I thought it would be a good idea to help you help someone else improve their wellbeing and maybe even go so far as save their life.
Now, you’re probably thinking “come off it, lad”. But please read on and you’ll discover that it is indeed amazing what a little knowledge can do. This isn’t about diets or a miracle cure for something, it’s purely based on personal experience and scientific fact.
Let’s begin with a few questions:
Do you know what the Hemingways, the Steinbecks, and Steve McQueen all have, or had, in common?
Do you know what Tsat means?
What type of image does bloodletting conjure up in your mind?
The Bronze Fist?
What about the Celtic Curse?
You’ll discover the answers to these questions as you read on, but please, don’t be disappointed if you’re stumped on any, or all of them. You’re in the majority, sadly, even among the medical professio. I’m sure you’d be surprised if I told you this was one of, if not THE most common genetic conditions, affecting around 1 in 200 adults in Northern Europe. This increases the more Celtic heritage you have.
Now let’s have a look at ourselves or our loved ones and see how many of these are familiar:
Arthritis. This can affect any joint but particularly check on the knuckle and first joint of the first two fingers
Chronic fatigue, weakness, or lethargy. Got heavy legs or just feeling drained all the time?
Abdominal pain; this could be in the stomach region or maybe the upper right-hand side, sometimes it could be spread widely around your abdominal region
Impaired memory, mood swings, irritability, depression
Loss of sex drive, or impotence in men
Absent or scanty menstrual periods and early menopause in women
Bronzing of the skin, or a permanent ta
Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle
Late onset Diabetes
Abnormal liver function, enlarged liver, cirrhosis, liver cancer
A decrease in body hair
How many boxes do you tick? While some of these conditions might alarm you, the majority are manageable as we get older. This, however, is part of the problem with this condition. Symptoms are not connected often enough and often treated in isolation when the underlying cause is the problem to be addressed.
The greatest issue with this condition is lack of awareness. When diagnosed early enough, before any permanent damage has been done to our bodies, you can lead a perfectly normal life. I’m the living (and writing) proof of that.
Now let’s go back to those questions:
Steve McQueen, Ernest Hemingway and family, and John Steinbeck and his family, were all cursed with the effects of this condition
Tsats are the levels of transferrin saturation, by which the condition is measured
Bronze fist is a typical symptom
The Celtic Curse is a common name for this condition
Bloodletting is actually the most common treatment used
So, what’s this thing called?
Tell you next time…..
We are in Paris in the 1960s, narrow lanes, little courtyards, the distracted artist who doesn't bother about money. There is the prostitute muse and the American ingenue: a writer who agrees to sit for a portrait by Alberto Giacometti. If it wasn't for the cars, cardigans and hemlines it could be the noughties but there is no caricature here. It is based on a true story and finely drawn: Paris, Giacometti and his work. Jean Genet wrote a whole book about this studio (L'Atelier d'Albert Giacometti). Among other things he called it 'a seething dump' The studio in the film is recognisable from contemporary photographs with work and plaster everywhere and Geoffrey Rush has a startling resemblance to the artist with his deeply lined face and shock of hair.
Alberto Giacometti is best known for his sculptures of elongated figures but he did so much more: thousands of drawings, portraits. He was humble in his art, always worrying whether something was good enough, whether he had shown what he wanted to show. He would destroy what he had done, paint over it many times. The film tells the story of when James Lord, an American Writer, sits for a portrait. Giacometti says a couple of days will be enough but also worryingly reveals that 'a work of art is never finished' Diego, the artist's brother and assistant, played by Tony Shalhoub, warns the young man that it could be weeks or longer and so it proves but the two men have a tolerant, amused and even protective attitude to the artist. As Giacometti, Rush is rumbustious, funny, otherworldly and sometimes charming. Jack Lord played by Armie Hammer is always charming, agreeable and slightly bewildered. It's the women who come off worst. The Giacomettis have a slum-like bedroom by the studio, even though by this time he had money. Anne, his wife, played by Sylvie Testud, longs to wear a pretty dress and go to an award ceremony but she does not get to share his social life much because his muse is a prostitute, Caroline, played by Clémence Poésy, and it is Caroline he takes to the posh restaurants and for whom he buys a red car. Caroline is not entirely the free spirit she pretends to be. We understand this when Giacometti is visited by her pimps who demand more money.
Director Stanley Tucci has made a rather beautiful final portrait of Alberto Giacometti, his Art and relationships. Giacometti died a year later.
“Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships”, (Jan Moir, The Daily Mail, 16th November 2009). An opinion piece that used the sudden death of Boyzone’s Stephen Gately to attack civil partnerships, and attracted 25,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission
“he's not only trapped in the wrong body, he's in the wrong job”, (Richard Littlejohn, The Daily Mail, 20th December 2012). An opinion piece about the transition of primary school teacher, Lucy Meadows, that the coroner claimed contributed to her suicide.
Given this kind of media opinion, one might assume that LGBT+ phobia was the preserve of The Daily Mail. Regrettably, it’s not even the preserve of the right wing press. On 13th January 2013, Julie Burchill wrote a piece for The Observer entitled “Transsexuals should cut it out”, that was so abhorrent the police recorded it as a hate incident. Neither should it be forgotten that the media group who originally broke the Lucy Meadows story was Trinity Mirror (parent company of The Daily Mirror).
How do I know all this? Because I reported the Julie Burchill piece to the police and was also an employee of Trinity Mirror.
After they made me redundant, I was an Equality & Diversity trainer for a while. One day, circa 2014, a lady in a class I was assisting on stated, “I don’t know why we’re doing this. Everything’s OK now.” I wasn’t particularly surprised by this statement. Given the rapid post-millennial change in UK legislation in favour of LGBT+ people, I suppose to most people, equality would indeed appear to be a solved problem. After all, even human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, concedes all major fights for LGBT+ equality have been won.
However, my reply then was to state that things may seem OK but they can soon change back again and I cited Berlin between the first and second World Wars as an example of when this had happened. These days, to my utter dismay, I could cite the UK as a far more recent example.
Whilst not yet following Donald Trump’s example in turning back hard won legislation, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the current UK government have seen fit to make a deal with the notoriously LGBT+ phobic DUP to remain in power. Nor should it be glossed over that, in the wake of the Brexit result, homophobic hate crimes rose by 147%. I also think it safe to assume that Trans people weren’t excluded from this surge in hate crimes, even if they were excluded from the news reports. After all, in last year’s international Trans Day of Remembrance, 295 trans and gender-diverse people were recorded as killed in 2016 alone. As not every country records the gender identity of the person killed, we believe the true figures to be higher.
So, with the intent of providing a ‘current state of play’, in this blog I shall be recalling the legislation that helped drive the UK towards LGBT+ equality this millennium, and relating it to media reportage and my life as someone who came out as a gay man in December 1999 and then as Trans in the summer of 2009.
Some terminology used in this post:
Hate Crime Crime against person(s) for no perceived reason other than hatred
LGBT+ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans plus all other non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people
Cisgender Those whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth
Trans Those whose gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth plus persons, such as crossdressers and transvestites, who may wish to be associated with them
Crossdresser Person who wears clothes not conventionally associated with their own gender identity but may not necessarily wish to appear as a person with a gender identity opposite to their own
Transvestite Person who dresses so as to appear - but not necessarily identifies - as a person with a gender identity opposite to their own for any period of time but not typically 24/7
I remember when the blackcurrants were ripe for picking, they glowed in their skin of purple black. When the sun shone, the Meitheal began. Meitheal is an Irish word referring to the practice of neighbours assisting each other to harvest their crops. The majority of our neighbours had generous gardens and among other things, they grew berries, blackcurrants, redberries, strawberries, raspberries and hairy green gooseberries. Our Meitheal was a gathering of women and children who descended systematically, like locusts on each garden to pick the fruits, starting with the blackcurrants. Every generation was represented and this practice, in itself, represented an incredible sense of community.
We’d sit on upturned buckets, if we were lucky! More often than not the adults, who hadn’t brought their own little stool, had the buckets reserved so we were on the ground and worked our way around the bushes with basin in hand. When buckets and basins were full they were weighed. There was an art to it, no amateur offerings here. The currants must be picked without bruising and without stalks.
The first taste of the currants was a ‘stand still and savour’ experience. Firstly there was the sniffing of the leaves-I loved that then and I still do now. I’d run my hands through the branches, and the waft from the leaves smelt of a sweet dampness and ancient memories. Then came the crunchy little currant exploding in my mouth. I would taste the shininess of the skin and the jelly like centre, Immersing myself in those sensory pleasures; the colour, the smell and the taste would fill me with a feeling of wholesomeness.
There was one little red currant bush in the garden and I really favoured it. I don’t know if it was the light filled little red bubble or the sweetness. I suspect it was because it was the one that stood alone and was different.
Our neighbours and friends worked hard and amidst laughter, tea and the swapping of recipes they got the job done and were prepared for the next garden on the following day.
At that stage the kids were tired and the excitement had worn off so currants were used as missiles, and squished in faces, leaving a gooey purple-green gunk dripping from cheeks and chins. Time to get us rounded up and brought home.
But it didn’t end there! There followed the blackcurrant cordial and the jam! My mouth waters when I think about the cordial my mother used to make as a reward for our work. Purple moustaches were evidence of our impatience for the mixture to cool in the fridge.
The smell in the kitchen of blackcurrants, being stirred by the long, purple wooden spoon as they bubbled in the giant, cauldron-like saucepan, cast spells of nostalgia, never to be surrendered.
Of course every family that had been picking were now jam making so the heady mixture of berries and sugar wafted like a sweet purple cloud above our houses. It was glorious.
I was especially fascinated by the intricacies of bottling. The warm, recycled jam jars,the little wax circles, plastic covers and elastic bands seemed somehow exotic and appealed to my creative side.
Finally, the doorstep of homemade soda bread and butter lathered with the warm jam is indelibly etched deep in my memory bank. Oh what I would give for just one slice!
Spring Onion Borlotti Beans(tinned or dried.
You might have to soak and boil the dried ones)
Water or Stock
Don't worry about the quantities. Aim for roughly the same amount of the vegetables. Don't stint on the parsley. Chop everything small and the parsley finely. Put everything except the cabbage and rice in a pan. There should be a couple of inches of water above the veg. Bring it to the boil and then turn the heat down so it is still bubbling a bit If you think it needs more stock/ water at any stage just add it to the pan, preferably hot. Cook it for half an hour. Then add the cabbage and 5 minutes later, the rice. It should be ready in 10 -15 minutes. The rice and the beans give it body. If you want to add to the thickness of it, keep some cooked beans back, mash them and put them into the soup at the end.
My Nonna, worn out with 10 children, 2 of whom died at 6 months and an alcoholic husband who was away with the Carabinieri in the war, made the most delicious minestra, a rich vegetable soup with a variety of vegetables, particularly cabbage and beans. Her children loved it because they were hungry. My Mam says they used to have bread and milk for breakfast, polenta for lunch and almost always minestra for tea. They had meat on Sundays - maybe a bit of boiled beef and only then would there be a bit of stock to add to the soup, otherwise Nonna would add a bit of pig fat from the pig they fattened and killed every year. The minestra was less watery when she fed it to her grandchildren. We were all more prosperous then,and, as children, we hated that soup, it was sludgy and lumpy, you were never quite sure what was in it and the cabbage went grey. We weren't hungry like our parents. We knew what pizza looked like. Red and white and beautiful.
As I got older I realised how wonderful it was. Later on in her life she got a bee in her bonnet about Italian Food being the best in the world and her children would tease her that she only knew how to make polenta, minestra, pastina and risotto. That was almost true but what she cooked was always fresh and healthy and, except for the polenta, delicious!
I remember on a course I did a good while ago, a book called ARISTOTLE'S POETICS for SCREENWRITERS...When translated, it emerges that when writing Drama, discovering a characters' eating habits is essential and this goes all the way back to the dawn of western civilisation.
When feeling down, you've got to be kind to yourself, that's why it's comfort food for me... Corned beef hash with a sausage, Sheperd's Pie and thick homemade chips with loads of salt and vinegar... The truth is, I love this food so much I eat all these when I'm happy too. This makes me think:
If you are what you eat.. What is a cannibal?
I grew up in Kirkby, Merseyside, It was (and still is) one of the poorest areas of Britain. A sixties new town that turned into a poverty blackspot in the eighties - inspiration for writers such as Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell. The drab, 'ordinary' lives they portrayed were my real-life existence. In fact, when Boys from the Blackstuff was first aired in 1982, every child in my school spent the next few months shouting 'Gis a job, I can do that.'
I was the second daughter of a teenaged single mum, who still lived with her parents. My grandad did all the cooking. He asked us every night 'what do you want with your chips'. Food was something to sate my appetite - nothing more. We moved from my grand-parents’ home into a small flat when I was eleven. We lived with my mother's sister and her son. My auntie did all the cooking and like her father before her, it was chips with everything. Occasionally we would be adventurous and have chopped up pork shoulder with special fried rice straight from the freezer. Convenience food was as big as the microwaves that cooked them and Bernard Matthews was very popular in my house.
My boyfriend picked me up from Euston Station. He splashed out for a taxi to our new home. I stepped out of the taxi into another world. I would say that I had never seen anything like the building I was about to live in but that would be inaccurate. My family are big fans of Agatha Christie's Poirot, and I was about to live in a studio flat in the building in which it was filmed. Florin Court, Charterhouse Square. Like the television series, my life suddenly felt unreal. How could I move from my council estate into Zone One? My boyfriend was a cinema manager at the time, not a great wage, and we would both have to work hard to pay the £650 per month rent bill and I didn't yet have a job.
My grand tour of the building began with in the basement. A swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and gym - all open to residents. Then the roof garden - a quiet oasis in the bustling city with a panoramic view of Central London. Every major landmark could be seen; from Canary Wharf, to the Oxo Tower, to Centre Point. I had arrived, literally on top of the world. Then I walked into my new home. It was no bigger than an average Victorian lounge but it had everything we needed: a tiny bathroom and kitchen, a sofa bed and the oddest black wardrobe that opened like a bread bin. Then my boyfriend had to go to work and I was alone, for the first time in my life.
And in the fridge was a potato, cheese and a tin of sweetcorn. It was only then that I realised that I wasn't prepared for this. I wasn't prepared to be alone in a massive city. I wasn't prepared to be independent. I had grown up in busy, chaotic households and the silence was deafening and the responsibility overwhelming. I had cooked the odd meal for my family but nothing special. I looked at the tiny microwave in the kitchen to see if I could make sense of it. It was a combination oven/microwave so it completely threw me. I could have gone out and found somewhere to eat - there is always somewhere to find food in London. But I didn't even have the confidence to do that. I battled with the microwave on my own until I managed to bake the potato - I was sick of eating chips. I found a small grater in one of the cupboards, grated the cheese on top and I mushed the sweetcorn into the cheese. I sat on the couch with the first meal I properly cooked myself and I ate it in front of the TV, to drown out the silence.
I wish I could say that from that moment on, my confidence grew and I became comfortable in my new surroundings. But the truth is I never really felt a part of this environment. I learned to adapt to the silence and be independent, as I have learned to cook more interesting and nutritious meals, but I remained a spectator in a world I didn't belong. I was living in my own episode of Poirot, without the whodunit. Like my culinary skills, I felt I lacked the class or sophistication to blend into this world.