Thursday, 23 February 2012


I'm engaged in conversation. Colourful communication with my dinner date. Facing me, he's chunky. Robust. Bursting with vibrancy. On first impressions, he's tightly bound, but opened up you continue to delve in. His presence dominates the table. Designed for two, he stretches out. Leaves me a tiny amount of elbow room. I forgive him. He's here by invitation. Brought into my life by thoughtful friends. I needed new inspiration they said. I'd been set up. One dinner led to many...

The guest's place now permanently reserved for Hugh's latest creation: River Cottage Veg Every Day. A stunning cook book. Hugh's passion for veg embedded in every page. An exclusively veggie recipe book from a meat, fish loving and sustainable chef. That's what I love about Hugh. He's respectful. Open to embracing a different way of life. Honest about his experience. I'm working my way through his weighty tome. Comfortable putting a tweak here and there. Inspired by fresh ideas. New combinations of ingredients, spices, and herbs. Novel flavours.

For two weeks I gorged on beetroot. Beetroot and walnut hummus. Beetroot with walnuts and cumin. Trying out my own twists. What works? What does it taste better with? My tongue dyed claret red, I progressed to chickpeas instead. Spiced with rice, yogurt, or pasta, or as a delectable filling. A velvet butternut squash soup gave me goosebumps. Asking myself, “Please Ma'am, can I have some more?” Finding the saucepan was empty.

Hugh has shaken up my life. Temporarily displaced my senses. Helped me explore my rootedness. Uprooted my sense of self. What have I discovered? That my vegetarianism is not supported by my ethnicity. White. English. British. The world presents itself like an eat-me map. Italy, China, India. Caribbean spice, Moroccan stews, and Thai curries. England, a melting pot. A tagine. Stories told by feet. An ancient trail. Recipes passed from one culture to another. We've stopped living inside our own geography. We've let other territories in.

Friday 24th is World Food Night. An event to celebrate international cuisine. Observe our multiculturalism, the diversity of our roots. Immigration has been good for British food. Every day of the week, a world food night. The British palette changing. Made up of exotic tastes. A fusion. Geography doesn't define how our towns and cities live, the people in them does.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Aim, Shoot, And Miss

Dum-dum, dum-dum... my heart drums. A rhythmical thud. The beats resound in my chest. Valentine's Day gone by, another year without a hitch. Cupid and I had a pact. He'd twang his bow, but miss the shot. Archers are masters of the dodge. Wielders of the arrow. A battle cry to take aim, then fire! Target hit, quickly losing interest. No intention of settling down, the thrill was in the chase. If Cupid chooses to strike us, the hooves stamp, the nostrils flare, the eyes dilate... A prancing horse. Stressed. Frivolous. Backing away from invitations and romantic gestures. A wild horse unwilling to be tethered. Aloofness. A centaur, caught between two natures. Skittish mare or valiant steed. Both wisely used to their advantage.

True archers are hard work. Untamed teachers. Preferring to roam the land, stay unattached. Seeking here, seeking there, is their chief employment. Uncertain what the search is for, but sure it will bring meaning. An endless quest. A perpetual movement for liberation. Being hunted has a strange effect. Many of us plan escapes or turn reclusive. Text and email messages ignored. Excuses made. Obstacles put in the way. Requests constantly declined. Too busy. A flash of stubbornness. In our repeated efforts to flee, we come across as blunt and tactless. A cruel, insensitive streak coming through. Pushed to spell out, in a-don't-mess-with-me tone: S.P.A.C.E.

As couples snuggled up on Valentine's night, many archers would have been grateful. A sigh of relief. These couples can keep their smugness. We're still free. In relationships, archers can feel it's okay to drop out, just go. We don't follow the standard etiquette. No wish to comply, to be “normal”. We don't want 24/7 company, to do all the things couples are supposed to do together. The pursuit of separate interests, (or even living spaces ), to us is essential. Partners who can abide by this need are rare. Hackles get raised, the inevitable question asked, “Don't you want to see me?” To which, an archer usually replies: “Time out.”

If reading this, you're still thinking, can archers be tamed? The answer is, it may appear so. but archers can be deceptive. The other half led to believe they've broken this wild horse in. Whereas the archer in fact has the upper hand. The partner's been trained to hold the reins. To trot at their side, on their terms. The perfect match is long-distance or a person who operates the same. The alternative is to track down a horse whisperer or go it alone. Wave farewell to the battle scars. The wounded. Let other couples build their nests. More content to continue their sport: Aim, shoot and miss.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Let The Sunshine In

The alarm goes off. I roll over, it's time for morning yoga. No need to have a wash, or get changed into suitable clothing. Loose PJ's and bare feet just right for the job. I grab my mat, unravel it, and smooth it flat. The living room magically transformed into a yoga studio. More light, space and bigger windows. If we played i-spy, I would tell you I could see with my little eye a pub garden below, brick buildings ahead, and sky. Aeroplanes, clearly defined, streak across and leave a trail behind. Standing tall at the top of the mat, feet hip-width, arms held by my side. A deep inhale, arms stretched out wide, in an arc, to reach above my head. Palms gently touch. Prayer. Exhale. Arms brought down, body folding forward. Forward bend. Release... Rolling up, hands at heart centre; palms pressed together again in prayer. This sequence, the same series of moves, beginning over...

The sun salute it's called in yoga. Welcoming the sun. A salutation to morning practise. Homage offered, paid to the sun. Time to move on to more challenging poses. Postures to wake me up, clear my head and stretch me out. Plank, downward facing dog, and cobra. Lunging into chariot. Warrior... Seated, legs crossed to finish off. Eyes closed, concentrating on my breath. Let go... I feel refreshed, ready for the day ahead. This feeling doesn't always last... Cloud cover. Overcast.

According to research, I'm not alone. Depressed. Gloom descending on all of us due to insufficient light. Vitamin D deficient. An estimated 40% of Brits lacking the sunshine vitamin. Sunny D, induced by sunlight. The skin greedily sucking up a ray of light. Vitamin D promoting healthy bones and enhancing mental health. Parched, we are at risk. Soft boned and low spirited. Infectious. A pandemic. The world appears shrouded in grey mist. In permanent shade from brightness.

Is there anything we can do to change this? The government's response has been to step up its supplementation campaign. Consume fortified foods, eggs, and oily fish if you're a pescetarian. With such guidelines in place, the government anticipates a happiness boost. Their current study wrapped up: Vitamin D makes people happy. While nutrition plays an important role in many of the world's health epidemics, food alone in this case, is not effective. Ministers should have also replied: “Get outside! Walk, take exercise.” Too many of us sat inside under artificial lights. Outside, excessively covering up with sun protection creams. Yes, skin cancer is a risk, but we've taken advice to extremes. Limited exposure, a little bit of sun, proved good.

Continue to block out the light and this headline could make front page news: Brits say it's not our fault. We have the wrong kind of sun.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

An Apple A Day

The apple, a fruit some might describe as sinful. Plucked from a tree, it tempted Adam and Eve; even Snow White found its rosy red flesh hard to resist. Others too strayed from the path, convinced of its virtuousness. The commonplace phrase, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, turned this fruit into a symbol of goodness. Coughs and the common cold warded off if you followed this sound advice. A clean bill of health. No need to summon the doctor. Folklore, old wives' tales; call it what you like. Consider this: what if they were right?

A 19th century approach to healthy eating. When this proverb was coined, the word “apple” referred to any round fruit. An early equivalent to the NHS “5-a-day”. The health benefits addressed without the research we have today. Evidence suggests coloured fruits and veg are a rich source of antioxidant compounds. Reducing the risk of colon, prostate and lung cancer. Diminishing heart disease. Killing bacteria. Controlling weight loss and cholesterol. Yet some experts now say this is not enough. We need to dose ourselves up with synthetic, chemically based preparations. Just-in-case medication.

Pills. Blister-packed, tamper-proof bottles, a sachet of powder. Available over-the-counter or placed strategically in wellbeing aisles. Guaranteed to make you feel better, even if nothing is wrong. The insurance plan drug companies love. There as a back up in case of a sniffle, sore throat, or sneeze. The person next to you has gone down with flu or has an upset stomach. Chewed, dissolved on the tongue. Swallowed or mixed with water. One little pill; a precautionary remedy. Numerous appointments made with the GP. Our expectations met; an illegible prescription handed over. No faith in our own defence against contracting illness or disease.

There are those who would say an apple a day is the same principal: it too is an insurance policy. True, but an apple, or any fruit and veg is wholesome and natural. Grown. Less chances of adverse effects, and your mind and body reap its other benefits. An energetic fix; an immune booster. Cells deployed, to fight foreign invaders. This won't happen if immunity is constantly suppressed. Good bacteria killed off, internal systems on stop, go, stop, go. The body's rhythm interrupted. Why can't we adopt food-based medicine on the national health? Pills derived from nature. No synthetic binders, fillers, and man-made ingredients. An integrated measure.

What do the government want? Us to supplement or not? The need for extra nutrients flatly denied. Popping vitamin pills is harmful. Public health at the expense and in the hands of pharmaceuticals. The proverb above forgotten. Amended to “An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away and earns the drug reps their bread.”