A message from the Falling Leaves of Autumn

autumn-leaves-13016839608be

I love Autumn. It’s the only season you can trult smell – the rain on fallen leaves. Loving the way a wind will whip up dried leaves, causing a tornado of colour and fecundity around me. The mysterious appearance of fairy rings and exotic toadstools and mushrooms.

The smells of cinnamon and spice in home cooking, and the long slow burn of preparing for Christmas and celebrating the harvest,

I remember coming across a story of a leaf. All its life, it’s been waiting to grow – to become big and green and part of the great green canopy of its brothers and sisters. For a long time, it had been told that leaves were green and that when he reached maturity, it would be green. It was expected of a leaf to be green, like its ancestors always had been .

As the leaf got  ready to unfurl, Autumn arrives, and the green leaf notices its friends are red and orange and brown and gold, all manner of colours. One says to the green leaf:

‘Didn’t you know? You never had to be green. You can be any colour you choose to be.’

This weekend is the Daylight Robbery of time in the UK, when we put our clocks back. Spring forward, Fall Back. Everything seems a little darker, and I’ll be waiting for the snowdrops, a sure sign of spring and light and new life. I don;t approve of humans meddling with time – leave that to the Time Lords. Though look what a mess they’ve made of it, frankly. I’d rather not faff about with changing clocks or deciding to sleep in or get up early.

In the meantime, during the darkness and the cold of winter, remember the message of the falling leaves of Autumn:

Be any colour you choose to be.

Advertisements

May I borrow your testicle?

baubles

Time flies… almost Christmas, over a year since I had a cancerous testicle removed. Movember has just passed.So it’s time to check the baubles.Fortunately, so I hope, it’s all routine. I get a check up every 4 months as part of a 5 year outpatient review. Next week a chest x-ray. Which fits in nicely with a haematology appointment – no sign yet of my home testing kit coming through, so I’m still hoping Santa’s got that in his stocking.

This time, it’s not a long wait. I’m a little disappointed as the Jessica Stevenson lookie-likie isn’t on reception. Her replacement has a look of Susie Blake, the Victoria Wood continuity announcer (‘we apologise to those of you in the North … it must be awful for you’). There’s a tiny Christmas tree on reception ‘That’ll be the recession’, Mum says knowingly.When I was at the hoispital last week (haematology again, a pricking of my thumbs…) there was a beautiful rainbow over the carpark. I’d rather a rainbow than a suicide attempt, which there was on a previous visit.

I’m called in and get weighed. The nurse apologises for the state of the blue vinyl chair. It is, I admit, 70’s vulgar but I call it a throne and park my arse anyway. ‘I’m wearing my invisible crown,’ I tell her.

This week I’m seeing the Macmillan Specialist Nurse, who’s seen me through most of my treatment. My consultant is retiring, so I’m also in the proces of being ‘handed over’ to a new consultant who I haven’t yet met. Someone new to fondle my testicle. There are hreee tiny mince pies to one side of her desk, and I don’t get offered one. Just as well – you never know what they put in them these days. There’s probably a horse at least.

Preamble over and we’re on to the physical exampination. I’ve self examined, and apparently this is enough to rule out any lumps or bumps down there.

‘They say it’s quite hard examining yourself when there’s only the one,’ she says. ‘You don’t have anything to compare it to.’

‘Perhaps I should ask someone if we can compare testicles?’ I say. She thinks I’m joking, but has obviously never seen me cockwatching in the changing rooms at the gym.  I don’t gawk, gentle reader,  but really – you can’t help but look. I’ve nearly had my eye poked out on a couple of occasions. It’s terribly disappointing, though, when some sweaty hunk comes in, strips off and reveals … a pair of Batman boxer shorts . And that’s not the worst of it. By a long way. The other week someone tweeted that they’d found a shit in the shower. No, really. A shit in the shower!

Chsritmas  is the time for baubles. Sparkle is everywhere. Christmas is our showcase  of how the world would be if it was run by The Gays fulltime. There’s a reason for the saying ‘Camp As Christmas’ – it’s our gateway drug. That’s the real Gay Agenda – everyday will be ChristmasDay. Baubles  are  everywhere. Santa, I’m told has an enormous, wrinkly, white haired drooping giftbag of balls. Wispy. And you know what they say about Rudloph? He’s not only known for a big nose. Holly berries and misteltoe? Constant reminders. Look again at your xmas tree and it’s just tinsel and balls. With a fairy on top. I haven’t even started on snowmen or snowballs. 

On the way home, I shop off at the supermarket to buy vodka to make a seasonal Cranberry Vodka. The label says ‘everyday vodka’. Everyday vodka?! Something to go with your baked beans… in fact, I notice, they actually have ‘Bloody Mary’ baked beans. I don’t even like vodka, but you never know when the apocalypse if going to start so I get a couple of tins on the offchance.

But now I have a mission. Fellas, make yourselves useful.Next time you see me and I slip a hand down your pants, I’m doing us both a favour, right? Thi is the season of good will among men. There’s nothing wrong with  comparing, and it beats pissing up a wall. It would be a much nicer world if instead of a handshake we cupped each other’s balls as a greeting. Much more trusting. None of that ‘limp’ or ‘firm’ handshake nonsense. You know where you are with a guy’s gonads in your hand.

Jingle Bells, anyone?

Gallows Gin- stories of ghosts, murder and my secret sloe gin recipe

Image

The History

I enjoy making (and drinking!) sloe gin and here is the secret history and recipe of what I call my Gallows Gin. Not because you’re left hanging or legless, but because we collect the sloes from the local Whitley Common, where there was a gallows in the 18th & 19th Centuries.

There are a number of ghostly and spooky stories associated with the Whitley Gallows. On 22nd March 1831, William Moore Higgins (who lived opposite the Black Swan in Spon Street) was most wickedly murdered with poison. His niece Mary Ann Higgins and an admirer of hers, George (or Edward) Clarke, were found guilty of the murder and Mary Ann sentenced to hanging. She was taken from the gaol to Whitley Common on August 11th 1831, in a red cart with blue wheels, sitting on her own coffin for the entire journey, attended by a Reverend Sibree. She is said to have called out to one of her rejected suitors, a soldier called George, who was later punished by his officers for having outstayed  his furlough leave by two days to attend the trial and execution. A pamphlet was produced the day befoe the hanging entitled ‘The lamentation of Mary Ann Higgins’, including the final lines

Lured by the love of glittering gold,

On pleasure firmly bent,

My uncle’s life I did destroy,

For which I now repent,

Doomed by decrees of the judge most high,

Condemned by laws most just,

I unhappy death must die

A flower ultimately crush’d.

The hanging went wrong when only one bolt was released, causing the jailer Mr Carter to step in to withdraw the second bolt. As Mary Ann’s body lay hanging, several people followed a local custom whereby they rubbed the hand of the corpse on wens (cysts) on their necks, believing this to cure them. Her body was later dissected by doctors and laid out  for public inspection.

Her ghost was rumoured to haunt the Common, dressed in the same clothes she was hanged in. On one occasion, drinkers at the Crown Inn wagered a gallon of ale that one of them would not go to the Common at midnight to ask Mary Ann’s ghost how she was. His friends secretly hid themselves on the Common, so that when he asked ‘Mary Ann Higgins, how are you?’, he received the reply ‘Wet and Cold’, sending him running scared shitless back to the pub.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, there were also reports of white blobs on the Common hovering in the air and making coughing and groaning noises -which in the cold light of day actually turned out to be an asthmatic piebald cow.

Refs:

A Brief History Of Whitley And Its Primary School – Reg Kimber & Crag Campbell, January 1994

Haunted Coventry – David McGrory(Tempus Publishing, 2005)

The Recipe

This is a recipe I have adapted from others I have seen or had given to me. It’s not as sweet as manysloe gins, more of a ‘warming mulled gin’, which works fine for me.

Ingredients

450g sloes (washed, topped and tailed – traditionally they should be picked after the first frost in September, but I’m always paranoid that someone else will have nabbed them all by then, so pick them when you can and feeze them after washing (which also helps them to  ‘burst’ ,otherwise you have to prick every single one which is a tad tedious and may lead you to drink the neat bottle of  gin ( making you a Hopeless Old Lush – see below).

70 cl gin (some people say they use the very best gin they can on the principle that ‘you get out what you get in’. To be honest, the whole point of the exercise is to flavour the gin, so I just use the chepest gin I can get hold of. Also, I love seeing the looks of disdain and pity for a Hopeless Old Lush I get at the checkout with 5 or 6 bottles of cheap gin in my basket.)

125g caster sugar

1 stick of cinnamon

2 cloves

1/2 a star anise

I’m sure more traditional people use an abundance of speciaised equipment (such as fancy, sterilised kilner ‘sloe gin’ jars), but I empty out cheap 1.5 litre supermarket water bottles, bung in the sloes, then the sugar, then pour the gin in through a funnel. I turn it daily – at least for the first week – as the sugar needs to dissolve thoroughly, and leave it in the bottle for about three – six months , although I have let it for up to two years, before decanting. Again, posher people will use muslin cloth for the decanting into pretty little bottles, but I find a paper coffee filter liner works equally well.

Sit drinking it in gin teacups (NOT straight from the bottle, have some class!) round an open fire at Christmas, regaling guests with the ghost stories above. Let me know if you enjoy it – or see any ghosts.

Sleepless In Coventry

My second night where, although exhausted, sleep hasn’t come easy. One of the things about being ripped open like Christmas is having to sleep on your back as the scar and chest heal. It’s not my usual style, so I have a mound of pillows for support to keep me upright, like the princess with the pea. I’m wearing my invisible tiara.

I’m cutting down on painkillers and that rat poison warfarin keeps changing, so the drugs may be having an impact too. Some of the meds are supposed to give me vivid dreams … If only! It’s all been a bit of a dream, full of Chinese paintings and alligators and floods and curtains getting changed at midnight in the hospital.

I’m trying to catch up with 9 months backlog of Doctor Who Monthly, started reading books again but hiding from daytime TV.

And people are being kind. Cards, good wishes, hampers, DVDs, a family offering 24/7 support. Return to living on my own in the flat where I collapsed is a daunting prospect, as is yet more surgery. This time last year I was just coming to terms with cancer and losing my least favourite testicle.

But Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor, and tonight I might sleep. Apparently my scar ‘looks great’ but not to me. I’m going to pretend it’s a shark-bite or an attempt at cyber-conversion. I’m still hoping to be Upgraded …