I climbed a mountain

I used to love mountains. I’m not just talking about the real ones I used to climb. They were great tests of endurance and spirit. There was nothing to beat the exhilaration of getting back down to face the prospect of a ninety minute drive whilst saturated by Snowdonia’s extremities.

No, I’m talking metaphors here. At the risk of that cheesy anthem from the Sound of Music drifting into my…………oh no, it’s there, I’m referring to overcoming life’s obstacles.

climbMany times I’ve found myself slung on the stinking floor of a medieval oubliette. Surrounded by the filth and stench of defeat and humiliation, I have to scramble my way out fighting off the clamorous rats.

dungeon-demon_wideThey claw and bite at my spirit but eventually I emerge blinking into the cruel world. At least in the cold light of day I can see them. Then I wonder why I bothered. The world has as many mountains as bottomless pits.

But we were made to climb. I never tired of climbing. Yesterday’s plans were innocent enough. Monica, the kindly lady who was thrilled to give a loving home to Seymour had invited me round for tea. It was a chance to see my little old companion and observe how he was settling into his new home. I’d been forewarned of the steps but assured of an alternative rear entrance that involved a trip through the undergrowth along the side of the house.

“No,” I proclaimed. “I can do these steps.” There were three paved steps to get to the front door followed by three more inside the porch; an elevation of about three foot four inches. Just over a meter in new money. Now I have known about my diminishing capabilities with stairs for a long time. Even with rails, they present the improbable leading to the impossible. In the early noughties I agreed to have a new piano pupil who’s house was down a considerable flight of unrailed steps.

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This was the actual mountain

It was difficult but with the cunning use of a walking stick, I made it possible. Fast forward to now. After the first attempt at the first step, I wondered what on earth I’d done. How could it happen? Was a brief foolhardy moment of derring-do going to transform me once more into a brave mountaineer?

With my left arm supported and the used of strategically placed chairs, it took thirteen minutes to complete my climb. There were some dangerous moments when I risked losing all dignity resulting from a gentle stumble. The heady lush scent of the myrtle bush appeared to be calling me into its sharp twiggy bosom.

lagerstroI resisted:

“Away you wicked siren. You shall not feed off my optimism.”

At the summit, I breathlessly transfered to my wheels and all normality returned as I spent a delightful time fussing over Seymour with tea and cake.

The descent was more expedient. The awkward initial climb had given me the tools of familiarity. I knew my enemy. I made strategies. MS can take many things away; mobility, convenience, control and energy. But (imagine Mel Gibson with a formulated Perthshire accent and the backdrop a castle ruins with a roaring bonfire) “it’ll take away my life but it will never take my freedom.”

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Luvvie Mel, looking more like a reugee from Scotland’s abortive 1978 world cup campaign.

It was assuring to see that the decision I had made; a decision doubted by some, was a good one. In fact it was the best one and the whole satisfactory conclusion was achieved with the help of others. Here is the answer to the doubters.

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Thank you for reading.

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A bit of muffin

What does the word muffin conjure up? Mules apart, national chain fast food and coffee outlets steer us away from it’s more lewd association to those oily fatty lumps of sweet, moist muck imbued with a hint of weeping blueberry. At over five hundred calories a pop, they’re not for me. I know these places are popular but there’s more chance of me parading down Wembley way in a red scarf than me setting foot in one of these plastic excuses of home cooked “goodness”.

There; mast, colours and nails flying firmly in the breeze. Other opinions of Costabucks and Burgerdonalds are available.

What is my type of muffin then?

Think food darlings; clear your mind of all else. Let’s move on to savoury cornmeal muffins. I say no more.

Ingredients:

(Should make 12)

90g melted butter

1 finely chopped onion

1 finely chopped red pepper (please don’t call it a bell pepper)

1 tsp smoked paprika or cumin (any other piquant spice or spice combination will do)

Maybe apinch of chilli?

150g cornmeal or polenta. (I actually used semolina.)

150g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

60g grated cheddar or crumbled chalky cheese like feta, cheshire or caerphilly.

2 eggs

400ml combination of milk and butter milk.

I used Greek yoghurt; 75% milk 25% yoghurt. It saves buying a whole carton of butter milk and only using a little bit of it before leaving the rest to create new life in the fridge.

If all else fails use all milk with a good squirt of lemon juice in it.

Gently fry onion and pepper in butter for 10 minutes or until they’re soft.

Mix the paprika, flour, corn (or semolina), baking powder, sugar, salt and cheese.

In a microwave or small pan, melt the butter.

Beat the eggs and combine with the milk before mixing it with the flour.

Add the onion and pepper and the melted butter. Spoon into a muffin tin. I use smaller sizes to avoid the creation of bricks. 

Bake at 200c for 20/25 minutes and check with the skewer method.

Best eaten warm.

They went very well with spicy dips or as a substitue for rice with a chilli.

Be prepared for a bit of a busy kitchen.

There may be a lot of containers to handle. I tend to write down an order of play and get the ingredients ready. Put things away and clean as you go along. If you have the space, don’t bother with any of this and inform anyone else who may be luxuriating in these little bombs of pleasure that they can do the washing up.

Thank you for reading.

Modern life

What goes through you mind when someone says “modern life”?

Do we immediately think of mobile phones, social media, gaming, massive televisions, streaming, downloading or perhaps the virtual platforms for BOTTOMs, hiding behind a life of screened tunnel vision to spit out their organic cranberry juice and vociferously rail against anything in the first sentence of an article they may find distasteful?

A BOTTOM by the way, is someone who Bangs On Thinking Their Opinion Matters. Is it typically modern to reject modernisms in favour of a simpler way of life following the path to some form of Amish style utopia?

One of my near neighbours is a family with two cars. I’ve never seen them walking on the street. I’ve never know them go out as a family. I’ve never seen them taking their two dogs for a walk. They’re a family of four but apart from the school run, I’ve never seen more than two of them in a car at any one time. Am I being a bit BOTTOMish sharing my thoughts in this way? After all, there is no way they’ll ever see my rather harsh inferences.

Hmmm, now that’s something to think about. But I might be totally wrong so please don’t judge them. It’s just my impression. Anyway, I’ve not opened up this page to rant about the way people conduct themselves in the teenies.

Modern life has given me the opportunity to operate as a normal human being despite being restricted by a life changing chronic condition. Because I’m no longer able to walk, suffer a multitude of pains and ailments and face the prospect of a one-way prognosis, I have had to adapt. And some other people have also helped me adapt for which I’m very grateful.

It’s not just professionals who have helped; it’s been friends, relatives and myself. To put things in a nutshell, here is a list of the equipment which is helping me help myself:

Wet room, two powered wheelchairs, rollator, riser recliner, two grabbers, four walking sticks, special kitchen work station, bed rails, robot vacuum, an all terrain scooter, dishwasher, electric corkscrew, tumble dryer, laptop, smart phone, bus pass, disabled person’s railcard and the Times crossword. Some of these are standard stuff but all of them have been instrumental in keeping my independence.

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Heaven sent

Now for those who look back fondly at previous times. Think of the old British high streets with independent retailers sitting side by side. With staff waiting eagerly behind gleaming counters they offered good old fashioned service. We shopped every day for items that would be sliced, weighed and wrapped in proper brown paper bags:

“Morning Mrs Brown, how’s your husband’s boil?” our cheery assistant would ask. Before long, the whole shop would reverberate to a discussion of personal ailments.

uckfield-high-street-c1955_u1049Of course the time didn’t matter. The lady of the house didn’t work so she had plenty of time to chat to Mrs Perm, Mrs Wrinkles, Mrs Piles and Mr Bunnions who was now retired and thought it a good idea to get out and about as his wife’s flatulence was becoming stronger than the smell of the boiled lunchtime cabbage.

Television was restricted to two channels and at certain times of the day, both stations closed down. Oh so very very quaint.

maxresdefaultBeing a big believer in the power of history, I cannot knock such times. The past is a learning opportunity. I’m not sure how many people use it but it’s there nonetheless. But’s it made me grateful.

The modern shopping experience, based in huge retail areas with national big name commercial chains is often bemoaned for being cold and impersonal. The constant flood of crass piped music, plastic shiny displays, hypnotic shop lighting and wide grinning faces plastered on advertising hoardings may be a cruel truth of modern life but it gives me the chance to be part of it.

I don’t have to stay behind my four walls because any shopping trip would need the negotiation of steps into shop doorways and being dwarfed by the counter in my wheelchair. No, modern life means that I can get on a bus; they all have ramps and go to The Royal Victoria Place in Royal Tunbridge Wells and shop ’til I drop.

2677235615I can even eat and drink from the comfort of my brilliant chair. And no employee treats me badly because they know I have the power to email. That’s not true; I’m treated well because people are nice.

Ironically, I don’t go shopping very often but knowing that I can if I want is important. I don’t even have to leave the flat at all because of the wealth of online opportunities to blow my humble pension. Whilst my freedom and convenience are greatly enhanced, there are other factors of the twenty first century which are less positive.

Firstly my condition is getting worse. Life can be frustrating. My pain and limitations are not going away. The biggest fight is not to let sequencing and short term memory issues get me screaming with frustration. I deiberately do things to keep the brain active. Cooking for instance, has turned out to be a pleasure. It just takes longer because of lost threads. But it’s also a source of fatigue.

Oh yes, the fatigue thing: “It’s not just you who gets tired!” Let me refer them to previous posts. If one’s body is fighting an internal enemy which has a repertoire of brutality, stealth, sudden spasticity and issues a constant tissue of lies, (you need the loo, your legs are on fire; now they’re like ice, insects are crawling all over you, look harder beause I’m playing tricks with your eyesight, no you can’t do that because it’s the evening, etc etc) then you will know MS fatigue. Other forms of conditional fatigue are available but if you’re able bodied with no discernable problems other than being overweight or being tired after a day’s work, you do not know fatigue.

Yes, modern life for me and others has its problems. Taking a sideways step, politics and politicians appear to be entering a theatre of illusion and farce. Incompetent is the new competent. People’s expectations; yes, even those commoners on benefits, are reaching the sky.

Secretly, I’m hinting at future posts so I will leave it there.

Thank you for reading.

Concrete and play.

Piaget was a child psychologist. He was very much in vogue in the seventies when I was making my first abortive attempt at getting into school teaching. He advocated a set number of stages in child development. Roughly speaking they are sensory motor, intuitive concrete operations and formal reasoning; the final stage coming between the ages of ten and twelve.

Making the transition between the final two is very much the job of the year six teacher. Obviously we can delve deeper into this framework and find all sorts of variants and sub levels. For instance a late developer may feel that he or she is being left behind and………..Oh wait, if I’m going to go into all of this I may as well do a thesis and get a Phd.

No, the point I want to make is all about the concrete thing. Concrete operations; learning through hands on physical experiences. Counting with physical aids, calculating with multibase, creating stories through a sequence of pictures and other practical activities are at the core of primary learning.C4S-47oWcAQtwrE

So is concrete play.

We’ve all seen the Facebook posts which tell us that the children of the sixties/seventies played outside all day making dens and exploring derelict buildings. They played cowboys and indians or shot at each other with toy rifles and sticks.

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This is a Johnny seven. The coolest ever street toy

They knew when to go home because it was getting dark and they could hear the sound of their name echoing around the streets as Mum called their names. Once, when I lived in Fazakerley, we followed a path from the bottom field. It went on for ages and came out on the East Lancashire Road.

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Today’sEast Lancs Road. Not like the old days eh?

Then we walked nonchalantly along this busy highway, the main trunk between Liverpool and Manchester. We waved happily at the thundering lorries and the occasional coach packed with day trippers returning from wherever; Blackpool perhaps. It was a thrill to experience it first hand rather than through the windows of a bus. We arrived home exhausted and excited, telling our parents about the seven mile adventure. I was six years old. My mum expressed some concern about the East Lancs Road, advocating that future adventures could possibly avoid such desolate screaming highways. We did many such concrete adventures for many years.

One Summer holiday, our Street gang; Seacombe this time, decided to get a bus and visit Bidston Hill. For us it was urban countryside, visble from the streets that surrounded it. At dusk, I would marvel at the lonely silhouettes of the windmill and the observatory.

19601009476_a00876b107_b I elected to stay around and borrow my mate’s bike. Well I went over to Birkenhead actually and had my own escapdes, fleeing from the little scallies who wanted my bicycle pump; very much currency for that era. Coming back over the four bridges,

810f8fd6e13b2475cdf0356d5a57f872--the-four-liverpoolI learned that bicycles tend to flip over when they get caught in tram tracks. As I tumbled inelegantly to the cobbled fIoor I heard the sound of braking tyres as mororists tried not to embed their chrome bumbers into my skull. I was always falling off that damed bike! More concrete interaction than adventure. But my cuts and bruises would heal; no need for germoline and sticking plaster.

When did it all change? When did concrete play develop into virtual play? Home from school and straight onto the play station. Or straight onto the phone for fingery chat on social media:

“Mum, can I play out in the street?” Mum responds with a gasp before explainning about the dangers of the outside world. She ends up breathing into an organic brown paper bag.

What does your average seven to eleven year old do in the long holidays these days? Days out with mum? Holidays? Massive shopping centres? Fast food outlets? My guess would be that the above suggestions would be seen as relief from constant console therapy. The play stations and X boxes of the nation glow red with the virtual activities I did for real.

Why go outside to play games with your mates when there are universes to conquer and autos to grandly thieve? In 1974, I remember the first virtual game. It was ping pong in the Queens Arms pub.

hqdefaultSpace invaders came next preceding the massive explosion of arcade games and computer Pac Men. I was a frog hopper fan. Well it would last for about five minutes before the concrete urges returned.

Is the junior school playground now the only real stage for concrete play?

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Are the streets, parks and town centres now reserved for pouting teenagers or the odd feral minikin? I specifically taught communication skills by dint of expressive language. I covered practical writing skills including advertising and presenting an argument. Is the meme and the smiley simply bundling it all out of the way?

Despite it all, I think Piaget still rules.

Thank you for reading.

The heart of the matter

By the time I publish this, I will have been to Pembury hospital for tests and scan stuff for a mysterious lump. I’ve just corrected lump for limp. There’s no mystery about my limp. One quite perceptive boy at school observed that I had one leg shorter than the other. I corrected him on this, thus being my first work place revelation of the bastard beast. In fact I no longer have a limp. I just can’t walk.

I have tried to hide my disability for so long but now I go everwhere in a wheelchair, the secret may be out. At least people don’t think I’m pissed any more. But I have spent the last ten years trying to describe my condition. Many responses allude to direct treatment for specific symptoms. This is not the beast however. Have you ever seen “The Exorcist”?

The-Exorcist-699635Well MS is on the exorcist road. Early in the film, there are references to the death of a priest’s mother. This is followed by the pathetic sight of Regan, lying alone in a treatment room as the barbarous scanning machine dances back and forth above her.

Towards the end of this disturbing film, we get an image of the demon itself.

though-not-named-in-the-film-the-demon-is-pazuzu-photo-u2That’s MS. The two priests had spent the majority of the film screaming at the beastly abomination. It was to no avail. This is also MS. I often burst into fits of Shakespearean pathos if I get as much as a snotty nose. I would willingly sit at my front door soliliquising about the injustice of life as the stressy motorists fly by.

“You bastards,” I shout as people look the other way.

Well, the snotty nose has developed into a lump on my left tit. According to the lovely Doctor Slattery, it’s a rare thing for men. But I know enough. I liked the way she respected my intelligence as we reasoned about the vagaries of chronic conditions. My body and my heart is now in a constant battle with the enemy.

Let me refer to another film: Terminator 2. That is also MS. The robot takes on various forms; all of them sinister. It’s ruthless.

At the risk of entering into some maudlin state of self pity I would like to remember what I used to do. There was Birkenhead and there was Chester.

Fountains_Roundabout_Chester2From Woodside to the fountains roundabout is just under sixteen miles. I used to cycle there and back just for fun. I once cycled to Penymynydd. No, I can’t say either without spraying my laptop with saliva. That’s twenty four miles and includes the Queensferry hill.

I used to meet a similar hill going to Yeadon from Leeds university. That particular term was a bit of a last hurrah. I was ignoring my illness, telling myself to battle on and get through it. But like Mahler’s eighth symphony, the finale went on for ever. Twelve months later, I cycled from Muswell Hill to Hitchin. After thirty miles I knew my cycling days were over.

It wasn’t long before I became affected by balance issues. The final swim was in Southgate pool. The last mountain was Snowdon; I made it as far as the upper lake.

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It breaks my heart not being able to do this. The grand old lady has given me so much.

The last tennis match was in Broomhill Park. In 2000, I had to have an automatic car. And the last ski was a flipping yoghurt.

Now what do I mean by the title of this post? Well I’m deep into this condition. I feel as though I’m battling at its core. (Core blimey)

This morning I was picked up by patient transport and whisked off to the jungle. That’s my little pet name for the Tunbridge Wells hospital.

Maidstone Tunbridge 1_0And I was not disappointed. It teemed with wildlife. People sat poised in neat rows of chairs scouring the screen for their name. The wanderers were up and about circling like predatory owls. They were silent as their wide eyes gawped at every available sign. It was just like Euston Station. But no-one was smiling. In the background of silence was a sombre sincerity. No-one wanted to be there but people felt duty bound to attend their appointments.

I knew that some of them were going to part from that hospital with devastating news. I expected to be one of them. I’d been given an urgent appointment so it looked rather ominous. After some intrusive inspection, the consultant looked me in the eye:

“We’ll do a scan but I’m not expecting anything serious to show.”

A trickle of hope? Half an hour later the sister said the scan was clear. They took some blood and I was picked up by two hilarious young girls for a death ride back home.

I don’t want a repeat of the last few days. I may even sleep tonight.

Thank you for reading.

Seymour and Monica

At the age of 61, not far off 62, I can say that I’ve met a lot of characters who grace our world. I have met lots of people. Some were fantastic, some where treacherous, some were pathetic and some were worthy of respect. Recently I met Monica. The first visit was awesome. Monica arrieved with two daughters and a grand daughter who proceeded to make a huge fuss of Seymour. He loved it. Monica herself came with a list of questions and an element of excitement. She left in total love with Seymour. Who wouldn’t? The boy’s a total tart. He’s been such a good pal to me. But things move on and I need to move to a catless community. It’s no problem for me. I have always loved my cats but I am pragmatic. Seymour neeed to go to a loving home where he could luxuriate in the best of flattery and adoration. So far I’ve had a few “where’s the bloody cat” moments but I’m happy to know he’s in a good place. But I’m so pleased to have met Monica. As I said, I’ve met a lot of people but the absolute pleasure of meeting her has left me both up-lifted and enlightened. She is the same age as my dad (88) and has raised a beautiful talented family. She is proud of them. She is also full of amusing little annecdotes. I love her honesty and sincerity. Monica will be a brilliant servant to the boy and I’m now looking forward to visiting in the near future just to tickle his chin and stroke his tummy. I’m already learning about his curiosity but I feel honoured to know Monica. I feel the same, if not more about my dad. It’s a hell of an age.

Thank you for reading.

Lamb curry

Once more the intrepid kitchen adventurer sallies forth on his great quest for innovative creative culinary concoctions. Cue some appropriate music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jUttYxloHs

Can you believe that real musicians go into studios and record this. It must be a hoot; getting paid for drivel. But this post is not about politics or late night advertising channels. I’ve been trying to branch out from the more tradition socks blowing Friday night tradition of the drunken dunkin’ of naan breads into a fiery sea of grease filled madness. My favourite post Chelsea Reach destination was The Rani.

Oddly enough I’m using lamb. The enclosed photo does show little pools of cold fat. I don’t think it’s enough to worry about as it’s not a complete carapace of slimy grease. If you’re a purveyor of the fat means flavour mantra it’s fine but if you prefer, the delicate use of a small spoon could remove the more prominent layers of blatant guilt. It’ll disappear into the general unctuous mass when it heats up again anyway. Ever since the discovery of tamarind, the sour element has been a source of great fascination. It can come from a wide range of ingredients. There are some suggestions in the ingredients list. Whatever you use it will go well with the traditional heady spices. And then you can actually call the recipe your own. Please avoid the highly irritating phrase that starts with “this is my take on….” Now I’m trying not to think of Nigel Slater in one of his indignant “you don’t have to follow recipes” rants. To which I reply:

“Keep your hair on Mabel, Delia’s precision based sciences are a great starting point. Now get back to your market garden and stop referring to ‘your fishmonger’ I don’t have a bloody fishmonger. The nearest one is ten miles away on a street with double yellow lines. And as it’s by a bend in one of the town’s busiest roads it would be too dangerous to park there even with my blue badge.”

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….and it’s on a slope with a tiny pavement. It’s wheelie impossible.

I’ve kept the method as simple as possible.

Ingredients;

2 lamb neck fillets cut into rounds or 1lb of diced shoulder

1 onion roughly chopped

3 cloves of chopped garlic

A long thumbful of shredded ginger

Whatever chilli you feel like (I used mild because the actual flavour sings out without the robustious punch of a hottie.)

7 mangosteen berries-also called kokum (available from Asian grocers or online specialists. These can be substituted by a good teaspoonful of tamarind paste and lime juice. It’s the sour element so you can be creative here. Fresh mango is a possibility too.)

Teaspoons of ground coriander turmeric fenugreek powder cumin

Big squeeze of tomato puree

Tin of chopped tomatoes and a tinful of water. Seasoning.

Method. Fry the onions and meat for colour then put everything into a slow cooker or a heavy casserole dish and cook on low for at least six hours. When serving, fight off the advances of the ravenous family or friends with a large ladle. Make them sit down and wait.

Serve with rice or naan bread or chapatis. (Or any combination thereof.) I added some salt during cooking at a bit more at the end. If you like, sprinkle some garam masala over 20 minutes before the end. If you like it creamy, add 2 healthy tablespoons of thick Greek yogurt as well.

As a flourish before serving top with fresh coriander. Sit back and hear your diners gasp. article-2190173-1498C17D000005DC-406_634x335

Thank you for reading.