Posted on September 30, 2012 in Food and Drink, Hounds, The Home Front by Jay10 Comments »

It was the greyhounds, and the jewellery making, and, and, and the up-coming holiday, and learning Italian and all, so it was. Between them all they took up an awful lot of time and wore out the poor, tired old brain.

Seriously, this has been a very busy couple of weeks.

It began with the Great Greyhound Gathering, which I blogged about last year (and the year before, too). It’s about raising funds and raising awareness for retired racing dogs and it is a wonderful event. Held at Nottingham racecourse, it’s a day filled with greyhounds, trade stands, greyhounds, people, greyhounds and more greyhounds. It’s always fun, and always a bit tiring, but this time I was behind one of the stands, not walking about admiring the dogs, so it was more tiring than usual, but also a lot of fun in a different kind of way. I didn’t take Sid and Jeffie – that would have been too difficult – so they had a couple of nights at their trainer’s place, which Sid thoroughly enjoyed and Jeff was very anxious about, but he’s getting better and learning that just because he’s taken back to Sharon’s doesn’t mean he isn’t coming home again.

I was fundraising for Brambleberry Greyhounds at the GGG, of course, but also, my HoundMade Designs got a look in with a percentage going to Brambleberry. Well, okay … not so much a percentage, as such, more a case of me taking just enough for materials and giving Brambleberry the rest, but what it did do was help me advertise my Etsy shop, and a lot of people took cards and some came online afterwards and ordered stuff.

So after the GGG, before even unpacking properly, I was restocking my Etsy shop* and promoting that like mad behind the scenes on Etsy, and openly on Facebook, and anywhere I could think of, with the result that I picked up a few custom orders. I’ve had several of these to do:

Meanwhile, the dogs still needed to be walked, and Sid still had to have his swim. Oh, yeah, and OH still had to get tossed a bit of bread and cheese once in a while and the odd cup of tea.

And of course, I’m still learning Italian, so I’ve been talking on Skype – oh, and by the way, I’m tickled to death to have made some real progress. I am actually reading a real, grown-up Italian book on my Kindle. Not a children’s book, and not an ‘easy reader’, but an honest-to-goodness novel. Yes, yes, I do have to look up quite a lot of words, and sometimes I have to make notes and ask Paola (my friend and language partner from Genoa) who is the very best person to explain things to me, because she is patient, knowledgeable, and she also teaches Italian … and she isn’t at all fazed if the things I’m asking her to translate turn out to be vulgar.

And the fasting? Well, that went well again this week, thank goodness. I didn’t have the acid reflux problem of last time, so I got through the two days just fine, and again lost a little – a very little – weight, which pleases me no end. Actually, since January this year I’ve lost nearly a stone, which is 14 pounds to those of you in foreign parts, and probably represents a large shopping bag full of stuff. I don’t know. I’ve never weighed my shopping bags, but I bet they weigh a lot.

So there you go. You’re pretty much up to date on what’s been happening here and why I’m not writing so much at the moment. I really need to take more pictures of my crafting process, and maybe some of you would be interested in that … and I will, just as soon as I get to grips with the new camera I had for my birthday!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a picture of a bracelet I’ve just reworked for a dear friend of mine. I made it for her for her birthday a couple of years ago and she’s worn it out. I saved the two porcelain owl beads, and just replaced the others.

* My Etsy shop is closed right now because we’re going to be away for a while.

Posted on September 19, 2012 in Food and Drink, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay11 Comments »

Well, here I am again with another update, but this time not so good.

See, the thing that I was afraid of happening did happen. We put off our fast this week because it was Son No. 1′s birthday and we were taking him and his girlfriend out for a meal at a nice Italian restaurant*. It seemed reasonable to put everything forward a day, so on Tuesday morning, I began as usual, with a nice cup of green tea. I drank green tea all morning, and ate nothing. Then for lunch I had a large pear. Then (if you’ll forgive the expression) it all went pear-shaped.

I had to run to a supermarket for a few things, and while I was there, I felt the familiar burn begin in my stomach. I picked up a packet of Rennies on the way round and ate two on the way to the car, but they didn’t help much. As the afternoon wore on, the acidity got worse and worse until I could taste it, which is always a bad sign. I decided that it would be foolish to continue fasting so I ate a few arrowroot biscuits, which usually go down well on an acid stomach, but they didn’t help much either, so I made myself a cup of warm milk thickened with cornflour (a well-worn remedy) and that helped a bit.

Dinner was plain foil-wrapped baked chicken breast with green veg, and I thought that would be OK, but no. I ate about half before the acid won. I had another cup of warm ‘cornflour’ milk before bedtime, which dealt both with the hunger and the acid. At last.

The problem is that if the acidity gets out of hand, it goes on for quite some time without letting up. I should have given in and eaten something sooner, but I really wanted to complete the fast days and I thought that I could get through it. And I was wrong.

I haven’t weighed myself, because normally that would be on the morning of the second fast day, and I want to keep the routine, so I’ll leave it now till next Tuesday, but I don’t really expect to have lost anything this week. We’ll see.

The good news is that today I’ve been OK, and I’ve managed to fast. I’ve had no fruit and no vegetables though – I didn’t want to be asking for trouble! I have existed on wholemeal bread (NOT Chorleywood bread, but a proper long-fermentation loaf) and reduced sugar and salt baked beans, but here we are at 10pm and while I’m hungry, my stomach seems reasonably OK at the moment. I can probably hold out. Yay!

I’m sticking to one fast day this week. Hopefully the acid problem will have settled by next Monday. I have a feeling it was triggered by the celebration meal .. I had a very, very small amount of red wine (and it was good!) but the mushroom sauce, unknown to me, had onion in it, which is a no-no right now, for me. And I ate a few chips, which I’ve been avoiding. I think that those three indiscretions along with not eating the next day is what caused the problem.

Oh well. Fingers crossed for next week!

* Iuliano’s in Grantham

Posted on September 11, 2012 in Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay12 Comments »

… I sincerely hope I’m in as good shape as this ex-junkie, ex-alcoholic, ex-pretty-much-everything-you-can-think-of guy*.

He’s one of the greatest poets of our age in my opinion, he has a wonderful – and still quite powerful – voice, and became one of the most influential singing icons of the late sixties and seventies.  He is a three times musical Hall of Famer, has a string of awards and honours as long as your arm and is recognised by the Academy of American Poets.  But you don’t want a list of his achievements, do you?  You want to know who he is!

This is Leonard Cohen; Canadian singer-songwriter extraordinaire.  Still performing after four decades, and still performing extremely well.  We went down to London at the weekend to see him at the Wembley Arena and it was magical.

He has collected a little band of musicians from across the world.  There’s a guitarist from Texas and a keyboard player from Norway.  The drummer comes from Mexico, the violinist is Moldovan, and the mandolin player Spanish.  Two of the backing singers are English, and the other American.  The bassist is also American, so I guess that gives the USA the edge.  All of them – every single one – are superb.  For me, Alex Bublitchi stands out with his fiery, ‘jazz-gypsy’ style of violin playing, but Javier Mas on mandolin was also breathtaking.  Here’s a video of Alex and Javier jamming together with Mitch Watkins (the Texan guitarist), courtesy of Camp Cohen.  All the musicians are so outstandingly good that it’s kind of surprising to think a 78-year old singer could outshine them, but … Cohen did.

Leonard Cohen skips onto the stage like a twenty-year old, and dances gently throughout the set.  He gets down on his knees to sing, and gets up again (without a tremor, the bastard) to dance some more. This is a very short clip of the musicians arriving on stage and towards the end, our hero, doing his skipping thing.

And he sang for three hours and then came back for an encore. He is gentle, witty, and generous, taking the time to doff his hat and stand motionless while giving his full attention to hearing other band members perform their solo pieces.  Each member of the band is introduced and applauded individually, and not just once.  I doubt anyone would have guessed our Leonard would end up like this.  I certainly didn’t … in fact, I think if I’d been asked in the seventies to guess where he’d be by now, I’d probably have said ‘long dead’.

Look! An old-fashioned ice-cream seller**!

Anyway, we had a great time, only marginally spoiled by the fact that for some inexplicable reason, the Arena decided to hold the concert back for 30 minutes to wait for latecomers.


Good heavens, why should thousands of people who’d actually managed to turn up on time have to suffer for the rudeness and lackadaisical attitude of others?  We – and the people next to us – were stunned.  They announced it and then said not to worry because public transport was being extended for the Paralympics, but you can bet this didn’t hold true for trains off to outlying districts or for any connections people might have to make.  Did they seriously think the whole country’s transport system would be rearranged for the benefit of one music venue, pushing thousands of employees from John O’Groats to Land’s End into enforced overtime? 

You can imagine it, can’t you?

Signalman in Box Just Outside Edinburgh: “Sorry, darling – I won’t be home until 4am because there’s a concert in Wembley running a bit late”.

Yeah, right.

It’s a great shame that this marvellous event was marred by such lack of forethought and consideration, especially following on from the fact that the concert had already been moved from Kent to London with only two week’s notice. Many, many people who had bought tickets and booked travel and accommodation lost the chance to attend and also lost money.  If we hadn’t booked into an Uxbridge hotel and chosen to pay for Wembley parking so we could drive in, we would have been stranded too.  Last time we came down we caught the last train home by the skin of our teeth.  It’s true enough that some of the dispossessed from Kent had to pick up their tickets at the booths before the performance, but surely this could have been arranged so that everyone got into their seat on time?

Mr Cohen, in fact, apologised very gracefully on behalf of the organisers at the beginning, while neatly abdicating responsibility with a smile by referring to ‘unseen hands, which I never get to examine’.   And at the end, he displayed his extremely dry sense of humour by finishing the encore with ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’, which you may remember The Drifters singing, back in the day.

All I can say, to end this rambling and far-too-lengthy blog, is that if I ever get the chance to see Leonard Cohen again, I’ll jump at it – and I recommend that you do, too.

But please don’t buy tickets before I get mine!

Oh, and I’d like to apologise for the quality of the photos. As you know, I will not violate copyright by posting other people’s pictures without permission so I had to take some of my own. I don’t like to take pictures at concerts because I hate having the glare and flash intrude on my own enjoyment. I did it because literally, everyone and his dog were doing it last night and I was on the end of a row with nobody immediately behind me, but I did so shielding the screeen and without the flash. Result; my own pictures, but lousy ones.


* Sex, drugs and rock & roll, and then some … allegedly.

** With far from old-fashioned prices, sadly. He wanted £3 for a tiny tub of Kelly’s ice cream. Not even Ben & Jerry’s or Baskin Robbins!


Last week I wrote about the fact that OH and I had decided (following an episode of Horizon on the subject) to try a new eating plan.  It is called ’5:2 Intermittent Fasting’ because the idea is that for five days a week you eat normally, and then for the other two days you drastically reduce your calorie intake, almost to fasting level.  It does, in fact, trigger many of the same changes in your body as fasting does, but without quite as much pain.

The Horizon we watched was called ‘Eat, Fast, and Live Longer’ because the changes this ‘diet’ triggers apparently can improve your overall health to quite an unexpected degree, and may in fact help you to live longer in good health. There’s no point in living longer if it’s in total misery or a semi-comatose state, now, is there?  That would do no more than prolong what are known in this house as ‘the shitty years’.

Several of you were kind enough to ask me to keep you updated on my progress, so here we are.  This isn’t actually week 2, because I started the week before I wrote about it, so this will be my third Monday and Tuesday eating Not Very Much At All, and drinking gallons of green tea.  Green tea with honey flavouring, green tea with jasmine*, green tea with blueberry and raspberry, and green tea all by itself with no flavouring at all.  Lucky for me that I really like green tea, huh?  Although I do plan to vary it; in a few days a package will arrive containing a consignment of black tea with chocolate, which it is perfectly possible to drink without milk – and let me tell you, it is absolutely, magically, delicious!

See, the calories I’m allowed to consume in a 24 hour period amount to just five hundred.  I’ll just give you a minute to think about that, because it’s exactly half of what used to be thought of as a fairly stringent weight-loss diet.  So saving the calories by not putting milk in my tea gets to be quite important, and that is my lunch up there.

Tonight we’ll push the boat out and have a meal consisting of a portion of baked meat (probably chicken or turkey) and some veg or salad.

So, how’s it going?  Surprisingly well!  I don’t eat anything until lunchtime, unless I feel absolutely ravenous, in which case I’ll nibble an almond or two (literally one almond, or maybe two) or a Carr’s Table Water biscuit.  Then for lunch, if I’m hungry, I’ll eat a bowl of raw vegetables and an apple.  Yes, I said IF I’m hungry, and this, let me tell you, is grand progress!

You see, I don’t spend all day long being ravenously hungry and thinking about food.  Surprisingly enough, there are long periods where I forget this is a fast day and don’t feel hungry at all.  Right now, I’m nibbling on my bowl of salad – and I do mean nibbling, not devouring it as if I hadn’t eaten all day.  I don’t feel lacking in energy, I don’t feel tired or unable to concentrate, and – amazingly – my acid reflux has not really played up at all so far, and doesn’t complain about this raw veg and fruit on an empty stomach.  This really does surprise me, because I was expecting the apple to give me hell.

My experience so far seems to bear out the theory that eating processed carbohydrates has a very negative effect on us.  They make us constantly hungry by interfering with our blood sugar balancing mechanism.  Cutting them out entirely, as we must on a fast day, seems to correct this surprisingly quickly.

I think it’s a little early to be claiming health benefits, but I can tell you that each week, so far, I’ve lost about a pound without trying – by which I mean that on my non-fast days I eat everything I want, including biscuits, chocolate, cake, etc. and use generous amounts of olive oil for cooking.  One pound a week isn’t very much, but if it continues at this rate, that will be 52 lb in a year, which equates to 3 stone 10lb!  Wow.

The other thing is this; OH has been monitoring my blood pressure, and not once has it risen even close to what the doctors would consider hypertension – I think the highest reading has been around 130 over 84, and mostly, that all-important second figure has been between the mid-70s and 80.  My BP has long been of great concern, and I’m on two different drugs to control it (they did put me on a third at one point, but I had to stop taking it because of side effects) so this is wonderful news. It may be due to this diet, or it may be due to a general reduction of my stress levels, or a mixture of the two. I don’t care much.  However, a general normalisation of blood pressure is one of the suggested benefits, so we shall see.

Stay tuned!  I’ll pop back with another update next Monday.


* My least favourite.  In fact, I probably won’t buy it again.