Monthly Archives: April 2015

Taking a little bit of England on my travels OR my first tattoo…

Wild cherry blossoms in my garden

Pink blossoms in my garden

Wild cherry blossoms on my foot

Pink blossoms on my foot

I cannot honestly say that tattoos were ever on my to-do list, or wish list or bucket list… but somehow, about just over seven months ago in Cape Town, two tiny paw print tattoos displayed in a prominent position on the body of a most flamboyant woman, got me hooked.  And I thought, ‘Hell, why not??? Why not have a tattoo, just like the other half of the population.  Live a little dangerously!’  But a tattoo lasts for a life time, not just for the moment of madness that spurs you into action.  So my friend, sensible dentist from Cape Town, cautioned against making a rash decision.  ‘Best to give it some time before rushing into things; and if you still want one in a few months time, then, yes, maybe…’  And I put out some feelers in October, after my return from Africa, but India got in the way and time was in short supply.

So bitten by the bug and the appetite undiminished by the passing of some months, once back in England I found myself surfing the net to see what the local tattoo studios had to offer.  An apt design remained elusive although there was a long list of definite no-nos: no flowers – so not me; no showing off and discretion essential – tattoo not on display; and I don’t like pink…. And Please No Pain!!!! So you may ask how I ended up with pink blossoms on my foot, which according to the tattooist is one of the most painful places for a tattoo… but he kept that a secret until he had started to use my foot for his engraving joy and there was no point in leaving a tattoo half done….

I made extensive enquiries about the agony level to expect from ‘people in the know’: those who had subjected themselves, those who had friends and ‘friends of friends’ who had subjected themselves, and obviously the receptionist in the tattoo studio.  Responses were vague and words like ‘pain threshold’, ‘does not hurt at all’, ‘depends upon the place of the tattoo’ left me rather unsure about what was in store but ribs and foot came up, or anything near any bone for that matter, as areas best avoided.   But by then, the issue of positioning had already been settled, and although You Tube provides plenty of clues for those who care to watch, how representative are those clips anyway??



But where to hide this tattoo?  Son exclaimed in horror that he wanted to be spared any details about the whereabouts of this tattoo on my body; daughter had a more relaxed approach about the whole affair.  I can only wonder which part of my anatomy my son was imagining I would bare for my first body decoration.  I use the word ‘first’ loosely as, apparently, once you go down the road of body art, most people find it hard to resist adding to their collection, so who knows…  I was advised by said son to take into consideration that most tattoos don’t fare well when skin and flesh lose their youthful elasticity and succumb to the pull of gravity; so that ruled out most  body parts and left me with more bony structures to consider.  I had already decided that if I was going to go through with it, why would I cover up the evidence, rather than expose the beauty of the tattoo?  So my foot it was going to be…

This left me to select an idea..  which actually happened to be the easiest of all as the inspiration was found in my garden: a very pink blossomed possibly wild cherry tree.  Once a year, every year, in spring time the tree is covered in the most delicate deep pink buds that open into lighter pink blossoms, fading to almost white at their peak.  And it is the most magical and spectacular happening lasting only three weeks or so!  And one I will be missing for the next few years until I decide to return.  How better to take a little bit of England and Spring – the promise of better things to come – on my travels than by imprinting it on my foot.

Appointment made a few weeks ago, to ensure I would not miss out on the last arduous 10 miler to finish off the Cotswold Way, yesterday was the day!  I went in fully intending to have a frank discussion about the location of the tattoo and possibly moving it Northwards towards the calf…. The tattoo artist, having his heart set on sticking to the original destination, was unperturbed and suggested to have a go on the foot anyway and try the first few bits of the tattoo and see…   As if after the first few bits of ink have penetrated, you actually still have a choice…

On the upside, I was offered two lollies, which was some comfort.  But where was the brown paper bag when I needed to combat hyperventilating?  Or the sick bag when that morning’s breakfast had a sudden desire to reappear?  I had to make do with biting little plastic lollipop sticks, a generous dose of sugar and singing many versions of ‘lalalala’ when breathing space allowed.  And there were a few moments of respite in between the razor blade cutting and the ‘sandpaper scouring’-like inking, and only once in a  while did it feel as if a pneumatic drill was piercing my delicate skin and the zzzzinging vibrations reverberated along the length of the foot bone from the very end of my toes all the way to the ankle…  Only childbirth is worse because it goes on much longer…  But then, again, we all fall in love with the result so we easily forget the suffering,  otherwise there would be many only children and much less work in the tattoo studios.

And to think that I could easily have avoided the masochism and taken my bit of England and Spring with me by drying the blossoms between some heavy encyclopaedias and turning them into a laminated bookmark..  It did not cross my mind until I was halfway through the onslaught.  On the other hand, as those who know me well will agree: at least when it is permanently stuck on my foot, I am unlikely to lose it as I often do with my keys, my phone, my handbag….

The big question: Will there be a another one???  That is for me to know, and you to find out. Although I can assure you I will definitely be taking a wooden spoon along with me as the lollipop sticks just didn’t do it for me.

Stencil placed, still possible to change my mind...

Stencil placed, still possible to change my mind…

Outline on foot; almost the point of no return.

Outline on foot; almost the point of no return.

Black ink first for outline and stem..  Too late now!

Black ink first for outline and stem.. Too late now!

Pink for the buds and petals... some one hour later.

Pink for the buds and petals… some one hour later.

All done, and the lollipop stick all mangled!

All done, and the lollipop stick all mangled!

Wrap in some clingfilm to keep it all fresh and hey presto, two weeks from now my tattoo should be ready for presentation to the public.

Wrap in some clingfilm to keep it all fresh and hey presto, two weeks from now my tattoo should be ready for presentation to the public.

Spring in the Cotswolds.

spring 1

No better place to enjoy Spring than in the home country! Pictures speak a thousand words, so there is no need for me to add any…

PS.    Still working on the apple-brandy-French toast combo… but I have to get through a large bottle of brandy so plenty of room to work on an improved and perfected version. Think I will make a start tomorrow!

spring 7

spring 16

spring 8

spring 18

Just to show the sun does not always shine...  This was one wet and windy walk, only about 15 or 16 miles long...

Just to show the sun does not always shine… This was one wet and windy walk, only about 15 or 16 miles long…

spring 19

spring 11

spring 14

spring 13

spring 4

spring 22

spring 21

spring 12

spring 10

spring 6

spring 17

spring 20

Tequila Sunrise Pancakes for Breakfast.

tequila 2

Emptying a house is not all doom and gloom… especially when it involves dealing with several bottles of spirits that have been maturing for a few years.  No point in letting these go to waste, or indeed pass them onto the children…  So I decided to apply my sense of adventure to the kitchen to invent or re-invent alcohol spiked foods,  and to improve on tried and tested recipes by adding booze.   It probably  would be more sensible to add the liquor to coffee or pour it over ice, but then as a single glass of wine sends me over the edge and into a wobble, I might never get to the bottom of them…  And I LOOOOOOVE cooking, so why leave all the fun to Jamie Oliver!!!

But what to do with a hardly touched bottle of Tequila???  It must have had a culinary purpose once, otherwise it would not have made its way into my cupboard.   And the only thing that springs to mind is Tequila Sunrise: a most seductive cocktail  stirring up fuzzy memories of a sultry summer’s night near the Mexican border in rather attractive company about a life time ago…  And as the images, although shrouded in a nebular mist, suggest a not entirely unpleasant experience, recreating it as a breakfast dish should certainly bring out the smiles.

So, here is my take on Tequila Sunrise for  breakfast: A deconstructed* Tequila Sunrise against a backdrop of pancakes: Tequila Sunrise Pancakes…   Definitely one to be included in the cookbooks of the brave at heart.   Although some of you may raise an eyebrow at having Tequila for breakfast, in my book SUNRISE is clearly connected with the sun coming up which traditionally happens in the morning, even in the land down under…

* If unfamiliar with the term ‘deconstructed’ you are clearly not watching enough of Master Chef and Bake Off…

Recipe and Ingredients:

  • Pancakes : flour, sugar (optional), egg and milk. As I have not used a recipe for pancakes in years, nor ever bother to measure or weigh the ingredients – and made no exception on this occasion – it would be my advice to follow your instinct and make a batter that looks the right consistency.  Or if in doubt, consult a cookery book or the internet.
  • Orange: Just add some grated rind of an orange to the batter, but not too much as the rest of the orange will grace your plate to add a little interest and décor.  It also counts towards the healthy part of your breakfast.
  • Tequila: amount up to personal preference.  I needed about a quarter of a bottle, but this was mainly due to the impracticalities of trying to produce a flambéed variety.  Heating the alcohol, striking a match, pouring the flaming Tequila AND trying to take a reasonable snap of the action meant that many takes were required to obtain a presentable photograph as I did not have a little helper, as Jamie Oliver would.  Well, he probably would have a whole crew at his disposal to document the event.  Also,  accompanying  the pancakes with an unadulterated Tequila shot is optional, but will certainly add to the sunshine…

Word of warning: it is advisable to turn off the extractor fan when flambéing unless you intend to alter your hairstyle to the singed look… or set the house on fire…

Slightly fuzzy... not enough hands!!!

Slightly fuzzy… not enough hands!!!

  • Pomegranate: the grenadine that gives Tequila Sunrise its red layer is a concoction of sugar and pomegranate juice.  Having discovered the pleasures of pomegranate during my recent stay in India, I am a staunch convert and know it needs no sugar…. so liberally increase your intake of the pure version, adding to your Five A Day!
  • Recipe: garnish the plate with slices of orange and pomegranate seeds, make pancakes, warm Tequila and set alight (read caution above and take care) , pour over pancakes and ENJOY!!!!   So simple, but really divine…  Will definitely feature again on the menu!

Remnants of a bottle of Bell’s Scotch Whisky were the next to be turned into breakfast fayre.  And as I ritually take liberties with English customs, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and home made jam are definitely a morning food in my house!  Using last season’s frozen strawberries, still lingering in my freezer, I made jam this week adding liberal portions of Whisky.  The internet was vague on whether the alcohol should be added at the beginning or after cooking, so I included both options to ensure we would be able to savour the full flavour and effect on our scones at the weekend.  And the raspberry liqueur still languishing in the cupboard is destined to increase the zing factor in my next batch of raspberry jam!


The pleasures of Tia Maria can also be experienced at breakfast time as leftovers of Nigella Lawson’s ‘Chocolate Espresso Cake with Caffe Latte’ laced with oodles of Tia Maria is recommended as the perfect morning pick-me-up combining chocolate and espresso coffee; the alcohol is just an added extra to make the start of the day even more appealing.


That just leaves me with a rather full bottle of Brandy to turn into a breakfast dish…  And a new take on French Toast strikes me as the obvious choice.  Dousing Eggy Bread in Maple Syrup sounds so yesterday!  ’ The more’s the pity’,  Canadians may think, but all good things come to an end eventually.   Although my version is still in its embryonic phase, it will centre around French Fine Cognac and apples and obviously some bread, egg and milk and a splash of brandy to replace the vanilla essence??? …  Watch this space….  You read it here first!!! ..

Maybe I have missed my calling and I should have become a chef…  ‘Breakfast Food and Alcohol: A Marriage Made in Heaven’ sounds like a good title for a cookery book…

Reducing the past to fit into one suitcase…

First sign of spring and the promise of sunnier times ahead.

First sign of spring and the promise of sunnier times ahead.

Having journeyed to India in October,  not quite on a whim but unplanned and unexpected nevertheless, meant that I had no time to sort out my life before boarding the plane on the ‘adventure of a lifetime’.   But embarking on a five year break from the UK necessitates making decisions about belongings and possessions as most airlines only allow 23 kilograms of baggage and anyway, it is not practical to carry reminders of your whole past along with you.

I tackled the easier parts with great gusto and pruning my wardrobe to acceptable proportions to fit in with my new nomadic existence did not pose any problems.  No need to hold on to over-warm jumpers or  elegant dresses, and high-heeled shoes and knee-length winter boots are no longer sensible.  Temptations during shopping trips into Cheltenham are smoothly resisted as the fashions in the shop windows are clearly unsuitable for the Indian monsoon weather that awaits me and will no longer be the rage by the end of my wandering days.   And eBay will be all the richer as my cast-offs find eager buyers on the internet.

The real challenge is in parting with belongings accumulated over a life time; the trinkets and prized possessions, holiday mementoes and stacks of photographs.  A shared lifetime to be discarded, so choices have to be made.  I will not be hoarding the past in boxes, nor pay exorbitant fees to cling to a history that no longer exist.   All the memories that matter are stored in my head for easy access on lonely days when I pretend to be cheerful, on sad days when I am searching for the sun, and on the happy days when joyful reminiscences add to the exuberance of the  moment.  And the painful thoughts are being buried ever deeper in far flung corners where they rest and less often now rear their ugly heads.

They are surprising though, the things that get to you when the final decisions place them onto the heap of discards.   Last year, around Easter, I dissolved in floods of tears disposing of car shampoos and polishes, car washing sponges and shammy leathers, all stuff dear to a car adoring ex-husband.   The shed has not been touched since.  Just a few weekends ago, in preparation of letting my house, it was my daughter’s turn to confront a multitude of possessions left behind.  She officially flew the nest more than three years ago, but forgot to put a lot of her collected teenage and student paraphernalia  on the same ‘flight’…  ‘Her’ room was still packed with law books, dusty DVDs, an out-of-tune guitar and let’s not forget an assortment of cuddly toys.  And it was the soft toys that made her reach for the box of tissues as not all of them would find a home in her own house.  Son seems to have fewer issues with the impending  move; he will not get rid of anything but just transfer the boxes from one house to the next…  certainly a less painful way of dealing with the past.

The car was the first to go…  After months of hanging on to a car that really was too big and too expensive for me to run, sense had to prevail; so it was with a heavy heart that at the end of October I deposited my car at the garage where it would be awaiting a new and very lucky owner…  It was the car I had planned to keep forever; to keep until old age (the car’s, not mine….) would render it beyond repair and I had envisaged a gentle and slow disentanglement…   I felt cosseted in that car, secure and invincible.  I could hurtle down the motorways , maybe just a little foot-heavy (should the speedometer really be pushing 90 miles???). whilst listening, singing and sobbing to the all-too-loud music blaring from my iPod.  Parting with that car was parting with a cherished history.  This car traversed the lengths and breadths of England exploring then unknown territory such as the M1, M6, M5, M42 and the M62 over the Pennines..  It found its way to Edinburgh, Durham and Newcastle.  It visited the university towns of Southampton and Exeter and was often filled to the brim ferrying back our kids accompanied by unexpected fellow students who also happened to live up North and had suddenly become unstuck and without transport.  The Land Rover coped with it all, without a groan or any complaints.  But I always knew that me holding on to this car was really having it on borrowed time, so the farewell was inevitable…

And who would have imagined that selling a humble bed could  trigger such powerful emotions; it is after all but a mere assembly of wooden planks, fabric and foam…  But when the bed,  only sold the blink of an eye before on eBay, was collected by its new owner, the feeling of incredible loss was overwhelming.  We bought this bed when the children were small and little feet found their way to our bedroom, wanting a cuddle and share in the warmth and comfort of our bed. For years, the biggest bed was a haven in the morning where stories were read, nursery rhymes sung, tricky time tables rehearsed, incredible fun to be had, husband raised eyebrows at the chitter-chatter interrupting his sleep… until that time when children grow up and a parents’ bedroom becomes taboo…  Our bed was never a cradle of battles, always the source of joy and contentment and the mornings were the perfect time of day, even after the kids no longer joined us, or maybe especially after the kids no longer joined us.  And I revisit these mornings, the mornings when husband would come into the room bringing me freshly brewed coffee, two cups, without fail.  I remember the calm and serenity of our grown up conversations whilst husband got dressed, and the unspoken bond that held us together.  So how could I have missed  the distance that grew between us as we chose to stay on our own sides of the bed and the coldness of the bed sheets reflected the widening chasm…  But I was blinded by what was so vividly but wordlessly put in front of my eyes.  It is amazing how many things are oblivious to those who care not to look or who believe that any blemishes are temporary and can be easily brushed aside in time…  So before the bed was whisked away suddenly and without decorum, I buried my face into the sheets and blankets and put my head on the pillows to take in their discernible sweet smell and a lifetime of memories as my fingers caressed the contours of his imprint on the mattress one final time.

Letting go is not easy.