Thursday 27 December 2018

‘The poor aren’t my business,’ said Scrooge.

In 1843 two charity workers approached Scrooge, a wealthy man.
I’ve brought Dickens’ story gently up to date.

‘At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.’
‘Are there no childrens’ homes nor night shelters for the homeless?’ asked Scrooge.
‘Plenty of night shelters.’
‘And the food banks, are they still in operation?’
‘They are. I wish I could say they were not.’
‘Oh,’ said Scrooge. ‘From what you said at first I was afraid something had happened to stop them in their useful course.’
‘I don’t think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.’
‘Because it is at Christmas time that want is most keenly felt and abundance rejoices. What can I put you down for?’
‘You wish to be anonymous?’
‘I wish to be left alone. I support those establishments I have already mentioned. I regularly donate tins of beans - out of my own hard-earned cash, to the Trussell Trust,’ said Scrooge.
‘Go to a food bank? Some would rather die,’ said the charity worker.
‘If they would rather die they had better do it and decrease the surplus population. Besides. It isn’t my business.’
‘Isn’t it, Sir?’ asked the charity worker.
‘No,’ said Scrooge.

The charity workers walked away and Scrooge continued balancing his accounts.

Thursday 20 December 2018

New year’s day on February 1st? Now there’s an idea.

The winter solstice beckons: it's shortest day tomorrow. As I write the skies are overcast and beyond the inky-blue time. Now - at half past four - our steps are lit up with fairy lights and all outside is drained of colour. It will soon be night.

Seasonal festivities fall at the low time of the year, when daylight is spare and there are more dark hours than light. The blackness of night shuts us in. There’s a reason why we celebrate Christmas with candles, baubles, fairy lights and glittering decorations.

The lawn is sodden with rain and churned up like a ploughed field after badger-party-time. My last patio pelargonium was struggling to survive and is now recovering on the window ledge. Any more than 1 degree of frost and it would have died.

Overwintering broad beans are a bright green, erect and strong. Potted wallflowers are much better than last year’s crop and my baby spinach is still at the seedling stage. All is well with the world.

On Christmas Eve, on the day itself and through to Boxing Day the temperatures look set to be mild. I won’t even have to protect my plants against frost this yuletide.

And then it’ll be new year.

But what a pity we turn to a new calendar in the middle of winter, with the worst of the weather yet to come?
Who’s wonderful idea was it to start the year at January rather than four weeks later on February 1st?

Just imagine how much better we’d all feel: Christmas would still be the focus for December. Burns Night on 25th January could be another treat and, instead of cramming new year and Christmas into the same fortnight, we could look forward to new year’s eve on January 31st. By then our clocks would strike much later as the day wound down into dusk. And we’d embrace that extra hour of evening light. On February first, our new year’s day,  we could truly anticipate lighter nights and a relatively short spell of biting winter weather to come.

Couldn’t we just move new year’s celebrations on a month and start 2019 on February 1?

Then we could just get through January. It’s dismal and no way to celebrate a fresh start. It’s a quiet month. After Noel indulgences folk have to adjust to waking up in the dark, going to work and school in the dark and returning home in the dark. 

But February.
Now there’s something to truly look forward to.
Snowdrops, forsythia and crocus plants are getting ready to greet us. It’s slightly lighter in the mornings and I’ve even been known to get an hour’s digging in on a February evening.

This is the month when the world wakes up. Unlike January when everyone and every thing is still in hibernation. 

February is early spring. That’s when we should start our new year.

Ah but one can merely dream.

In five days time it will be Christmas day. I hope you all have a peaceful and heartwarming one. Thank you for reading my blogs during 2018 and, despite January being the worst month of the year, my very best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.

Monday 17 December 2018

These are a few of my favourite things

We have reached one of my favourite weeks in the year. It’s a time to look at the glittering displays in shops; Christmas lights twinkle at us and pretty windows cause us to pause. Baubles strung across Milsom Street, more like expensive jewllery than damp washing, sparkle in diamond-white and ruby-red. 

The sun is shining, market crowds have gone and schools haven’t broken up - it’s the best time to go Christmas shopping. And it’s good to support our high street. Do we really want pruchases to become nothing more than intensively-driven deliveries? More cardboard boxes, littering the patio, than the cat could ever hide in? Everything bought by looking at an image on a screen? Not only will we lose the chance to feel smooth velvet fabrics, lust after shiny silks or try on jackets, dresses or jeans in changing rooms, we’ll be waiting in more and more for deliveries. And we’ll be queuing more and more to return items which are the wrong size, the wrong colour or of poor quality.

If we continue to go in our local and city centre shops we can take our time and check out our purchases before we make a mistake. I can’t imagine Milsom Street becoming a ghost town. But when Christmas is over, cash registers have stopped ringing and Boxing Day sales have emptied stands, shelves and rails it’ll be January. A bleak new year - for some.

 Empty shop fronts aren’t meant to be. Like a stillborn child. Brought into the world but non-viable.

Let’s not go from one extreme: packed Saturday shops, queues to part with our hard-earned cash, no space in the changing rooms, to another: silent streets and litter in the gutters. 

Do we really want boarded-up windows? Sales notices on every shop front? More cafes or outlet stores? Much as I agree with giving donations to good causes we don’t want Bath to look like other failed town centres: every second shop taken over by a charity or temporary art exhibition. 

We are already losing pubs, and have been doing so for ten years. Former bars are now a physiotherapy practice, a snug now selling hearing aids. 2019 shouldn’t be a time to lose our favourite book shops, children’s toy shops, best boutiques or shoe shops. We don’t want to go to out-of-town furniture warehouses do we? Don’t we sometimes want to look at a set of saucepans or baking tins before we purchase them? Or a jazzy set of cappuccino cups? Or look at a newly published book in its dust jacket?  
These are a few of my favourite things ...

Does everything we want or need have to be brought to us in a van? Can’t we go out and enjoy window shopping, chatting to folks in the street, stopping to look and admire rather than just clicking ‘t&cs’ or tracking numbers?

Here’s to 2019: helping to preserve our vibrant shopping arcades, long after the Christmas shoppers have dropped and new year sales tills have stopped trilling.

Friday 14 December 2018

I’ll light a candle

Two Christmases ago I was recovering from arranging my mother’s funeral. At exactly the wrong time we are expected to ring everyone and hold back our tears while trying to break the sadness to them. We find ourselves tending to the ones who cry back at us over the phone. We offer them soothing words. 

But it’s my mum that’s gone - not theirs. 

As soon as that’s done there's no time to absorb the emotional impact and enormity of it all.There are lists to attend to - 

we have to:- 

i) chase our loved one’s GP for a medical note stating cause of expiration
ii) make an appointment with the registrar to record and get the death certificate
iii) find a funeral director that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg
iv) have our loved one’s wishes to the fore when arranging a funeral service and hoping we haven’t got it wrong
v) live in fear of the colossal cost of the funeral as the admin assistant tots it all up on their office calculator:- the cost of the hearse, limousine - one or two? a priest or lay preacher or a celebrant, whether to have a choir, whether to meet and greet at the deceased’s house or at the chapel, deciding on a coffin or casket ... the choice of flowers. 

When the date is arranged we have to make decisions about embalming, death notices, order of service, stationery and photographs, catering - for how many? hymns, songs, eulogy, prayers, readings... it goes on and on. 
vi) And we have to try to decide if we can bear to visit our loved one in the chapel of rest - and if you don’t - knowing there will never be another opportunity.
vii) As if that isn’t enough ... taking suitable clothes to the funeral director for your loved one lying in the coffin.

Have I got it right? Is this what she would have liked? But there's no time to pause. It's on to the next task.

And so it goes.

Christmas is a particularly cruel time for arranging a funeral. And, in my case, all I wanted was to have my mum back. 

In the meantime, while you are trying to gather your thoughts and cope with the shock of bereavement, jingly bells and bright lights beckon to you ... to spend more, eat more and have fun ... more and more.

But you don’t want to. You want to be quiet, to be on your own and have a good cry. Chatting to folk or going to the Christmas market feels loud. Noise and nattering are the last things you want when you are grieving and feeling dog-tired.

And then there are the oddest of people who really have no empathy and say the unkindest of things:

‘You won’t be having to pay any more nursing home fees then.’

‘I’m glad she’s gone. I couldn’t lie in bed like that all day.’

‘I was very upset you didn’t invite me round.’

There are, of course, the kindest of people too. They are the ones you hold in your heart. 

And then there are the middling ones who, to save on postage, put a Christmas card in the same envelope as the ‘With Sympathy’ greeting.

One card has a white lily on it and the other depicts a fat, red Father Christmas and black cat sitting by a roasting fire. The message inside both cards says ‘With love from us all ...’ and a signature.

So which do I display? The ‘With Sympathy’ card or the jolly Santa?

And do I really have to write 80 Christmas cards to the same people I've just informed of a funeral?

Christmas is a time to welcome a new life. A time of happiness. But if you are recently bereaved ‘the joy to the world’ cuts across the need to grieve. No wonder our emotions are turned inside out and our bodies don’t know if it’s day or night, if it’s time to eat or sleep, to laugh or weep. 

This year we have time to switch on the fairy lights, wrap presents and display the nativity scene. But somehow the jollity has lost its energy. More important thoughts and feelings have replaced the Christmas card list.

I’ll light a candle to mum’s memory instead. It's fat and creamy white and swathed in ivy, laurel trimmings and sprigs of red-berried holly. 

It’s a Christmas candle - lit for mum.

(With love to Ieva).

Thursday 29 November 2018

A Stink in the Sink

Several weeks ago I heard something moving about upstairs, at the top of the house, in Richard's study. I was in our bedroom, getting ready for bed, and at first it sounded like scratching on a window pane, as if the holly tree had grown elongated fingers, and was trying to attract my attention.

While Richard was still downstairs, and despite the scratching, I managed to get to sleep. By four o’clock in the morning he was up and ready to do his final ‘early morning’ shift as a relief driver.  (He now leaves the house at the civilised hour of 9:15 a.m. and only once a week). However after he’d gone to work something else disturbed my sleep. I can only describe it as marbles or pin balls being rolled around just above my head, across the bedroom ceiling. 

Then the scratching at the window started again. The finale to this symphony was a rustling, as if someone was upstairs, in Richard’s study, unwrapping sweets.

What could it be? A family of rats watching a film, enjoying a bag of sweets whilst the teenagers had a game of pool and the youngsters played with marbles?

By the time I was properly awake Richard was back, having done part one of his early shift, and eating bacon and eggs downstairs. I related the tale of the possible intruder and said I’d get in touch with ‘the team’ at the council - we both agreed we’d got a little offender scurrying about upstairs. But what? Was it a rat? There was nothing behind the skirting boards, as far as we could tell, and our cat wasn’t sitting, watching or waiting to pounce on some terrified vermin. 

In time 'the team’ came to pay us a visit. As the ‘little offender’ hadn’t returned and the noise was high up in the house it was decided that we’d likely had a visit from a squirrel. Apparently squirrels see a gap under the eaves of a house in the same way as they see a hole in a tree. They run under floor boards and explore someone’s home as if traversing the branches and trunk of an old oak. But they rarely stay or make a nest. They are, apparently, unlikely to be persistent.

Just in case, however, the blighters decided to move in, 'the team’ put down poison, upstairs, in the roof space, just behind the eaves and downstairs under the kitchen sink, behind the cupboards. That way we could tell if any poison had been taken in the unlikely event our ‘little offender' returned. So, that was all all right then.

Or so we thought.

Yesterday there was a rank smell of wet, dirty rags coming from the en-suite bathroom. I had cleaned and bleached all three bathrooms, toilet bowls, sinks and washbasins on Sunday and Tuesday. Yet the smell persisted from Tuesday evening until yesterday, Wednesday night. It was so bad I got a headache and had to sleep with the bedroom windows open. Thankfully temperatures outside have risen. If we’d had windows open overnight last week we’d have been found, days later, frozen in our bed.

I didn’t get chance yesterday, Wednesday, to thoroughly disinfect everything as we were out most of the day and a friend came round in the evening. Thankfully she didn’t need to go near our stinkbomb of an ensuite bathroom.

Finally, late last night, Google provided me with various theories about the ‘great stink’:

1) It could be a lack of water in the U-bend. It appears a layer of water is vital for stopping smells and gases coming up through washbasins. 

2) It could be smells lingering from elsewhere. In order to get rid of that I poured bleach down every sink, washbasin and lavatory in the house (except one.)

3) My theory was that some cleaning rags were past their best and needed to be thrown out. (I did just that. Others were soaked.) I washed over every surface in our bathrooms and re-bleached the kitchen sink. I re-mopped all floors and generally did a very late spring clean.

After all this exertion the ensuite was certainly smelling fragrant rather than foul but I spotted a whiff coming from the plug hole in the shower tray. I re-blasted it with disinfectant and crossed my fingers. Had I managed to shift the smell? Had I stifled the stink and obliterated the odour?

And if I hadn’t was it simply the smell of a rotting corpse? A rodent that had taken some of the poison meant for the squirrel? Or was it indeed an intrepid but silent squirrel that had unwittingly feasted on the deadly pellets? 

Tonight, at bedtime, the aroma in the bathroom was one of air freshener not dirty rags. The stink in the sink had evaporated. Let’s hope it doesn’t return. Or else we’ll have to have ‘the team’ back. The team is one man and his van. I don’t know if he’s the same person that I spoke to when I contacted ‘Pest Control Supervisor’. (And what does a pest supervisor do? Watch the rats at playtime, making sure they don’t get up to mischief? Or walk up and down while they sit, in a line, behind the skirting board, tackling their GCSE exam papers?)

Apparently the council offer a pest identification service. First catch the little offender ... And what if you only hear them at night, just as you’re trying to get to sleep? I don’t relish the thought of traipsing into the roof-space at midnight to take a selfie with a rodent. 

It might bite...

Monday 26 November 2018

Barbie doll the refugee

It isn’t just now that I’ve been hit by the stark differences in peoples’ lives. When I was growing up I must have been the only girl in the western world to have dressed her Sindy and Barbie dolls in rags. While my friends bought the latest Barbie doll fashion item I had my toys cope with one bag of old clothes and camping equipment. I would play with them and make up stories of their fleeing from conflicts. Whoever heard of Barbie Doll - the refugee?

But that was then. Today we have other issues: As Black Friday offers merge into Cyber Monday savings, credit card spending and general consumption go into overdrive.  One cannot be unmoved by the sheer contrast of differing worlds: this indulgence and Yemeni children dying in their tens of thousands. 

As I’ve had a curious year (health-wise) I have today allowed myself a pre-Christmas treat: a signed hardback book and something for the home. To offset this extravagance I have also raised money for girls’ schooling in Sierra Leone and made a donation for the starving in Yemen. This week I will also use money set aside for non-essential Christmas gifts to pay for water treatment tablets and essential foods for those starving and displaced in Syria. And then I will make another donation to the homeless in Britain.

On the one hand my money is going on ‘things’ to make my home more comfortable while others barely have a tarpaulin for a roof. On the other hand I’d rather spend money on our house than, say, going out for a meal. For the last six months I’ve eaten healthily and exercised in order to keep fit and trim, following a slipped disc. To blow money on rich foods now would seem beyond indulgent.

But for the starving, cold, unwell and exhausted simply to be able to choose between buying something for their home - if they have one - or for their belly must be a great luxury. An impossible dream. Especially if they have been in refugee camps for over a year. The starving, cold, unwell, exhausted and displaced must wonder whether they will again have a home of their own. I doubt whether they are worrying about what design of scatter cushion would go with their  furnishings this side of winter.

In Britain to be homeless in December or January is to suffer cold, wet, icy temperatures, disease, failing health and ridicule. 

Even in Syria - a country we think of as hot - winter temperatures are just above freezing. Picturing a place without proper shelter and chilling winds reminds me of Christina Rosetti’s poem:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.

It would be good to have more money. I am one of the Waspi generation. (Women against state pension inequality). If I had more I could give more to those in war-torn countries. I could be more generous to a little boy starving, ribs showing, too weak to whimper. 

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.

But for now I’ve given what I can. We shall have to wait for our garden fence to be fixed and for new trellis work to be installed. Money set aside for that will be donated to charity instead. 

I still wonder why my Barbie dolls were refugees. Perhaps it’s because in the 1960s I saw pictures of wandering souls on the television. Or maybe it was because my father taught us to read books about inclusion and acceptance. He didn’t use those terms of course. But he taught us how different peoples’ lives were and that however they lived they were still people. 

Sunday 25 November 2018

Facebook Anonymous anyone?

In just over a month’s time ( cripes it’s November 25th!) we’ll be planning new year’s eve parties. Or hogmanay if, like me, your surname is a Mc or Mac or from north of the border.(Don’t mention borders!!)

And it’s customary, isn’t it, to devise new year’s resolutions on December 31st. 

Amongst my list for January 2018 were

1 Keep fit ( ie do my exercises)
2 Swim more ( ie go more than once a month)
3 Get building work done ( ongoing in an old house)
4 Book a trip on The Orient Express
5 Get my manuscript out to agents
6 Get off facebook

For most of January I did 1,2,5 and 6.
All was going well. Then my back went. And what do you do when you can barely get out of bed for a pee? 
I’ll tell you:

You lie in bed or on a sofa or stand (eventually) and don’t exercise. You take 13 painkillers and associated medication and don’t concentrate on a thing. The sitting-to-write or edit or send out to agents becomes impossible. If you don’t believe me read Anna Burns - Booker prize winner. She’s had a terrible back and couldn’t, at that time, get any writing done. 

One thing you can do, however, is walk. But we had thick layers of snow in February and March. The cold winds play havoc with my back and make the muscles tense which leads to more pain... So I didn’t even get out to do any walking. And I was frightened of breaking a limb on the ice.

Furthermore, as a result of ongoing back pain and an inability to move (or deal with luggage) I didn’t book our trip on The Orient Express (surprise, surprise) and had to give up our walks until the snow receded. By April this year I wasn’t fit and got more and more sluggish. I couldn’t change into a swimsuit or get into a swimming pool until June of this year. That’s how feeble I had become.

Moreover if you cast your eye over my list above and reacquaint yourself with my resolutions the only two I haven’t considered are 3 and 6. 

When your builder doesn’t want to do ‘little jobs’ you can wait an awful long time to get things fixed. Now, November 25th - almost winter in meteorological terms - it’s too late to have our outside tap fixed. We hardly need to use our hose on overwintering broad beans and spinach! But having had a heatwave this year it was exactly the time to have a long hose pipe properly fitted in order to reach all corners of our largish garden. But no. Fixing our hose pipe was too ‘little a job’. 

I did manage to keep the spinach going by shading it with a parasol and mulching heavily when we went to Ireland for ten days. But I lost crocosmia and kaffir lilies through the heat (or the snow?) It was a pity as the dead plants were from my late mother’s garden. I do have a few left but it’s not quite the same. We all have to live with loss. 

That leaves resolution 6. Again - it seems simple now - what do you do when you can barely do anything apart from take painkillers? You watch tv, sometimes standing, sometimes lying flat. And you click on things on your iphone... That doesn’t bode well for resolution 6 - get off facebook.In fact I’m probably looking at fb more now than ever. 

I will have to hide my iphone. After all it’s not life-saving equipment. I don’t need it like an asthmatic needs a nebuliser. It’s just habit. Like alcohol or smoking. It may suit the predicament if I form fb-anon. A quitters group for the ‘I’m addicted to fb’ gang.

But, seriously, resolutions are about forming new, good habits and ditching the old ones, aren’t they?

I have, since my back healed, managed to resurrect resolutions 1 and 2. In fact I do more than that. I get in 9000-10,000 steps daily and am much fitter than even this time last year - way before I had a bad back.

Richard and I have both decided to postpone our Orient Express trip until the end of 2019. And I have joined another writers’ group to help lick my manuscript into shape. After the group has made its suggestions I’ll take heed and get it out to agents once more. Plus I’ve found a builder who says ‘ no job too small’ on his advert.

That just about takes care of new year’s resolutions 1-5 above. It’s only taken eleven months to get there.

But I’ll have to be lifted, kicking and screaming, off fb. My iphone is with me all times like a heart pacemaker. 
Resolution 6 will need the big guns to get any action in 2019.

Facebook Anonymous anyone? 

Monday 19 November 2018

Austerity, the UK and the UN

Whether or not The Guardian publishes my letter about our hideous treatment of the poor and disabled in the UK, following their report on UN findings relating to the vulnerable in Britain, I feel I must air my thoughts and experiences here.

If any of you have followed my fb posts over the past six years you may have noticed how I’m confounded that a country like ours can’t - or won’t - afford to staff or support its NHS properly. Our health system was set up in the immediate after-war years, when the UK had a much greater debt than now, following an expensive war with Germany and the Axis powers. If we could afford free hospital, GP and nursing care in 1948, why not now?

We are still, despite Brexit, the fifth richest economy in the world, yet we treat our impoverished no better than the poor sods sheltering under London’s arches in 1840. I have commented before that we have returned to Dickensian Britain. In A Christmas Carol Scrooge has to be shown what it is to struggle, to be homeless or lame. The novel could do with a modern retelling. 

In a civilised, wealthy country there can be no need to treat people who have nothing with such disdain. When George Osborne said, in the early days of the Cameron government, that ‘We are all in it together,’ my hollow laughter echoed around the hot air vents emanating from Bath’s subterranean hot water springs. I bet someone’s sheltering there tonight. They can’t lie on the benches around the Guildhall as someone has put obstructive bits of metal on the seats making it too uncomfortable for the homeless to stretch out. 
Conversely let’s hear it for the great and good who work at Julian House - a homeless charity  in Bath that’s busy saving the lives of the dispossessed. 

Osborne’s lie ‘We are all in it together’ inspired me to write my collection of short stories Austerity and Other Cuts. My tales are based on the poor, the unemployed, the virtually-homeless folk I knew, or knew of. The ones known to me all had university degrees but the benefits system they relied on was being pulled from under their feet.

Heaven help them now if they hadn’t managed to get jobs five or six years ago. Sleeping on a canal boat in winter is no fun when you haven’t even got an on-board toilet...


I have been a special needs teacher all my working life. I therefore chose to work - in the main, but not exclusively  - with boys and girls from non-privileged backgrounds. Some of the homes I’ve visited over the years have shown me what poverty, ‘not quite managing’, is all about. For instance a couple of homes I visited had no curtains. In one home a child whom I represented but whom I didn’t actually teach, slept with the family pet dog in his basket. Another home was spotless. Too spotless. There was no food in the house. The kitchen cupboards were much cleaner than mine.

Yet all these families had a home. They were living in council houses or flats. But in recent years such hard-pressed tenants may have been at the mercy of private landlords or in B & B accommodation. 

Over the past few months I’ve found it expensive to run a home in Bath - and I’ve worked all my life. I have my own home, can run a car, still have good health and I’ve never had children. If I’m feeling the pinch - with ever-increasing prices in the shops - how must it be for people who rely on benefits or are on such low pay they aren’t ‘just about managing’. They can’t be managing at all. 

Someone I met a few years ago (another graduate) said she had to decide between buying sanitary-wear and food. That’s poverty. When my mother was a young mum in the 1950s her friend dreaded going to the butchers with a few coppers (coins) in her pocket. What was she going to buy for her family of five? 

I believe it was Caitlin Moran who said that poverty was always having a wet towel in the bathroom. So many wet hands forever trying to get dry on the solitary family bath sheet. 

And our government is making life even harder. Unless you’ve lived a life of poverty, or been through a difficult time financially or know of folk who have, how can you be in government and set up such an unfair benefits system? As Ken Loach said it is ‘calculated cruelty’. And now Philip Alston, UN Rapporteur, has brought to the world’s attention what the UK is doing to (not for) those in need:

The United Nations rapporteur has condemned the British government's "punitive, mean-spirited and often callous" treatment of the country's poorest and most vulnerable, in a damning report.

As documented in The Independent last week
the UN's special rapporteur said policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world, adding that Brexit was exacerbating the problem.

His final recommendation states that, as the country moves toward Brexit, the government should adopt policies designed to ensure that the brunt of the resulting economic burden is "not borne by its most vulnerable citizens". 


This year I won’t be waiting until Christmas to add to my Crisis at Christmas donations. Nor will I wait to be told to pack some extra foodstuffs for The Trussell Trust foodbanks. Tonight the temperatures outside are dropping to 2 degrees above freezing. Julian House in Bath will be working wonders while the rest of us turn on our electric blankets and watch a film or the latest bulletins on May and Brexit. And we’ll be sighing from inside our centrally-heated homes. 

Why are we being plunged back into the 1840s? Some at the top should re-read A Christmas Carol or watch An Inspector Calls.
Both works show how heartlessness and penny-pinching drive people into the gutter.
Have our leaders learned nothing about giving someone a hand-up?

Four cheers for Polly Toynbee who simply went for George Osborne on a recent TV panel discussion. Do such leaders - past and present - feel nothing for their fellow man and woman - literally - on the street? 

Wednesday 7 November 2018

My last food blog - for now

Given that I have left it rather late in life to show an interest in food I'm still surprising myself that the very subject has got me writing about it. I believe having a husband who has always cooked from first principles - and not from jars, packets and tins - I've probably lived the last 35 years on a reasonably healthy diet. But what I've learned since following Michael Mosley and his team has awakened me to the importance of non-processed, low-carb foods.

I had a friend in France, her English was about as good as my French, who believed in non-industrialised food. The problem was she was so often ill and painfully thin. I always reckoned to eat well before we went for a meal with her. In other words she was no advert for eating non-processed foods. Her healthy diet left her with a contorted gut and constant headaches. 

However I fell into the Michael Mosley 5:2 Mediterranean diet - with good fats, lean meat, fruit and veg - easily and quickly. The advice was also to avoid non-processed foods, especially those over-flavoured with sugars. Eating porridge oats and natural Greek yogurt with blueberries for breakfast was no hardship for me as that was my regular fare. I love home-grown tomatoes and spinach. All I had to do was open a can of tuna in olive oil, plus a few olives themselves, and I had a nourishing lunch. Now, as the seasons have changed, I put about four medium carrots in the food processer and, with a chopped onion and a litre of stock, I make a truly tasty carrot soup for lunch. What's more the claim that the Mediterranean diet wouldn't allow me to feel hungry was spot on. If I felt peckish I gnawed on carrots and dips or a slice of halloumi. Even a glass of wine and 80% cocoa-chocolate pieces was allowed. All the things I liked. 

Now I have to eat like that for life and not return to high glycaemic index carbs. 

What is off the menu includes the humble spud - very GI carbohydrate, but I easily substitute sweet potato for that. Some irony there but the sweet potato has better carbs. In place of refined white rice I eat wild rice which is nutty and easy to cook. I haven't had pasta nor pizza since the start of the summer - about 5 months now - and I don't miss it. Apparently I'm going to enjoy spelt-based pasta with the family this weekend. And in place of white or wholemeal bread I find I like rye bread just as much. 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog the one thing I have missed is a decent slice of cake. Cake is, of course, full of sugar and high GI flour. I have tried baking with coconut flour but that was too sweet for me. I didn't enjoy almond flour either but a great find has been buckwheat flour and the Dove's flour range. I'm not a coeliac but in my quest to get away from high GI carbs, over-processed and high-sugar foods, using buckwheat has been a really good alternative.

Last week's recipe for chocolate cake - made from red kidney beans - just about cracked the moistness problem. Most cakes that are not wheat-based have tended to be dry. Although the red kidney bean cake rose in the oven it deflated quite quickly - as expected - but the texture and moisture earned five stars. Tonight I will defrost it and cover it with a chocolate ganache. If  I have time before our travels I'll make a second one but it's so easy I will have time, on our return, to make another for our last party for this 'season'. 

Essentially I have learned to be more selective when it comes to eating carbs. Many that claim to be wholemeal may be full of sugar. Many low-fat yogurts or cottage cheese may be overloaded with sugar too. Fat is not the enemy. Our bodies can cope with it better than over-refined carbs which upset our insulin levels and actually add to layers of fat - as storage - more dangerously than butter or full-fat yogurt. This was news to me.

I'm off for a swim in about an hour. Keeping active, now my back is restored, makes me feel much better. I'm no longer sluggish. I walk up and down Lansdown hill at least weekly and I rarely feel tired in the swimming pool. I'm not naturally athletic, however. I'm afraid physical activity seems repetitive and boring but I do like to have energy. I read somewhere any adult should easily be able to run a few yards for the bus if required. ( First drop the heavy bags you're carrying I would add to the statement.)

What a pity I don't enjoy sports more. I could become really fit! However a low carb Mediterranean diet based on fresh veg and fish or poultry is something I can enjoy. And - having studied the science of it a little - over the last few blogs - I know that nutritionally I've never been more healthy. I hope you have enjoyed the journey too.