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Alcohol & Health

Ida of the Red Lion Pub

A Book, "The Healthy Barmaid", Is Born

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

March 12, 1995

What have London's Heathrow airport, an English pub and an elderly barmaid to do with this column? In one word, "plenty". A chance remark triggered "The Healthy Barmaid". It is hoped this book will improve the lifestyle of readers and save them from diseases that should never happen.

I was enroute to a medical convention in Singapore and debating how to pass the time during a six hour stopover in London between flights.

That's when I remembered I hadn't seen the house where I was born since I was seven years of age. So I asked a London cabby to take me to Croydon, about 20 miles outside of London.

After driving through London traffic for about an hour we arrived at Helder Street. I enjoyed a few moments of quiet nostalgia in front of my birthplace, then noticed a quaint pub at the end of the street. So I asked my driver if he'd like to have a "pint" and fish-and-chips prior to returning to Heathrow. "Bloody good idea, Mate", he replied.

A few moments later I was standing at the bar talking with the elderly barmaid who had just served us. I mentioned that I'd been born on Helder Street.

"What number, lovey?" she asked. "14 Helder street", I replied. "My God", she excitedly exclaimed, "Then you must be Annie's son. I used to baby sit you 60 years ago!"

That set me back on my haunches! I took a second look at this ancient but lively barmaid. She said she was 85 years of age, had worked the pub for years, enjoyed its great camaraderie and had no intention of retiring. Talking with her provided one of the most interesting lunches I've ever had.

During the flight to Singapore I kept thinking about this slim, vibrant woman. The idea of "The Healthy Barmaid" was born.

The story is set in a fictitious London pub, "The Red Lion". By a stroke of luck my children and I wander into it during a holiday in London. We return every night to talk with Ida, the barmaid, and famous doctors who drop by.

But how could a barmaid know anything about medicine? The Red Lion is a unique pub situated along the Thames River surrounded by London's teaching hospitals.

For 40 years it's been the haunt of the medical establishment. Distinguished professors who stop in for a pint and confide the day's medical issues to Ida. This triggered a keen interest in medical matters and Ida had become a wise old owl. She learned how to live to a healthy 85.

"The Healthy Barmaid" covers a variety of medical topics; the role of cholesterol in cardiovascular disease; whether vitamins play an important function in fighting degenerative problems; how important is hormone replacement therapy for both males and females; sporting injuries, and many other key issues.

The book also describes the pitfalls that people of all ages fall into, cutting short their allotted time on this planet.

For years I've been distressed by what is happening to so many young people, their careless descent into questionable lifestyle habits that all too often lead to a medical hell later in life.

I believe the narrative style of the conversations in the Red Lion, its humour and common sense might grab the attention of the young and reckless and set them on a different course.

Of course it's impossible to set the scene in a pub without talking about alcohol. So a debate ensues about whether it is a friend or foe. And why learned researchers often confuse the public when they mix ethics and facts.

Lastly the book incorporates my own philosophy of life and health. And although the cast of some distinguished English professors is fictitious the facts they relate are real and true.

Why the name Ida? It's the name of my secretary and friend of many years who died a few years ago. She was no ordinary secretary and those who read this book will also discover that Ida the barmaid is no ordinary barmaid.

All this from the casual remark made to a stranger, "You know I was born on this street".

"The Healthy Barmaid" can be obtained in Canada by calling 1-800-387-0172. In the U.S 1-800-243-0138. Or by sending $15.00 or Visa number to ECW Press, 2120 Queen Street East, Ste 200, Toronto, Ontario M4E 1E2. Part of the proceeds of this sale will be donated to the W. Gifford-Jones Foundation to help fight needless cancer pain.

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker's website is:

My book, “90 + How I Got There” can be obtained by sending $19.95 to:

Giff Holdings, 525 Balliol St, Unit # 6,Toronto, Ontario, M4S 1E1

Pre-2008 articles by Gifford Jones
Canada Free Press, CFP Editor Judi McLeod