February 21st The Cocktail hour


I’ve just made Mark his first Manhattan in a proper cocktail glass – first time for me, one of many for Mark as it’s his favourite drink. He’s found his finest bourbon from the garage, with dark, red vermouth, a splash of Angostura bitters and ice, and I’ve given it  fifteen stirs in a tumbler before pouring into the posh glass beloved by the bartenders that he has trained over the years.

No sticky red cherries, no twists of lemon. Just the drinks that he loves.

‘Delicious’, he sighs ‘ but am I allowed it? ‘
Tonight I am in charge so we will eat and drink what we like. No Mystic Meg remedies just small, nourishing dishes – maybe a few scallops with cream and mashed potatoes.
But that is after his hot bath in sodium bicarbonate – another magical ingredient with mystery properties. Mark prefers showers to bath but he troupes off next door to The Sea House and steams for a while. He says it is like visiting a Swedish sauna – the freezing winds of Seaford give his trip a Nordic flavour.
Tonight we burn beads of frankincense. The charcoal pellets smoke after a belt with my creme brulee torch then I sprinkle on the tiny beads and the grey smoke wafts around the house.  A memory of ancient times and the story of the three wise men.  The fragrance reminds me of the quiet calm of St Michael’s church in Lewes which is always a place of reflection and strength. Thankyou to Simon Monk for sourcing this gift – I would like to be more skilled at setting it alight.
Today has been an exhaustion of paperwork. Who knew about the Power of Attorney and that I would become one just by a signature?
Your messages are so kind, and we both feel so supported. So thanks.

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19th February Mark’s journey – the beginning


Hello

Mark has agreed that it’s a good idea to send progress emails. His hospital visits began on February 8th 2018.

Today, February 16th, we start the chemo sessions – unknown territory for us, and unknown effects.

Mark and I are staying in Seaford – he grew up by the sea and loves looking at the water through storms and sunshine and is a cloud expert able to read the day’s weather.

Our journey to hospital passes through the most magnificent countryside in England – the South Downs National Park. Across the hills, dropping down to Cuckmere Haven, on over the road beside the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters – part of BBC Seven Man Made Wonders.

On to Birling Gap and a stop to look over the cliff edge and on sunny days a sparkling sea with a view that Mark says travels to the unknown. Then on past Belle Tout lighthouse, round by Beachy Head until we reach the spectacular views over the bay above Eastbourne.

Mark’s illness has been diagnosed very suddenly. He’s got aggressive small cell cancer, normally found in the lung, but in his case it’s in the bowel and liver.

We travelled to Seville in December, had a marvellous family Christmas in stormy Dungeness and booked to go to Hungary next week – February 26th – that’s how well he felt.

Now we have time to talk and sit quietly together and reflect on our busy fifty two years together. Family and friends have been a massive support and we are learning to be less occupied with the clatter and clutter of daily life.

So onwards and upwards on this next journey with dignity which will take all of our courage. We thank you all for the massive support and love,

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February 22nd A garage of spirits


Thursday has been a clatter and clutter with a medical day and more people have been added to Mark’s email list. Thankyou for your replies and stories of all the cocktails you have had and intend to try on your life travels.

You may puzzle why Mark stores his bottles of spirits in the Seaford garage. And what he intends to do with them all. He says have a bottle party but don’t bring your own. But anyone drinking that quantity might be vomiting all the way to Beachy Head, which means lifeboats, coastguards and helicopters if you trip off – and at Splash Point outside our house, we have regular visits from all of them.

As part of his working life passion, Mark has collected classic spirits from around the globe and he’s stored them in dangerous places – the first being the top of our home in Wimbledon. If there had been a fire, the whole house would have exploded as a giant, flaming cocktail, spraying as far as the tennis courts.

After dinner parties, special guests that showed an interest were invited upstairs to taste the latest arrival.

When we moved to Lewes, hundreds of bottles were banned from our home and moved to storage space opposite Lewes station. And put on shelves. I phoned one afternoon as he was loading up only to discover that his whisky collection was about to topple and crush him if I did not arrive quickly.

Quickly! he shouted. All bottles were rescued and the shelves were then properly attached to the wall to prevent further falls.

The bottle collection shifted again when we arrived in Seaford – this time shelved in the back of the garage behind a black curtain, and on dark nights Mark sidles off down the steps for a torchlight search for something delicious for his evening drink.

But these bottles are really used for his tastings which have been delivered all over the world. He tells the stories of the history of gin, rum, vodka, whisky … and celebrates the skill and passion of the makers in creating their product.

You can read these tales in his last book Spirits Distilled on Amazon. If you buy it from Ridgwell Press, the money goes directly to him.

spirits

10 years ago when we moved to Lewes, I suggested he develop his own South Downs Gin. He trekked over the Downs with the local herbalist and collected suitable botanicals – wormwood, broom, honeysuckle, hawthorn … A small still was bought to distil and infuse flavours. But the gin never got beyond a few drops of spirit –  Mark had spent too much time marketing Smirnoff, Croft Sherry and Maker’s Mark to want to spend time persuading people to drink his Sussex Gin. 10 years ago we were way ahead of the trend!

 

This bit comes from Mark

Today GP tells me in all my medicals of blood and other samples right up to December 2017 I was in the best of health. I’m sure this recent arrival – a new kid on the block with appetite and attitude but no strategy. Whereas I have strategy and thankyou Ken for giving your professional assurance to Jenny that what tastes good does you good. I add to that what feels good … – I never saw the film 50 Shades of Grey, but read today there is no problem that cannot be ameliorated with a hot bath and hot cup of tea. That’s where I’m off to now with my tub of sodium bicarbonate.

 

Tonight is a meet with Southover Bonfire’s unrivalled action team to hand over the May Fayre – please put in your diary for Sunday May 20th. Mark

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26th February Chips


Friday night in Seaford is the great fish and chip takeaway evening. Bugger healthy eating – carbohydrate and fat for us on the south coast. Old and young queue outside Trawlers or Osbornes in Church Street, Seaford and cars double park in the street.
I’ve learnt to beware of that little old lady who comes in with a piece of paper to remind her to buy a pensioner’s portion of cod and chips. I know now she’s from the local home for the elderly with a fish and chip choice from each of the residents, and Seaford chip shops fry fish to order. Her order takes ages – small skate wing, battered cod – no make that one grilled, haddock, rock … and mushy peas and sausages and curry sauce. For God’s sake! How many more people are you buying for!  She loads the carefully wrapped, labelled packages into her shopping wheelie and heads off into the night.

Last Friday our grandson Charlie and our son Simon came to stay and chips were on the menu. ‘One portion is enough’ shouts Mark as they leave into the freezing dark. Much later Charlie pushes open the patio doors with glee.

‘We’ve bought 200 chips! Look!’ He has no idea how large a chip portion is for the residents of Seaford and they have ordered two – more like 400 chips between the four of us. But they were delicious and occupied a chip mountain on the dinner table, tossed in Cornish sea salt and Sarsons Malt vinegar.

After supper Charlie and Mark play hangman, only the new way of teaching reading makes the letter sounds slightly confusing for us!

Charlie and Mark play hangman

Next morning 300 chips were taken down to the seagulls who keep watch for recycled food on the nearby cliffs. Woosh and the greasy, cold potatoes have gone. Next time I will teach Charlie to throw up chips so the seagulls can do contortionist acrobatics  in the fight to get fed. That’s much more fun.

While I eat toast and home-made marmalade for breakfast, Mark has changed his morning food choice to an anti-cancer regime. A cup of chilled flaxseed oil is stirred into organic goat’s yogurt, then mixed with lecithin powder, and vitamin C from wild berries. Then a spoonful of bitter tasting herbs, some slippery elm and milk thistle powder. Next comes the hospital pills that sort out goodness knows what.

Lunch is more delicious – specially delivered DHL frozen chicken broth thanks to Polly and Annabel mixed with pea protein powder. This saves me loads of time boiling up bits of old birds.

Tomorrow the dietician from the hospital is paying us a visit – that should be a challenge!

Mark says for 26/2/2018

Whew! Puff. Lovely to end a day with my sister and brother in law, with my usual Manhattan, fine gravlax from Annabel, cottage pie, mango cream and Il Passo wine from Sardinia and Lanson champagne -.which he says is not special.

 

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25th February Kittiwakes return


The weekend weather has been glorious, with striking sunsets over the sea at Seaford. This time last year the kittiwakes had returned to their clifftop colony round the corner from our house at Splash Point. The frequent storms washed away their precarious nests which cling to the chalk cliff but the colony persisted and by summer the young birds were ready for their six months out at the Atlantic sea.

Mark searching for kittiwakes

Today we walked down to the groyne and checked if these gentle, delicate birds had returned. They are smaller than seagulls, and don’t screech or fight over the fish and chips that visitors offer on the beach. Instead feeding on the declining stocks of sand eels. But so far they have not returned, probably finding a way to avoid the Siberian winter predicted for the next few weeks.
Mark and I have been thinking how suddenly our lives are changing.

On Monday February 5th we stayed in Wimbledon and went out with Annabel to eat.  As always there was much discussion on restaurant choices.  But that night we wanted guaranteed deliciousness, white tablecloths and sparkling wine glasses so the local, family run San Lorenzo restaurant met our needs.  It’s related to the Beauchamp Place San Lorenzo made famous by Diana.  Ghigo Berni, the Wimbledon boss recognised us as long lost neighbours and came and shared wine and talked about the years when Boris Becker stayed in our house and ate in his restaurant – and won the championships. Boris quotes on the restaurant website “No other restaurant has felt like this to me.”  And we feel the same.

We feasted on seared scallops, pasta with truffles and cream sauce, sea bream and a couple of bottles of white wine and Mark left promising Ghigo a signed copy of his book, Spirits Distilled.

Before dawn on February 6th, Mark took a hammer and axe and demolished the old shed in the Wimbledon garden, packed it in my car and drove it to the dump. It was a job I had planned for the morning but as usual, Mark beat me to it. By the time he returned I could tell he was unwell and for some reason, exhausted.

But at lunchtime he set off to Shoreditch to give his monthly talk to 35 bartenders from bars in trendy East London. He’s been doing this every month since 2002 with Matchbar, Rushmore and London Union.

He delivered his three hour talk and tasting to introduce the new teams to spirit production and told them of the year’s plan.

Kevin Armstrong who runs the business emailed Mark back when he received the news that Mark was unwell.

‘You have made an enormous contribution in terms of bartending standards, knowledge and training. Your programme and its reputation along with ours has been one of the key contributing factors to why we were able to attract London’s very best bartenders. I know many of our team will be extremely saddened.’

Simon, our son met Mark off the train at Lewes, and drove him to Seaford, staying with him overnight then onto the appointment where they learnt the news that all is changing.

Mark says

Thankyou to everyone for their exceptional kind comments and thoughts and please be sure to ’Seize the day.’

I have just been made a life member of Southover Bonfire Society which is so much appreciated, as those of you that live in Lewes know.

 

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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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