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February 28th The elephant in the room


After dinner last night Mark and I sat with his sister Janet and brother in law Bryan around the table and lit a large, turquoise elephant candle called Ganesh. A strange ritual for us.

Mark says the candle reminds him of something he might have won as a child from the Southend fairgrounds.

Bryan comments that the candle is the elephant in the room, an intruder that he was not keen to meet.

Mark describes this visitor in his own words.

‘The sea has been calm for a week but today it is becoming turbulent as the snow storms approach. My thoughts turn to the disruption brought about by my intruder. It seems to be eating a lot, taking more than its share, so its disrupting my body and affecting the things we can do together.

I’m now enjoying delicious food from Jenny, Annabel and Janet after a sensible talk by the hospital dietitian who says I can eat and drink anything I like. It’s a pity that the intruder seems to like my diet too.

I feel at the moment that we can win despite the weight loss and lack of energy and I’m not suffering any other effects from chemo treatment. ‘

Shingle shifting in Seaford

As we look out over the sea each morning, six yellow dump trucks begin their 10 hour shift, driving the shingle from the groyne at Splash Point and moving it westwards to Newhaven harbour. Men arrive early in Ovenden vans, wearing hard hats and dressed in orange workgear which reminds me of Guantanamo bay.

Dumper trucks in Seaford shifting shingle

‘We’re here for five weeks, love – to stop your house from flooding.’ Climate change brings many storms to Seaford and in past years stones blew off the beach and smashed windows.

Storm Emma is due to hit us on March 1st ‘bringing strong winds and heavy snow.’ The Met Office says that naming storms helps us ‘prepare in advance and makes us more aware of severe weather. ‘

Try opening a car door on Seaford seafront – there’s no preparation for that!

Our terraced house on Cliff Close will no doubt shake and rattle, leading to sleepless nights.

I’m thinking of renaming are block Cliff Getting Closer.

Reply from Julian

The elephant ritual sounded such a brilliant combination of close friends, significance and laughs. Hey, who cares what it means if it made for a memorable evening …and anyway if Hannibal thought elephants would help him scale mountains and manage adversary then it sounds like a good plan !
From Jess
This is lovely. Your writing is beautiful. To describe something that is causing you both so much unhappiness like this is inspirational. Jess x 
Des Thank you for the emails.  It’s good to hear how you are coping, it seems to bring us closer to you.

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February 28th What’s in a name


Sometimes when you least want it, words and phrases pop up to remind you of reality.

I’m sure you remember Basil Fawlty telling staff ‘Don’t mention the war  when he had German guests. Fawlty proceeded to mention the war at every opportunity, mistakenly ordering ‘a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads.’

Last week, for a treat I went with Melanie to the Depot cinema in Lewes, to watch the live streaming from the National Theatre of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. As usual, I had done no research on the plot line. If only I’d texted my great friend Sue, a retired English teacher who had taught the play to her A level students.

This is her precis after I moaned on the phone about my challenging night out.

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – it’s about family, expectations, failure, money, hidden homosexuality, denial and cancer.’
I lost count of the number of times the c word was mentioned in the gruelling second half but I wanted to creep out and make the windy, cold drive alone to Seaford where Mark was waiting with our great friend Simon in our cosy house.

In preparation for Storm Emma I bought a hand knitted bobble hat from a charity shop.  But first I had to remove the swing tag which in bold letters tells me ‘More than half of all bowel cancers could be prevented each year.’  And I only bought it to keep out the wind.

Our very kind Doctor Murphy gave us prescription pills which are packaged in a neat paper bag from Boots. To open the bag, first unstick the top and then read
‘QUESTIONS ABOUT CANCER CALL THE MACMILLAN SUPPORT LINE FREE ON 0808808000.’ Ahhh

When we sold our Wimbledon house to a Chinese buyer, 8 was an auspicious number – she made 8888 of £s in her offer. Seems 8 means prosperity, success and high social status. Maybe I’ll ring Macmillan and ask the 8 question.

And today, the Times has a centre spread on ‘Cancer felt like being hit by a train… ‘
Our newspaper is delivered at 7 am, through rain and storms to our isolated letter box down a windy alley by our amazing Seaford newsagent. It’s Mark’s favourite part of the day to read the news, overlooking the sea with a pint mug of hot tea.
The article by Kate Figes tells of cannabis oil and oxygen therapy and the book by Bernie Siegel on ‘Love, medicine and miracles’ which talks about three groups of patients and the 10-15% group of ‘exceptional patients’ do research and ask questions and do better on treatments.

lovemedicinemiraclesFiges has made cancer her new journalist assignment, so good luck to her with that.

But the best part of my day or even week is to learn that the amazing chef Jonas Juchli, who is working in the Seychelles on Mahe cooking for international guests, has found me a coco de mer which is growing on a palm tree in Anse Lazio beach.  He’s named it Jenny, it will be ready in 3 weeks and he has got a coco de mer passport to bring it back to Europe. This huge double coconut looks like a female Kardashian buttock and is the stuff of legend. People who found it floating in the sea thought it came from the garden of Eden. It’s the largest seed in Kew Gardens’ millenium seed bank and I have wanted one ever since I saw a huge specimen 30 years ago in the Banks Collection on a private visit. So Jonas thankyou and come back and cook us your incredible food.

Mark says

Today we had a nurse come round from St Wilfrid’s Hospice and it is really a great relief to know that Jenny has 24 hour telephone support and staff that are able to help us. Seaford seems to be a microclimate in Sussex from Storm Emma. People are not sitting in deckchairs on the beach but so far snow and storms have not arrived. Seaford is a gateway to the sun and we watch the ferry arriving from Dieppe.

Reply from Siobhan

Prayers for you are just as important. As we all know, watching someone go through illness can often be worse as you are so helpless.Stay warm. Big hugs to you both and although we have been remote lately, we are always here for you. Xxx

Reply from Eileen
I thought of you as I walked on the Common… Every blade, leaf tinged with white. Spectacular. Tho COLD. Wilfred loved it. But snow ‘caked’ between his furry toes/pads which is painful. So sadly couldn’t do a deserved real walk.

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2nd March The battle of the banks


Today has been a battle of bureaucracy

But first the good news. Seaford, as you know, is in the micro-climate on the Sussex coast and we are unaffected by Storm Emma with virtually no snow or high winds.
One local wag said
‘If
I hear just one more reference to The Beast From the East I will personally give them A Sock From The South’.
The weather forecast has screeched alarms in the last few days but here at Splash Point we are made of stronger stuff. In past months the house has been blasted with unnamed storms, the windows rattle and the roof wobbles like Rolf Harris’s didgeridoo. But last night, all was calm.

And more good news – today I received 3 letters – one from HM Revenue with a cheque for overpaid tax – if they send me a bill, I pay it.

Another to tell me that I have normal results from my bowel cancer screening, ‘but no screening test is 100% effective.’ Mark’s test a few months ago was also clear.

And a third from the brilliant Lisa Joffe who paints Sussex landscapes with her improvisational movement of oils and charcoal over canvas. We have two huge dramatic paintings which occupy most of the lounge walls – they match the colour of Seaford’s spectacular sunsets with swirls of orange, grey, blue and black. The picture shows Mark’s choice which he says is like the Fighting Temeraire by Turner. I’m not going to show Turner’s painting here as I got fined £1200 by Stock Photo for showing a radish picture on this website 10 years ago.
Watch her fabulous video as she explores Hope Gap

Lisa Joffe’s painting – Mark’s choice that he says looks like The Fighting Temeraire by Turner

But today was the battle of the bank to get Mark’s HSBC account changed to both our names. I drove him in on Monday to be told that there were no appointments until Friday. We spent hours on the phone helpline with no effect.  My chat on their Customer Support was terminated with  

‘There is no point in further conversation, it would be better to contact the telephone banking team and get support from them.’

When I checked their adverts and discovered a perky HSBC Youtube video starring Richard Ayoade with the tag

‘HSBC UK, we believe that no man, or woman, is an island. Together we thrive,’

So thanks to Sarah for online advice, I wrote a comment on the website.  A swift reply came to my email asking for my address. My Youtube posting under the video seems to have been hidden.

The bank account has now been changed so I will have access. But the days of an available bank manager or human help have gone – we are digital beasts tapping in code numbers and getting voice recognition to help us in the future global community as we skip into the sunset.

 

From Mark

Today Gerry Wadman of Sussex Sports Cars came down – one of my first great friends that I made in Lewes. I drew attention to myself when I drove to the tip past his garage in my Mustang. Gerry has been my wonderful partner in buying and enjoying some fabulous cars and he’s offered to take me for a spin in an E Type on a drive to Brighton. For the first time in my life I have no cars, so thankyou Gerry – maybe we’ll be at Goodwood Classics later this year.

One of the cars was a Mercedes silver 260 SE Convertible 1967 with red leather interior that Gerry kindly introduced me to. It was owned by a Graff diamond dealer and this car gave great pleasure to the lovely Isobel, my sister in law, when I drove her to hospital  for her first chemo. I then took my wonderful friend Axel and his wife Sue from Wimbledon across the South Downs on a sparkling summer’s day. We drove round Beachy Head, down to Birling Gap and on to Lewes with the roof down through some of the most scenic routes in Sussex. So Gerry keep the E Type engine warm for our spin.

Supper is yellow fin tuna ceviche, followed by chicken, mushroom, spinach and cream pie with filo topping cooked by my daughter Annabel. Served with Taittinger and Rioja.

Reply from Bryan
Glad eventually you got some human somewhere who was able to help getting the bank account sorted. Prayer for you
GRANT ME THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE,
COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THING I CAN AND WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.

Reply from Sue
Mark we loved your piece about the drive that afternoon in your special Mercedes car …..it was amazing …the scenery, weather and company provides us too with happy and special memories! Thank you for writing about them!

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Reading the clouds and airbnb March 4th


Storm clouds and we will be struck off by airbnb

I call Mark the weatherman because he can read the clouds and the winds and tell me if I’m going to get soaked on a walk or if the sun will take over. Some years ago he took part in the Clipper Challenge round the world yacht race and I reckon he learnt a lot from watching the skies of the South China Sea.
These are his cloud thoughts for today.

‘A week to go to the next chemo blast, that will probably be the full dose, so no idea what to expect/ Firstly I wanted to say thankyou for all the love that you’ve shared with me in the past fortnight.

Seaford is a great place for cloud spotters and last week the skies were full of brilliant white, cotton wool, cauliflower mounds called cumulus. These fair weather clouds provided a positive backdrop to last week’s traumas.

Yesterday and today we just have grey and all-covering stratus clouds that are clearly bringing rain down to the sea and in the distance. As I write this, far away, probably in France, the autostratus clouds are lit gold by the sun, so maybe we are back to Seaford’s microclimate next week.
Jenny’s footnote

From our house Mark has pointed out black anvil clouds which bring with them startling thunderstorms and lightning. The great thing about Seaford is that you can see them, but not always suffer their violence as they blow inland to deluge Lewes or Brighton.

Airbnb will suspend my account

Some of you may have stayed in The Sea House which is next door to our Seaford home.

It’s got 33  5* star ratings and I’m a superhost. Last year it was booked back to back and people begged to come and stay. Gemma stayed last month in February and wrote

‘This is a gorgeous, tasteful little piece of tranquillity overlooking the sea.Jenny and Mark were great hosts and provided us with lots of tips of places to visit. Our stay was perfect!’

Now I need to use it for visitors to stay and for carers and maybe medical nurses, so I have cancelled 2 bookings in April, and given the guests the reason. Both guests have written kind and compassionate replies.

Airbnb have just emailed me

Your listing may be suspended if you cancel too many times. If your listing is suspended, it will not show up in search results and guests will not be able to make a reservation.’

You don’t need to read my reply to them but here it is.

‘My husband is terminally ill. I need airbnb to have some compassion not tell me I will be struck off. I am superhost. Please be kind.’

Now I’m ranting to HSBC, Airbnb and the Post Office has lost signed for legal documents posted on Monday 26th – the website says today March 4th 7 days later

We’ve got it Tracking no. Item GQ063053870GB was posted at Church Street BN25 1LR on 26/02/18 and is being progressed through our network for delivery.

Now I’m playing Rag’n’Bone Man – Human  as loud as Splash Point can take!

‘Maybe I’m foolish
Maybe I’m blind
Thinking I can see through this
And see what’s behind
Got no way to prove it

So maybe I’m blind
But I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put your blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me’

Reading The Cloudspotters Guide Gavin Pretor Pinney

cloudspotting

From John
As a confirmed cloud watcher myself 

Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?’ …
‘Methinks it is like a weasel’ ‘…
Or like a whale’
: Hamlet

in my case mostly from parawaiting on hill tops as well as sailing of the Western Isles,  I envy your extra sky at Splash Point.

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What does AA stand for? March 3rd 2018


AA Gill wrote in his final article that he had the ‘full English of cancers’ and ‘the NHS represents everything we think is best about us.’

In his restaurant column three weeks earlier, he wrote of  “an embarrassment of cancer”. “There is barely a morsel of offal that is not included. I have a trucker’s gut-buster, gimpy, malevolent, meaty malignancy,”

A magnificent collection of visual images that open up your soul. I was so sorry to know that his language which danced across the Sunday Times might be curtailed. He died on 10th December 2016 on the day I finished his brilliant book, Pour Me.

Years earlier I heard him speak at a chef’s symposium, where he teased the audience that they worked anti social hours, in a rubbish job, appalling environment and were badly paid. He on the other hand earned £150,000 a year working 3 sociable days a week.

During the coffee break he stood alone as the chefs semicircled away from him in frustration or anger. I watched his isolation, then sidled up and asked how he found so many boat race words when he was writing about a Putney restaurant by the river Thames, I felt naive and stupid against his fierce intelligence.

Years later he sat on the banquette next to me at the Dean Street Townhouse. He’d written that his favourite dish there was mince and potatoes, so that was my choice too.

‘Nice coat’ he commented on my pink and yellow, antique Ikat outfit.

‘It’s from some country ending in ..stan, like Kazakhstan’ I replied.

‘Don’t think so – it’s Uzbekistan.’ were his final words.

I wore the coat again at the Royal Academy and in the coffee queue, a lady commented on its beauty.

‘AA Gill said it’s from Uzbekistan’ I told her.

The woman in front of me turned round. ‘He was always right about things like that. I know, I am his mother.’

We gasped and shared our loss – mine of his writing – hers of her son. How I would have loved to share some memories with her but we parted in the politeness of the RA members room.

From Gerry

I read all of his articles in his last months -and was deeply moved with his direct and frank reporting . 
I assumed AA is his Christian names but don’t know . 
I met him once with top gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson – they were very close buddies.
Me – He was Adrian Anthony Gill but after he gave up alcohol he went to AA and decided to write under the name AA as he had sobered up and really valued what they did for him.
From Fiona
If only I could write with such style and interest as you can – can it be learnt?

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Pickled onions and chutney


My school food budget of £50 is so small that I’ve asked for donations of spare fruits and vegetables for our preservation lessons. London gardens spill out their windfall apples and pears and we get plenty of beetroot and onions from the pickings of allotments. The keener students bring in blackberries and crab apples gathered in weekend forays round Epping Forest and from the derelict building sites around the area.

As the class shambles in, the tables are piled with boxes of apples in various stages of dilapidation. There is a large sack of very small onions.
They settle on their stools.
‘These lessons are about preserving things so that they will last longer. How are we going preserve these apples and onions so that they last over winter?’
Silence. They don’t care.
‘Come on, what shall we do with them?’
‘Put them on the compost heap, miss – them apples look rotten.’
Terry is good in the school garden so he should know.
He’s right – we need to remove the battered and bruised fruit but I must inspire thriftiness in this throwaway world.
‘We’re going to use the apples to make apple chutney and pickle those small onions in vinegar.’
It is clear from the grumbles and shuffling that they’d rather do scones like last week.
‘Hurry up – you have to make a choice! Apple chutney or pickled onions?’
They divide by sex. Girls choose chutney, boys the onions. This separation often happens. They are not choosing what they want to cook. The boys and girls just don’t want to work with each other.

On a school training day we were told to mix up boys and girls and make them sit next to each other and work in mixed sex pairs. That night I’d gone past the deer in the park. The female deer huddled together and the giant stags patrolled the boundaries. No one made them mix up. And when they chose to it was on their terms and only for a few seconds on special occasions.

In the classroom the girls cook in clean, organised workplaces and the boys create a messy nest of ingredients and cooking equipment which soon spills onto the floor and ends up being kicked under the tables.
Big boys preparing tiny onions make me laugh as they peel away the withered, brown skins, then top and tail the onions and put them in salted water. Gradually the tears flow.
‘What’s up Terry – does this lesson make you sad?’
Terry rubs his fists into his eyes. Now his whole face is pink and blubbery.
‘Class – don’t wipe your eyes with oniony hands – the juice gets in and makes the crying worse.’ They blink at me, their eyes reddened and bleary.

 

I should have warned them earlier but they never listen to instructions. And crying is such a cissie thing which would never happen to these tough guys.

‘Me nan peels her onions under water so she don’t cry.’

Bill dumps his onions in the butlers sink full of cold water. A stream of dribble runs from his nose, over his chin and plops down in the water. Pickled onions and snot – now how are we going to make that safe to eat?

Squeals come from the girls who are peeling and chopping the pile of windfall apples. Liz has chopped through a slug and its innards ooze onto the table.
‘Err miss – look at this slug – I ain’t using them apples – they’ll poison me.’
They gather in disgust to watch the slug shrivel in green slime. Liz pokes the slug with her knife and holds it up for the class to see and share their revulsion  at using this less than perfect fruit.
‘OK. Throw those apples away and clean down the work surface to remove the mess. We’re still going to use the rest.’
‘Miss, I ain’t eating food that has slugs in it.  Why do I have to do this lesson anyway?’

Liz unties her apron, slings it on the table and stomps out of the room.  This is her afternoon trick  to meet her boyfriend at the school gates. He might not find the smell of vinegar, onions and rotten apples so attractive this time. But Liz wants to make babies and thinks school, and my lessons in particular, are rubbish.

Apple chutney is a piquant compote of apples, onions and sultanas gently simmered in vinegar and brown sugar and the girls stir the spicy broth as it softens and thickens.
The boys pack their onions in hot kilner jars and pour in hot, spiced vinegar.
The fragrance of cooking wafts into the school corridors and attracts wandering staff and students who sniff the air and go Ah! like the Bisto ad.
Biff is a frequent visitor to my room. He gets sent out of most lessons to drift around the school in search of mischief and sources of entertainment.
‘Miss – this room always smells lovely – when can I do cooking with you – please let me in.’
‘One day – maybe – now get on your way. I expect the headmaster is waiting to see you.’
Steaming apple chutney is piled into jam jars, with a circle of waxed paper on top and covered with cellophane and an elastic band.
The labels on the jars are designed to impress for the highest marks.
Alice’s Amazing Apple Chutney 1973.
Paul’s Perfect Pickled Onions.
Maybe some are still maturing in a secret east end cupboard somewhere, waiting for discovery. And maybe, like Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce, they will become a mass produced delicacy found on future supermarket shelves.

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Salad cream


During the research for this book I’ve asked a lot of people about salad cream. When I was teaching, we put salad cream in lots of things such as stuffed eggs, and served it in a posh jug with a meal. Here is my research on salad cream which will appear in the book.

Salad cream was the first brand developed in 1925 by Heinz for the UK market. Salad cream was hugely popular during wartime rationing as it livened up the rather limited range of foods available. There is a class issue with salad cream, as it was popular in working class areas, and the more sophisticated cooks made their own mayonnaise. My favourite salad cream dish was mashed hard boiled eggs, salad cream and chopped chives in a wholemeal bread sandwich.
Salad cream sales began to decline in 1970’s, when hamburgers and American mayonnaise arrived on our shop shelves, salad cream went into decline. Salad cream is virtually unknown outside the UK.
In 1998 Heinz relaunched the brand with the slogan
Any food tastes supreme with Heinz salad cream.
I once had the job to write a cookery leaflet with 21 Heinz salad cream recipes. My family despaired at having to eat salad cream with nearly everything!
The chef Marco Pierre White is supposed to have said
‘Salad cream is one of the greatest culinary inventions’ .

These are the food labels for salad cream and mayonnaise. Amazingly the ingredients are virtually the same, only in different proportions. Salad cream has half the calories of mayonnaise. Both use pasteurised egg yolk for safety to avoid salmonella food poisoning.

Heinz salad cream  332 calories per 100 g 41p per 100g
Spirit Vinegar, Vegetable Oil (25%), Water, Sugar, Mustard, Salt, Egg Yolks (3%), Modified Cornflour, Stabilisers – Guar Gum and Xanthan Gum, Colour – Riboflavin.
Hellmann’s mayonnaise 722 calories per 100g 45 p per 100g
Vegetable Oil (77%), Water, Pasteurised Egg & Egg Yolk (8%), Spirit Vinegar, Salt, Sugar, Lemon Juice, Mustard Flavouring, Antioxidant (Calcium Disodium EDTA), Paprika Extract.
What is the difference?
Mayonnaise contains more oil and has twice the number of calories weight for weight.
What is the same?
They both contain oil, water, spirit vinegar, egg yolk, salt, sugar, mustard.
They are similar in price

Did you know
In a 2009 survey by Windsetlers Gel Capsules, 20% of travellers that go on a foreign holiday take salad cream or brown sauce in their suitcases. Tea bags are the most popular memento (42%), then newspapers (25%) then sauces, then toys (11%).

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