Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dreams from my mother?

I recommend Barack Obama's Dreams from my father. It is the best political autobiography I will ever read, never mind have ever read. Anyway my mother has just won the Alan Hurst award for outstanding achievement in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Joe and I are very proud of her. It feels like a bit of a turning point actually. Mum was a bit worried about the video they did as part of the process. In our family we tend to be less articulate orally than on paper. None of us are that great at getting job interviews for example. I think it might be because we're too honest. Anyway Mum managed to stick a bit of a political point in at the end of the video apparently. She said something about recognition for some of the most discriminated groups - people with mental health problems. For the past fifteen years or so Mum has been working, voluntarily, back in the Staffordshire Moorlands helping people with mental health problems, the housebound and the rurally impovershed. She's set up Lord knows how many charities, raised goodness knows how much over these years. Finally it's been acknowledged and rewarded. "History Live" is a charity she set up with others in our village which helps record and chart history - they have gone back thousands of years making sure all the Tumulii are in the right places amongst other things. "History Live" was a charity that was set up in memory of our dear friend and neighbour, Helen Rowland, who was Ann's Mum, my village childhood friend in Hollinsclough. Helen died, very prematurely, when we were thirteen. Almost all of us will get some sort of mental health problem - it's bound up with physical health a lot of the time. Helen, Mum and I have all been affected. Mum also set up "Borderland Voices" which has helped people with mental health problems - through creative writing, art, reminiscence and gardening. Unlike Barack Obama, I don't have to have dreams from my mother. She is here, doing all this stuff and it's a reality. Thanks Mum.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Drowning and suffocating in grammar

As many of my regular readership will know, (that's a nod to you, mum) I am completing an MA in contemporary British history. The feedback I've received from my tutors has been most instructive: I have to improve on my grammar. It's a long, slow process. I have spent the entire afternoon devouring the latest books on the topic from Chapel Allerton library; to be honest I am not sure it has helped. I will cut a long story short: I am ok on sentences I think (they recommend short ones); I'm fast learning when to use a semi-colon (I plan to use it more, as a long comma); if I use a sentence, such as mum saying this morning, "I will look at your transcript later, darling" it is in the same paragraph. Longer, quoted paragraphs are indented - without speechmarks. The UK system uses double speechmarks, like so, "blah". In the UK you put the punctuation inside the speechmarks, "Anna said her mother, 'Congratulations!'" There is no need to then put another fullstop in after that. I've tended to overuse capital letters for nouns and under-hyphenate. But I am in very good company. The greatest writers all used to do this. Shakespeare's grammar was appalling. And various other greats. They (the grammar-experts) don't like sentences beginning with "and" and "but". Shame. But I disagree. Lynne Truss has undoubtedly cheered me up. I almost went onto facebook and started commenting on people's grammar where they've cocked up. Tomatoes does not have an apostrophe. But then I realised: I have a life. OK, it's a life transcribing interviews and reading the Guardian where they no longer italicise the names of books and journals. Yet, I do have a life. A pretty good one.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Planting seeds indoors

As a career break present, my work colleagues bought me twenty five pounds worth of book tokens. I have spent four months deciding which books to purchase. Obviously dementia/history/theory or some brilliant combination of the three would have been good, but quite frankly if it all goes horribly wrong I don't want to be stuck with expensive books which will be impossible to palm off onto friends, relatives or the gullible E-bay public, not to mention the freecyclers. I finalised my collection for the twenty five quid yesterday. A vegetable and herb expert from Dr Hessayon. A FREE vegetable notebook from Dr Hessayon. A BBC Gardeners World 101 tips for vegetable gardening in a small patch. An aromatherapy book and a reflexology book. These books I will probably refer to for the rest of my life. I may well use a dementia history theory book as fuel if it gets too cold in the coming years as I experience old age psychiatry meltdown. Today I was furiously referring to the books. I mistakenly bought some runner bean seeds a month prematurely. I have given some courgette seeds I bought to someone as a present. Anyway one of the great tips in the GW book was to use old toilet rolls as plant pots for pea or bean seeds. I have planted six white sweet pea seeds in those. I have also planted six Leaf Beet (aka Spinach) in yoghurt pots. Other garden and plant news: The no-wind in Leeds situation only lasted one day. It was cold and blustery today; I think the Yew I saved (by planting it) is still alive; I have brought a dying lemon plant back to life, with fertilizer; remarkably the Red plant-which-everyone-gives as-a-gift at Christmas is also still alive. Again fertilizer was the trick. It was too cold to do any gardening outdoors today. I finished transcribing another interview. Very pleased with myself for that. The poppies and tomatoes which I planted indoors about a month ago still don't appear to have germinated. The nasturtiums, sweet peas and purple basil are rampant. Worried about the carrots. They are alive, but my new books advise me that they are too close together. I will have to 'thin some out'. IE kill some. It feels so cruel and wasteful. I keep on promising myself to religiously learn the plant names. Indoor and out.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I have decided that one of the most useful things my blog can be is a garden log. A glog. Today was a beautiful sunny day in Leeds - with no wind whatsoever which is tres, tres, tres unusual. I planted the shrubs that my neighbours gave me (in exchange for slabs). I planted a conifer that Joe the bro gave me a few Christmases ago at the front. I repotted the acer (not very well and hastily). I moved the flowering pots of bulbs closer to the house and turned them around so I could see them - minature daffodils, some small blue bulbous plants and a primose which is in a pot which Mr P gave me with his mosaics on. I also potted some of the plants that Mum gave me which were surplus to requirements in the Hollinsclough jungle. I vowed again to start learning the names of all my plants. This is a long job. I moved my 'fruits of the forest' to in-front of the living room window. In May it flowers. I spent about five hours stabbing, knifing and generally being very unpleasant to dandelions. They germinate in between the concrete at the front. Eastertime they flower so I've made sure this year they hopefully won't. I also planted the two trees which I have already forgotten the names of which I bought for eighty pence in Leek on Saturday. One was a rose which isn't a rose and the other is a Rowan of some sort. I also planted some fairy-like plants whose name escape me for a second. They're in the flower fairies book. They're small with flowers like little dragon-heads. Anyway they are also in the front bed ready for their summer flowering. I raked up virtually the last of the leaves. I now have about twenty bags of leaf and dead-dandelion mulch-mould in black bags underneath the sycamore. A good day's work. Justified because Phil was fixing the new internet provider up. Sorted.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I am thoroughly enjoying transcribing (typing up) the half dozen or so oral history interviews I've completed so far in my history of dementia. The work is a great distraction from watching or listening to any news. I have banned myself from listening to the Today programme or watching the Daily Politics. With the MA, all I have to do is take the raw material and write an easy to read, accessible, well structured, planned and argued document or two. But even if I fail this latter task at least the raw material exists so that Mr Nibberty Nob-McNobabet who comes along in the year 2076, when this recession may well be over and his levels of calm (having understood recent economic insanity) are much lower, can quote from the stuff I've gathered to refute and challenge whatever I write in the next few months. I am actually trying to get the interviews in the British Library Sound Archive, although a bit of quantative easing from the Bank of Catland seems more likely. In fact introducing cat biscuits as the new currency might help with the feline obesity epidemic in our household.

A few of the other irons in the fire are coming home to roost as it were, although until the horse is well within the enclosure, with the stable door firmly closed, I won't be counting those chickens just yet.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sebbie's Mum's pre and post- Mothering Sunday recipes: The necessity of nurturing

Had a lovely weekend cruising around offloading myself on to various friends and relatives. It made me realise the importance of nurturing people and the relationships you have with them. I am going to try and carry on putting recipes on my blog. Connie's Inauguration Salmon and Election Parsnip Soup were great successes - filed in chronological order according to a memorable date means that I can find them easily - and have been doing so. One of the other great cooks in my life gave me these recipes. Hopefully she will get a more upmarket meal a week on Sunday for the day in question!

chicken and tarragon pie
15 mins "doing", then about 45 mins in the oven
2 chicken breasts
an onion (diced)
a clove or two of garlic (chopped)
2 handfuls of mushrooms (sliced)
a pot of crème fraiche (low fat is fine)
a chicken stock cube
a good healthy shake of dried tarragon (maybe a tablespoon?)
frozen pastry (I prefer puff, but shortcurst would probably do)
chop chicken into chunks and fry in a little oil over medium heat. When nearly cooked through (about 5 mins), add onions. Once onions have softened (about 2 mins) add garlic and mushrooms and turn to low heat (add more oil if pan looks very dry or anything is sticking). After about 5 more minutes sprinkle over stock cube and fry for 30 seconds then add the crème fraiche. Cook, stirring, over low heat for a couple of minutes and then add tarragon. Cook for about another 5 mins to make sure flavours all mix. taste and add salt and pepper if you want (once you are happy with the recipe you can experiment by adding a class of white wine).
Pour into a ceramic dish (like you do a lasagne in). Roll out the pastry and lay it over the top. You can brush it with egg or milk if you want.
Put in oven at about 180 for about 40 mins, or until the pastry has browned (and risen if puff).
I tend to serve with green beans or peas or broccoli, and sometimes boiled pots though they're not really necessary with the pastry.


2 eggs
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
cooking oil
about half a pint of milk
mixed herbs (herbes de provence or other mixed green herbs)
an onion
red wine vinegar
a glass red wine
a couple of spoons of brown sugar
a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar
about 5 minutes "doing time", half an hour "resting" then up to around 40 minutes cooking
Put the flour into a big plastic bowl. Break in the eggs and mix in with a whisk. It should make a big thick guey clump (if it is too runny, add a little bit more flour). Gradually add milk little by little, mixing furiously as you do. The mixture should gradually become more liquid (if you get lumps, just stop adding milk for a moment and beat harder). Keep adding milk until it's about the consistency of double cream. Add a tiny drop of cooking oil and some salt and pepper and mixed herbs. Set aside for about half an hour
When you set the batter aside, make the onion marmalade. Thinly slice the onions and put in a pan with a knob of butter and some olive oil, over a low heat. The onions will slowly sweat down (but shouldn't really colour - if they start to sizzle or go brown the heat is too high). After about five minutes, they should have reduced in size and gone all floppy. Pour in about a glass each of red wine vinegar and red wine, and a quick slosh of balsamic.
At this stage, put the sausages into a casserole pan or clean baking tray in the oven at about 180-200 to brown.
Let the marmalade slowly simmer away, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
Once they're browned (maybe 10-15 minutes), pour in the batter mix and stick straight back in the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
When the marmalade has been going for about 20 minutes, add a couple of desert spoons of brown sugar, stir through and leave to carry on slowing bubbling away. If it starts to look dry, add another splash of either wine or vinegar and taste to see if you need more sugar.
When the timer goes off, have a quick peak at the toad in the hole to see if it's done. When cooked, it should be risen and brown. Try to just look really quickly and not leave the door open too long as if it's not quite done it can collapse if it's in a draft.
I often just serve the toad in the hole with a big dollop of the marmalade on the top, we will have 3 sausages each (Richie will sometimes have 4!). If you want to be healthier it would be nice with pretty much any boiled veg. Sweetcorn is very quick - you could just pop a can of sweetcorn in a glass bowl, pour over boiling water, cover with clingfilm or a glass plate and microwave for 2 minutes. You can do much the same with frozen peas.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about nostalgia recently. Studying dementia and its various non-drug treatments one starts to meditate on the issue. People respond to happy memories and associations, the more they involve all our senses - like touch, taste and smell the more likely (if it's a happy memory) they will respond. But we've been taught on our course to be very wary of nostalgia. Harping back to the good old days. It can make you forget the hardships people had to endure.

On the other hand, if a old farmer now seriously ill can get some comfort from playing with some hay, if an older woman gets a lot from her strawberry jam breakfast, what on earth can possibly be wrong with that?

I want to set up a museum of nostalgia - so the pleasant smells, tastes, colours of memories that people associate with the happy memories of their childhood can be experienced again. Sentimentality isn't a bad thing, as long as we're not sentimentalising about fascists. In fact in my filing system it's a category.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lunching at the British Library

I'm starting to wonder if the economic news can actually get any worse. Short of

Study Skills

knowing yourself. Treating symptoms, minor ailments, adjusting action plans. sickness.

Pain management. Nausea.

aromatherapy, acupressure
meditation, running. make bread (lick the spoon of manuka honey)
cups of tea - sugar. Lunch with salad and no potato.

Tidy up.

Acupressure: wrist, forehead, stomach and knee

Aromatherapy: frankinscence, clary sage, rosemary

Exercise - running, yoga. Shoulder stands

Commas - do not use. Hyphens; over used. apostrophies - learn the correct way. Speech marks. Got to learn the UK way. Full stops. Yes please. More sir.

Sentences. short.

Give yourself an achievable task each day.

A list of words. Words, sentences, paragraphs.