Sloe gin while you can

P1050782-2If you’ve got an empty bottle, a blackthorn bush, probably best to get some gloves too and it’s looking like autumn, you’ve got all the ingredients to make sloe gin. Once touted as the poor person’s substitute for port, what was once a rural hobby has now become a serious spirit.

We can no longer rely on the first frost to start picking these purple beauties, because they’ll have come and gone, much like the blackberries who promised so much then wilted and bloated in the rain before I had so much as the chance to shout ‘Crumble!’ Bastards. Besides, you can get the same effect by chucking sloes in the freezer for a day or two – all you need is the skin to split.

Here’s what you need to know about sloe gin:

  1. Get the best gin you can afford, it’ll (no-brainer) taste better.
  2. Add the sugar to taste once you’ve cracked open your bottle/s (normally after a minimum of two months). Every harvest is different and every year the sloes will be sweeter / more or less acidic so it pays to wait and taste.
  3. Use a sugar syrup rather than granulated sugar so you can gauge the taste quicker and don’t have to wait for it to dissolve.
  4. Leave it for as long as you can – it’ll keep for a very long time and a vintage sloe gin can be a thing of exceptional quality. But if, like me, it’s for Christmas, it’ll be young and a little bit feisty so choose your mixer with care.
  5. Keep it simple: fill a bottle about a third full with the berries and top with gin. Turn or invert every now and then.
  6. Experiment with mixers and recipes, from Sloe Gin Martini and Hedgerow Royale to mulled sloe gin and a Sloe Gin Collins, there is life beyond tonic.
  7. Be patient.

Where to find recipes and cocktails:

craftginclub.co.uk/ginnedmagazine/2016/12/13/6-sloe-gin-cocktails-to-warm-up-with-this-winter

https://sipsmith.com/sloe-gin-cocktails-for-summer/

bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/easy-sloe-gin-cocktail-recipes

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A more writerly life

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I’ve finally been and gone and done it. I’ve applied and been accepted on a Creative Writing Masters with the OU. Two years’ part -time study on the internet is not ideal in my opinion, as I love the exhilaration of sharing work with a peer group (such as the fantastic Arvon courses) but the prospect of Middle East travel makes it my only choice.

Is it a waste of money? Would I be better off just getting off my arse and getting on with it rather than learning about it? I don’t know. I do know that it will give me some much needed structure and discipline and I’m looking forward to that. Hell, I’ve even prepped  a little corner or our shed to do it in (what the photo doesn’t show are the teetering piles of baby stuff behind the desk which we need to sell).

I’m well aware of the Hanif Kureishi piece in The Guardian that such courses are a “waste of time” (worth a read by the way). It’s expensive, I have a child to look after, a home to clean, dinner to make, and is there anything that can’t be learned from a good textbook or two? (I have many btw). Possibly not. But Kureishi’s accusation is based on the following statement about his students that, “it’s probably 99.9 per cent who are not talented and the little bit that is left is talent”. Sod the talent. If I want to get better at writing, I need to practise and to have lessons, as novelist Matt Haig agrees: “I could have 7,000 guitar lessons but I wouldn’t be Hendrix, though I would be a lot better than I am now.” Yes please. He continues, “Like most art forms writing is part instinct and part craft. The craft part is the part that can be taught, and that can make a crucial difference to lots of writers.”

It’s the “crucial difference” that I’m looking for when I pay to learn something. And yep, the first term’s £2000 has been paid with a student loan (welcome back my old friend) and I’m duly working my way through Derek Neale’s Creative Writing workbook in preparation for an October start date. But that’s not it, that’s only part of it, I’m still working on my own Cornish myths collection outside of the course and wrote a couple of haikus yesterday (go me), as well as my usual food blogs. I’m also desperately trying (and failing) to get up early and do my ‘pages’ but I’m not quite there yet.

Wish me luck. I’ll be posting regularly about my more writerly life which is all part of me being accountable for a daily writing schedule as well as sharing my experience of the MA. Here are a couple of haikus from the shed:

bomb

my head plodes imwards

beaten by chores, drowned in lists

til I swim again

wild

to be wild and feel

the moon whiten my face the

stars in my pockets

 

 


Chocolate: make your own seditious home brew this Easter

saffronbunny_food_blogger_cornwallChocolate advertising tells us a lot about chocolate itself and our attitudes towards the brown stuff (proletariat), the dark stuff (posh), the white stuff  (chocolate at all?).

When Cadbury’s substituted the usual sensual codes associated with chocolate advertising (a woman in a state of undress, optional dressing gown, obligatory bath with taps running and candles) for a gorilla, some drums and Phil Collins, it was clear that chocolate as a product had transcended conventional advertising.

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Socks and bras and all that shite

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A recent trip to Germany got me thinking, or rather it reaffirmed something I already knew: socks are pointless. Take that a step further: life is better without socks. Take that a leap further: life is better for women without bras, but we’ll come to that more controversial point later.

Someone somewhere at sometime thought that little L-shaped tubes of soft (often arbitrarily stripy) material (rarely 100% cotton these days) pulled on to our feet at all times made us more civilised. And if you live in Eastern Europe or Italy, then you believe like a law that not wearing socks will eventually kill you. And you will shout at your daughter-in-law for not putting socks on your one-year-old. Well Mr Sock, Eastern Europeans and Germans, I beg to differ. I hate socks.

What a sock can do, a shoe with an insole can do just as well and when the insole stinks, bin it and get a new pair. Or become a Cornish cliché and go flipflop. Or just go around on your bare feet. Yes, that’s right, bare skin, the stuff you were born in, it’s fairly useful. The only victory I will concede to socks is a long walk in hiking boots: you can’t beat a shin-hugging pair of real wool socks to make the experience all the more comfortable. A Sherpa wearing flipflops up to the summit of Everest could argue differently, alas, I can’t.

Take the concept of socks and apply to babies. If Mr Sock wasn’t having a laugh from whatever hosiery heaven he may now be residing in, then I have misunderstood the purpose of humour over the last 41 years. Keeping aforementioned items on tiny feet is akin to holding a poached egg in your hand (an analogy based on an accidental real life experience from this morning’s breakfast). It is impossible.

Yes I could buy Sock Ons and all will be well with the world. NO IT BLOODY WON’T! Why? Because then I will not only own a collection of teeny tiny socks but I will also be in possession of teeny tiny weird pieces of elasticated fabric that cover the teeny tiny socks that go on the teeny tiny person’s feet- how is this circle of absolute sockish hell not visible to the naked eyes of others?!

My solution – expose his little feet to the elements. This morning, the windy fingers of Storm Dodo caressed his tiny flat soles on the way to nursery and as far as I am aware, he is still alive. If you are concerned that they may not make it – can I advise a blanket, it wraps ever so nicely around teeny tiny feet to keep them warm. If not in possession of a blanket then a coat wrapped around the feet will do the job just as well.

And that brings me to bras, well, maybe not today, eh?!


Make it a Cornish Christmas list this year

Here’s why

“Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.” George Monbiot

I don’t intentionally trash the planet every year. But I do know that I buy Christmas cards, use wrapping paper, buy an advent calendar, pull crackers, eat excessively and log on to Amazon (not necessarily in that order).

I like to think however, that I buy my Christmas presents carefully. There are very few solar-panelled flashing bacon flavour single use novelty gifts on my to-buy list and I’ve told everyone point blank this year that they’ll be getting books. Or something Cornish.

So here it is, a list of the top ten Cornish gifts to massage your conscience this Christmas.

One: Buy something from Finisterre

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I’ve gone for the infinite scarf, mainly because I love the re-invention of the 1980s snood, but also because they talk about stuff that matters and actually do it. The Tolcarne wool is made and knitted in Portugal and the chunky generous knit ensures that the snood sits upright on the neck adding a certain Elizabethan drama to outdoorsy wear. In storm (a gorgeous deep turquoise) or oatmeal, this is a classy product that is also practical, a Finisterre USP. Top with a matching Tolcarne beanie to finish.

Snood £40, matching beanie £30

http://www.finisterre.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=tolcarne

Two: The film Brown Willy

Brett Harvey’s take on a stag do that goes somewhat awry between best mates has been likened to Cornwall’s own Withnail and I. A childhood friendship, hanging by a thread, plays out against the unrelenting savagery of Bodmin Moor. Expect profanity, nudity, head butting, illicit substances and some painful self-discovery and secrets, but most of all some heart-warming entertainment and a good laugh.

£7.99 DVD

http://www.brettharvey.co.uk/ – /brownwilly/

Three: Seaweed Seasoning set from Cornish Sea Salt

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Seaweed is big news, a little sprinkle on scrambled eggs and you’re halfway to your five-a-day. Blended with the mineral-rich natural sea salt harvested from the sparkling waters of The Lizard, the seaweed gift pack provides enough variety to experiment with nature’s own umami as well as giving you a healthy nutrient/mineral kick in preparation for all that Christmas indulgence.

£9.75

http://www.cornishseasalt.co.uk/seaweed-seasonings/

Four: A massage on the moors

seph

You’d be forgiven if you arrived at Bolventor and expected (willed) Ross Poldark to ride in beside you. Persephone Moir’s stunning “healing space” on the moor is definitely worthy of fiction, a granite studio filled with the scent of natural oils and an over-riding stillness. Seph is a master in bodies, specialising in holistic massage, pregnancy massage reflexology and much more. After a detailed consultation, lose your back pain to the sound of wind in the trees and regain a complete sense of self.

£40 per massage (Christmas vouchers available as above)

http://www.massageonthemoors.co.uk/

Five: Classic Cornishware

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It was once all about the blue stripe, now it’s anything from parma violet to russet red, racing green to jet black. Cornishware is the archetypal gift to bring back from a stint at the coast and one I drink out of daily. Go for the set of four, inspired by a box of old crochet balls, for a little local colour on the table at breakfast. For the boys Coloured Mug Set £40.

http://www.cornishware.co.uk/for-the-boys-coloured-mugs-set-12oz-34cl – colours

Six: Ruzza Farm

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If it’s to do with sheep, it’s all here, be it eating, knitting or (very) soft furnishing. The farm specialises in Romney sheep, known for their wool and meat and which can be traced back to medieval long wool breeds. The land is refreshingly managed for wildlife and there are also bees, hens and pigs on site. Not only does the farm offer lamb but also the rare opportunity of buying the much-neglected hogget and mutton (sheep over one year and two years respectively) which both have a more interesting and fuller flavour than lamb, as well as a more delicate texture.

Email hello@ruzzafarm.co.uk for more info on meat availability.

Seven: Cardamom vodka

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What?! I hear you say. Oh yes. From the same company that brings you cocoa nib vodka and Rock Samphire Gin, we bring you cardamom vodka. As to be expected: wonderfully warming yet spicy and citrus. Quadruple distilled for proper smooothness and so great it can be supped solo or combined for some great cocktail mixes. Cornish spring water, organic cardamom seeds and vodka. We like all of it.

From £19 (35cl) curiospiritscompany.co.uk

Eight: take her or him out to Truro’s latest booze establishment – The Sanctuary.

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The discerning David McWilliam offers top coffee and top tipples (take out or have in) to relaxed house music. We recommend two glasses of Billecart’s pink for a special Christmas treat at £15 each, a glass of the white £10 a go, or some very decent Prosecco for £5 a glass. Watch out for secret film evenings and wine tasting events.

https://www.facebook.com/TheSanctuaryTruro/

Nine: Rachel Fisher: reflexology

One of my favourites for all round health and wellbeing, Rachel takes the edge out of modern stress and gives you the opportunity to tune back in to yourself. She also offers hot stone massage, fascia massage and more. Based at the fantastic Children’s Clinic in Lostwithiel (opposite the doctor’s surgery), a voucher here will be a serious treat for a loved one. £40 a treatment.

http://www.childrensclinicforcornwall.com/about-us/associated-practitioners/

Ten: Camel Valley Pilsner

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Camel Valley make award-winning fizz and Sharp’s make some very fine beer. Together – it can only get better, let us introduce you to the latest Cornish bubbly: a Pilsner. After brewing, the lager is bottled in traditional champagne bottles at Camel Valley vineyards, reseeded with Brut yeast and aged for another six weeks. The result is a top quality Pilsner with a clean lemony fruit finish. On the Christmas list.

£22 (750ml)

https://www.sharpsbrewery.co.uk/shop.html


Baby-led weaning – a pile of w***?

unnamedHelp me out here mums and non-mums. Just so we all know what we’re talking about – baby-led weaning is giving your little one, from a very young age, whatever it is you happen to be eating (although some foods at a young age are still a no-no, best to check these) and letting them get on with it. Literally. A sort of finger buffet if you like. If you’re eating spag bol then you lump a pile of spag bol in front of them.

This theory is great in principle – babies get stuck in to lots of different textures and learn to eat unaided without a spoon being rammed down their gullet a la foie gras goose. But the thing is, I like spoon feeding my baby because I know how much he has eaten and quite frankly, I am not sitting around while he shuffles spaghetti bolognaise like Jackson Pollock urinating on a bad day. That is not eating. It is painting.

It’s taken me 8 months to properly try it and tonight I did. Driven by that bosom friend of mums the world over: guilt. It had been strongly suggested by the midwife that I should try him with spaghetti bolognaise, so I did. Not the full whack I admit – I did spaghetti with a bit of butter (no siree tomato sauce). Yes he touched it, yes he was being exposed to texture and no, he showed very little sign of eating it on his own. Because it’s spaghetti. Because it’s bloody hard to do even as an adult but even more so when it’s been cut up into slippery shards and lubricated in butter or sauce.

Being a parent already has several challenges and there is no way that I will now start adding to those by dumping impossible-to-eat foods in front of my little man, confident that this will give him a healthy appetite and a wide experience of different types of food. What a load of bollocks. He will experience a wide variety of foods because I will ensure that he does, I will also ensure that he eats enough so that I can get some sleep and that he doesn’t become miserable with hunger because he has spent tea-time chasing a pea with his thumb and forefinger.

And lastly – as if there wasn’t already enough physical labour involved in having a child, the baby-led weaning mummy has to wipe down their child, the chair, the floor and most likely themselves. Sod that. Yes he is more than welcome to munch on carrot sticks, bread sticks, apple chunks, etc but no, he will not be pissing food up the wall for the sake of it while he lacks the dexterity to do so. It is absurd so to think and so to do. Here endeth the rantissimo.

If anyone can offer any contradictory and useful opinions or advice on this thing that has now become a thing that we are all supposed to be doing, then I will listen. Until then, viva Ella packs and mummy-led feeding. Hurrah!


Our mate?

saffronbunny - food - blogger - cornwall

My mum once wrote a notebook of recipes for one of my brothers when he went to university. One of these recipes was entitled: Marmite on toast. Thereby making it a dish in its own right. Marmite on Toast. I laughed then. I wouldn’t now.

It should have read: Marmite on toast with Lots of Salty Full Fat Cornish Butter, and you’re almost there. Add in to the mix a strong brew and white bread and I am all over it. The ultimate comfort food so quintessentially British that our more sophisticated gastronomic neighbours would rather hurl themselves onto a burning pile of oily fish and ripe tomatoes than go anywhere near the filthy brown (unnervingly shiny) goo.

To add fuel to the fire, or rather olive oil to that already burning pile, have you ever tried spaghetti, butter and marmite? No? Do it. Nigella raves about it, referencing Anna del Conte as her source and justifying it as an Italian tradition derived from using leftover stock with spaghetti. No need for that. Put the spaghetti on in the normal packet way, chuck a knob of butter into a saucepan, a teaspoon of Marmite and some (a dessertspoon or two) of the pasta jus to lubricate, add to pasta and if you’ve got it, sprinkle a bit of Parmesan on top (or Cheddar, come on). Mangez. Mangia. ‘ave it. Etc.

I find that Marmite slips under simple dishes in a very satisfying manner, not unlike a special piece of well-fitted underwear: on toast under baked beans, under scrambled eggs (or any egg for that matter) or melted cheese for an English rarebit. Most useful of all is its ability to masquerade as a vegetarian stock; many a dish of mine brinkering on the I’ve-made-it-up-but-not-quite-pulled-it-off has been resurrected with a generous teaspoon of Marmite; gravies, glaze and other things not beginning with ‘g’ – rims of cocktails are being marmite-d, there are cakes, roast potatoes but as yet, no beauty treatment. It’s only a matter of time.

I have a huge amount of love for Marmite. I have chased its bulbous brown figure down the aisles of many a foreign supermarket with increasing success. It’s been welcomed back into the lives of the Danes after a three-year ban and now there’s even more of a reason not to shop at Tesco and to have voted ‘remain’. 

Get more about Marmite from the  Ministry of Marmite and there is also the very comprehensive Marmite cook book. Oh and it’s worth mentioning Ms Marmite Lover, a well-respected food blogger with a well-respected name.


A Tale of Two Giants: The Bolsters

This story started off as a writing exercise: a re-writing and updating of a Cornish myth, the idea being to concentrate on the words themselves as the structure would be loosely based on the original story. And here it is, saffronbunny’s first foray into fiction:

1 (5)This was wide country that fell into the sea, shaped by shipwrecks, hemmed by gorse and laced with arterial shafts that bore down deep. A canopy of sky framed skittering clouds and dotted like hope on shining waters, fishermen waited. There was a stillness where the herring had once swarmed; a silence where the mines had groaned with men, and only the shadows of gigs ran the waves.

In this piratic region, the Caercouches farmed still: scrubby sheep that smelt of the salt of the sea. There was Eileen, old Don (ald), his son (and hope) Goron who was married to Portreen, and their beautiful daughter, Agnes.

Next door to the Caercouches lived the Bolsters. Their love over the years had been weathered grey like the cladding of roofs. So long had it been since Mrs Bolster felt the softness of her husband’s touch that she was sure it had always been that way. The giddy slide of the wedding ring onto her finger 30 years ago was now a granite quoit around which her flesh had learnt to grow and fit, distorted and pale.

Mr Bolster would fling his supper onto the floor if he couldn’t taste the salt. Agnes thought his taste buds had probably died with the love he no longer showed his wife. Tonight it had been pepper. She’d forgotten to sprinkle white pepper into the pasties and he’d thrown them right back at her, shattering the kitchen wall into shards of shortcrust and grey brick.

“Get up that hill and take them there stones with ‘ee!”

1 (6)

Mrs Bolster bent to the stones as if harvesting food or flowers and filled her apron until it bulged in a foetal round and she could carry no more. She dragged the body of stones to the top of the beacon, unloading them one by one with a gentle care, like little children. Out of view of her husband, she stalled a little, shifting the stones tenderly until each pile was the same height and roughly the same distance apart. Catching her balance, she looked back down at him, his mouth opening like the yawn of hell, emitting vowels that flapped on the wind like a lost soul: “…in ..eee…ere…o”. She grabbed at a nearby cloud, stuffed it into her mouth and sucked the rain from it.

The wind changed direction and his words flew up at her: “Get back down that bleddy hill woman! That’ll learn ‘ee, to think that you could forget the pepper in a pasty, you ain’t Cornish, woman, I sweared you was born on the other side of the Tamar! Bleddy English!” he bawled, scattering fishing boats and sending herds of sheep over the cliff with his anger.

Mrs Bolster sighed and the trees bent away from her, caught in a tempest of halitosis.

Mr and Mrs Bolster were chimney stack tall, freaks from a tribe that had long ago died out in these lands. As Mr Bolster stared at the swinging backside of his wife eclipsing the sun from his face, the clouds and an occasional bird raced across his body like a projected film. The only narrative he knew was livestock and slaughter, the whole bloody circle. He was god of the bovine beating hearts that filled his fields and lord of the land that ran until the sea began. While his height was legendary, his intolerance of his wife was mythical.

The castigation was rarely violent, although he had it in him – a deep knotted red that could spill out through his arms in an arc of destruction, relentless, Greek, gargantuan.

His grasping, Nosferatu fingers twitched to pull her down again and teach her a proper lesson but he grew bored before she reached the bottom. What he desired was much, much smaller. Petite. Tiny Diminutive. He’d grown sick of being tall: the constant stooping; the crushing of a sheep in a footstep, the rattling of a buzzard caught in his ear: the earth in a bell jar. The woman he wanted couldn’t be heard across oceans, she whispered with the piskies and hid behind tiny doors; she could pluck flowers with fingers as delicate as a spider’s leg.

He turned away from his wife.

“Agnes! Agnes!”

Agnes paused, holding both hands up as if in devotion to the skies but instead of religion in her heart, she held two clothes pegs and a damp shirt that moved body-less to the breeze.

It was him again.

The clothes would wait and besides, it looked like rain. She began to cram them back into the basket, not bothering to fold them this time and as she did so, his fingertip, as tall as she was, traced the length of her body. She stumbled forwards, speaking with care, for he could crush her with just a flick of his forefinger.

“Mr Bolster! How be we on this wet and windy day? What can I ‘elp ‘ee with?”

“Help? You talk of help? Help me with your eyes, your lips, body, arms, help me Agnes!”

A familiar nausea rose up inside her until it became an ache in the back of her head, hardening her a little more each time she saw him.

“But Mr Bolster, you have a wife! It isn’t right to keep on to me in this way! Think of her, what must she be thinking?”

“Don’t think on her Aggie, she is nothing, I feel nothing for her and haven’t for years, don’t let her come between us!” His breath was hot and licked her whole, so that her limbs, no more sturdy than the trembling legs of a new-born calf, wavered at the horror of it. His gash-red mouth was near now, opening at the taste of her, warming the air around her.

She dropped a shirt and it whipped past his ankle like a mote of dust. Flailing her arms in a cobweb of desperation, her own helplessness hardened the resolve deep inside her tiny heart.

“Prove it!”

He faltered at the open invitation.

“If you love me, I want you to show me before I can love you back.”

“Anything Agnes, anything so I can hold ‘ee, taste ‘ee… ,” his words were lusting gusts now, pulling her hair back from her temples. She had to think quickly. He would surely kill her by accident in the heat of his desire. She led him to the gorse-studded belt of cliff at Chapel Porth where a hole as big as his hand ran black into the earth.

1 (7)

“Fill it!”

“Why ‘tis easy to fill my little love!” and he rammed his wrist deep inside, “Now can you love me?”

“No. You must fill it with your blood.”

He stared at her, then at the sea which winked back at him, flashing slices of light that amplified the beauty of her.

He pulled out a knife that had known the broken limbs of dying sheep, the umbilical cords of lambs and he flicked it along the ley line of his vein, turning the wrist downwards so that the redness was captured in the earth. Again he looked at her, his eyes softening with the rush of blood away from him, but it wouldn’t be long now and he wanted her.

She smiled but he couldn’t talk.

“Come for me on the beach when it’s filled. I’ll wait for you.”

He watched as her tiny nut-like head traced the contours of the coast, until he could see no more. She hit soft sand and saw it: the sea incarnadine with the life of the giant. There was no-one now to slow her down with love. She kicked at the sand, smiling at the grains that sprayed back at her and breathed in the distant line of the horizon.

The hole led not into the finite confines of the earth but into the ceaseless sea; the same sea that whitened the bones of the dead, wiped clean the trajectories of ships and now slowly sucked back and forth the spool of red that spilled from a thwarted lover’s heart.

1 (8)2 (2)

The hole at Chapel Porth retains the blood colour of the giant’s love for Agnes.

 St Agnes’ church takes the name of the woman who defeated the giant.

 An alternative, more popular version of the tale is celebrated every year in St Agnes on Bolster Day (May 1) which presents the giant as a child-eater who is eventually challenged to a fight to the death by Sir Constantine, a local knight, but Agnes, who he is in love with, is the only one to defeat him.

Images by Nicole Jones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Last Taboo?

saffronbunny

There are very few taboos in modern society that continue to raise a blush or an eyebrow. A pervasive sense of liberalism (post-Brexit-Trump-Farage radicalism obviously excluded) coupled with a post-modernist lack of respect for rules and authority has ensured we can talk about most things these days, although female masturbation, paedophilia and incest are still quite difficult to bring up over coffee and cake.

So where does that leave birth? Few women talk about it in public spaces, it is largely ignored by comedians (although Dylan Moran’s quip comparing birth to pushing a water melon out through your face was surprisingly accurate) and the media are only concerned with the medicalisation of having a child.

It is one of the biggest physical and emotional experiences that a woman can have, yet it is sidelined into silence with knowing looks and nods. My own experience has been reduced to an amusing anecdote which I trot out on social occasions involving zombies, a Primark dressing gown, some green bile and a tiger’s stone. Hiding behind humour is one (ineffective) way of dealing with trauma.

There are not many people I can sit down with and talk about what it was actually like to give birth to my son. I am also extremely careful about who I do talk to because it can be 1) upsetting to women who might be having difficulty conceiving 2) the reality of it may put other women off wanting a child 3) childless women might understandably not be interested in your vagina and 4) it can feel awfully competitive: if you had a very positive birth, other women may resent you and if you had a very complicated birth, it may seem that you want to out-awful other women’s experiences.

So you see, it’s complicated and sometimes a lot easier not to talk about it at all: the very definition of a taboo.

I often think that if men gave birth through their penises, it wouldn’t be like this. There would be mass birth-offs, it would become a competitive sport with prizes, there would be many T-shirts and a lot of extremely long injury anecdotes. A man-spective on birth may not be ideal but at least it would be out there and at the moment, it feels like the experience of pushing out a baby is well and truly hushed up.

And not only does the birth experience seem to have no voice or status in society, but other women who have had children appear to be complicit in this. Instead of shouting across the street to new mums and asking how their vagina is, did they tear, have an episiotomy, or how it was to poo for the first time after birth, if they are still bleeding, have sore nipples and on and on (insert body parts), I smile knowingly at them and then the baby; I can imagine how it might have been, and is, but I say nothing.

Well here’s two fingers to hushing it up: it was fucking painful and incredible in equal measures; I actually thought I was going to die more than once during the experience; I feel betrayed by my mother who had four birth experiences and shared none of them; no one mentioned post-natal complications to me, that I may never wee in a controlled manner again, that disposable pants would become the best invention ever and that my stomach muscles could actually split in two and remain like that. What the actual fuck?

No one also mentioned that having a child would bring so much joy into your life, that you can cry at pretty much anything most of the time; the feeling of love and protection that you harbour for someone you’ve only just met is bewildering and sits in your tummy like a red beating ball, sometimes of worry, sometimes of irritation but mostly just filled with wet snivelly teary irrational love for a pooey pukey being who can’t even talk to you yet. It defies rational thought and brings mortality just a little closer.

So there. I don’t think I’ve solved the taboo of birth but I’ve talked about it and it’s made me feel a lot better. Thanks for listening.

Read more: Amanda Bacon’s recent and refreshing perspective on birth.

 


A valuable lesson: stress and a ginger cat

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“I think I’m ill.”

I felt humiliated. Defeated. A statistic.

I could no longer bear noise, no TV, radio; I couldn’t leave the house without crying and all I wanted was sleep. My mind had shattered like a Jackson Pollock, spilling out. Finally visible.

The people, tables and faces in that service station café came in to sharper focus after I’d said it. I felt human, no longer a straining cog in the mortgage / work / relationship wheel. I had handed over the responsibility just for now.

My parents looked back, eyes wide. I was giving myself up, to Cornwall, the family home, a fat ginger cat. I could no longer do it on my own.

Something somewhere had broken inside of me; I had been poisoned by a daily diet of adrenalin and anxiety. Six weeks off work had been the final push to leaving the city. I waved my long term boyfriend goodbye in a Tesco car park from a car rammed with suitcases, resigned from a single sex private school in a leafy suburb of Bristol and put my house on the market.

Back home, I slept, saw doctors and a cranial osteopath, walked the dog and ate home cooked food. I thought of times when I had been happiest and most content; somewhere between university and the illness, I had betrayed myself.

My creativity had been shut away and repressed by the rigid educational system that I had been through myself and was now forcing others to undergo.

I’d given up art, music and drama at school, thinking that none of these things would make me money or buy a house. A previously neglected voice had started to speak again, a small tapping that had become a hammering of wings, beating to get out. I knew I had to scribble to paint to scream to make it stop: to get better. I began to write.

I returned to school to explain my deterioration and a seemingly sympathetic middle management nodded back without understanding. They had a school to run, I could be replaced, when could I be back? What actually had caused all of this?

“Eat cake. Have a facial, go on holiday to Ibiza for two weeks.”

This was the first medical verdict. It made me angry. I was being patronised and betrayed by a female doctor.

“I’ve been accused of ruining someone’s career for giving them too much time off work,” she replied, as I looked back confused, “… so I’m being honest with you.”

I’d already turned down such a holiday at 18 and had no intention of embarking on some misguided tour of youth at 33.

Her voice was filled with something like resentment as her palms struck the table, or was it envy? Was she too on the edge, wanting nothing more then to put on a bikini and disappear to Ibiza, anywhere, so that she didn’t have to listen to more people like me?

She signed the note for two weeks and I left, knowing I would not be back for some time.

“I could give you some pills”, was the second response.

A male doctor this time.

“My wife takes St John’s Wort.”

It seemed my journey was revealing as much about others as it was about me.

I took the St John’s Wort. And luckily it worked. Not necessarily the medication, but a willingness to accept defeat as a step forward to recovery.

My body and soul had spoken, a concept I would previously have ridiculed and had ignored with grave consequences to my health. Maintaining a balance of sorts in my life is a new priority, no one else can do it for you. And just for the record, the world doesn’t stop just because you need to.

I now permanently live in Cornwall where my parents and a big, fat ginger cat (as well as my husband and son) are never too far away. I teach part-time and write as much as I can.