Saturday, 30 June 2007

Stroke, no joke

I have been absent from this blog for a few days because something really serious has happened, health-wise. My boyfriend has had a stroke. The story is long and complex and harrowing. It includes Hillingdon Hospital discharging him while he was having mini strokes every 20 or 30 minutes and telling him it was “just a migraine.” Less than 24 hours later, he had a major stroke and is now paralysed down one side. I am considering a legal case.

As to my own health, I didn’t eat or sleep for three days and am now beyond exhaustion, and feeling very lonely and uncomfortable in his house, surrounded by his things and a poor, crying cat who doesn’t understand and keeps sniffing things that smell of him and gazing at me and asking the silent question, “Where is he?”

Monday, 25 June 2007


I realise I haven’t mentioned ailments lately, and they were the main cause of starting this blog. In fact, I’ve had a good run for my money, apart from the insomnia which is still plaguing me. If only I could sell the house and move out of the boyfriend’s and have my own things around me again, I think I’d start to relax.

Today, though, the foot problems kicked off again. (Yes, I know, awful pun.) I am a Piscean. Every star sign has part of the body allotted to it as an area they should take particular care of, and for Pisceans, it is the feet. Apart from getting a stiletto heel through my right one at a school dance (an accident, not a stomp from a jealous girl who saw me dancing with her boyfriend – I was the bespectacled wallflower whom nobody asked to dance!), my feet and I had a trouble-free relationship even in the barefoot Sixties when my soles were so tough that I could walk over gravel without wincing.

In 1993, I was coming out of a changing room in a charity shop when my left foot was almost sliced in twain by the corner of a knife-sharp piece of stair-edging. Gushing blood, I hobbled up the stairs to the till and asked the young, dopy girl assistant for help. She blanched and waved me up the road to the chemists. Leaving bloody, CSI-style behind me all the way, I reached the chemists where Mr Mistry produced a wodge of cotton wool and some sticky tape and told me it needed stitching. ‘Too jagged for stitches,’ said the hospital, after my tetanus jab. They butterfly-clipped it and it gradually healed, but left a weak spot that hurt when I touched it, and a long white scar.

“Give me the address and I’ll sue them for you,” my solicitor said. This was the same lawyer who had won me six grand following my whiplash injury. It was three weeks before I was well enough to walk down to the shop, only to find it had packed up and vanished, probably aware of my impending lawsuit.

Fast forward five years. I’d had a hysterectomy that had left me feeling as if a bayonet was stuck in my stomach. It was three months before I was capable of walking the mile to the doctor’s. I didn’t realise that feet are held together by muscle and tendon and ligament and that these can go slack through lack of use. I set off at my usual stride and wham! A terrible agony shot through my left foot and I couldn’t walk. Somehow, I managed to hobble painfully home. It took half an hour. I transferred most of my weight to my right foot and three weeks later that suffered the same fate. I was now saddled with a condition called metatarsalgia. No more high heels for me. Instead, a lifetime of sensible shoes with squidgy insoles.

Last night, I danced barefoot for an hour and a half to the Who’s Glastonbury concert on TV. Wow, my feet are getting better, I thought happily. I have a party to go to next week and had bought some shoes with small heels, hoping I could wear them. Well, fate had the last laugh (yes, you can hear my old cry of "It’s not fair!”), for this morning I stubbed the middle toe of my left foot so badly on the leg of the bed that a sickening pain shot right through my foot – and now I can hardly walk again. Bye-bye high heels, it will have to be sequinned flip-flops now.

Footnote: I am rubbing arnica gel all over my foot three times a day. Here’s hop(p)ing…

Bent Beak Clinic

Met a friend in Borough Market and bought some very healthy rye bread. However, it proved too much for both my breadknife and my ageing teeth so I flung it out to see what would happen. A slug got there first. Next, a pigeon, followed by a magpie. They appeared to be having a conversation about which beak technique to use and eventually gave up and flew off, having arranged to meet each other at the Bent Beak Clinic for Birds.

As for the photo of Flad… it speaks for itself. Pity he can’t. I call this photo The Artist’s Cat.

Now for the daily moan. I am freelance, which means that for wages, I am dependent on the companies I work for sending me cheques. Promptly would be nice. But right now, I am waiting for payment for invoices going back as far as March. I have nagged, I have written, ‘Payment within 30 days’ at the bottom of the invoices, all to no avail. People who work for a monthly pay cheque have no idea what it’s like to have to wait for their wages to arrive randomly through the post. How is a freelancer expected to pay their mortgages and utility bills? Let alone eat! They should all be forced to live like that for three months and then perhaps they’d see it through my eyes. And now I hear that, to add insult to injury, we’re getting a postal strike!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Sweet Cherry Pie

It’s cherry time and this year my boyfriend has been determined to get the cherries before the blackbirds and pigeons do. To this end, he has decorated the tree with mobiles in the form of old cds, the flashes off which are enough to blind a cherry-spotting starling at 500 feet up. He even cut a scaredy-cat scarecrow out of an old piece of MDF (see photo). This guy should be on TV, I tell you.

Despite all these precautions, the feathered fiends launched a dawn raid today and by the time the first human patrol checked the tree, their greedy beaks had stripped every fruit above cd level. Now we have done our own picking and the result is my boyfriend’s cherry pie with egg custard. An odd-sounding mix, but it works. If I can prise the recipe out of him, I’ll publish it on a future blog piece.

It’s shaping up for a thunderstorm now. We’ll see how many cherries are left after the wind has whipped through them like a smoothie-maker and hailstones have pulverised the pits.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Ant Phobia

I have an ant phobia. No, not an AUNT phobia – I haven’t any of those left. My phobia is about those tiny black things that live in seething nests, and their larger relatives that march in purposeful columns through the woods. And their vicious red cousins that grab your with their miniscule fangs and won’t let go, whilst pumping you full of poison. (The day following my 21st birthday party, held in a boathouse in Wales, was spent at Bangor hospital where my jeans were cut off my swollen kegs and my veins injected with antihistamine after I had fallen into a drunken stupor on the river bank, with my ankles dangling in a red ants’ nest.)

Last week I bought ant powder and prepared to wipe out some bold bugs that had invaded my house and were gaily trolling past the wooden lintel, carrying eggs and disappeared beneath the skirting board. But this minor skirmish was nothing compared to some of the epic Ant Wars of the past.

The worst encounter occurred in a wood near the village of Graffham on the Sussex Downs. My (now ex) husband and I had gone for a post-lunch walk during a visit to his parents. We were strolling down a woodland path when a young girl on a pony came cantering towards us. I stepped off the path to let them pass, then suddenly, without warning, my husband threw himself across the path of the speeding pony, grabbed me and pulled me to the other side of the path.

“What the hell did you do that for? You could have got us all killed!” I shouted, when the sound of the girl’s swear-words and pounding hooves had faded and I’d stopped shaking.

“Look what you nearly stepped in,” he said, pointing. "You'd have died if you'd trodden in that." I followed his eyes to the other side of the path. It was moving. Everything was moving for yards around. It was one vast nest of large black wood ants. That’s when I realised that the rustlings I had thought were simply leaves fluttering delicately in the breeze had, in fact, been the purposeful movements of this vast ant army.

At once, I went cold and crawly all over. I felt sick. Terror swept over me. I looked down and noticed columns of ants criss-crossing the path and I said something I hadn’t said since I was two years old. “C-c-c-carry me.” The poor sod had to throw me over his shoulder and lug me back to civilisation, and when he needed a rest he had to hang me from a tree branch, from which I dangled from fingers crooked and frozen in a grip of pure panic. I truly think my ex was right and I would have had a heart attack and died if I'd gone off the wrong side of the path. Each nest can hold up to 10,000 ants and this was no mere colony, it was a continent!

On holidays in Scotland as a kid, I would stay snivelling unhappily in the car rather than trek through the forest with the rest of the family, treading between columns of ants. Scottish wood ants seem bigger than any other member of the UK ant family. They can swallow a Highland cow whole. They would certainly have made mincemeat of eight-year-old me. The torments of being locked in the old Ford Anglia on a boiling August day were nothing compared to my mindless terror of The Ant.

Eventually, at the age of 30-something, I had the bright idea of asking my mother if there was any reason why I should be so scared of ants. “Oh yes,” she said brightly. “It probably dates back to our holiday in Weston-Super-Mare when you were a baby. We strapped you in your pram and left you out on the verandah while we had lunch and you screamed the place down. In those days it was the thing to let your baby scream, rather than spoil it by running to it every time it made a sound. But you screamed so loudly for so long that in the end I thought I’d better go and see if anything was wrong, and I found all these ants had got into the pram and were crawling all over you.”

So there I was, strapped in and subjected to one of the worst tortures known to Man, the equivalent of being buried up to the neck in an antheap. No wonder I go to pieces every time I see more than one or two together. No wonder I hate bondage! And to compound it, I can recall being three years old and thinking I was helping Mother by bringing her tea cup and saucer in from the garden. As I toddled in with them, I noticed ants crawling on the saucer. I remember screaming, dropping the lot and getting bawled out for breaking them. So my fear of ants was compounded by being punished for being scared of them. How’s what for therapy in reverse?

A few years ago, I was recovering from a gynae op in Hammersmith Hospital. I opened my locker, got my bag out and found it was full of red ants. Then I noticed some IN MY BED! They had an infestation of pharoah ants in the hospital and the bastards had found the Kit-Kat bar which I had been keeping as a special treat.

I have decided that when I snuff it, I am going to be cremated. Anything, rather than be trapped in my coffin (maybe not even dead, but waking from a coma and finding I’d been buried prematurely) and having the thing fill up with ants. I saw an episode of CSI in which one of the agents was trapped in a box and ants were let in. I left the room and felt sick for the rest of the evening. Whatever you do, never, EVER, buy me a Formicarium. Or bring me back chocolate-covered ants from your holiday in some bug-infested country. A bar of good, plain Lindt will do. Though… typical, it always happens to me… I once bought a choc bar from a shop in Spain, unwrapped it at the airport, bit into it and found that it wasn’t an Aero at all, but the holes had been caused by some nasty grubs that had bored into it and the inside of the bar was full of caterpillar threads.

Excuse me, I’m just going away to be sick. Hey, I’ve realised what a good way this would be for me to lose weight. One look at an ants’ nest and I go right off food. Think I’ve changed my mind about that Formicarium.

For another amusing ant story, read Zoe’s blog on Her ants beat her up!

Friday, 15 June 2007

Good news all round!

HEALTH NEWS. Well, I told my cold to bugger off, using my best, stern Barbara Woodhouse dog-training tones. It didn’t like it. Last night, it got its own back by punctuating my sleep with nasty, tickly, chesty coughing fits, but today I am BETTER! I’ve been out for the first time in three days and, apart from a few sinusy sniffs, I feel fine. So it’s 1 – 0 to Mind Over Matter.

FOX NEWS. Every night I have been putting out jam sandwiches laced with the homeopathic treatment that the National Fox Welfare Society sent me for free ( I hadn’t seen the little fox for several days and had started to fear the worst, but it trotted past the window this morning and I am thrilled to report that its fur has started growing back. Its body and brush have sprouted half an inch of fine ginger hair like baby fluff. It has only been on the treatment for ten days and NFWS recommend continuing the treatment for three weeks. At this rate of growth, it will look like a Lhasa Apso by then, with fur down to the floor. Perhaps I could enter it for Crufts

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Summer colds

Why are they always worse than winter ones? Why do they seem to hang around longer? Or it is that when it’s cold and wintry, you expect to get one, and when it’s warm and sunny you feel aggrieved at this rotten, unfair twist of fate?

When I went down with this two days ago, someone asked, “Why didn’t you use your own tip and tell yourself you hadn’t got a cold?” Answer: because it clobbered me IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! I awoke in the early hours, streaming and coughing, and felt too tired and miserable to try anything, be it echinacea or mind control.

Yesterday I took a Lysine capsule and 1000mg of Vit C. Today I have had 20 drops of echinacea and told the cold quite firmly that I have had enough of it and it is going. The Boyfriend has taken nothing at all for his. We’ll see who recovers first.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Clutching at (cheese) straws...

Something happened yesterday that made me take stock of myself. I have been trying to sell a house since January. (See pic of garden and conservatory and make me an offer, please! It's in sought-after East Finchley, just up the road from Highgate.) This poor house has been empty for most of the 18 months I have owned it. This is because I snapped it up quickly as it was cheap, and realised – too late – what its problems where. That it’s a fifteen minute slog back from Budgens with the grocery bags (I don’t drive - if you do, you can whizz to a Tesco in no time at all); that it’s on a very small council estate which, though very quiet with a resident caretaker, still carries that blight, the emblem of potential dodginess and trouble even though the caretaker informes me it's the safest estate in North London; and finally, most important of all for me, that is has no storage bar one cupboard and a loft which is crawling room only. Nowhere for all my boxes of books, stuff from my late parents’ place, still to be gone through if only I can find the time. Nowhere for the paintings and pottery I have collected over the years. Nowhere for a piano and my guitars. And above all, nowhere for an office, which is why I am still working at The Boyfriend's.

It has its virtues – lovely garden, big kitchen, nice neighbours but, as a full-time freelance writer and editor, office space is all-important. I need room for four two-drawer filing cabinets, desktop and laptop computers, two printers, one old but fast, for all the books I have to print out, and one slower, good for photos, and skype phone, headphones, various usb attachments, the multitude of stuff that makes the 'paperless office' require even more room than its paper-filled forerunner. And I like to overlook something pleasant while a work, a tree perhaps, something on which to rest the eye and calm the mind while trying to give some hapless beginner writer essential tips on grammar, punctuation and plot construction.

This house has two bedrooms, both of which are full of bed. The view is of a block of council flats. There is no fireplace with niches either side in which to fit shelves to house my books. In vain do my friends say, "Give them to a charity shop.” What? You must be joking. These books have been with me for years. They have comforted me in times of misery, made me laugh, sympathised with me, provided answers. They have been counsellors, therapists and gurus; their paper has blotted my tears; they have helped me travel the world (in my head), helped me time-travel back to days of Ancient Rome; made my erogenous zones throb in times when my sex life has resembled an oasis-less desert. They have probably saved my life. They are good old friends. Would you sell your best friend at a car boot sale, or give him or her away to charity? No way!

So – I have found out the hard way that modern boxes are not for me. I need spidery cupboards, groaning library shelves, mysterious but useful nooks and crannies. But first, I must sell my house and yesterday I thought I’d done it. Having dined on nothing but red wine and cheese straws the previous night, I was just on my way out to a morning coffee date when two pleasant middle-aged Irishmen appeared, one hippy-looking, with long hair tied back, the other with short grey hair and smart-casual, yet slightly old-fashioned looking clothes, the clothes of a man who kept a spartan wardrobe and prized cleanliness and comfort over trendiness.

They looked as if they’d just stepped off the set of Father Ted; the eponymous priest and his guitar-twanging brother. I liked their vibe. They seemed enthusiastic. I had high hopes that before the day was out, I would get an offer. And when I got back from an ammo-buying trip, moth murdering and ant assassination in mind, what should be waiting to greet me by the step but a lovely, friendly, purring black cat that obligingly crossed the path, then came back and rolled over to be stroked. “Are you my lucky black cat? Yes, you are, aren’t you?” I crooned, immediately deciding that if he were to adopt me, I would call him Omen.

But in the cold light of today I realise how easily I was led up the path of superstition, like so many millions of other poor mortals. What a stupid bimbo I was to believe that seeing a black cat meant I’d sold the house. Someone sneezed and coughed on me on the bus and now I have a cold. That wasn’t an omen, that was a virus reproducing itself, the dirty, filthy, amoral bastard.

But hang on… tonight there is a lottery draw. Now, about that black cat….

Death by Lycra

I’m typing this with streaming eyes, stuffy nose and a throat that makes me feel like an apprentice to one of those crazy performers who swallows broken glass. In my case, it didn’t go down but lodged in my larynx and all I can get out is a croak, and a barking cough like the ghastly dog from three doors down.

I am not putting up with it. I had to cancel an appointment with the personal trainer at the gym for the third time running as I haven’t the energy to walk to the bus stop, let alone show off my prowess on a dozen machines when my eyes are streaming too much to see whether I’m on wimpish Level 4 or big-bog-macho-hairy-chested Level 40.

Talking of the latter, the basement gym where all the muscle tends to congregate must have been closed the other day for suddenly the upstairs gym, that gentle space where those recovering from heart attacks, or those who, like me, haven’t exercised for years and are tentatively flexing flaccid flab, proceed at a staid pace on the treadmill and hang gasping onto the rotating arms of the cross-trainer, was invaded. Huge, sweating bears with biceps the size of Tube trains pumped weights with great grunts and loud exhalations. A swarthy Latin poseur in tight gym shorts and carefully gelled hair paused between the lat machine and the triceps push to parade in front of the mirror, slyly eyeing up the reflections of the females to see who was admiring him. It was not good. Perhaps this lurgy came to save me from death by lycra.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Staggering Slowly...


Every year I take part in a Stag Beetle watch. The species is on the decline in the UK due to loss of habitat. A few years ago it wasn’t unusual to see as many as 40 flying around on a warm evening in late May and mating on the grass, on the shed roof, in the bushes… The last couple of Mays have been disappointingly damp for the crucial days of the stags’ mating season but this year it warmed up in early June and we did see a few. The largest (see photos) was 7cms, a big beast with magnificent horns. If you see any, to contact and tell them the date and the location.

Last night I was invited to a barbecue in the garden of a fellow Stag Watch enthusiast. “There’ll be lots of them,” he assured me. I had my camera ready and my eyes glued to the skies. He lives near a cemetery which provides an ideal breeding ground. But we didn’t see a single one. Several glasses of wine and a large brandy later, I staggered home stag-less.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Liverpool Loo

My first memory of being ill goes back to when I was four. I can still remember the sound of the ambulance bell as it sped me to Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool. My temperature was 104F, I’d been sick and had stomach ache and was being admitted with suspected appendicitis. I can remember the 13-year-old girl in the bed next to mine. Her nightdress had caught fire and she was badly burned. I can remember being washed and prepared for an operation, then being told the x-ray results had come through and I didn’t have to have one after all as it wasn’t appendicitis.

The next thing I recall is being on an isolation ward. For a month. In a glass cubicle. Seeing my parents’ faces gurning at me through the window pane. And the cruelty of the nurses. Forcing me to drink scalding hot Ovaltine that would have burned my mouth and slapping me when I strained it through my cloth serviette to try and cool it down – very resourceful for a four-year-old, I think now. But they just punished me for my intelligent solution. Warning a nurse in advance that I was going to throw up and then being shouted at and slapped because they didn’t bring me a receiver and I chucked up all over the bed. I was four years old, for God’s sake! (I hear and feel that inner wail of, ‘It’s not fair!’ again.) I had dysentery. The bug was sweeping the hospital and I had been unfortunate enough to catch it while they were keeping me in for ‘observation’.

My month included the Christmas period. Father Christmas visited the wards. I was given a dolls’ tea set, tiny red plastic cups, saucers and plates. I hated dolls. I loved stuffed animals. I had brought my favourite with me, a nightdress case called Spot, a threadbarehand-me-down with one ear and one eye and half a nose and mouth, as he’d only been embroidered on one side. He was flat when not encasing a nightie, and he had a zip up his middle. Spot was my first real love, but they took him off me and burned him in case he carried germs. A few years ago, I read an article by Beryl Bainbridge in which she recounted a very similar experience, having her favourite toy burnt in Alder Hey because of germs. I wrote to her, commiserating, and she wrote back. I still have her letter.

When I was released from hospital, I was brought home and proudly shown a sparkly tree, tinsel and presents. My parents, sad that I’d missed Christmas, had staged a late one for me. Apparently (and I don’t remember this), I threw a tantrum and shrieked, “I want to go back to hospital!” My mother never forgave me. It was a wound she carried till her dying day. Thinking about it now, I suppose I was just disorientated. A four-year-old doesn’t use logic and reason, so Mum was being a bit hard on me there.

Could this attack of dysentery have been the start of all my stomach trouble? Or was it an inflamed stomach that landed me in hospital in the first place? Who knows? I had been diagnosed with acidosis as a child and my mother had been told that my stomach glands were producing too much acid. By the time I was a teenager, I was chugging Milk of Magnesia like an alkie on Special Brew. Curries upset me even back then. On Fridays, it was our habit to meet up in the pub and then go to the chipshop for a ‘six of chips’ (sixpence went a long way in those days) and curry sauce. That used to upset me but I loved the taste. Then when I got to university, I encountered my first Chinese and Indian dishes. More stomach ache. Especially when the owner of the Chinese was arrested for passing off Alsatian dog as chicken! Lord only knows what was in the curry. Students, probably. That would pay us lot back from diving out with a pocketful of poppadums and not paying the bill.

Friday, 8 June 2007


Today, I was supposed to travel to North London, which takes an hour and a half on various tubes and buses from where I live, to meet a friend who is 70 tomorrow and take him for lunch, but, once again, my stomach put the kibosh on my arrangements.

I blame it on the egg and cress sandwich I had for lunch yesterday. The crusts was so hard they were inedible and the filling tasted stale, but as a friend had bought it for me, I chewed (wo)manfully on. By the evening I was feeling queasy and couldn’t face dinner. This morning I awoke to turbulent rumblings as the Very Irritable Bowel reminded me of its presence. Several trips to the loo later, with a stomach that felt as if it had been kicked by a particularly bad-tempered mule, from the inside, I reached for the phone and disappointed yet another person. Of course, a couple of hours later and Dr Collis Brown's Mixture and a Yogi tea had done the trick, but by then it was far too late to set out.

This has happened too many times to count during the course of my life, though not always because of my disagreeable stomach. When I was seven, I was chosen from all the little girls at my infants school, to be Rose Queen in the Spring parade. How I was looking forward to it. My mother had made a beautiful dress in satin and lace and sewn it all by hand. Finally, the day of my stardom dawned. I woke up and was instantly aware that all was not well. In fact, that I was not well. Overnight, I had either been attacked by a mosquito – rare in Liverpool, especially in those days, although my dad brought back various strange things from the cargo ships he worked on, including fleas and a praying mantis – or I had developed…. Yes, it was indeed measles.

Crying bitterly, I was left in my bed while another little girl, Gillian, who was acknowleded to be the prettiest girl at school, wore my special dress and got all the glory. (The photo was taken the day after I returned to school. I think I look washed out, wistful and altogether disappointed by life.) Booker Avenue County Primary never did get a red-haired Rose Queen – though when I was chosen to play the Angel Gabriel in the Nativity play, my mother overheard another mother, whose offspring was disguised as the donkey, say: “Nonsense! Who ever heard of a red-haired angel?”

For my tenth birthday, a party was planned. I had looked forward for ages to the fun, the food and the presents then, lo and behold, I woke up to discover that either my bed had been infested with bedbugs in the night, or I had chicken pox. Guess which it was? All my guests were turned away at the door; I could hear the voices issuing up the stairs as I sobbed into my pillow. My wail of, “It’s not fair!” seemed more and more like a motto that had adopted me for life.

There have been taxis sent away at the door because I was too ill to go to the airport (stomach again), dinner parties where I wrecked the numbers by not turning up (stomach or migraine), and I few things that I have struggled to get to, only to have to lie down in a quiet, dark room while everyone else enjoyed themselves without me. Now, tomorrow, I have an appointment with the personal trainer at the gym. I can guarantee that I won’t be ill for that. No such luck!

P.S. This morning my dear boyfriend announced, “I suffer from IBS too.” “Really?” I replied. “I’ve never known you to have stomach problems.” “No, I don’t,” he said. “I suffer from Irritable Bastard Syndrome.” Oh, how true!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007


Despite telling myself to go to sleep last night, I couldn't I had too much on my mind, notably the house that is failing to sell. So around 1.20am, I got up and switched on the computer and began to investigate fox mange to see if there was anything I could do to help the little chap. To my amazement, I found which is the National Fox Welfare Society. They use homoeopathy to help cure the mange as, without treatment they say, mangy foxes won't survive more than four or five months. They supply Arsen. Alb in jelly form, to be spread on bread and put out for the fox in a sandwich. Can't wait to get it. I'll let you know of the fox's progress.

Apparently, one side effect of mange is that the fox is so distracted by the terrible itch (caused by a mite of the same family as that which causes scabies in humans) that it loses its natural fear of humans. That isn't true of 'my' little fox yet. They can also gnaw off part of their tails and inflict horrible injuries on themselves with their biting. Again, I can't see signs of this on this fox yet. So perhaps there is hope. He's such a game little guy. He had a field day last night with a bag ful of semi-thawed chicken legs left over from a barbecue. Thank heaven foxes can't get salmonella poisoning.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Food Orgasms

My surname rhymes with ‘greed’. When I was little, my mother used to say that Greed was what it should have been as I was famous for scoffing everything put before me, then, not surprisingly, getting a stomach ache. I can never resist the lure of seconds, or even thirds. It’s the taste and texture of food that appeals to me. The crunch of a well roasted potato, then the glorious breaking through to the soft, floury interior, gives me an orgasm of the teeth. The combined flavours of salt (Lo-Salt, naturally, though I crave sea salt and give in on occasions) and the juice of the chicken, lamb or beef that they were based in gives me an orgasm of the tastebuds. Thus one might conclude that food is often better than sex.

Two nights ago I was laid low by the very last roast potato. Five were left on the roasting tray and they were about to be slung onto the lawn for the delectation of the mangy fox. Even his brush is devoid of hair and his sorry condition makes him resemble that ghastly breed of furless cat, with a length of pink cartilage for a tail. He won’t survive the winter without fur so I am determined to feed him well and give him a good summer. However, my generosity didn’t amount to five roast potatoes, so I ate two more. Then one more. The fox got two and I hope he was grateful. Maybe it was his accusatory vibes that kept me awake all night, groaning and rubbing my tum.

In the morning, I had a coffee date I didn’t want to break as I had cried off last time when my ulcer was playing up. Scrabbling in the cuboard, I found a box containing one Yogi Stomach Ease tea. I drank it before going out and as I journeyed, I felt the discomfort gradually easing so that by the time my friend arrived, I was bright eyed and bushy-tailed (compared to that poor fox, anyway), if somewhat tired from having all of three hours’ sleep. I originally tracked down Yogi Teas on-line, after discovering a sachet in my sister’s kitchen in the Lake District. It had been there so long that she didn’t have a clue where she’d bought it. You can, however, find them in larger health food stores and I bought a new packet in a shop in Ealing, West London. I’m sure that they’re better for you than Ranitidine. Next time I need one, I’m going to try grating raw ginger into it and seeing if that makes it act faster, or produces a stronger effect.

By the way, I forgot to programme my brain to wake me at a certain time, so having woken once in a sweat because I fell asleep under two duvets, then again at 5.26 am when the damned blackbird started, I finally surfaced properly at 9.10. Having taken no sleep aids whatsoever, not even alcohol, last night, this was a veritable miracle.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

I did it!

Success! I woke at 8.30 on the dot and here is the evidence, taken four minutes later, which is how long it took for me to switch on my mobile and take the pic. Of course, one good result doth not a successful experiment make, any more than one swallow makes a summer or the need for a Heimlich manouevre, so I shall try again tonight and hope to have more good news tomorrow. As for the previous night, perhaps my lack of success was down to a bad stomach. Which is now better. Hooray!

What did Flad the Impaler drag in and demolish last night? The guts left on the kitchen floor were huge; the liver was bigger, in fact, than most of the mice he catches. Was it a very big rat? There was no fur left in evidence. A squirrel? He usually leaves everything from the bum and tail down, having a penchant for squirrel brains and ears. I have refrained from photographing the remains. It is Sunday after all and I have no desire to make you spew up your bacon and eggs all over your copy of the Observer or the Sunday Telegraph. If you’re reading the News of the World or the Sunday Sport, spew away, you won’t notice the difference.

Mention of the NOTW takes me right back to a distant summer holiday in Wales. I was about 10 and my family were sharing a cottage with stuffy ex teacher and magistrate Auntie Edie and lecherous Uncle Ste who was always groping my mum. The Sunday newspapers were brought to the village by van and Dad gave me a coin and asked me to get a Sunday Times or, failing that, the Express. The van man, very Welsh, had sold out of both. “I haff the People or the News of the World, cariad,” he told me, singing the words like a baritone in a male voice choir. News? World? That sounded intellectual enough for me, so I handed over the coin and got a few pennies in change.

I skipped happily back and presented my booty but the reception was not as happy as I’d expected. In vain did I protest that they’d sold out of their favourites and I’d used my intelligence to buy something that sounded a bit dry and boring, perhaps, but would nevertheless match the intellect of my relatives. “How could you bring that disgusting rag into this house? What will your Auntie Edie think of us?” chided my father.

“But it’s a NEWS paper,” I protested.

“Yes,” said my mother, “it’s all news about convicted vicars and pictures of naked women.” Uncle Ste would love it then, I thought bitterly. The whole experience only added fuel to the protest that, according to my mother, had been on my lips since I was born and has been my leitmotif ever since: “It’s not fair!”

P.S. Vesuvius is not quite so glowing this morning. I spent an hour in the sun yesterday and the rest of my nose has caught up with it.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Of Birds and Biliousness...

Oh God. Oh bad! Oh woe! Oh no… So much for the internal clock. Rather than waking at 8.30 am, I woke at 5.06 precisely and knew straight away that something was wrong. It wasn’t the lack of ear-splitting blackbird on the branch outside the window. It wasn’t even the crow having a row with the magpies who were tap-dancing on the roof. It was my stomach.

I’d woken from a nightmare in which my brother (in the dream, I haven’t one in real life) had ripped the front door from my flat which, rather improbably, was a council flat in a tower block overlooking the beach. I must have looked at too many of those websites recently showing horrid concrete beach developments in Spain and Bulgaria. With no door, I was invaded by surly hoodies and painted bimbettes who started having a party and stealing everything in sight including (ultimate horror) my mobile phone. Then fire engines rolled up. There was a fire in a higher flat. Scorched people with smoking clothes came whooshing down a thing that was a cross between a bouncy castle and an aeroplane emergency chute, to crash-land on the beach as the chute ended about ten feet from the ground.

It was a classic anxiety dream and I awoke with heart pounding and stomach churning. The heartbeat calmed down but the stomach went on churning, and still does, in ever more bilious heaves, as I write. The cause for my discomfort might just be the fact that, last night, in the space of a couple of hours, I introduced my stomach ulcers to a veggie pasta with roasted pine nuts and lots of cheese, two glasses of red wine, some chocolates, a brandy and a banana, not necessarily in that order. When will I ever learn?

I shall keep trying to set my internal alarm clock though. Perhaps, if it hadn’t been for the ballets being performed on my roof and in my stomach, I might have first seen the light at 8.30, who knows? Oh, and the spot on the end of my nose is worse. It’s getting a head on it. Or should that be, my head is getting a nose on it? Oh Lord. Pass the Prozac.

Talking of birds, if you're an ornithologist, the outer city suburbs is the place to be. As well as the usual suspects, there was a heron on a tree, 22 parakeets on the same one a few days later, a green woodpecker attacking an ant heap three days ago and last summer I saw my first ever spotted flycatcher. Bill Oddie has nothing on me. I used to live near him and Hampstead Heath is a great place for twitchers. I was walking down a woodland path, just off the main road, when a kestrel swooped down and snatched a small rodent almost from under my feet. I was far more scared at the thought of a vole beneath my sole than a 'falco tinnunculus' round my ankles.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Experiment #1

I thought you might like to know how it went. Book down, specs off, earplugs in at around 12.03am. "I am going to sleep now," I told myself. "I will wake up at 8am."

It took a while, twenty minutes perhaps, but I did fall asleep with no artificial help other than a glass of red wine during the evening. Then I woke up. It was light. Took my earplugs out. The birds were singing. Looked at the clock. 5.26am. Damn!

Earplus in, sleep mask on and next time I awoke it was quarter to nine. I missed my target on both sides with quite a large margin. But never fear, I shall try again tonight. Anyway, perhaps I am naturally aligned to the time of another country. Turkey, perhaps...