Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Mental Health - Part 1

The space we occupy inside our head is the only place that no-one can ever reach. It is Man's most private area - it can be guessed at, but no-one, not even the most sensitive and intuitive observer or professional, can ever actually know the words, the thoughts, the emotions that pass through someone else's mind. At its best it is the space where we can be truly free, where we can think those blissful, private thoughts that no-one will ever know (unless we choose to tell them). Our imagination can run wild and we can be the most happy, successful person we might ever want to be. Yet while it can be the most positive of spaces where hopes and dreams are nurtured and examined and explored, where insights, analysis and intelligence are born and developed, it can also be the deepest, darkest of places. It can be the loneliest place in the world.

Fifteen years ago I was diagnosed with chronic depression. It had crept up on me over the years, life dealing me various blows which bit by bit built up into an insurmountable wall behind which I could no longer see the light and over which I had no energy left to jump or to smash it down. None of my experiences were exceptional - it was just a slow drip feed of events which built up inside me, sapping my energies, my self-confidence, my self-esteem and my sense of self. When I looked in the mirror I did not recognise my reflection. The light in my once sparkly eyes had dimmed and left me looking empty and sad. Where had that positive, cheerful, confident, singing-around-the-house, optimistic person gone? The one who embraced life, in all its possibilities, who loved people, who loved learning, who loved just being alive? Where had I gone?

It is quite scary to accept that you are no longer who you once were, especially if it is a negative change and one you hadn't contrived or ever imagined. It happens to so many of us, and is on the increase daily in this modern, stressful world which never stops spinning and demanding. There is no resting place, no hiding place. Life is full-on, in-your-face, 24-7. This is not healthy. This is not what life should be.

I have at least two family members who have suffered with depression, beyond myself. Another has just been added to the list. Mental health is currently slowly making its way to the surface of society from the depths of the abyss. It will finally find it's moment in the sun. It's been a long time coming and we must embrace this opportunity to let it shine like a beacon in this world we have created. 'Progress' never comes without a price. Currently that price is the cost to our mental health. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Still Dancing

It's past midnight and I'm sitting in my kitchen with a glass of wine and listening to some tunes wondering where the time has gone. Two of my teenage girls are out at an end of A levels exams party (aka massive messy piss-up) while the third is tucked up in bed getting some zeds before another long hard day at the Donkey Sanctuary shovelling shit (work experience...preparation for life...Lord knows, there's a lot of shit shovelling to be done). It's strange but I have an intense feeling of sadness. The social media feeds will be full and throbbing - endless photos of young people enjoying the time of their lives. It never comes without pain and heartache, but their lives are ahead of them and they're enjoying the moment. When you're nudging ever closer to the Grim Reaper, which I now undeniably am despite much head-in-the-sand stuff, there seems such a bitter-sweetness to their unbridled joy. It seems like yesterday that I was in sixth form, one of the best and most formative times of my life, for sure. Yet here I am 36 years down the line feeling that I want to be at the party too. Not literally, of course (I'd be chucked out!), but the one where I'm 18 too. It's so hard when they're taking the piss about me being interested in their lives and their gossip and all their friends. They just think I'm a weirdo. And yes, I am of course living vicariously. But how can you not when you were 18 once upon a time and now have three children to rub your nose in that small but significant fact?

It's impossible for children to ever imagine their parents the same age as them. But you know what, kids? We were once. We genuinely were. And the worst bit of getting old is that in your head you probably still are. The flesh may wither but the spirit never dies. So when they get embarrassed at your dancing and tell you to get out of the room cos you're 'ruining the vibe' that really hurts. They don't know that and they can't understand it yet. One day they will. Just like I know that my mother's 80 year old body is letting her down, but she still likes to dance. It will be a sad old day when that urge has finally left us, but I think even the oldest of the old still like to dance...and if you've lost the urge to dance, then you've probably lost the will to live. The music may change but the rhythm's in us all. It's as old as the hills, as old as time.

Talking of which, it's probably time to turn the music off now and go to bed. At least I won't have a hangover tomorrow morning, but I'll enjoy hearing the stories and I'll still be wishing I was 18 again. Will I ever get used to the fact that there's no turning back the clock? I doubt it.

Monday, 12 June 2017

General Election 2017

I am no politician but I do have eyes and ears and (currently) a functioning brain which compels me to write down my observations, for my own benefit if no-one else's:-

The Conservatives are now in deeper chaos than they ever were (and certainly as deep as Labour has been too); and with the naive aim to take us into 'hard Brexit' negotiations with the country more fully behind her by calling a General Election, our Prime Minister has thumped a massive own goal into the back of the net.

Meanwhile middle-class 'Remain' voters turned out in their droves to vote Labour thankful that they had been gifted this golden opportunity to undermine the government's Hard Brexit strategy, as did the Youth vote which had been slow to get out of its bed for the Referendum not believing that the EU they had grown up in could be taken away from them so easily. Equally, traditional blue-collar Labour voters who had voted Leave in the Referendum and had perhaps shifted votes over to UKIP prior to the Referendum result, were delighted to feel they could go back to putting a cross in the Red column given that the Leader of the party was a hard-line supporter of the Unions back in the 1970s and advocates re-nationalisation of many of our public services.

So....in one fell swoop, this is what's happened:-
- the democratic result of the EU Referendum has been undermined
- our Government doesn't know what's up or down
- we are the laughing stock of Europe
- with the rise of Corbyn, UKIP is a dead-in-the-water party (which is bringing Farage crawling back out from under his American stone)
- and, most ironic of all, the two extremes of Labour voters both voted Labour for opposing reasons: the one to uphold all that is British and to return to a Britain where Britons are in control; the other to try and undermine the very decision their fellow Labour supporters from, dare I say, somewhat less privileged backgrounds, had voted for barely a year ago.

Quite where we go from here is anyone's guess. 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

A Minute's Reflection on a Virgin Train

11am, Thursday 25th May, 2017

We have just had a minute’s silence on the Virgin train down to London for the victims of the Manchester bombing. I focused my mind not just on the pain of the senseless losses that innocent people have endured - none more than the loss of a child - but on the belief that the Good in the world will overcome the Evil. If collectively we all hold this as our intent in our mind’s eye we might yet achieve what currently seems impossible. While we appear to be sliding into the second era of The Dark Ages, history informs us that Enlightenment follows at some point. We usually have to reach rock bottom to be able to climb back out from the dark depths towards the light. If humanity collectively has this as its goal, its belief, then perhaps it will be achievable. It may not be in our lifetimes, but it will be in someone’s. It is currently humanity’s greatest challenge but we must believe it is possible. 

This will not be achieved by fragmentation. As a society we have become so focused on the Individual, or at best in the small world around us. While I fervently believe that charity begins at home and that self-love is the start of all growth and generosity, the bigger picture must never be lost. Individual communities and countries must be allowed to sort out what works for them, but all of us must have an Overview of the world, a planet spinning in infinite, unfathomable Space that we all inhabit and which we should all love and nurture, as small parts in the collective whole. This does not necessarily mean economic globalisation and that 'bigger is better'. Small is best, but small needs to be a part of that greater whole - a functioning, effective, perfectly fitting piece in the world jigsaw. Forcing the wrong shape into the available hole is never going to give a harmonious picture - there will be lumps and bumps and the jigsaw will look awkward. This is where we’re at right now. We need to take a long hard look at the pieces that don’t fit properly and start moving them around till they find their rightful place. 

Freedom is at the core of civilisation but so are basic laws of Love and Peace. War never provides answers, only more problems. Love Thy Neighbour has never been more important. It is only with faith in man’s essential goodness that this battle will be won.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Call of the Coast

One of the few down sides of living in the UK's oldest National Park is its distance from our island's  coastline. I grew up in Sussex, born a skimming stone's throw from the English Channel. While one could never boast this as the UK's most beautiful coastline, it nevertheless has its charms: groyns, run-down Victorian and Edwardian piers with tacky amusements, sugary pink tooth-rotting Brighton rock, seaweed and tar-stained pebbles. I hear you gasping with envy! - yet the faded grandeur of the seafront villas, the intimacy of the cobbled Lanes of Brighton, the exoticism of Brighton Pavilion, the briny air of Rottingdean with its rock pools and crabs, the imposing chalk white cliffs linking England with France (a common land sliced and separated some millennia ago) seeps into your soul and stays firmly lodged till the day you die. We all have somewhere we call 'Home' and for me it has to be Sussex. I have travelled and lived far and wide but as I walked a few weeks back by the banks of the river at Cuckmere Haven towards the blue of the English Channel, I have never felt more connected with the land of my birth.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Fruits of the Forage - A Culinary Wander Through Our Woods And Gardens

I was excited when I first read the Taster Menu on the ‘Fruits of the Forage’ Facebook page for the February Wild Food Club meal. Our experience the other Monday night at the Poacher’s Inn in Bollington, East Cheshire, did not disappoint. In fact it confirmed categorically that the humblest of ingredients, in skilful and imaginative hands, can be elevated into something truly exquisite. 

This is how it read:—

Wild Garlic & Three Cornered Leek Soup, pickled wild garlic buds and wild seed foccacia.
Braised Pheasant & Morels
(V/Braised Cauliflower & Morels)
with spiced yoghurt, chickweed pakora and wild garlic naan
Hogweed Marinated Beetroot, pickled damsons, blue cheese, pear, dandelion leaves
Roasted Duck Breast
(V/Scorched Purple Sprouting Broccoli)
Kale, pickled cherries, crab apple and red cabbage, duck fat fondant potatoes
Northern Lemon Sorbet, frozen apple, wild stone liquor
Apple Pear Pastries, damson ice cream, damson gin sauce
Wild Sweets & Winter Warmer

I was fascinated to see how this was going to translate into reality. Too often you go to a restaurant and get excited by what’s on offer only to find the food on your plate turns out to be rather humdrum. By contrast, the food that arrived that Monday night at the Fruits of the Forest ‘pop-up’ restaurant was inspired. The flavour combinations were sublime, the execution faultless and each dish beautifully presented without being too fussy - such as the white china cup that cradled green soup bursting with leafy, garlicky flavour or the clear glass jar containing the zingy Northern Lemon Sorbet. 

Every course held a sensory surprise but one of my favourites was the hand-made chocolate truffles (‘Wild Sweets’) with a tiny berry in the middle of it which injected an orangey zesty burst of flavour into the mouth to contrast with the rich dark chocolate as you bit into it. 

I can honestly say that I enjoyed this tasting menu more than any restaurant food I’ve had in years. It was fresh, honest and superbly executed. What’s more, Fred was a charming and charismatic host, welcoming his guests as they arrived and introducing each course with an explanation of the ingredients, handing round tufts of hogweed or seeds of dock as he did. His chef, Ben, also spoke briefly at the beginning and end of the meal and both men were ably assisted by other Fruits of the Forage family members all working together as an impressive team. 

Fruits of the Forage began just a few years ago with an idea and a few pots of chutneys and jams from hedgerow finds. These humble beginnings then progressed to local market stalls but the quality of their product has now led to Good Taste awards and an investment in a dedicated premises with catering kitchen.

In these days of shortages of fresh produce from Spain and elsewhere, there seems no better time to be drawing on the natural ingredients which we can find down our own garden path. 

Fruits of the Forage host twice monthly Wild Food Clubs. For more information visit their Facebook Page and click on Events. 
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