Fledgling baby Navy Pussers at HMS PEMBROKE.

We were endlessly teased about being on the Long Sec’s Course (its all in the name).  Held at the old naval shore establishment, HMS PEMBROKE, near Chatham, it aimed to equip us to be Secretaries in other establishments (for the WRNS officers) and at sea (for the men).Formal photo with two rows of young naval officers in uniform

But please don’t go thinking that this was all about typing and shorthand – it was much more concerned with the breadth of running the non-fighting aspects of a Royal Navy organisation: some basic personnel and legal matters, security, document control and administration, catering and finance.  It was the first step in becoming a “Pusser” -naval slang for a purser – a branch that has now morphed in to Logistics.

As a course, we had to march around the parade ground with disastrous results as one of the men simply couldn’t keep in step.  I’d forgotten about the camping trip when another still kept to his bow tie and monocle while we girls still accessorised for the country.  It sounds a bit Bertie Wooster after all these years!

Penny in blouse and natty scarf with male colleague in full jacket, bow tie and monacleWriting this, I have so little memory of the course but more about the dramas.  We did have to manage a full scale fire evacuation exercise of Wrens Quarters in the middle of the night – lots of very disgruntled girls freezing in nighties and slippers.  The social side had its highlights too: a night the chaps lifted a piano in to the night bar, utterly fatal drinking games, one of the girls chasing the Irish doctor down a corridor wielding a stiletto-heeled shoe, the mornings after … And we had a wonderful time at the Chatham Navy Days – seeing who could visit the most ships’ wardrooms.

I’d already been told that I was off to Naples for my first proper job which was very unusual so had to fit in time getting all my white tropical uniform and kit – back to HMS DAUNTLESS as time was so tight.    I’m sure that there were a perfectly dreadful pair of flat lace-up canvas shoes that never came out of the box.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

The cards are stacked against us but who is dealing?

One fifth of the population has a much tougher time than the rest and it’s been getting worse.  We are becoming an isolated and impoverished underclass because the law and decades of Government policy just don’t work.    Optimistically, this could simply be due to rather incompetent and poorly coordinated policies that, together, have a disproportionate impact on the weakest in society but others might see it as just cynical targeting of the most vulnerable.

Life is a constant uphill battle for nearly 12 million of us with long-term health conditions and disabilities.  And, it’s official according to the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission


If nearly one in five of us have health conditions or impairments, the chances are high that you come within the disability definition or know someone who does.  Here are some of the battles we face:

  • You won’t do as well as others at school, are more likely to be excluded and to drop out of education.  Not surprisingly: “the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people in 2015/16”.
  • Your social and community life is probably limited by transport problems.  Alongside, getting health, tax, benefits and other public services has probably become increasingly difficult – not least due to the wide gap in your access to online services compared with other people.
  • You are more likely to face health inequalities, face major health conditions and die younger.  If you have a mental health condition (whether your “original” disability or as a result of it), life is even more difficult
  • You are more likely to have experienced crime and feel unsafe while the criminal justice system still isn’t good at understanding disability hate crime
  • If you are in prison, you are more likely to have a mental health condition than the rest of the general population.  Health and social care detentions have increased but assessment and treatment is still problematic.
  • You are less likely to be in work and Government initiatives such as the Work Programme, Work Choice and Access To Work haven’t made much difference.  Even if you do work, you are likely to be earning less.  With  all of this against you, its not surprisingly you are more likely to be living in poverty  and this has been made worse by the combined effects of the much disputed and criticised benefit changes.   Other changes in the legal aid system have limited your access to justice, for example, there has been a 54% drop in disability discrimination cases going to employment tribunals.
  • Overall, you probably still experience the very obvious negative attitudes towards disabled people throughout Britain and all aspects of our society – and which can be even worse for those with mental health conditions, learning disability or memory impairment.
  • And not much of all this is likely to change while your voice isn’t heard:  it is more difficult for us to vote and we are few and far between in politics or the key decision making roles in our public institutions.


It seems that life has become more difficult over many years but we aren’t seeing any coordinated action to make it better.  What are the politicians, the courts, the Commission and all those others with power and influence doing?    I suspect that we can’t rely on morality and conscience to create change.  But the financial imperatives are striking: we are probably the most expensive section of the population and the vast majority want to contribute to society and the economy.  But it’s going to take a much more robust, cross-Government change of attitudes to make a difference.

And I’m not suggesting that any one political party is offering the solution.  We need manifestos that recognise that nearly 20% of voters (and all their families and carers) want big improvements – and solutions that are good for the economy and everyone else too.

Before using your vote, check out each manifesto: do they recognise the full range of problems, have practical answers and the funding to make it all a reality?

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Vegetable curry and family memories.

Spinach and chickpea curry served with simple couscousWhat might lighten the misery of sitting alongside your terminally-ill mother?  Emma and I shared recipes and tips to give us some respite.  She was a newly discovered family member (brother’s wife’s sister’s daughter) working, by absolute chance, at the local hospital caring for Mummy.    She took her lunch breaks at the bedside: encouraging my mother to eat, chat and laugh before the rest of our afternoon visits.  AS the smallest of thank-yous and in memory of our cooking conversations, we presented Emma with the cast-iron casserole she craved – and which is now named “Christine” in honour of Mummy.

Emma and Penny ready to cookNearly two years after those dreadful dying days, Emma and I have at last been able to cook together and share memories softened by time.  She came bearing the special Isle of Wight garlic for a delicious spinach and chickpea curry – Martin the house painter certainly enjoyed it for lunch.  We used the unusual asafoetida spice. (Try saying “ass-a-fetid-a” quickly!)

This is an easy vegetable curry that is a meal in itself or could be part of an Indian feast.  Use a tall pan with a lid.  Drop a single mustard seed in to the oil – if you hear it pop, the oil is hot enough.  Put on the lid as soon as you add the rest of the seeds: they pop and jump like mad.  The spinach mainly reduces to create a thick spicy sauce with the chickpeas providing a different texture.Penny, Martin and Emma tucking in to spinach and chickpea curry lunch

Watch me make them on You Tube or download the recipes at www.bakingblind.com

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000


Is there equality online? Definitely not!

Man surrounded by confusing devicesWhy are businesses, government and more excluding so many people from the online services and information that everyone else takes for granted?

The Good Things Foundation (https://www.onlinecentresnetwork.org/resources/disability#guides) says:

  • 25% of disabled adults have never used the internet, compared to 10.2% of the entire UK population
  • Disabled adults make up 50% of the 0.9 million lapsed internet users (those who last used the internet over 3 months ago).
  • Disabled people are significantly less likely than non-disabled people to have internet access (65% compared to 88%).

About one fifth of the UK population have long-term health conditions and disabilities – that’s nearly 12 million people.  But web designers, IT consultants and, probably most important, the people who pay them just don’t bother enough to make the internet accessible to everyone.  Some of them probably lack the skills and knowledge but too many are prepared to take the risk: they aren’t bothered about losing customers or side-lining people who can’t use the web.  And, after years of complaining, that doesn’t seem to make any difference either.

We need the Government, the courts, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, all those Ombudsmen and other organisations responsible for service standards to take notice, apply the law and give us all an even chance.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Some you win, some you lose!

Watch me make them here or download the recipe

White bowl of colourful shredded leaves, sliced onions and peppers with golden mango pieces.

Smashing lettuce: a great trick to remove the Iceberg lettuce core.  Hold it firmly with the stem side down.  Smash the stem firmly on to the worktop and you should just be able to remove all the core intact.  It feels and sounds pretty brutal first time but really works.

My regular co-cook, John the taxi-driver, was madly enthusiastic about the healthy mango dressing for a summer chicken salad and the low-carbohydrate bread for club sandwiches. John and Penny close up to the frying pan to catch the smell of mango, chilli and lime.

He was absolutely right about the first: fresh and zingy chicken that is perfect for hot summer days.  So simple that there’s nothing to go wrong and so delicious that you’ll want more!

But he was hugely disappointed with the gluten-free almond and coconut flour bread –chewing reduced it to a paste that went straight in to the bin.  If I try it again, I might add some xanthium gum and yeast, herbs, nuts, seeds or anything to improve the taste and texture.  Not one of our best experiments but worth a try if you are desperate!

Club sandwich cut in half to reveal layers of lettuce, chicken tomato and bacon

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube


Officer training – not all stiff upper lip!

Three months’ “shake-and-bake” officer training at the Britannia Royal Naval College back in 1978 produced a great batch of new Women’s Royal Naval Officers.

You can see that parades featured large – and it could be perhaps an hour standing around with those winter winds blowing up skirts.  We all had full sets of cold weather gear: thermal vests and short “long johns”.  The problem was when the weather was so bad that they cancelled the outdoor parade so we had to strip off the thermals in no time flat – which also meant grappling with complicated collar studs.  Where did they get the idea that still dressing up for the last century was a mark of leadership potential?

The great and the good, the Admirals and Director WRNS, came to inspect the turn-out and precision footwork.

Behind the scenes there was a bit more fun: taking our feet off the ground for a flight in the College’s helo.  I just wish I had an image of the ballroom dancing classes we took in preparation for all the future wardroom Balls– there was so much laughter at the dreadful footwork that some were thrown out for being too disruptive.

And the rehearsal for the end-of-term Passing Out Parade was another traditional time for different dressing up – its difficult to see which were the real women and which were just for the morning.

On parade 2 On parade Passing out parade rehearsal Butter wouldn't melt Close inspection Dressed for Helo flight

The chaos of travel.

Me in my gardenHow can you make a journey of discovery nowadays?  I cast my hopes to the winds of social media and found new people around the world.

My goal with the Holman competition was to cook with new people wherever I could find them – through e-mails, social media, interviews and every other way I could think of.  My thanks go to the outstanding group of new and willing supporters spread far and wide: from Noam in Costa Rica who runs his own speciality Jungle Culinary Adventures. To Stephen in Malawi who supports local women through re-recycling projects (Our World International),  from Jo in Virginia Beach with whom I haven’t had any contacts since our paths crossed in the Women’s Royal Naval Service nearly 40 years ago to Colin in Melbourne who used to cook in the Royal Navy too; others welcoming this complete stranger such as the Rotary Club in China plus Tom and Fran in Dover (New Hampshire, USA);  Rosemary in Kiama (Australia) is the sole previous regular contact – she took me cooking in Umbria last year.

If I’m lucky enough to win, all this generosity would enable me to travel through six continents  meeting even more new people,  cooking in amazingly different places and having the adventure of a lifetime.  I couldn’t have got even this far without all the help and enthusiasm from so many distant places and many others closer to home.  Just putting together the plans has been an exhilarating whirlwind so, fingers crossed, for the future.  The prize winners are due to be announced on 1 July.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000