Saturday 23 May 2020

Antidepressants AND Tolkien!: the therapeutic power of nature walks on your doorstep

Entrance to Stafford Castle
So the first part of the title to this post may need explaining, being a loose adaptation of a quiz doing the rounds on Facebook to which my godson alerted me, called: "Antidepressants or Tolkien?" 24 names flash up on screen and you have to decide if they are the actual name of a character from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit OR that of a currently prescribed antidepressant.  Not having read any Tolkien except The Hobbit (nigh on 50 years ago!) I was absolutely pants at the quiz. This is also because - despite carrying out numerous market research studies in pharmaceutical topics in the past - I don't think my path crossed SSRIs and their ilk at any point. So I had to guess at every single name except Cymbalta and Bilbo. If you are a Tolkien fan or a pharmacist, you will ace it I am sure!

And now to explain my substituting of "AND" for "Or". Basically, I have been exploring long neglected green areas in my town this week - by me I mean - and discovering some new ones, and was struck in a couple of places by their resemblance to a Tolkien-like wood. And I do know about that at least, if not the characters in the books, for a number of scenes from Tolkien-influenced Game of Thrones were filmed in that forest I mentioned in my recent hermit and hand cream post. As well as elsewhere in Ulster in familiar beauty spots from my childhood. Plus Tolkien lived in Staffordshire for a while, and was inspired by some of the gnarled old oaks on Cannock Chase, as referenced in my review of Liz Moores' Dryad. So that is all by way of explaining my Tolkien-esque foliage-spotting credentials. ;)

These bursts of extreme exercise - each walk was about three hours long - were prompted in part by ongoing pain issues from my sprained pelvis. I thought I would try flooding the area with the dopamine known to be released by (a compatible form of) physical activity, of which Val the Cookie Queen is of course the poster girl. At the same time, I figured it might improve my mood during lockdown. The lack of control and uncertain future are two aspects I continue to struggle with, and Ian McEwan hit the nail on the head in his recent essay on time:

He quotes Kierkegaard to start with:

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."

McEwan adds: "When that forward motion is denied, then you are liable to go tumbling backwards through time."

I presume he is talking of not being able to look forward to anything, and the mental freefalling that may ensue. At least we can now meet one person from another household in an outdoor setting, which feels like a big win after the constraints of lockdown so far!

The first discovery I made on Day One was of a treelined path that led all the way to my local Aldi from just beyond the road at the bottom of my street. That could make the dreaded shopping trips more agreeable, assuming I wasn't driving, obviously.

The second discovery was of a lake behind the rugby club, complete with anglers, hidden knots of youths at the water's edge sharing a spliff, and ducks with attitude.

"I'm tyred of this...!"

Next up, I chanced upon a venerable shoe company, called Jen. This sign dates from 1963, but the company's roots stretch back to the 19th century. Footwear used to be a thriving industry in Stafford, which was also home to the better known brand Lotus.

My friend David, the artist, was commissioned to make a stained glass panel for St Mary's Church in town to commemorate this 'last-ing' legacy. ;)

Source: BaldHiker

A few minutes later, I was in the atmospheric shade of a path up to the castle, which snakes between the manicured green sward of the golf course. I saw a fox, though barely captured him on camera before he ran to ground.

(Fox not pictured!)

The castle dates from 1100 AD, albeit there is not much of it left. You can see for miles around, and once again, the grassy slopes below were dotted with groups of young people sitting chatting - in a vaguely socially distanced way, aided by their recumbent bicycles. No, not that kind of recumbent bicycle...!

I have stopped tutting at such scenes, ever since I learnt that if you are young you are more likely to be die by being struck by lightning than of Covid-19.

The following day, I did a circuit of Doxey Marshes, a nature reserve beloved of twitchers and dog walkers alike, which backs onto the estate where I used to live. As a born again bird watcher, I was pleased to see several varieties, two with babies in tow:

Some surprisingly docile goslings:

In this long shot, you could fancy yourself on safari (almost!)

One of several laid back swans:

Not forgetting their synchronised cygnets. "A cygnet ring!" as the aforementioned David waggishly remarked.

There were cows galore as well, both reflective and reflected. Here is one, ruminating and watching the world go by.

And now the startling sight of "La Vache Qui Pee".

Why, that will be due to all the drinking of course! Note the mirror images in the stream.

I also managed to pap this squirrel, doing a good imiation of Cerberus perched on a gravestone in the adjacent cemetery.

It has been too blowy over the past couple of days to walk very far since, but more explorations of Stafford's green interstices are definitely on the cards. Along with that Undina-inspired post I mentioned earlier...

Thursday 7 May 2020

Ready, steady, heady: sniffing shots of lilac gin

I should have been taking a plane today. Somewhere far enough away to seem utterly fantastical in today's new reality. The pandemic feels like a waking dream most of the time, with news bulletins recycling the same terminology on an endless loop. If I had a pound for every time someone in the media says 'unprecedented', 'vulnerable', and 'frontline', I wouldn't need the Government's self-employed rescue package I may or may not be invited to apply for before they decide to withdraw it again because of easing the lockdown.

Actually, I say 'frontline' is mentioned over and over, but if you google it (as I just did to see if it was two words or not), you get the flea treatment for dogs and cats of that name as the first search result in Google. Which tells you all you need to know about the all-conquering dark art of SEO.

Much paler in reality than it appears!

But no, instead of going anywhere beyond my limited local circuit at the moment, I have been bird watching and lilac spotting, knitting, reading, cooking, and having psychological battles with Truffle over whether she will or won't get out of the office chair last thing at night. I have taken to carrying the chair with her in it all the way along the landing and tipping her downstairs, even though this is probably not an ideal manoeuvre for my compromised pelvis. This MO does seem to work, mind, with minimal hissing and personal injury.

But I digress...back to my new and colourful pursuit of lilac spotting. The latter has escalated to the level of a sport now on my daily constitutionals (or however often I manage to take them, given how absorbing my many knitting projects are proving at the moment!). Last night I clocked up white, pale mauve, mid-mauve, and a rich magenta. Along the way I also paused to sniff a hawthorn tree (disappointing) and a neighbour's wisteria, as I missed the flowering on my French house this year. I had forgotten how lilac-like wisteria is as a scent.

Now I know I said "lilac gin" there in the title, messing with Elkie Brooks' preferred tipple. That was purely to grab readers' attention, in much the same way that mine was attracted the other day by the headline: "Adele is so skinny now and looks like Barbie." So a low tactic, I concede.

I am not sure I would like lilac gin actually, though my friend David - whose own lilac is the deepest purple one pictured above - makes me fruit-flavoured gin every Christmas. I currently have bottles of his raspberry and pomegranate varieties on the go. If there isn't some lifting at the end of the tunnel from next week, I can see me making greater inroads into my gin stash!

Following on from a recent post by Undina, I was rummaging for the sample she gave me of Jo Malone Sweet Milk a while ago - I didn't care for it, and she mentioned having nearly run out - when I came across another JM sample she'd given me, namely Wild Lilac & Rhubarb. Given my current lilac craze, I have been enjoying wearing it lately, and it doesn't seem either synthetic or overly sweet as I had mistakenly remembered.

Notes: lilac, rhubarb, rose and heliotrope

I am now curious to smell En Passant again, and revisit Opardu and Pacifica French Lilac (the latter also courtesy of Undina), which has given my usually reliable photographic memory the slip for the moment. Oh, and Vacances, which I gave to my brother because he asked if I had a lilac perfume a man could wear.

Source: fragrantica

And speaking of knitting, in my recent yarn splurges, I seem to have been drawn to shades of are the balls in question: for some reason I can't turn the photo round the other way.

Are you flower spotting this spring, in lieu of going to gigs / Nando's / the pub / for a curry / your venue of choice etc?

PS Undina, this still isn't the post inspired by your Sweet Milk post, though you might well think so! ;)