Monday, 31 December 2007

Fuzzy best wishes

Christmas was good, all remained calm. Boxing Day was also good. Mum and Gran came for lunch and all still remained calm....right up until the 29th when I woke up with another wisdom tooth infection.

But, although I write in between doses of the largest antibiotic known to man or woman (like swallowing a torpedo) and although being a bit fuzzy affected what I could do on my birthday yesterday (we played Top Trumps and watched a DVD) all is still calm.

That's because I've decided it will stay that way. No bastard tooth is going to twist my mellow... my melon....mellon...melons? Google leaves me none the wiser as to which. Something to do with the Happy Mondays though. Anyway, my melon remains untwisted.

And it needs to be because a place has come up in a care home, and a very good one, for my Gran. She moves in on Wednesday. All very sudden, but I'm hoping there will be an end to her loneliness and she will be looked after and make some new friends. It's hard to predict with Alzheimer's how a person will react to change, but I'm hoping this proves the right move.

So Happy New Year everyone. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear.

Monday, 24 December 2007

All Is Calm

So we've made the mince pies, I've wrapped the presents and, um, most of the gingerbread men have been scoffed. The Christmas carol concert at school has been attended, people have called round with cards. Now, all is calm. I'm enjoying looking at the magic stained glass biscuits my son and I made this week:

Reflections on my first Christmas separated:

Sharing my son with my ex hasn't been as gut-wrenching as I thought. All it means is that as I write they are having a loud party that I could never have coped with. And tomorrow, Christmas Day, they are going to friends for a similarly loud and raucous time, and rightly so. My son will come back to me tomorrow after lunch ready to float down a few notches to my level of doing things. In the meantime they will be having a ball, and I am quite content to be here with some good music, warm, cosy and quiet.

Tomorrow morning will, I admit, be hard. But no harder than trying to look with it and enthusiastic at 7am. Yes I will miss seeing my son open his presents, but I chose to do it this way so I can see him when I have a fighting chance of being at my best. Having the decision regarding arrangements for Christmas influenced by my prescription has strengthened my determination to kick the more damaging of my meds in the New Year.

Liberation from family...only certain groups of people gathered together at Christmas are capable of the levels of dysfunction that those who are familiar with such sufferings will appreciate. I cancelled my original Christmas plans, as it involved far too large a helping of family. I love my family. I just don't want them all round at mine on Christmas Day. And I wanted my son to have at least some positive memories of what for him is already a rather momentous Christmas.

No mad dash anywhere. I am extremely grateful for that.

I wish everyone a peaceful and restful Christmas.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Oh Crumbs!

Unfortunately there may be a delay in bringing our Christmas tale to you, as 'a number' of our cast of extras have mysteriously disappeared....

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Coming soon...

The Tale of the Errant Gingerbreadmen

We made some for Christmas. They have got a bit out of hand.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

O Christmas Tree

Christmas Trees to me symbolise a fascinating blend of myth, magic, folklore, religion and history. And I find them quite beautiful. These words are simple and effective to one staying in at night with a tree in the window. Excuse the poor German translation.

O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree
Your branches teach me something.
O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree
Your branches teach me something.
They teach hope and resistance
Give courage and strength all the time.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Your branches teach me something!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren:

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren:

Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Mut und Kraft zu jeder Zeit!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
dein Kleid will mich was lehren.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

At last

I think I have a PA. Someone to do all the heavy, awkward stuff I've been struggling with for eight months. I am looking forward to feeling less ill and having more energy for my son.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A Breath of Fresh Air

Today a social worker who looked not unlike Fran Healy came over to do my Fairer Charging Assessment, to work out if I have to pay for the care package they are sort of offering me.

When I say sort of, it's because it was organised in August, then delayed until a couple of letters were exchanged between my advocate and the department last month. They had the nerve to enquire as to how I was managing during the time that had elapsed (because of their own incompetence). Did I in fact need the two hours of care on offer? Well, sort of on offer, because nothing has happened yet. My advocate told them how my exhaustion levels were now so bad that I am resting most of the day just to get to school and cook a meal for my son each night. She thinks I should be getting five hours help a week. I'm due a rest now so I'll keep this brief.

The upshot of it all is that two weeks before Christmas I am suddenly faced with today's Fairer Charging Assessment, an OT assessment (this'll be the fourth, maybe fifth one?) and interviews for the PA post I can't fill until I get the direct payment money through...which was signed over in August but delayed due to 'a new computer system.' A social worker said recently they were supposed to review my care package in September, but that as care hadn't technically commenced a review would have to wait until there was, like, something to review.

Tired. Bed. But hey, at least Fran Healy popped by and he told me that no, I don't have to pay for my care package. And he's trying to get my rent sorted so I get full Discretionary Housing Benefit. And he thinks I should be on high rate care DLA, so he's going to look into that as well because then I get access to the Independent Living Fund. Did I mention he looked just like Fran Healy? :) sigh And he was really nice, as well as being good at his job. Truly a breath of fresh air.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Still can't believe it

My Gran saw her actual proper consultant yesterday, who heads up elderly mental health in her part of town. He looked at her brain scan and confirmed Alzheimer's. More medication was prescribed.

Why does it still feel like I've got my exam results in my hand, and I'm just reading them over and over again? You know that bit where you see them up on a board, but you can't believe it? You have to have them in your hand, on paper. But then you still can't believe it.

Alzheimer's was being talked about months ago, seriously talked about by her GP and social workers as we headed into increased care in the autumn, and pretty much formally diagnosed by the SHO at her last appointment. We as a family have known deep down for a year or so. I've tried to accept it, to look for the positives. She is still my Gran. Still loved, and being looked after by my Mum and some very good home help people.

But I'm still very upset at times. She came for a cup of tea on Sunday. It was all sorts of things at once. Lovely to see her and to see she still has that famous dry wit of hers. Hard because I was feeling very tired, and conscious that in looking for glimpses of her 'old self' I was doing what people have done with me for three years. Emotional because it's Christmas soon, and I get emotional easily anyway.

What I hate most of all is how I can't get to see her as often as I'd like. In fact I've had to see less of her recently, because I've been feeling too low and exhausted to be of much use. Thankfully the really bad depressions I get tend to come and go these days, and I've decided I should be visiting her when I'm feeling up to it and capable of cheering her up, rather than just because I feel I should be going, but turning up with a long face and not much to say. That's no good at all.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Going green

Why, why has my son requested for Christmas the only colour of Converse footwear that is out of stock everywhere in the entire country? Along with the other 20 items on his long letter to Santa. Yes, he's still a believer, but old enough to know his trainers.

Why are green Converse so totally out of stock? Is it because of Mika? No, I just checked out Grace Kelly and he's wearing white trainers in that video, like Mark Ronson.

See what I did there? Two musical references :-) I am listening to more music. Quietly.

Why am I driving myself nuts trying to find some green Converse trainers anyway? I promised myself when my son was tiny that never, ever, ever would I be drawn into the trainer snobbery that unfortunately pervades our playgrounds.

Bloody school! Bring back school uniform! Now I want some Converse trainers too. But I refuse to give in.

He also requested a gnome, you may recall. Work is underway at my pottery class. So far, there is a startling resemblance to Noddy Holder. With whom I once danced at a party. For those of you who don't know Noddy, he fronted Seventies glamrock outfit Slade. He is from the Midlands and wrote "So heeeere it iiiis, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun." A heartwarming Christmas ditty. Now I have to somehow fashion flares and a hugely ridiculous hat for my gnome. He already sports impressive sidies. And yes, my son will be receiving other things for Christmas. Just perhaps not green Converse trainers.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Eight Happy Thoughts

I am feeling happy at the moment, so it seems the right time to put together my eight happy thoughts for Cottage Smallholder, who tagged me.

Here are the rules:

Link to the person who tagged you. Then post these rules before your list, and list 8 happy things about yourself. At the end of your list, tag and link 8 other people.

I won't be tagging but please do this if you feel like it.

8 happy thoughts

1. A general feeling of contentment, not felt for some years, now pervades at least some of my days, some of the time.

2. My musical reawakening. Having not been able to listen to music for so long, discovering all these bands I knew nothing about is just fantastic. And I'm turning up the volume, little by little.

3. Time spent with a true and faithful friend. She understands what isolation feels like, has recovered from a multitude of health troubles herself and is in a position to be very supportive on a regular basis of late. We were playing Scrabble recently and I needed to know if 'cak' was a word. Well I know it's a word, but you know what I mean. A real Scrabble word. It wasn't in the dictionary. But then I spotted, and yelled out "Cake!" It was hilarious at the time. And I nearly beat her. With bigger words than cake.

4. Tonight I completed a second beautiful batch of Christmas plum conserve, delicately spiced with cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Rich purple in hue, it's been one of my favourites to make...largely because it is very, very easy indeed. Still planning a cooking and recipe post, so maybe it'll feature.

5. My pottery class. Attendance is sporadic, and I started half way through but it's a 'drop-in when you feel up to it' affair run by the NHS. I'm making things to hang from a tree in the garden, and my son has requested a gnome. If I were skilled enough, I'd make a Heston Blumenthal.

6. Emotional freedom. No longer feeling fettered, oppressed. Exploring freedom, daring to express myself. Wearing different clothes, jewellery even. Still can't be arsed with make-up though. Never was that into it as I recall so it's not an ill thing.

7. My son and I say "I love you" every day. Yeah, okay. But it's as part of bedtime as warm milk and cleaning of teeth.

8. is ace. I'm off there now. Thank you Fluttertongue for introducing me to this totally addictive and brilliant site.

Many bloggers I know are having a rough patch at the mo, and I know I couldn't have done this even a couple of weeks ago as I was feeling very upset, so this is just me saying hey, if I can be happy sometimes then I hope it's catching ;-)

Sunday, 25 November 2007

I lied

Sod cooking, I just found this.

Such a big voice. And such effortless talent, she can still do it whatever state she's in. She may not even have been in a state on this particular day. See how me trying to judge whether or not she was in a state is getting in the way of a really great performance? Even I'm doing it, seconds into this post. And I haven't been party to most of what has been written of late.

Amy Winehouse was just starting to make it when I got ill. I haven't seen or heard much of her since (which puts me in a minority) as until recently I haven't been able to listen to music at all and I don't read the papers. But music videos on TV and stuff on YouTube are helping me rediscover music again. I seem to need the company of the artist to be able to enjoy their music. I can't do it with just me alone with the stereo. Why? I have no idea. I just get scared, or I cry. Sometimes I watch emotional stuff to help me with my emotions. And sometimes I just find stuff and think "Wow." This was one of those occasions.

It's hard not to want Amy Winehouse to pull through. I hate the thought of people buying tickets to see her only to end up going on about how out of it she was. It's sad. This live acoustic cover blows me away.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

When I next post...

It's going to be about what I like about cooking. I've just had a great book delivered aimed at people who for one reason or another struggle to cook. From those who are busy and tired but want to eat well, to those who are totally and utterly unwell but also want to eat well. It's a great book. Plus Goldfish tagged me months ago with the Meme Mut8nt R4 and I have four recipes to post.

I'm just too bloody tired to post at length at the mo, so I'm spending a while researching. Photography is on hold due to inclement and frankly flat weather (can't do anything without decent light). But I am managing some art and sculpture projects, albeit on a small scale. As current interests go, cooking seems to be the thing at present.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

For Real? Surely Not

As I find my stamina and interest for select TV viewing improving, we are branching out from Top Gear and anything to do with nature.
But really, Heston Blumenthal. Having not watched an awful lot of television since becoming ill, I seem to have missed all the fuss surrounding this molecular gastrognome (oops sorry) gastronome.
Tonight I watched, utterly incredulous, as he took what seemed like at least a week to make...a fish pie. To those already familiar with Blumenthal this probably seems completely normal. Those glasses. Are they supposed to look like chemistry goggles? Is he having us on? Or is he serious? Those who dine at his restaurant seem to take him very seriously indeed. I did find it heartening to discover that there is at least one other person out there who favours slow cooking over fast food. But his approach is slow and meticulous. Mine is more slow and confused.
He created a sand and seaspray topping for his fish pie, which included within its velvety depths langoustine tails (he researched stress levels in langoustines to find the optimum flavour) and oysters. His creation of the mash topping defied belief. And when he smoked fish in a squirrel cage using hay... well, let's just say I was left somewhat bemused by the whole spectacle.
He served his creation complete with a side dish of MP3 player housed in a sea shell, so the discerning diner can listen to the sea whilst eating said pie. This new dining experience has involved intensive research at Oxford University. I just fell about the place laughing.

In other news: I have perfected the art of suspending whole chillies in apple jelly. Oh, and I have been listening to music. Sometimes music and cooking at the same time. Blumenthal, move over.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Pass The Bucket

My son has been asked by his school to wear his clothes back-to-front or inside out for Children In Need. As I write, I really wish I'd had a T-shirt printed with some choice words emblazoned on it. But that would be wrong. Using my child as a vehicle for a message I want to put out, well it's not on is it?

A while back David posted this on Jerry Lewis and the MDA Telethon. I love all his observations on the destructiveness of pity. Especially these:

Pity promotes the view of charity rather than the view of inclusion.

Inclusion encourages respectful dialogue to discuss ways to adapt to the obstacles of society.

Pity towards people with disabilities gives society the false impression that disability and happiness cannot coexist.

I have come out against charity events before, and Children In Need and Comic Relief are in my opinion guilty of falling into the pity trap. Well, actually they don't fall into the trap so much as set it. They positively encourage pity. And the people who watch this tripe are generally the ones who can be found humiliating themselves in some cringeworthy charity stunt with a big cheque at the end of it. The rest? I really can't understand why they watch it. But in between telethons, these very same people are the people who will give you a certain look when you are out in your wheelchair, who will say things like "Oh, but you're so young." And other such nonsense.

Of course Children In Need does not just focus on children with disabilities. No, you'll find plenty of Young Carers featured, in need of pity because of their plight. They are generally to be found near a window, gazing out of it wistfully. Children imprisoned by their duty to their disabled parent. Children deprived of laughter, happiness, childhood.

I will say only this. My son and I have experienced far more laughs and happiness since we created an environment where my disability is accepted, talked about, respected and increasingly forgotten as we find things to do that we just enjoy, regardless of my impairments.

The environment we have created is called home. It couldn't flourish within the confines of a relationship that was unaccepting of my disability. So I left and home flourished.

Yet we are frequently on the receiving end of unwelcome pity. Being a single disabled mother, well it must be just bloody awful mustn't it? Hard, yes. But I don't want pity and neither does my son, who has flatly refused to be called a Young Carer. If people locally and on a wider scale could be a fly on the wall, they might be surprised to find that my son is happy here and I am not a freak. I'd like Children In No Need Whatsoever to come and do a film at our house. They may catch us cooking, watching Top Gear, doing homework, having one of his friends over for tea or...laughing, yes that's laughing. Because we do have a laugh. Just like normal people.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Wait For It

I think it will be better to comment on the forthcoming Wallace and Grommit Creature Discomforts disability awareness campaign once the campaign has actually started and there is actually something to comment about.

Yes it's good that it has got so many people talking, but a large proportion of the debate so far has been given over to speculation or angry kneejerk reactions. Let's just wait and see, everyone?

Sunday, 11 November 2007


When Tori Amos released Little Earthquakes I knew it would be one of those albums that stayed with me forever. And this week a particular track, Winter, has been on my mind. If you don't know it, it's all about her bond with her father and even before my Dad died it resonated with me. Now it's unbelievably apt. The lyrics blow me away.

I found this beautiful film on YouTube, and asked if I could share it here. It's one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Happy Birthday Dad

It would have been my Dad's 70th birthday on Tuesday. He died not long after his 60th, in February 1998. My son was born a month later.

This year I cried for a long time, and I'm still crying. And on Tuesday, I actually decided that Tuesday wasn't going to happen. I was determined to make it not happen by staying in bed. Then I noticed the sun was shining. So I got in a taxi and went to the park, and getting out into the sunshine made me feel a bit better.

I had written a lengthy, grief-soaked post to go with these pictures. But I think the pictures are enough. They speak of life, not death. Even as autumn fades into winter and the last leaves fall, there is still the warm light of the sun. In winter I hold my face up to the sun and close my eyes.

So there I was on Tuesday out in the sunshine. And he was there too. We enjoyed the light dancing on the leaves, the wind in the grasses.

The morning my Dad died the sun shone with a brilliance I will never forget. It was February. Perhaps that is why in winter I hold my face up to the sun and close my eyes.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Preserved in Amber

It's lovely how an exchange of ideas can develop a train of thought. Thank you Cusp.

Yesterday's post was all about how I have come to discover that cooking and photography help me stay grounded in the moment. There is a definite connection here. And amber is one of the colours to have infused my life these past few weeks.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

They Dined On

Edward Lear wasn't talking complete nonsense you know. The sheer romance of dining on quince would surely lead anyone to dance by the light of the moon.

Yesterday my son and I cooked a fair few quinces in a variety of ways. Above is poached quince which you simply stick in the oven with water and sugar and leave for three to four hours. We also made a tarte tatin with quince slices nestling among the apples. It was heavenly. A classy and very, very easy dessert. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in the kitchen. I have somehow acquired a second perching stool along the way (accepting the delivery in a fog before realising I already possess one) and so we perched together over the stove stirring bubbling quince jelly, making the tarte tatin and checking the oven every so often. The most beautiful scent filled the whole house. I hope my son will remember it as smells are just so evocative and we really did have a lovely time. He is becoming a highly skilled pastry chef. And he told me he's glad I'm cooking again. So am I.

It was one of my biggest losses when I became ill, to lose the ability to cook, and then later, to digest food. I remember crying my eyes out at a Radio 4 piece about a woman with cancer who described her last meal before having to give up solids altogether and be tube-fed for the rest of her short life. It will be ten years in February since my Dad died of cancer, and I think seeing him slowly robbed of the pleasures of eating was one of the hardest things to witness.

So for me, becoming reacquainted with food, pushing the boundaries, slipping up sometimes but generally now enjoying what I eat is something I never take for granted. I don't have cancer, but I did experience what malnutrition can do to you when you have a chronic illness. With single motherhood has come the necessity to cook far more regularly. This can be tiring, but rediscovering cooking, and I mean cooking for pleasure, has been a delight. I really believe that with careful planning ahead and a wise choice of low maintenance recipes it is possible to eat well and improve your quality of life in the process.

I have the Cottage Smallholder to thank for inspiration on the quince front. And I am reassured to know, reading her posts on quince jelly and other recipes, that I am not the only one to be smitten. What other fruit can give you cordial, syrup for ice cream, dulce de membrillo (served with cheese in Spain) and a tasty addition to apple pie? And then there's the jelly, which really is something else.

I think my current thing for making jam and chutney runs far deeper than I realised. It is helping me reconnect with food, and with nature. Fresh produce from the farmers' market, from the best orchards in England indeed, can be transformed into really wonderful stuff. It's also a memory thing, a bit like my love of photography. I do it because I enjoy it but also because for one with significant cognitive problems, it preserves the moment. Before cooking and photography too many moments were just lost to me. These are my anchors, my connections with life and the beauty around me. Remembrance of Things Present.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Another dental interlude

My son has chipped a tooth. In between now and tomorrow's appointment (mercifully at a different dentist to the one I recently wasted time at) I looked up teeth, teeth pain, tooth chipped and so forth on NHS Direct online.

The results? Articles on whiplash and CJD. I don't think NHS Direct really do teeth. My son seemed a lot better after a bit of mashed potato and some Calpol.

Today his lip was very puffy. As you'd expect if you fall off your skateboard and it smacks you square in the gob. So I called NHS Direct, who advised me to take him to hospital. They always tell you to go to hospital, but all that happens is that too many people who could have been seen by their GP end up clogging up A & E. So I called the hospital before taking him. They actually seemed quite appreciative and put me through to a doctor. I asked him what would be achieved by coming down. He took me through a checklist and, satisfied that my son wasn't allergic to the antibiotics given by the dentist or about to die, said not much unless it got worse. Which it hasn't. The dentist is sorting the tooth. The doctor suggested Ibuprofen syrup to ease the swelling.

I am so glad we didn't go and sit in casualty for four hours to be sent home and told to get some syrup from the chemist. It's not the hospital I have a problem with. I just get fed up with NHS Direct and their kneejerk reactions sometimes. They came into being not long after my son did, and I would say that nine times out of ten when I've called I've been told to go to hospital. On the occasions where I followed this advice, it was totally unnecessary. The other times, it was bloody obvious he needed to go to hospital. In fact, on those occasions I don't think we even had time to call NHS Direct. There was the time he split his head open in Harvey Nichols by running into a wall (an anarchic act of anti-consumerism by a bored four-year-old). The manager gave him a huge lollipop just before the ambulance arrived, presumably to lessen the threat of impending litigation...they did put that wall in a very stupid place. Then there was the time he shut his fingers in the car door. No time for telephone calls with a screaming toddler on our hands...and we were in the car anyway so it seemed silly not to just go straight to hospital. Then there was the hideous rounders bat in face injury, at school in the playground. I was at a business meeting in town and went through every red light to get to school long before they'd even thought to call 999, which in my opinion would have been the best thing. I remember screeching over to the hospital, talking to him constantly to keep him from slipping into unconsciousness. Horrible.
Then there was the time he dropped a huge urn on his toe. Again, would you pause to call NHS Direct to chat it over with a nurse? How about the time he pulled a chest of drawers onto himself (aged one - he completely disappeared, only to emerge triumphant with a mere scratch. We took him to hospital anyway. It was a large chest of drawers). And then there was the meningitis scare. A scare, but you don't piss around on the phone with that sort of thing. All of these events warranted hospital without procrastination.

To conclude. On this occasion? Hospital would have been a potential waste of everyone's time, and precious resources. NHS Direct? Well, I gave them a go, but wrong, wrong and wrong again. Parental instinct rarely fails. Especially when you have had quite a lot of experience of hospitals.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

A Jewel of a Day

It all happened so suddenly. I knew it was one of the last chances I'd get to make it to the Botanical Gardens to catch the colours so when my support worker turned up one sunny morning off we went. I was fed up with staring at sunny days and not quite managing to catch them. This one had to be caught. So yes, out came the scooter (the gardens hire them out) and out came the camera.

The sun danced...

The grass sang...

The leaves glowed...

And there was this path that just had to be scrunched through...

Autumn is my favourite season. Delicate, yet abundant. Rich, yet fading. Majestic, yet poignant.

I just love it. More sun please.

Friday, 19 October 2007

The Curse of the Irascibles

I know that I have a bad case of The Irascibles when I start swearing at inanimate objects. Recent days have found me cursing and berating:

Fruit: There is a lot of fruit in my life at the moment. Some of it by the law of averages is going to get sworn at.

Blinds: I have never encountered a blind I get on with. It just isn't going to happen.

The corner of the bed: I still haven't mastered the art of not walking into it. Why doesn't it just get out of the sodding way?

My scarf: I trip over it. It is the scarf's fault for being too long.

My hair: On windy days it blows all over the place, gets stuck in my sunglasses and generally makes a bloody nuisance of itself.

My computer: In the course of writing this post I have called it something very rude and told it to piss off twice. It's still here. Masochist.

This sums it all up nicely:

Monday, 15 October 2007

Barking Up the Right Tree

It's quite a simple concept really. Living as we do in an era consumed with guilt about how many times our produce has flown around the globe why not go foraging for what is on our doorsteps?

The local organic store has been driven out of business by too many supermarkets in too little space. And of course to add to the competition, there are those lovely boxes of organic fruit and veg that are delivered to your home. All of which has sadly added up to one more independent closing down.

Urban foraging is an interesting notion. There is, in any square mile of inner city gardens, an abundance of produce not fully put to use. But to some foraging implies stealing. Well, there are other ways of going about it.

Around here there are quite a few trees and bushes groaning with apples, quinces, rosehips, rowan and elderberries. It was my current jam obsession (back on the boil after a successful batch of blushing pink quince jelly) that got me foraging.

Newsnight investigated the whole thing a while back, and it led to an interesting discussion on their blog.

My forays can't be described as exactly clandestine. Going undercover just gets you into trouble. There's the story of the bloke who nearly got arrested by police in a London park because his clothes and hands were crimson-stained and he was carrying a black binbag (full of berries, not the murdered wife they were looking for). Anyway berries from parks are invariably covered in dog urine.

No, I don't feel the need to wait until the dead of night and hop over bushes and fences like some crazy fruit fiend. I actually knock on doors and ask, because I reckon even the most seasoned member of the local WI can only bake so many home-made crumbles.

Apparently, looking into the rules, you can't pick overhanging fruit from a neighbour's tree, and if you trim back the overhang even the cuttings belong to the neighbour. So that's one old myth exploded. But the rules don't matter when you ask beforehand. People can choose to give or not to give. There's no taking going on.

Around my neck of the woods countless urbanites do nothing with their fruiting trees year on year. It seems more than a shame to let it rot. It is, I venture, a question of ethics. I have a moral duty to forage. I can't climb trees but I do have time to cook what falls from them. Check out these!

Not sure if it's my dodgy lighting or pollution that has given them a nuclear hue. Whatever, they will make delicious quince jelly. They smell divine.
I don't hold with all this creeping about at night with torches, or waiting til the neighbours are out and then indulging in scrumping. As one person comments on the Newsnight post, why don't more people leave a box of their unwanted fruit on the pavement with a note saying "Please Take". Plenty of passers-by would seize the offer of a freebie, but they wouldn't get to meet the neighbours like I do, or go all Amelie and do something nice like pop by with a jar of jewel-like jelly a few weeks later.

I have knocked on a few doors now. The first yielded 2lb of rosehips, the second about the same in the above quinces. I have my eye on a couple of apple trees. I knocked on the wrong door but was told the owners in question would be quite likely to give me some windfalls. The people I meet are invariably friendly, nice, happy to oblige, pleased even to find a neighbour (albeit a barking mad one) on their doorstep. I always offer pots of what I make in return for what I am taking. One bloke just asked me to spread the word about his latest comedy gig. I didn't have the heart to inform him I don't get out often, and when I do lately it is to commune with other people's fruit trees. I'm guessing he could probably tell as he gently closed his front door and left me wrestling with his chaenomeles japonica, bits of twig in my hair and autumn leaves caught in my scarf.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Couldn't sleep

But I didn't mind.

Outside the sky changes to pale lilac. Lying in bed I have planned my garden tonight. At the moment it's pretty much a blank canvas. I find that exciting, if a little frustrating where budgeting and energy is concerned. Anyway, in my dreams there's a blue-brick path snaking along by the hedge into the shade. At the end of the path there's an archway leading to a small, faded gazebo in the corner. The top of the garden also has room for a small shed and two raised beds for growing vegetables. This could be my son's section. I can also picture crab apple trees and a trellis or two for honeysuckle and jasmine.

I picture raised borders and shady areas. After the snowdrops come white crocus and narcissi. Bugle and elephant's ears edge the pathway, along with bluebells. Under the tree there are wood anemones, hellebores and toad lilies.

Later come iris, tulips and allium, foxgloves and my all time favourtie, teasels.

The teasel is such a structural beauty. If nothing else I plan on planting it with a particularly outlandish allium, some sea holly which also provides great structure and dramatic thistles.

Was I dreaming? Awake but dreaming. I've had worse nights.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Strength and Power

My Mum is a lot better. Another battle won.

Sometimes the world can seem extremely chaotic and threatening. Events, people, our own thoughts and indeed thoughts that are not our own can all throw us off balance. It gets like that for me, and it gets like that for my Mum. She fell off her mountain, or rather this time I suspect she was pushed, pushed to her limit and then pushed off the edge. But she is climbing back up again. Soon she will be at the top, just like she is in a photo I have. Strong, smiling and at the top of her mountain.
To be coping day in day out with my Grandma's distress, plus me, plus her own ill health and what I shall refer to only as recent 'vileness from abroad', well, she's doing a really amazing job. These pictures were taken back in the summer when I was in Shropshire with my Mum and my son. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were all happy.

My Mum is back from wherever she just went. When I heard her voice today, I knew instantly that she is inhabiting it once more. I was amazed to have her back so quickly this time. As the years pass she is stronger, she is returning. Vileness, we laugh at you. We laugh. We will meet the black fire in your eyes with indifference. You are so very, very pointless. Your power is as faded as your face in our memories. And we know you fear that more than anything.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The Big Day

I got to the dentist's and waited 20 minutes or so. It was a pleasant enough interlude for one facing unimaginable unpleasantness. I watched two small boys play with toys at my feet, and that orange antiques man was wittering on in the background (on the telly, not in the surgery). Sounds blended into the usual soup that confuses my brain every time I leave the house.

Then there I was sitting in the chair. The strange yellow goggles (why are they yellow?) were perched stylishly on my nose, the bib for spitting bits and bobs into secured around my neck.
Dr Uncertain says: "I'm just going to take another look at your tooth before..." then he trails off. He has a quick prod, and blows some air on my gum, rather pointlessly I feel.
"I'm juuuust going to go upstairs and have a word with Dr More Experienced Than Me. Won't be a moment." Five minutes later he returns.
"We've decided not to go ahead today."

"Why?" I say in a surprisingly forthright tone. My first thought is: "Thank God I didn't have time to take the stash of pre-op sedation in my bag, having discovered at the eleventh hour that the surgery I'm at doesn't do pre-op sedation." It looks like we're in for a bit of a discussion, and I need what wits I have to be as sharp as they can be.

He gives me the lowdown on what exactly is going on with my wisdom tooth, how risky the extraction is going to be, how I will bleed a lot, it will take more than an hour, my jawbone, the facial nerves, my general health, etc etc oh God here we go again. He tells me that, in accordance with NICE guidelines (The National In - I tell him I know what it stands for, he apologises for being patronising) unless your tooth has been infected three times in a year, it stays put.

I tell him that in preparation for today my son has had to face the upheaval of moving in with his father for two to three weeks. That a social services crisis care team are as we speak on standby because I have no one to look after me, which isn't his fault but that's the way it is at the moment. That I have put myself back ON two waiting lists (for further M.E. therapy and psychotherapy on the NHS, both of which became available this month) to allow for the lengthy recovery from today's extraction. Which now, at the very hour it was supposed to happen, is all of a sudden not going to happen.

He apologises for being 'naive'. He says that generally people leave the surgery and get better and get on with things. He now realises that it's not like that for people with chronic health conditions. He apologises for all the upheaval.

I am shaking. Sadly, my body is still capable of producing nearly as much adrenaline as the anaesthetic I requested not to have in favour of one that wouldn't upset my system. I am angry that they didn't talk this over and phone me to get me in before the Big Day. All the preparation, mental and logistical, has come to nothing. I feel as if he's chickened out, bottled it at the last minute.

I am very angry. My son, uprooted, is uprooted needlessly. I...I...I cooked a huge vat of vegetables and mashed them at midnight in preparation for today. Oh the indignation.

Then quietly inside, I relent. I listen. I don't shout. I don't demand to see Dr More Experienced. He's far too busy upstairs earning £2,000 fitting a dental implant, I presume. Dr Uncertain thinks I should be referred to the Community Dental Service. Sally, you were right. This is what she had to say on my dental situation a while back:

Dentists !
A bit of a practical suggestion ... Every dentist can refer patients to the NHS Community Dental Service - it's for those patients with 'special needs' YEAH, I know. The CDS is usually at a local hospital. If you have medical problems or disabilities that mean getting there is a problem, ask your GP or the Community dental service, to arrange hospital transport - they fetch you and take you back, with an escort if you need it. Or the 'Friends of ... Hospital' volunteer driver service. If they have one.

I think of Sally and smile serenely as Dr Uncertain tells me that the CDS has the expertise for the complex scenario that is nightmare dentistry on a disabled patient (my words, not his). They have defibrillators, oxygen, and what he describes as "a hospital set-up in a calm surgery setting." Should I have requested the referral before today? No, because they wouldn't have listened. They had to experience the cock-up that was today to understand what life with a chronic health condition can be like. And until today, I had confidence in Dr More Experienced, who was the one who was supposed to be doing the extraction. Funny how people are suddenly busy with other things sometimes isn't it?

Actually, having pondered it all awhile on returning home mouth intact but nerves slightly shaken, I am quite glad. Dr Uncertain was right to be so, if he felt that I need more specialist attention than certainly he could provide. Whatever was going on at my surgery today, whether it was "Oh God! Not her from last year," or "On the NHS? Are you kidding?" or "That's a right bastard of an extraction, don't touch her!" Whatever. I am so glad to have NOT had someone plunge into my mouth with a cavalier, devil-may-care attitude. Instead I got a referral to somewhere that sounds really rather good.

My son is coming home tomorrow. I think I will make a cake. And hey everyone. I've got Autumn back :-)

Monday, 8 October 2007

Drama Queen

I know. But just in case I don't make it, may I just say this?

With love from me to you xx

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Upon reflection

Peace in our time. I declare an end to my internal hostilities, the war that was being waged against fear and fearful imaginings, the war that lead to manic making of jam, the random purchasing of gardening books, and other such distractions that in truth cannot be carried out at any practical level but served to divert the feverish mind from more pressing, and indeed distressing difficulties.

Yes, my wisdom tooth is coming out on Tuesday. My son will be away from me for quite a while. My Grandma is having a rough old time with tests, social services and daily life with dementia. My mother has finally disintegrated and is under psychiatric care, though to her credit, whenever she does fall apart it never lasts long. I am embroiled in wranglings and legal disputes with social services and the NHS. And I have felt truly, utterly mad in the past week or two, maybe longer. Really bonkers.

I told the psychiatrist that I am under so much stress I'd rather see him in 2 months when things have calmed down. He was fine with that. I really don't want my stressy behaviours to be pigeon-holded. Everyone whirls apart sometimes.

As I won't be writing for a while I bring you flowers. Peace and more peace. Close your eyes and you can smell the fragrance.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Hope You Like Jamming 2

Flu jab done and I was out of the surgery door and over the road to the farmers' market. Thanks to the lady from HollyandtheIvy I got some on the spot jelly counselling. I bought some of her quince jelly and it's really tangy and delicious.

And thanks to The Cottage Smallholder who stopped by here to give me sound advice. I remembered to ask the people down the road if I could snaffle the rosehips in their front garden and they were happy to oblige in return for some of the results. So I get to have another go. Yay! (Groan from everyone I won't do another blow by blow account. Just the results maybe). The lady who owns the house remembers her Gran making rosehip jelly. I will make it clear that I am not as experienced as her Gran no doubt was.

In the end I forgot to take my first attempt to the market. Having read over last night's post I'm quite relieved. I think it would have looked a little odd, and certainly overly-preoccupied, which I'm not, honest. And in any case I tried some more today on toast. Yes it's very sweet. It's a preserve. I just tend to avoid jam normally because I know white sugar is really bad for my system. But I think the preserve-making bug has hit. So plenty of other people can benefit even if I can't. And there's always savoury recipes to try.

Anyway, I learned that lemon is important to the setting process, so next time I'll add some. Less sugar is just a case of trial and error and getting past the beginner stage.
Top Tip Keep bags of sugar in your airing cupboard if you have one. It warms it so you don't have to warm it in the oven (this is done to aid the dissolving of sugar once it is added to your fruit).
At the very next stall I found quinces and crab apples. So I bought just enough to carry home without collapsing in a heap and am begging a few jars off people so I can get on with my next batch. I love all these fruit I've never cooked before.

Friday, 5 October 2007


Tomorrow I am going to the farmer's market after my flu jab and I don't care how tired I am. I will be heading straight for the nearest preserves stall. I will be polite enough to buy a jar of their finest seasonal fare. Then I will reach inside my bag and pull out this

I have another ten of these in my kitchen, though not all in the ever so posh jars that came with my kit. All lined up they look very pretty. I was worried it would be cloudy or wouldn't set. No worries on either of those fronts. I declare my first rosehip and apple jelly at least a partial success because it is jelly, it did set, it is clear, and it looks nice.

Open the lid and take a taste and... it's too sweet. That's why I need jam surgery. I would like them to taste it and tell me what they think. So far it's absolutely divine on crumpets, but shockingly sweet when just on its own, and limited in its uses I fear.. I can't possibly eat it in large quantities, and my son gagged. I'm actually thankful for that as if he'd loved it I'd have had the mother of all sugar rushes on my hands.

So what to do with 11 jars of too sweet jelly? I am a woman on the verge of an obsession. I loved making this. I got it slightly wrong. I want to give it another go, with less sugar. Does anyone have 2lb of rosehips going spare? I just feel bad about giving this stuff to people I know. I don't think it would be responsible, with so many kids in the neighbourhood. They'd all be frothing at the mouth. And don't you hate it when you've made something and people try to be polite? God, just spit it out and go "Puh! Aaag! Bloody terrible." I guess I'll give it to people with a sweet tooth without kids. Then. More rosehips? There's an abundance down the road. I may knock the door and offer them some new-improved jelly if I can pick some.

Edited: I wrote an update on family stuff below but have decided to edit it down and keep things very, very brief. It's because at the moment I need to actually escape what is proving to be a turbulent family time. And if that has to be achieved by making jam then boring everyone silly by writing about it then so be it.

My Grandma had her brain scan. She found it distressing but because she hasn't lost any of her natural resilience she got through it.

When I have my wisdom tooth out I will be recovering at home. The stress of recent weeks has taken its toll on my mum's mental health. She needs a rest.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Countdown #5

Determined to press on, and now rather enjoying life on my perching stool in the kitchen, the rosehip jelly is underway. It's a three day, really quite leisurely affair involving a Maslin pan, a long wooden spoon, a jelly bag and stand, a bowl to catch slow dripping fruit in and, ahem, a thermometer. Yes I gave in, terrified that the stuff won't set when I reach that critical stage tomorrow.
There are few things more pleasurable than gathering your own wild fruit, hulling it with help from nimbler fingers than mine, and then starting the long and absorbing process towards the delights of homemade Rosehip and Apple Jelly. The Cottage Smallholder blog is a really beautiful oasis which chronicles all I hold dear about enjoying nature and her abundance. Their rosehip jelly will be a really lovely accompaniment to crumpets in winter, packed full of more Vitamin C than the largest orange in the world, and just very pretty and delicate in the jar.

First up, the artificial blast of wintery frost. No it didn't arrive, so we stuck our 2lbs of hips in the freezer for a couple of days, giving us time to do other stuff.

I loved how pretty they looked when they came out. You can imagine them hanging from a branch in the early morning sunshine.

Duly out of the freezer and defrosted they are hulled, then placed in this really wonderful large receptacle, the Maslin Pan. It is stainless steel, preferable to aluminium which strips out the Vitamin C.
Here's the three stage, three day recipe I've been working to, with some adaptations that I hope will work.

Rosehip and Apple Jelly from The Cottage Smallholder

2lb rosehips
4lb sweet eating apples or cooking apples
Zest of half a lemon if you fancy it and your stomach likes it. Mine doesn't.
Juice of half a lemon (omit if using cooking apples as they are already quite acidic)
sugar (1 pint strained juice to 1lb sugar. Yikes)

You need
Stainless steel large pan, long wooden spoon, jelly bag, stand and big bowl to strain it all into. Thermometer if desperately anxious.

Day One

Top and tail 2lb rosehips and cover with just enough water. Bring to boil slowly and simmer until it has all softened and can be bashed about a bit with a masher. This can take about an hour with hard hips. But just have the heat on low and top up water if it all starts to look a bit gloopy in there.

Now the great transferring of pulp to jelly bag.

The jelly bag is a natty muslin strainer into which you pour the contents of the Maslin pan. The bag sits over a sterile steel bowl to catch the juice, slowly. Drip. Drip. Drip. It takes 12 HOURS.
Incredible. So you just go to bed and see what is there in the morning.

Well, as I said, the first day was rosehips and cooking them was a bit of trial and error. Plainly not enough liquid emerging at the first go, so panicking at 12.30am I put all the pulp back in pan, squooshed with a litre more boiling water for 10 mins, and strained it all through again for the rest of the night. Two strainings are good for rosehips as they have hairy seeds, which give you an itchy bottom if ingested. Not nice. Minus the seeds they are fine. The more observant among you may have noticed the gloop above is green. That is because I photographed the apples I am currently straining. I was just too absorbed to take photos last night when it all seemed to be going a bit awry.

Day Two
Cooking the apples. Simple, 20 minute simmer, squishy, done. Straining at the moment.

Tomorrow is the real test. I have to measure the liquid from both fruit, calculate sugar, add it, bring it slowly to the boil and as apples are high in pectin not boil it too long. Will it set? Will I know what I'm doing at all? Will it all get a bit sticky? Oh the suspense! What a cliffhanger! Who needs soaps?

Other News

I met my psychiatrist today. I forgot to look at his shoes. He seems nice.
My mother is unwell.
My Grandma has a brain scan tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Countdown #7

Today we made cakes. They got everywhere, being the sticky, gooey sort of cakes that tend to spread chocolate all over the house when combined with children, or indeed chocolate-loving, absent-minded adults.

Who cares? Being an anxious type who is very good at negatively predicting the future, I have convinced myself that I am going to die at the dentist's next Tuesday. This being the case, I will be doing everything pleasurable and nothing practical in the next seven days.

We arsed about in the kitchen so much it will take quite a bit of cleaning up. But to be doubled up with laughter (he was actually rolling on the floor) has been a very welcome interlude in this tide of woe.

We have also been watching Shaun The Sheep. Yes, we are late to find him. But oh, what a find. So much funnier than Wallace and Gromit, with the same spot-on observation and attention to detail but just hilarious sequences of slapstick interspersed with very clever and subtle references and some great silent comedy moments. Really very funny. But you all knew it long before I did. Great taste, Lady Bracknell.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Let's skate

I am working through my Autumn in Ten Days Plan. The weather is not so great for photos, but hopefully my desperate checking of forecasts will bear fruit at some point this week. Books duly ordered, and DVDs planned out for lots of under duvet watching of films. My stamina for film-watching is improving, though I still choose carefully.

The main mission has been achieved already. I managed to take my son out with his skateboarding mates after school today. They are all becoming adept at what is admittedly a very urban sport, but exercise nonetheless.

I have no problem with it whatsoever as long as I don't discover spliffs and spraycans stashed away in future years. There are enormous signs around the park warning of instant prosecution if either of the aforementioned are found on the unlucky skateboarder who happens to run into a policeman.

Watching your child engage in a pursuit that has a thriving, if sometimes edgy, culture all of its own brings the prospect of life with a teen into sharp focus. I just hope I can use all the experience I banked as a somewhat wayward Goth (yes, I know) to relate to the individual I used to take to the park to feed the ducks.
But watching those kids, watching the way they move, it's just so balletic. In fact some do progress into dance schools from skateboarding. Poise and balance are the two main requirements after all. Skateboarding builds up your leg muscles and introduces you to the thrill of spinning, jumping, turning, all at great speed.

Naturally :-) my son is up there as one of the best among his peers. He isn't afraid of falling, and has the bruises to show for it, but just gets back on and keeps on trying. He's perfected his Ollie, his Manual, his 180s and 360s are coming along and he is working on his grinding and Kickflips. He can tackle a 12 foot vertical ramp no problem. But what I love to see most of all is the grace, the movement, the concentration. He really loves skateboarding. He gets approving nods and grunts from the teenagers who occasionally help out the fledglings with their moves, when they aren't busy dazzling them with their aerobatics. The older ones can do all that flipping in mid-air stuff. And the ones on bikes just barely touch the ground. I love watching them all. It's exhilarating.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Dental Détente

I am out of zonkdom. It's a temporary reprieve but a welcome one.

Tonight my ex came round and we had a meal and a chat. He came round initially because I had some logistics to discuss. My wisdom tooth has to come out. This means I have to go to my Mum's to recuperate during term time. This is a problem, though not an insurmountable one. I need my ex to completely take over care of my son for a while. It seemed polite to run it past him. And in the end, we both gained a lot from having to spend an evening together. It's the first time we've really talked since we split up. Now we know something of what the other has been going through there's possibly a move towards détente. You can't stay at war forever, and this has been a very cold war. Icy hearts, huge walls, the odd missile crisis and far too much tension. Now, and only now, it seems we can talk. Yes, a dental crisis precipitated the shift but so what? At least we're talking. We may as well make the most of it before I find myself unable to talk at all.

My last extraction took a month to get over. The tooth in question shattered in my mouth, leaving the dentist with very little to grip on to. There was a subsequent infection and dry socket (where a clot doesn't form properly and the hole doesn't heal) all of which means I totally don't remember last July. Except that I missed a wedding.
This wisdom tooth, well to be honest it is a right sod. It's impacted under the jawbone, near a facial nerve and in need of cutting into four pieces to remove, after they have sawn off a chunk of my jaw. I knew this four years ago when it first flared up. Then I got ill and surgery kept being put off, because I just wasn't up to it and I had a choice to delay, which I am thankful for.
The thing is with chronic long term conditions is that other stuff still comes along. Life is like that. I could at least postpone this for a few years. I couldn't do the same with tube-feeding or other emergency treatment that just had to go ahead. I got through all that. I will get through this.

My son gets to stay with his Dad for three weeks, maybe longer. My ex, thankfully, has the option to work from home in times of crisis, freeing him up to get to school. They will watch action films and Dr Who replays, batter the playstation, run riot and generally have a ball. Ralph...hmmm. Suggestions welcome. He would hate a cattery, but I have pet insurance which may cover 'emergencies'. Depends what they think of my health, as I am pretty much uninsurable now. But we're talking about his insurance, his boarding fees, albeit because of my emergency.

Son happy, cat sorted, I can retreat to my Mum's and hole myself up until I've healed. My immune system, whilst not great, is better than when I weighed next to nothing. Part of the decision to act now is because I am in relatively ok shape for me, and still ultimately have to tackle my medication conundrum. I can't embark on that with major dental work hanging over me. So on October 9, all being as well as it can be, out it comes. And off I will go.

I have a week and a half to forward plan. I can use this time to:
  • Take my son out to see a film, maybe go to the park, take him skateboarding
  • Enjoy autumn in some small way before I am in bed recuperating
  • Compile a list of very funny films to rent from Amazon's DVD rental service - I will be setting up a list to deliver to my Mum's address, and will leave it in place for her. She needs some laughs too at the moment.
  • Gather thoughts on what reading matter will help for when I'm in bed. Big, beautiful picture books for starters. Gardening books. I can manage a short visit to the library and stock up before I go.
  • Borrow a friend and do some emergency bulb planting quick. I need to see crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils and tulips in my garden next Spring.
This autumn I was going to go to parent's evening, do something nice for my ex as an olive branch for his 40th, and make rosehip jelly. I was going to have tea and cakes with my son at a cafe after school for half an hour once a week. I was going to expand my interest in photography, get into the software, take pictures of autumn, sort out my Flickr page. I was going to go to the Botanical Gardens and enjoy the sting in the air, the tingle on my nose, the sun on rich-red leaves.

Autumn now has to be condensed into ten days. Well so be it.

Bring it on.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Gather ye rosehips

Only two more days on antibiotics then back down to earth. Did cancel the new psychiatrist though. It would have been totally counterproductive for him to see me like this, all dozy and 'whatever' and compliant. Not me at all. My GP gave me a temporary prescription until I meet Mr Shiny Shoes next week. I just know he will have shiny shoes.
Instead, I have been occupied with largely sleeping and the following wholesome activity which got me some fresh air, the first for several days.

We have an abundance of rosehips at the top of the garden and I felt compelled to collect some before they go off. Wild food is great to forage for, even better with your son in tow so you can spout off about nature and living simply and using what's available right on your doorstep. Once you know what to do with it.

I do have one question that hasn't been answered in my google quest to find out how to cook them or what to use them for.
Are these ripe yet?

It's not my best shot, but it was late and I am still playing with indoor macro settings for my winter project. Anyway, a question for anyone with an affinity with nature or love of cooking...What colour are they supposed to be, and how soft, before you attempt to turn them into jelly or syrup or whatever? Do they need to be squishy? These are quite firm and bright red. They are currently residing in the freezer for a night to give them a 'frost' before cooking. That's what those in the know seem to do. And it has been interesting in my trawling of sites for recipes to pick up on climate change. This year's rosehips are early. We are unlikely to get the frost they need to sweeten them before the opportunity to harvest them passes, which is why people are using their freezers. But are the ones we collected even ripe? Will I poison the neighbourhood with my concoctions (jelly or syrup, possibly both if I can be bothered). Will I be alarmed at the equipment required to embark on such a project? I don't want to get into all that thermometer business. A kitchen is a kitchen, not a laboratory.

This has all come about because the gardener returned to do battle with the ginormous hedges that have sprouted forth in this exceptionally wet summer.
He pruned back the buddleia. It was huge, now less so, but takes up so much room for a postage stamp garden that I wonder whether to have it taken out - then I read the post where I took a picture of a bee - now I feel torn, though it only flowered for a week or so...

Once he got past the buddleia, he fearlessly grappled with the hawthorn, which flowered in May. It too had become gargantuan, unwieldy and quite fearsome. Once tamed, the rosehips came raining down. I will be planting cuttings from the original tree, which remains, though seriously pruned back. If we stay here long enough I'm aiming for a hawthorn hedge, or at least a couple more trees going along the whole back of the garden.
Rosehips are beautiful. Big, red shiny berries which glow in the autumn sunshine and, having done a bit of research, can be used in all manner of recipes. Rosehip syrup. Jelly. Puree, tea, wine.
So, having millions of the things littering the garden post pruning I thought it would be best to go out and pick them even if deciding what to do with them comes later. My son and I collected three large bowlfuls, and there are plenty more to come.

Friday, 21 September 2007

And, and, and then

It all goes a bit hysterical. Yesterday I got a sudden and vicious infection in my wisdom tooth. It came about because Mr Junior Dentist (the one who blanched at the very sight of me a week or so back) suggested flossing.

Flossing is such a waste of energy. I told him as much. He told me about the miracle that is the electric flossing machine. And so, keen to maintain some level of dental hygiene with or without him (he certainly didn't seem to want to be directly involved) I went and bought one. They're a bit like an electric toothbrush but with a cute little lyre-type attachment that has a little string of floss stretched taught, which vibrates. Mine is called The Hummingbird. This perhaps isn't the best advert for it, so I won't provide a link.

I used it for a couple of days, duly replacing the flossing bit each time, and it dislodged your average oral detritus...the stuff Mr JD should have been tackling in the scale and polish I never had. I found my novel and very tiny humming device kind of fun, and my teeth now feel a lot cleaner. But back at the surgery the dentist also has a blowy machine, a sucky machine and a rinsy machine. I don't. So I can't hoover up like a dentist can and, because my wisdom tooth has erupted and is impacted, it can easily become infected due to the little bit of gum that flaps about collecting whatever comes its way. Yes I was using mouth rinse. But it obviously didn't work. Plus my gums bled. Then it all went pear-shaped.

So, and this will perhaps be a blessing to many, I will be utterly zonked by antibiotics for seven days. Big strong ones. Zzzzzzzz. I will be so stoned when Mr Shiny Shoes psychiatrist is due to try and turn up for our rebooked appointment on Thursday that he'll probably...well I may just cancel this time. I don't see the need to present as utterly catatonic when in reality I'm just slightly, sometimes.

Soon I have to have my wisdom tooth out, because I've gone over the limit of number of infections permitted before extraction (three...I'm on five). And this is the icing on the cake. The dentist I like, who is really calm and experienced and professional and agreed a year ago to take out my wisdom tooth from the relative comfort of his big chair at the surgery...has moved into the lucrative arena of dental implants. So I have to go into hospital where there be student dentists lurking around every corner.
Before I drift off into the realm of the undead I have only one thing left to say.


Thursday, 20 September 2007


So I print off the Ashton Manual, which is indeed an excellent resource for anyone involved in benzo withdrawal. I dig out my care plan, and carefully go over Goldfish's really pertinent Guide to Chemical Addiction . I have everything I want to say ready and reasoned. I'm fully prepared for Mr Shiny Shoes. The new psychiatrist I didn't know about who was supposed to come and see me today? The one who, on a whim, messed with my prescription without asking me about it. The clinic called 10 minutes before he was due at my house and cancelled. Honestly, it makes you want to give up trying to give up before you've even started.

Monday, 17 September 2007


I bolted for the weekend, and have come back to even more responses to Untitled. Thank you, everybody.

The point was raised in the comments that there are comprehensive packages of support out there for withdrawal from illegal drugs such as heroin.
Mary wondered if similar services are in place for prescription junkies (my phrase) like myself.

No, nothing structured or intensive that's for sure. And because I am on prescription medication, I don't qualify for support from my local drug action team, who concentrate their efforts on illegal substance misuse. But I don't hold that against people using or withdrawing from heroin or other drugs. I started writing all this in the comments box but it turned into a post. I don't know how to do links in comments boxes for one thing... I also think it's worth further thought.

All addictions are tricky to treat, and often expensive. I wouldn't begrudge anyone support just because what they've taken is illegal, though it could be viewed as tempting for me to do so. It would be too easy, and wrong I feel, to resent the emphasis on treating users of recreational or illegal drugs. Yes more money goes into those treatment programmes than the sort that doesn't even exist for me, but then my prescription...well it's so outdated really, isn't it? And mental health services just keep on suffering further cutbacks. I will think more deeply on this but can only presume that in the eyes of the Government, it all comes down to that old chestnut 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'.

Heroin addicts (like 'they' all belong under one label...bit like 'prescription junkies') are commonly perceived as the criminal underclass by your average voter. I, being on prescription drugs, don't need to commit any crimes because of my addictions. I just phone the chemist, who delivers it all to my door. So perhaps in not being a perceived threat (unless I turn into one of those 'psychos') I am not so voter-friendly to treat.

I will be patching together my own support programme for my withdrawal from prescription drugs. It will more than likely involve No Panic (a telephone counselling and support service for people with anxiety disorders and those going through tranquilliser withdrawal), the solid and expert recommended by Miss Vertigo which seems to have more stuff on its site than I was aware (result MV!), and The Samaritans for very bad days.

I have more or less given up on the mental health team who contributed to all this. A local centre has just been shut down. Waiting lists are horrendous. People I know working in health services in my area are ashamed. Things are better 20 miles down the road under a different trust, so if I get really desperate I can always move house (again).

Today I found out my psychiatrist has left, which is why my dosage of Zopiclone was suddenly halved over the weekend when I got my latest prescription. I found out after writing Untitled. It kind of made me smile. I now have to explain to Mr Shiny Shoes new shrink why halving the dose all of a sudden is NOT a good idea for someone with my medical profile and please could we do some research together, and talk about it in a few weeks? I'm meeting him on Thursday. He's at least coming to the house, although you tend to find home visits are shorter (pushed for time). Ten minutes or so to explain my disabilities and complex malmetabolising of medication. Can't wait. But at least I get the opportunity to discuss withdrawal, which is what I was building to doing by booking an appointment with my GP...sometime. I do feel that rather than this whole thing being taken seriously by one expert, I am somewhat scrabbling about for a way forward.

It's too expensive a process to get someone off prescription drugs - and that's despite valium being one of the cheapest drugs a doctor can prescribe. Cheap and nasty.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Still Life

A scooped out passion fruit

I was mucking about with still life in mind a few weeks ago, and now all of a sudden this seems highly appropriate.

I've been trying to occupy myself by backing up all my photos. It's such a mindless task, perfectly suited to when you need to mull things over. Being deep in thought sometimes works better when there is something else going on.

So I've been thinking about what to do, about how lovely people (that's you, and youandyouandyou) can be in times of need, how it's not the end but a transition. All the usual self-absorbed crap you'll generally find up here only now you know my mind is soaked in sedatives, so perhaps I can be forgiven a little. And anyway, anyone left alone for too long can run the risk of becoming tediously introspective. I salute all of you who consistently avoid tedium and self-indulgence, and frequently create quite beautiful words from silence or solitude. You are amazing.

No way is this going to become a blow-by-blow withdrawal site. As it will take some years, I simply couldn't subject myself, or anyone else to a daily account of what is going on in my body.
I won't even get an appointment to discuss what to do next for a month or so at least. So please don't all run away.

The sites I have read where someone is going through a medication change have usually been managed with dignity, humour and a large helping of consideration for readers. I have taken these observations on board.

As we go into winter (yes, I know, not yet, but personally I can't wait) I've decided to pick up a second-hand lightbox and experiment more with still life images. It should keep me amused and prove a diversion from all those flowers. As I archive everything I realise why macro photography has become my thing. It suits the slowed down body and mind very well. Your subjects don't move, you can photograph them from a scooter or wheelchair, (or soon, the kitchen table) and take your time.

It's amazing how we adapt to our circumstances, really, isn't it? And sometimes without even realising it.


Tuesday, 11 September 2007


Drugs do not work in my case, and it's taken quite a while for my doped mind to figure this one out. Now my body is giving me clear signals that I have to do something about it.

Don't read on if you feel you may become distressed. I won't be writing like this very often, but I have to get this out.

I wasn't doped up three years ago when I was exhibiting very clear, checklist-like M.E. symptoms. Nobody I saw in the early days had the expertise to pick up on what was wrong, or the sense to refer me to someone who could help.
So how do you treat someone who crashes into your clinic in a state of physical crisis and emotional turmoil? Let's put ourselves in the shoes of your average UK psychiatrist for a few moments.
Picture the scene from the other side of The Desk. Occupy for a moment the tiny mind that is governed by the DSM (the handbook of mental disorders used by every dysfunctional doctor who lacks perception, life experience or empathy). What would you be thinking?
"Jeeeesus Christ."
Look at clock. Reach for DSM.

And that's about it.
Really. Truly. That's what happened. Each psychiatrist I saw, whether at the clinic, in a respite house, during home treatment or in hospital added something new. The excuse has been that each of them was only trying to help. But throw in the combined efforts of a couple of seriously clueless GPs along the way and nobody communicating, and you get my current prescription.

Zopiclone - a sleeping tablet: addictive.
Valium - a tranquilliser: addictive.
Propranolol - a cardiac drug, given for anxiety symptoms
Mirtazepine - an antidepressant which made me eat my way out of malnutrition, only now I'm far from malnourished
Lansoprazole - used to treat gastritis and stomach ulcers. It was severe stomach problems that caused me to need hospital treatment for malnutrition. Brought about quite possibly by overloading my stomach with medication. Now I need Lansoprazole to keep my stomach functioning.

An average day: I get up, get my son breakfast. I am in a stupor, hungover from my night medication. I take my morning propranolol after he's gone to school, so I can function at least whilst he's around. If I don't take it I seize up. But when I take it, it puts me back in bed for two hours. I am not safe to so much as boil a kettle until the effects have worn off. The rest of the day is floaty. I have valium and more propranolol at 6pm. I feel groggy. I take all five drugs at bedtime. If I try to cut down on anything I fit, vomit or shake. I have been on this medication regime for more than two years. My hormones are shot to bits, I have back problems, jaundice and something vaguely referred to as 'mood disorder'. That'll be the drugs then.

Rehab was discussed but ruled out by the M.E. team who finally came into the picture sadly after I'd been put on this disastrous cocktail from hell. I have something called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. It means my body is groaning under the pressure of these drugs, not metabolising them very well, and yet will go into crisis if withdrawal is mishandled. Not surprisingly, no one wants to go near my prescription. I can't do rehab. I don't want to be in a longterm state of withdrawal, and yet I have no choice. Five drugs to kick. One at a time. Very slowly. I'm guessing it will take the rest of my son's childhood. Robbed is such an inadequate word. Here's a few more. Violated. Abused. Fucking Furious.

So there you have it. I'm finally out as a prescription junkie. But I hope you all understand that it's the last thing I wanted to happen, and I never would have thought it possible that the strong, capable person of four years ago would end up like this.

Why have I done this now? Because I wanted to. Because it's time. Because I'm not ashamed. And because I don't want anyone to ever live even one day like I had to for months on end in the not so distant past...lying on the bathroom floor, less than seven stone, too weak to lift my head to vomit, my then partner trying to keep my son away because the scene was just too terrifying.

"Is Mum being sick again?"
"No, now come downstairs. It's nearly time for school."

Monday, 10 September 2007

The thing is

Loneliness and sedation are a bad combination. You become very introspective and things can spiral downwards very quickly. The answer? Well, less sedation longterm but this afternoon I made myself go out again, despite a very crap morning.
It was the only answer. I went to school then spent a couple of hours out watching my son skateboarding with his friends. All I had to do was sit and watch. And I felt better. So much better than lying in bed, which is what I really wanted to do. And some days that's fine. But not when there's life to be lived, even if it amounts to little more than sitting on a bench. And I'm not writing this for 'well done' comments. I'm writing this to record the fact that I managed to somehow turn today around.
I'm having to do the one day at a time rule. I find a dip in my mental health sends me pretty much into 'too much' mode. It's all just too much to cope with.
That's the complete bummer about dealing with a dual diagnosis, as they call it.
The physical side of things can be unpredictable enough, but the mood swings and depression, anxiety etc etc can be impossible to track, let alone plan for, react to or chart in any way. And my moods are not only affected by my physical condition, but by a pretty poor psychological state and really crap prescription drugs.
I know I have to do something about it. But you try getting anyone in the health service to agree they've badly messed up and THEN agree to help you unmess it.
That, my friends, is the dilemma. And all I can do for now is try to distract myself on the really bad days. And stop buying so many chocolate biscuits perhaps.