Archive for December, 2012

In praise of soup…

December 26, 2012

On my hob, two pots are simmering gently. One contains a nice easy soup; the remains of yesterday’s turkey-stock-based gravy with leftover vegetables (sweet potato, parsnip, onion, sprouts, carrots & leeks) just dropped in & stick-blended. Took seconds, tastes gooooood; real comfort food for a lazy Boxing Day. The other has the skin & bones of the goose, picked clean of flesh, broken up & boiling away with some herbs, seasoning, roughly-chopped onion, carrot & celery. The veg were bought cheaply as our weekend market closed a couple of weeks back; they’re the biggest, toughest & leafiest ones that more discerning shoppers evidently didn’t want, & they’ll be full of overwhelming flavour. You wouldn’t want them in a salad but they’ll be adding plenty of body to my stock; peelings will go to the rabbit with her breakfast tomorrow. (She seems to do all right on them, before anyone tells me she shouldn’t have them, as she’s nearly 7 now.) The fat will be skimmed off, chilled to solidify, lifted off any remaining stock, heated up again & strained to render down into a pure white  substance to keep in the fridge, which will make the nicest, crispiest roast potatoes well into 2013. The turkey remains will be demolished later; most of the meat will be made into a curry supper for tonight and tomorrow that carcass too will be in the stockpot. Most of the stock will be frozen in batches, to be defrosted & used in soups for weeks to come, and small scraps of meat will be frozen in little containers to give those a bit of body.

Why do people turn their noses up at soup, or view it just as a starter for a “real” meal? And why do some of the most impecunious people I know just throw their festive leftovers away? There’s so much taste & goodness left in there; you’re only getting about a quarter of the value you could be getting out of your money (and that creature’s sacrifice) if you just throw it away after one meal, when you’ve eaten the “best” bits! We normally have a roast on a Sunday, then (time allowing) leftovers of whatever sort, apart from those destined to be made into another main meal, will be made into a big pot of soup on Monday morning, by whichever method is most appropriate, but usually involving the stockpot or the slow cooker. Those of us who work from home will have this for lunch well into the week. When I had my shop, I took flasks of soup in for lunch most days.

Soup is Bibilical – mess of pottage, anyone? – a well-known restorative for invalids & convalescents, and historically a mainstay of peasant diets, though of course, sometimes there just plain weren’t any other options. The best soups are seasonal, delicious, and all round good for you. It’s easy to add in foraged goodies like fresh young nettle leaves or garlic mustard without anyone with delicate sensibilities noticing. It’s even possible that they eat it on other planets – anyone else remember the Soup Dragon from The Clangers?! And what could be more heartwarming than knowing it’s filling your stomach with goodness without emptying your purse?


Can we call ourselves civilised any more?

December 12, 2012

Is the Social Contract breaking down?

I’m watching with sadness as my 86 year old mother, an exemplary member of society all her life, suddenly discovers that, although she worked right up until two years ago, always paid her taxes & National Insurance, battled to teach her children right from wrong, has never knowingly broken any law and generally been a shining beacon to all those who have been lucky enough to know her, the NHS doesn’t actually give a damn about her. Now she’s old, she’s disposable. Taking up resources that more economically-active citizens might need…

The story so far, as told elsewhere:

“She fell some time ago, for no known reason, & felt ghastly afterwards, but her GP refused to give her a face-to-face appointment, basically saying that that’s to be expected when you’re 86, just take some paracetamol & you’ll be fine in a week or two. A few days later she tried again to get an appointment, as she was still suffering from considerable discomfort under the ribs, and didn’t feel right at all. But again, all she could get was a “telephone consultation” & the doc said that she should just take more paracetamol; even if she’d broken a couple of ribs, the hospital wouldn’t be able to do anything for her & it could take 6 weeks or so before she felt better.

Eventually, on the insistence of my younger brother, who works for Social Services, they grudgingly gave her an appointment with a trainee GP, who luckily turned out to be very good, keen & painstaking. Turns out she’d had a heart attack, probably when she fell. Any fool could SEE that she really wasn’t at all well, that whatever ailed her was far more than a little bit of bruising, but evidently her GP doesn’t do actually SEEING people any more.

Yesterday she collapsed at the surgery after being given some kind of spray treatment to lower her blood pressure. The trainee GP called an ambulance & she was carted off to hospital; he’d written a note asking for her to seen by the cardiac department & various tests to be done. She & my step-father spent 7 hours in a cubicle in A&E, with nothing to do & not even a cup of water, where they eventually repeated the ECG the surgery did last week, then sent her home saying they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. Now the trainee GP can’t request further investigations until he gets the results of the ECG they did yesterday, because he doesn’t know why they ignored his requests & just repeated the ECG. In the meantime, Mum’s condition is dangerously volatile, because they don’t know what they should be treating her for.

Since when have doctors been too busy to see an 86 y.o. who may have broken some ribs? Since when is paracetamol the best the NHS can offer? I can understand that the A&E department may just have been run off their feet & too busy to read the notes that came in with a patient that was at least still breathing, but why do we have to wait for the results to come back – in the post, in December – before anything further can be done?

When I was working in sheltered housing, from time to time I encountered the attitude that anyone over 60 should just shuffle off quietly & not make any fuss on the way out. One minute it’s “the ambulance is on its way” but as soon as you give the date of birth it becomes, “Oh. District Nurse will come & see them in a week or so…” Seems to me that this is becoming more prevalent. But I can’t understand why anyone thinks it’s OK to leave an otherwise-fit & very capable old lady, who has hardly ever bothered them, in pain & distress, with just an impatient phone call & orders to take more paracetamol…”

There are plenty more instances I can add. Here’s a comment from a disabled member of a forum I belong to, referring to an incident this week:

“Having spent 8hrs on a trolley in a corridor I conclude it is the way the disabled are treated too!” And another friend has multiple serious health challenges, including psoriasis, a badly-damaged liver and legs that are constantly swollen, painful & actually bleeding half the time; getting dressed is acutely painful, never mind walking, but apparently she is perfectly capable of holding down a full time job, so no longer qualifies for most of the paltry benefits she used to scrape by on. And we’ve all read of the soldiers who have sacrificed limbs and/or their mental health, for Queen & Country, being denied housing & benefits. Dulce et decorum est

Not to mention the time my boys came across an elderly gentleman lying in our road one icy night. One of them is a trained first-aider; it took him seconds to realise that the old boy was seriously hurt (broken arm, smashed fingers, broken nose, collar- & cheek-bones) after slipping on thick ice and that his bare skin was stuck to a pile of his own frozen blood. They called for an emergency ambulance, explained the situation clearly, and one ran to the house for blankets to try to warm him up. We are about 200 yards from the ambulance station. It took 50 minutes to arrive. And no, it eventually transpired there wasn’t anything more urgent going on; the dispatcher had just concluded, old person fallen over, no rush. He didn’t linger long afterwards.

Or the person in our road who has an autistic son, who has just found out that there’s no “funding” at all for respite this winter, not even a couple of hours so she can go Christmas shopping for the rest of her kids, as she works full-time in term time to keep the roof over their heads & food in their mouths. I could go on and on… sometimes I can help fill some of the gaps that were once filled by the agencies paid for by our contributions, which is only fair as I don’t currently earn enough to pay tax, though I do voluntarily (and happily) pay NI. But the holes in the safety-net are getting bigger & wider all the time and I, and people like me, can’t keep filling them all. Can’t even begin to see them all, in fact.

So, where are all our taxes & contributions going? They are draining upwards, keeping that interest flowing; after all, if the rich don’t continue to get richer, whatever would there be for the rest of us to aspire to? Seems to most of us down here that the “trickle-down” effect is more of a flood upwards; that our hard-earned cash is being grasped & flung into a black hole of invisible debt that is none of our making, and that our friends, neighbours & loved ones are now slowly, but surely, being sacrificed to keep the juggernauts of industry rolling over our once green & pleasant land. And we are probably next in line.

I’ve always believed, as my mother told me, that the mark of a civilised society is how it cares for its weaker members, those who for whatever reason are unable to care for themselves, temporarily or permanently. I am rapidly concluding that we can no longer call ourselves civilised.

Plant trees…

December 11, 2012

Last week, at our Quaker meeting, out of the gathered silence, a short phrase kept popping into my head. It didn’t insist on being said, as these things sometimes do; it wanted to be written down, and put into action. So here it is: PLANT TREES. Now to work out how; there are already as many trees here as one small urban garden can support. But somehow it seems really, really important, and urgent. So here it is; I’m writing it down for all to see, or at least the few of you who read this!

Pondering it whilst hanging out the washing, other words started to wrap themselves around it, and it’s ended up as a poem. With apologies for inflicting it on you all, here goes:


See the bright flags of our defiance stream against the winter sky,

watch weeds nose through tarmac and reach for the sun.

Taste the food of freedom, nourished by compost and wrapt in eggshells.

Hear blackbirds shatter the dawn and snowflakes hiss through skybound twigs.

Feel the wind lift your hair, the sun on your back, cold sea foam kiss your toes,

Smell the roses, home-baked bread, slow-brewed coffee,

Pick berries, brew beer, plant trees and remember…

Life doesn’t only flourish in the nine-to-five. Money isn’t all.

Dump the daily crush, forget blurry morning rituals,

Leave the dull grey air, the plastic tumbleweed, behind

with the overflowing in-tray and the mumble-jumble talking heads.

Walk away from glittering windows and eye-watering prices.

Leave your cards behind, walk away from this empty game,

and hear the roar of people whispering – enough.

If we won’t play – game over.

Fingers burned by the pie in the sky,

half-baked from illusions and slathered in greed, we turn away,

or fall with it, crushed by the debts of millions, stacked & sliced.

Walk away, turn your back before it pulls you in and sucks you dry; it can’t be saved.

Gather round campfires, sing songs, tell dawntime stories,

plant trees, remember, grow and flourish!