrition, behaviourism and dog psychology, and throughout we were learning the actual techniques, with an exam at the end. I've also done an OCN level in Companion Animal First Aid which was taught by a local vet, and I'm fully insured.”
For any vets uncertain of her qualifications, Frances is quick to reassure. “Canine Bowen therapy is regarded as manipulative therapy covered by the Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962 of the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act, allowing qualified practitioners to work on animals who have been referred by the animal's vet,” she says.
She also points out that Bowen works in conjunction with, never as an alternative to, proper veterinary care. “All dogs must be thoroughly checked over by their vet, and get their vet's written approval prior to starting a Bowen session,” she says firmly. “I am not a vet, so I would never diagnose an animal, nor would I ever prescribe or alter any medication. This is purely a complementary therapy which has been deemed by vets to help dogs.”
While some vets are unsure about Bowen Therapy, Frances worked very closely with her local surgery. “I've got a really good relationship with my vet who's supported me 100% ,” she says. “We've also written a first aid course together.”
At first her vet didn't understand how Bowen works, so Frances had a practical solution. “I treated his dogs and then I did him because he didn't understand why one minute his dog was a snappy terrier and the next minute was asleep in its cage! After treatment he had a much better understanding of how the dogs felt.”
Bowen therapy is an holistic therapy “which means we do a thorough observation looking at the dog's daily life, background, medical history, diet, exercise profile and how it's handled,” Frances explains. “A dog may be brought in with, say, rear-leg lameness, but I may well treat other parts of the body as well, such as the front-legs, in order to sort out other possible problem areas caused as a result of the dog compensating for the problem.”

The actual hands on therapy is a very light touch in specific places that's adapted from the human Bowen Technique. “We know that there are millions of sensory nerve endings on the skin and these light touches send a disruption through the central nervous system that can help the body rebalance itself,”she adds.

The benefits are many and various. “It can help encourage a greater range of movement,” Frances says. “It can also help a dog be pain free or at least reduce pain.” She has treated dogs for all kinds of problems, from ear infections to hip displasia and even tennis elbow! “Ear infections are usually due to an imbalance in the immune system,” she explains. “I've also treated re-homed dogs from the RSPCA – if they come from kennels and suddenly go into a home environment then the dog can have a lot of problems, particularly if there' s already a dog in the household. If a dog is highly stressed, Bowen can give it better quality rest because it makes them very relaxed.”
She has found that dogs seem to know instinctively where they need to be treated and when they've had enough. “When a dog's had a treatment and they trust you, they often come back and give you a paw or whichever part of the body they want done!” she says. “As humans, we're told what's the matter with our bodies – dogs have no preconceptions, so they're much more in tune with their bodies, as we were hundreds of years ago.”
A session usually lasts about 45 minutes, though the hands-on treatment usually takes around 20 minutes. Before the session, Frances needs a signed veterinary referral form, and will ask for a detailed medical form to be filled in. “I like to know everything about the dog because sometimes when owners fill the form in they often realise other factors that might contribute to the dog's condition,” she explains. This information helps monitor changes between treatments and gauge how the dog is progressing. Therapy is not forced upon the dog, and the dog is not restricted at any time during the treatment.
An initial session costs £25 for the first session and £20 for sessions thereafter; travel charges are 30p per return mile after 15 miles. The number of sessions needed depends on the dog and its reaction to the treatment. “With some dogs you see a change in the first session,” Frances says. “Usually you see some sort of change in the second or third treatment, but it's never a cure; it's aimed at helping the dog in the way it needs.”
Seeing how Mollie reacts with Frances, it's evident that animals trust her, which makes her work very rewarding. “I love working with animals more than humans because you see such dramatic effects and it's lovely when you can help the dog,” she says. But she also finds working alongside a vet very interesting. “My vet said that we pick up so much more than they can during a consultation because they only have a few minutes with the client,” she says. “I always write a report back to the vet after a treatment so the vet can see what I've found and that can change the way he treats the animal.”
Frances has been working with dogs and horses for over 28 years and has competed with both at championship level: she shows her own Newfoundland, Douglas, at Crufts. “Equine Bowen therapy is much more established because of racehorse owners and stud farms,” she says. “More and more vets are coming on board and scientific research is being carried out on the human Bowen technique, so hopefully it will eventually be more widely recognised.”.
And looking ahead? Frances smiles at her huge Newfoundland, Douglas, making friends with diminutive Mollie. “I would like to see Canine Bowen Therapy available at vets as a complementary therapy to help the likes of firework fear,” she says. “Personally, I aim to continue improving my knowledge and skills in both human and canine therapies.”

01637 879374 or 07810 6428981