Jam, Jam, Jelly Jam

Not to mention chutney.

I’m bored with being ill, let’s talk about nice things.

It’s that time of year again, preserving and storing the yummy things of summer to be enjoyed in the dark, cold days of winter. Every year I promise myself I will be adventurous and make loads of different things and while I do manage a few novelties, every year the same three staples come out of my kitchen, bramble jelly, apple butter and apple chutney.

My recipe or rather method, for bramble jelly is on here somewhere. Nothing really changes from year to year,  blackberries are still a wonderful natural and free food and they’re still vicious bastards. Every year I try a new, thicker pair of gloves and every year I end up dripping blood, scratched to ribbons and stained purple in unlikely places.

The only change I have made is I now put them in a plastic box with a sealed lid for a few hours after I’ve picked them. It is remarkable how many creepy crawlies emerge and pin themselves to the lid looking for an escape route and nothing puts you off a clotted cream and bramble jelly scone more than the presence of something leggy embedded in the sweet purple yumminess..

Apple butter and apple chutney are going to be a bit more of a problem this year. Ever since we moved into this house the apple tree in the garden that backs on to us has hung its unpruned branches over our wall and dropped piles and piles of wind falls into our lawn and every year I gather them up, cut out the bruises and the bugs and turn them into apple butter and chutney,

This year the behind neighbours have FELLED my apple tree!!! Okay, it was their tree, it was rotten and it was trying to bring down the wall, but that is not the point, where am I going to get free apples now? I’m trying not to mutter and I’ve started training binoculars on other neighbours gardens. I think I’ve spotted a tree a couple of doors down. so the time may have come to take an offering of cake there…just to be friendly you unbderstand,

There are as many recipes for apple butter on the web as there are apples on a tree. Find one you like and give it a go, its a great resource, it can be eaten on bread like jam, made into a pie or even eaten as it comes with cream or poured over ice cream. I once served it at a posh dinner party with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon shortbread biscuits, I could say it wasn’t a triumph, but I’d be lying.

Apple chutney is also not something I can give you a recipe for, because it varies every time I make it depending on what sugar is in the larder, what vinegar (I avoid malt) and what dried fruit and spices are left over. Cook chopped apple in vinegar and sugar adding what you like, chilli, allspice, cinnamon, cloves…the spicy world in your oyster and your choice of dried fruit. Last year I used white wine vinegar, soft light brown sugar, dried figs and apricots and allspice. You cook it until a wooden spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line and then pot it. Do NOT be tempted to try it, it will taste harsh and you will want to cry, but if you leave it for a couple of months it will mellow and mature into a gorgeous product that goes wonderfully with cheese, ham and pork.

Don’t waste what the sun and the good earth have provided, preserve it, but always leave some for the birds and the animals who will need it to survive the lean times that are now just around the corner.

 

Hurrah, Hurrah MS

Weird title I know, but bear with me.

The first thing you need to know about me is that I have the self worth of a house brick. The reasons for it are ancient and boring, but my default position on almost everything is “its my fault.”  So when I started to have trouble walking I put it down to spending way to much time at a computer screen….so it was my fault. When I started to get blurred vision, again it was too long looking at a screen, so it was my fault.

I’ve always been a big girl, dieting was a series of yo-yo events (although I have now found one that works and stays working), but I am overweight and as all the doctors and the media tell us, being overweight is the cause of many problems. So my increasing dependence on walking sticks, the pain in my legs, the burning sensations and the inability to raise one of my feet was my weight, my lack of moral fibre made me fat so all of that was my fault!

Then my bladder got to be a problem, but I’ve had two babies and everyone knows natural childbirth can bugger up the water works if you don’t do your pelvic exercises afterwards. Obviously I hadn’t done them enough, so equally obviously all this was, as usual, my fault.

Why, you ask, didn’t you take all this to your doctor? Because they might look at me with pitying contempt, then they would sigh and give me another diet sheet and tell me I needed more physiotherapy despite the amount I’ve done over the years. Obviously I’d not done enough or done it properly and who do we think is at fault for that. I couldn’t face hearing someone with knowledge confirming everything, all the time I stayed away, shoved pain killers down my throat and shut myself in the downstairs cloakroom to cry, the safer I was from the accusatory finger, the sad shaking of the head and the unspoken “what the hell did you expect, you stupid woman!”

At this point I must add a point and a confession…the point is that about fifteen years ago I started having a problem with my right eye…only the right. I had an MRI and was diagnosed with optical neuritis. I lost thirty percent of my field of vision and ended up red/green colour blind in that eye, but that was all…no-one said anything else, no specialist or GP said anything about it, but I googled it and found a reference to it being a possible symptom of multiple sclerosis, but I had no other symptoms, so put it down as “one of those things.” I’m not a believer in the benefits of Dr Google, I think you can put in what you think is wrong with you and a common virus can come up as Ebola and scare the daylights out of you, so I don’t do it. .

Now the confession, despite what I just said, in the last few months I have been putting in what is wrong with me and the same answer has kept coming up

I think I can hear a number of you muttering “oh, for god’s sake!” at this point and, dear reader, you would not be alone, the person screaming “for god’s sake, woman!” the loudest is the wonderful man I’ve been married to for more years than I will admit here, but and its a big but as far as I’m concerned , that little voice inside me which is repeating its mantra of “don’t be silly, you know its not that, its all your fault, if you had sat on a better chair, if you had blinked more, if you had lost weight, if you had done the exercises etc etc

However, his screaming finally got louder than the bloody voice in my head and he got me to the doctor and yesterday we got the result.

I have MS.

I sat in the surgery and couldn’t stop crying, not because I’ve got MS, that is what Terry Pratchett called “an embuggerance”, but because none of it is my fault, NONE of it, there is nothing I have done which caused this and I need feel no guilt. I cry for joy and I think my doctor is going to add this to her “days for my memories” as she said, it isn’t often you tell someone they have MS and they are delighted.

I know for a lot of people this news would be devastating, but I’m not young and my children are long since grown up and are not dependent on me, so it is no more than the afore said embuggerance. I know there will be difficulties , but my husband is looking forward to a blue badge and me being in a wheelchair, so we go in the direction he wants to go and I’m not wandering off somewhere and I have my eye on a snazzy mobility scooter which I will use to plough a path through town.

I have MS, hurrah!

 

 

LGBT & Me

Today is my beloved J’s birthday. I won’t embarrass him (or me) by telling you how old he is. We are cousins, I can never remember if it is second cousins or first cousins once removed, but it doesn’t matter, he is so close to me in age and we lived so close too each other when we were children, he is more like a brother than anything else.

And I love him as if he were my brother.

He was always different from the other boys I grew up around. At the time I thought nothing of this, or if I did it was with relief, because he didn’t want to bully me into being the baddie in all games of imagination or doing the job no-one else wanted in all sport…I played street cricket and street football as a child, but never got out of goal or was allowed to be anything but wicket keeper, the two positions none of the boys wanted because it meant being a target or having to do all the running around collecting the ball.

He and I did lovely things together, we read books, did jigsaw puzzles and talked about history. We raised a family of guinea pigs,went fossil hunting at the family sand extraction pit and hid from our mutual great-grandmother who smelt terrible and had an evil Pekinese addicted to ankle biting. We had numerous collections of numerous things, each one a passing fancy which didn’t last, but which were deeply satisfying at the time.

When I was about nine and he was not much older, we were allowed to go roaming, it was a safer more innocent time. We had what were called “Red Rover” tickets which allowed you to ride on any red London bus anywhere you wanted to go for a whole day. Over the course of many school holidays we went up to London, two children wandering though a great city together. We went to Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Monument and Trafalgar Square. We looked at the Houses of Parliament and went around The National Gallery and every museum we could find. We went to The Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels and down Whitehall to see 10, Downing Street. I remember going to see Cleopatra’s Needle because it sounded so exciting and being very disappointed, because it wasn’t.

These are such happy memories, shining moments which have stayed with me through the years, lighting up the dark times.

But, things happen, families drift apart and when I was in my early teens and beginning to feel more and more vulnerable and in need of a friend, J’s family moved away and he was gone from my everyday life and I missed him so much and I was for a long time, very lonely.

I saw him occasionally after I left school and went out to work, but it was just fleeting lunch dates. He had become what I probably always knew he would become – clever, so much cleverer than me, intellectually brilliant and a complete and unashamed snob…in other words a totally adorable, impossible delight, although that might just be my opinion.

I got married and so did he. I had some of kids and so did he. We exchanged Christmas cards and the odd phone call, but he seemed distant, not my J, not quite the boy I loved so much. Every now and then I’d get a glimpse, but something had changed.

I hadn’t heard from him in ages, maybe a few years and I suddenly had a feeling all was not right, so I rang. I got his wife who told me she and J had split up and he had left. It took me a while to track him down, but my detective skills are pretty neat and I have no problems about lying to unsuspecting persons in offices etc.

When we finally spoke he told me he had left because he was gay, had always been gay and had always known he was gay and spent half a lifetime trying to conceal it. I’m not sure what reaction he thought he would get, knowing him I suspect he didn’t give a damn, but for me it was a wonderful moment, because everything I knew and loved about him now made sense. In that moment, J was again the “brother” I adored, he was back and one of the brightest stars in my memories was once again burning bright in my life.

And then a truly wonderful thing happened, J met D and married him. D was pure undiluted joy, a small round teddy bear of a man with eyes that twinkled and the warmest and happiest smile it is possible for a human being to have, to know him was to love him.

I think, in fact I know, many cruel and unkind things have happened to J over the years, but D’s early death was probably the cruellest and the hardest, but so much of that earlier unhappiness could have been avoided if he had been born at a time when being gay was accepted as being just as normal as being born straight.

Its fifty years since it stopped being a crime in England and Wales for men to be gay, a mere fifty years since one chunk of injustice and cruelty was stamped into the mud of history where it belonged. Think how much joy and happiness and loving relationships there might have been if it had never seen the light of day in the first place.

Happy Birthday J. XXXXXXXXX

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Dr Who and Me

I think every generation has its favourite Doctor, for me it was Tom Baker. The floppy hair, the wild eyes and the huge smile all made him different and exciting. I even knitted myself the scarf, all nineteen feet of it. No sooner was it finished than my kid brother nicked it and refused to give it back. He wore it for years and still has it, packed away from the moth to be an heirloom for his son. (And he says I’m the insane one  in the family).

Back to Dr Who. If you read my blog post “The Black Bat of Night”, you will know that I was a winner in a short story competition run by SFX magazine. It was while I was still wandering around on cloud nine and telling complete strangers all about it, I got an email from a publisher called Big Finish, they published a series of anthologies of Dr Who stories. They had seen “Maud: A Garden Tale” (now included in my new book “A Solemn Curfew and Other Dark Tales“) and…

WOULD I LIKE TO PITCH A STORY FOR THEIR  NEXT ANTHOLOGY !!!

Would I?

What do you think?

In case you’re thinking this is fan fiction, you couldn’t be more wrong. To begin with there are copyright issues, you can’t legally publish anything using the Dr Who characters or the TARDIS without permission. Secondly there are rules, very strict rules about how you portray The Doctor and stricter ones about the sort of situations you can put him in and the relationships he has with his assistants.

It was also hard work, much harder than I thought it would be, because no matter how well you think you know a character, you didn’t create him and getting your head around how they think and react is tough.

I did a pitch, which they liked, with amendments and then I started to write. And stopped and bought half a dozen old Dr Who DVD’s, watched them and began again. It had been a while since I had seen any Dr Who and I was surprised how just how much I had forgotten.

For various reasons, the story also had to be set in New Zealand and as I’ve never been nearer to New Zealand than Cornwall, so I also bought several guide books. It looks really beautiful and maybe one day I will be able to go there and see for myself.

And as this was also a Christmas Collection, it had to have a seasonal feel, so I decided turkeys were needed and did a bit of research on them as well. Not very bright your average turkey, possibly what they had in mind when they came up with “bird brained”.

As you can see, 5,000 words can required a lot of work.

Any way, after some editing and a couple of very sensible changes suggested by the editor,  “Autaia Pipipi Pia” came out in the 2008 collection “Dr Who. Short Trips: Christmas Around the World.” I’m not going to tell you what that means, but I will say it’s Maori, or at least my idea of Maori.

Have a look in “Books” section here and you will see the glorious cover designed by Grant Kempster.

I thought that was going to be the end of this adventure, but there was one last treat to go. Tom Baker was a guest at Comic Con in 2009 and unknown to me, my kids went and took my copy of the anthology with them and Tom Baker was kind enough to sign it for me.

So that is the story of how I got to write a Dr Who story and see it in print. I still get a buzz when I catch a glimpse of the book on my shelf.

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Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Fish

You knew it had to come!

I love to cook and I love to feed people, but we need to respect the things that provide us with food and the way its produced.

The first thing that needs respect is the land itself. Without being stupid about it, I try to buy organic. To be honest, apart from eggs, meat and milk, I don’t think you can tell a great deal of difference from the taste, even with veggies (sorry), but it is the care of the land and its long term ability to produce crops that should be the reason to buy organic.

If you eat meat and eggs then you should have a modicum of gratitude to the beast that provided it. At least allow them a reasonable life before you end it and use them. Respect, nothing more.

But fish is different.

All fish, except the farmed stuff is free range and organic and we are stripping the seas and waters bare! Traditional catches are down because stocks have been reduced to the point where they can’t reproduce themselves and the industry is turning to deep sea species.

Fish whose life cycle we don’t understand, but who probably have slow breeding rates. How long before they are reduced to near extinction levels?

I no longer buy marine fish. I’m not sure what the long term effects of farmed fish are, but it is a better option than lifeless oceans.

If we all gave the seas a chance to rest and the fish a chance to rebuild their numbers, there is no reason why a sensible harvest couldn’t be taken and continue to be taken, but not at the present rate of going.

If the fish go, so will all those other residents of the planet who eat fish. Whales, dolphins, seals and all those wonderous seabirds.

Next time you see a mountain of canned tuna, give a little though to just how many fish it took to fill those cans. And all the other can mountains in all the other supermarkets. And in all the supermarkets in all the other countries of the world.