Summer ends and the Autumn Term begins – Part 1

Could someone please explain to me where the summer went?  One minute we were all going mental with thirty end of term events per minute and the next thing I know, it’s September. We even had an extra week of holiday because Boy the Younger changed counties and Leicestershire and Northamptonshire broke up at different times, but it still wasn’t quite long enough.

As usual, the time just vanished; we packed a lot in to those precious weeks though.  English Heritage’s History Live! was the first fixture of the summer and we spent two blissful days wandering through two thousand years of history, seeing Celts and Gladiators, Knights and Roundheads, Tommies and Jerries.  We were entertained by a medaeival jester made to swoon over dashing Punjabi Lancers.

In the second week of August we headed down to London for a couple of days with the Aged Parent and then spent the Sunday with Sister the First at the Science Museum.  It must be twenty years since I’ve been there and a day simply isn’t enough – one almost needs a day per floor.  It’s a wonderful way to introduce children to the wonders of science and technology that is worlds away from the dryness of the classroom.  Our highlights were probably the section on Human Psychology and a display on 3d printing that is so far beyond my understanding it left me dazed.

And thence to Glastonbury to camp in Lady Somerset’s garden.  As I may have mentioned before, I hate camping with a passion, but the boys love it and we do at least have a tent that even the six foot three inch Boy the Elder can stand up in.  This year though, I had privately asked Lady S if, if the weather turned, we could sneak into her spare room and abandon tent.  Oh how I prayed for the storm that came later in the week!

I decided to take the boys to Lyme Regis for the day, obviously for the seaside but also for a blast of palaeontology and a bit of Jane Austen.  The weather was on our side and we had a glorious day walking along The Cobb, squealing as the waves crashed against the wall, pottering around the Fossil Museum oohing and aahing over skeleton Plesiosaurs.  Then we headed for the beach.  Northamptonshire is lovely and pastoral, but there is something wonderful and alluring about the sea and, if I am near it, I have to go in.  We splashed about for hours, alternately freezing and boiling as we ran in and out on the stones.  We picnicked, we snorkelled (hopelessly) we had ice cream and shellfish in little polystyrene tubs.  All was right with the world.

The next day we went to the North Somerset Butterfly House.  This is effectively a large tropical greenhouse full of glorious plants and swarming with about thirty species of butterfly, mainly from Asia, Africa and South America.  It was wonderful to see these glorious, delicate creatures zipping about among the trees, their colours flashing in the steamy light.  There was also a pond with turtles and terrapins who swam through the water with their heads held high like old ladies at the municipal baths.

The heat was very dehydrating though and a large amount of tea and cake was required at the adjacent garden centre before we were quite ready to head home.  Garden centres are so pleasant these days.  This one was like a small village and was a very useful shelter for when the storm broke.  And boy did it break.  Of which more tomorrow…

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The Wartime Housewife is now on holiday until Monday 18th August.  Please try to amuse yourselves as best you can!

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Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire

The Important History Bit:

Kenilworth Castle was built on land granted by Henry I to royal chamberlain Geoffrey de Clinton in around 1120, in order to keep the Earl of Warwick in check. Clinton then sold off a great swathe of his lands but kept the southern part to create the wonderful castle and park. Henry II then pinched it, King John enlarged it, after which Henry III gave it to his sister who happened to be married to Simon de Montfort.  Bad idea. De Montfort promptly challenged Henry, unsuccessfully as it turned out, and the castle was given to Henry’s son.

The castle walls

The castle walls

There then followed a lot of royal shenanigins culminating in Elizabeth I giving the castle as a gift to her childhood friend Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in 1563.  Rumours abound about the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley, but it is safe to say that during her early reign, he was as close to a royal consort as it was possible to be.

Dudley went all out to impress his queen.  He carried out a major refurbishment of the castle, created landscaped parkland, and, most importantly for us, created the wonderful garden that has so recently been restored.


The reconstructed gardens

The reconstructed gardens

The Garden:  For more than 400 years, the magnificent garden was lost to the world until a letter was discovered, written in 1575 by a servant, Robert Langham, which described in astonishing detail, the layout and minutiae of the garden.  Magnificent carved arbours; a bejewelled aviary; planting abundant in colour, perfume and fruits and an 18-foot-high fountain carved from dazzling Carrara marble are just some of the glories that make Kenilworth Castle’s latest addition the most complete picture of an Elizabethan garden anywhere in the world.

The re-creation of the garden in 2009 marked the end of a £3 million investment project by English Heritage including the refurbishment of Leicester’s gatehouse and stables.

Marble fountainA visit to Kenilworth is a terrific day out because there is genuinely something for everyone.  The gardens are breathtaking and an inspiration for even the most humble gardener.  The castle itself is crying out to be explored and clambered over, with staircases leading to the top of the towers for gorgeous views over the Warwickshire countryside.  There are plenty of places to picnic, but happily there is an excellent tea room serving teas and lunches and a large gift shop supplying everything from heritage gift items to battle armour for your budding warriors.  I have been four times and I plan to go again. Soon.

Opening times:  1st April to 30th September 10.00 – 18.00

Location:  Castle Green, Off Castle Road, Kenilworth, Warwickshire – CV8 1NE

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle

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Sunday Poem 216

You can keep the storm – by Ellen Butterworth (b.1965)

I was dying for the storm.
The heat, the pressure, the cloying treacle air.
I love big storms; the crash, the crackle, the ripping sky.
But at four o’clock with restless legs
Ice cold to touch, blood like treacle,
Skin fit to burst, body like lead,
I’m tearful with a desperate need for sleep.
You can keep the storm.

I’m not bothered by a storm.
Only the loudest crashes drag me from unconsciousness
Only the most searing flashes stir my Stygian sleep
For I am blessed with the sleep of the dead …
Until tonight, until this morning,
This suffocating morning in my room.
Where air and rest frustratingly elude me.
You can keep the storm.

Oh sod this bloody storm.
Down the steep and narrow stairs I stagger,
Hand on rail to stop me falling to the bottom,
Each foot thumping unevenly
On the stringy landlord carpet.
Lights, tea, pain killers, the click of switches,
An empty fridge, an empty gut;
You can keep the storm.

Please stop this storm.
I curse my Victorian terrace with its lab rat gardens;
Ragged, damp grass, damp air, grey fizzy air
Where I long to walk about naked and unseen
So that ragged damp can cool my bones
And still my treacle blood and soothe my legs;
A sub-urban step too far, I fear.
You can keep the storm.

You can keep the storm.
Back in my room, I glimpse through orange voiles
A half glimpsed figure, stalking through
The backdrop of the battered,
Sodden washing on the line
A naked, heavy-legged, dawn-dwelling apparition
Furtively drinking in the damp, the chill, the still.
You can keep the storm.

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Restless Legs or Ekbom Syndrome

Restless legsDo you ever sit down at night, looking forward to a nice rest, only to find that your legs or feet feel jumpy and restless?  It doesn’t matter how hard you try to keep still, you just can’t.  The same thing can happen in bed and it’s bloody annoying.  For some people it’s more than annoying as it affects their sleep patterns so badly that it impacts on their ability to function and concentrate.

It affects more women than men, it can occur at any age, including children, and probably afflicts 15 in 100 people.  But what exactly is it?

What does it feel  like?
It’s really difficult to explain what restless legs feel like.  It starts with a sudden onset of an unpleasant sensation deep in the legs and it’s impossible to stop moving them in an attempt to relieve the feeling.  Some people describe the feeling as a deep rheumatic-type ache, a burning or tugging or sometimes a creeping feeling as though there are things crawling under your skin

There are two types of RLS.

Primary RLS can have many causes from poor circulation, anxiety, stress, heavy cigarette or alcohol use and lack of exercise.  It often runs in families and often affects people at a younger age, ie under 45.

Secondary RLS is usually caused by underlying disease:
Deficiency of iron, magnesium, folic acid and Vitamin B12
Pregnancy (although not strictly a disease apparently) affects  one in five women especially in the third trimester
Kidney disease
Chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid imbalances and diabetes
Some medicines such as anti-depressants, beta-blockers, anti-sickness, some anti-psychotic and a few anti-histamines

  • What actually is it?
    In both cases it’s a condition of the central nervous system and doctors are beginning to think that it may be related to an imbalance of  dopamine.  Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that controls movement function in the brain.  Although people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease suffer from a loss of dopamine, RLS is not connected with this disease.  Outside the nervous system, dopamine functions in several parts of the body as a local chemical messenger. In the blood vessels, it inhibits norepinephrine release and acts as a vasodilator; in the kidneys, it increases sodium excretion and urine output; in the pancreas, it reduces insulin production all of which would explain why people in the Secondary RLS category are affected.

    So what can I do about it?
    If RLS is worrying you, go and see your GP who will examine you and do some blood tests to check for underlying conditions. Initially, she will probably suggest some lifestyle changes such as:

  • stopping smoking
  • cutting out caffeine and alcohol from your diet
  • taking moderate exercise (but not close to bedtime)
  • getting into a good bedtime routine to maintain a regular sleep pattern – for example, going to bed at the same time every evening and getting up at the same time every morning
  • taking hot or cold baths – try both to see which works for you
  • going for an early evening walk
  • if you have to sit for a long time, such as when travelling, try to get up and move around periodically
  • massaging your legs
  • distracting your mind by watching TV or reading an engaging book
  • practising relaxation exercises or yoga
  • doing calf, thigh and hip stretches
  • eating more foods such as asparagus, spinach, cabbage and kale which are rich in folic acid
  • Vitamin B complex and calcium supplements may help. Marmite is rich in B complex
  • eat bananas which are rich in potassium
  • deep heat / Deep Freeze spray can also be helpful as can spray on ibuprofen

If this has no effect, there are some medicines which can help.  Codeine can give relief but other drugs (which sound scary because they are associated with more serious conditions) include anti-epileptics, sleeping tablets  and dopamine derivatives can be of great benefit.  If the cause is anaemia, she will prescribe iron tablets.

RLS is usually temporary and can usually be dealt with.  For further information visit the Restless Leg Syndrome website at the address below.

The Nutrition Almanac by John Kirschman pub 2007
The New Complete Guide to Nutritional Health by Pierre Jean Cousin & Kirsten Hartvig pub 2011
Personal experience

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Grow more food from kitchen scraps

Grow food from kitchen scrapsWe’ve all had elderly vegetables start to take on a life of their own in the fridge or a corner of a darkened cupboard so why not deliberately grow vegetables from scraps?

Lots of things can be grown from the bits we cut off: celery, lettuce, cabbage, leeks, onions, fennel, potatoes and sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger and even mushrooms are possible.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Find a potato that has lots of eyes and cut it into pieces making sure that each chunk has at least one eye and leave the pieces on a tray for a day or two to dry out.  This prevents the pieces from rotting in the soil.  Place the pieces in a pot in at least 8 inches depth of soil with the eyes pointing upwards.  Cover with soil and then add another 4” of soil.  As the plant grows keep adding more soil to provide support and prevent it going green.

Onions are one of the easiest vegetables to propagate. Just cut off the root end of your onion, leaving a ½ inch of onion on the roots. Place it in a sunny position in your garden and cover the top with soil. Ensure the soil is kept moist. Onions prefer a warm sunny environment, so if you live in a colder climate, keep them in pots and move them indoors during frostier months.

Leeks, spring onions and fennel

Use the white root end of the vegetable and place it in a glass jar with about half and inch of water.  Leave it in a sunny position.  The leaves will continue to shoot and you can cut these off and use them in cooking.  Leave the white root in the water and it will keep growing.

Each clove will grow into a new plant.  Just put the clove into a pot of soil and place it in a sunny position.  The garlic will root itself and start producing shoots.  As the leaves get bigger keep trimming them down so that the plant’s energy goes into producing a the bulb.

Celery, lettuce, cabbage
These also grow from the white root.  Place the root end in a dish of water – enough to cover the roots but not swamp the top.  Put it in a sunny position, occasionally spraying it with water to keep the top moist but not wet.  After a few weeks transfer the plant to some soil with just the leaves showing over the top.

Ginger is surprisingly easy to re-grow.  Put a lump of the knobbly bit (rhizome) into some potting compost with the newest, smallest bit pointing upwards.  Ginger likes warmth and light, but not direct sunlight and needs to be kept moist. There will soon be shoots and roots and once the plant is ready, pull it up and immediately cut a bit off to re-start the process.  It’s also rather an attractive plant.

Carrots will not regrow, contrary to how they behave.


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I had forgotten about falafels until I was on a photographic shoot yesterday and my models had very kindly provided lunch in the form of falafels, salad and humous in pitta bread.  It was so delicious and made a perfect summer lunch.

Falafels are basically Arab street food; a deep fried patty of ground chick peas, fava beans or both with spices, such as cumin and coriander, and drizzled with hot sauce, pickled vegetables or tahini.  They are very easy to make and you can customize them with things you like such as chilis, onions, garlic or spinach,   They are very nutritious and make a terrific mobile food alternative to burgers or chips. Amusingly, McDonald’s in Cairo serve a falafel sandwich called …..? a McFalafel, of course!
FALAFEL – serves 4

1 x medium bowl
1 x blender or food processor
1 x large frying pan
Kitchen roll (paper towel)

16oz can chickpeas
1 large onion – very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – crushed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 1 ½ tablespoons dried parsley)
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1 teaspoon dried cumin
2 tablespoons plain flour
Oil for frying

Drain the chickpeas and put in the bowl with the garlic, onion, coriander, cumin and flour
Combine all the ingredients using a blender until it forms a thick paste
Form the mixture into balls and flatten slightly
Pour oil into the frying pan to about 2 inches deep and heat to a moderate temperature
Fry the falafels until golden brown (approx 5 mins)
Pat with kitchen roll to absorb excess oil and serve hot or cold

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Sunday Poem 215

I came upon this anthology in Waterstones, in a quiet moment between signings. Michael Symmons Roberts has written six anthologies of poetry and is also an award winning writer and documentary film maker.  The book from which this poem came, ‘Drysalter’ is a mixture of the sacred, the profane, the dark, the light, the spirit and the worldly.  Wonderful stuff.

Immortal, Invisible, Wise – by Michael Symmons Roberts (b.1963)

In such mighty stature he stands,
or rather, he towers above what passes
for a plain here.  And he holds so still,
has held so long, this, his repose,
that no one sees him any more.

In plain air vanished, taken for
cumulonimbus, escarpment, cooling tower agape.
He has become no more or less than sky.
Pylon skip-ropes between his feet,
airliner wing-tips brush his lips,

the sun’s print in his eye becomes
a day-lit pole-star, and although the world
is never silent, there are split-second

When you can hear his long-drawn
breath begin to shape a word.




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Hay Fever (please ignore weird typefaces – WordPress is playing up again)

Unwelcome guests for some

Unwelcome guests for some

Hay fever is an extremely common allergy which affects  20% of people at some time in their lives.  This is annoying at least and debilitating at worst and can interfere with daily activities and sleep patterns, and should not be taken lightly.  It is a form of allergic rhinitis, which basically means inflammation of the mucus membranes of the nose caused by allergy.  For most people, hay fever gets better with age, but recently the pollen count has been so high that people are suffering who have never had it before. I am one of these.  Bugger. But I will not be beaten.

Symptoms: These range from sneezing, runny nose, itching eyes, itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears, and a cough cause by mucus dripping down the back of the throat from the nose.  However, less commonly one may get impaired sense of smell, facial pain caused by inflamed sinuses, headaches, earache and tiredness. Asthma can also be caused and exacerbated by hay fever and these symptoms include tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.  Always have your inhaler with you.

Causes: The most common cause of hay fever is pollen;  from trees (especially birch) – predominantly in the spring, grasses – end of spring and beginning of summer , and weeds (such as docks and nettles) – from spring to autumn.   The pollen is breathed in or gets into the eyes and it is the proteins in the pollen which cause the problems.  Hay fever symptoms usually begin when the pollen count is over 50 and is usually given as part of the weather forecast during the spring and summer months. The pollen forecast is usually given as:

  • low: fewer than 30 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
  • moderate: 30-49 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
  • high: 50-149 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
  • very high: 150 or more grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air

The reason that you have an allergic reaction is  that  your body over-reacts to something it perceives as a threat. In hay fever, the threat is pollen. Your immune system  then behaves as though it were being attacked by a virus and acts accordingly by releasing chemicals which produce the runny eyes and nose in an attempt to flush out the enemy.. The

Weather: Weather also plays its part and you can limit exposure by understanding how it works.  On humid and windy days, pollen spreads easily. On rainy days, pollen may be cleared from the air, causing pollen levels to fall.  During their pollen season, plants release pollen early in the morning. As the day gets warmer and more flowers open, pollen levels rise. On sunny days, the pollen count is highest in the early evening.

Treatment: Standard Medical
There is no immediate cure for hay fever. More often than not, you can get a remedy over the counter from your pharmacist to relieve the symptoms, but if they persist or seem unusually severe, you should consult your doctor, particularly asthmatics and those with a history of sinus problems of ear infections.
Antihistamines are the first line of defence and new and improved versions are being developed all the time.  These help to prevent an allergic reaction from happening in the first place.  Once symptoms have set in you may require corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation and swelling.  There is also a treatment called immunotherapy where one is exposed to small amounts of pollen over time in order to build up the immune response

Treatment: Natural
There are lots of alternatives to drugs that can help hay fever, although if you are in danger from asthma, for example, don’t muck about – asthma kills people.  However, here are some things that can help. Diet:  Allergies of any kind are an auto-immune problem so the first thing to do is strengthen your immune system and optimize your body’s natural defences.

*  Plenty of Vitamin C and garlic which contain flavonoids which are natural anti-histamines.  Eat as much raw or lightly cooked food as possible.
*  Eat plenty of local honey, starting a few months before pollen season.  This follows the immunotherapy course as it desensitized the body to local pollens.
*  Ditto nettles.  Nettles can be a significant allergen so starting eating them as soon as they appear in the spring, either steamed as a vegetable or in nettle soup.
*  Drink lots of water.  Chamomile tea contains bisabol and chamazulene which are anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine.  Green tea contains catechins which are powerful anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory and consequently an immune booster.
*  Sterimar nasal spray made of seawater can be used to flush out the nasal passages
*  The homeopathic remedy Sabadilla Pollenna, if taken as soon as symptoms appear, can offer relief

Practical Steps: Wraparound sunglasses can help to keep pollen out of your eyes An air purifier can help to remove pollen, dust and other allergens from your home or office Dehumidifiers and ionizers in the home help some people Get someone else to mow the lawn Make use of air conditioning in your car Shower and wash your hair when you get in, especially after being in the countryside

Do not despair, my little chums, you can beat this, slowly but surely.

Sources: The New Holistic Herbal (pub David Hoffman 1994)

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Sunday Poem 214

As I was wandering through the grassy, flower strewn hillside at West Wycombe last weekend, I was struck by the tumultuous overtures of the crickets in the long grass.  Also, I have just been watching the wonderful  Jane Campion film, ‘Bright Star’ about John Keats, so I give you Keats and crickets.

On the Grasshopper and the Cricket – by John Keats (1795-1821)

The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead.
That is the grasshopper’s – he takes the lead
In summer luxury, – he has never done
With his delights, for when tired out with fun,
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of the earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half-lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

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