Wednesday 25 August 2021

Mind how you go: why six swallows do not a summer make, and one cuckoo flew the nest

This post is a tale of two starts with the latest on my "supermarket sweep" of comorbidities (I exaggerate, I know, but I have gone and picked up another diagnosis!), and then the action moves to France, where I have boldly gone, despite the Government's relentless pushing of "staycations". The very word alone would propel me to go abroad for a holiday, I will be honest. More on that anon. 

The Thursday before I left I had a bone density scan at a hospital in Burslem (one of The Five Towns in The Potteries, not to be confused with bursitis). I didn't know this hospital even existed - and I nearly didn't have the scan at all, as there was some confusion in my records as to whether I had actually fractured my scaphoid bone back in January when I fell on ice, as you may recall. For they could only scan people who had sustained a fracture, being strictly a Fracture Clinic, not a "Had a Nasty Fall of Any Kind Clinic". However the staff put their heads together and decided to let me through based on a 1-1 draw of medical opinion for and against, plus the fact that it had taken me an hour to get there, what with the roadworks on Stoke's notorious 'D-Road' being such a nightmare at the moment. Good job they did, as I came out with osteoporosis(!), which I did not see coming. 

Source: Pinterest

The nurse in the Fracture Clinic I was sent straight in to see after the scan had what looked like two plaster of Paris objects on her desk. I had no idea what they were, and was told they were cross-sections of two kinds of bone: one normal, one with osteoporosis. The healthy one was dense and thick and full of wavy lines with reasonably small holes in between like a Gaudi building in Barcelona (okay, eyeballing that photo maybe the holes are bigger than I remember ;)); the other one looked like a Cadbury's Crunchie bar you had sucked the middle out of - surely you must have done that? It had much thinner stalagmites and stalactites that had been snapped off here and there as though someone had driven a model Dinky car all the way through. Plus the top and bottom of the cast skewed sideways at a disconcerting angle, like a Leaning Tower of Pisa made of bone. I did not want to accept the conclusion in the direction of which I was being pointed, namely that my bones looked more like that one...Next up, a perky young student with the Stoke equivalent of Scouse brows took blood - to rule out other unspecified sinister things (as they do). She announced brightly afterwards that she hadn't had any practice with needles since Christmas. ;) It looks like they might want me to go on bone strengthening drugs, but these are quite punishing on the oesophagus apparently, so there would need to be 'buy in' from the nice gastric consultant who made a cameo appearance in a previous post. At the very least now I need to mind where I put my feet.

Like this, but *much* holier and more slanty ~ Source: ABC7

Moving on, the very next day I had a barium swallow requiring a six hour fast in the run up...well, I say "swallow" - it was in fact a series of about six tightly choreographed swallows preceded by a pause where you have to hold the liquid in your mouth first. I found it a strange and interesting procedure, standing on a platform that tilted this way and that - a bit like being an astronaut. Plus some lying down in an Odalisque pose and drinking through a straw at exactly the sort of angle a person suffering from reflux like me would never dare to do, hehe. And rolling over through a full 360 degrees in fits and starts as though you were an insomniac (which I also am) trying to find a comfortable sleeping position. The barium stuff tasted way better than I expected: like molten Love Hearts or a raspberry flavoured Sherbert Fountain crossed with Gaviscon. I was bracing myself for something far more elemental, like sucking on Shungite. 

Blimey, I wasn't far off too... They must have a jolly good juicer is all I can say. 

I don't have the results of that procedure yet, but calculated that I had a perfect window of opportunity to come away to France and check on my house there while waiting...the lifting of quarantine on my return, and the removal of the requirement for TWO of the four Covid tests being the icing on the cake. There's even talk of capping the prices of the PCR test I have to take on Day 2 after I get back.

[In case anyone is shocked at my skipping the country in this manner, I promise I didn't take my decision lightly: I checked the French pandemic situation on the Worldometer site, and note that France is running at 22,636 new cases at the time of writing, with 81 deaths a day. The vast majority of people with Covid at the moment (99.86%!) have mild symptoms. Then the dreaded Beta variant accounts for about 2% of cases, mostly in Reunion Island, some 5,700 miles away. So the country looked as safe if not more safe than Britain, not least the sleepy village where I was headed. Masks are still compulsory in French shops, and vaccine passports are required in a whole clatter of public places like cafes, restaurants, museums and cinemas - even open air markets.]

I also took a lateral flow test for my own peace of mind before leaving the country, even though that was one of the tests you no longer have to do, and arrived at Newhaven ferry terminal with a bristling clutch of documentation - as much to do with Brexit as with Covid to be fair: passport, International Driving Permit, Green Card, vaccination certificate, and a sworn statement in two languages to the effect that I didn't have any Coronavirus symptoms. A marshal from the ferry company promptly gave me yet another similar form of their own to fill in, so I had now sworn my health status in triplicateAll my paperwork was found to be in order, which felt like a win, and I had a lighthearted moment with the Border Force team, explaining that I had a Hoover, ironing board and two feather dusters with me, and was driving 600 miles to do a load of housework. As I drove onto the ferry I felt a surge of excitement, as though Neptune was favouring the brave. Mad, bad, completely cuckoo? You decide.

The ferry was sparsely populated for August, and there were probably no more than 25 cars aboard. I met a lady who had made the trip to the UK back in April (I am not sure on what grounds, as travel was even more tightly controlled back then) and she said there were only 8 cars on her sailing, yet the ferry staff said that was a good day! I managed to use the ship's wifi during the crossing, and given the mere smattering of passengers I'd say there would have been ample bandwidth to go round, even if all the mostly retired folk in the lounge had been avid gamers.

Some 400 miles later, I reached journey's end, having only spotted half a dozen British cars since leaving Dieppe. And felt sad for the many more who didn't feel they could or should have the holiday they had planned.

The house was nowhere near as dirty or damp and musty as I was expecting after my long absence, though there were numerous impudent lianas of wisteria which had insinuated themselves inside the shutters and dead leaves all over the floor, while spiders had taken back control like a spindly multi-legged version of the Taliban. There was also a huge pile of post for a couple who have the same street address as me, but in the next village. The next day, I walked to their house to deliver it all. Luckily they had a sufficiently roomy letter box. They weren't around in person so I could explain, so I imagine it will give them a bit of a shock... All those offers on casual slacks and camping stools they have missed!

There have been a couple of incidents so far which brought it home to me how much I value the little quirks of village life. My French elderly friend is very ill, sadly, and I went to buy her some flowers in the supermarket. A man of a similar age jokily asked me at the till if they were for him, and quick as a flash I said: "No, they're for R...", knowing full well he would know who I meant.

After that I popped to the Post Office, which is housed in a Media Centre at the end of a long passageway. The postmistress was sitting on the ground, leaning against a wall, mask slung round her chin, soaking up the sun. On my approach, she scrambled to her feet, reassembled herself, and scurried into the PO seconds ahead of me.

On the way back, armed with lots of stamps for postcards I may not get around to writing if past years are anything to go by, I was astonished to chance across Neptune himself nestling in some boulders on the ground.

Another evening I ran into the sick friend's cousin, who was sitting outside his house in the dark, his little auburn-coloured dachshund by his side. He mentioned his upcoming visit to the doctor's in another village. "I drive there with the dog - she's no bother. As long as I can drive I will stay with that practice, as I am used to them. Obviously not when I can't anymore, as she would not be great behind the wheel." "No indeed", I replied, "There are her short legs for starters."

I haven't spent any time yet in holiday mode, as I am trying to get the house shipshape ahead of a friend coming to stay. The other day saw me brushing the cobwebs off the rafters of Miss Havisham's attic and sweeping the floor and stairs. I am not sure I could have faced the task were it not for the prospect of a visitor spurring me on.

In other news, I am now on Day 2 of waiting in for an Amazon parcel. In the UK you are given a precise and narrow time slot for delivery, whereas Amazon France have guaranteed delivery days, not hours, and thanks to a nifty oxymoron these 'guaranteed' days are only estimates, as I now realise. And this despite signing up to a free trial of the French version of Amazon Prime: normally held in high regard as a behemoth of speedy shipping, over here it is a completely meaningless concept. I am the only one who appears to be 'primed' so far, eagerly awaiting the mattress topper I have bought for my guest...

Touching briefly on scented matters(!), I have brought a few more perfumes out here to join my growing collection. I keep them in the bathroom cabinet - I know, sacrilege, flying in the face of my own advice from way back - because I am on holiday, and have clearly let my usual standards drop. ;)

Oh, plus I have made a new furry friend! Please don't tell Truffle...

Friday 13 August 2021

Spritz and sip: Seamist Liquid Garnish from the Salcombe Distilling Company

Photo courtesy of Salcombe Distilling Co.

Last Christmas a friend with a long and distinguished history of giving me unusual gins performed a sideways gifting* manoeuvre into gin 'additives', if I could loosely term them as that. You know, things like angostura bitters which go to make classic pink gin, though it wasn't those. And which until I looked them up just now I mistakenly thought contained anchovy. No, what she gave me was a 'liquid garnish' with the dreamily evocative name of Seamist. The idea is that you add it to one of several Salcombe Gins - or in my case whatever 'plain' brand I happen to have in the cupboard, more like. It is the mode of dosing that is the fun part though, for the bottle of Seamist looks exactly like a perfume atomiser of the old 'sit on the dressing table of a Hollywood starlet' variety.

Moreover, the list of ingredients (though the precise nature of the botanicals isn't specified) reads for all the world like a fragrance formula - orris root I am looking at you!:

"Distilled and crafted using the finest fresh red grapefruit peels, which are hand peeled each day prior to distillation and combined with coastal botanicals, a hint of Macedonian juniper berries, lime, coconut, orris root and bay leaf, before adding Cornish sea salt, which is first dissolved in pure, naturally soft Dartmoor water before being blended with the distillate that has been created. The salt concentration is roughly twice that of sea water."



A gin garnish in a perfume bottle: what a splendid confluence of my special interests...;)

The ABV is a whopping 60%, I should mention, which is 50% more than my usual tipple of gin at around 40%. Good job it is only finely sprayed over the finished drink...!

Now despite my alleged gin and perfume credentials, I have yet to spray the Seamist into my gin. So far I have only tipped a bit out of the neck into my glass, which wasn't very successful, as a fair bit spilled onto the worktop, necessitating my 'doing a Truffle' and licking it off. What do you mean, you don't do that too?? Having since taken a better look at the company's website, I shall be spritzing from now on. I have no idea why I even hesitated. There is lots of information on the website by the way, from cocktail recipes** to try at home, to tasting sessions on the premises - you can even go along and learn how to make your own personalised bottle of gin. Of interest too is the timeline of Salcombe's maritime past and how the distillery was set up by two sailing instructors called Angus and Howard.

The inspiration behind Seamist is also revealed:

"Seamist’ has been inspired by, and is created to, replicate the aromas and sensation of a morning walk along the shore, with your senses being filled fresh sea air and a subtle saltiness from the spray of waves as the early morning sun turns it into sea mist."

This is obviously not the sort of morning walk experience that can be readily conjured up in landlocked Staffordshire. Mind you, Stafford was built on top of salt mines at least(!), though the practice of brine pumping was banned in 1970 following some bad cases of subsidence in the north of the town. As for how Seamist tastes to me, it is not as grapefruity as I thought it would be, nor as salty, but adds a boozy citrus twist to an already boozy drink - in a good way. Which doesn't really tell you very much, I know. To be fair, I should have written this post after I had managed to get more of the garnish into my actual glass... ;).


Source: Stiller Beobachter via Wikimedia Commons

Now as any fellow sufferers of reflux / GERD will know, fizzy beverages (tonic water!), alcohol (gin!, Seamist!) and citrus fruit (grapefruit!) are the Unholy Trinity of acid-producing drink- and foodstuffs. So a gin and tonic with a slice of lemon or lime in it is already a supposed no-no, even without the addition of extra citrus and extra alcohol. But my drinking overall has fallen by about 85% (though it may creep up again presently, I sense), and sometimes you simply have to live a little (or go mad)...;)


*I swear I would not normally say "gifting", but "presenting" isn't a word. 

**As well as just adding Seamist to gin, there is also a recipe for a Martini cocktail called a Mistini, which is another great name.