Sunday, 21 December 2008

twice inspired

A few years ago, Delia Smith did a new book that had a recipe in it called "twice baked goats cheese souffles". It was one of her "master strokes" and for a while everyone was serving them at dinner parties up and down the UK.

I just thought of them when I was typing the title to this and in fact the thought is completely random in as much as this has nothing to do either with Delia or with goats cheese souffles.

The day before yesterday, David and I had to finally face up to going and doing the Christmas shopping. That meant an early start, a trip to Plymouth for "big shops" and a trip to the RHS garden at Rosemoor for "ethical buying".

While we were sitting in a traffic jam on the way into the car park, I spotted a big ad for a Beryl Cook exhibition in the University's art gallery. "Ooohhhh - I LOVE Beryl Cook" I said "It's a shame it finishes tomorrow because I'd have loved to have seen that". DM replied "Why don't we go today?" Woo hoo.

So, instead of getting out of the car and doing battle with the screaming hoardes in the shopping centre, we were able to put off this chore with a lovely trip around an art gallery. I was inspired. DM was inspired. We were both moved to giggling wildly at some of her more outrageous images. We studied them closely and from afar, both in terms of the visual image and the concepts. In short, or even in long, we loved them deeply. What a completely amazing woman. What a fabulous collection of images so packed with crazy, sordid, joyous life. We were once inspired.

Then we got to do the dull bit - some shopping in the town centre for things that we couldn't source more ethically. Urgh - especially Woolies, where we weren't looking for Woolies bargains (just as well as the only bargains they seemed to have were plastic buckets with a "massive" 30% off the price), we were looking for Hobbycraft, which had opened in Woolies only weeks before the announcement of closure! (Talk about crap timing.) Anyway, they are closing too on account of the fact that no customers could get to their bit of the store without the doors being open!

The second inspiration came in the form of the vegetable garden in Rosemoor - a "must-see" destination at the gardens, no matter what the weather or the time of year. You see, it's only by comparing how I'm doing in my veggie plot compared to them that I have any benchmark about my own gardening and my own abilities.

I was thrilled to see that their garden looked much as mine did in many areas - they too have all the chinese leaf veggies, leeks and brassicas as more-or-less the only crops. There were some garlic plants peeping up through the top of the soil, just like mine are too. Not only that but theirs looked much like mine did for a change. I do get depressed when my veggies look pathetic in comparison to theirs. Even though I felt that my stuff is looking good compared to theirs, I was inspired anyway by their new landscaping and the preparations going on for 2009s growing season. Twice inspired!

So, it just goes to show that from a decidedly gloomy pair of people going out to do a nasty chore, we both found inspiration, not just once, but twice. How cool is that?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

welcome to the petrol heads

When we lost Terri and Sherri last week, we were both bereft. In fact, so much so that when David said to me "I want more chooks", I didn't need to hear it a second time. I dashed down to the shop, bought a copy of the Cornish Times and went straight to the poultry section, where I got the number for a supplier of pullets.

I phoned the number, spoke with a lovely lady who told me that she certainly did still have some point-of-lay birds still available (it's getting very late in the year for youngsters) so we made a date to pop down and see her to rebuild our little flock.

We went in the dark to make her life easier (it's easier to catch a roosting chook) and our lives easier (it's easier to pop new birds into a coop full of sleeping hens than to try to introduce them in daylight). She went into a pitch dark shed and emerged with a lovely black hen with a rich dark brown head and a lovely petrol sheen to her feathers. She had a lovely red comb and was pronounced already in-lay. Then the lady popped in again, came out with another similar girl, except this time she'd got a little pink comb so isn't quite ready yet to start laying.

They came home with us and have fitted in with minimal fuss, possibly because it's so soon after Terri and Sherri's demise that the new pecking order isn't yet formed. Of course it's also possible that it's a time of year thing - they do get very uppity in the spring.

The next nice "chore" to find names for the two petrol, they became Jack and Hill - named after two of our favourite petrol heads, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill. I don't suppose they'll mind being give boys names!

It only took a few hours for us to be picking out the first egg from the new girls - a huge purple and pink egg, spotted with brown and white spots. It won't be hard then to see who's laying and who's not, given the rest of our girls all lay eggs that are very different from these. We got them on Tuesday and have had eggs every day, but the best bit is that today we've had two - and the second one is smaller and browner and bluer if that makes sense, so I think we can safely assume that both Jack and Hill have settled in nicely!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

two deaths in the family

We got up on Thursday morning and I did my usual pre-breakfast round of taking out the dogs, letting out the hens and feeding the wild birds.......except that I only got as far as the second item on this list of three.

When I arrived at the hen run, the first thing I noticed was how all the hens were lined up eagerly trying to get out. That's unusual in itself in the winter, normally Mo is out there and the rest of the gang are still in the coop in the (relative) warm. Then I realised as I rounded the corner that Sherri was lying in the run, stone dead.

If I'm honest, I'd really been expecting it. She was old (6-7), had been suffering from a tumour on her leg for some time and we'd been told that she was effectively on borrowed time. So, to find her dead wasn't a great surprise or shock, other than its timing giving us a bit of a jolt.

Instead of finishing my pre-breakfast tasks, I ended up burying her and planting a rambling rose on her little grave. (Rambling Rector for anyone interested.)

That night, the rest of the gang were reluctant to go to bed, to say the least. We just assumed that was because of losing one of their number. We chivvied them along, locked them in and the whole routine started again the following morning.

Well, that is until step two of the three step pre-breakfast routine, when like some horrible groundhog day experience, there were the chooks desperate to get out........and Terri, our other oldie Light Sussex, dead in a more-or-less exact same pose as her sibling Sherri the previous day.

Of course at this point we smelt a rat and of course deeply regretted not smelling it the day before. Two in tow days was one too many to be natural.

So, we took notice of the small holes around the run and decided that we must have been attacked by either rats or a stoat. The next step was a major upgrade of the fortifications, already with concrete supports for a heavy-duty aviery netting run - completely fox-proof. We added mesh to the floor, repaired an old rat hole in the door and made a vow to shut them inside the coop rather than rely on the run for defence.

Saturday morning dawned with four live, though distinctly scared, hens. They couldn't wait to be out of there. Sunday morning too, all OK. Sunday afternoon, I popped to the shop for milk and happened to mention to the lady who runs the shop that we'd lost two hens on two consecutive days and she told me that our neighbour (from five doors up the road) had also lost two of her hens on consecutive nights and had decided it must have been a stoat.

We reckon that when the stoat found that she'd fortified her defences, that it'd try its luck on our brood. He got lucky twice, but hopefully no more.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

weirdly invigorating

I spent my day on Tuesday "on my hind legs" presenting for the first time in over a year. To be honest, this was challenging not only because it's the first time I've been on my feet for so long, but also because I was presenting to an audience that is completely new to me.

In three sessions between 9.30am and 2pm, I presented to three classes of children, ranging in age between 7 and 11. Boy, oh boy.

From the moment I stepped up to the front of the classroom in my bee suit, I found myself with a rapt audience who hung onto my every word. I spoke about the trials and tribulations of beekeeping. They questioned me intently, mostly about getting stung and how bees make babies, but also a few questions came in from the left field, such as "if you could find a football small enough for a beehive, would bees play football?" Blimey - how do you answer that one then?

Fear and nervousness gripped me from the moment I got back from my trip to London last week, while I prepared and worked out what I was going to say. I decided to wear my beesuit (any excuse for dressing up in a ridiculous outfit) and, along with a range of props, a powerpoint presentation and some photos, I took to the stage.

Before I'd even started what I'd agreed to do, I'd been commandeered by another teacher in the same school to repeat my presentation in front of his class, then at the morning break, I got collared by a third teacher. News of my presentation and the reaction of the kids spread around the school like wildfire and I think I can safely say that the day was one big hit.

What surprised me was that the questions from all three age groups were broadly the same, possibly expressed slightly differently, but it was clear that the same parts of the subject either appalled or enthralled them, whatever their age.

The oddest thing is that I was most worried about being able to be relevant to a bunch of children. Let's face it, I'm not exactly well-endowed in the experience with kids department! I need not have worried as they all seemed thrilled to bits with me, as evidenced by the number of little people dashing up to me and hugging me as well as the chorus of "Linda, Linda, hello Linda" as I walked past them in the queue to the dining room when they were on their way to lunch. Really and truly, hugs from small children when you're not used to it, are very joyful. I was very moved.

I finished my "job" at 2pm and thankfully had engineered a lift home, which is just as well because I was completely exhausted. What I realised later was that I'd done a good day's work and not only that but I felt both invigorated and excited by it. I think I can safely say that I've been in some new water today but learned that swimming is the same whatever type of pond!

Monday, 17 November 2008

a happy medium

OK - So, yesterday morning I started by putting a coat of paint onto a wall in our annex. Then I went into the loft, carted a whole load of our predecessor's rubbish down into our big estate car (not boasting....well, you couldn't really boast about a ten-year-old Vecta estate of unknown mileage but certainly north of 160,000 miles..... just saying that it was a lot of rubbish). I roped in DM and we took the lot to the dump, sorted it and deposited it in the various recycling bins or general rubbish. Then when we got home, I did another coat of paint on the wall in the annex, filled the gaps where the new flooring meets the old flooring with wood filler, cleaned up the new floor and made lunch. Then I went back into the loft and sorted another car-load's worth of rubbish ready to take to the dump, along with cleared up a whole load of rubble that was just lying around up there. Next, a trip to Morrisons to buy a paper and a dustpan and brush (to get the rubble from the floor into a rubble sack). Then another coat of paint on the annex wall.

Next, two people who I love dearly (DM and our friend Dee) both gave me earache about "not doing too much" so I had a shower to remove all the grime and tucked myself up on the sofa with Mr Floppy (bunny) and Rosie (dog) in front of Hercules Parrot on the telly (no, not my original joke, one of Agatha Christie's own ones which I love so much I use it all the time myself).

I fell asleep (seems reasonable after the earlier part of my day) for a couple of hours, waking up at 6.30pm in time to set the fire and make the dinner. What did I get at this point - another earache about being asleep on the sofa.

I can't win. I get told off for doing too much and I get told off for doing too little. Where is the happy medium? Why can't I find it? Is it something that comes to you in a dream? Is it only available to certain types of people? Is it something I'll NEVER find?

Anyway - isn't being a happy medium just an excuse for being dull?

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Star of the East

My trip to London (east of Cornwall), started with a night out in the East End, at a restaurant specialising in Eastern (Indian) cuisine, with two of my best buddies, both of whom are Eastenders, although one of them is now residing south of Manchester, that's still east of Cornwall. I've never eaten in Brick Lane before but it reminded me of Mulberry Street in New York, apart from the different origins of the two ethnic groups and cuisines. Dozens of restaurants, each with someone posted outside trying to tempt in diners who walk along the street in a daze, wondering which will be best.

Colin and Paul always visit the same one, although this is based on no special intelligence about which is the best, simply it's the first one they tried and it was so good that they didn't ever see the need to try anywhere else. We had a completely bonkers evening, giggling and gassing from 7pm until about 11.30pm. I got "home" at about 12.30pm. Colin and Paul are very important to me. We've been friends for twenty seven years and will remain so until we're carted off in eco-friendly boxes.

The following morning, my parents came and picked me up for a visit to my 90-year-old grandmother. She's as sharp as a razor although she's very physically frail and is now blind so she only recognised me by my voice.

I requested the trip east of London to Kent to the place my Mum was born and raised in because it's three years since I last saw my Nan, in hospital, after she'd had a stroke, I'm ashamed to say.

While we were there, we popped in on my Mum's uncle and aunt - my Mum's Dad's only surviving sibling. It was traumatic because my Great Uncle has recently been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and his world (and that of his wife) is shattered. I find it hard to describe the raw misery of their circumstances. Life can be very cruel.

So, over the course of the day, I saw my Nan, her brother-in-law and his wife, my Mum and two of her siblings, my uncle, my second cousin and my Dad. Blimey, that's a bigger family tally than I've seen for ages and ages. probably since a family wedding back in the annals of time.

Then out and about for another evening of craziness with Shazbop and Champagne Hughie - another two of my "besteds". I was due to go out with the two of them the week after I was ill and of course had to cancel that date. I'm sorry it's taken me a year to remake the appointment but am glad I made it eventually.

My next visit was to see two of my closest friends at my ex-office. We had lunch and they declared me "looking like Linda again" so that was marvellous. As with my other meetings this week, I can't describe the poignancy of spending time with people I hold so dear.

From there on to the North of London, to see my beloved Spurs give a complete thrashing to a team from a long way east of the UK - Dinamo Zagreb. What a fabulous evening - last time I went to the Lane we got a complete thumping so to see us win 4-0 was sheer joy. Not only that but I managed to see several of the DSHM (sadly not WHL Sarah so however much I spent three days embroiled with a group of my best buddies, the week could not be described as complete.)

I must say that the Dinamo Zagreb fans were magnificent. they didn't stop singing, even after the final whistle blew, despite their defeat. Not only that but on a damp and fairly bleak London night, they were all completely topless, singing their hearts out, naked from the waist up. Kudos to you all.

Finally, the Bell and Hare, now under new management and sadly without Carol and Maureen. Gone is the sticky carpet, gone is the picture of lady Di over the bar (and, incidentally, the one of us), in are loads of new Spurs photos and other memorabilia. Ahhhhhh, memories.

Did I find the star of the East? You bet I did. Did I slay dragons? You bet I did. Did I find friendship? Yes, yes, yes.......

Sunday, 9 November 2008

the acid test

I've been on an adventure over the last few days as I said last time I posted. In part, it was meant to help me to get some closure and some solace but in part it was also meant to test my ability to survive on a trip after a year of near-isolation.

So, what did I learn?

Well, the first thing I've learned is that the trip was utterly exhausting. I am amazed regularly at how I managed all of my work commitments on top of that commute. I have come home so tired I feel as though I've been through a mangle. That's with no WORK involved at all. There was a time when I'd have done most of what I did this week, while putting in a twelve-hour working day too.

The second thing is that I am still not completely well in as much as my obsessive, compulsive side showed up when I was travelling to meet people and getting my timings so badly wrong that I spent a total of eight hours sitting around in stations and coffee bars simply waiting for my appointment with either friends or trains - equivalent to a full working day over the three-days of my journey.

Finally, I've worked out that there is so much more to life than dashing around. Even though I've had some "enforced" waits for people, it's actually quite nice to spend an hour drinking a coffee and reading a book without needing to dash off anywhere. I just wish I'd spent that hour in the comfort of my London home-from-home rather than in a relatively uncomfortable coffee bar. So, I reckon that if I can learn to curb my obsession about timings, I can make room in my world for some great that's a good lesson learned.

I'm saving my "adventure" story for another day so please bear with me on this one.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Lindiana Jones and the Star of the East

Dear All

Lindiana Jones is my new "personality" - from now on, I'm going to be an intrepid explorer, without fear but with guile, cunning and sheer strength of will.

I'm off to slay a few demons, defeat some enemies (both personal and in a broader context) and, most importantly of all, to go and find myself some buried treasure. On my journey, I expect to find a few lost friends, make some new friends and experience great excitement and thrill, not to mention warmth and solace.

So, I'm climbing aboard a great iron monster and disappearing for a few days, hopefully to emerge after my adventures with a new sense of purpose and some deepfelt satisfaction.

I have on my trusty boots, my big whip is in my pocket and I'm ready for the off.........

Is the world ready for Lindiana? Who knows! We'll see over the next few days.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

loving Harry Bluenapp

#Come on come on Hurry up Harry come on We're going down the pub# (Sham 69)

la la la

We went to the pub last night to watch the Spurs play Liverpool because we're too tight to sign up to fact, we think it's a complete rip-off but that one's a long story and I'm not really telling that tale today.

So, we walk to the pub in near-darkness - a 40 minute walk across the moor, get there just as the match begins and within three minutes we're a goal adrift. Hmmmmmm. The pub's new manager comes out and asks who the two Spurs fans are that had phoned up earlier and to his credit, he didn't crow.

We watch a game where in truth Liverpool could have scored several goals before, in the 70th minute, they did....but in their own net! So 1-1 and game on as they say. In the dying moments of the game, we managed to pop in another to go on to win the game, get off the bottom of the league for the first time this season and find ourselves with a song in our hearts "Harry Redknapp's Blue and White army".

Pub grub, some semi-drunken conversations with some of the regulars and a bit of people watching ensued before we got in a cab and got home with a smile on our faces.

So, Harry Bluenapp, Harry Houdini, Harry Hotspur - whatever you want to call him, he's our hero.

Friday, 31 October 2008

times they are a changing

This week has seen some fairly monumental changes in my world.

Let's face it, when you're a dyed in the wool Spurs fan, things have been a bit gloomy of late so Harry's unexpected and sudden appearance at "the Lane" last Sunday was just what the Doctor ordered. I did comment this time last year that I thought that "Juande we might live to regret firing Martin Jol". Ah well, I'm a bit chuffed to welcome Redknapp senior to WHL, especially if he can keep those points coming in. First eight games, we managed a whole 2 points, the last two games, we've managed to treble our tally!

COYS....let's hope that we can keep it up this Saturday at home to Liverpool. (Especially as we're going out to the pub to watch the game because we're too tight to cough up for Setanta and the landlord is a Liverpool fan.)

Now, as I type, I can also report that I am, for the first time in my adult life, unemployed. I officially left my company today so as of 4pm this afternoon, I have no source of income and I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I am pretty terrified but I am also hopeful that a clean break is just what I need.

So, I will wake up tomorrow in a new phase of my life......I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Digging a big hole

I apologise for my lack of communication over the last three weeks or so. I have an excuse in as much as after a week of anguish over Archie's well-being, DM and I both went down with the lurgy and it took us a couple of weeks to get over it. Follow that with turmoil/difficulties/uncertainty in my work life and my thoughts have been elsewhere in recent times.

Archie is, for those who are interested, getting on better than he has for some time, albeit with a wobbly head and a distinct lack of balance, which means he now matches his "Mum" (me) and can't stand on his own four feet!

He has been taking cod liver oil and glucosamine for his arthritic joints for a good couple of years now and even so has been increasingly infirm. He's been unable to get over styles or to get into the back of our car for some time and we've had to use ingenuity and cunning to transport him around as he hates being picked up and lets us know that very quickly. Anyway, he's now got himself onto one of the super-dooper new NSAID drugs, especially for arthritis and he's a transformed baby.

He's trotting around the place with a smile on his face, jumping up and down steps with gay abandon and otherwise is perkier than we've seen him in ages. I was digging a big hole in the garden as part of an ongoing project to try to eliminate the need for me to go out murdering slugs by envouraging toads and frogs to our domain. This means putting in a big pond, with plenty of frog-friendly stuff to give them a good reason to come here.

I've got an old bath that was taken out from our bathroom soon after we moved in and have dug a hole deep enough that the bath can be submerged as part of a bigger pond (so you can't see the rectangular shape). This project has taken a whole load of time because our ground is not easy to dig, comprising of a thin-ish layer of top soil then deep shale, so I've taken my time, doing an hour here and another hour there.

While the top soil was on a tarpaulin next to my big hole and the bathtub was behind it yesterday, Arch's attention was on Mo, who was on top of the soil mound, digging around for worms and other bits and bobs. She disappeared down the other side of the mound and Archie took a flying leap to get closer to her. He landed, very bemused, inside the bathtub, then went straight into pogo mode and leapt out the other side. He landed in a sprawl on the lawn, with a look of utter confusion on his face.

So, by digging my big hole, I discovered that my beautiful baby has regained some of his elasticity and bounce. Boy did that make all of the hard work seem like a really GOOD thing!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Coming of age - the adventures of Dusty

OK - I know that some folks will see this pic and think "how has she taken a photo this good of planet Zogg". Others will look at it, and think "huh?". Others will realise what it is and either think it's a miracle of nature or that it's truly gross.

I fall into category three - to me, it's a miracle of nature and one I've been waiting and hoping for over the last three months very anxiously.

It's the first egg from our three new babies - Dusty has been growing a fantastic bright red comb over the last couple of weeks. This is a sure-fire indication that she's about to start laying. On Wednesday, I poked my head into the nest box to find this little beauty - a pale alabaster pink egg, quite small but absolutely perfectly shaped. The egg was smeared with blood as is always the case on the first occasion a hen lays an egg. My little girl is now an elegant and beautiful young woman - she has come of age, biologically speaking.

She's a Blue Andalusian (a rare breed), small, slim, has a terrific long tail and a massive comb compared to our other hens. To be fair, it's a breed thing and she's just got what all Blue Andalusians have, it's simply that we only have one. Her feathers are amazing - dark on her head, then getting lighter along her body, though each individual feather is edged with black, giving her an appearance of being almost scaly. She's named after one of my heroes - Dusty Springfield, because when we picked the three new hens up from the farm where they were born and raised, they sang to us in low voices so they're all named after singers.

To celebrate her journey into womanhood, she decided to go on a "rites of passage" rebellious romp on Thursday. I could hear a commotion that was obviously chicken, coming from up the hill from our home. I thought nothing of it because several of our neighbours also keep chooks. Then I looked up and noticed a lovely Blue Andalusian sitting on top of the six-foot high fence between our next-door neighbour's house and their next-door neighbours on the other side of them. Ooops. There is only one Blue Anderlusian in our village and that's Dusty.

I called for reinforcements (David), got a couple of long sticks and some corn and we set off next door to effect a recapture. She, of course, like every rebellious young woman, was not interested in recapture so she flew over my head, landing in the garden. There followed ten minutes of charging around with us after her while old nimble feet neatly evaded our every lunge. Finally, she flew up onto the shed next to our own boundary and all we needed to do then was to give her a gentle prod in the bottom to get her to fly down into her own territory.

By the time we'd got back round to our own garden, she was in the hen house clucking indignantly and looking a bit "bothered" about her adventure. Let's hope that she has exhausted her wanderlust!

By the way - this is the first time I have taken a new photo for my blog in the six months or so since I left pbase.

For anyone wondering about Archie, his progress is slow but he's certainly showing improvements.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Emotional Weather Forecast

For the last year, there has been a constant fog stretching in every direction from my world, as far as the eye can see and as far as the imagination can contemplate. This fog is now beginning to lift and there are occasional glimpses of blue sky appearing.

From tomorrow onwards, the occasional flashes of blue will become more frequent and the fog will lift over the course of the next few months. This is odd given that we're probably about to go into a period of prolonged fog/cloud/rain in our real world but "it may be winter outside, but in my heart it's spring".

That's the end of today's forecast, I'm going out to look for blue sky!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Memories are made of this

My childhood is peppered with memories of picking fruit in various guises. My Mum used to work in the strawberry fields picking strawberries. That may sound idyllic but is, in fact, gruelling work, bent double picking fruit that's at ground level in full sunshine with no shade whatsoever. My Mum used to work in shorts and a tee shirt and had nut brown legs, arms and a little patch across her back where her tee shirt parted company from her shorts. The pay was terrible and the work hard but she did it because we needed the money. Nowadays, I'd guess that much of this sort of work is done by migrant workers but in those days it was all women just like my Mum.

We also picked the blackcurrants that went into the 1960s Ribena - I've discovered recently that 90% of the commercially grown blackcurrants in this country are sold to GSK for this purpose. The nuts we picked (chestnusts and hazelnuts) from hedgerows and blackberries and you have a pretty good set in terms of fruit picking but these latter things went nowhere further than our own tummies.

I love picking food from hedgerows, to me it's one of the purest pleasures you can have. It's free food - in these times of rising food prices how much better can it be than eating something you've not paid for in any sense except for the time taken to pick the berries or nuts.

Years ago, we picked our berries and nuts in the hedgerows of farmers fields and on several occasions, got turfed out by angry land owners for trespassing. Yesterday, I picked myself a big bowl full of blackberries from our own field's margins. I got scratched and stung - the brambles grow in perfect harmony with gorse and nettles so if the brambles themselves don't get you, you're gonna get "bit" by one of the others!

There is a deep sense of satisfaction, gained from the very pleasure of an hour in the autumn sunshine picking, with Rosie running around full of joy. She even ate a blackberry that I held out for her. Despite cuts, scrapes and nettle stings, it was one of the best things I've done in ages, especially knowing the blackberries were pollonated by our own bees and there was nothing "nasty" on the fruit from farming sprays.

Coming inside, the whole bowlful got tipped into a saucepan, water and cooking apples added and boiled to within an inch of its life. Then my heath robinson straining kit was used to extract the juice from the pulp and it's now ready to go into the final step of making spiced bramble jelly - juice, sugar and allspice. This will happen later today and our latest batch of free food will be ready for consumption from tomorrow onwards. Yee haa.

Heath Robinson straining kit - an upturned stool with a china bowl placed between its legs, a tea-towel pegged to the ends of the legs so it's suspended like a hammock over the bowl, then the hot mush poured into the tea towel. The whole lot is covered up with tea-towels so the flies can't penetrate and then it just gets left overnight for the juice to drip through slowly.

Update on Archie - as I type, he's in the garden, chasing chickens as best he can when his illness means he basically goes round in circles - but he at least has a bit of speed up and he's managed to eat some food. The eye movement is gone but the dribbling is still there. He's considerably better than he was but still far from the dog he was until last weekend.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A little better

He's improving a tiny bit. He's eaten a little tuna fish and pottered about a little bit. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Archie's progress

He's still very sick but the vet is encouraged by his responsiveness so he's home with us again after another exhausting (for all of us) trip to the vet.

He's got old dog vestibular syndrome, which in most cases clears itself up, although the underlying cause can be a tumour. We just have to watch, wait and see - lots and lots of TLC are on the menu, along with "special" supper, which amounts to being hand-fed with chicken or fish.

This morning, I was the one cracking up under the pressure but I feel calmer now I've been able to look the condition up online and see what a range of experts have to say.
This pic was taken eighteen months ago when he was enjoying a romp on the moor.

Please send any good vibes to Archie and if you have any fairy dust in your pocket, sprinkle a bit for him......and for us.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Archie (top dog in the Alstead-Mingay household) is sick. Not just sick but really, really poorly. It's been a traumatic day.
He has got something wrong in his head, it's affecting his balance, his ability to walk and perform normal doggie functions - and yes, I do mean all normal doggie functions, so on top of his poorly state, it's not been a terrific day here.
DM and I both think the world of this old chap of indeterminate age. He's somewhere between 11 and 14 but we can't be any more accurate than that. We're both in agony and he's somewhere strange. The vet says that he thinks it's like waking up with a monumental hangover that rest, sleep, darkness and quiet are the main treatments for - he's also had a thermometer somewhere not-so-nice and a jab in the neck (steroids). Tomorrow, he's got to go through the difficulties of going back to the vet and we're desperately hoping for a magical recovery by morning.
Roy Hattersley was right (I've just finished Buster's Secret Diaries) - he said there can't be a God because if there was, he'd make dogs live as long as humans! I hope the Archduke of Cornwall lives to fight another day....the next few hours are critical.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Cross-dressing Footie

It was the day of the Meadow Fair yesterday - a range of stalls on the school playing field in our old village, including (but not comprehensively), plate smashing, a barbecue and a bookstall. I bought three books at the princely sum of £1 for all three - a bargain if ever I saw one.

The Meadow Fair culminates in a football match, with all of the participants dressed up in women's clothing and in full pantomime style make-up. It truly is a sight for sore eyes as the men, fiercely compete teams made up of half men and then populated with ten year old (and a few younger ones too) boys, also in full women's dress. What a hoot. The game was closely fought and eventually won in an extra-time scramble by Howard's team. Howard, in a black lycra dress, and yellow furry rabbits ears, with a bunny face painted on and a ciggy in his hand, kept goal.

What's funny about this is that the men all love to play this mad game and spend weeks beforehand seeking out lavish dresses with sequins and pearl necklaces - our local charity shops must wonder what on earth is going on when a group of big, butch men, many with tattoos all over, go wandering in and trying on dresses! Last weekend, on the way to DMs Mum and Dad's party we popped in to see Pete and Erica and Pete was on the phone declaring his budget and explaining in minute detail what he wanted to Martin who was going off to buy the dresses that morning.

The weather yesterday was also beautiful - in fact it was probably the nicest day of the year. The blue skies over the whitewashed cottages, the field full of families enjoying the day out and spending the afternoon lying on the field with friends - it was just about a perfect day.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Thunder on a sunny day

We had a lovely day yesterday, sunshine and only a light wind. I decided that although many garden tasks are not "do-able" because of the soaking wet soil, I'd try to do some taming by doing some pruning so I spent the afternoon with my loppers, pruning saw, shredder and my solar-powered radio set to Radio 4 where I caught the afternoon play (always a joy), the Archers and a whole host of other delights.

While I was working, apart from the sounds generated by my own endeavours, my ears were hardly disturbed by any man-made noises at all, other than an occasional car on the road outside the secret garden where I was working away.

The sounds therefore were all made by nature, especially a host of lovely songbirds, singing their little hearts out. One robin sat in the top of the cherry tree and sang for a good half an hour, in a duet with another robin, unsighted (by me) on the other side of the garden. I had to keep stopping the shredder to fill my ears and my heart with his sounds. it was quite beautiful.

Then I heard thunder - or at least I thought it was thunder, which was odd given the blue and quite definitely unstormy sky. I wandered around the garden wondering whether there was a storm creeping up from a part of the horizon where I had no view, which in itself seemed odd given that we have 360 degree views here and the biggest sky you can imagine.

Suddenly I realised the source of the thunder - it was the thundering hooves of the three "hosses" who are lodging in the field behind our house - our poor neighbours who'd planned to make their own hay this year for the first time gave up in a quagmire of disgusting wet weather and mud so they got in some help to get the fields cut before the autumn!

I smiled!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Big Ted and Floppy

My psychologist's treatment is based around teaching me to be kind to myself. The irony is that I do consider myself to be a kind person, but somehow I am so hard on myself that if I'd said or thought anything so harsh to anyone else, I'd have died of shame and humiliation for being so horrid.

Among a range of other things all designed to make me nicer to me, she suggested that I should hug myself if I'm feeling low or frightened. To be honest, I found that such an alien concept that I could not imagine ever doing it so I decided to fish Big Ted out of the cupboard and hug him instead.

In case you've not guessed, Big Ted is my teddy bear, he's forty-seven years old, having been a first birthday present from my folks. He's covered in so many "love marks" that it's hard to imagine what he once looked like as a pristine teddy straight out of the box. I took him to bed with me every night until I was well into my twenties.

In the late 1970s, my Mum carefully unpicked several of his seams, took out the crumbly foam that he'd originally been stuffed with that had deteriorated badly over his first twenty years or so of life and replaced the filling with a modern one that is still nice and squishy today. The final part of this operation was to resew the seams and wash him in the washing machine before giving him back to me as a "good as new" Big Ted.

I continued to love him virtually to the point of extinction - he's now so tatty that he's almost completely threadbare across his front, leaving nothing between the stuffing and the outside world but some very old, very frayed fabric that's looking very fragile these days. So, when my Mum realised I was using Big Ted for my hugs again, she was worried about his well-being. She suggested clothing him but I found that suggestion not just weird but somehow rather unpleasant - he's always loved me in no more than his bearskin and that's how it should be!

When we went to see my folks over the weekend (yes, we had to go to London for DMs folks 50th wedding anniversary so we popped in on my Mum's birthday to say "Happy Birthday" to her), she called me into her hall and presented me with Floppy.

He's a "Bear Factory" rabbit, all soft, new and lusciously huggable. Not only that but he was "made" by my family (Mum, Dad and my two nephews) so he's made with love.......and he's got a heart. You give him a squeeze and his heart beats. I find it difficult to articulate how comforting it is to squeeze him then press your ear to his tummy and hear his heart beating. Whenever I'm feeling a bit blue, I just give him a hug and feel his response. It's wonderful.

The only trouble is - I now feel disloyal to Big Ted who isn't getting hugged any more. I can't make up my mind if I'd be more upset to keep on hugging Big Ted until he dies completely or if I can live with the disloyalty to protect his life for the future. I think the latter will win over the former but it's still a toughie.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Linda The Destroyer

I've got a confession to make that puts me in the gruesome, gristly world of BAD PEOPLE. I've become a mass-murderer on a scale rarely seen. I'm murdering slugs by the hundred each evening. Oh yes, I am. Not just that but I'm actually coming back into the house covered in slime, drenched through to the skin because it's not stopped raining here for months and SMILING because I'm so pleased with myself.

What has turned me into this monster? Well, I dug up a few potatoes from the veggie garden for supper a few days ago only to discover that there were papery potato skins that contained nothing more or less than a few fat and obviously contented slugs, with no potato flesh left at all. Well, I'm sorry but those potatoes were meant for my tummy, not theirs. In a world where the chips are down and my food, that I've worked hard to cultivate is being taken by others, I'm not about to take that lightly.

So, I think about my options - the slug pubs that have been in situ all summer don't work well because the beer is getting watered down and washed out by rain so they've not done the job they did for me last year. I don't want to use metaldehyde based pellets or powders - no toxic chemicals in my veggie patch thank you very much. I've been asking in coffee bars for coffee grounds and have managed to protect my leeks using this method but it doesn't work for plants that touch the ground in more than one place, such as the chards, spinach or even the potatoes underground.

My solution is a tub that has had an organic fertiliser in it that I put the slugs that I pick off my plants and soil in then I pour salt over the top of them before I put the lid on. Yes, I am wicked and evil. Do I care? Like I said - it's them or me - if they eat my crops I can't so I'm not going to let that happen. I reckon it takes me an hour at dusk to clear 3 of my 6 veggie beds - to try to do more would be back-breaking and take another hour. In have to be a little pragmatic about the time spent on it.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

history coming to visit

I've ranted/rambled/wailed on about the state of the house we bought two and a half years ago on my old blog at In fact, at one point, I wrote this piece about how at some point in the past, SOMEONE had once cared enough to decorate with a bit of love.... . Well, imagine my surprise when I was introduced to a young woman on Saturday who was a guest of my next-door-neighbour, who was the person who actually did that stencilling!

DM and I kidnapped her and took her round the house, asking what was there in her day. I'm now sitting typing this in a room that had Thomas the Tank Engines all over the walls when we moved in. They've now gone and this room is my office, painted in a delicious "Barbie" pink. The TTTE pictures have turned out to be her little brother's decor - he was three at the time.

She remarked that she refused point-blank to use the toilet on the ground floor because it was so dark and scary. I refer to that room as a cave these days - it is truly nasty. It's now exactly the same as it was then!

As she left, she remarked that she had loads of photos of the house and garden from her time here. I asked her if she would mind scanning some and sending them to me, which she did so we can now see for ourselves some of the history of this place. It was really exciting to see what we recognised and what was done after their time.

One of the "best bits" was seeing her pot-bellied pig sleeping in front of the fire in the sitting room - now that was a strange but rather lovely sight!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

public health warnings

I've been thinking about the way in which our nanny state warns us of the evils of everything we do. You know the sort of thing "this programme contains bad language and themes of a sexual nature, if you are easily offended, please select a different channel" and "smoking kills" and "this film contains scenes of mild violence, some nudity and swearing, only suitable for viewers of 15 and over", "this peanut butter may contain nuts" ......etc etc.

Yet remarkably they don't give warnings for things that are just as damaging - personally, I'd have warnings in front of those brown, sticky soft drink ads (yes, you know, THOSE ones) that say "these products contain nothing of any nutritional value and indeed could harm your health by consuming them - watch the ad then remember this warning before you choose a drink", the ads for burgers and chicken in buckets would be much better if aired after a warning saying "these products contain things that if you had any concerns about the long term health of your kids you'd avoid" and best of all, warnings saying "this programme contains poor people who have been duped into airing their dirty laundry in public for the cheap thrills of the daytime TV audience and is only suitable for ghoulish voyeurs whose own pleasure is more important to them than the sad lives of the programme's guests" - again, I think you know the sort of thing I'm talking about.

Of course I don't really think that every programme and ad should be prefaced by a warning, I suppose what I'm really worried about is that there is someone who decides what should be subject to a warning and what should not.

Perhaps if our viewing is to be moderated by do-gooders in this way, it'd be also appropriate to give warnings that say things like "this programme has been made from the money that viewers spend in premium rate phone calls to become contestants" or "this programme has been made and bought by TV companies who only care about making as much money as possible and producing the lowest cost shows imaginable, that's why the evening schedules are full of celebrities doing "stuff", the members of the public making idiots of themselves and let's get the star-struck public to fund the finding of a new star that we can make loads of money out of so if you watch it be aware that you're supporting the continuation of this trend".

Or town planning departments should insist that superstores put up signs saying "all we care about is getting richer and making more money than our competitors even though we already have more money than we know what to do with, so if you set foot onto this site you share responsibility for killing off shops in your town centre, reduction in biodiversity, pollution and the monopolistic bullying of suppliers - enter at your own risk".

Yeah, I like the sound of that one!

I am now convinced, having read this again before posting it that I've truly become a mad old goat.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Meaningful dreams?

I have always been plagued by bad dreams, going back as far as I can remember. They mostly consist of scary things in the dark, sometimes identified and sometimes just hints of bad things and danger. Often there is blood.....sometimes it's mine but often it's unidentified.

So, I thought I might be having a major breakthrough when I had a good dream last week. It was fabulous. I was swimming in an azure sea with dolphins and seals. They were playful and I was catching a ride on the dorsal fins of the dolphins, being pulled along fast. I was laughing, warm and happy. I love the sea yet it's a long, long time since I last swam in the sea. It's just too cold here in the UK most of the time for a wimp like me. The last time I got to partake of this pleasure was in Malta about a dozen or more years ago. In this country, I swim in heated pools and to be completely frank, I've not been in a pool of any description (other than my own bath) since before I moved to Cornwall three years ago. I've even got a brand-new, unused swimming cozzie that I've had for about three or four years that I've never even christened.

So, to have such a "real" dream, not just visually but touch, taste and sounds too was a great joy. My swim with seals and dolphins felt like a real experience even though it was fake in the most absolute of senses. I experienced pleasure in a completely pure form. It was fab.

I took this dream to mean my mind is starting to come through its blackness and out into the light again. Today I have looked up the meaning of swimming in a warm and wonderful sea with seals and dolphins in my guide to dreams (yes, I AM the sort of sucker who buys such drivel) and the news all looks good - the ocean - good, especially swimming in it in good weather, a sign of enlarging my sphere of activity and or influence. Seals = prosperity and dolphins = advancement through own mental vigour.......all good so far!

Then the next day, back to strange dreams of death and destruction - this time, finding the carcasses of dead animals in the garden, just lying in the grass. A cat, a sheep, a goat, a rabbit, a rat - all dead but looking like they were just sleeping. This one is trickier because it seems it's quite unusual but carcasses are supposed to be good if they are not decayed, dead cats in dreams are good omens (so says the book, not my words), likewise sheep are generally positive.

So, now I'm not so sure - is my mind telling me that some of the things that plague me are no longer a problem for me? Is my mind telling me something I've not actually worked out? Is it all just hocus-pocus anyway and not to have anything read into?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Stephen John Alstead - the boy that never was

It was my birthday yesterday - I was 48. It's a bit of a scary thought to be honest. DM says I should think of it as having a 24 year old left half and a 24 year old right half and when you put the two together you get to 48. He's such a sweetie isn't he?

I am a woman. This is a fact of which I'm completely certain.

Anyway, my folks decided that they wanted to be with their broken daughter on her birthday, the first time they've been with me since my 40th, when I had a humdinger of a party but more of that another day. So, here they are. We went to Truro for the day on the train and had a lovely peaceful time wandering around the "fake" Gothic Cathedral there - it's fake because it's Victorian Gothic, not real Gothic. Mind you, its young age is no barrier to its beauty. It is quite deliciously lovely in a way that many churches are. It shares its age (in broad terms at least) with another of the most lovely churches I've ever seen - the Sacre Coeur in Paris, which is also a late 19th/early 20th century building. (Not a lot of people know that!)

Anyway, we got to telling DM that my "real" name is Stephen John Alstead and that I came into the world at 8.50pm several thousand miles away from home. My Mum went into labour at the tender age of 18 and my Dad rushed her to the military hospital where I was born a few hours later. As was the way in those seemingly unenlightened times, the strict military nurses sent my Dad home to await news of his first born.

When I arrived, the message was communicated to my Dad that he was the proud father of a baby boy. Since my folks had already decided on a name should they have a son, my Dad sent telegrams home to the family in England proclaiming the birth of their son, Stephen John!

When my Dad got to the hospital to see his new-born son, he found my Mum in deep distress, crying her eyes out. The problem? She had to tell my Dad he'd been misinformed and had got a little girl not a little boy. Ooops. She was distraught thinking my Dad would be disappointed with his little bundle of joy. Not so, fortunately for me, he was petrified that Mum was so distressed because I was seriously ill, rather than simply with two xs instead of an x and a y.

So, he was introduced to his baby daughter and fell in love with her at once. So, Stephen John Alstead, the boy that never was became me..........

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Seeing Jeff and Gary again....

I'm so thrilled because I'm going to see my pal Jeff again this afternoon, for the first time in three months. He doesn't know he's my pal but I regard him among my friends. (Sadly these days many of my friends are "not real" in as much as I think of them as friends but they don't have a clue who I am......I think I'm turning into a stalker.)

He's the presenter of Sky Sport's Soccer Saturday and he's fab. He's got an encyclopaedic knowledge of the glorious game, he's a "real fan", supporting I think Hartlepool rather than a glory club. He referees a bunch of pundits who are watching Premiership games and commenting on other scores, incidents and results. It's a truly wonderful show from a company who I normally consider myself reluctantly a customer of. Sky TV is expensive, very ad-laden and frankly the programming/scheduling is often so "lowest common denominator" as to be scary. I hate being a customer but they have a monopoly in this country unless you live in a city and can get cable.

Then there's the lovely Gary. Lineker of course. He'll (hopefully) be back tonight with Match of the Day. Gary is perfect. I'd marry him in a flash (of course that's a bit of a stalker thing to say too), though I doubt he'd even give me a second glance. He's also perfect in as much as he once wore the great white shirt of the Lilywhites and what I'm leading up to of course is that today we see our boys take the field for the start of the new Premiership season.

We've got Middlesborough away - a good, strong side, especially at home and we don't have a great track record there. The pundits think we'll lose. I've had my first cup of tea out of my new Spurs Mug (it proudly proclaims Spurs 5 Arsenal 1), I am wearing my Spurs shirt - these days you'd have to describe it as a vintage one - it's a Holsten one, a Spurs sweatshirt and lucky pants. I'm all set for the kick off and looking forward to reacquainting myself with the lovely Jeff and Gary. Bring it on.......COYS or Come On You Spurs to the unenlightened.

I may be an armchair supporter these days, but I have "earned my Spurs" the hard way at games week-in, week-out for donkey's years. COYS!

Friday, 15 August 2008

strange things happening

We want to know what's going on in our it coming to an end?

Why the dilemma?

Well, it's blue sky and sunshine here today, such a rare event as to be more so than finding hens teeth. It was cause for so much excitement last night that a crowd of us got together and discussed how much washing we could get dry in our single day-long window of good weather. I've done two loads and my friends Toni and Erica have also been working hard getting theirs done too. It's a miracle. It's glorious.

Mind you, I can see my herbaceous border from the house for the first time in ages (too murky and foggy for the whole of this summer) and I'm a lot less pleased to see a group of teeny-weeny baby wabbits munching their way through my plants. I've discovered that almost every man-Jack critter on the planet is trying to eat my plants at the moment - wabbits, wabbits and more wabbits, slugs, slugs and more slugs, not to mention that we humans are eagerly scooping up the tomatoes (which don't seem to be troubled by slugs), the potatoes (which DO seem to be troubled by slugs) and the peas which also manage to avoid slug damage. I've decided that over the winter I'm going to build a small pond right in the middle of my veggie patch and fill it with captured tadpoles from the pools on the moor. Although the beer traps work well in the right weather, this year they've been flooded with rainwater so often that they're virtually useless.

The other major weird event is that the house is devoid of dogs. It's very strange not to be either tripping over Rosie or having her yipping outside the back door because she's got herself shut out. They've gone off to be "done" - washed, trimmed, brushed and's very strange to get them back smelling of perfume and not dog but it's a welcome diversion from the norm every now and again.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

waking up with a tattoo

I'm now starting to build up my new drug for severe depression and anxiety. I reckon I've come through the worst of the withdrawal from Prozac and am now starting to get my body used to its new chemical crutch. This one is controversial - it's a derivative of one I've had before that I reacted badly to, it's patent protected so it's hellishly expensive and it's not on the formulary of my local PCT (Primary Care Trust - the local legislative body that decrees what local physicians can and cannot prescribe).

Frankly, the controversy isn't really that helpful to someone with depression - all I care about is getting better and I'm not sure if I care what I rely on to get me there any more. This is especially true as my natural patience span is short and this has been going on too long. So, if it works and my body doesn't object, I'm all for it.

Surprisingly I don't seem to have had the severe reaction that I had to this drug's (off-patent) older brother, although I fully expected to - perhaps there is a good medical reason for this - I dunno.

Anyway, while my doctors bicker among themselves, I'm just going to quietly go on trying to get better. Other "interested parties" also seem to be bickering and unwilling to accept life as it seems to be at the moment but I've resolved to not let them grind me down any more - there has been two months of "wobbling weather" in my world because of it and I need to put it in a box and forget it.

One of the weird things about these drugs is the morning hangover that feels like the result of a way-too-large quantity of the red stuff. I get sick and headachey EVERY day and I deeply resent it because I'm almost completely tee-total these days, only supping a glass of my favourite tipple once every couple of weeks on average over the last seven or eight months. It's just not fair. All of the pain and none of the pleasures of the dark green bottle........

So, in my fake hung-over state this morning I dragged myself into the bathroom and while going about my ablutions, I noticed something bright and colourful about my person. Oh no, I've forgotten I've been out, drunk a couple of bottles of wine and then found myself getting a tattoo. You know, that old cliche, reported in many an amusing tale over the years (I can think of the episode of Auf Wiedersein Pet, where Kevin Whately ended up with one that had the name of a woman who was NOT his faithful wife back home and the Dave Gorman driving licence to name but two).

I am adorned with bright pink.......OK, OK so it's not a tattoo really - I'm not sure I could ever go that far, especially as I'm completely certain that not a single drop of the red stuff passed my lips last night now I'm down from the initial panic.

Somehow, in my infinite wisdom and my clearly limited memory, I'd painted my toenails bright pink, a state in which they've not been seen for more than two years now, although I once would not have considered myself dressed without brightly-coloured toes. Somehow, the little pearl of wisdom of Gwynneth Lewis, the author of Sunbathing in the rain seems to have permeated my psyche. I can't remember the exact words but it was something like "dress above how you feel" - I've not quite managed to drag myself out from trackie bottoms and holey sweatshirts, but I've at least made sure that if the rain ever stops and I ever get to put on my Birkenstocks again, I'll at least have "over-dressed" toes!!!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Weather warnings

My psychologist has given me a tool to help with my depression. She's asked me to stop describing my mood in the first person "I am sad/I am having a wobble etc" and to start to think of my emotions and mood as part of an ever changing landscape a bit like a weather map. So, "I am sad" becomes "sadness is happening". Strangely or otherwise, I find this quite useful so here goes:

The Emotions Office has issued the following warnings:

Expect a complex weather pattern over the next few days, with many emotional fronts rushing across the landscape. Expect sadness, anxiety, lost-ness(!), worry and gloom. This weather system will whip across your world for the next few days until the middle of next week, when we're expecting the pace of change to slow and a return to brighter emotional weather.

Who knows why but my recovery has hit a bump. The drugs that were helping with my improvement have stopped providing the relief I need. This is probably due to severe "bad things happening" on the work front but nonetheless, my doctors have said that a change of medication is needed.

The trouble is, this requires weaning off the Prozac to go onto something else. As I come off the Prozac, my anxieties and fear rise to the surface again and panic has set in once again.

I write this by way of an explanation because I may not write anything more for a few days - quite apart from the depression symptoms, the nausea and headaches associated with coming off the Prozac are making me feel decidedly grotty.

DM has been asked (by me) to "pull me along" for the next few days so last night he prodded me off the sofa and out into the fresh air. I was grateful and pleased to see my trees. My fight goes on....think of me as having found a ledge on the cliff where I'm shielded from the weather for the most part but with a north wind blowing, the rain is hitting me again. The wind will change direction and my shelter will return.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Just who is Rosie?

She's known variously as Rosie, the Roguester, Rogus Pogus....sometimes with a Poo on the end, you mad bitch, my petal, sweetie, oooowwwwww Rosie and a whole host of lesser names that come to the fore in moments of madness, delight or irritation.

It's her birthday tomorrow. She's going to be nine years old, which, given that she's a Border Collie, makes her a middle aged woman. If you believe the seven dog years for every one human year then she's a pensioner at 63!

Rosie is black, well at least to most people she's as black as the night. Her fur is so black it's almost blue if you know what I mean. She's only got the tiniest "shepherd's lantern" (the white tip of her tail). Her snout is greying and a friend once described her as looking as though she's just tip-toed through a puddle of milk. That's because she's got a pair of cute front legs that look splashed with milk and her back legs, although resolutely black, have the tiniest little blobs of milk on her toes. The roof of her mouth is also black - apparently this is a Border Collie breed standard - if their mouth doesn't have a black roof then the dog's not a "proper" Border Collie.

Her entire life is devoted to me. She would happily be joined at the hip with me but if I'm not showing any sign of receptiveness to her charms, then she'll certainly take her comfort elsewhere and is something of a tart, flinging herself at anyone who'll show an interest in her. At this moment, she's tucked up in a ball on the floor of my office by my feet. If I display any sign whatsoever of moving away from my desk, she'll leap to her feet and anticipate some thrilling trip down to the kitchen or better still, into the garden. Rosie doesn't mind where, as long as we're on the move and she's with me.

When I get up in the night to go to the bathroom, Rosie greets me outside the bedroom door, where she's managed to get herself from wherever she's been sleeping to "full parade" in the space of the few moments that it takes me to throw back the duvet, climb out of bed and negotiate the complete darkness to get around the bed and out of the door. Our pitch-dark environment means you can't see her, but you can feel her breath on your legs as you pass her by. I ALWAYS bend down and give her head a scratch on the way past. Some nights, she'll follow me into the bathroom and then stare at me with a quizzical look on her face while I do what I need to do.

In the morning, she eagerly awaits the moment when she can come into the bedroom, circumnavigate the bed, leap onto me and spend a few minutes trying to insert her tongue into one or both of my nostrils. That's when she gets called the less-flattering things in the list at the top of this posting! Then we play "the biting game" and I see a side of Rosie that very few other people see - her white side. You see, when she's upside-down she looks completely white, despite my earlier assertions that she's almost entirely black. She rolls onto her back, then tries to put my hand where she wants her fuss by taking it in her teeth and putting it onto her body where she wants to be tickled. She knows what she wants alright.

Her "best ever" game is "tennis ball" - she'd rather have a manky, chewed, soft tennis ball than any posh dog toy. You know she's managed to root one out when you hear THUD, thud, thud, thud. This is the sound of the ball being tossed towards your feet - the first insistant thud then the lesser thuds as the ball loses its initial momentum. I have NEVER known Rosie to be tired of the tennis ball game before her opponant.

She's my "Battersea Babe", coming into my open arms as a ten-week-old puppy, already having had the sad lot of being taken away from her Mum too early and being rejected by another family. I have loved her ever since the moment I whispered "Rosie" over her head as she sat on my knee in the waiting room to see the Battersea Dogs Home vet before we went home. She turned her head and looked at me and my heart was lost forever.

Although we don't celebrate Rosie's birthday - how can you celebrate the birthday of one baby when you have another who you not only don't know his birthdate, you don't even know his age? I expect we'll probably still spend a few moments thanking the day when I walked through the doors of Battersea and walked out again with her under my arm.

So, I salute Ali Taylor (the collie specialist at Battersea) and all of the rest of the team there for their wonderful gift to me. OK - I may have paid a small sum of money to take her away but nonetheless I still regard her as a gift. She may be 63 in dog years but she'll be my baby girl forever. Battersea Dogs Home gave me the gift of a little critter who loves me more than anything else on the planet - how can you EVER top that?

Cute huh?

Thursday, 7 August 2008


I know that I've written about things I've seen on the goggle box three times recently already and this makes no 4 but I'm nevertheless going to get on my high horse again and complain about the latest Coke ads to make their way onto our screens.

The ad shows beautifully shot footage of cold bottles, covered in condensation, the sensuous(!) shape of the bottle, the effervescent liquid looking wholesome and inviting. It claims that there are no artificial ingredients in the drink and that basically you can really trust Coke to provide you with a thirst-quenching refreshing drink that is not at all bad for you! Not only that, but it's always been good for you and has never contained any dodgy ingredients.

Well, I may be overclaiming the "no artificial ingredients" because this is based on my memory of the ad and as I've not seen it for a few days, I may have got the ACTUAL words wrong.....anyway, no matter, I think we can all assume that's the impression the company's marketers and ad agency want to convey even though they may be only able to make the claim about the "flavourings" - I'm sure their legal team were very careful to only claim what they could legally substantiate, even if they want you to believe that the product is and always has been truly wholesome. After all, the mighty Coca-Cola can't possibly say anything that might lead to a legal battle, can it?

So, never anything nasty in Coca-Cola? Er, well what about the aspartame in their diet formulations? Er - what about the cocaine that was in large quantities in the formula until 1903, then reduced substantially but still present until the 1930s? And while we're about it, what about the Sodium Benzoate linked to hyperactivity in children?

Not to mention having different corporate standards regarding the levels of pesticides that find their way into their products in countries where they think they can get away with lower standards? See Wikipedia's comments on this subject here, where an Indian organisation (Centre for Science and Environment) found levels of pesticides in Coke at 30 times the maximum allowed level in the EU.

But at the end of the day, who cares? Consumers buy it (and many, many people love it). The company makes a huge profit and provides stacks of money to governments all over the world in taxes - who am I to suggest that perhaps you should question the claims of wholesomeness and naturalness? I'm just an ordinary soul who thinks this is fundamentally wrong. I'd prefer to see companies being stopped from making these sorts of claims - even if they start saying that drinking Coke will make you more sexy, have a bigger penis or bigger breasts - surely at least these sorts of claims are so crazy that most people will see through their pretence.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Discretion is the Best part of valour

Can anyone tell me whether they are looking forward to seeing "Totally Calum Best" on the telly?

For anyone who doesn't know what this is, it's a reality TV show where Calum Best has to forgo sex for 50 days and 49 nights while his friends try to tempt him to sample the pleasures of the flesh.........

Oh please???!!!

Can this really be considered entertainment?

As far as I can tell, Calum Best has only one thing that makes him a "celebrity" and that's a Dad who was a gifted footballer and a fatally flawed human being in equal measure.

So, we, the Great British Public are now so discerning as to consider someone who is famous ONLY because his Dad was famous as interesting enough to feature on "celebrity" shows - we really are plumbing the depths aren't we? I must say, I couldn't care less whether Calum Best ever has sex again - as far as I can see that's much more information about the nearly celebrity than I'll ever need to know.

Let's face it, is it really so tragic/difficult/virtuous to go for 50 days without sex? I'm sure there are many folks out there who would love to have the opportunity for sex once every 50 days - in fact, I'll be prepared to bet there'll be many who'd be happy to get it once a year!

Dear, dear me, poor on earth is a man used to getting all his own way EVER going to manage to keep his dick in his pants for 50 whole days? It really is going to be such a terrible challenge. Strangely, we both (that's DM and me) think the so-called temptresses on the ad look rather less human than alien but that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

talking to the sea

Since writing my little piece about whether or not there is anyone out there listening to what I'm saying, I have got to thinking "does it matter?"

You see, for whatever reason, writing is a burning need for me. It can't be stopped.

So, I thought about whether I needed an audience for what I have to say or not and decided that audiences can come in many forms and to be honest, perhaps there is something in speaking to the wind rather than writing it all down for some total stranger to throw brickbats at. A "guest" told me last week that I am going to rot in hell for the whole of eternity and that my only hope of salvation was to "embrace the one and only true Lord". Er right on - in fact, somehow hell seems like a better place to be than rubbing shoulders with this sort of nutter.

I decided that there might be a perfect solution. I could stand on the top of a cliff on the Coast Path and let the wind whip my words from my heart and soul. Let my thoughts be heard by seagulls, cormorants, sky larks, wild flowers, the wind and waves.

So, what to say......

Well, in order to make the effort of finding myself a perfectly remote spot, with weather wild enough to take my words and carry them away from me, I need something of value to say.

Can I write something in advance? Hmmm - I'm not sure I'm confident enough to consider my own words worthy of my wild listeners.

Can I recite someone else's prose or poetry? Well, I could, but where to start - I think the arena requires poetry rather than prose but I know so little poetry that moves me. In my somewhat limited education, the only poetry that I came into contact with was the First World War poets and despite Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth" certainly being worthy of such an audience, it's also just about the bleakest sentiment I can imagine and that's not good for my struggling soul, trying hard to find hope. Since then I've been stirred by poetry I've come across in other contexts, like a lovely e.e.cummings poem that I found quoted from in a book I was reading. My knowledge of this huge area of literature is, therefore about as limited as it's possible to imagine.

Therefore I revert to what some may describe as a lesser form of poetry and have found my perfect anthem for my cliff-top eulogy.

If you should find yourself somewhere on the 258 miles of Cornish Coast Path and you see a middle aged woman with her arms outstretched, a glint in her eye and a smile on her face, it'll be me. I'll be the one letting the rain hit my face and the wind whip the words from my mouth while I yell out at the sea......

#.........if we get caught in this wind then we could burn the ocean
if we get caught in this scene we're gonna be undone
it's just a simple metaphor, it's for a burning love
don't it make you smile like a forest fire......#

I may be a philistine where poetry is concerned, but this will do it for me. This will give me satisfaction for my soul. They may not be my own words, (they belong to that wonderful musician Lloyd Cole) but they are a start. Those who consider themselves students of poetry or indeed poets themselves may think this is a poor substitute for "the real thing" but it's very much a real thing to me.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Perfect Peggy

I suppose a good place to start today is to tell that "I need Gok" upset DM because it was very bleak so I resolved not to post again until I felt a wee bit more cheerful. Hence yesterday and now again today!

Today's post is about a beautiful young woman called Peggy. She first came to my attention because she had the most wonderful hairdo. It's like a quiff stuck on backwards. She's very chic in her grey outfit, with splashes of black and white, she always looks immaculately turned out. Her jet black eyes sparkle and shine and she's a picture of health. She's got long, thin, graceful legs that go right up to her bottom as the saying goes. She's really beautiful.

She's a female chaffinch of course - who else?

She comes to our bird table every day, often several times in each day. She'll fly in and land on the back of a garden chair while waiting her turn on the bird table. (There is a definite etiquette among my little feathered friends that dictates who feeds when and who can be on the table with whom.)

When she lands on the chair, she does this little shuffle that none of the others do. She sort of wobbles, as though finding her balance, then she'll bob up and down for a bit, then she'll daintily fly up in the air, turning round so she's facing the opposite way. She's the only one of our birds to do this.

How can I be so sure it's her - perhaps all of the female chaffinches are doing it and I'm just attributing it to Peggy?

Well, she's only got one foot you see. The bobbing up and down is her trying to get her stump balanced onto the chair because she has no foot with which to grip.

What a remarkable little critter she is. She's as beautiful as a beautiful thing and she sure looks after herself well. When we first spotted her, we thought she'd never survive but we've been seeing her now for several weeks and she looks as good as ever.

In fact, what am I wasting time sitting here writing about her for when I should be making sure there is enough food on the bird table for her and her friends for breakfast...........

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

tonic for the soul

There was more than one occasion, indeed many occasions, when I questioned why I did my five-year-long blog on pbase ( Although overall the experience was hugely positive, sometimes the "chore" got me down and occasionally, a stupid guest comment got me mad.

This week, I have found myself with a huge smile on my face three times because of all that work and effort I put into pbase. Three non-pbase women who were regular readers of my blog have contacted me regarding various things.

Firstly Mindy - thank you for the comment on David's pbase - it made me very happy.

Then Christa - I was so glad to hear from you too - again I got a big smile from hearing from you.

The one that really stunned me was from a lady called Susie who has been following my life through pbase and she emailed me this morning to say she'd been inspired by me to follow her dream and go to her first gig. She's a mother of three whose family thought such things were bad so as a young woman she never ventured to a live music venue. Last night, she went to see George Michael, having seen me write about the thrill of live music and realising that if this "middle-aged woman" (me) could do it, so could she. Her email's tone was soaring with pleasure and happiness. She said I made that happen for her. I'm sure that she made it happen for herself but if she wants me to take credit for "enabling her" then I will happily do so.

One of the terrible things about clinical depression is the way that you think you are totally useless, without redemption. Reading the notes of people who had a thirst to see more of my world made me realise that I've "touched a few souls" with my writing so maybe, just maybe, I'm not completely useless after all.

In total now, I know that a few pbasers are also finding their way here so welcome to Gail and Gordon from pbase and Teresa of course (and anyone else making the journey). Thanks for being kind friends.

Sorry, I know this sounds a bit like an Oscars speech, but I just wanted to show you all that your faith in me has given me a boost.

Overall, the blogspot experience is difficult to guauge - there is no feedback about page views and you only know about comments by scrolling through your entries and looking at the end of each. Sometimes, since I started this new journey, I've been feeling as though I'm at best talking to myself because there is no way of knowing if anyone out there looks at this. So, a little plea, why not leave me a message?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

I need Gok

Here in the UK we have a TV show called "How to look good naked". It's hosted by a fabulously extra camp chap called Gok Wan. Gok takes a woman who has lost herself and brings her alive again by encouraging her to make the most of her assets, whatever they are and to love the parts of her that she's come to hate.

I think Gok gets away with things that no straight guy ever could in the same situation - I was all at once both horrified and thrilled when he buried his head in a woman's chest and sighed "you have magnificent bazookas". No-one with a sexual attraction towards their subject could get away with that without being totally creepy, yet when Gok does it you admire his cheek and long to be that woman!!!

I watch this show with a real mix of terror and elation, knowing that the women who agree to participate are at the end of their tether, with sub-zero self esteem, much like myself. He treats each woman with utmost kindness and respect, coaxing them out of their "sacks" that they hide behind. He shows them that their self-image is way from the image that others have of them - they will almost always describe themselves as much fatter than they are, they often have hang-ups about stretch marks and other things they see as blemishes. Gok shows them that they are indeed lovable and beautiful. He gives them back their self-esteem by gently showing them how to dress to suit their shape. He offers these women hope that they'd forgotten existed.

The two best bits of the show are the bit where the woman is photographed naked and she always comes out looking like a glamourous, vibrant soul, no matter what her size or shape. It's done with such attention to detail and care that the woman's "best bits" are highlighted, drawing the eyes away from the so-called blemishes. The other wonderful bit is where the woman models her new wardrobe (and self) on a catwalk in a busy shopping centre, culminating with a walk down the catwalk in underwear and finally a cheeky naked glimpse at the end. The reason why this is so joyful is that a woman who starts the show crushed, broken and bleeding suddenly sees what others see. Her family is in the audience and to be honest, the look of pride and happiness on the husband/boyfriend/best friend/Mum as she struts her stuff is so uplifting. It's real soul food.

Each time I settle down to watch the show, I realise that these women often display at least some of the characteristics of depression. They are fragile and brittle in a way that looking in seems heartbreaking and "plain wrong" given that we as the viewers don't see them with their own eyes, we see them with at least unbiased eyes and (in my case and that of many of my friends) see them with eyes that are full of kindness for the lost soul who is being helped by Gok.

I need a Gok in my life. I could never get my kit off in front of a camera or strut my stuff on a catwalk, I'm just too far gone to ever achieve that. BUT I can see how someone stroking my hair, telling me how clever/kind/caring/pretty I am and helping me to see that for myself could help me up from the abyss that I'm making tiny steps already to climb out of. Oh how I wish that I could have my own confidence restored and to become a Linda that I recognise, rather than this ghostly, pale, scared soul that I've become.

My psychologist is making some headway here but my mind keeps finding its way into black corners that are difficult to see how to escape from.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

sex and drugs and rock and roll

One of the things I once liked most about myself was my rebelliousness. I would go out of my way to make sure that no-one could predict my responses to things or what I'd do next.

Music was a big part of that Linda and I was constantly drawn to artists on the Stiff Records label, including the bloody marvellous Ian Dury and the Blockheads, whose "sex and drugs and rock and roll" single spawned a whole load of fab merchandise - remember the button badges with one word from the title on? Remember the t-shirt, with the rubberised text and the stiff logo on the arm? I had one of those at the time, along with a "if you kill time you murder success" one! Well, when I spotted that t-shirt being re-issued recently I just had to have one. In fact, I also bought another which was a new Stiffy - and very apt in these days of "little blue pills". It bears the very irreverant and very typically Stiff legend "Stiff without any fucking pills".

These two shirts give me a thrill. (Sorry Mum)

Why? Well, they represent a Linda that has been lost. A young rebel who thought nothing of going to gigs five-nights-a-week or jumping into the car, going to Manchester to see a band on a Tuesday night, then driving home overnight, showering and going straight to work with no sleep but lots of great memories. A Linda who had dreams of becoming a" rock photographer. A Linda who knew what she stood for and stood for it whether it was popular or "good" or not. A Linda who believed in things and didn't compromise her values for success or money.

Somehow that Linda got lost along the way, being replaced with a Linda who may have been considered by many to be less abrasive but who Linda didn't recognise.

I bought my two Stiff shirts and wear them proudly in the garden, while cutting the grass. A task that I loathe. Today, I have been wearing my "sex and ...." t-shirt, with a pair of friesian cow-print trousers, cutting the grass and singing along to myself.....

#....Keep your silly ways or throw them out the window
The wisdom of your ways, I've been there and I know
Lots of other ways, what a jolly bad show
If all you ever do is business you don't like.....

I may not be a rock and roll rebel any more, but perhaps now I'm the Great Pretender!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

In no hurry

Today I had a moment that I am going to describe as an epiphany and it all started because I needed some thread for my sewing machine, which has been placed lovingly on the dining room table, dusted down and opened up for the first time in ages. OK, so I was only planning to make cushion covers but at least I was about to use my sewing skill.

I needed cream cotton for the job in hand and it says a lot about my sewing box that I had masses of black, several shades of red, several shades of pink and a few blues but no cream or white of any description. My sewing machine (a relic of around 30 years old, bought second-hand at least 20 years ago) is fussy. It won't sew with anything other than Gutermann and I only know of one place to buy it, a little craft shop in our local town so I set off to buy a reel.

DM said to me as I left home "can you buy some sugar" (feeding baby bees in bad weather is essential to the long-term good of the colony). So, I popped into the small grocery store in town for a bag.

There were two checkouts open, both with someone being served and both with one other customer waiting so I just picked one and queued. After a few minutes, I noticed that the other till had cleared all its customers and was standing empty, while the lady in front of me was still sorting out her money. Then I realised she was a very old lady and she was clearly struggling with either seeing her money or comprehending what money to hand to the cashier. She had the help of a uniformed nurse so didn't need any more help other than not to be hassled.

As she completed her transaction, she turned to me and apologised for keeping me waiting. I replied "don't worry, take as long as you like, I'm in no hurry".


I suddenly wanted to scoop the lady up in my arms, give her a hug and a quick dance around the checkout because I realised this was the first occasion in my adult life when I've been able to say those words and mean them.

Feel the grass grow. Learn to breathe.

My "old self", living at 100 miles an hour, would never have wished her any harm but would have been fretting about getting out of the shop as quickly as possible so I could get on with the 50 other things I needed to achieve today.

My GP, psychiatrist and now my psychologist have all told me (along with all of my friends and family) that I can't go on like that. That I must learn to live in the moment without worrying about what happens next.

So how many things have I achieved today? Only one important one. That it's OK to not be in a hurry.

I suppose deep down, I am worried that I will need to face up to the future soon but I don't need to allow that to stop me from learning about simple pleasure and about nurturing peace in my soul today.

Friday, 11 July 2008


I have twin passions, both are closely related. One, as described yesterday is my garden and the other is food. I love food (as my size surely testifies) and I am evangelistic about "real food". I really don't want to eat pre-processed foods and never did, not even before reading books like "Eat your heart out" or "The vitamin murders". These books have just strengthened my resolve to cook from fresh ingredients and to try to always buy packet foods that only contain ingredients that I'd recognise from my own store cupboard.

So, if a pack has hydrogenated vegetable oil or E-whatever or inverted sugar syrup or aspartime or any other man-made "nasty" then it doesn't find its way into my supermarket trolley.

Of course this means that "convenience food" is almost impossible to buy. The only company whose products I trust totally is Covent Garden Soups. Read their ingredients and compare them to the wannabes in similar packs on shelves and in theirs you'll see real ingredients and in the wannabes you'll see toxic chemicals.

So, I cook.

I cook from raw ingredients and our diet is better for it. I make pasta from eggs and flour, bread from flour, yeast, sugar and water and sauces from fresh, seasonal vegetables and local cheeses.

Why then do I not "love" any of the telly chefs in the way I love Monty and Geoff? I don't know. I admire many of them - you can't fail with a Delia Smith recipe even though I'm appalled at her latest series, Jamie Oliver has some great ideas and is good at the simple stuff and Gary Rhodes is clearly a terrific chef, despite his somewhat dubious hairdo! Others I can't abide - you can put James Martin and Anthony Warrell-Thompson in this category. To me, they are the Alan Titchmarshes of the food world - they seem more interested in celebrity status than food.

So, this morning, when I was woken up by Antonio Carluccio using the phrase MOF, MOF on Radio 4, it stuck in my mind. Maximum of Flavour, Minimum of Fuss - yep, a good philosophy and a good way to remember not to get too clever in your food preparation, even if the English is a bit Italian if you see what I mean!

Depression has caused my passion for this principle to grow because I've been reading scary "save the planet" books although Claz, who has just gone home after a few lovely days here, says that I need to ditch them in favour of pulp fiction because I'm getting so disturbed by what I read. She's probably right so I'm going to go out and buy a pile of chick lit books and immerse myself in nonsense for a few weeks.

I've learned that food for the soul isn't always in the places you expect and that sometimes the "good and worthy" can be dangerous when you're already struggling to find a way out of the abyss.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Pure unadulterated magic or just OK?

I'm still sad because of losing Monty Don from Gardener's World.

It got me to wondering what is it that made my heart sing as soon as he opened his mouth on the show when other presenters are "fine" - they know their stuff but just don't make you feel great in the way that Monty does. You know they are capable, their advice is wise and compelling, yet you just don't feel the same attraction.

Can you "love" someone who you don't know based on their appearances on TV or their books? As surely as I feel compelled to type this, I feel that I can truly say I love Monty and loved Geoff Hamilton in the same way, yet I just don't feel the same way about Carol, Joe or any of the other presenters.

I've come to the conclusion that it's a heady mix of pure charisma, animated enthusiasm and my own receptiveness to the way that these two men relate to their gardens. I see myself in them. I know that I would not have become a passionate gardener if Geoff hadn't captured my imagination so comprehensively. After his death, I felt as though I was fighting my way through the wilderness with nothing more in my armamentarium than his written wisdom (yes, I have every book he wrote). I couldn't relate to Alan Titchmarsh or any of the others.

Then an idle flick through the channels revealed Monty doing his stuff and I was hooked again. He shoved his hands into the soil and my world felt right again. I don't know what it was, a mix of the twinkle in his eye, the sheer exuberant joy of his style or the fact that I felt a kinship with him. It was only after he announced his decision to leave the show after suffering a stroke that I realised that he too has known clinical depression. Perhaps, as I said before, "it takes one to know one". In the "Jewel Garden" his wife Sarah describes him as "loony" and I smile. If he is, then I am too and proud of it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Am I wrong?

I'll state the start-point for this where it should be, upfront!

I am a raving pacifict. I hate guns, knives, bombs and all of the other ways in which people maliciously cause harm to other people.

So why is it then that I have an almost unstoppable urge to go out and buy a shotgun, along with a whole load of second-hand 42" tellies that work perfectly well but people don't want now they can replace them with 72" plasma screens. I'd set up a telly and then when one of those "why do we care whether Andrew Lloyd Webber has a problem with Maria", "we're not remotely interested in watching strange people sleeping on Big Brother" or "pop idol for two minutes until the next bunch of wannabes come along" shows starts, I can show my protest from the comfort of my sofa by taking aim and firing at the TV. Then I'd put the telly I've just "made smaller" into landfill (where it was surely destined to go anyway) and get another one out.

This is, of course, a pointless exercise and one that's not going to please anyone except me. However, I offer it up as a lone act against the clamour of "thrill" that most people seem to find in these shows.

Of course I don't have a gun licence and I can't imagine that I'd get one if I was honest about my reason for wanting one. Maybe I could just cut out the formalities and buy one off a teenager? (Hmmmmm)

So am I displaying signs of complete bonkers-ness? I expect so but then at least I'm showing signs of life, however warped and sick. A couple of months ago, I couldn't have raised enough energy to even care so I'm claiming this as an improvement.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

It takes one to know one

Since being diagnosed with depression and subsequently reading lots of stuff about it, I've realised just how widespread the illness is.

Take last night for example, it was the culmination of the latest Doctor Who series and at the grand old age of 47, I've finally managed to migrate around the sofa and watch from the comfort of sitting on it instead of cowering behind it!!!!!

What I saw was slightly different from what DM saw. He saw an action-packed thriller, where two Doctor Whos and a Doctor Donna saved the world along with a number of ex-Dr Who assistants. What he saw was exactly what happened. What I saw was that the writer of the episode knew what it was like to suffer from depression.

He/she was obsessed by the bees leaving our world (a classic case of depressive worry) and had written Donna's character to belittle herself all of the time -"I'm nobody, I'm just a temp from Chiswick". She repeated that over and over again in the way that only someone who knows what it's like to be depressed would have done. Clearly Catherine Tate was acting (and bloody marvellously too, if I may say so) but the person who put the words into her mouth knows what it's like alright.

I used to say that you can tell the lonely by looking into their eyes, I still believe this to be true and I now know that you can tell the depressed by what they say.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Getting the fear

I read "by the yard" , usually around two books a week. In recent times, I have noticed a change in my chosen reading matter. If I go back a couple of years, I was reading 99% fiction, the only non-fiction I was reading were gardening manuals and cookery books. I'd be just as likely to have a classic in my hand (such as EM Forster, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy) as a modern "serious" book (such as "Snow falling on cedars", something by Salman Rushdie or Kingsley Amis) or "pap" - and I'll let you decide what falls into the third category for me.

In the period before I fell into the abyss, my reading matter changed. I could no longer face "heavy" fiction and my fiction reading became more-or-less all "pap" or out-and-out belly laughers. I just couldn't risk sobbing any more on the train between Paddington and Cornwall, I was already doing that enough without sad books adding to my misery. I read a lot of "life change" books, you know the sort of thing "A year in Provence", The Olive Farm", "Urban Dreams, Rural Realities" - I'm sure you get the picture. I was still a prodigious consumer of cookery books and gardening reference material.

Since November (the Black Thursday crash), I've been struggling to find fiction that I can read without causing me to wobble back into the abyss - it's amazing how when you're fragile, even funny things seem laden with misery. So, my reading material has been made up almost entirely of books about depression and people who are/have been depressed (Sunbathing in the rain and Monty Don's book to name two) along with "save the planet" books. I've consumed "Bread matters", "The new English table", "Wild garlic, gooseberries and me", "Forgotten fruits", "The apple source book", "The vitamin murders", "A world without bees" and now "Eat your heart out" is filling me with panic about what happens when the oil runs out. The chapters I've read so far seem to suggest that without oil we won't be able to feed most of the planet's population and therefore anarchy will prevail.

I'm scared.

So this brings me back to the age-old dilemma. Does it matter one jot that I don't eat meat to the millions of animals that are kept in appalling conditions to provide food to the rest of the world? Am I making a positive contribution by trying to save energy, resources and garden organically? Will growing my own veg and supporting local food suppliers be any more than a tiny drop in the ocean whose tide is ebbing so quickly away from us that my drop will make no difference whatsoever? In other words, can one person make any difference at all?

All of these doubts and fears sit alongside two news stories of the last two days, one about a chemical used as a herbicide that's been shown to survive through horses fed on hay made with this product's guts and to be present in big enough quantities for organic growers to find that the manure they thought would benefit their plants/food is actually harming it. The other story is the scary news of a lorry-load of bees over turning in Canada en-route between two vast areas of monoculture. Bees are not meant to live like that.

We are pushing all our resurces until they drop with exhaustion and despair and can no longer function. Now again I see a parallel in my own world. Although I can lay blame for my own demise with no-one but myself, it's true to say that my fall was triggered with the same exhaustion and despair that is ruining our food chain. I know what it feels like to be those bees, carted all over the place and then set to work.

I reiterate my earlier point - I'm scared!