Sunday, December 27, 2009

Turkey lurkey

So Christmas came and Christmas went
And all we have to show
Is a wrapping-paper mountain
And a bird that seems to grow.
It started off enormous
And then it just got gross
It’s not even a favourite
Not chicken, quail or goose – oh -

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
It’s glowering upon me from the fridge.
Whenever I begin to feel more perky
It peers around the dish of cold damp veg.

This wasn’t on the wrapper
It said ‘feeds just 6-10’.
No mention of disaster
With an ever-expanding hen – oh -

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
I’ve curried, frittered, stir-fried all I can.
I’m taking sandwiches with me to worky
Now I swear there’s more than when we first began.

I’ve consulted Delia
Who says make saltimbocca;
I’ve sliced and diced and stripped it
This turkey is a shocker – oh –

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
Whate’re I try there’s always more to come
The recipes have started to get quirky
A strange addition to a Chelsea bun

I’m starting to make headway
Soon I’ll be at skin and bone;
But then there’s still the soup to make
I’ll be eating this in June – oh –

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
I’ve foisted meals on everyone I know
But still this bird just sits there, being lurkey
How I wish that it weren’t flightless, and just go!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Food for thought

One of the lovely things about Christmas is the opportunity to cook: favourite dishes to share with family and friends, or special dishes that only come out once a year. Over the years I have collected a number of recipes from people that have been, and continue to be, special in my life; this means that, every time I cook 'their' recipe, I think of them (and if I'm feeling especially spiritual they get a prayer, too!). Today I did a marathon cook, starting at around 8:45 and finishing at 5pm (actually I still need to go back and do a bit more). So: thank you to Mark and Ruth (for carrot and courgette bake); to my mum ( for apricot and cashew nut stuffing); to David and Helen (for puy lentil and feta salad); to Richard's mum Sue (for winter coleslaw); and to my Dad for cranberry sauce.

And of course thanks to Saint Nigel, Brother Jamie, and Our Blessed Lady Delia.

You should all feel especially blessed tonight!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Things the Wheelers learned in 2009

Dear all

Apologies if you have read this already; this is our Christmas letter this year. Yes, I know, one of those dreadful round robin thingies. Here's a confession: I actually quite like them, as most people I know seem to make some sort of effort to entertain or provoke thought. So here's my little effort, and also apologies to those of you I haven't sent cards to this year - my organisational skills only got me so far!

January: that the neighbours like kissing, after a ‘few’ drinks at New Year.

February: that nothing exciting ever happens in February.

March: that a dental injection administered at 10am leaves Tracey unable to speak at an 8pm meeting without causing general hilarity.

April: that all Richard has ever needed in life to make him totally happy is a shower with a decent water pressure.

May: that Jordan (then aged 14) can hike up a mountain. And hold her pee in until back down the other side, all night if necessary. And that when travelling to Venice it is a good idea to check you know where you are staying when you go for a little walk at 11pm, or at least that you have an 11-year-old child with you who pays attention (unlike her parents).

June: that Jordan is rather good at dancing the cha cha cha, paso doble, salsa, etc etc…

July: that Annie is brilliant at both drama and art, as evidenced by leading roles and prizes. And that Tracey can still make her grey matter remember stuff, as evidenced by her top-of-the-class prescribing exams; but that this may cause both her and her family to tip into nervous breakdowns.

August: that there is no law that says just because you had a soggy fortnight in Cornwall last year, it means you won’t get one this year too; but that taking a Nintendo Wii Fit with you makes the days go with a swing, even if mother has to limp through the streets of Fowey following a Wii-related injury (no alcohol involved, honest). Also that Richard loves live music, but Tracey contrives to feel bored even during a U2 extravaganza; and that 20 years of marriage has mysteriously flown by, almost as if they were enjoyable.

September: that Annie was made for secondary school; that she is a Big Hit with the boys; and that she pulls a mean pint of cider. That Jordan is a little peculiar when suffering with pneumonia. And that writing off a car can have good (financial) rewards .

October: that however many times you sing ’There’s a rat in ma kitchen, what am I gonna do…’ sooner or later you do actually have to do something, and your cats will be of No Use Whatsoever. And that small rats eat surprisingly large amounts of poison.

November: that Tracey needs to write even more articles for nursing journals to pay for the Wheeler’s Grand Trip in the US next year. That Richard Dawkins is married to an ex-Dr Who assistant. And that much rain + dodgy roof = big hole in the US trip fund.

December: that writing songs for church as a couple could possibly lead to the breakdown of the aforementioned Happy Marriage. That mock GCSEs cause much sorrow, but in the morning there is rejoicing. And that there is nothing that cannot be solved by another mince pie and a glass of mulled wine, even if the neighbours are looming again…

Have a wonderful Christmas! With our love, Richard, Tracey, Jordan and Annie

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Carpenter's Tale

Working by the light of a lantern, the man’s practised hands carve and shape the wood. His skill and imagination has formed countless objects, many practical, some beautiful, usually for the price of his daily bread. Now, he turns his thoughts to a more precious goal – a gift for his new-born son.

What will this be, my son? What will you be?

I have made so many things before, but none so frivolous nor serious as this. I want this block of wood to become for you a plaything and a memory; a keepsake of me, your father. But what to make? What can I fashion for you, when you are as yet unformed? Oh, I can see you, touch you, smell you; but you are a mystery to me; both your origin and your destiny lay shrouded in mists. Here, I hold the certainty of this wood, and feel the definite grain and splinter beneath my fingers. What is the pattern and pain of your life to be?

Perhaps I shall make a house for you; a dwelling in miniature, to mimic the place where you and I and your mother now live. Something that will recall for you in later years the home of your childhood. Perhaps too it will mimic the home of your future, where you and a wife and child may live out your days. Is such peaceful existence to be your lot? Is your remarkable beginning to settle into ordinary existence?

Or a set of bricks, that your small hands can build and rebuild into houses and cities of your own imagination. Will you be a shaper and builder, like your father? Or will your desires lean more towards destruction? Will you tear down the self-protecting walls others have so carefully built?

I could make for you a Noah’s ark, with the animals lined up two by two. A rescue ship, that saves and protects whilst looking out on so much wasted life. Will your inclination be to save, or to punish? Would your ark be one of liberation, or a means to select only those most deserving?

A boat… a simple boat… on which you could imagine setting sail to cross the lake called Galilee. Would you be a fisherman, my son? Or content to follow in your father’s footsteps? I somehow think that you will carve out your own path. Would you sail to further shores, to experience more of this strange world (that at present must seem strange with every breath)? Will you long to travel, to break free from the constraints of this small town? Will people in far-off places know you by name?

Maybe I could fashion a tree, a diminutive version of the whole from which this wood was taken. A symbol of rest, shelter and provision. A safe haven for the birds of the air; a shade for the weary traveller. Would a tree speak to you, in your life to come?

No… this wood shall become a box. A box, that now your mother can fill with all manner of surprises and trinkets for you. She may place there the gifts which you have been given, strange and wonderful things that we do not yet understand and perhaps never will. They seem to speak of kingliness, and of adoration; and even of death. Still fresh from the watery womb, and already our thoughts turn to the end of your life. But rest, child; be content in your dreams. Death waits for us all, but for you, it is a distant shadow.

On the lid of the box I shall carve beautiful things: the riches I cannot afford to give to you. Gold coins, and pearls, and hidden treasure; Feasts, with a father holding out his arms to his son, and proffering an ornate cup. They are just stories, my son; for stories and this crude wood are all I have to offer you. Do with them as you will. But for now I will love you, with all my being; I will hold you, and sing songs to you of redemption and promise.

I will protect you from the world, for as long as it is in my power to do so.

Happy Christmas, all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cereal Killer

I like cereal.

I like it at practically any time of day: early morning, obviously, but also as a late night snack or an insomniac's comfort. I have even tried the 'cereal twice a day and one proper meal 2-week diet', and didn't find it too onerous. I'm a bit hard-core with my choice of cereal, and almost always eat the same: organic sugar-free muesli with a few added linseeds (you can never have too much fibre), topped with a light sprinkling of Special K red berries, all gently basking in a puddle of cold semi-skimmed. I use the same bowl, and the same spoon, every time.

My cereal habit started young, my first love being Weetabix. Weetabix with sugar and milk; with banana; with cold stewed rhubarb, or gooseberries. I didn't even mind that it went soggy within about 10 seconds. I progressed through fruit and fibre and Alpen, with a brief flirtation with Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Now it's just the above concoction, with occasional seasonal changes - fresh fruit chopped on top, or porridge when it's freezing outside. This constant in my life is very comforting when I consider a healthy lifestyle - at least one part of my routine is definitely under control.

Except that it isn't. According to some nutritionists, cereal is Of the Devil and Definitely Going to Kill You. Even if the worst offenders are avoided - those sugar-coated pretend-chocolately affairs - the onslaught of so much wheat into the system will build up intolerance, and predispose one to type II diabetes. Allegedly. Your best option is porridge, which is a slower-burning grain in the body (although once the salt / sugar / syrup / chocolate drops required to make it taste like anything other than cardboard have been added, it probably no longer rates as a healthy choice).

So what else to eat, given that I really am rather peckish in the morning? Eggs (now apparently OK again)? - no time. Toast? - see cereal. Bagels / croissants / pop-tarts / muffins? - see toast. Apparently we're all supposed to eat natural yoghurt, preferably live and organic, with fresh fruit. Although I am allowed to keep my linseeds (whoopee). Do these people have any concept of what I do in my day? That sort of breakfast would get me half-way to work, whereupon I would have to stop walking and have a little lie down. In the road.

The first time I had any concept whatsoever that other people on the planet didn't choose between cereal, toast or eggs for breakfast was a trip to Greece when I was 9, where I ate a piece of fruit cake and a slice of ham each day. Still, I thought such affectations were for weirdy foreigners, who presumably hadn't yet invented Shreddies. When I was about 14 I read 'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier, and was fascinated by the scene where Maxim carefully peels a tangerine for his breakfast with a silver knife. How exotic, I thought! (Don't think tangerines had reached Birmingham in the mid eighties; we were still on satsumas). I imagined that one day I too would be grown-up and elegant and eat a tangerine for breakfast. But Max de Winter probably never had to do half of what I have to do to get out the house, leg it up the hill and do a busy clinic of a morning. One tangerine would barely be enough to fuel me as far as the end of our front path.

Think I'll stick to cereal.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Song Wars

The gauntlet was thrown down some weeks ago when the music director at our church commented that there weren't many decent advent songs, so we keep dragging out old staples. So of course, I had to write one. The problem is, I do words, not music, so I asked The Man to pitch in once I had the lyrics nailed.

Now Richard has written a number of songs in the past, when we were part of an alternative worship community back in the nineties (for those of you in your twenties, that's what we used to call emerging church; for those of you in your teens, that's what we used to call church). Most of these had melodies that gained the description 'folky dirge' within our little gang. They weren't known for being jolly, or even particularly purposeful - it became difficult to know when they had finally finished, as they tended to drift off into some slightly mournful or loopy chill-out ambient track, usually 'Mountain Goat'. But they served our purpose well (we didn't believe that jolliness was next to Godliness) and were a nice accessory to our black lyra and Celtic Cross pendants (this was the nineties). One even got picked up by Greenbelt and used in the main communion service - Richard still gets tiny dribbles of money coming in from royalties, about enough to keep him in plectrums.

So I suppose it was inevitable that the tune he (assisted by Jordan) came up with was in a minor key and a tad more mournful than I had imagined. It was also quite unpredictable; this I realise can be a really good thing, lets face it most church music is painfully predictable. However, a congregation has to be able to learn it. I like their tune; I'm just not sure it fits the words.

I then went away and wrote an alternative (I say wrote; I sang it at them). It's a lot brighter, lifting, jolly even. It is however rather like a number of other songs. I quite like it, but I wouldn't get excited over it. Richard thinks it a bit boring. Jordan isn't speaking to me (about this, anyway).

So now Richard is thinking we could use my verse (fits the words better, in all ways) with his chorus (more musically interesting) and possibly my bridge (even Jordan admits their version was unteachable to a congregation). I'm thinking: why stop there? Let's get each person in the music group to make up a line! Or even, each person in the congregation to sing a note of their own choosing! (Sometimes I'm not sure this isn't how things work already, particularly with some of the more archaic hymns).

We need to finalise things rapidly - Richard is leading worship on the second Sunday in advent in 10 days time, which is really the last chance to introduce it. Besides which, Richard and I are now at a stand off that could see us singing different tunes in the same service (I think he'd win, what with having a microphone and all). Perhaps we could scrap the tunes altogether and find a well-known melody that fits. The Road to Amarillo seems to work...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Keeping the wolf from the door

As someone who copes with a chronic disease herself I am interested in the language people adopt when speaking of their own or other's illness. Over the summer there was a lot of discussion on this subject with respect to the descriptions of Jade Goody and the cervical cancer that caused her early death. The media adopted the language of war: Jade was 'brave', was 'battling'; she 'fought the cancer', and was 'shell shocked'. These are common terms when speaking of cancer; in particular it is noticeable that the possessive pronoun tends not to be adopted with cancer, in contrast to other diseases. People rarely talk of my cancer, whereas they will own some other conditions - my diabetes, my asthma, my eczema. Perhaps this reflects both the sudden onset or at least discovery of cancer, coupled with its life-threatening capacity (although many other chronic conditions are life-threatening, it is true that thousands of sufferers live out full lives).

Cancer is perceived as the enemy above all other life-threatening conditions, and the language adopted is therefore the language of alienation. Cancer is the Bogeyman, the monster that lurks under the bed; it is strange, it is bizarre, it is unknown, it is unpredictable. It is Other. Sufferers use this idea to visualise the cancer, to gain mastery over it in a way that is not done with other conditions where the link between the psyche and the physical has more convincing proof. It is the cancer; it is not my cancer, for to admit as much would be to allow cancer a foot in the door. Yet cancer above all health defects has its origin in the human. Cancer is our own cells, dividing normally, but forgetting to stop. Cancer is termed aggressive, yet the processes are the same as that required to initiate and sustain life. Cancer is imagined as a terrorist, waging guerrilla warfare inside our fragile bodies; yet cancer is often of our own making, quite literally at the cellular level and also through our insistence, despite all our knowledge of the evidence, on exposing ourselves to environmental conditions, diet and toxins that are inconsistent with healthy long-term cellular processes.

When I am talking to dermatology patients about self-management of their condition I avoid personalising the diseases. I talk of their skin, but the eczema, the psoriasis. Even this is misleading: how can it be their skin, when even the normal epidermis cell sheds and is reborn every 28 days, and the psoriatic skin cell turns over in just 4 days? I too do not like to talk of my disease, my lupus. Yet this disease, like cancer is in many ways of my own making. Systemic lupus is autoimmune: all my symptoms arise from an immune system gone into overdrive, creating a cascade of chemicals that form large complexes. These circulate and cause inflammation in joints, in skin, in blood vessels. The triggers are suspected, but not known. Sunlight exacerbates, but is probably not the initiator. Viruses and hormones are more heavily implicated - indeed, my symptoms started when I was pregnant second time around. Of course, I don't blame the child; but neither do I take responsibility for the disease myself. It is Other. It is The Enemy.

And yet...the battle waged when dealing with a life-long condition, that is potentially life-threatening, is exhausting. I take pills every morning, and have done for 6 years - and will do for the rest of my life. I take pills to protect me from the pills. Every time I feel under the weather, I wonder if a flare up is coming. I get my bloods checked, I attend hospital appointments. Options are reduced. Travel is more difficult. Sleep can be elusive. Plans must be held lightly. Sometimes I adopt an attitude of seeing lupus as part of me, integral, and wonder what life would be without it. I have learned much about myself, and been forced to lean on others. I have probably - although it pains me to admit it - become a nicer person, because of lupus.

Perhaps it is my disease, after all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Busy doing nothing

It's the end of a long long week, at the end of a long long half term, and I've got the house to myself until 3pm. There are plenty of things I could / should be doing: cleaning and tidying, washing and ironing, finishing one article and proofreading another. Running on a treadmill. Raking up leaves. So far I have done none of these. So far I have done the following:

  • Got up - sort of - and eaten breakfast
  • Read a magazine
  • Put some washing on a line
  • Gone back to bed
  • Read a book in bed
  • Got up again. Found some clothes this time. Cleaned my teeth. Cleaned the bathroom (only because I want a shower in less squalid surroundings).
  • Rang work with 'just a thought' about a patient I saw yesterday
  • Made coffee and a marmalade sandwich, Paddington Bear style
  • Sat here writing rubbish.
And, er, that's it...

Am now feeling sort of guilty. Or at least, anxious that this waste of time will ultimately catch up with me, and I'll be forced to pay some penalty. I probably wouldn't feel nearly so guilty if I had Done Nothing with a friend or family. It's the knowledge that others are hard at work whilst I fritter time away that's eating me up.

But not enough to make me want to actually do anything.

Now, where did I put that book....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Riding in cars with girls

Having written off our car (not me, the Man, in case you ask) we are awaiting the delivery of a very nice Skoda Octavia with lots of bells and whistles on it. We did our homework and knew what model, spec and age we were prepared to pay for, then asked Autosave to find us one. As we are without a vehicle we then couldn't be too choosy when they came back with an option that fulfills all our brief but isn't exactly the sort of colour we would have chosen. Annie (daughter no.2) is apoplectic, and may refuse to ever be seen in it. I may have to close my eyes when approaching it. I'm trying to be relentlessly cheerful, given all its other assets, but it's not easy...

My car is an orrible colour
My car is the colour of poo
It's got leather seats heated in winter
It's got climate control when it's hot
It's got wipers that know when it's raining
And then know when to stop when it's not - but -
My car is an orrible colour
My car is the colour of poo
It's got pockets the size of the planet
And a little light where I keep maps
It's got places to keep all my knick-knacks
And room to stretch out for a nap (not whilst driving) - but -
My car is an orrible colour
My car is the colour of poo
It's got 6 gears to change when I'm cruising
And 6 CDs lined up to play
There's sensors that beep when I'm parking
And scream when my parking's astray - but -
My car is an orrible colour
My car is the colour of poo
Its fuel consumption's impressive
And likewise its space in the boot
It locks with the press of a button
Its horn gives a fierce rooty-toot - BUT -
My car is an ORRIBLE colour
My car is the colour of poo
I've tried to deny
that it offends the eye
but the yellow-brown hue's
like something found on one's shoes
I've tried calling it 'gold'
(It's cappuccino, I'm told)
But the fact of the matter
is, despite all this data:
My car is an orrible colour
My car is the colour of poo!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Honest to God

Sang a new song on Sunday that the younger kids had written during the summer. Can't remember the words (except the line 'God you are healthy' - what's that about??) but do remember the verse valued chocolate as much as the resurrection, and implied that Jesus came at Christmas so we could have presents. I was very happy there had been no attempt to persuade the kids otherwise - the priorities were absolutely those of your average 8-year-old, and I'm sure the heavenly host joined in in the same spirit.

So how to follow this lead, as adults? Instead of singing songs that always reflect where we think we should be directing our thoughts, should we be more honest about where they're really drifting off to?

'Lord you have my heart
but only for an hour,
or else the dinner will burn to a crisp'.

'Here I am, Lord; it is I, Lord,
it's a miracle I made it here today.
I won't say, Lord, that I want to,
but I promise you that I'll still pray.'

Or perhaps we could articulate some of the everyday wonders that we discover as children of God. Stuff like: 'I sometimes get my knickers in a twist, but your love pulls me straight' (a bit 1950's chorus, that one); or maybe, 'thank you Lord, you saved me, from killing my husband, once more' (with verses that substitute husband for 'children', 'livestock' - pets doesn't scan - and 'neighbours'). A favourite for me could be 'Let me sleep Lord; let me lay down in your presence, and drift into your arms / O Lord let me sleep' - though perhaps not right before the sermon.

Songs could also reflect the anguish of living in a fallen world.

'O Lord we've gone and b*****ed it up
the world's in such a mess:
the air is poisoned, the seas are dead
the trees lie felled on the forest bed
and half the people are poorly fed
and so we all confess -

B*****ed it up, Lord, b*****ed it up
O Lord we've b*****ed it up.

Perhaps the lack of poetry expresses something of the heartfelt nature of that particular prayer!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Grapefruit

The Man and I were idly wondering how the names of military operations get chosen. They can't be randomly selected (I'll have a vowel please Carol...and a consonant....) and even choosing an adjective followed by a noun could throw up some fairly dreadful combinations (hard to fire up the forces with 'Operation Fragrant Plantpot' or 'Shrugging Shoulders'. Names need to be something that fierce military generals can tell the President without laughing ('What are we calling this operation, General?' 'It's Operation Timid Otter, Sir' - er, no.).

So to come up with such wonderful names as 'Urgent Fury' (US invasion of Grenada), 'Purple Warrior' (UK Falklands training exercise) and not forgetting Desert Storm, there have to be people (person?) with that job, with military credentials and codeword clearance (not sure what that means, but they say it a lot on The West Wing. Hah! Only my 2nd post back and already I'm mentioning The West Wing! Did I say how good it was?). Perhaps they do other things as well - uniform design? Cleaning the situation room?

There have been a few awful names over the years. Frequent Wind, anyone (Vietnam)? Operation Bramble Bush (Israeli attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein: no wonder it failed). Australia really weren't trying with 'Operation Morris Dance'. Seems a shame they don't choose names that spell things out, 'exactly what it says on the tin' style: perhaps Operation Gleeful Slaughter, Trained Scapegoats, or Unnecessary Carnage.

What I reckon is, the People That Choose have lists, one of adjectives and one of nouns, all approved by some committee. It is then a simple matter to select the next word from each list. Try it for yourself. Select one from the following:

Mountain, breaking, definite, steel, red, sleeping, restoring, exotic, screaming, desert, cautious.

The add a second word from the following list:

Dragon, cedar, wind, cobra, fire, eagle, cactus, tiger, storm, charge, hope.

(Nearly) works for all options!

Most of the good names are very macho and purposeful. Would we get a different kind of operation if we chose names like 'Little liedown' or 'Touchy feely'? Perhaps I'll suggest it to Obama, he seems like a nice bloke.

Especially for Steve...

So this is the equivalent of me popping out to the postbox calling 'back in a minute' over my shoulder and then not returning for several weeks.
No I didn't get lost, but I did have other things to do (in particular learning to be a nurse prescriber; with proper pharmacology exams and everything!) and then failed to get back into the habit of writing anything except essays.

So here I am - back in the blogosphere - and delighted that more than one person has requested my return, though Steve asked the most so he gets a name check.

Now, there must be something I can write about...