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.