Friday, May 27, 2022

Folding Away

Earlier this week, as I sat in the quiet cafe, music playing quietly enough for me to ignore it and, on the yellow formica table top in front of me, a hot chocolate cooling from molten lava temperature, I paused in my reading to look up and consider the question that has stumped philosophers for centuries...

Is there anything more comforting and more guaranteed to give you a feeling of wellbeing than sea-cold toes thawing in warm dry socks while you drink hot chocolate?

Some serious consideration of other comforting things - the first chilly night under a winter duvet, a hug from someone you genuinely want a hug from, soup and toast, a cup of tea after a night on the tiles -  I have to tell you, dear readers, that no, there is nothing more comforting than that. 

With one of the eternal mysteries of life solved, I returned to split my attention between the second book of the day and that hot chocolate, upon which the crest of whipped cream was slowly, tantalisingly, melting down the side of a mug so big, I could have put my head in it. 

I'm not long back from a quick break to the sea where I did little else other than watch the waves, eat, walk, sleep. Repeat for 2 days. I spent some time picking up pebbles and examining them. I spent even more time reading and writing (took 6 books with me and read 5, leaving Shuggie Bain for a time when I can deal with desperate poverty and lost lives, i.e. not yet). It was bliss and I came back feeling both well fed and well rested. 

I did, despite my age and the fact everyone else over 40 on the beach were wearing sensible stout boots and walking shoes, paddle barefoot in the shallows. Why would you not? Yes, it might have been so cold I could barely feel my feet after 5 minutes and, on 1 occasion, actually raining, but I hadn't gone all that way to not get my feet wet. 

If anything, I just wondered at the people in the stout boots. Did they not want to recapture that feeling of childish glee, that abrupt sucking in of breath that comes when the foaming waves carry themselves over your toes and you realise the water temperature is closer to ice than bath?

Their dogs weren't so inhibited and bounced soggily up to me hoping I was carrying biscuits or would throw the salt water dripping ball for them. Some just wanted a pat and 1 enthusiastic retriever (is there any other sort?) wanted to pause a foot away from me to give himself a vigorous shake. The owner was mortified. 

I just laughed and mopped up the worst with my scarf. That scarf did a lot of standing in for a towel over the 2 days. 

Going through the photos, I realise I mostly took closeups of rocks and pebbles because I find them fascinating and have promised myself to, one day, properly get to grips with geology. No fossil finds, but lots of lovely glittering lines of quartz running like galaxies through the rock. 

I've kept a couple of little videos of the sea on my phone to return to when times get stressful. Which they will. I'm learning to take those times as part of the ebb and flow of life (I do this at the age of 45? Truly I am the enlightened one!) and not to let the stress overwhelm. Let it flow, man, it'll pass. 

And whilst it was tempting to burst back home and insist to N that we "move there instantly and run a little B&B and I will run a craft shop as well and you will run your garden design business and it will all be splendid", I resisted. I think sometimes he takes these flights of fancy seriously and then frets that he'll come home one day and the house will be for sale. Maybe, if I was 25 years ago but still the me I am now, I'd take them seriously too. 

For now, they are daydreams occasioned by being in a nice place and having the usual irksome details of daily life (who's turn is it to cook, who did the last lot of laundry, did you feed the cats already, why are your shoes there?) left behind. 

For 48 hours, I could allow myself to focus on nothing but the sea and the tides. I embraced that lovely Italian idea of far niente, pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness. Something we don't do enough of as adults. I saw no news, no social media and no emails. I did gaze for a long time at the sea, and the long bluing horizon. 

So I'll fold those impossible daydreams away with the post-holiday washing, put them on the shelves with the strange rocks, and not think of them again until I'm back there. Or somewhere else with cobbledy streets, pastel coloured houses and a pub serving the best seafood I've eaten in a long time. 

And for the next week, whenever I turn out of a pair of socks or my bag or a coat pocket, and a small gift of sand sprinkles the carpet, I'll allow myself a moment or two of unfolding. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Inhale Deeply

Hello! Well, it has been so long since I last blogged that, coming back to it this morning, I couldn’t remember what I’d last written and consequently lost myself for an hour this morning, rereading, following back, plunging into that memory pool, occasionally asking myself if I’d really meant to write that. 

Generally yes. What I mean to write, I write. 

April and the 1st week in May were…bonkers. So much so that I’ve reached 7th May and fallen at its feet, kissing the ground with gratitude. I think I will lie here for a little bit and recover. 

treated myself to some freesias because why not?

Truth is, I did something I’d promised myself not to do since going freelance, and I’d over committed. In order to fit it all in, I worked over the bank holidays and weekends, push-push-pushing words into those coherent sentences that funders like.  

So. Many. Damn. Zoom. Meetings. Daily, twice daily, thrice daily. Finally, at the suggestion “we catch up via a quick Zoom”, I snapped and demanded an old fashioned phone call instead, unable to face another disjointed conversation full of “oh you’re frozen again” or “hang on while I share my screen.”

And I physically zoomed too: one 7 day stretch saw me dash between Birmingham (again), London and Gloucester. I have seen more train interiors this month than I have in the past 2 years. I have driven to Ely. 

But. Now May is here and the deadlines have been met. I have felt the weight of them fall from my shoulders like a heavy overcoat. 

sweet peas planted out in April

N is cantering through his last month of work. In September he starts a Masters in landscape architecture. No one chooses to be made redundant but there is no denying the freedom, once the period of adjustment and mourning has been got through, to go in a completely different direction that it gives you. 

Speaking of which, never have I ever heard so many tone-deaf comments as I did when the news was first announced. Redundancy is up there in the list of the Big Life Stressors (bereavement, moving, illness, divorce, redundancy, etc) and yet his shoulder rang with the metaphorical thumps of people saying “think of all that free time!”, “wish I could be made redundant!” and “it happened to me and I was over the moon!” 

The problem with comments like that, as well meant as they may be, is they diminish how the person actually feels. That period of mourning and adjustment as you realise the future you thought was secure has just been snatched away, that the small work ‘family’ you’d been part of will soon all be moving on without you, is necessary. Trying to cheer someone out of it just makes them feel worse. 

And now he's through that - jubilant to be leaving a work environment that had steadily grown more toxic over the past 2 years, coming out of meetings with deep sighs, shakes of the head and a wondering "I don't have to worry about that any more". There are plans for the future, university in September and then the wedding at the end of the month. We’re in a good place. 

Shelves at the Coffin Works. One of the helter-skelter visits I did. 

My poor allotment. I managed 1 trip up there, nearly 2 weeks ago. To be fair, the ground was so dry, it needed a mattock to break it up (it's a clay soil so when it's dry, it's solid). It needed the recent drenching. Tomorrow, recently nadgered ankle withstanding*, I'm planning a few hours up there, taking my sandwiches and my time over the jobs to do. There are seedlings ready to go in, another brick path to be built and, no doubt, strimming to be done. I love No Mow May but if I went with that at my plot, I'd never recover the ground. 

I have alpines to plant on the tricky dry bed, cornus cuttings that have rooted and need a place to be, a couple of achillea that 'fell' into my basket and a honeyberry (lonicera caerulea) which I also failed to resist. 

May is full of green and so beautiful that, now I have the time, I'm standing to stare. Trips to garden centres that are bursting with lushness. Going to see friends one evening, the lanes were so soft with new growth, bluebells shyly scattering the grass, that I had to stop the car to stare properly. I'm going to do that more, not just now, but this year in general. 

Things I have read and seen:

  • Earthed by Rebecca Schiller, Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym, Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James and South Riding by Winifred Holtby, which stayed with me for days afterwards and I'm recommending all over the shop. 
  • Dinosaurs: the Final Day with David Attenborough. Just mind-blowing. Astonishing finds and research pinpointing the moment of asteroid impact that did for the dinosaurs. And continuing the asteroid theme, Don't Look Up. Funny and poignant, Meryl Streep acting it up a storm. An allegory for our environmentally-stricken times that can also make you laugh. 

There are 3 more weeks of May left before we tilt into the birthday pell-mell of June and July (our families seem to cluster around here and November-December for birthdays) and I can allow myself the luxury of Days Off. Things I will do in May:

  • Eat asparagus in a variety of ways. 
  • Ditto new potatoes
  • Make elderflower cordial
  • Inhale deeply when I'm around flowers
  • Admire the wisteria at the allotments
  • Watch butterflies
  • Quit Twitter because, ugh**
  • Yoga
  • Write
What does May hold for you?

*the arthritis means that when I've been too much on my feet, I get unsteady, leading to Undignified Trips and, in this case, Falls. I've been resting this thing since Wednesday. Lots of ice etc. 
** Done!

PS If I've missed any of your posts and/or comments, I'm sorry. Slowly getting myself back into order. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Hither and Thither

I have been caught up in a maelstrom of hither and thither recently. So much so that a day out to Nottingham had to be cancelled. "Sincerest regrets, deadlines, busyness etc, enjoy without me!", virtually waving off the friends I had been planning to spend the day with. Instead I took myself off to the library and worked in the little cafe there (lattes £1, if you please), letting the change of scene work wonders on my bid writing skills. 

Which it did. This recent commission has a tight deadline so gallivanting was out of the question really, and I'd already lost a day in Brum the previous week. 

A friend most generously donated her time so we could spend the traipsing the Rag Market and assorted nearby fabric shops to find THE right fabric for the wedding dress. Which is not a wedding dress in the traditional sense of the word. Having been on this particular merry-go-round before, I have no interest in wearing white (or cream or champagne or ecru or whatever fancy name the designers give it). I wanted something vibrant and dramatic, and found it in a beautiful Dupion silk in emerald green. Of course, the making may be trickier now Mum has had a meltdown and refused to do it ("Silk? I thought you were getting jersey! I can't work with silk!") but someone with the requisite sewing skills will turn up. 

After, we hauled our aching feet to a greasy spoon to refresh ourselves with chips and builders tea before making our way to the Library where we combined work (we're evaluating a project there together) and pleasure (there was another exhibition which was splendid), and then rounded off the whole successful day with wine and, in my case, a bag of Percy Pigs. 

The plot moves on as slowly as I do, and that's okay. At the weekend, with the Kid over for a couple of days, I put him in charge of the incinerator to burn away all the non-compostable woody bits while I strimmed the grass and weeded some more of the wineberry bed. He had fun, I got jobs done, we both got back smelling of bonfires and spent the evening watching Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with N (who was in mourning over an Arsenal loss) as we continue his education in films from the 80s. 

We've been busy socially than I've been used to in recent years: tapas in the Cotswolds (get us being all fancy although tapas is not food, in my opinion - £9 for 5 pieces of calamari!! - it is naught but shenanigans. Expensive shenanigans.), birthday night out for a friend, another's 50th celebrations of a kind that was exactly right for her, and a gallery opening show of Japanese prints (so beautiful) that touted the worst red wine I have ever heard talked about in glowing terms ("we were so excited about having wine, we brought loads of a really nice one!" Did you? Did you really?). 

I have been reading Thin Places which was breath taking. If you know nothing - or only a little - of what it was like to live as a child in Derry during the 80s, this is the book you need to pick up. The collective trauma of that generation is so easily dismissed and yet it damaged them all. It is horrendous and yet she writes with a lightness, an uplift, as she tries to work that damage out of her system.

I also read a book about Edward I's daughters - as you do - which was fascinating, Clive James's Unreliable Memoir, Carol Shields's The Stone Diaries and I've just started Winifred Holtby's South Riding which I'd tried to read 10 years or more ago but couldn't get on with it. This time, I'm enjoying the characterisations more, so I'll carry on despite it's considerable heft means I'm risking a broken nose if I fall asleep whilst reading and it donks me. 

I've been listening to: Jill Scott, Laura Marling, Nina Simone. An antidote to the Beatles' White Album that N would have on repeat if I let him. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is making my ears gently bleed after the 100th listening. 

This weekend, I'm planning to work a little every day (that deadline loomeths) but mostly potter on the plot, read, cook and relax before the whirlwind of next week hits as I juggle dog-sitting for my Mum, a trip to London for a meeting but also fitting in the British Museum Stonehenge exhibition (London at Easter! What was I thinking?) and a trip to Gloucester to meet up with a client. I may try to fit in a visit to the Cathedral afterwards because it's a beautiful building. 

By the way, whilst I write, I'm listening to The Reunion on BBC Radio 4 - always a treat of a programme. Did you know a young Keir Starmer, at the very start of his career, gave the McLibel 2 free legal advice a number of times when they were preparing to fight McD's? That man is thoroughly decent. Where are the barricades we need to man to get him into the prime minister role?

And that's as far into politics as I'll go here because... Well. We have a criminal as a prime minister, who is paying the Rwandan government millions to take refugees. Good grief. Send help. 

Happy Easter/Ostara/Spring bank holiday!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Adventures in Muesli, and other food stories

As you can imagine, with N's Mum ill, we had some weeks of quietness, panic, worry and bad eating because he certainly wasn’t interested in food that required thought, preferring to opt for toast with things on, or takeaways. But you can't carry on that way forever, so I pulled my socks up and set to, aided by a trip to the farm shop. 

Farm shops are great for inspiration. Not so great on the old wallet, so I tend to limit my visits. They are a treat rather than how we usually shop, but what a treat they are. I even love the way they smell. In no order of preference, I came back with:

  • a Romanesco cauliflower, all spiralling turrets and vibrant green. Plus many other vegetables that were mainly normal and everyday, for e.g. carrots. You don't need me to describe the carrots
  • Mango chutney and caramelised onion chutney. Because, chutney goodness. I'll stop saying chutney now*
  • proper honey from a local bee keeper
  • a loaf of bread stating "takes 3 days to make". It was crustier than a crusty after a week protesting a bypass from a tree top
  • late plums and early rhubarb 
  • strawberries! So so early but not flown in from overseas, grown within 5 miles of the shop! They smell amazing
  • purple sprouting broccoli. 
  • A giant bag of red potatoes that roast beautifully
  • a crumbly, buttery-feel blue cheese that just slightly puckers the taste buds
  • Eggs with golden yolks from formerly free-range but still definitely organic hens
  • a made-on-site coleslaw that creamy and delicious
  • sausages made from pigs raised and butchered locally
I roasted the sausages in a trayful of the vegetables, including the cauliflower, stirred in some of the onion chutney, threw in some garlic and stems of thyme from the garden. 

The potatoes I turned into surprisingly successful gnocchi (the first batch I've ever made that didn't turn gluey and the water into wallpaper paste) and had those with the purple sprouting broccoli and some of the blue cheese when N was out on Wednesday (he does not like PSB). 

The plumbs and rhubarb became a compote for adventures with muesli. To cut the sharpness, I added the honey rather than reaching for the sugar. I mean, honey is sugar, but marginally less so and it meant the compote has a more satisfying flavour than if I'd just bunged caster sugar in. 

Did I mention I make my own muesli? Well I do *pauses to polish halo of smugness*. Oats, sultanas, dates, pumpkin and sesame seeds, ground hazelnuts and almonds. Spiced with ginger and cinnamon. Cheaper than standard muesli from the supermarket (but only because I buy in bulk). Trying to do that from a standard shop where every individual ingredient is tiny-ly portioned and wrapped in plastic for our "convenience"? Forget it. 

Tonight, when we come back from college, I'll make an omelette with spinach, mushrooms and the rest of that blue cheese. We'll have it with tiny roasties, made from those red potatoes, and the coleslaw. Just right for a day where the temperatures have dropped and we'll have been outside planting parsnip seeds. 

Which reminds me, I have a giant parsnip I need to turn into soup. Before I go, I need to tell you that comment moderation has been switched on after a veritable swathe of spam comments for casinos, dodgy Viagra and so on. Is it just me or does the internet just feel like a lot of work these days? Easier to make soup. 

*No I won't

Friday, March 25, 2022

Sprung Days

Caster sugar with rosemary flowers for which to make biscuits.
Not cookies, biscuits. 

This afternoon, I am going to write for pleasure. This is after having spent yesterday trying to write for cash and failing miserably, (and having written most of this post TWO DAYS ago). Sometimes, I do not feel able to dredge up yet another metaphor for "this is a really good project! People will like it! Come ooonnnnn!" and yesterday was one of those times. Better to knock it on the head at 4 and take myself off to the allotment. 

Where the rosemary is in full bloom, narcissi are springing up and there were ladybirds clustered around the new growth of the fennel. The skies were blue, the birds were singing, it was bliss. The woman who runs the nature reserve CIC on the site stopped for a chat, looking almost drunk on the swelling of spring. 

"I'm not on drugs!" she proclaimed loudly. "It's just, in there, it's..." she waved her arms back in the direction of the wood and trailed off. "Just wow." Safe to say, her serotonin levels were off-the-chart high. I have rashly agreed to help write some funding bids so I now have to find new, unpaid ways of saying "this is a really good project! People will like it! Come ooonnnn!" but it's for a good cause, so I don't mind that. 

After she'd gone, N and I dug and raked for a while before calling it a day. I was extremely pleased to find my arms still working after the weekend. For the new wardrobe had arrived last Friday and the long postponed redecorating of the Retreat got underway. 

There was a day of painting, a weekend of construction and a further day of finishing touches. And my arms, oh those poor arms: I wasn't able to do anything with them other than flail around like Father Ted and his fake arms for at least a day. 

It was exhausting, and not exactly the fun weekend the Kid had in mind when he came to stay and found himself deputised to holding important pieces of the new wardrobe while N cursed and drilled and banged, but it is done and I'm so pleased with the result. 

The walls glow like apricots in Mediterranean sunshine, the space where I work is screened off from the spare bed by a bookcase, meaning I no longer look like I've rolled out of bed and straight into a Zoom call. Well, I do, but that's more a matter of unwillingness to use a hairdryer than it is to do with the fact there is a bed in the background. I keep leaning to one side so people can clock the improving titles on the shelves behind me and be suitably impressed. 

Part of the finished (almost) room. That green
painting, bottom middle, was one the Kid painted when 
he was small. 

N's Mum is finally out of hospital. I didn't mention this before as, until we knew she was going to be okay and home again, it wasn't my place to. She was in for 8 days after a series of falls that no one was quite sure of the reason for. Was it her MS, or maybe mini strokes, or - oh no, there it is, dehydration. So easy to dehydrate when you're elderly, disabled and the idea of having to hoick yourself around is frankly exhausting, how much easier to refuse that cup of tea, ignore that glass of water. I know my Nan often did the same thing. 

Anyway, she is better now and back home with a full care package that has been much needed but not set in motion before because his parents are quiet people who do not want to make a fuss or be a nuisance. And the quiet, no-nuisance people always fly under the radar. It's been a worrying time. 

In the greenhouse, seedlings are unfurling ever skywards. Rocket, cabbage, cauliflower, lollo rosso, sweet peas and other flowers, spring onions. There are even 2 tentative tomato shoots. On the windowsill, a new batch of seeds are beginning to germinate, including radish, parsnip, dill, basil, courgette and, rather exotically, luffa. Oh yes! This year I am going to try my hand at luffa growing, then I shall have a ready supply of scrubby cloths. Will keep you posted on that progress. 

Tiny Wee Mabel is also infected with the joys of spring - we've barely seen her for the past few days. She comes in, shouts, eats, leaves. Eventually returning late at night to sleep. The fox sounds have died down now and there have been limited sightings of the evil tabby who used to persecute her, so she's making the most of it. 

Tiny Wee Mabel: slightly boss-eyed, 
extremely shouty

The Great Boo, on the other hand, has taken no more notice of spring than he did winter. Still sleeping in the radiator hammock, still sitting silently by his food bowl and attempting to look half starved, still regarding Outside with suspicion. The only change has been that he now sits on the lawn and occasionally we hear a small thud which is him smacking at tiny flies in the grass. 

The sky is bright again today. This morning, awake very early, I decided to take myself off for a walk. Unsurprisingly, my footsteps took me along the canal where the birdsong was a delight. Standing there for a few minutes, no one around but the woman failing to bring her spaniel puppy to heel, I could quite understand why you feel a little drunk after a day spent in the middle of it. 

Sadly, that wasn't to be. I've been back home and ploughing through my to do list since 8am. Feeling like a 4pm knock-off is in order. 

The Great Boo: off his tiny rocker on catnip

Oh, I've just read that Dagny Carlsson, the world's oldest blogger has died at 109 (you can, if you can read Swedish, read her blog here). I love that she was referred to as a 'blogger and influencer'. Better her than one of the Kardashian nitwits. I wonder if I'll still be blogging at 109? What a thought to start the weekend on!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Writing Wednesday

Well hello there! I woke up this morning, at the reasonable hour of 6am and decided that today is a day I write. This is the most joyful thing about working for myself: I can make that decision. And, as I put in some hours at my desk on Sunday while the football was on, I can do that with a clear conscience. 

This morning I had time to do a quick Spanish lesson, followed by a Scottish Gaelic one. Five minutes of each, via Duolingo. I've been doing the Spanish, on and off, for about 2 years or so but the Gaelic is new and I'm doing it simply because I like the idea of it. So far my favourite word has to be 'snog'. Pronounced snok it actually means 'nice'. Which snogging is, so it all works out. 

My favourite word in Spanish? Esta aqui. Which means 'is here' and feels very grounding. I also like that the 2 can be smashed together: esta aqui snog. Here is nice. 

Which it is. 

Also nice? Narcissi purchased on a whim. 

I've also started doing some exercises I found on the Versus Arthritis website. These are stretches and there are ones for specific areas of the body but I tend to stick to the morning, day and evening sessions. 15-20 minutes, whatever time of day I chose, to keep things moving, muscles supple and joints lubricated (isn't lubricated a dreadful word?). Today, I did the morning ones and then headed for the kitchen feeling in the mood for muesli. 

This I make myself: oats, seeds from pumpkins, sunflowers and poppies, raisins, ginger (good for inflammation caused by arthritis), topped with grated apple and zapped in the microwave for 30 seconds because I don't like cold milk. Do I feel impossibly smug about my virtuous breakfast? Why yes. Yes I do. And should the rest of the day go to pot and I finish it by eating nothing but toast, no matter. I'm ahead of myself. 

Mornings and evenings also involve a dose of swamp juice as prescribed by the no-nonsense acupuncturist. Bless her, she describes it as a little bitter. A better description would be "the cocktail I'll be served when I'm in hell". I follow it with a peanut butter chaser to try and neutralise it. 

Nice too? The first hot cross bun of the year. 

Last night, we finally managed to catch up with the latest Stanley Tucci episode. Oh my. The urbane coolness, the suavity and understated sexiness of the man. And Italy, although Italy's sexiness is more one that flaunts itself with deep eyes, lowered husky voice and suggestive finger running up your forearm. Oof. 

They are a TREAT and I'm spinning out the series for as long as possible. One episode a week least I binge and wake one morning to find myself miraculously conceiving a small child with serious glasses, crisply pressed shirts and a knack with a negroni. 

If you haven't seen them yet, do. But have something delicious to eat at the ready because you will get hungry. 

Always late to a party, I finally got round to reading Normal People at the weekend, having avoided it for a long time on the grounds it was about Young People being young and sexy and I couldn't muster the energy for it, let alone feel like it had anything to offer me. 

Except that it did, of course. Rooney lingers with exquisite precision over the tiniest of details, the cup being placed back on its saucer, the strand of hair, the muted clap of a laptop shutting. Everything is understated but positioned Just So, each word placed carefully. But that's not to say it isn't compelling or that the pace is too slow. She moves it forward, keeps us moving and growing with Marianne and Connell and leaves them at just the right moment. Not perfect, but as near dammit as I've read this year.

Brace yourself for my hot take on a different bestseller from 6 years ago next time.  

And surprisingly nice? A 'virgin' pina colada at a fancy-pants night out for 
International Women's Day last week. It was like a pudding in a glass.  

The wedding invitations are finally complete and at the printers as I type. There has been the usual faff around timings and what to put on the insert and who, of the extensive guest list, we can actually fit into the registry office. I have come down hard against inviting random old friends of N's parents who he hasn't seen for over a decade just because they were at his brother's wedding. And he has come down hard against my nonsense about time and need to be everywhere FIVE minutes before the start. 

Mum is fighting against children being invited (I think she had a bad experience at her own wedding), but we have so many friends with kids, that it seems a shame to ban them and aren't weddings all about family anyway? Besides, parents I know with kids will be overjoyed to have a legitimate reason for a night off and will be unlikely to bring the little treasures along with them. Mum and I are taking a trip to Brum Rag Market in April to buy the fabric for the dress, which will be a relaxed experience in no way ending in a row. 

It will totally end in a row. 

N and I have both come down hard on the subject of presents. A plus of marrying at this advanced age is that we have enough of everything. We have no need for matching etched wine glasses, plates, bed linen or matching dressing gowns. We have enough cutlery, mugs and cushions to see us through to the next world. Anyone buying us a "Live Laugh Love" sign will be banished to the cold outer edges of our circle and then get it gifted back to them at Christmas. So we've opted for donations instead, splitting it between the MS Society and Medecins Sans Frontiere

As I type, the utterly, breathtakingly, wonderful news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is at Tehran's airport, allowed to fly back to Britain, has come up on the news. After so many years, this is an incredible piece of good news and a true ray of light on a very dull and rainy day. 

Which is a good note to end this post on. May your Wednesdays have rays of light too. 

And a nice surprise at a client meeting. 

Monday, March 7, 2022

The Full Duck

As you may remember from some posts ago (helpfully signposted by this 'ere blue linky), I have had eczema for a number of years now. It's appearance was gradual and spasmodic for a long time, lulling me into a false sense of "this is manageable" and "if I just cut out cheese, that will cure it". 

Friends, it has been 7 years. There is only so much Stilton this woman can refuse in her lifetime. 

Over those years, I have run the full gamut of interesting remedies in an attempt to look less like I have some disfiguring, contagious disease. There was the black clove oil that was recommended as a drink or topical application. As a drink it made me boke; as a topical application, it sent me shrieking to the bathroom for the soap. There was the giving up cheese, then all dairy, then bread, then all wheat and gluten, then sugar. My poor family, never knowing what to serve me. I was the worst dinner party guest. 

N gave up cooking altogether because he was afraid of making it worse. And if you're wondering how hard it is to quit sugar, let me tell you: bloody hard. It's in everything. It's even in mayonnaise! And gluten-free gravy granules! By all things good and righteous, when has gravy ever needed sugar??

Then there was that month where I tried the SIBO diet (I'm not linking it because it's EVIL) and spent the final week of it eating crisps every night and weeping on the sofa because it's so sodding restrictive and joyless. The Cambridge diet is a barrel of laughs compared to that thing. 

I tried acupuncture, going to see a very nice woman who held my hand, listened to my woes, told me my adrenal gland was out of whack and then stuck some needles in me. It was very nice, like a therapy session only pointier, and I did enjoy the massage at the end, but it cured nothing. 

There's been over the counter remedies, under the counter remedies and remedies that look like they've been scrapped up from the floor behind the counter. Try this cream! Try these herbs! Try this meditation! When I finally braced the Guardians of the Diary, the Gatekeepers of the Knowledge, i.e. the bulldog-like receptionists at my local surgery, I had a telephone appointment with a doctor who sent me a steroid cream. 

Fine, fine, I'll take the damn steroids. And I dutifully applied it. 

Woke up the next morning and thought, "gosh, the world is very blurry", looked in the mirror and promptly screamed, scattering the cats and setting off car alarms all around the city. I'd woken up with eyes so puffy, I was viewing the world through 2mm slits between my eyelashes. I looked like the Stay Puft marshmallow man in Ghostbusters, but with breasts and towering peri-menopausal rage. 

A panicked call to the Guardians later, I was on the phone to another doctor who laughed, LAUGHED (did I mention the towering peri-menopausal rage?), told me a reaction to the cream was highly unlikely so it was probably hay fever, but he'd send along a prescription for the gentle 'baby' version of the cream. Are you surprised when I say I did not get that prescription filled?

Failed by modern medicine, I went back to the Quacks. I think it's safe to say that, by then (2021), I'd run a marathon of quackery and, because a lot of the this damn stuff was on my arms and face, considered having cards printed saying "this is eczema, not leprosy. You are safe to approach" that I could hand out to people in the street to prevent the screaming whenever the wind blew my fringe off my face. I cut a deeper, thicker fringe. Considered hats.  

Then there was the very nice nutritionist who talked a lot about gut health, made me have expensive blood tests and then got me to buy expensive supplements that made not the blindest bit of difference. 

I chickened out of booking a course of sun beds (another suggested cure, something to do with the UV light), I must confess. I meant to go but was completely intimidated by the people manning them. The mahogany glaze to them. The terrifying fingernails. The, oh my dears, over-emphasised eyebrows that seemed to waggle independently at me, signalling that I was out of my depth. The eyebrows don’t lie.

I have avoided totalling up how much this, this, nonsense has cost me. The endless creams, the dietary alternatives, the appointments with specialists, the supplements, and the end result has been a savings account that echoes and skin that still frightens the horses. 

This year, I said to N, I'm stopping this. I need to take a break from it all. This is more than one woman can manage, and this particular woman has had it up to here with other women in health food shops putting their heads on one side and saying "has madam tried this supplement? It's only £45 and your soul for 2 capsules? You need to take 4 capsules a day in water that's been collected under a full moon from half way up Mount Kilimanjaro - the water is not provided, you'll need to gather that yourself. We have an offer today: buy this and get a life time's worth of anxiety for free!"

Up with this QUACKERY I will no longer put. 

Oh, except for this place, this Chinese herbalists, which has had some great reviews, so I'm going to give it a try. This is my last quack of the duck, if you will. 

And that is how I ended up in a room filled with disturbingly detailed anatomical drawings, listening to some truly dreadful "relaxing" music (the CD gets stuck and judders at the same point every week, and I'm forced to listen to the sound of the recorder ddd-dddd-ddd-ing for 30 seconds until she gets up and thumps the CD player) while a woman sticks pins in me and then trains a heat lamp on particular spots. She asks me nothing about what I eat, is utterly unconcerned with any stresses I may have experienced and makes no attempt to jazz up what she's doing. She flicks the needles in with the casual skill of a professional darts player. 

It is practical and, I cannot tell you, a huge relief. Her whole attitude is one of "yep, seen this before, get up there and let's get on with it."

Then I flip over (I say flip, what I mean is that I roll over with the grace of a beached whale and try not to fall off the table) so she can practise the mysterious art of cupping. No, NOT that sort of cupping - get your minds out of the gutter - but the sort that people like Gwyneth Paltrow used to have done. Did I say I was done with quacks and quackery? It seems I have actually decided to go the Full Duck. 

At the end, she pummels me for 10 seconds in a brief, non-relaxing, massage, charges me an extraordinary amount of money, and sends me away with parcels of tea that look and taste like rotting undergrowth. I swear it is the same smell you notice along the canal in the depths of a damp winter. 

And what's my verdict after 4 weeks of going the Full Duck? 

The eczema on my face and scalp has gone. Completely vanished as if it had never been there in the first place. The stuff on my arms, back and knees is still lingering, reluctant to leave a party no one invited them to, but the areas are reduced, not quite so red and angry. I no longer have to hold my hair in place, like a man with a comb-over in a high wind. People no longer recoil in the street. Small children no longer cry when I look at them. Dogs no longer howl and flee. Birds sing and my life feels less like one angry ball of itch. 

Still angry, but without the itch. Bring out the Stilton. 

Folding Away

Earlier this week, as I sat in the quiet cafe, music playing quietly enough for me to ignore it and, on the yellow formica table top in fron...