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Hope

January 23, 2020

I recently challenged myself to write 500 words per day, asking friends to give me a one word subject to help me on my way.  I Haven’t always managed 500 per day, but the I have often written lots more in one day so I guess it evens out.  Most of the words I have picked have been woven into a story, or collection of vignettes you might call them, I’m not sure.  Anyway, they are not ready for the world yet, but today I found myself writing this after staring out of the window for a while, my cup of coffee warming my hands, words just arriving in my head.

Hope.

We live on hope.  We hope for better weather, a better, cleaner future.  We hope that you have a happy birthday or that your mother’s death isn’t too paralysing.

Is it another word for praying?  If you have no particular faith is hoping what we do instead of talking to god?   Hope is by its nature optimistic, there is an intrinsic expectation of positive fulfilment.  By hoping for something we feel are half way there, or at least we are nudging that desire in the right direction.  Hoping for a happy birthday for someone is usually a pretty safe bet.  Hoping that the death of someone much loved doesn’t paralyse you is a less safe bet, but the action of expressing that hope will help it on its way to becoming reality.  Hopefully.

Prayer is hope wrapped up in religion.   In an increasingly secular world (or is it?) we squinch up our eyes and hope to god (Gaia, air, humanity) that what we want will come true.  It’s not the same as regular and organised prayer, like going to the mosque and intoning learned verses with choreographed movements, or sitting in a pew in a grand church listening to plainsong as it sails up to the rafters and out and up to whoever your god is, the words from centuries past asking, please, this time, to bring us aid, save our souls, make it all better.  Or shuffling rosary beads though our hands, muttering the same prayer to a young girl who lived and died centuries ago over and over.  Or sitting cross legged on our yoga mats, being mindful and setting out our wishes, hopes and intentions for the day, regularly, rhythmically.  If we remember. 

Squinching up your eyes and hoping against hope that the orange terror currently running the most powerful (apparently) country in the world rots and turns to pungent blue dust, just like real oranges left in the bottom of the fruit bowl, is hoping where there is little chance of that becoming reality, therefore against hope.  In truth I would be happy to avoid the pungent part as I imagine that would be like the acid yellow haze that hangs over heavily polluted cities, only blue.  Nobody wants to breath him in.

Hoping with hope, with or without squinched up eyes, doubles up the optimism power I think; it’s a prayer, without a church, but with a congregation.  I hope with hope for a better world.  It’s a massive and unwieldy hope, and a daunting one.  It’s a hope that takes a battering daily by listening to the news, but also is boosted by seeing people like Greta (spell check wants to make her name ‘great’ which is quite apt) Thunberg rallying the young people of the world to shout at the olds to bloody well get their act together.  It’s boosted by talking to my son and hearing him talk with clarity, focus and wit after a long time of that being absent.  It’s boosted by attending public meetings about local issues, even if there is going to be a massive and ongoing fight ahead. 

People.  People give me hope.  At the same time as vile and greedy people (and corporations are designated people so extra power to them right there tragically) are hoovering up this planet’s resources and spewing out the toxic byproducts, other people, the real people of this planet, are fighting back.  We may be small, but we are mighty.  We can do this.

The word was given me by Rob Wicks.

Ready to roar?

December 30, 2019

This is the bit before the bit just before the end of the year, and in this case the decade.  We are about to re-enter the roaring twenties and there is much to roar about.  So much work to do – get rid of Trump,  create a new business, finish the jigsaw, end plastic pollution, stop the right wing from wheeling further right, reverse climate change… busy busy busy.

Clearly we don’t want the kind of build up the last roaring 20s brought, with the Wall Street crash, followed by the great depression, followed by, well you know, the rise of Hitler and his chums.  Begins to feel uncomfortably familiar, doesn’t it?

So, anyway – among plans for sorting it all out I am also working on smaller, more personal plans.  I won’t call them resolutions, partly because that almost always means they will be dropped by the end of January.  Here they are:

  • Write more – I have submitted a short story into a competition, and while I have no illusions that I will win, especially after my friend Diana, who suggested it, has submitted hers, it was a great exercise and one I want to repeat a lot.  And no, you can’t read it now.
  • Create a wonderful and welcoming Slow Retreat format with Liz Lewitt in her gorgeous place in the Forest of Dean (it can be hired for anything you fancy just you so you know)  I attended the first one she organised and it was a great experience, the idea being to simply slow down, let go and breath a bit.  Due to other commitments Liz can’t organise any more on her own so that’s where I am stepping in.  If you are interested please contact me for further information.
  • Look into making more delicious and natural lotions, potions and balms.  I have made a few already and they have been big hits.  Going form making for friends and family to commercial might be a leap too far but worth looking into.

 

WHAT ARE YOU PLANS AND RESOLUTIONS?

 

The handsome man I live with and I are travelling to the wilds of Somerset for New Years Eve, a lovely low key one that I hope will involve roaring log fires (on theme there), excellent company, food and the finest wines known to humanity.  I am making a lemon tart for my contribution – I will post pictures of it on instagram, because that’s what I do.

See you on the other side faithful follower, and a happy new year to you and yours.

How it ends/begins.

December 4, 2019

A friend of mine recently wrote an article on Linked In about how it feels when a business ends.  I identified with her words, which were characteristically clear and heartfelt.  It can feel like failure, no matter what the reason behind it.  It can set you adrift, no map, no compass.   

It became increasingly clear to me from about this time last year that my business was struggling more than usual.  Usual struggle meant hand to mouth trading, staggering through the quiet periods of the summer months and the Christmas and early New year weeks, hoping to make the wage bill, plus holiday pay, pay all the suppliers so they could enjoy their own breaks or quiet periods, keeping the minimal customer base happy and loyal on a skeleton staff while being tighter than ever on waste.  That’s the usual.  Add to that punitive VAT rules in the catering world (it’s my bugbear, get me started if you like…), the increase in minimum wage, a rise in employer’s national insurance and pension contributions (all valid and just but crippling to a micro company) and rising food prices and you have a perfect storm.  Sadly George Clooney wasn’t part of this storm in his plucky little fishing boat , but the storm was real and on the 31st August this year all three of my cafes ceased trading.  That two of them were resurrected, most staff re-hired immediately and service to the loyal customers resumed very quickly was in no small part due to my negotiating and working with the mostly very understanding and helpful landlords.  I will take some credit for that. 

I was also offered advice and help from a local company who work with independent businesses in the hospitality industry.  It was meant to be a quid pro quo deal but ended up with them simply being generous with their time and knowledge for no gain to themselves.  These kind of people are, to me, the essence of hospitality, “a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity.”  That might be over egging it slightly, but these are good people who do stuff because they can, not because they must or might gain from the act.  I dislike the description of hospitality as an industry, but I digress, as usual.  Without them and their calm assurances I would have been even more stressed and out of my depth, and probably ended up in a much worse situation.

So there I was.  Out of business, in debt, no income, no idea what I could do to get myself back on track.  So I applied to be a Christmas elf at John Lewis.  Not really.  But I did apply to be temp staff there over the Christmas period.  I was offered the position – minimum wage for ten hour days.  I didn’t take it.

Reality kicked in.  My body, which had up to then supported the stress and anxiety of the last few months using tension wires in my neck and back that Brunel could have used in his bridges, gave in.  Everything hurt.  I cried.  A lot.  I grieved. I gave in.  My husband gave me support and love and reassurance.  Still everything hurt.  My stomach revolted.  I won’t go into details but suffice to say that tomorrow I will have a camera  sent up where the sun don’t shine to ‘rule out’ possible causes.  Today I am eating cake and potatoes.  Could be worse.

The limbo of business liquidation does not make for an easy feeling, despite so many people saying ‘oh, it’s nothing, I’ve done it loads of times’.  It’s not nothing when it’s your first time, and it’s after thirteen and half years of trading.  I want it done, over with, but it drags on, chuntering away in the back ground of my awareness.  I believe it will be a few months before the final seal is put on the whole sorry mess and it will be officially be done, dusted, finis.

But.  Big but.  Out of an ending comes a new beginning.  It cannot be any other way, no matter what comes next, it will be new.  I am in an extraordinarily lucky position of being able to take some time to explore possibilities.  I am also able to sleep in the day if I choose to, take a walk, take every bit of fabric I possess and pile it up in front of my sewing machine and wait to see if I make anything with it all, then put it all away again.  I let the guilt of these non-occupations move through me and out, like the nausea that moves in waves through me almost daily.

I have been looking at what I can do, my strengths, my talents, playing with ideas.  I can cook (don’t want to do that for a living any more), I can draw (need more practice), I can make things (everyone loves an egg cosy don’t they?).  I can write.  I can write. 

Everyone knows the story of the phoenix, or thinks they do.  “In ancient Greek folklore a phoenix is a long-lived bird that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor”.  A little over dramatic perhaps but a good metaphor.  I have a phoenix tattoo on my back.  I had it done to mark the death of a lover.  He had one on his arm as a defiant, fuck you gesture to  his cancer.  He lives on in his son, in my tattoo and in the memories of his family and many, many friends, so, fuck you cancer.  I’m digressing again but there is a point. 

We all do this in our lives, end things, whether a natural closure, or against our will.  We all start again, or at least generally have the option to.  Jobs, relationships, homes – they come and go.  For me, this is just another re-birth, another new start.  That I should maybe have done it years ago is something that niggles but either way, here I am, phoenix rising.

 

 

 

XR, pickles and the middle classes

October 15, 2019

Dear faithful reader, it has been some time since my last confession.  No, that’s not right.  My last blog I meant.  Imagine if you said that in the confessional (only catholics, lapsed or otherwise will get that) – insert startled face emoji if you like followed by!!??  Anyway.  This post was meant to be about pickles.  I am in the middle of recalibrating my life (why is for another post further down the line) and want to do more writing, but somehow couldn’t get started.  I found a list by the wondrous Elizabeth Gilbert on how to just do it which starts with the advice to write as though you are writing to a friend.  So I picked Lucy and asked her what she thought I should write about.  I don’t think you are necessarily meant to ask the ‘recipient’ for a subject, but I did because we were talking about it on our walk that we do semi-regularly with our Nordic sticks.  Lucy was having trouble with her pickles so she suggested I write about pickling.  Which I will, but just not right now

Because now I am going to take my bother Luke‘s email that he wrote to friends and family (obviously taking the number one piece of advice on the list and multiplying it) and put it on here.  But not without a little bit of my own thinking, observation and opinions, because it is my blog after all.

Unless you have been living under a rock for quite a while and have just emerged, pale, confused and perhaps a little tearful, you will know that thousands upon thousands of people have been taking to the streets over the last few years, as the various governments and people in charge of this burning world are showing themselves to be increasingly inept, venal and in most cases stupid.  So we have had the Women’s Marches, the People’s Marches, the Brexit marches, for and against, all over the country.  Bristol marches have been well attended and loud, accompanied by the meaty rhythms of local Samba bands, some of which I have joined (the marches not the bands).  I am against Brexit, for the record, as are most of the people I know.  But I believe that the only way to stop the chasm that is opening up in this country, and the world it seems, is not to dismiss people who don’t think like I do as morons (even if that is my knee jerk reaction), but try, somehow to engage and talk with them.  Pretty hard when I don’t any but I’m open to a discussion.  I try to take a Bernadette Russell (kindness campaigner) attitude, often failing, but she’s a good bench mark for how to behave in this life.  I digress.  It is my way.  Sorry.

So now we have Extinction Rebellion, or XR as they are known because Extinction Rebellion is quite a mouthful.  I think XR is great.  I especially like the Red Rebels as they appeal my love of theatricality and colour.

XR Rebels | Group of XR rebels dressed in red to represent ...

I am white, middle class, middle aged, middle privileged, educated to an adequate standard and English, and therefore lucky to live in what still passes for a democracy.  I am not a crusty and I don’t smell of hemp.  Although hemp is the fabric of the future FYI; you read it here first (maybe not) . I did try CBD oil to help ease my arthritis and that really hummed and tasted vile so I stopped – clearly I am not a hardcore hempist.   Questions about diversity, inclusion and equality are alive and kicking even in something so apparently egalitarian as XR which is right and proper because these things need to be addressed everywhere.  XR appears to be made up of middle class, hemp wearing, crusty lawyers, doctors, priests, children, carpenters, able bodied and less so, employed, unemployed, tourists, students, breast feeding activists – a rainbow of people of all ages, hues and spiritual beliefs – but its not perfect.  I have not joined up, but support mildly from the sidelines.  I feel guilty about that.  I feel guilty about a lot of things.  Catholic upbringing with a hefty dose of Jewishness and there you have it – confusion and guilt – who exactly is the Messiah anyway?  Has he been?  Is she coming?  Oy, so many questions.

Here are the XR Demands of the government (you may well ask what bloody government but that would lead to a very lengthy tangential piece we don’t have time for right now) which I don’t think are really too much to ask, do you?

Tell the truth

Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

Act Now

Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

Beyond Politics

Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Am I doing my bit?  Is there such a thing as ‘my bit’ that I can tick off on a list. e.g. I didn’t drive today, excellent work Betty; I didn’t buy bottled water for nearly a year – bravo, here’s a a gold star.  The short answer is no.  The long answer is no, but…

I am sure no one has the time or the will to read about my personal guilt trips and attempts to lead a greener life, I sure as hell haven’t.  I do some stuff to help and have modified my life a little bit to try and be more sustainable, I march a bit locally, I have joined the Woodland Trust who do so much to preserve and extend our woodlands.  It is not sufficient, I know that.  The list of things I haven’t done is endless.  Nothing that one person does is sufficient, except maybe Greta Thunberg, which is why governments need to act now and why XR is so important and why we all should support them and carry on with petitions to Parliament,  carry on with marching and shouting and bashing drums and making noise until the greed of the few is replaced by the good of the many and the planet can breathe again. It can be done.

The arguments for meat/no meat, flying/not flying, march/stay at home, reduce, reuse, recycle go on and on and so they should.  I am part of that.  One day you may meet me on a bridge in London, standing next to my valiant, very human brogue wearing, be-tweeded brother holding a banner in his wood worker’s hands that says ‘wake up and smell the coffin‘.

Here is his letter – it is very long, please take the time to read it.

Some thoughts from just behind the front line.

I became involved with the hemp-smelling crusties, as our leader is pleased to call XR activists (and with whose number his father rather delightfully places himself), because Lizzy gave a talk last Autumn in Bruton and, because it was Lizzy, and because it was in Bruton, I went along. Prior to that evening, like many people, I think, I had been reasonably worried about the environment and climate change, my response being to be reasonably good at recycling, buying mostly organic food, giving lots of thought to almost certainly cutting down on meat at some point, and feeling guilty about how much driving I do. So far, so middle class angst cliché. [now that is amazing – the computer has just put an accent on that e for me, and I didn’t even know it had one. Anyway.

After the talk which Lizzy and her chums gave, I had a very different view of the problem. From being reasonably worried, I quickly became appalled and fearful, and, in my small way, active, because the problem that we are facing is so much greater than I had understood, the consequences of doing nothing, so catastrophic, what we have to change is so very much, and the time in which we have to do it is very short, that I felt I had no choice but to do something. So, last Autumn I went down to London for the demonstration on Waterloo Bridge, in April I was back there again and this week I was once more in the Great Wen, variously on Lambeth Bridge, Millbank, and Victoria Street. So here is how it was for me:-

Sunday evening.

I went up to Marble Arch with Bruton XR chums, to see what was going on there. Various speeches, the odd poem, a certain amount of singing, all of which frequently inaudible – which was not necessarily a bad thing – due to the considerable traffic noise, a rather excessively refreshing breeze, and a rather unreliable megaphone. No matter, we were there, a few hundred I think, and we knew our purpose. Another megaphone was attached to a poltroon who kept well away from the centre of things, but wittered on about how we shouldn’t worry about climate change, we should just have a big fat spliff instead, and how all the men there would serve our cause very well by having vasectomies (which is kind of going in the right direction, although a mass suicide might be more effective I suppose) and how we should all go and get jobs (got one thanks) or maybe that was another idiot. Anyway, he was largely ignored, and I resisted the urge to stick the megaphone up his fundament as I felt it would not be in keeping with XR’s doctrine of non-violence. Hey-ho. And so back to a good supper, good wine, good cheer and a warm bed, unlike the many, much hardier spirits, who were sleeping in Hyde Park.               

Monday morning.

By river-bus to Lambeth Bridge. The earlier arrivals had already taken the bridge, Millbank, Horseferry Road, Trafalgar Square and  other sites around central London – not sure which. I wandered about a bit, checked in with my Bruton chums, found Lizzy, who was in the thick of things, so very much left her to it after giving her a supply of flapjacks. I passed much of the day holding one end of a banner across the bridge, more or less shoulder to shoulder with some of the Met’s finest – two on either side of me. And so we talked, the police officers and the rebels, of why we were there, of jobs and children, of food and of London, of cabbages and kings, and there was some understanding between the two groups in this strange situation – the polite, friendly, not-quite-conflict between two groups who basically want the same thing. Most of the police officers with whom I spoke are sympathetic to the cause, but don’t actually get the very extreme seriousness and urgency of the situation. Like most of the rest of the world. Oddly, I didn’t want lunch, so was able to stay at my post for three or four hours, until I started to seize up and handed my portion of banner to one of my chums. I had offered this task to one of my new friends in the police, but he regretfully declined. I think that I may have gone up to Tate Britain at that point for a pot of adequate tea and quite reasonable millionaire’s shortbread, which stood in well enough for lunch, but I can’t remember if that was the Tuesday . Then a tour of the nearby sites, which were sprouting tents and gazeboes at a rate. I think there were maybe a thousand or so on the bridge and Horseferry Road roundabout, with perhaps a hundred police. Weather, cool, cloudy, grey. Arrests, maybe two hundred. A good supper in a Sechuan restaurant with ho hum beer, fine company and a warm bed, while others were sleeping in tents on the tarmac of central London.

Tuesday morning.

After taking a somewhat baroque route through the city I arrived at Millbank at about ten. The police had cleared the bridge and roundabout the previous evening and so the Southwest group had gone up to Marshall Street, which I think is where Defra do their business. Anyway there were some hundreds of people standing, sitting, milling about, singing somewhat. There was a lorry parked across the road which had been there since Monday morning, there were many tents and so forth, there was chanting and there were more arrests. Also various people asking me if they could photograph my placard, which was nice. I stood about feeling slightly pointless for a bit then went back to Millbank where quite a few arrest were being made – all very calm, very civilised. Also lots of chanting and singing.

Chant: Tell me what democracy looks like! Response: This is what democracy looks like. Chant: (pointing towards the Palace of Westminster) Is that what democracy looks like? Response: THIS is what democracy looks like.

Mostly led by an amazing chum of Lizzy’s called Miriam. Very invigorating and cheering. Lots of smiling and laughing. And I definitely saw smiles on the faces of some of the police.

And then, as I met lovely Honor, who had come all the way from Putney to bring me some food, the drummers arrived. Ah, the drummers. While I understand that there are people who find the sound of drumming and nothing but drumming not to their liking, I think that anyone with a pulse, who was there, then, would have felt the hair rise on the back of their necks, would have found it very much to their liking. They are loud, very loud, the drums are large and small and there are tambourines and cowbells and rattles. The noise is tremendous and exciting and immensely encouraging to those whose morale might be flagging. Because of course that is a problem – when you have taken time out of your normal life, or put your normal life on hold to work for the greatest cause of our time – of any time – and when for every positive response you get from the public, you get several more which range from “yes I agree with you but you shouldn’t be disrupting people’s lives” through indifference to “you should get a job”, then your morale might well flag.

My brief experience of handing out leaflets was largely temperate – most took them with a nod and a smile and occasionally words of encouragement. The only negative response I had was from a man of the cloth, who, pointing at the postcard sized piece of paper that I was proffering, said “That’s damaging the environment”. Fairly pathetic really – way to go vicar. My response, had he not been striding pompously away down Victoria Street would have been that if it takes me and many others like me handing out leaflets to try and wake the world then that is a miniscule price to pay. There are a great number of lazy minded fools who will use any pathetic pretext their feeble little brains can come up with to avoid or deny the truth of the matter.  We all live in glass houses and we should leave the stones on the ground. Especially if we purport to be a man of God. Anyway.

Wednesday morning.

Once more down through the city and the Inns of Court and along the river, with lovely Rosie and small but important dog, to find that Millbank had been cleared, but Victoria Street and other sites were still strong. Many tents on Victoria Street, in one of which Lizzy and Fergus and some of their chums had passed the night intermittently in the arms of sweet Morpheus, the permanent overhead presence of the police helicopter notwithstanding. They all looked approximately as if they were at a festival. More chanting, singing, drumming and the dear Red Rebels came through (or was that Tuesday?) and lots and lots of passing workers and tourists stopped to have a look and take pictures (THIS is what democracy looks like) and moronic selfies (tautology). And lots more people asked if they could photograph my placard and a young journalism student asked me if she could interview me – which she could, although it wasn’t much of an interview as she asked me a question about what I was doing there and I gave here an answer that was so long that we both forgot what the question was and she had to go off and have a little lie-down, and I couldn’t as by that time I was holding the end of another banner, another street.

For a while Lizzy was with me, eating potato curry and dahl which were being provided in endless quantities by the marvellous Hare Krishnas, and then she had to go for another of the Loya Jurgas with various of her fellows. And I stood and held the banner, and a few feet away were two women who had elected to do a lock-on, which is where you join hands through a length of pipe which makes it very difficult for the police to move you, so they have to get specialist extraction teams in to cut the pipe, which slows down the process of moving people off the streets. Which is the name of the game. And I will happily explain to anyone why we (and that is the first time I have substituted XR with we) need to do this and all the other stuff to do with NVDA, but you will have to buy me a pint.

Anyway I was there for about five hours and so were they. And one of them had said to me (before the lock-on) that her emotions had been doing like this – and she drew switchbacks in the air with her finger and I said yes, me too. And then the drummers came, hurrah and they drummed for glory and all, and then they parked themselves right by me and my end of the banner (they were fifteen or twenty strong, I think) and they were about to get going again when a fiddler who had been regaling us and the passing crowds with the one about where sheep may safely graze and the star spangled banner theme-tune, for some hours, came over to suggest that they didn’t drum as this was his pitch and they were going to bugger up his trade, so briefly passing my end of the banner and my placard to a passing hemp-smelling crusty, I strode over to the scene of discord and suggested to the fiddler that if a tenner would subsidise a brief intermission, then I would happily furnish this sum, which proposal he gladly accepted. So the drummers did their thing, right in front of me, which was ten pounds well spent. And then they were gone and then Fergus came to say goodbye as he was heading west and I stayed at my post and smiled prettily for the cameras.

At about four the police who had been gathering some yards away came over in a line and one of them asked me if the banner was mine and when I said that it was and it wasn’t, asked if I would mind taking it to Trafalgar Square, which was where they wanted us all to be and I said that I didn’t want to do that and he said well then I shall have to arrest you if you continue to stand here with this banner. And then my small store of courage failed me and I handed the banner to the officer and said you win. And then I was on my knees crying because I am a coward and I let the side down and the impossible hugeness of the task that we have given ourselves was just too much and too impossible and there they were those women who had locked on, offering me strong, warm words of comfort that I couldn’t hear, as I knelt there with my placard, and a man I had never met gave me a hug and gave more words of comfort and I couldn’t hear those either. And I gathered up my small belongings and bequeathed my placard to whomsoever should want it and left the field of battle, my brief visit to the front line ending not with a bang but a whimper.               

And now I am back home. I don’t, at the time of writing know how things stand in London. I believe that more people are on their way to London. I was told by a policeman that 89,000 shifts had been allocated to policing the two weeks of action – whether that’s normal shifts or the twelve hour shifts that they are doing this week, I don’t know, but either way that’s a lot of shifts. I don’t know how the rest of the planned fortnight of actions will pan out – whether it will even last the whole two weeks. And I don’t know if what passes for a government will pay any real attention, although I believe that there has been some interest and support from individual MPs. I don’t know if any of this is going to achieve anything in the very small amount of time we have left to change things, but I know that I will be going back there, and I will keep going back there until, one way or another, it’s all over.           

I am not a fan of naked emotion and so forth, but this week has left me a bit bruised, so I thought I would share. Feel free to delete now. Or you could forward it to whoever. Also, if you want to know more about XR, you can look at the website and all that stuff. I don’t know quite the thing you have to do but I get lots of newsletters and so forth so if in doubt ask a teenager how to do it.

                God bless, my lovelies,

                                Luke”

 In case you wondered Lizzy and Fergus are Luke’s children.

Trying to find balance.

January 23, 2019
kitchen counter 20bvc 23:1:19

Form and function – a place for everything and everything all over the place.

This is a picture of my kitchen counter.  It drives many people crazy, particularly those with a need for order and those wishing to find things or make a cup of tea without playing a game of jenga first.  To the question ‘why do you need so many cups?’ (and this is only about a third of what I actually have), I answer, ‘it’s not about need, stupid’ (I don’t say ‘stupid’ because I am not that rude, but I do think it).  Every cup, mug, container, thing on that counter has significance.  Well, perhaps not the peanut butter jar.

Top left, 50s vase from a boot sale in Surrey with best old mucker Maire.  Old cherry painted flour sifter from Tennessee bric-a-brac store on my honey moon.  Saffron from Iranian friend’s sister.  Fantastic pan (from a set) birthday present from son and his father. Blue and white plate on shelf from a friend in Wales which reminds me of my Mum and her passion for blue and white china.  Cup with pink stripe from my son and his lovely girlfriend. White oil bottle Christmas present from my Dad.  Baby coffee pot, found on wall on my street (it’s what we do here when we don’t want stuff anymore) and taken to replace one I had bought when holiday on Rome with my son, the handle of which I had melted off.  Tiny cups with blue flowers from my husband (he who can’t cope with how many cups I have but understands me this well and is big enough to add to them because I love Scandi china).  Fish given to my son by his baby brother.  Flag in wooden utensil jar adorned my wedding cake made by Benet, one of my brothers (the cake was made by Kaaren, my sister in law, the icing models of me and Russell in a boat complete with said flag/sail which sat on the cake by Benet).  Utensil jar came from Lothorien, where I partially grew up.  20 rupee note with picture of Ghandi from dear friends just back from Indian honey moon.  American walnut counter top made my my brother Luke, burns and other marks by various people over the years.  Large notch in the wood, bottom right, made by angry son (long since forgiven).

I could go on but I suspect it’s boring if you aren’t me.

It’s about balance.  Life is about balance isn’t it?  People rattle on about life/work balance but it’s all one really.  I have come through a pretty bumpy few months with work, ridden out with the support of my family and friends and one or two particularly loyal members of staff.  I am on the other side now,  not quite out of the woods but on a good path.  The business has taken a new trajectory and it’s all looking very interesting.  But that’s for another post, another day.

So I balance my cluttered counter with the joy it brings me when I look at it.  It makes my heart sing because of the colour, the jumble, the memories, the function and beauty of everything there.  I also balance it with a clear counter area in front.  That is a fairly new thing, egged on my brother Barny, who is the one who likes order, and which I am thoroughly enjoying (thanks Barny!).  It was made clear by the introduction of new set of shelves into the kitchen.

shelves

Completed shelves. Note lots of room for more stuff.

These shelves were ordered online, in the January sales because I’m being thrifty, and arrived flat packed with hieroglyphic instructions and a couple of allen keys.

It was a Friday evening and my tired and long suffering husband arrived home to be faced with the jigsaw puzzle of the shelves and a bottle of wine.  Obviously I didn’t leave it to just him, we did it together, with mindfulness and a little help from the fruits of the vine.  No fingers were crushed, very little cursing occurred, half time was marked by a meal of chilli fried prawns, time and successful completion of Project Shelf Make marked by microwaved Camembert (surprisingly nice), crackers from my Chinese cracker barrel (a present from beloved friend for Christmas, another item to treasure – who doesn’t love a cracker barrel anyway?), Dr Karg pumpkin seesd and emmental mini crackers, which remind me of G&T time with my Dad,  and remains of vine fruits.

success feast

Success feast.

That’s what I call balance and a damn fine Friday night.  Apologies if you were expecting something meaningful in this post.  Sometimes I think they may come out that way, but they rarely do.

 

 

Hummus in hurry…

September 6, 2018

When you have a sister coming to stay who is arriving post supper time but may be hungry… that.  So I’ve whipped up some hummus in a hurry, because who knows what they serve on a train from Brighton, and not all of us having time and fore thought to pack a picnic or buy proper food from the deli.  Maybe she will, maybe she won’t, but it’s good to have a little stand by snack just in case she arrives fainting from hunger, to go with the glass of sturdy wine to help her recover from the epic journey.

Brighton is a long way away, or it was in the time of yore when a cart journey would take the best part of three years.  Times were simpler then.  We only had to worry about Farmer Hessian’s harvest and whether the grain would be good for the bread for the annual feast.  We didn’t worry about America then, or what mad man was in charge.  The King was in charge and he might be mad, but he’s the King, and that was a good/bad depending on your place in the pecking order.  Pecking orders were clear, boundaries strong and we knew our place in it all.  It was great.  I wasn’t there obviously, but I bet it was great – I love the linen smocks the farmers wore anyway.

1 can/carton cooked chickpeas, drained (if you have forethought to soak and cook chickpeas then you need 230g cooked chickpeas).

2 dessert spoons of light tahini

2 cloves garlic

juice of one lemon

small handful chopped coriander or basil

pinch salt

Put all the ingredients in a food processor.  If you still live in the cart and horse era use a moulin – now they really were great, and still are), adding a small slosh of water to loosen it all if need be.  Whizz to a consistency that you like. Bob’s yer hummus.

You can add olive oil as well if you like, but you may find that it’s not really necessary – add some when you serve it instead.  A little sprinkle of pepper and paprika is nice too.  Try not to eat it before your sister arrives.

 

On a roll (spiral?)

August 24, 2018

Clearly I am on a roll, two posts in as many days.  You, my weary reader (are you still there Lucy?), might get tired of me rabbiting on in this over excited way, two days on the trot.  Whatever next?  Sausages for dinner?

On the subject of dinner, since I am on my own for three days, sans husband, cats, lodgers et al, I am eating slightly bizarre foods.  I am attempting, in a slightly arse backwards way, to change my eating habits, to be more conscious and careful of what I eat, partly to lose weight, not because I think I am monstrously overweight (so don’t start) but I am a bit and I want to be more healthy and more in proportion to my height. Also partly, well, for health as I said.  I am growing older and need to start taking better care of this old bod – it is the only thing I have to carry me into old age since I don’t have a pension, and I’m unlikely to win the lottery and so afford a full time carer to wheel me about at my whim.   I am not about to espouse a new diet, lifestyle, miracle solution however – I am not Gwyneth Paltry selling the answer to everything (sex comes with a teeny bit of fluffy and feminine armpit hair now – however those of you with hirsute, brunette pits still need to shave, soz), only with extra sparkle and tissue paper for a mere $60,000.00.  No, I am sensible, English and not a ridiculously self absorbed, totally deluded Hollywood fool.

Anyway – moving on.  On Tuesday night I had courgetti (it’s a word) for supper.  I bought a little spiralizer some time back and completely love it (yes it’s a stupid price for something so basic but I use it a lot).  It works for all sort of veg but courgettes are the easiest and best in my humble opinion.

This what I did.

2/3 courgette, sprialized, plus the little central tube of courgette, chopped up (waste not, want not)

1 clove garlic chopped as fine or not as you like it

2 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled (I didn’t and regretted it because I hate cooked tomato skin and had to pick it all out) and chopped roughly

Few basil leaves roughly chopped

Olive oil (not coconut, that’s poison now apparently – you’d think They would have figured that out before it became the saviour of human race really, wouldn’t you?)

In a large frying pan heat the oil, add the tomatoes and garlic and cook til softening but not mush, add the courgetti and the basil, a little salt and a splash of water if it’s sticking.  Carry on cooking and stirring for about 2-3 minutes on high heat. As soon as the courgette is soft scoop everything into a waiting bowl.  Eat.

It’s truly delicious  and pretty filling too – the juice from the vegetables is good for a slurp at the end too.  I cannot lie, I also ate some of those tiny Dr Karg crackers with hummus as well.  Plus glass of red wine.  Hey, I never promised you a rose garden.

Betty out.

Forgot to give this a title.

August 23, 2018

So, what’s been going on people?  I’ve been jolly busy since my last post in June.  To whit and in no particular order –

  • Had a birthday.
  • Had a birthday shout out on local radio by husband who was touting his gig.  He has a voice for radio.  Somebody give that man a show.
  • Pitched for another cafe.
  • Failed pitch.
  • Didn’t want it anyway.
  • Got dripping loo fixed finally (only took 3 years)
  • Hosted endless numbers of airb&b guests (my coffers thank them)
  • Celebrated a friend’s 60th.
  • Celebrated a sister’s 50th.
  • Celebrated old school friend’s wedding on a boat.
  • Went to Edinburgh to visit fam-a-lam (only saw one half as other ended up having emergency back surgery, which was a little inconsiderate but what can you do?).
  • Saw fab show at the Fringe by Ad Infinitum.
  • Got hair cut (short)
  • Lost staff.
  • Gained staff.
  • Lost weight (didn’t really).
  • Visited my old Ma and Nancy in Yorkshire.
  • Went to Hull.
  • Got garden steps fixed (only taken 5 years – top step held together by chicken wire).
  • Took Socks to the vet for a sore paw (£65).
  • Didn’t take Spooky to the vet for a chunk of missing fur and a nasty wound (£0 – am using antiseptic spray which she hates but it seems to be working) inflicted by the evil that is Bubbles the cat next door.
  • Came to Wales.

And here I am.  And just to clarify, all those times when not on jollies up north or being fancy at weddings I was working, running my miniscule empire, being chamber maid to the airb&b’ers,  hoovering cat hair etc.  Don’t want to you all thinking I sat around on my jacksy pondering what to write on here for 3 months.

Hull.

Hull was a bit of a revelation which I’ll get to in a minute.  Me and the husband first visited the Olds in Heptonstall, booking ourselves in a teeny weeny studio apartment in the village where Russell’s (admittedly very long) feet touched the sloped ceiling in bed.  The village is on a steep hill, all cobbled.  We arrived on Friday night just in time for last orders at the pub, after a five plus hour journey most of which which was at 50 mph due to the smartening of the motorways or something.  A cold pint was as more welcome than a shower after a weekend at Boomtown.   It was still warm then – remember the summer?

IMG_4130

We spent Saturday with the ladies, taking them to lunch at Hollingworth Lake to a pub we had spotted on the way over.  It was raining by then because it had remembered it was Yorkshire not Andalucia.  The pub was lovely and very accommodating to our wind and rain swept party, Nancy gamely navigating the way with her flower power walking sticks, dodging a small child who was occupied in tearing up every single paper napkin  in the place, Rosemary and Russell following, ignoring the shrieks of said child.  I went to park the car in a car park some way from the pub.  It was in a pretty area with lots of flowers and stuff.  Turns out there was a car park right behind the pub but I wouldn’t have missed those flowers for anything.  Lunch was huge, Desperate Dan huge.  We all needed to have a short coma afterwards so repaired to our respective lying down places, to prepare our tummies for Nancy’s heavenly fish chowder that evening (yet another reason I haven’t lost weight).

As always with visits to those two time goes too fast.  I could go on here about stuff that comes up for me when visiting my ageing Mum (she is now 91), how much I love her and dread her dying, but that is a subject for another day.   Anyway, I mentioned that I was going to start an oil painting course in September, which I am really excited and rather nervous about.  Mum then decided to bequeath me her oil paints and box, along with her painting smock which she has had for longer than I have been alive, and I can remember her using for various craft sessions throughout my childhood. It was given to her by a nun she knew, so god knows how old it actually is.  It’s almost floor length, pale blue and white check, covered in years of paint spatters.  Russell said it felt like the passing of the mantle.  Mum would probably say stuff and nonsense.  I say I think it might be magic and make a me into a brilliant artist.  I’ll keep you posted.

So, Hull.  Why Hull?  It’s at the end of the M62 and we had never been before.  Russell and I had two extra days so we used them thusly.  Booked into a a groovy apartment block, all digital and sleek lines, posh magazines artfully placed on window sills etc., bang next to the cathedral, or Minster as it is now known.

It was 2017 city of culture and you can see a lot of money has been spent on the place, to good effect as far as I could tell.  Lovely indoor food market where we had breakfast (see my instagram account for endless pictures of food, including said breakfast, and cats), fantastic harbour area with re-vamped Fruit Market full of restaurants, bars, design agencies and the like.

The wind off the North Sea is enough to revive even the claggiest of souls and as we leaned into it we talked of moving there (to be fair, we do that where ever we go).  There was lots about Hull to make me want to go back, not least the Ferens Art Gallery , although I’d stay somewhere else because it turns out that picturesque as it is being next to the minster what they don’t tell you is that the bells ring on the hour every hour, with a little ding every quarter just for good measure.  I did wonder why the complementary ear plugs were on the side table.

IMG_4159 2

We came home via a time warp (Cleethorpes), and past fields of gold through the Lincolnshire flat lands.  Stopped briefly in Lincoln to see the cathedral which looked epic from afar and bit crumbly and sad close up.  The end.

That’s enough from Betty today.  I’m going to do some yoga now because that’s what middle aged women do to kid themselves they are doing exercise (or is just me?).  Then I’m going to master the art of Adobe Illustrator.  Yes I am.

Apron Strings

June 5, 2018

Apron =  /ˈeɪpr(ə)n/ (does anyone know what these symbols actually mean?)noun – a protective garment worn over the front of one’s clothes and tied at the back.

Traditionally children who wouldn’t leave home were talked of as ‘tied to their mother’s apron strings’.  I suspect that is why some aprons have removable strings.

When I put on an apron it is a sign that I am about to focus on cooking, or perhaps some other sort of work that involves getting grubby or splashed, but mostly it’s for cooking.  I’ve been wearing aprons for years, more since owning my own catering business where putting on my apron is a reflex action and signals to my brain to get ready for a day’s cooking, shift focus, put on that hat.

When I was a waitress, back in the olden days, I wore a black waist apron and red lipstick.  Both of these together were my ‘uniform’, and with them my day to day persona was masked and my front of house, flirty, cheeky character flourished.  Youth helped of course but my point is that the putting on of any kind of uniform (and make up can be a part of that) can help you transform into the person you need to be at any one time.

Waitresses have always worn aprons, possibly the most famous style being that of the Nippy from the Lyons Corner Houses that were country wide at one point, even having a brand of cigarettes named after them.  The aprons were not very practical, being little pleated organza things attached their alpaca (!) dresses, but were part of a uniform designed to be easy to identify and they presented a brilliant image for the company.

Nippies with adapted dresses for cycling (note no aprons here but i just love this image!)

Aprons are cover-alls, just like overalls that mechanics wear, or dungarees (overalls as they call them in the US, dungarees are just jeans over there) that old timey men wear while chewing straws and strumming banjos on their front porches, while Grandma rocks in the chair wearing her own cover-all of a traditional apron of the faded floral pinafore variety, shelling black eye peas and smoking her corncob pipe.  I digress.

Over time they have been used for all sorts of things including ceremonial purposes, bejewelled for Egyptian pharaohs or Masonic initiates.  In early Crete they were worn by fertility goddesses.  I struggle slightly to see how that could be related to to today’s version, especially as with bosoms akimbo they certainly wouldn’t protect the wearer from spitting fat from the frying pan but things were different in them days.

Aprons have mostly been worn by women over the last century or so, for work and for domestic use, although chefs, fishmongers, butchers and other burly tradespeople of the male kind also still wear them.  They have varied from the full you-will-not-get-past-me pinafore, or pinny, to the frilly little waist thing that the good housewife would change into from her workaday one in order to greet her hard working husband at the door, gimlet in hand and puckered lips at the ready.

I had some of those which I bought in a job lot of old linen, and while these fantasies can be fun to consider for a nanno second, the reality is they were ridiculous items and a badge of subservience which women sensibly no longer subscribe to (also barely made it round my waist but that’s not why I gave them away, obviously).  They have a variety of names from the butcher’s or bib apron, to hostess, pinny, cobbler, smock or even, bizarrely, bungalow (what we would more easily recognise as a ‘house coat’ of the kind that was worn by depressed housewives as they polished their ornaments, usually made of bri-nylon sparking all the way, or as worn with such style by the fabulous Mrs. Overall).

Of course aprons have a very practical point, and that is to protect the clothing underneath from whatever you are doing, in my case more often than not wiping floury hands, or sticky knives on them.  The add a layer of security and bust rustling efficiency to any domestic scene, even if worn by a man.

When I put on my apron I feel encased, supported and ready for anything.  It’s a bit like wearing big pants for security on a bad day.  I think everyone should have at least four.  Aprons that is.  I think one should have as many pairs of big pants as your drawers (haha – pun fun) can contain.

 

 

 

Desk lunch

April 26, 2018

As an optimist I would say I’m half way through cleaning up and organising my desk and study, so I decided it was time to stop for a little lunch of the fridge forage variety.   Having roasted a lovely chicken on Monday for supper, had chorizo & chicken casserole last night I am now down to the left over meat and the yummy stock from that one generous bird.

Would it be chicken salad or chicken and miso broth?  The broth would require me removing the bones from the stock and frankly I couldn’t be bothered, even though that is about one of my favourite soups with a few rice noodles and some seaweed (yes, I know…); so chicken salad it is.

Chicken & couscous salad – tarnished silver spoon was a charity shop find just in case anyone is about to explode at the middle class heirloom statement cutlery audacity. #getthelook https://www.stpetershospice.org.uk

Use as much or as little as you like of any ingredient, it really doesn’t matter much.

Spring onion, chopped

A few cherry tomatoes, chopped

Some cucumber chopped

Some left over chicken bits, chopped

Handful of frozen peas, defrosted (I put peas in everything)

A tablespoon or two of wild garlic pesto, of you have it (I have tons of the stuff, getting a bit bored of it now), if not some pungent herb like basil or fresh oregano would be nice.

Mix together in a big with a dollop of plain yoghurt and a squeeze or two of a lemon

To stretch and add carbs mix with some couscous – if you decide to do this, like I did, I suggest omitting the yoghurt, like I didn’t, because it makes it a bit claggy.

Add a load of freshly ground black pepper and salt if wanted and maybe a bit more lemon to lift it a bit.  Pretty yummy if a bit claggy and loads left over for the hunter and gatherer’s lunch tomorrow.  PLUS big bonus of a bit more chicken meat still left and that fabulous stock which will last for ages and make a good soup or risotto soon.  So, five meals out of one chicken.  Yes, organic chickens cost considerably more than the tragic, miserably pumped up excuses for fowl that are the at the budget end but used wisely they go a long way.   Middle class, first world, over privileged?  Tick, tick, tick.  Also, with organic chickens from some shops you still get the giblets which you can add to the stock or gravy, plus fry the little liver in butter and eat from the pan as an hors d’oeuvre, innit?

Anyway – there it is, or was.  All gone now, half into my newly fitted brace on my upper teeth.  So after a thorough excavation of teeth and metal I shall return to the sorting and tidying, and by the end of the day I will have a space for thought and creativity, where I will start thinking and creating, hopefully.