Thursday, 31 March 2011


Thursday 31st March

Day 344

This evening I have half an hour to make the icing for my husband’s birthday cake - coffee and walnut. It sounds luscious in Nigel’s recipe - rich and creamy with mascapone cheese, butter, sugar, coffee.... My heart sinks when I see it curdle in the Magimix - separating out into a grainy, lumpy, watery mess. I try to rescue it with more of everything but only make it worse. Too late to go to the shop so I revert to another recipe - a traditional butter cream which does the job - a thick layer between the cakes and a soft duvet on top to hold the walnut halves and candles. I hope it will stretch to feed eighteen people.

Now the curdled pale brown sea is sitting in a bowl in the fridge - I’m going to try adding flour and eggs and make it into a cake tomorrow. But I’m not sure - when you stray too far from the proportions of ingredients in a cake it doesn’t work. The balance is disturbed - something breaks down. Nothing is certain when you mess with the basics.

Today I’m dancing on the edges of uncertainty - trying to learn new steps. Trying not to curdle.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Wednesday 30th March

Day 343

We are having breakfast in The Real Food Store, open for the first time today. Upstairs in the cafe the walls and napkins are lime green and the lamp shades are scarlet. It’s light and airy and friendly. Our hot toast - rye bread baked by Emma - with ramekins of strawberry compote and butter is delicious. We bought a few shares in this store so I feel as if belongs to us - I want it to do well.

As we are leaving with bags of green veggies my phone rings. It’s the solicitor I spoke to yesterday about arranging Power of Attorney. As we are in walking distance of his office he says why don’t you come in half an hour. My husband agrees but he looks miserable. On the way we stop in Marks and Spencer’s and buy him his birthday present from me - shoes and slippers. I love it that he chooses the first pairs he tries on.

At the solicitor’s we sit at a huge round table. It feels like a vast polished sea between us. The solicitor talks fast as I tell him our car parking is running out. We like him. We look at each other across the waves.

‘Shall we do it?’ I say. My husband nods.

The solicitor says he needs to see my husband on his own to assess his competence. My husband is called the donor and I am called the attorney. The powers are for property and finance and for health and welfare. I walk back to the car to put more money in the machine, buying us time. To fill out forms.

I wish it was as easy to make time stand still. I’d give anything in the world for that power.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Spring Forward

Tuesday 29th March

Day 342

7 am - Soft rain fell in the night - at least I didn’t hear it. I’m glad - the garden is parched after all these days of hazy sunshine - the primroses drooping like limp wrists.

The house is warm. It’s so quiet - no boiler humming yet, no seagulls squalling, no pussy cat squeaking for me, no car engines starting up.

No toast smells in the kitchen, no aftershave perfume in the bathroom.

Too early for the neighbours’ children to start shouting and kicking a football.

A new day beginning. Me - cross-legged on the futon in my study. Wondering how to start writing my blog again after seven days lost. How to stop the threads slipping through my fingers and falling in a tangle on the floor - unwoven.

Maybe like this. One sentence at a time. My inner critic switched off. One recipe remembered, recorded.

On Sunday, the day the clocks went forward and we leapt into spring, I got up an hour early to make a rice salad for my dear sisters and a few friends. So I’m calling it

Spring Forward Salad.

Boil brown rice till it’s soft and nutty.

Stir in some quickly fried chestnut mushrooms and chopped spring onions and the oily quarters of sun-blushed cherry tomatoes.

Season with black pepper, the small leaves of Greek basil, and shakes of soy sauce Tip into your favourite shallow bowl.

Toss the tender stems of young broccoli, blanched to emerald brightness, in lemon olive oil and pile up in a chopstick heap in the middle of the rice.

Scatter hard boiled eggs, roughly sliced, and toasted cashew nuts over the top and drizzle a bit more lemon oil to give it a sheen.

A garlicky tahini dressing would compliment it. And a luscious rocket leaf and avocado salad on the side.

Now I hear my husband’s waking up noises. Time for breakfast.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Some Things

Monday 21st March

Day 334

Some things about today.....

It’s the Spring Equinox today and the birthday of my oldest school friend who I haven’t seen for nearly twenty years. On this day I always remember her - she’s one of the links to my African childhood. Her son lives in Tokyo with his Japanese wife.

The pussy cat isn’t here - he’s staying at the cattery for four nights while we are in Edinburgh. I keep thinking I see him out of the corner of my eye, his tail whisking past the door.

My father’s washing is drying over the radiators. This afternoon he says, ‘I like it when you don’t badger me. But I’m grateful you do too - at least it means I have a mind of my own.’ I say he should wash his hair more than once a month. But he just laughs.

I eat my supper out of the pan, standing at the stove, while my husband sings in his choir.

Tonight we are dropping bombs on Libya where the moon is also full.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Lost for Words

Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th March

I’m trying to decide what cake to make for a dear friend - chocolate or ginger? It has to double as a pudding for her birthday lunch for at least twelve of us. Nigella is my first port of call and in her celebratory book called Feast I find a chocolate AND ginger cake. I like the idea but I think her recipe needs tweaking so I stir in extra chocolate chunks and syrupy slivers of glace ginger to the mixture.

To make it more of a party pudding cake I slice it in half and fill it with whipped cream and mascapone cheese sweetened with sugar and vanilla, drizzle a blanket of chocolate fudge icing over the top and scatter cape gooseberries. Still in their peeled-back paper lanterns, they look like orange bees stranded in a sea of mud, flapping between the candles. But their tart fruitiness compliments the chocolate and ginger and the birthday girl is happy. And I’m relieved. The thing about a cake is that you can’t taste it till everyone else does - and by then it’s too late to do any more tweaking.

Before breakfast this morning we drive out to the woods for a walk. We pass a long grassy bank drenched in a wave of daffodils. I can’t help it - Wordsworth leaps out of my mouth - at least bits of his poem, all out of order -

a host of golden daffodils.....

I wandered lonely as a cloud.....

in vacant and in pensive mood.....

My husband doesn't join in the game of trying to remember the lines.

I ask him,

‘Do you know who Wordsworth is?

Vaguely’, he says, ‘the word is familiar’.

‘But aren’t they beautiful - the daffodils,’ he says.

Yes they are. I can see his pleasure in them. So why does it matter that the words of a dead poet are lost to him? It’s just that they aren’t lost to me. Sometimes his pit of homeless words opens up between us and I could drown in there for a moment.

Then I see another swathe of daffodils up ahead - fluttering and dancing in the breeze.....

Friday, 18 March 2011

No Bleeding Required

Friday 18th March

Day 331

The pussy cat lies himself down on the vet’s high table.

If he was any more relaxed he’d be comatose,’ she says ‘What a handsome boy he is’.

I feel absurdly proud to have such a well behaved and beautiful cat.

‘I need to take some bloods,’ she says, ‘to check for diabetes, kidney function and thyroid - find out why he’s being sick.’

A nurse comes in to hold him while the vet shaves the long fur under his neck with an electric razor. He doesn’t like it. When she raises her needle e bares his teeth, makes a moaning, hissing sound in his throat and strikes out with his paw, claws unsheathed and rips up a line of blood beads in her finger.

She suggests we come back another day as he may need to be sedated. We leave with pouches of soft food and hard dry pellets for sensitive stomachs. I’m still proud to have such a pussy cat, a ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ pussy cat, with venom in his claws. I’m sorry for the vet but glad it wasn’t my finger.

I have another kind of striking out to do, with a Tinkerbell wand - TIng! All better! No bleeding required. But I may not be very well behaved along the way. I may do some hissing and moaning too.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Yesterday and Today

Thursday 17th March

Day 330


I walked in the park with my camera and took close-up photos of cherry blossom, candy floss pink against a blue sheet of shining sky.

I searched through my old diaries and journals looking for a sign post, for the beginning of my husband’s forgetting. When did we first notice any changes? The insurance company wants to know. There wasn’t a day or a date that stands out, a red flag on a map. Just my handwriting, sloshing across the pages, mostly ‘sound and fury signifying nothing.’ But it leaves a taste of the past in my mouth - a flavour I’ve left behind.

I sit in a hard chair in a dark theatre with my family and let Shakespeare’s words pull me into a different past where people carried swords and wore woollen cloaks and believed in the divine right of kings.

I sleep alone and imagine my husband in his single hotel bed in another city.


For the first time this year I wear my sunglasses in the car, blocking the glare through the windscreen.

For the first time I hang the washing out on the spinner. The towels flap in the sunlight - changing the colours of the garden.

I’m disconbobulated by my tiredness - all day I feel as slow as syrup.

I abandon the egg shell cake - the sieve wasn’t entirely successful - and make a quick almond and apricot cake - thank you, Nigel - for tonight’s gathering.

I’m worrying about the pussy cat - is he throwing up more often than usual? Is he eating less than usual? Is he depressed or just old now? Nearly 78 according to the cat bible.

I can’t bear to watch the news from Japan, from Libyia, from Bharain but the pictures stay in my mind - the woman who carried her mother on her back to the hospital - where there are doctors but no food.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


Tuesday 15th March

Day 328

Egg Shell Cake

I’m astonished by the indestructibility of egg shell. Which is after all a protector of life.

Making a cake on Sunday, I broke an egg awkwardly on the edge of the Magimix funnel and half of it - shell and all - splurged into the whizzing butter, sugar and ground almond mixture. I thought the blade would pulverise it and it would blend in. But the unmistakable crunching sound, like grinding teeth, didn’t abate. So I scraped the whole lot into a bowl, put it in the fridge and started again with another chocolate polenta cake recipe. Making sure to break each egg into a cup before tipping it into the Magimix.

I can’t bear to waste food, so today I take the bowl of raw cake mixture flecked with tiny brown and white shards, out of the fridge and look at it, hopefully, stick a finger in and taste it. Grit on my tongue - cooking won’t change it - like thinking applying heat to gravel will melt it. I won’t give up though - it’s such a rich, sweet goo. In the end I sieve it - pushing spoonful after spoonful through the fine mesh - leaving the hard little interlopers behind and my glossy mixture as smooth as liquid glass. I make it into a lemon polenta cake. It’s in the oven now scenting the kitchen with hope.

Today I feel so blessed by the indestructibility of the huge love in my life. ‘I’m thinking of you’, they say, these Dearly Beloveds, on the phone, in emails, in cards, in hugs, in spoonfuls, in armfuls - circling me, keeping me alive.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Spider Days

Saturday 12th, Sunday 13th , Monday 14th March

Day 325/6/7

Writing this blog feels as fragile as a spider’s thread right now. I want to break it every day. Write nothing. Eat chocolate instead. Watch iplayer. Read poetry, novels - devour other people's words - stuff down my own.

The devastating pictures of the tsumami in Japan keep flashing into my heart. In the night I woke and thought about suffering. I remembered all those years stained by our longing for babies who never came. All that wailing I did inside. All that time washed away.

I could do that now - for years and years. Wail and suffer. But I’m not going to. Feel it - yes. The deep lake of it. Drown in it - no.

Yesterday evening we walked by the sea in cold sand churned up by foot prints and running paw prints. We followed the curve of the bay as graceful as open arms, the long waves breaking like whispers over shells, the sky slowly turning the colour of mangoes.

So grateful for this clear water - just lapping at our feet. Not killing us.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Tarts and Terror

Friday 11th March

Day 324

8 am - My father rings and tells me about the earthquake in Japan. I email my friend there in Tokyo. I read the news about the power cuts in her city, and the floods and deaths in the north.

12.30 - A birthday lunch with the girls in our favourite cafe - three little cheesy tarts in a garden of salads, bright paper parcels on the table, bunches of flowers - tulips and gerbera daisies - wrapped in friendship.

5 pm - A telephone call re-awakens my fluttering terror, which has been lying low - a trembling claw in the pit of my gut - growling again. It's not just us any more. All the people we know and love, and some we don't, are caught up in the rolling wave of my husband's 'brainy thing' - his name for it.

I must go and make supper. Chop an onion. Let my imagined tsunami release into the strokes of my big knife. Peel the butternut squash. Put the pasta on to boil. Remember. Remember to love. Noone dying in this house tonight. Just some lights going off in my husband's head.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Thursday 10th March

Day 323

Today I leave some things undone. I lie under the bed covers with a book, the pussy cat an anchor on my tummy. When I laugh out loud he moves up and down with my muscle waves but sleeps on, ears twitching.

I am swept up and entranced in the other world of this book - the story of a teenage girl, one hot summer, 1976?, Manitoba, Canada, a Mennonite town, her mother and sister missing, her growing up, her waking up. When I look up and out of the window, I’m surprised to see blue sky and wonder how long the sun has been shining - on a spring afternoon in Devon, where I live in another century.

I’d like to be able to write like that, like a whirlwind - to weave a world on the page where you can lose yourself in another’s imagination. And then remember your own.

The book is called ‘A Complicated Kindness’ by Miriam Toews.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Green Spring Breakfast

Wednesday 9th March

Day 322

Last month I couldn’t contemplate the icy coldness of a green smoothie for breakfast. I wanted tongue burning porridge, creamy with tahini and swollen raisins, or thick wholemeal toast smeared with butter and bitter marmalade, or even sweet ripe pears, walnuts and hot coffee. Keeping winter close to my ribs.

However, for the last few days I’ve slipped between the veil of two seasons and now look forward to my tall morning glass of bright green juice - zinging with raw goodness. It keeps me going till lunchtime and luckily my husband is also a convert.The juicer makes a terrible noise whirring out the vitamins from two apples and a carrot, half a peeled lime, a fat finger of ginger, a wedge of pineapple and a bouncy bunch of spring kale. But when you pour all that into the blender with an ice cube, a chunk of banana and a quarter avocado you end up with a luscious zingy nectar you could almost eat with a spoon.

Turn the radio news off and drink slowly right to the bottom of the glass. Make sure you check your top lip though - you don’t want to leave the house with a luminous green moustache.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Moment by Moment

Tuesday 8th March

Day 321

Remembering some moments today.......

The face of a dear friend sitting across the table from me, not noticing the clatter of plates and voices all around us - she knows what it’s like to be sad and angry at the same time - like a freezing volcano.

A display of tea pots and cake tins in a shop window - painted with spots and stripes and hearts - and in the middle, a big round tin with the words LOTS OF LOVE all over it against a midnight blue, starry sky.

The patient, furry silhouette of the pussy cat at the top of the stairs, waiting for me when I push open the front door, both arms stretched low with Sainsbury’s carrier bags.

My husband’s smile when he lifts the lids on the saucepans bubbling on the hob, releasing the steam of coconut curried lentils, and frying aubergines - the smell of India gracing our kitchen.

The moon tonight - the bright tip of a fingernail - slotted behind the skeleton of the poplar tree - oblivious to the chanting of the football crowds surging through our night sky.

Never Too Late

Monday 7th March

Day 320

It’s not really too late to cook when I get home from my father’s house but I feel limp with weariness. So I think the easiest, quickest supper has to be mash and greens and grilled salmon. I peel the potatoes and change my mind - decide roasting them will be more delicious, more of an aroma magnet to pull me through the evening. I find some knobbly Jerusalem artichokes and a slightly wizened parsnip at the bottom of the fridge so I peel those too, boil them till they are fluffy edged and sling the whole lot in the oven.

It takes a bit longer to prepare and it’s only a Monday - but just imagine if in the night you lost your taste buds - or a Beloved - and you and they missed a chance to savour the joy of roast potatoes one more time.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Paracetamol Cheese

Sunday 6th March

Day 319

‘What do you want for supper?’

I ask my husband in the car on the way home from our walk where the paths were lined with the fresh green shoots of wild garlic.

What are the options?

I list them for him. He doesn’t seem keen on any of my suggestions.

How about a cheese and leek tart? I say.

His face lights up. ‘With prawns’, he says.

The puff pastry defrosts while we sit at the table with a pot of Earl Grey tea and read yesterday’s newspapers splashed with Libya’s pain. Slowly the sun disappears behind the naked branches of the poplar tree.

I fry leeks and mushrooms in butter and stir in a clove of crushed garlic and a field of chopped parsley. I’m inspired by the big white bowl of vegetables my nephew roasted for us yesterday - slippery tomatoes and carrots, courgettes and baby leeks, fragrant with lemony oil, seamed with emerald rocket leaves.

Grating Parmesan for the tart I remember my husband’s question this morning in bed.

‘I’ve been thinking of the names of cheeses,’ he said, ‘what’s that Italian cheese called? I know it starts with P but all I can think of is Paracetamol.’

We both laugh even though it’s not funny really.


Saturday 5th March

Day 318

It was nothing to do with the delicate, crustless salmon and egg sandwiches or the creamy hummous or strawberry sponge flan, made for us by our dear niece-in-law on the occasion of their house warming. A piece of my tooth, a back molar, sheared off into my mouth anyway. I knew I wasn’t eating an olive, but that’s what it felt like - a shard of pip, a chip of stone, a foreign body in the soft pillows of high tea.

Now my tongue won’t leave it alone - that rough edged cave where my tooth used to be. A tiny sliver of me lost forever.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Ducks and All

Friday 4th March

Day 317

The brightness and blueness of the morning makes it feel like a holiday.

My husband’s client cancels.

‘Fancy going out for lunch?’ he asks.

I put yesterday’s hummous and salad back in the fridge for another day.

In our favourite cafe - two poached eggs, toast and chilli jam for him, cheddar, thyme and leek tart for me.

Afterwards we wander to the river in search of birds - find a display of rusty coloured, tufted ducks flapping and splashing on the water. A noisy mating dance maybe?

The tide is out. The estuary mud as glossy as melted chocolate, shimmering with a crowd of neck nodding avocets.

My husband drops me off at home and goes to buy oil for the car to appease a flashing red light on the dashboard.

Sun is slanting into the kitchen. I open the patio doors and sit on the cold damp step, offering my face to the sky like a hungry ‘tournesol’.

Three pots of tiny daffodils - yellow and gold centred narcissi - are also bending their stems to the sun. We took them from my mother-in-law’s garden after she died. They come back, faithfully, every year.

The pussy cat purrs and nudges around my knees then leaves me for his usual sunbathing spot by the rosemary bush.

A splashing and flapping sound calls my attention from my book. A lone blackbird dipping in the bird bath. Drinking not mating.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Soul Food

Thursday 3rd March

Day 316

Lunch to share - two dear women bring gifts of food from their kitchens to mine.

A smooth velvet soup - green with leeks and spinach.

A bowl of baked beans curried with pungent Brinjal pickle.

A coleslaw, purple veined, crunchy with walnuts.

Sweet potatoes - long orange ovals, oozing roasted juices.

Hummus, olive scattered, leaking the aroma of garlic and crushed cumin.

A blue glass salad bowl of oriental leaves - rainforest green, raggedy edged.

Halved cherry tomatoes, almost ripe avocado, dressed with the princess of all olive oils - Italian, infused with lemons.

It looks like food but it feeds my soul. Like the spring sun blazing on the garden - defrosting the frozen soil in the tulip pots - this lunch, this company, lights me up from the inside .And keeps me burning all day.

Empty Jars

Wednesday 2nd March

Day 315

It’s time to spring clean a kitchen cupboard. The one full of empty glass jars that I have been hoarding for this year’s jams and chutneys. My husband is past master at removing the sticky labels in hot water. But they are now overflowing in clanking plastic bags under the sink as well. My sister - my wonderful de-clutterer - and I tip them onto the table, line them up in size order and search through the collection of lids to match the bottles. It’s now I discover how much Hellman’s mayonnaise, tahini, and honey we eat, as well as olives, sundried tomatoes and Bonne Maman apricot jam. We re-cycle the ones with sticky lids or shapes I don’t like.

I visualise these empty bottles in the months ahead, stacked high in another cupboard. I see them dark and glistening, full of strawberry and rhubarb and blackcurrant jams, green tomato chutney and my husband’s version of it - spiked with red chillis - which he calls Hot as Hell Chutney. Sweet talismans against imaginary hunger.

But I’m learning not to venture too far into the future. Where the view is bleak if I let it be. Best to stay in the here and now with my empty bottles. I notice there are two more jars on the draining board that need their labels removing. At least now there is space for them in my clean cupboard. Thank you, sister.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Pears and Pecans

Tuesday 1st March

Day 314

For the last few days I’ve been a spider, watching the biggest Comice pear in the fruit bowl. I want to pounce on it at the zenith of its ripeness - firm, succulent and sweet. Before it turns woolly and winey. It’s as heavy as a bottom in its green kaki skin. So I’m taking the risk today and making a pear and pecan salad for lunch. After a bowl of pea and potato soup though, as the air is still winter cold outside.

I peel and slice the pear. And it’s perfect. I put it in a wide glass bowl with the torn purple leaves of my husband’s last radicchio lettuce from the allotment, the creamy lime green flesh of an avocado, a pale crunchy stem of celery and a scattering of pecan nuts. It looks like a spring garden. I toss it with sea salt and lemon juice and some hemp seed oil which is full of omega 3.

I use this oil a lot more now as it is supposed to be good for the brain.

The Lost Spring

Monday 28th February

Day 313

Spring retreated today. It’s hot soup weather again. Before lunch we walk to the park - more of a march really, puffing up the hill, striding out against wind that bites and rain that pricks. The sight of furry pussy willow buds reminds me that young tender softness can survive in a cold snap.

I find a tub of vegetable soup in the freezer - from last autumn, so I don’t remember which vegetables. When I cook it up it looks as murky and sludgy as mud so I spice it up with some spoonfuls of Korma curry paste and stir in last night’s left over greens.

‘What’s in it?’ asks my husband.

‘I don’t know. The label came off in the freezer. It’s curried something now.’

‘Parsnip, I think,’ he says.

The daffodils in their blue jug on the table waft spring under our noses, bringing the promise of blossom and warm days to come.