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.

 

 

 

 


An exercise in writing

streamconsciousness

Most mornings I try and do ‘my pages‘. For those of you not in the know – you sit down in front of a blank page and just write. Sounds easy? It’s phenomenally difficult to do properly.

The idea is that you move the pen across the page with as little ‘conscious’ thought as possible in order to peek beneath the rational, the self-editor, the inner critic and just let the words go.

You mostly get rubbish, what-I-had-for-breakfast, what’s-outside-the-window stuff, an essential exorcism of the inner monologue of clutter, but behind the crap and the clichés is occasional gold, you’ve just got to dig for it. Even if it’s just a juxtaposition of two words, a phrase or some sentences you like, even just an idea, for many writers it can signal the birth of a character or the beginning of a novel.

It also eventually taps into what you feel most passionately about – what pisses you off, makes you laugh, upsets you, interests you, and to write with passion is the start of good writing.

Whenever I do this with students and they read it back to themselves (aloud, which is essential), they can never quite believe it’s theirs or that those words in that particular order were waiting inside their head.

And that is the beauty of ‘pages’ or ‘automatic writing’ ‘stream-of-consciousness‘, ‘free writing’, whatever you want to call it: anyone can do, there should be no judgement, no-one else should read it and if you want to rip it up and bin it, do exactly that.

This is my 10-minute unedited effort (one side of A4) from yesterday morning:

Scritchy scratchy bleedy pencil is the weapon for today a day of sunshine and crumpets lunch in the woods and the little one at nursery. Today is a day of stepping into the mind of EB [Emily Bronte] again and rummaging a bit disrespectfully into her psyche her mind her family and why and how Today is a day of washing and nappies rushed food and coffee another day of missed sleep a day that sits parallel to my past life of satiated sleep hours what? Today is a day when politics has spoken once more and the white British priveleged [sic] male is dominant in a cabinet run by a woman today is a day of washing the sound of a rocket taking off in a bucket to be clean, sick free poo-liberated once more. The sound hums and buzzes in the back of the mind pushing and shoving the sound of birds the wind in the trees into the unheard corners of my ears where lost sounds are never heard the sound of my baby breathing deep in the night or the cry of a kitten abandoned on a highway (?) and dirty sounds pollute serenity crack at creativity and stamp on meditation I have to write about pasties goddam again innit 1,000 words for £100 – 10p a word mama mia but I shall do it for LOLs hahaha Today is a day when I waved at our neighbour but he wasn’t sure and instead flicked his hand rather than commit to a wave awks innit LOLs YOLO of course we only live once and sometimes precariously as childbirth teaches you! (taught me). Tea. 

 

 


The stuff of babies

babymobileFive months in and I’ve realised it’s an industry – a big creaking shameless guilt-inducing machine that will literally tear the babe from your breast in order to get your dollar.

Alongside death, birth is the great leveller, a mystery and a miracle, yet our neo-liberal, capitalist, free market society (call it what you will) peopled by Trumps and Johnsons (the one with the hair not the baby products) has succeeded in monetising the foetus from womb until early adulthood. Having a baby is big business.

The beauty of new parents is that they operate on fear and guilt, the holy grail of the advertising industry. As consumers have become more savvy to the ‘hard sell’, green mums and dads who are suffering from a lack of sleep and an absence of the social life they used to lead, will be far more susceptible to handing over money for peace of mind and a peaceful night.

There is no baby problem that can’t be solved by coins. Your baby doesn’t sleep? Then squash her into a cocoon-shaped pod for just under £100, oh and with that, you’ll need to spend £30 – £40 on specially fitted sheets for the cutesy lifeboat-shaped bed. We bought one, he didn’t even fit in it and it made no difference to our lives. It went back. He sleeps fine in a secondhand Moses basket that cost £25 from Gumtree. Sheets included.

Need to prove just how responsible a parent you are by buying the best car seat you possibly can? Then the seat and the fitting will cost you over £300 from John Lewis. We drove to Bristol especially to do this. So giddying were the prices and the choice of seats that both of us were reduced to a catatonic state, resolved only by coffee and cake. No sooner did we get home than some friends offered us their car seat and the new stuff was returned. We paid £100 for the seat and a secondhand travel system which included pram, cot and stroller. Don’t even get me started on pram options, there is not enough cake in the world to rescue me.

Think you don’t know anything about birth? A little nervous about pushing out a large head through a small hole for the first time? Then join the NCT for nearly £300 so they can traumatise you over a series of classes with step by step pictures of how your baby enters the world as well as providing you with anecdotal chat about the best pain relief and the colour of baby poo. A waste of money.

And so it continues. But there is another way. We have discovered that friends, family and especially parents of older children have donated most of what we use for our little one. Kingsley Village’s nearly new baby sales, roughly every month, also offer a stack of stuff for bargain prices and obviously Gumtree and Ebay are a tin mine of baby paraphernalia which makes gracing the steps of the likes of Mothercare and JojoMamaBebe a rare occurrence. Bodmin even recently hosted an event for mums at which baby stuff was entirely free. Yup, no money. Older relatives, in particular my mum, have also proved to be some of the best baby experts, you don’t have to pay to listen to tried and tested methods, even if they are not for you.

Am I a worse parent for it? Is he an unhappier child for it? Certainly not, I’m just a bit smugger and, I hope, a couple of steps ahead of the baby industry. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to shake a plastic bottle filled with dry pasta and for those first tottering steps. Priceless.

 

 

 


Why I no longer call myself a foodie

saffron_bunny_food_journalism_cornwallBeing a foodie was great. Once. I ate the food of some of Cornwall’s best chefs, hung out at festivals with my press pass, stayed overnight in some stunning seaside locations, received countless edible freebies in the post and even got to take my tastebuds to the pistes of the Dolomites and sample some of Italy’s finest. Hell, I even thought I was a half decent cook myself.

Tell people about it and they are naturally very envious. My husband is a bit miffed that he no longer gets to piggyback onto my fine dining commissions. So why have I given it all up? What’s not to like about free food?

It all got very boring very quickly. Don’t hate me for being ungrateful, I feel extremely lucky to have cooked alongside Paul Ainsworth, interviewed Nathan Outlaw and eaten with Rick Stein, but I just can’t do it anymore.

Firstly, food ‘fashion’ does my head in. Just as education should not be the political football of every newly elected party, so food should be left alone to the test of time and taste. What’s all this nonsense about local and seasonal and it was Mr Brown from Muddy Farm who grew our carrots today? What a load of old supermarket fictional faff. Yes, I love to eat Cornish and respect the changing bounty of the seasons, but I don’t need it rammed down my throat (literally) as if it were a new ‘invention’. The French and Italians would laugh in our rosbif faces: they’ve been doing it quietly for generations.

Secondly, writing a review of someone’s business is a tricky business. Perhaps a PR company set you up with the gig, so it makes it somewhat ‘awks’ if you then go ahead and slate their client. You get dinner, wine, possibly an overnight stay, all for free, so can’t help but feel a certain obligation to string together some glowing remarks, even if you don’t like underdone lamb and the white wine is warm. And in case you hadn’t noticed, this is Cornwall not London and I am no Jay Rayner. I have no right to potentially ruin people’s businesses in an already tough industry. So I’ve given up the constant tight-roping of compromise. Call me a fool, but I’d rather go out and pay for my dinner these days.

And finally, the latest sugar-free food trend brings up just a little bit of sick in the back of my throat. Self-righteous media-luvvy ladies of loveliness who bathe in coconut oil, #eatclean, turn vegetables into spaghetti and think that dates have no sugar in them. Food has become an expression of moral superiority over others at which point it stops for me: I’m doing no kneeling in front of any courgetti altar and there’ll be no repenting of gratuitous pork fat snacking any time soon on this blog.

I’d rather embrace the amoral delights of sliced white toast with Marmite, the best meal I’ve ever eaten at Treliske hospital after the birth of my son. I think that means I have officially resigned from the lofty towers of ‘foodie-dom’.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Four best … moans about Cornwall

Cornwall? What moaning, you say? None whatsoever about Aidan Turner.

Other things? A few. Four to be precise.

Media perception of Cornwall

With Poldark reaching out to 5.9 million viewers on Sunday for the last episode of series 1, the Stein-tinted, Rock-drunk, sun-skewed media stereotype of Cornwall has likely evolved from flip-flops and surfing to bare-chested galloping and opportunistic scything (complete with fair maiden back at the farmhouse). I for one have taken to roaming the cliffs in the wind with a basket full of saffron buns looking for my husband down at the mine (although the ginger wig may be a bit of a giveaway…).

Weather

It will rain on the bank holiday. This is Cornish fact. Despite knowing this, we will all still head out to the beaches and have a moan about the rain. Best solution? Take a Thermos and go for a dip. The one will negate the other and you won’t even notice the rain (the hypothermia may be a little more obvious however …).

Multi-culturalism

Showing your passport at the Tamar is about as international as we get. Cornwall is mainly a sea of white faces split into two tribes: those that have come in from ‘up-country’ and those that have lived here all their lives. Expect the oddly non-sensical: ‘people from round ‘ere ‘ain’t from round ‘ere!’ as well as intrusive questions about how long you’ve lived here and whether you are Cornish or not (my go-to defence is that I am 50% Cornish – how absurd). London and Bristol become distant dreams and other countries …

Driving

Tiny lanes and 4x4s. Tiny lanes and huge tractors. Tiny lanes and drivers that seem to have been born without the gene to reverse. Tiny lanes and caravans. Tiny lanes. The A30 late-morning on the weekend in summer. Driving. Everywhere. Petrol: expensive. Local transport? Shite.


Four best … yoga classes in Cornwall

 

I firmly believe that yoga literally keeps me sane. From untwisting my diaphragm to rebooting my brain, getting the lymph system up and moving with a handstand or awakening the inner organs with a good twist, it’s much cheaper than a massage and  much better than a breakdown.

With so many practitioners in Cornwall however, how do you choose? Here are my favourite four, however they are by no means exhaustive as there are other excellent teachers and classes out there:

The Old School, Lanhydrock

Jan takes a Hatha style yoga class on a Thursday morning from 10 – 12. The emphasis is on long and slow, dynamic and controlled without too much focus on the spiritual side (i.e. no chanting or candles). A set of superbly choreographed asanas leaves me consistently refreshed, stronger and able to breathe again! For all abilities.

Ashtanga Yoga, Wadebridge and Polzeath

Denise runs a yoga clinic, a led class and a Mysore style class. The led class on a Tuesday in Wadebridge from 7:15pm is a proper workout that leaves me feeling lighter in body and mind, as well as famished (a post-yoga curry at the local Indian is not unheard of). In true Ashtanga style, the class is based on a series of progressive series of postures to detoxify the body, improve circulation and still the mind.

Lime House Yoga, Mount, Truro

Jock and Emma have used their beautiful home to create one of the most calming yogic locations in the county where yoga practice is more a way of life than a one-off workout. Jock takes most of the classes but alternate Thursday evening classes are shared between Jock and Lucinda Pimlott who also teaches at the stunning Zedshed on a Saturday morning. Classes at Lime House are preceded by chai tea and proceeded by a post-practice chat in the kitchen giving a uniquely personal and nurturing experience. Check out the website for class dates, times and other events (some involving Emma’s delicious food!).

Bridget Woods Kramer

Bridget is an Anusara yoga ‘guru’ who has inspired and trained many of the teachers in Cornwall. She splits her yoga life between Triyoga London and Falmouth / Penryn and also runs teacher training courses and retreats in exotic locations. She is a superb practitioner whose classes often contain other yoga teachers. Be prepared to work and feel amazing afterwards!

HOT TIPS: Keep an eye out for this year’s excellent Surya yoga festival from 22 – 27 May near Falmouth for full yoga immersion. 


Cornwall’s Four Best … Women for International Women’s Day

 

“We have evolved but it seems our idea of gender hasn’t.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Daphne du Maurier, writer (1907 – 1989)

Strictly not Cornish born but her name and works are written into the landscape and the sea around Fowey where she lived and wrote most of her fiction. The dream of writing and living by the sea was her reality and not always a happy or successful one. From secret liaisons with pirates (Frenchman’s Creek) to repression and new-found identity (Rebecca), a disabled General’s lover and nurse in the English Civil War (The King’s General), to victims of angry birds and forbidden love (The Birds and My Cousin Rachel), du Maurier’s women are always complex, often compulsive, sometimes confused but never conventional.

Kneehigh’s excellent adaptation of Rebecca is currently touring.

Ann Glanville (1796 – 1880), gig rower

During Ann Glanville’s lifetime, gig racing was big business dominated by men. Regattas meant a lot of money for the supporters and sponsors who bet on the races, but little of this was seen by the competitors. Famous in her home town of Saltash and across the country for someone who was rarely beaten, even by male crews, Ann was considered ‘champion female rower of the world.’ And after an ostensibly (and probably exaggerated) “thoroughly sound thrashing” of the male French crews at a regatta in Havre who were, “a little indignant in their own peculiarly irritable way that women should be matched against them”, Ann’s reputation became legendary and she was even recognised for her achievements by the Queen and Prince Philip.

Read more on Ann Glanville.

Tamara

The Legend of Tamara tells the story of a beautiful sea nymph born in a cavern who loved sunlight and wanted to visit the ‘upper’ world. Her parents warned her against such temptation, but she took every opportunity to get a glimpse of the daylight. She was eventually targeted by two giants, Tavy and Tawrage, who both desired her and persuaded her to to leave the cavern. Her father eventually found her seated between her two lovers and when she refused to return, he was so angry that he turned her into a river that would forever flow into the sea. Tavy was so distraught that he requested his father to turn him into a stream so that he could follow Tamara into the sea. Tawrage too, turned into a stream but took the wrong direction, away from Tamara and so we have today the rivers Tamar, Tavy and Taw.

Rowena Cade

Visit the Minack Theatre and you might assume that a hand of antiquity had shaped the circular stone amphitheatre where the sea, the horizon and an occasional basking shark are as much a part of the scenery as the actors. But you would be wrong. Rowena Cade was born in 1893 in Derbyshire and after the First World War, she moved to Lamorna with her mother. She bought the Minack headland for £100 and built a house there where her family and friends staged their own theatrical productions and Rowena designed and made the costumes.

Planning for a production of The Tempest one year, she realised that there wasn’t enough seating in her own garden, and with the help of two Cornish craftsmen, built a simple stage with rough seating overlooking the sea. The initial prototype developed into granite seating and staging, hewn from nearby boulders and after the Second World War, she became ‘Master Builder’ of the project, adding a car park, an access road and a flight of 90 steps leading up from the beach. Rumour has it that she also dragged up twelve 15 ft wooden beams singlehandedly from a shipwreck on the beach to make the dressing rooms.

Read more about Rowena Cade.


saffronbunny-food-blogger

The four best pasties in Cornwall (and how to make them)

There are a few pasty rules in Cornwall that must be followed. First rule: don’t eat a pasty with chips; second rule: swede in a pasty in Cornwall becomes turnip (this even confuses the Cornish); third rule: a high street pasty from a railway station or the high street IS NOT A PASTY; lastly: the Cornish pasty has protected PGI status which means even more rules.

There are more than four best pasties in Cornwall, but here are mine (and no-one can disagree with the last):

Aunt Avice’s Pasties, St Kew Services, Saint Kew Highway, Bodmin, PL30 3ED

This is one of the best pit and petrol stops you can make in Cornwall. Avice learnt her pastry making skills from her mother-in-law and has kept it a firm secret.  Generous, buttery but not flaky, these are the real deal. Get some of the egg and bacon pie if it hasn’t sold out.

Ann’s Pasties, annspasties.co.uk

From mail order and weddings to gift boxes and unusual ingredients, Ann, and now her son Fergus, are fabulous diplomats for the Cornish snack (meal) of choice. With barely a crimp and more of a crispy fold, Ann’s pasties are crammed full of carefully sourced ingredients, including Davidstow cheddar and Cornish grass-fed beef. Get filling in that mail order form now!

Gear Farm Organic Pasty Company

Dave Webb developed the pasty recipe at this organic farm with his aunt, taking full advantage of the produce from the chemical-free fields around them. The farm has been certified organic since 1996 and, coupled with the sweet air of the river Helford, these are some of Cornwall’s finest pastry offerings as well as hugely popular exports.

My mum’s: the gravy forms a puddle in the corner as you eat downwards, the pastry is thin and crisp and the meat has to come from the excellent Liddicoats in Lostwithiel. Oh and only white pepper will do. Here’s how to make them at home:

Pastry:

  • 1lb plain flour
  • 6ozs fat (half lard, half butter)
  • Pinch salt
  • Cup of cold water

Filling:

  • 1lb beef skirt (chopped to the size of a fingernail)
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes (thinly chipped in a bowl of water, in pieces approx the size of a 20p coin)
  • 2 finely chopped onions
  • Turnip (optional, best finely chipped but grated will do)
  • Sea salt and white pepper
  • Butter

Preheat oven to 200°C. Breadcrumb the fat with the flour and a pinch of salt. Add cold water a little at a time, gently stirring with a knife until all the dry bits are picked up. Take the dough in your hands and gently squeeze, rather than knead, together to form a ball. Take a small lump about the size of a clenched fist and roll it out on a floured surface. Once about 2mm thick all over, place a side plate on top and cut round with a knife. Repeat with the rest of the pastry, using the off cuts for the last one.

Strain and thoroughly dry the potato chips. Place approx. 2 finger fulls of meat onto the top third of the pastry disc, sprinkle a little pinch of salt over the meat, then add a scattering of onion, a more hefty scattering of potato and some more onion. Season with salt and pepper this time and add a small knob of butter. Put some milk in a cup, dip your fingers in and run them around the edge of the pastry circle.

Now gently but firmly bring the bottom half of the pastry disc up over the filling and pinch together in 2 or 3 places, joining the edges. Shuffle the pasty slightly to encourage the filling to settle a little. Now pinch firmly all the way along the side of the pasty, so that about a centimetre is pinched all along. Then go back along, crimping as you go (folding the pastry between thumb and forefinger to form a little ‘hem’).

Rub milk lightly on the bulging surface, create a little vent in the top for steam to come out and put in the oven on a lightly-floured tray for approx one hour or until golden brown.