River City star Sally Howitt on childhood memories of Islay

Lossit Bay, Islay.

Why do you go there?

Amazing and happy memories of halcyon childhood days. Lossit Bay is stunning. We would rush to the water, but it was so cold that you couldn’t really swim in it.

My brother, sister and I would swim in the rock pools which were like wee heated swimming pools. That was too long ago, and I’m determined to revisit it soon. I associate Islay with the summer.

My mum was a teacher, so we would all go there for the holidays. There was no Blackpool for us – we headed to Islay and spent the entire summer which was glorious.

My Auntie Peggy would look after us. She was a fabulous baker and to this day we compare any home baking to hers. We will often say, “Yes, that tablet is nice, but is it as good as Auntie Peggy’s?”

How often do you go?

Not often enough unfortunately because it’s not on my doorstep.

HeraldScotland: River City star Sally Howitt. Picture: Alan Peebles/BBCRiver City star Sally Howitt. Picture: Alan Peebles/BBC

What’s your favourite memory?

My Uncle Neil and Auntie Ann took all of us – my mum, Auntie Peggy, my brother, my sister, me and the two dogs Prince and Toby – to the beach in the back of his van. We had lots of lovely picnic food, buckets, spades, towels and blankets.

We ran along the shore all day and went into rock pools where the sea was lying undisturbed and warm in pockets just big enough for each of us to sit in and swim a bit.

Later, my Uncle Neil built a bonfire from the timber that was washed ashore, and we huddled around it with our towels wrapped around us eating sandwiches and pancakes. Bliss.

What do you take?

Picnic, towels and blankets.

What do you leave behind?

Nothing. We take all our rubbish home with us.

Sum it up in five words?

Beautiful. Dramatic. Unspoiled. Breathtaking. Tranquil.

What other travel spots are on your wish list?

New York. I’d love to visit but haven’t been yet. I want to go to Fifth Avenue, all the jazz clubs, the East Village and the Empire State Building.

With so many films shot in New York, it will be like stepping onto a set. I can imagine Audrey Hepburn popping out for Breakfast At Tiffany’s. I also want to visit Central Park and see how it compares to our beloved Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow.

I have never been to Paris either – I will add that to my list. I don’t have a head for heights which means I will need to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower from the ground looking up. It would be amazing to wander about and enjoy Paris in all its glory.

River City: 20 Year Celebration is on BBC iPlayer from September 24 and will be shown on BBC Scotland on September 26. The River City anniversary special airs on BBC Scotland and BBC iPlayer on September 26

Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell: TV stars on mishaps, mayhem and meltdowns

THERE have been countless times over the past 15 months when Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan feared they may have bitten off more than they could chew.

The isolation. The sky-high run of unexpected expenses that pushed their budget – and sanity – to the limits. The night they slept in shifts as a ferocious Atlantic storm battered the hotel they were painstakingly refurbishing, leaving them sloshing about ankle-deep in water.

Then there was the moment that the Scots TV presenters and interior design duo heard from Channel 5 that the fly-on-the-wall documentary following their progress had a new name.

“The working title was Colin & Justin’s Great Canadian Adventure. Which sounds lovely and very Enid Blyton, doesn’t it?” says McAllister. “It is only when someone says, ‘It is now called Colin & Justin’s Hotel Nightmare’ that you go, ‘Oh …’ because it truly was. Everything that could have gone wrong unfortunately did go wrong.”

The four-part series – which begins tomorrow evening under the (again) revised moniker of Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell – is packed with twists and turns. “Do you know the film The Shining with Jack Nicholson?” asks Ryan. “He went slowly crazy over his tenure at the Overlook Hotel. It was a bit like that.” They both laugh.

First, let’s rewind. In 2021, the couple – known for TV shows such as The Million Pound Property Experiment, Trading Up and How Not to Decorate – bought the former Point of View Suites in Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Their plan: to breathe new life into the rundown hotel complex and turn it into a luxury boutique destination on Canada’s eastern seaboard.

Ryan and McAllister have spent the past decade based in Toronto where they have built a successful TV career hosting rustic renovation series Cabin Pressure and Great Canadian Cottages, as well as publishing a bestselling book, Escapology, and growing their eponymous interior design product line.

Opening a hotel felt like the next step in expanding their property business empire. It was Ryan, 55, who spotted the potential in the dilapidated lodgings.

McAllister, 54, chuckles as he recalls how his partner would spend hours online perusing the estate agent listing and ruminating over every permutation for a full-scale revamp. “I called it his ‘property porn,’” he says. “Justin looked at this hotel every single day for two years.”

Ryan cheerily confirms this summary. “I was obsessed with the hotel,” he says. “I would get up in the morning and look at it on the internet. Every day I would think, ‘What could we do to that? Could this be the dream hotel we have always wanted to run?’”

McAllister needed a bit more convincing about taking on the gargantuan project and upping sticks from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto to the tiny and remote fishing village of Louisbourg (population circa 700).

Billed as “the biggest gamble of their lives”, the pair spent $1 million (£600,000) on buying the hotel, which has 22 bedrooms and six buildings spread across five acres of ocean-facing grounds. Their renovation budget was around £400,000.

Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell captures the excitement and trepidation as they pack up their busy lives in Toronto and head to Louisbourg where a slew of mishaps, mayhem and meltdowns unfold.

It is a white-knuckle ride as the couple contend with structural problems, global supply chain issues and the worst ravages of stormy winter weather. The strain on their relationship – personally and professionally – is a tough watch at times.

As Ryan states in the opening episode: “This isn’t a charity. This is a midlife crisis side hustle that we need to get right. We can’t have a disaster on our hands.”

HeraldScotland: Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell. Picture: Channel 5Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell. Picture: Channel 5

It is a Monday afternoon in early September when their smiling faces pop up on Zoom. The pair sit side-by-side in an airy living space at the hotel. Ryan has laryngitis and should be resting his voice yet is insistent on chatting away alongside McAllister.

They are a consummate double act, each taking it in turns to speak, as the other one occasionally wanders off to check on something or quietly scrolls through incoming messages on their shared mobile phone.

The dream of running a hotel, say Ryan and McAllister, is something they had often talked about over the years, but it wasn’t until the pandemic clipped their wings that they began to give it serious thought.

On paper, it seemed simple: escape and adventure. The reality – as the aptly named Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell will lay bare – would pan out somewhat differently.

“I was desperate to do this,” says Ryan. “It is such a majestic piece of property on a crashing ocean front with amazing views and such scope for potential, but Colin just couldn’t see it. I tried everything to persuade him but couldn’t make it happen.”

In the end, it took an old-fashioned, grand gesture. “I decided to disappear for a day and write him a letter,” says Ryan. “I composed a long letter about my belief in this project. I said, ‘The only way that I am going to be able to convey my positivity and confidence is to consign it to pen and paper.’

“I don’t recall having ever felt as passionate about an adventure or project. Colin and I have been together for such a long time and done so many different things together business-wise, but this was the first time that we hadn’t seen eye to eye.

“It was the nearest that Colin and I have ever come to, not a break-up, but any type of proper hardcore battle. I was obsessed with the hotel, and I couldn’t get Colin to see it, but the letter did the trick.”

Beside him, McAllister takes up the thread. “You have to support your partner,” he says. “Even if you don’t automatically get it or agree. If someone is passionate about something and you are passionate about them, then it is your duty to try and encourage them.

“If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here. It was a bit stressful for Justin because when things went wrong – and a lot of things did go wrong because we were trying to open a hotel in a remote fishing village during a pandemic – he sometimes felt that all the pressure was on him.”

Was there any point that they regretted having the TV cameras following them? “Every day,” exclaims McAllister. “Television is weird because the worse things are, the better the programme. But, at the same time, if you’re having a super s*** day, do you want to share it with other people? Sometimes you want to quietly lick your wounds or have a seethe to yourself.”

The couple have been together since 1985 when they met in a Glasgow nightclub. At the time, Ryan was still at university and McAllister was working for the council. They moved in together a couple of years later, getting their foot on the property ladder with a flat bought for £26,000.

McAllister has fond memories of those early days and how it stoked their creativity. “When we first got together, we didn’t have two beans to rub together,” he says. “Justin and I are great believers in necessity being the mother of invention.

“We bought an apartment in an old warehouse on Miller Street in Glasgow. That apartment had been repossessed by the bank and when we bought it there was no kitchen and whoever had it before had torched part of it.

“We went to skips and second-hand stores. We borrowed things from friends. We pieced it together and turned it into a really nice home. Then we sold it and made some money on it. That kick-started our whole property journey. It was all born out of necessity.”

It is a philosophy they tapped into when global supply chain issues and eye-watering shipping costs threw a spanner in the works during the refurbishment of the hotel.

“We couldn’t get furniture for the dining room, so we found a sawmill, got some great live-edge timber, and made our own furniture,” says McAllister. “Rather than do without, we thought, ‘OK, let’s make it even better by using materials on our doorstep.’”

Was there any stage during the demanding renovations that they worried about doing irreparable damage to their personal or professional relationship?

“I think we both knew we would get through it,” says Ryan. “But it was a huge amount of pressure because we had spent an absolute fortune buying the hotel and had to create a secondary budget to refurbish it.

“Every time we were spending money, the pandemic still wasn’t finished, and we were thinking, ‘Have we done this at the wrong time?’ I am glad that we had the cameras there because had we not had that commitment to finish, I could quite easily have said, ‘OK, let’s take this more slowly …’

“But had I done that, we would have lost our momentum. The whole project put immeasurable pressure on both of us – more than we have ever had before. We were in this tiny bubble through the winter months, where it was just me and Colin going, ‘We have to make it work …’”

HeraldScotland: Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell. Picture: Channel 5Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell. Picture: Channel 5

McAllister echoes this sentiment. “When I look back now, it was probably the most stressful thing we have ever done,” he says. “It was a test of our business sense, and it was a huge test on the strength of our relationship.

“It is super difficult to be in a tiny village of 700 people, working 24/7 with your partner on something that is stressful and there is no escape. There is no-one else to talk to because you don’t have your touchstones, the people you can go to and say, ‘That Justin is driving me bananas today …’ 

“That puts even more pressure on you because there was no downtime and no time for Colin and Justin the couple.”

The isolation of the pandemic felt magnified, adds Ryan. “We were in this microcosm,” he says. “It couldn’t be more remote. It is a seasonal economy and in winter everything goes into hibernation. They say that in places like this there are only two seasons: summer and Netflix.”

That first winter in Atlantic Canada certainly pushed them to their limits. “Normally in winter the hotel would be boarded up because it is on the hurricane path,” says McAllister. “But we didn’t board it up because we were working in it.

“The first huge storm that came, all the doors upstairs, every single one of them gave way, and water came pouring into the rooms down below. We had one night – the most horrific night I have ever had in my entire life – where it was like we had five sick children.

“There were five sliding doors that kept leaking,” he explains. “We would get towels and put them along the bottom of these doors, come down here, go to sleep for an hour, then walk back up in the storm.

“We would put the wet towels in a bucket, put some dry towels down, wring the wet towels out, put them in the dryer and wait for them to dry. An hour later, we would swap them over again. We had to do that for three days.”

Today, they have settled into the rhythm and routine of running a busy hotel. The property – now relaunched as North Star – is coming to the end of its first full season in its new incarnation.

“I felt a full sense of responsibility every time something happened that didn’t go well,” says Ryan. “And I still do. It is not plain sailing yet. We are up and running and the hotel is doing incredibly well. The restaurant has been fully booked almost every single evening.

“The hotel is running at 90 per cent occupancy which is unheard of in normal times, but especially on the tail-end of a pandemic. We started with four staff and now have 20. Now my neurosis is how do we keep it this busy and make sure the business doesn’t lose momentum.”

There is still a rawness apparent as they reflect. What did they learn about each other? “I learned that if your partner says, ‘Let’s buy a hotel’, you run away …” jokes McAllister. “After initially being resistant, I got into the groove of making Justin’s dream come true and got a lot of pleasure from being part of that.

“We had to keep our sense of humour. Even in difficult situations, a problem shared is a problem halved. We were working as a team to make it happen. There were so many curve balls and things we didn’t expect and anticipate that made it a challenge every day.

“But the flipside is there would be these little moments where you would think, ‘OK, wow.’ I remember a wet, wet, wet Sunday, I think in March or April, with icy rain – which was most of the winter here – when we had a delivery of crockery.

“The box was sodden,” he recounts. “It was wet and falling apart. Everything was smashed. There was barely [an intact] piece in there. Water was running down my glasses and nose. I looked at Justin and said, ‘I don’t know if I am supposed to be here.’ I was thinking, ‘It’s too much …’

“Then, at that exact moment, this little hatchback car pulled up and a tiny lady called Dot Blanchard rolled her window down. She said, ‘Hello, the ladies at the United Church and I thought you might need lunch?’

“I said, ‘I am starving, what have you got?’ She replied, ‘Homemade soup and sandwiches.’ I said, ‘You know what, Dot? At this moment, I need something to eat but I actually need a signal from the universe that someone else cares, so thank you.’”

The close-knit community has clearly taken the couple to their hearts. “This little town has gone through so much in the last few years,” says Ryan. “The fishing industry has been compromised. The local school and petrol station closed. The population dwindled. Everyone said that Louisbourg was in trouble.

“I was part of a lovely conversation one day over breakfast with a crowd of locals. One old guy said, ‘Do you know what? We don’t need to worry any more because 2022 was the year that Colin and Justin came.’ It made me shiver when he said it.

“However, that laid the pressure on even more because people had such a massive expectation of us that we would come and fix this town,” he muses. “We couldn’t fix an entire town, but we can certainly help breathe confidence back into it.

“New stuff is happening. Our hotel North Star has opened. Another lovely restaurant called Spoondrift has opened. There is a new art gallery opening. Property is selling faster than it has done in years. People are buying and renovating places.

“You can feel a tangible and palpable sense of future. We can’t take the glory for that, but we can be part of the change.”

Colin & Justin’s Hotel Hell begins on Channel 5 and My5, tomorrow, 9pm

Travel: Discover Glasgow’s newest LGBT-friendly hotel on a mission to boost the city’s gay scene

Part hostel, part boutique hotel, Revolver promises to cater to all budgets. Abi Jackson checks it out.

What does it mean when a hotel describes itself as radically inclusive and LGBT+ friendly? For Revolver – a buzzy new hotel in Scotland’s Glasgow, which opened its doors in August – it means quite a lot.

On a mission to boost the city’s LGBT scene, the hotel sits slap-bang in the heart of the action, above the popular nightclub Polo Lounge, Glasgow’s biggest gay bar – and everything from the art on the walls to the interior design showcases local LGBT talent.

Aiming to appeal to younger travellers and groups of friends on a budget, as well as solo visitors and couples or families with a bit more cash to splash, it’s part hostel, part plush boutique hotel. So, what’s it like?

 

The location

Revolver isn’t just aiming to be part of Glasgow’s LGBT scene – it’s gone and positioned itself right in the middle of it, meaning guests are merely a flight of stairs and a few steps away from prime nightlife hotspots.

Set over two floors with four rooms, Polo Lounge (pologlasgow.co.uk), directly below the hotel, is a bit of an institution, hosting different club nights and events all week long, many with free entry pre-11pm and drinks from £1.50.

Next door, drag and cabaret bar Delmonicas (delmonicas.co.uk) offers a slightly more low-key but equally happening scene – there’s karaoke when we visit on a Saturday night and it’s a blast.

Nightlife aside, the hotel is also just a short walk from Glasgow’s main train stations and ideally located to explore the city’s sights, galleries and museums during the day. For example, the Gallery of Modern Art, GoMA, is just a few streets away and well worth a visit, while George Square, Glasgow’s principle civic square, is a short stroll away.

There are plenty of other bars and restaurants within easy reach too. It’s also a great spot if you’re after some retail therapy, with designer and high-street shops nearby, as well as some great vintage stores and charity shops spread across the city.

 

The style

Famous for its historical architecture, Glasgow is packed with beautiful old buildings, and Revolver breathes new life into the upper floors of Virginia House, a listed property in the Merchant City area.

After an extensive refurb, the resulting vibe is old-school architectural charm meets contemporary cool, with local artists and designers leading the way: Robbie Croker of Glasgow’s Crocker Smith Design helmed the interiors, while works by local up-and-coming queer artist Lewis Quinn feature in the communal areas and bedrooms (our king double has a fun Ab Fab-inspired mural).

Exposed red brick, sumptuous leather seats and dark accents dominate the entryway and lounge/dining area, with neon signs bringing pops of colour and playfulness. Atmospheric enough for date-night drinks or pre-club cocktails with friends, and relaxed enough for settling in with a coffee and your laptop during the day, the team hope Revolver will become a destination for locals and hosted events, as well as guests from further afield.

Decor in the bedrooms is airier and brighter, with leafy plants, pale woods and hints of Scandi cool. Even the dorms are super stylish, with very decent private shower rooms accessed via the corridors. Our en-suite double, meanwhile, is spacious and comfortable, with a roomy bathroom and power shower. Earplugs on the bedside tables are a welcome touch (you are staying above a nightclub, after all!).

 

The deal

Revolver claims to cater for all budgets – a promise it lives up to. There are 88 beds and 40 guest rooms in total, including shared dorm-style rooms (with a choice of either bunkbeds or Japanese-style pods), en-suite doubles, family rooms and serviced apartments, with rates ranging from £25 to £300 per night.

Though not all ready when we visited shortly after opening, there’s also a rooftop terrace, gym, hot tub and sauna, plus treatment rooms offering massages and facials in the works. Guests can also make use of a laundry room, TV and games room, salad and juice bar, alongside menus promising continental breakfasts and street food.

To book, visit revolverhotel.co.uk

Lennie Pennie: I was lucky. I got mental health help. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be here today



IT seems counterintuitive to begin an article by advising you not to read it, but I’m about to discuss some pretty serious things, and if you’d rather avoid the topic of suicide for whatever reason, then I’d advise you to turn the page.

To anyone reading this article who struggles with their mental health, know that the person writing it did so at 3am, because I’m actually having a really tough week, and I’m finding it hard to do basic human tasks like eat regularly and sleep.

I know I’m not the only one struggling with mental illness: the widespread mental health crisis that can be observed across this country and many others is a double-edged sword of solidarity. In 2021 alone in Scotland 753 deaths came as a result of suicide.

We are not alone in our pain, but to think of so many others in such a terrible position does little to ease it: there is both strength and sadness in numbers. The statistics are sobering to say the least: a report published by Public Health Scotland on the 6th of September found that over a quarter of deaths in Scottish young people between the ages of 5-25 happen by suicide. This makes suicide the leading cause of death among young people here.

The rhetoric used in a lot of mental health campaigns centres around telling people to reach out, share how they feel, express themselves and make others aware that they are struggling. This is a great first step, but it is just that – the first in what is often an incredibly frustrating battle to access support.

Telling people to simply get help is not enough; we need to ensure the help they need is actually available for them to access. Reaching out a hand only works if there is someone on the other end to pull you up.

There are numerous barriers people face when dealing with mental health issues; a lack of help should not be one of them. Poor mental health comes as a result of many factors, and it is not only direct support which needs to be readily available to ensure we can reduce these statistics. Things such as affordable housing, paying workers a liveable wage, better investment in the public health service and having a robust welfare system all play a key role in suicide prevention.

The relationship between poverty and suicide cannot be denied; Samaritans states that people living in the most deprived areas are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than those in the least deprived. Creating a stable and safe environment within which people can thrive is an essential step in combatting suicide.

While it is most certainly true that money doesn’t buy you happiness, constant stress over not having it can suck the hope from life and exacerbate many mental health issues. How are people supposed to take time to recover, heal and cope with debilitating symptoms when they cannot afford to take time off work for fear of losing everything?

Young people raised in an environment of poverty and financial uncertainty are disproportionately likely to suffer with poor mental health, as can be seen through a recent BMC Public Health study which found that food insecurity increases the risk of anxiety by 257%, and the risk of depression by 253%.

By looking at suicide as an event, and not a series of events that culminate in tragedy, we are doing our young people a disservice. When I went to the doctor and told them I was having suicidal thoughts, I was given a prescription for anti-depressants, a link to a mindfulness website and sent home without any care information or long-term plan.

I asked about accessing therapy, and was told that waiting lists were long and slow moving. The doctor was incredibly sympathetic, but acknowledged the system was underfunded and oversubscribed. I, like many people across the country, was not in the financial position to fund private therapy, and didn’t think I could hold out for 18 months to be seen on the NHS.

The doctor said it was lucky I was a student, as most universities have at least some kind of mental health help. I can genuinely say that without the help and care I received from the support team at uni, I probably wouldn’t be here.

I was given multiple counsellors over the four years of my degree who were able to help me develop a crisis plan to get myself through suicidal episodes: advice I rely on to this day.

In that time, I had friends and family who, although wonderful and supportive, were not qualified to offer the kind of help that a suicidal person requires. Most of them also struggle with their mental health, and all have had similar struggles to access help. I have since graduated and can no longer access this kind of comprehensive mental health support, which has undoubtedly had a negative impact on me. Maybe if I cancel my Netflix subscription, I’ll be able to access private therapy by the time my grandchildren graduate.

Suicide is not a word that should be avoided: the more discussion and dialogue we can have on the subject, the better. If you have young people in your life, creating a safe space for them to discuss their mental health can make all the difference. Reaching out about suicidal thoughts can be incredibly difficult; the desire to avoid worrying people or being perceived as a burden prevents many people, myself included, from making family and friends aware of mental health issues.

Make yourself a safe person to talk to, and try to ensure your support is unconditional and non-judgemental. I understand it can be incredibly uncomfortable and worrying to hear people discussing suicidal thoughts, but I can promise you that the alternative is a kind of silence that is much harder to endure.





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Hundreds of Scots children diagnosed with malnutrition


Thousands of children have been treated for malnutrion in Scottish hospitals, figures show, promoting concern amid soaring food prices.

Glasgow, where a third of children are estimated to be living in poverty, has seen the highest rates over the past four years.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said there had been 3895 admissions of children under the age of 18 to an acute site for malnutrition from 2018 to 2022.

Figures show numbers soared in 2021, the year after the pandemic broke out, almost doubling from 572 to 1000.

The health board said individual patients may account for more than one hospital admission.

Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.

Under-nutrition can result in low weight-for-height (wasting), a low height-for-age (stunting), or a child being underweight.

Children who are overweight or obese may also be at risk due to poor diet while illness can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

NHS Lothian said all children admitted to hospital  are screened for signs of malnutrition and a score of two or more indicates “significant nutritional risk”.

According to health board figures 928 children were red flagged for dietary support from January 2018 to June of this year. 

NHS Tayside said 186 referrals had been made to paediatric dieticians for “faltering growth” in Dundee, Perth and Kinross over the past three and a half years.

It beggars belief that malnutrition is a reality for a single child in contemporary Scotland

The figures, which were obtained using freedom of information legislation, do not include GP data, where most children at risk of malnutrition would be treated.

HeraldScotland: agencyagency

Dr Lynsay Crawford, who spent more than 20 years working as a GP in Possilpark, one of Glasgow’s poorest areas, said the true figures were likely to be far higher.

She said: “Malnutrition could be caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use/absorb the food you do eat because of an underlying medical condition.

“The figures point to hospital admissions only which may just be the more extreme tip of the iceberg. 

“It would require whoever treated these kids to code them as malnourished on their records and that might not have happened.

“”The majority of kids with poor nutrition would be treated in primary care.”

HeraldScotland: NewsquestNewsquest

John Dickie, Director of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) Scotland, said the figures were of concern given soaring food prices.

He said: “No child in 21st century Scotland should be suffering from malnutrition.

“We know that parents go to extraordinary lengths to protect their children from poverty, often going without meals themselves to feed their children.

“It’s vital that government at every level ensures that no family is left without the resources they need to give their children a healthy diet.”

HeraldScotland: agencyagency

Professor John McKendrick, co-director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) at Glasgow Caledonian University added:

“It beggars belief that malnutrition is a reality for a single child in contemporary Scotland, let alone hundreds. 

“The evidence of malnutrition reinforces the importance of food provided in schools to wider efforts to tackle food poverty in Scotland.”

READ MORE: Truss energy bill freeze ‘poorly targeted’ but ‘inevitable’ says think tank 

It comes as supermarkets are being urged to boost budget ranges as new figures show consumers are paying a record £571 more on average for their groceries than last year.

Grocery price inflation hit 12.4% during the past month, up from last month’s previous record of 11.6%, research firm Kantar reported.

The latest figure means that the average annual grocery bill will increase from £4,610 to £5,181 if consumers do not change the products they buy and how they shop to cut costs.

Categories like milk, butter and dog food are rising particularly quickly, at 31%, 25% and 29% respectively.

Last month a mother of two told how she had been hospitalised for malnutrition twice because she was eating only one meal a day to ensure she could feed her children.

READ MORE: Warning of ‘shattering’ impact of cost-of-living crisis on poorest families 

Kelly Thomson, 43, from Slough in Berkshire, said rising food prices had made it near impossible for her to feed herself as well as her own children.

In Lanarkshire 155 children had the condition recorded on their hospital discharge letter, from January 2018 to March 2022.

The towns of Motherwell and Airdrie recorded the highest numbers..

Neil Gray SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts said: “There has been significant investment by local and national government to address child poverty.

“The Scottish Government’s Child Payment, which is only available here, has been doubled to £20 per week and will soon rise again to £25 as it is further rolled out. 

“Until we get the full powers of independence, we will continue to see Tory policies that increase poverty while we want to do all we can to see the end of child poverty.”

NHS Forth Valley said released the figures could lead to children being identified while Grampian also recorded very small numbers.

Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Western Isles said no children had been treated for malnutrition while Ayrshire and Arran and Fife did not provide data.





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Never had Covid? Why the secret might lie in your genes


AFTER two and a half years of Covid and the evolution of ever-more infectious strains of the virus, it might seem improbable that anyone could have avoided it.

Yet a minority of the population have – and scientists are keen to understand why.

According to YouGov, who have been carrying out a regular coronavirus public attitudes tracker on behalf of the Scottish Government since the beginning of the pandemic, 16 per cent of adults in Scotland believe they “definitely haven’t had” Covid.

This is based on an online survey of 1000 people in Scotland between August 23 and 25, so it is possible that some of these individuals were infected at some point without experiencing any symptoms.

However, it roughly corresponds with similar estimates from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) that around three in 20 people in England (15%) had never had Covid as of July this year.

READ MORE: One in 45 have Covid as Scotland sees infection rate rise again

The most obvious explanation is behavioural: people who are retired or who work from home, for example, are better placed to curtail their contacts than those in working in retail, factory or healthcare-based occupations.

Unsurprisingly then, 27% of retired people in Scotland say they have never had Covid compared to 9% of those working full-time.

Likewise, those most worried about getting Covid are more likely to have reduced their risk through caution. Notably, the YouGov survey found that 31% of over-75s (the highest risk age group) believe they have never had Covid compared to 5% of adults aged 25 to 34.

HeraldScotland: Scientists want to analyse the genomes of unvaccinated people who have been exposed to Covid without becoming infectedScientists want to analyse the genomes of unvaccinated people who have been exposed to Covid without becoming infected

But beyond what the American science magazine Wired described this week as “judicious caution, sheer luck, or a lack of friends”, the much more interesting angle for scientists is to identify those individuals – especially unvaccinated, or pre-vaccinated, individuals – who have almost certainly been exposed to the virus but whose own immune system appears to have batted it off.

The thinking is that these people contain genetic clues to resistance which could be used in future to develop more effective vaccines against infection.

Researchers involved in the Covid Human Genetic Effort (CHGE)- a global network of scientists whose original aim was to discover why some people experience only mild disease and others die from the infection, despite apparently similar health and demographic profiles – have become increasingly intrigued by a small number of people who appear never to have caught it at all despite very clear exposure.

For example, spouses who shared a bed while their partner had a confirmed and symptomatic infection, or healthcare workers repeatedly exposed to Covid positive patients.

In October last year, scientists in the New York arm of the CHGE project issued an appeal via Nature Immunology inviting applications from around the world from people who met a fairly narrow criteria.

READ MORE: Why Covid reinfections could be a bigger problem than expected 

In addition to a negative PCR test and a history of prolonged, unprotected exposure to the virus through household contact with a confirmed case, candidates’ blood would also be analysed.

Only those with no Covid antibodies and a negative T cell response, indicating no prior infection or vaccination, could be included.

To date the study has been inundated with 15,000 applications, but only around 800 to 1000 ticked the necessary boxes. Many more fell by the wayside as the ultra-transmissible Omicron wave took off.

On the plus side, the scientists believe that those who continued to remain so-called “Covid virgins” at a time when many others were experiencing their second, third or even fourth bouts of the infection lend credence to the theory of some sort innate, gene-based immunity.

HeraldScotland: Participants will be tested for signs of antibodies and T cellsParticipants will be tested for signs of antibodies and T cells

In Ireland, scientists at Trinity College who are also taking part in CHGE, lost around half their recruits – healthcare workers at a Dublin hospital – once Omicron struck, but bolstered their pool of potential candidates following a national appeal which attracted 16,000 applicants.

The team hopes to extract 100 to 200 suitable candidates from this cohort before carrying out a genetic analysis: first to identify any recurring mutations among participants which might be important, and secondly to cross-reference their genomes against an existing list of genes associated with immunity and resistance.

The process, which will be repeated in dozens of participating labs worldwide, will take around four to six months with the expectation that – in the end – the number of people genuinely naturally resistant to Covid will be rare.

READ MORE: The Edinburgh scientists unravelling why some people are more likely to get sepsis than others 

Nonetheless, the phenomenon is neither new nor unique to Covid.

In 1999, a biochemist in North Carolina, Zheng Cui, discovered a mouse so genetically-resistant to cancer that even when he injected it with a million times the normal lethal dose of cancer cells, it survived. A mutation in its DNA coded for white blood cells capable of destroying a tumour at the earliest stage.

When he extracted and transferred these white blood cells into rodents from the same species, but without this mutation, they too became resistant.

Furthermore, when Cui sampled human volunteers he found that 10-15% had similar “super cancer-fighting” white blood cells, potentially explaining why some people never get the disease.

More recently, Cui has been working to develop a bank of cancer-killing granulocytes – a type of white blood cell – as a potential cure for pancreatic cancer.

HeraldScotland: At one point, as many as one in 11 people in Scotland were estimated to be infected with Covid - yet some have still never been infected at allAt one point, as many as one in 11 people in Scotland were estimated to be infected with Covid – yet some have still never been infected at all

HIV therapies have already been developed off the back of genetic anomalies: in the 1990s, a group of sex workers in Nairobi, Kenya who had inexplicably swerved the virus were found to share a genetic mutation which meant that their bodies produced an abnormal version of a protein called CCR5, which HIV relies on to latch onto human cells and replicate.

Carriers of this mutation can effectively “block” the infection and, most significantly, when two HIV-positive patients received stem cell transplants from donors with this mutation they too became HIV free.

It remains to be seen, but our own DNA might also contain a cure for Covid.





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Issue of the day: Coffey’s distaste for the Oxford comma



SOME say they are useful, aesthetic, methodical, and help sentences be understood. Did you notice the Oxford comma in that opening line? Well, do not tell the new health minister as it transpires she cannot abide them.

Isn’t she busy with other matters?

The new UK health secretary, Therese Coffey, has only been in the post a matter of days and amid the many creaking floorboards in the NHS, she has focused first on punctuation. In new guidance issued to health staff in an email, she advised them to “be precise”, “be positive”, avoid using policy “jargon” and come what may, avoid the Oxford comma.

 

Remind me…?

The comma in question falls before the last item on a written list – one, two, and three rather than one, two and three – and is also known as a ‘serial’ comma. Opinion varies widely on the use of the punctuation that some say introduces ambiguity, while others say it tightens sentences up. And it likely does indeed come down to personal preference.

 

Coffey’s preference…

…is that it’s a big no-no. According to an article in the Financial Times, she issued guidance under the heading “New Secretary of State Ways of Working Preferences”, with the document put on the Department of Health’s intranet and also forwarded to the UK Health Security Agency. A senior public health official told the paper staff would see the Oxford comma reference as “extremely patronising”, although officials later claimed the document was put together without Coffey’s involvement.

 

However?

Trawling back through her social media reveal she does indeed have a distaste for the little punctuation mark, writing in 2011 she “cannot bear it” and in 2013 saying, “I abhor the Oxford comma and refuse to use it” before adding in 2015 that it was “one of my pet hates”.

 

What do officials say?

A department source said the document was victim to “a bit of over eagerness”. Meanwhile, a UKHSA spokesperson said: “UKHSA does not comment on leaked emails or briefings. We value enormously all our hard-working colleagues who work tirelessly to make our nation’s health secure.”

 

It is controversial?

Its use – or non-usage – sparks debate. The University of Oxford’s own style guide gives as an example, “Note that there is no comma between the penultimate item in a list and/or unless required to prevent ambiguity. However, always insert a comma in this position if it would help prevent confusion”. Examples include, “She left her money to her parents, Mother Theresa and the pope”, pointing out that a comma after “Theresa” would make the sentence clear.

 

And what’s the reaction been?

If anything, it lightened what has been a sombre period for many on their social media feeds, with one Twitter user saying: “So it’s the Oxford comma that has caused all the problems in the NHS…” To point out the benefits of an Oxford comma, another joked: “I love my parents, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Therese Coffey.”





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