Saturday, 21 December 2013

'Tis the season to forget all folly tra la la la la la la la la...

Greetings jolly bloggy ones. This is the last post...bee dee bee dee beep. And then I will be over and out until next year. Well not over and not out as despite my failure yesterday (my second driving test!) I am choosing (with the occasional flashback) to focus on the good stuff - always good to remind ourselves of successes when tough stuff tugs. Because Christmas is not always jolly for everyone. For folks that have lost people or battle black dog, who bites back or backward, Christmas can be hard.

When I was teaching art/writing as therapy to women in recovery/with mental health issues, so many of them found Christmas unbearably painful. I think of them with fondness because we always ended up laughing at the end of the sessions or at least smiling or edified. They taught me a lot.

Here's some of my happy:

1. New son! Born in March.
2. New book! Born in September!
3. New publishing company! Born this summer!
4. All my precious ones with me for Christmas!
5. Grace - daughter and actual.

There is some ongoing not so great stuff, sadly nothing new there, but I believe that when we make a deliberate, and concerted effort (choose) to focus on the positive it is easier to remain in peace, joy or at least happiness.

And some happy tips:

Joy to the world: Belief. For me a fundament of existence. Faith always gives me the means to carry on because the end is always good. Faith can be found (or resurrected - I recommend the resurrection, works for me).

People faces are a wonder. When I feel down the beautiful ones around me, big and small whack the smile back.

Vision. Look to the future. If you do not have vision create some: What do you really, really want from life? Create a map to get there and then plot it out step by step: small changes - one a month/week/day lead to big ones.. It is never too late to make changes - retrain if necessary.

Laugh: Surround yourself with people who rip your face in half they are so funny.

Dance: Find a person, small or large who will dance around the room with you in a ludicrous manner. I have one of these installed in the house. An imperative.

I have and do follow this advice (mostly - I have reminder folk for when I don't). Forgive me if I come across all 'worthy' 'tis the season.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The commodification of religion (with atheist/God jokes)

"But now Catholics have got a new, improved pope, keen to emphasise the centrality of love and charity to faith, instead of policing private sexual matters while offering lifetimes of succour to the worst of sinners. The Anglicans have performed the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Tesco price match and produced an archbishop who condemns corporate greed, is pro-marriage in all its forms, and generally seems to chime with the public mood better than anyone had dreamed."

Lucy Mangan's article in The Guardian 9/11/2013, on Richard Dawkins' tweeting (or twit-ering - can you be a brainiac and a twit at the same time? Yes.) got me thinking of how wide of the mark atheistic, secular understanding of Christianity is. Hardly surprising when the church itself is confused about so much, but articles like this add to the confusion regarding God and religion, though these terms (G and R) should be married, they are increasingly divorced - in the changing of the laws of God to suit society and, it seems, in the public mindset. Obviously, and hopefully, people who follow a religion may be trying to connect with God, though some of them claim to be Christians due to tradition or family; but following a religion will not necessarily bring you any closer to God (particularly in churches where clergy/ministers do not preach the truth as it is written in the word of God, or try to bring the Bible 'up to date' with public opinion), according to the Bible, and experientially as Christianity should be, this can only happen via a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

I love the new archbishop (he even speaks in tongues!) and certainly he needs to form a 'bridge' or 'arch' of understanding between the world and the spirit, but what so many non-Christians and secular, atheist writers do not seem to get is this: God is God and He does not change: Not for society, culture or for anyone else. His laws, be they the ones that govern the universe, or those on morality are immutable; people might change His laws, but they will be leaving God out of it - certainly the God of the Bible that they are apparently ignorant of - this is true for your average Christian, the archbishop or the pope. None of us have the right to rewrite the Bible, in fact there are very stark warnings in the Bible about this. Thus all of the points made by Lucy and company are moot. 

LM speaks too about the marketing of atheism and religion, and of how atheism needs a 'greater market share.' Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, it cannot be commodified or sold, God does not need to market (nor defend himself), though an 'introduction to Christ' may be made at an Alpha course for instance, and of course the gospel needs to be spread by Christian witnesses. Jesus does not give room for interpretation regarding who He is (God); the gospel does not give room for interpretation either and really, though there are many 'theologies,' if the Bible is read as a whole book, and not as 'cut and paste' theology, there is no room for interpretation or 'updating' in the Good Book either.

The light bit:

Atheists: "We have decided there is no God." 

God: "It's a helluvan idea."


"We have decided that creation was an explosion in the dark."

"What have you been eating?"


"We believe creation is a series of random events."

"You are out of order."


"We are descended from monkeys."

"If I wasn't God I would believe you."

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Transforming Power of Literature

Musing on Stoner
Howdy silent partners: I have been reading a book set in Missouri and St. Louis and now I want to go there if only verbally - more in the next paragraph. I have been absent from Blogville for a wee while, but I have an excuse note: I have been working with my husband on the paperback of "Big Men's Boots" our first imprint (gosh!) and we are also in the foundation stages of developing our own publishing business - watch this space book munchers!

How many of you belong to book clubs? All of you? Marvellous aren't they? I love mine; not only do I get to read more widely than I possibly would, I get to discuss these books with some fine ladies upon white sofas (not really) the ladies are fine, but not dandy (as in supafine, not just acceptable) as are the sofas, but they are rarely white. By far and away the best and most transporting (as previously indicated, gee!) book we have read so far is "Stoner" by John Williams: a book that I gobbled up in great, greedy chunks whenever I had an opportunity: usually while breastfeeding.

Rarely have I come across a book that points up the poignancy of the human condition with such sensitivity and intensity and in such sublimely taut, penetrating prose! William Stoner is a true hero of literature: an 'ordinary' man who is willing to sacrifice all (to protect those he loves whilst never defending himself - so Christ-like!) as he lives out the truth of his life in a powerfully humble way. I have been stunned by this deceptively 'quiet' novel and urge you to seek it out - the characters are so three dimensional too - how often do you meet those between the numbered sheets these days?

John Williams (I know he sounds like a Country and Western star) is dead, otherwise I would garland him with roses. A novel about truth, faith and love: all the good stuff. Ride the wagon folks, you won't be disappointed. Would love to hear back from you'all on books that are blowing your Barnets too - yes back to London now. I am about to start on "Spoilt Rotten," The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality, by Theodore Dalyrimple - not his real name, but isn't it spiffing!

London's Burning! Fetch the Engines! Fire! Fire! I have just burnt the pot of soya beans that have been simmering with the chickpeas (with evil intent as it turns out) on the stove. I have put them out of the window where their smoke is mingling with the fumes from the A40. My hand aches from flapping the dishcloth over the alarm system that alerts the whole building and wakes the babies and scares the mice. So much for being a health freak. I shall return to chocolate forthwith: much safer.

Monday, 7 October 2013


Does my neck look long in this?
It was off to the zoo today for me and the three nippers. Given their behaviour of late it seemed the appropriate place. The two year old and the six month old launched a scream opera via buggy before we even got out the door, given the numerous delays: drinks, nappy changes, wet washing and so on all remembered at the last minute when the two boys were already in the buggy. I placated the one kid with chocolate - I know shoot me. I should have taken it as a sign, but like a woman who glances at a clear London sky and expects it to stay that way for ten minutes, I marshalled the mini troops out the door and with my four year old daughter on the buggy board, which helps us to create movement as an ensemble, but petrifies my back as I am five feet nine and the buggy board sticks out at a jaunty angle and I am forced to bend to its will - we set off, with plenty of further ado as I had forgotten something as usual and had to turn back, oftentimes these are the keys, when this happens, I turn back and head butt the wall (metaphorically speaking, I'm not a metalhead) before sheepishly calling my husband who happily usually works in the area; but this time it was a jacket, usually I would press on without a jacket and end up looking like I have just failed a wet t shirt competition or whatever but today I thought I would return to get it, but it remained a thought along with all the other stuff I remembered I had forgotten: kids - check, keys - check, we would forage for anything else - after the morning I had already had before I started forgetting things, I would make do - do-lally as is my way.

The giraffes were serene
All this hoo ha (why can't I do hoo ha like a karate expert?) meant middle nipper was late for his nap, (I figured he'd conk out in the buggy, har de har) which was fine until we were in the gorilla enclosure. The gorilla enclosure had lots of black dirt for kids to play in, which might be odd for London parents visiting the zoo (they gave us odd looks) but I grew up playing in the dirt in Zimbabwe where if you did not arrive home dirty and muddy and usually injured in some way - by yourself, by bike, before sundown - you weren't a proper kid.

Anyhoo, I fed the baby while the two year old and the four year old practised animals in the dirt. All was well in the world until I realised we were now way past nap time and I would need to inform my two year old that he would be viewing the gorillas from the Phil and Ted's - yes his very own safari Land Rover! At which point my kid went feral, he went beast, he went canvas for his own dirt artiste, he bucked, he broncoed, he turned balletically in the dirt, legs stiff with fury. And he attracted an audience: some shocked, some amused, some smug, some just staring. My four year old took herself off to ride a bronze statue of a gorilla and some Japanese tourists took pictures of her, I let this pass, unlike the mini fit and the audience, which didn't. I picked up my own little beastie and while I tried to stuff his little flailing limbs into the bottom section of the P and T, I said to the audience in a loud voice: "This is what happens when you miss nap time." He May I never forget. Gosh is it that late already?

He slept like angelically all the way home

Friday, 27 September 2013

Walking up Walls

Hi! I'm back. My new novel is finished and I am looking forward to tackling the back burner that has become a huge smoking fire that is beginning to whiff. Life has been interesting with the teenager having started 'A' Levels and the six month old having started to sit up. The two and four year olds have started home school - well the four year old has, the two year old copies what we are doing in a squiggly fashion. We have also set up our own little publishing company, which has been a steep learning curve, especially for my husband who has had to do all the 'hard stuff,' and can now walk up walls, metaphorically speaking. I am very excited about this little venture of ours, in a zonked out sleepless sort of way. We will be offering a full publishing package including consulting and editorial advice, the only bit we can't do yet is the actual printing, but we may even be able to do that before long.

The book you ask? Well it's called Big Men's Boots, book one of a trilogy. The series is about Owen Evan's faith journey from boyhood as the son of Welsh revivalists (book one), to an older man (book three). Owen has a prophetic gift and the unfolding and outworking of this supernatural gift runs through the three books. As with After the Rains, Big Men's Boots is an action packed adventure story on more than one level (physically and spiritually speaking) that is woven from authentic fabric and takes place in North Wales during the Welsh Revival, France during The First World War, London in the twenties, the Orkney Islands and Cape Town. I hope you will join me on this 'multidimensional' literary journey. Big Men's Boots, for men (big or otherwise) women and young adults, will be available in most e book retailers worldwide in the next few days. Print books to follow before long.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Lamborghini for lunch

Hello from the Derbyshire Dales, one and all. We are staying in the belly button of England thanks to some lovely friends who have gone off on holiday and left my husband and me and the wild ones in their house! Now we see how normal human beings live. I am like a hamster let loose from the cage that is my flat in central London (grateful as I am to have it, we are tired of permanent rugby scrum living, much as we love the bokke). I keep running from sofa to sofa, living room to living room, bedroom to bedroom, like a hamster on speed. I tear up and down the stairs in top gear like I have eaten a Ferrari for breakfast and a Lamborghini for lunch (it’s Morris Minor for dinner, I’m exhausted by then). If you were as scatty as me you would need to whizz up and down the stairs hundreds of times a day too - for all the kids things that you kept forgetting all over this house that is the size of a playing field, only cut up and arranged on levels in large squares. 

The kids and us have been running round and round on the lawn like lunatic dogs let loose on a beach. Grass outside the door that is underfoot rather than underhand like the stuff that is dealt outside the door of our London block! You can park your car in the drive or in the Sainsbury's behind your house. You can buy your groceries and park your trolley outside your garden gate even and they don't mind since they nicked your road parking space! It's magical. In London we pay a yearly wage for residents parking and usually have to park three miles away. Middle England is a real eye opener. Folks are real friendly too and they aren't nutters! They stop and chat and coo at the little 'uns and they don't even know us!

All this house living has gone to our heads and we are fantasizing about having a home of our own again. We almost bought a house in April but were scuppered at the last minute. Today we browsed the second hand shops and bought a framed etching of Regents Park from The Illustrated London News, from June 1846. If only we could buy a house in RP on nineteenth century prices! I told you we were fantasizing but upsizing in your head is a good start. You need to be a zillionaire to buy a house in RP now. I am grateful for my hutch there, but a house…oh a house…my hutch for a house.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

High on Vitamin D

Roses in Regents Park
Hi! I'm high on vitamin D, which may well make you happier and lower your risk of depression according to some reports that may or not be whacky because I read them on the internet, and could not verify their sources; but I certainly feel sunny. Can you remember how giddily gorgeous the weather has been in England and Wales in recent history? Me neither, I am always surprised when the sun comes out in a constant way on our emerald island, and when it does it is cause for rejoicing - except when observing all the naked pink flesh on display in Regents Park - a phenomenon I was first gobsmacked by when I arrived in London from SA in '86: "Why are all these English people naked in the park - and why are they all pink - haven't they heard of sunblock - outsized hats and shades?” I asked myself. I endeavoured to instruct, inculcate, educate, wherever I could, but it just didn't work, when the sun came out the British went berserk (and pink - the Anglo-Saxon variety anyway).

The science bit:

According to the experts (see above link) 'little and often' is the key to getting you vitamin D via the sun. Nota bene, pink folk: little and often should not be making you pink or ‘redden’ like you have been smacked on the bottom all over by the sun.

The middle two on a middling hill in North Wales

There is less pink flesh scattered about the place, here in Wales, where we are lurking for as much of the summer as we can – mostly on hills and beaches, but also in paddling pools and in the garden. Yes! A real live garden – you just open the sliding doors at the back of the house and voila! – there it is, all splendid and twinkly with sunshine and flowers (in London we live in a rabbit hutch - though it is a centrally located one near Regents Park.) Man! I am one high Zimbabwean girl. 

I still miss Africa (I lived in South Africa for five/six years as well as Zim) and often dream (in hot red and orange) of going back there, but I do love the distinctness of the seasons here. Zimbabwe, had the best climate going: mostly hot (not unbearably so like many other parts of Africa) but dry, not humid, for a lot of the year; I loved the rainy season too - the rich smell of the earth after rain - now that was a natural high too - the magnificent thunderstorms...oh dear I am getting homesick; but I was less aware of the change in the seasons there, except when the msasa trees came out in the spring – think small leaves of pomegranate red; deep shades of burnished peach – glorious...

Here in the UK, I look forward to each distinct seasonal change and enjoy spring (the wedding-worthy pink and white blooms bursting out on all the trees in the park!) autumn: the children kicking up the vibrant coloured leaves in their wellies - and the serenity of a blue-tinged snowy landscape in winter: stripped trees stark against white skies; in Wales the ice on the mountains, in league with the sun, slices your eyes with its glaring beauty. And then there is the short, sharp shock of summer: always a sublime surprise. I'm in the pink.

People are not the only pink things to be discovered in Regents Park

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Diss-location of Maths

Hooray! GCSE's are over. I can't believe my son is the same age I was (16, 17 in October) as I was when I did Matric at The Art, Ballet, Drama and Music School in Johannesburg. It's been a full on eight weeks with exams, baby and 2 under four and the writing of the book...but here's an imaginary glass of Prosecco to the summer...on the Italian Riviera...sun lounger...waiter in attendance...more bubbly...less troubly...whizzy car to whisk me round the hills to the villa...fridge very filla with fooda...housekeepa...nanny for the nippa...

Today was maths for big son. I dropped that one like a hot potato at the time, but now I regret that I did not 'pull my finger out' as people often suggested, and make an effort with it. I did maths until Standard Five - my final year of junior (primary) school, where we followed a traditional (dictation, composition et al.); no siree or 'mam,' as we had to say ('Bat'mam in some cases) I kept my finger located in the general direction of the arts, and dissed maths in favour of the easy stuff: English, History, Art and plenty of drama, but that is another story. I had the same attitude to the sciences - I did not dislocate my finger for them either - they were not even put on the long finger - they were consigned to history, or for history.

Phwoar! Look at the geometry of that
Amusingly enough I married a man with a PhD in Engineering which takes in maths and the sciences; he is creative too - musical and a great photographer - good at coming up with eccentric, yet stylish outfits for daughter to wear when he dresses her...point being that I really wish I had pulled my finger out, because (partly through him explaining sciencey stuff in an interesting way) I now find science fascinating and feel I have missed out; I am something of a one-legged skier in the academic arena. However Trevor, I shall soon be getting another opportunity when I start homeschooling our daughter. Do you hear the sound of shots firing? That's me toes expiring as I shoot myself in the foot. (Hopefully not).

Monday, 10 June 2013

Hopefully not writing dead-lines

Hello strangers. I have been absent due to manically trying to finish Big Men's Boots, my next book. Much frantic writing has been taking place at the little table in my kitchen. My plan is to publish by e book the first of the three books that make up the trilogy that is Big Men's Boots; the first this month, followed by another two e books, and then a paperback of all three; my aim is to have them all out by the autumn, like coloured leaves! - page leaves - not that my page leaves will be coloured; but they will be there: in black and white - this is what I tell myself and indeed, there are deadlines - as in end points, though I do worry about 'dead lines' too, as in lines that don't work in the narrative - I am in the final drafting phase of e book no.1, so veer between thinking the task is hopeless and the lines may indeed be dead and being optimistic at the same time: all very quixotic and spasmodic given I write whenever I get a chance; it's all very grabby and my husband is taking up a lot of slack, but then he is my constant hero.

In a moment of craziness (one of the moments that wasn't spent writing) I hacked off some of my hair - I know very Van Goughian - especially since I was left with two ear-shaped flunks (yes they failed) of hair on either side of my face; and now I look like a Picasso. I had to commandeer my son to help me straighten out the back. In his words, "you have cut a bob in the front and you have a mullet jamming at the back." Yes he tells it like it is and is a smart****to boot. After the hair jutting (not cutting) fiasco, firstborn accompanied me to Sainsbury's so that he could blow the  year's budget on snacks. I discussed the time period of the novel and how I do my research: "You mean you read Grazia 1905, in the bath Mum," he said.

This is how I roll

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Sing a song of substance and get a pocketful of 'why not?'

Disclaimer: I know that anxiety and depression are no laughing matters, I have been there myself - but they ought to be - stay with me! 

In an article written by Huma Qureshi in the Guardian (20/5/2013), I read that one in twenty adults have GAD generalised anxiety disorder Ye-GAD! Quite a sadistic statistic! Why are we all so much more anxious in these modern, frenetic, non-stop times? I am sure you could all give me a hundred reasons, but let us narrow it down to these three things, of which I shall be the mistress: we do not go to church anymore (less - 'there is something out there bigger than me' - reflective time); we do not say what we want to say (bottling up frustration until it explodes - inside us - making us ill; or onto our spouse or kids - messy); we are not silly enough and are therefore not laughing enough - and more on this topic later.

Depression is different to anxiety, which, according to the psychiatrist, Dr David Baldwin, is "characterised by a sense of pessimism about the past, whereas with anxiety, they focus on the future and what hasn't happened yet." Couldn't have put it better myself David. The article points out that antidepressants are being used in a generalised way to treat both conditions when CBT could be used to treat GAD more effectively. Oh GAD. Having taught art and creative writing in a therapeutic context to sufferers of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, I understand CBT is very helpful, given its strategies for helping one manage negative thinking, but Dr David Baldwin suggests a very simple 'trick' for anxiety: making lists. 

Dr David says... 

"Start the day with a list of what you have to do and tick them off as you go. It gives you a sense of progress and that relieves worrying. Try to limit your worrying to certain times of the day. It sounds bizarre, but if you only allow yourself to worry for half an hour a day at, say, 8am, you will learn to put your worries to one side and get on with everything else."

Making lists can stop you from listing, in the stopping you from 'tipping over' into being anxious all the time way, but I would like to suggest some further (and more fun!) strategies for those of us who suffer from anxiety:

Emily says...

Empty your head:

In my experience negative thoughts attack us most vehemently first thing in the morning. Keep a notebook by your bed. As a negative thought floats into your thinking like a toxic balloon, pop it by writing it down.

For example, substitute...'I am hopeless at my job, I will never get anywhere.'

For: I am good at tennis and making puddings...or whatever you are good at. If you can't think of anything make some activities up and then imagine yourself doing them.

Screw or tear up the paper containing the negative thoughts and chuck it in the bin, or at the wall, or mirror, or whatever (?!) and pop the good stuff that you have written down, into your pocket or handbag to meditate on during your day.

Sing a song of substance and get a pocketful of 'why not?':

If the thought  'I always screw up', floats into your boat...

Sing (Yes out loud! If your partner or kids cannot tolerate this, do it in the shower, or in the hall cupboard) this: 'I helped my boss Josie fix her bike when she had a flat tyre last 
weekend. I will probably get a prom-o-o-tio-on...'

If you can manage to sing it in a ludicrous comic voice and you get a laugh out of it, so much the better. Consider that career in stand up you always wanted to do. I'm serious.

Wiggle it just a little bit:

Get out of bed and do a silly dance. Imagine the negative words falling to the floor with each wiggle. Chant the good stuff (preferably out loud) as you do. At least think or talk the good 'self-talk' silently to yourself.

If you would like further strategies, or if you would like me to come and do and anti-anxiety workshop with you and some friends, contact me.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Buy one get one free and feel doubly good about it afterwards!

Have you noticed that when you 'buy one, get one free,' at the supermarket, what you get is double produce that is 'on the turn,' for the worse, be they slushy strawberries or soft oranges. The result is that you feel ripped off and possibly sick. Until the end of June I have decided to give away a copy of After the Rains with every copy bought via my shop, with a double donation going to HOPEHIV, Zimbabwe. Simply purchase a book in the usual way (online) here: and I will send you two copies: one for you, you avid book lover you, and one for your booky friend (they will both be sent to the one address). Nothing soft or slushy about it - the book, or the organisation, please see their website for more : HOPEHIV supports kids who have been given the toughest of tough starts. In communities ground down by poverty and shredded by AIDS, a generation of young people are growing up without parents to nurture and protect them. Yet many show extraordinary spirit, resilience and talent. We see that, given the opportunity, they have the potential to change Africa’s future from the bottom up.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Tales of extraordinary kindness

Writing continues unabated in my kitchen.
The toothpicks holding my eyelids up have been photo-shopped
A little while ago I lost my baby son's red medical book somewhere between my flat and Bloomsbury. A week or so later, the book was sent to me along with a letter to my son that stated where the finder had found it (Gower street) and suggesting that my son give it to his parents for safe keeping. It would likely be safer were my son to take care of it himself. I was struck by the kindness of this stranger and by his beautiful handwriting. Before writing back to express my thanks, I googled him - he has an unusual double-barrelled name - and discovered he is a well known British actor. Perhaps he was stepping out of RADA when he stepped on the red book. 

There are two Zimbabwean men whom I have yet to meet, who have gone out of their way to help me get my book "After the Rains" to more readers, particularly in Zimbabwe where I most long for it to be read. The first, Roger, works with books in Zimbabwe. He has introduced me to many of his contacts who have gone on to help me and has selflessly dispensed frank advice from his cache of expert knowledge. The second, Jason, runs a Zimbabwean website. He has similarly helped me, with a review and even running a competition for the book. Another lovely Zimbabwean woman, Les, offered to stock my books in her shop in Zimbabwe in order to support another Zimbabwean charity. Given it is a feat similar to roller-skating up Snowdon via Crib Goch to get ones books into Zimbabwe, I was overjoyed by her offer. She too has gone out of her way for me in a variety of ways. I recently met Les, what a hoot, her kindness has led to friendship. 

Six weeks ago my baby son was born. Friends from church immediately offered to help. Two friends, Cleverson and Fatima regularly brought round food to cook for us. Fatima has been coming round every week to cook delicious food. When she leaves, the children rush in to see what delights are in store. Cleverson is very busy running the church venue in Soho amongst many other things and Fatima is in the midst of exams and assignments but they chose to help us nonetheless.

Why am I writing about these kindnesses? Kindness seems to be a rarer and rarer demonstrative gift. So often I am struck by the lack of it: on the tubes and the buses, in the shops where people seem to be impatiently focussed solely on their own needs. On the roads fellow drivers are mostly pushy and selfish. Thus when kindness is demonstrated, it glitters like gold and ought to be celebrated. If only our streets could be paved with it.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Nutty Pesto Pasta (posh version, super posh version and student version)

I have decided to publish a recipe every now and again (I daren't pretend I will stick to some weekly routine) due to friends often asking for recipes after they come round for a meal - yurrer, yurrer, I hear you say, all 'cooks' who publish recipes state that they have been forced to do so by popular demand. Well in my case it's true! I never use recipes in the traditional sense (unless I am baking Mary), rather, I tend to read recipes and magpie bits of them and then make the rest up as I go along. I began experimenting with cooking (amongst other less healthy things) as a teenager and it (and I) grew from there. Our friend Roy, doodler extraordinaire and head honcho from bubble up tv round last Tuesday and asked for the recipe for Nutty Pesto Pasta - easier than pie - pasta is always easier than pie. Pie is not easy, never mind the saying. Here goes:

Posh version: Basically you need good quality pasta - I like the giant shells as when you lift one to your ear, you can hear Lake Como calling you - a jar of pesto and some cashews or hazels or almonds. Use about a jar per 500g of dry weight posh-looking pasta - crush the nuts and sprinkle over. Voila! The pesto idea belongs to the Italians, the pasta, the arguably the Chinese and the Italians too. Why not get some Italians and Chinese in a room with some Chianti and whatever Chinese booze and get them to argue the toss? There are three versions: posh, super posh and student, to suit all budgets!

- Boil the pasta until it is el dente (not 'all mental' students, this means cooked but with a little 'bite' in the middle). I don't know how long for, I never time things (unless I am baking Mary) follow the instructions on the back of the packet.
- Chuck the pesto in - all of it. Nothing worse than a mean coating - take note skinny chicks with no hips.
- Crush a couple of handfuls of nuts with a pestle and mortar if you have one, or put them in a tea towel and bash them with a rolling pin until they are partly crushed - not smashed to smithereens like Aunt Agatha's bowl was last Christmas, the demise of which you blamed on the dog.

Super posh version: Make your own pesto!
You will need an electric mixer for this one, plus fresh basil, pine nuts (or cashews)
- 2 good handfuls of basil leaves
- 2 handfuls of pine nuts - or nuts of your choice
- A teaspoon of crushed garlic - or less if you are not so into it/not into it
- Salt 'n pepper 
- A squeeze of lemon juice (put Squeeze on the cd player too - Cool for Cats is the business)
- 3/4 hearty slugs of good quality olive oil from the Tuscan hills (or wherever, Waitrose as we are super posh, will do)

Chuck it all in the blender or mini Kenwood or whatever Delia or Nigella are using and blend until it is smooth but still textured - not so textured as to be like the pebbledash that commoners are prone to coating their bungalows with, but not so smooth as to be like the wallpaper paste that the builders are using to wallpaper the drawing room in that peacock design.
Put several tablespoons of it on your posh pasta. Artfully place a few basil leaves on the top and hey pesto! Have Champagne or some kind or something not too Chablis that has undertones (another blinding band) of gooseberries like cousin Mildred. Students, you must content yourselves with leery undertones but the Undertones are for everyone!

Student version: It's Friday night, you will have the munchies for whatever reason. Divvy up what's left of your cash after you have visited the student bar. Snaffle some more from your drunk mates. Hit the 24 hour Tesco or Sainsbury's (not literally, try to walk straight). Grab a cheap own brand packet of pasta, ditto a jar of pesto, if you can stretch to it, buy some nuts - you may have to use unsalted peanuts - comfort yourself that now that you are at uni you will have a stab at earning more than peanuts depending on who gets in at the next election. Go straight home, follow instructions above. Try to keep it down, the noise too. Working folk are trying to sleep you know.

P.S Snack time tip! Buy a big bag of cashews and sautee (fry dear students) some in a pan with a slash (not that kind students) of oil and half a teaspoon of salt and pepper each and a good English summer drizzle of honey. Toss well to coat and slightly brown, then turn into a rustic terra cotta dish and serve when cool with beer or wine. You can do this to the nuts before you put them on the pesto if you can be bovvered.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Frazzle-headed looneys

Hello folks. I'm back. For all of you who prayed for me and sent messages of good will, I send you a jolly sackful of goody-gum-drop thanks. I had a ridiculously easy experience delivering number four. It was absurdly easy - by comparison - of course it still hurt like the Dickens but nothing like an induced, days long eek-stravaganzoid. Me, the husband and kids even took the bus to St Mary's - it seemed easier than taking the car and trying to find parking, even with the contractions. As we found ourselves without childcare, the 3 year old and the 1 year old came too. It was over in a handful of hours and the kids and husband went home to bed. I was wheeled to the wards where I was given a bed opposite a lady who spoke 24/7 on a phone and another lady who had a bus load of relations who stayed all night chattering like sparrows, scrap that, like crows. I had a histrionic moment when I demanded that either the relations, the mobile phone or I be moved. Suitably for someone who was showing signs of going round the twist, I was shown to an almost empty ward opposite, where I could not believe my lucid luck, until it filled up with wailing women and screaming babies, including mine, in the early hours. Still those few hours of silence were golden, GOLDEN, like the locks of my other two little ones when spread angelically on their pillows as they slumber, their sweet they slumber? Am I the Easter Bunny? No one slumbers in this house anymore. Sometimes my husband and I just look at each other over a room that is so messy as to have become unidentifiable as a room of any description at all, while one holds the screaming toddler and the other holds the screaming three week old as we laugh like a pair of frazzle-headed looneys. My husband has become just as forgetful and scatty as me, but together our half brains make some kind of whole. But we feel very blessed, in a slightly maddened, zonked out sort of way. What am I going to do when he goes back to work?

Friday, 15 March 2013

40 tweaks?

Cakes by Cynthia:
According to my doctors up at a central London hospital (NHS), I have three days to go until my fourth baby is born. They calculated my 'due' date by asking me some cyclical questions and coming up with answers on a cardboard speed dial date calculator thingy and by giving me a scan at twenty weeks. Neither of these fact detectors strike me as exact science, particularly since, in the past, I've known darned well exactly when I fell pregnant and my date did not tally with theirs by three days. Nonetheless I was subjected to an agonising twenty-four hour induction sans an epidural (too freaky to be paralysed when giving birth) followed by a graphic aftermath that I will protect my male readers from visualising. 

On that, first occasion, the consultants at the Royal Free, who just happened to be trialling a new induction procedure, told me that they would not be responsible for the outcome based on my decision. This sounds reasonable, but they made it clear to me what they wanted me to understand that outcome was to be. Meantime, the midwife urged me not to let the consultants 'bully me' into being induced. The thing is, given that it was my first child, they did scare me. The three-step procedure, (again I will spare you the details) was pretty brutal because my son was just not quite ready to come. On two occasions, things became quite dangerous for him and for me. Afterwards my son and me fell into an exhausted twelve-hour sleep. What newborn sleeps for twelve hours? It took me a very long time to heal from that one and I remain convinced that if they had just let me go another couple of days, my son would have been born naturally. 

Of course I am grateful that the outcome was a beautiful, healthy child, but the point is, I felt I was denied the natural, beautiful experience birth can be, because I was so highly interfered with. At the UCL with baby two and three I was also induced, though with my second, my daughter, I managed to have the serene, quiet, calm experience I had wanted before despite the twelve hour induction that I was again pressed to have. My last experience - nineteen months ago, was horrendous. My second son was on his back and not ready to come. I had a manipulative, bullying midwife who kept insisting that I have an epidural. She kept telling me that an epidural was the only way forward for me. She kept threatening that unless I saw the anaesthetist straight away, he would be in theatre and I would not be able to have an epidural that I did not want. The implication was that things were going to get worse and then I would be without help. 

Twelve hours hooked up to a drip at a forty-five degree angle when you prefer to move around when you are in extreme pain is torturous, but in the end I was frightened enough to agree to the epidural, though even as I was having it, (which was not straightforward) I was thinking, that even though the pain of a back to back labour was extraordinary, I had done induced (artificially induced, and therefore more painful contractions) for hours on end (twelve before, more previously) on two other occasions and if only I had been able to talk to a doctor first, to find out whether I had other pain relief options, I could have persevered. Afterwards she said that perhaps she should not have pushed me into having it. I was flabbergasted. And bloody annoyed frankly. Again, the incompetent aftermath left me with a legacy that I am still suffering with.

Anyway, I have been told at my third London hospital (nameless for now!) that they will want to induce me on Sunday - my 'due' date. I meet with the doctors today and intend to ask for a reprieve of at least a few days in the hopes that I may, just this once, have a natural birth. So far the staff have been lovely. Obviously if they convince me that the baby or me are in mortal danger, I will probably succumb. Meantime, if you are reading this, please pray new little chap arrives without interference! Also, please let me know what you have experienced regarding the forty weeks and induction, I do love hearing back from people.