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.
I am having a fat month. I am not looking for posts in response that squeal ‘you are NOT fat!’ please, because, oddly, that isn’t the point. I wear my new layer of fat like a winter coat, one with a fairly large kitten concealed beneath it, i.e. mostly up front. It could be seen to be a comforting sort of fat, which can be stroked as though a pregnant belly (why is it that is acceptable to stroke one’s own tummy only if it contains a baby?), but it isn’t. I don’t want this layer. It has grown out of age, marriage, and lack of fitness; the latter of which in turn is due to laziness, ill health and no bloody time, laziness.
Now I have the time, sort of, but not the inclination. It’s been a hard winter so far. Not cold and frosty, but grey, rainy, flooded, damp and almost warm. This is not weather to make you want to stomp about, huffing into your hands and sweep your eyes appreciatively across the horizon as you clamber to the top of the ridge in good, solid walking boots, the slight gnawing in your stomach a satisfactory response to a 10 mile hike in the knowledge that there is a pie at the other end of it and you can eat it. It is weather to make you stay in, watch another Netflix box set, eat whatever is in the fridge.
Marriage for all it’s benefits, and there are many I could name but that’s for another, cheerier entry, brings about regular meals where one might have skipped a few, or replaced them with a bowl of muesli. It brings out the feeder in me, the need to make sure he is well fed, especially now my son is no longer around to feed and fatten up. So we eat well. Very well. And the pounds/kilos pile on. Even the husband has a belly. He is tall, skinny, bit gangly, with a tiny, little pot belly which protrudes rather shyly beneath his shirt, as though unused to the limelight and a little confused as to what, quite, is going on.
And age, 52 currently, is no friend of the figure. The menopause (or what EVER the HELL it is that keeps making me SO CROSS) is attempting to rearrange my hormones, my fat cells, my mood (bleak, moi?), my joints. I creak now. My back screams ‘no’ as I hoover the sitting room (any excuse) or carry more than a hand bag. It’s a conspiracy to make me sit still and get fatter. Ill health contributes to the decline of all animals as they age, no escaping that one whatever species you are. It’s boring, and we rail inwardly and outwardly against the injustice of it all, fight it and treat it, while also sometimes giving in, because, well, no choice really and it’s quite nice to have an excuse to sit down.
On holiday this year I spent some time with a woman well into her 70’s who used to be a ballet dancer. She is fit, healthy and lithe still. We went swimming together. That is to say, she swam and I flopped about in the shallows, getting puffed just watching her as she disappeared into the horizon line. She wore a bikini, and if you squinted she looked about 25. So there are degrees in the inevitability in the decline of health and fitness. Mind you, my holiday pal’s mind was failing infinitely faster than her body. It will get you on way or another.
Anyway. Of course this pondering on the fat issue, never mind health blah blah, brings us to the feminist issue, because they are naturally entwined. It’s all about societal acceptance of the current form of beauty, isn’t it? If Rubens was still around we’d all happily pile on the pounds and smile constantly over the top of our chins. Not so I think. For a start Rubens’ women were young girls, and as chunky and dimpled as their thighs were, the rest of them had a youthful taughtness. Undressed I do not look like a Rubens’ painting. My bosom is large and unwieldy (can one wield a bosom? hmmm), my tummy, see above.
Back to society’s notions of beauty. I don’t actually care anymore whether society thinks I’m beautiful, which is one of the small compensations of being in my 50s, and I don’t care if society thinks I’m fat. At least not in my clear, feminist mind. But woman have been made to consider how they appear to the opposite, and same, sex for centuries, for ever, whatever, too long – it’s ingrained, it seems to be almost in our DNA. Men too have had to consider this too, granted, but, but… it is different for girls. For the record boys have many of their own, and shared, issues – it is bloody hard being young these days, and I say that without a shred of irony. Will the next generation feel the same? I sincerely hope not. I don’t have a daughter, but lots of nieces, and I would say they are roughly divided 40 – 60 between having a good body image to crap body image so we have a ways to go, as they say.
So, as feminists where are we now with the fat issue? Same place I reckon. Still fighting against the unfairness of having our ‘beauty’, and therefore acceptability, assessed in terms of pounds per square inch and yet all of us but the most brilliant and strong are giving into it somehow, judging ourselves, and others too if we are honest, by the same rules. The head says ‘don’t be ridiculous, look at me, I am intelligent, funny, a contributor to society, parent, wife, doer of good things, superb crocheter’, the heart-mind says ‘I want to look like Elle McPherson because she is my age and put together like a perfect 25 year old’. This of course forgets that even the most perfectly put together 25 year olds are already suffering from the anxieties of not being perfect enough and never mind the money spent to keep old Elle in tip top nick… So, am I a true feminist (as Caitlin Moran defines it – if you put your hand down your pants and find a vagina, do you want to be in charge of it – if yes, you are a feminist, then, yes), yes I am. Do I despair when looking in the mirror? Yes I do, always have done. Stale mate.
I digress. I want to lose weight. I don’t feel comfortable with this kitten up my jumper. It does not sit well on my 5’2” frame, my clothes don’t fit and I don’t have enough money to replace my entire wardrobe, and it makes everything so much harder to do. So, how? I don’t like exercise, we’ve established that, although I do yoga almost regularly (that can be quite hard when you have manoeuvre said bosom around a lunge I can tell you). So it’s got to be the diet. Another septuagenarian (almost) friend is also on this quest. She has bought a book about this 5/2 days diet thing, and also has a recipe book from the 80’s where calories are counted. She made me and husband dinner the other night, of chicken with chorizo, tomato and olives, served lovely home grown kale, but no carbs. It was delicious and apparently only 225 calories per helping. So we ate some cheese and crackers after that, to go with the bottle of wine. It’s easy this losing weight lark.
It’s another Year! 2014. Who’d have thought we’d get this far? For some New year is one of the biggest events in their calendar involving champagne and fireworks, others snuggle down at 9pm with cocoa and a book, while others hit a midway point with a vague feeling that they are missing out on a much better party somewhere as they struggle to stay awake, to knock back some Aldi Cava as Jools Holland starts his count down, eat some cold vol-au-vents and wonder how much they will get charged for the taxi home. But here we all are anyway, on the other side.
My New year however was none of the above. A dinner party hosted by my sister Sue’s friend up the road was where I went; all bling and glam and Dom Perignon thank you very much. Although my bleeding feet (literally as opposed to bloody damn etc) were not glamorous and I had to borrow said sister’s boots to walk home. My past is littered with events where my clothing and/or footwear was inappropriate. Hospital bedsides in filmy silk, muddy walks in sheepskin boots, no coat in arctic weather, walking up the road in brand new, tiny gold shoes* …
The party was to be black tie, sort of. Russell wore a floppy dark red bow at his neck and looked very louche indeed. I tried on everything in my wardrobe and settled black on black as usual, to hide the where-is-my-waist-line, and red lippy to make my point (what point?). None of my clothes fit me anymore, can’t imagine why, they must have shrunk.
We were welcomed with Bollinger in the first floor drawing room, all cream, beige and gold, and for once found ourselves the youngest members of the party. The other guests were an idiosyncratic bunch, an artist with an eye patch, powerful business women with a penchant for the ponies (Cheltenham races, box booked for next day), my lovely sister and her equally lovely husband, one louche chap to beat all louche chaps including my husband despite his floppy bow tie and rakish hat, and of course our hostess, who had a cold but knew how to rally way over and above that in her duties in looking after her guests.
Dinner was served in the ground floor dining room, on a glass topped table which stood on legs of rococo gold. The plates and crystal glasses were decorated in gold and red and were presents to our hostess from a prince of Arabia. The ‘ting’ from the glasses was pitch perfect. It was a feast for the eyes, and the food wasn’t bad either, especially when accompanied by Chateau Mussar – I may not be a wine buff but golly gee whizz that is nice vimto.
Then upstairs to the boudoir, it being the only room with a working telly and we needed some fireworks and Jools to count us into 2014. Up we went to the top, all wheezing slightly after our exertions of downing quantities of the finest wines available to humanity and delicious foods, past the Christmas tree that stood at least 9 feet tall “for the grandchildren”on the landing. The bedroom was all cream, carefully hung clothes arranged like works of art, subtle lighting, angled mirrors and a soft, welcoming bed, which a number of us reclined on as we watched 2013 disappear on the tv.
To usher in 2014 we drank Dom Perignon champagne. I have no idea what year but it tasted wonderful, light, crispy with little bubbles that made you want to sneeze, in a good way. I had not had Dom Perignon before, for the very good reason that it costs over £100 per bottle, whatever the year. I don’t know why it does, but I do know that it felt like a grand treat, and as the youngest person in the room I took a a huge and childish delight in such extravagance.
It is how I sometimes think I’d like to live, but probably would only manage about 5 minutes before I filled the place with noise, mud, paper, Aldi Cava and my life. What ever we think of as good taste there is always someone who doesn’t agree, and in my more recent years I have decided that good taste (that is, my taste) is overrated, and even though I find it hard to shift some of my more snobbish notions it has has opened a whole new world to my eyes. I love a bit of gold (see ref. above*) and over the topness, and here we had it in spades and our hostess was gorgeous and generous and everything you imagine a model from the 60s would be in 2014. It was a wonderful way to be ushered into this year, despite tragic feet.
For Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’t in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid willie-waught
For auld lang syne!
And surely ye’ll be your pint’ stoup,
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
Well, it turns out there are quite a few versions of this famous poem/song, and the above is certainly not the version most sassenachs would have been singing when merry and reeling at midnight – more like ferrauldlangsssssynemdear, shouauld cups be forrrrgot, ferrrthessake’o’alangsssynnnne… hic. Robbie was probably spinning in his grave. But on Burns Night, on the 25th January, he will hopefully relax and enjoy being remembered with haggis, daggers, pipes and kilts (even if it’s in Wales which is where I shall be, wearing sensible shoes and a woolly).