Oregon to Paris. What? Well, with two weeks full tilt work in between, but yes. I went to Paris for a whole week with the man in the hat. We were tourists and loungers and beer drinkers in the sun. It was fabulous. It was noisy, smelly, expensive and glorious. It’s a living, working, bustling cliché. My French is rubbish, but now marginally better rubbish than it was before. My vow is to learn French and go back to Paris and stun them all with my insanely vast vocabulary, accent, wit and style. On the other hand I expect I will simply go back as a tourist again and fumble and mumble and still be slightly intimidated by the elegant shop assistants in their black outfits and sharp, red lips.
The first four nights were spent at the Eldorado Hotel, a legendary golden king or for our purposes a bonkers hotel in the northern part of the city, near the Place de Clichy. We were on the third floor, overlooking the street and if we craned our necks far enough you could see the tippy top of the Tour Eiffel, at night anyway, when it was lit up like the brazen trollope she is.
Following a giddy first couple of days of tramping the streets of Monmartre, looking at glorious paintings, churches, windows, streets and witty street art, basking in the sunshine, drinking cold beer, eating insanely good and also some mediocre food, people watching and inbibing the romance of the city by osmosis, we finally remembered how old we are and virtually collapsed. It wasn’t helped by the ardent nature of the Paris recycling department who collect their items separately from about 3am every morning – that’s about four different different bin lorries down a very narrow street one after the other EVERY morning; not to mention the scooters with their waspish noise and unfriendly hooters and the shouty early morning Parisiens right outside our window, EVERY morning. I had asked for room with a view (I know, I know) and got a view of a shop called ‘Bunny Faux Ongles’ with noise thrown in as bonus. Actually our view was perfect given where we were – bit edgy, bit scruffy, very Parisien.
It was despite all was a really fabulous and sexy place to stay with it’s own little bistro and bar, great food, perfect wine, lovely staff, and very cheap. If you ever go there ask for a room at the back is all.
We hit a wall after a visit to Versailles. I think in fact that Versailles was so disappointing that it depressed us a bit. All the hat man wanted to do was sleep – I don’t think the appearance of Ms. Antoinette herself would have helped much frankly. It’s vast, and confusing. You are never really sure what you are looking at and there is none of that stuff you find in English palaces and grand houses where they show you the nitty gritty of daily life in the ‘olden days’, like the kitchens or the loos, or any clothes of the era. I know it all probably got burned by the proletariat, or made into cushions or something, and it might have helped to strap on a recorded guide to my head, but what with the heat, the millions of tourists looking as bemused as we did and the garden which appeared to be under construction it all just seemed a little bit undecided as to what it was actually presenting. And you couldn’t even get an ice cream there! All told I was infinitely more impressed by the Carnavalet Museum in the Marais, a visual history of Paris jam packed with gorgeous paintings and nick-nacks to satisfy even my addiction to domestic detail and nit-pickery.
On to the next place I had booked to stay. This was to be our bit of luxury, a bit pricey but very central, very chi-chi, old world charming etc etc. The room was billed as ‘small’, and indeed it was. I have no problem with small, IF there is a window that opens onto something more than a terrarium which is itself at the bottom of a five story inner building well. There was light, but it was five stories away and coming thorough a hole that was approximately five inches wide. The room itself was very comfortable and cleverly fitted our so that despite being weeny there was a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Everything was also monogrammed to within an inch of it’s life. The walls were old worlde French flower prints – pretty but claustrophobic in such a small space. Our bedroom door opened into the reception area. Very odd place. Not sexy.
We did manage to catch up on a bit of sleep but poor old hat man got a bug and an evening at the Scottish Pub (referendum day), meeting up with an old friend of his was spoiled by him feeling very poorly indeed. Trooper that he is we carried on with touristing the next day and he got his mojo back by our last day. That evening we went back to a restaurant, Le Coude Fou (the Crazy Elbow!), we had stumbled on before, hoping that a second visit wouldn’t disappoint, and it didn’t. Not only did both the food an wine match up to the previous visit but we made friends, perforce as the tables were very small and very close to each other, with a couple of New Yorkers who were also on their last night in Paris, before heading to London. As hat man said after, no matter how much you love someone it is nice to talk to someone else after a whole week of just each other’s company, and after sharing wine too we were declared family and now have an invitation to join them for dinner in New York, which I hope we can do one day, but until then…
I am in Oregon, USA as I tap this into my ipad. To be precise I am in Bend, Oregon. So far I have seen a strip mall and my room in the Shilo Hotel Inn and Suites. The room is dingy and dated but it doesn’t matter since the reason I am here is to visit my son, not luxuriate in hotel freebies and crisp white linen. Although a bedspread that didn’t spark with every shuffle would be nice.
Oregon is stunningly beautiful. I drove the coast road once, long ago, and today drove from Portland to Bend though hills, mountains, forests and what looked like African savannah. I hired a car. I’m driving on the right. By myself. Big thing this. It feels very odd to be in his homeland without my husband.
Tomorrow I am scheduled to meet Birgit at 8am, at the Second Nature offices, from where we will drive about two hours into the desert to meet up with my boy and his group. I haven’t seen him for five weeks, and since then he has been out in the wilderness, trekking, making camp, building relationships with his peers, staff and therapists who are all part of this programme. There are no showers in the wilderness so he is likely to be quite ripe, which will be nice.
Why is he there, I hear you clamouring. Why are so far away, why, what, where, when?? I’m not going to write it all down here, partly because its a bit chilly in the air con and I want to go and buy unnecessary clothing from the mall, and partly because it’s not my story to tell. Suffice to say that it’s been a bumpy ride for him, and us his family, for some time now and we all wanted to fix the situation. This is him fixing the situation.
It’s a really tough thing to face, and a really tough thing to talk about to others, even to family and close friends, which is one of the reasons I am writing this slightly cryptically. Wish me well in the heat and dust, but most of all wish my boy well again, and lend your support in thoughts not words. Thank you. I will send sunshine and warmth in return.
When I was growing up we had a basket for mending. These were clothes that needed a stitch or a darn, or a complete re-think sometimes. I say we, but the only person who ever did any mending was my mother. I sewed what were, in my mind, dainty little initials on handkerchiefs for my father’s Christmas presents, or made tiny tapestry needle books for long suffering Aunt Ginnie, or teeny, weeny little doll’s clothes. We were a very industrious household. These were the days when clothes were made to be worn out, not thrown out, and they weren’t going to be worn out until they were completely threadbare, which due to my mother’s pretty good darning skills was often way past what it should have been to my mind. When the clothes finally got too raggedy they were turned into dusters. That’s how we rolled in the 60’s.
So, that’s one kind of mending. Another kind of mending is the kind I am doing right now. Last week, if you remember, I went off, a sacrificial lamb to the alter of science and surgeons, to have a what I thought was a bit of a gland taken out from my throat and off you pop home dear. Not quite how it was. Being gaga in the few hours post op was quite fun, and also quite depressing in turn. Dosed up on pain killers my son described me as looking stoned – well, I was. In and out of reality, fed ice cream and asked about my stools. There I was, high on painkillers, but not high enough to actually remove the pain, sleepy, no spectacles on hand and all unexpecting-like I was presented with the Bristol Stool Chart, and asked to choose mine from the line up.
Shift change came and no more mention was made of stools so I think I passed (ahem). A sweet nursing assistant came by and poked me with needles while murmuring soothing noises. Having only had some fruit salad and a teeny tub of ice cream since the day before I asked her if there might be a sandwich lurking around possibly, maybe, a vegetarian one (no, I haven’t turned, only on planes and in hospitals)? She brought me a coronation chicken one, saw my face and asked if I might like toast instead. Suddenly the all was right with the world. Toast, I thought. White, sliced, pap bread with lashings of butter. Heaven. And so it came to be. Heaven.
I made it through the night, and the next morning. Passed out with flying colours by my bouncy surgeon who seemed slightly disappointed that I was similarly bouncy, but he loves my scar, very proud of his work. Still in a fog, blood turned to liquid lead and feeling about 150 I went home. And slept. For two days.
Here I am one week, one day down. I have a very neat, very sore scar. I have the remnants of hormones washing about my body, unaware they have lost their home. I have thyroxin pills which I must now take forever. That’s all fine and as it should be; I am mending.
My Mum (who is 87, not 88 – sorry Mum!) too is mending. Her visit to the alter of science and surgeons was much longer and her scars are bigger and sore-er. I have no idea how her hormones are but when I spoke with her yesterday for the first time since the op she sounded bright, clear and utterly remarkable.
I am very proud of her, and proud to be of her genes. She will hopefully be going home at the end of the week, with hers and our beloved Nancy who has been, is and always will be a tower of strength, all 5′ 1″ of her, and where she will continue to mend for some goodly time to come, and where I will visit her very soon.
So, now I’m 53 (I had a birthday, you missed it) and still here, still kicking, if not high then at least without falling over every time. This is my last night with a thyroid gland. Tomorrow it will be removed by Mr. Hughes at the BRI – I am told he has very capable, steady hands.
This is because I have hyperthyroidism, or Graves disease. I don’t know who Graves was but I always find it odd that people like to have such unpleasant things named after them. Anyway, there I will be, deposited by the dear man who married me and has taken two days off work to look after me. Son and heir has also pitched up to hold my hand. They will both be at my beck and call and I will beck and call just to be sure they really are. I am a very lucky Betty and I will have a fine scar at the end of it all.
This is all going to be a walk in the park by comparison to what my mother, Rosemary, will be going through just the day after. She is to have a heart bypass in Leeds General Infirmary. Rosemary is 88, and, as her surgeon delicately put it, has reached her sell by date in the general way of these things. However, he felt that she was a good candidate for this operation because in all other ways she is pretty good fettle. I hope he too has capable and steady hands.
This is all quite overwhelming and words don’t come easily to describe what I am feeling. In fact they don’t come at all. I ask that you, my reader (s?), please spend a few minutes thinking about Rosemary, of her mending, healthy and bouncing back from this very physically traumatic operation. I don’t believe in a god, but I do believe in the power of collective positive thought. Or at least I think I do. With the very good care from our NHS, those nearest loved ones Nancy and Nic & Pauline, and our collective ‘Om’ I know she will come through this, a bit bruised and battered, but clear headed and steady on her feet for the first time in ages.
In the meantime here are some pictures.
Or knitting yoghurt, or wearing Cornish pastie shoes… all signs of imminent hippydom and selling up to open a health food shop in small, unsuspecting Welsh village. But what was once laughed at by the moneyed-up city types as earthy incense saturated nonsense is now revered by the hipperati of Hoxton, vegans can be bankers and Hollywood is wearing Birkenstocks – it’s an absolute free-for-all out there. What was hippy is now hip. Granola is the new black. So, I made some.
Tired of paying over the odds for glamorous packaging (100% recyclable of course), with butterflies and grains artfully scattered in muted, natural ink colours I decided to buy a big jar. The contents of the packaging were almost invariably disappointing so I had very little to lose in trying to make my own. I googled it for starters and trawled endless recipes of the best ever, most delicious/slimming/vegan/expensive/cheap/attractive… The one I found that I liked best was from Buzzfeed (credit where it’s due) – fairly concise, clear instructions and options for ins and outs.
Here is my version.
I use American cups for measuring this, partly because the buzzfeed one uses them, and partly because it’s SO much easier than weighing everything, especially when you don’t have to be that accurate. If you haven’t got them a tea cup will do but if you want to invest, and I heartily recommend you do, click here for super gorgeous posh china ones and here for yer bog standard.
2 cups jumbo oats
1 and half cups nuts (I used ancient leftover bag of mixed nuts plus some pecans, chopped brazils and flaked almonds because that’s what i had in the cupboard)
1 cup pumpkin and sunflower seeds
1 cup maple syrup
half cup sunflower oil
1 whisked egg white (I did one tray with and one without – crunchier with)
1 and half cups mixed dried fruit (I used sultanas, chopped apricots and *goji berries)
*Here’s an interesting** fact about goji berries, also known as wolfberries, not to be confused with wolf apples; they are said to have great health benefits which you can google/believe/not believe as you wish (protect the liver, help eyesight, improve sexual function and fertility, strengthen the legs, boost immune function, improve circulation, promote longevity – so, life nice and tidy right there then). They are quite tart on their own but in this granola recipe they work perfectly with the sweetness of the sultanas and apricots and add some lovely colour.
Pre heat the oven to Gas mark 2, 150C, 300F.
Mix the oats, nuts and seeds well with the oil, maple syrup and egg white in a large baking tray, making sure the mix is spread out well. Put into the oven for about 20 minutes. Remove and stir the mixture. Put back in for another 20-25 minutes or until just beginning to brown.
Remove from the oven and add the fruit. Stir it all up and when completely cool put in jar with a good seal. Then eat it with plain yoghurt, by the handful, with milk or almond milk. Feel better about the world.
Russell, that well known gourmand, loves it and becomes quite animated at the thought of breakfast even he has to eat it at 6.30am.
** debate among yourselves on the interest factor here.
Take one weekend away, leaving a fridge full of vegetables and past sell by creme fraiche.
1 cauliflower, gone bit wild
3 small onions
1 bulb faintly ropey fennel
3 cloves garlic
Chop all ingredients randomly, but not too big.
Start by throwing the onions into a good sized pan, in which you have a glug of sunflower oil and a knob of elderly butter warming nicely. Let the onions soften, stirring every now and then. Add all other vegetables, turn up heat a bit and stir all together. Add water (makes lovely satisfying sizzle) to cover the vegetables, but only just. Chuck in a stock cube, veg or chicken (organic only, Marco PW can shove his knorr up his jacksie) and stir until incorporated. Turn down heat and let simmer until all veg soft and mushing nicely.
Taste – add salt if needed. Whizz entire soup in a food processor, or use a hand blender. If you are still dark ages mash it with vigour. Put back in pan, add spoonful of creme fraiche (scraping the little blue bits off first) and mix in. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve.
Well, it’s been a while – plenty of stuff sloshing around in my head I want to get down here but time seems to be filled with so many other things right now. Anyway, the following will have been by some of you already because it’s been published on my Café website and mailed out already to my subscribers. However, I thought it is worth repeating because sometimes the importance of family is forgotten when we are caught up in our own worlds and lives.
Some people don’t have a family, or not much of one anyway. Some people have enormous ones, with extensions to at least fill an east wing two. For some family is made up of friends, chosen and loved unconditionally. I am very, very lucky because I have both an enormous and extended family and a handful of friends who date back to prehistoric times (sorry gels) with whom I have seen thick, thin, fat, baggy, fun, laughter, tears, abject misery and that thing simply called life.
The following bit is about two of my brothers, and me, and our businesses in Bristol. Read on.