Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The End Is Nigh

I've enjoyed this domain, moregravy.info, but I'm not going to renew it on August 17th.  Google has made it too complicated, reminding me that I might prefer a Wordpress site. Before I knew it, I made one: russellcronin.com

I imagined a gradual, dignified withdrawal, but it proved very easy to import all the content from Blogger to Wordpress, so I am going to focus on the new platform from now on.

Portentously, these may be my final More Gravier words. These pages will evaporate when their .info domain expires. I registered it in August 2012, after my first cataract operation, as soon as I could see again through one eye. Five years has flown: phew!

It's been fun, but it's time to move on.
Nobody knows what I've been through, largely because I've kept schtum. When I do try to explain, I sound insane, not least to myself. Some smile kindly and nod as if to a batty relative; other fellow travellers shrug dismissively, as if my subjective experience is nothing special.

I have been directed toward certain sources of reassurance, online, but those sagacious women tend to talk in a language I don't share. Still, the likes of Denise Le Fay (my favourite 'ascension auntie') describe acute physical symptoms with which I am uncomfortably familiar. Increasingly since the Summer of 2014 and, since the turn of this year, more intensely and nearly all the time.

I'm not inclined to discuss these symptoms with doctors for the same reason I no longer monitor my hypertension. Having cheated death, I am not going out with a whimper. Surges of euphoria inform me that my smouldering sacrum is not myeloma; tingling thighs indicate neither neuralgia, nor paresthesia; the ever-present buzzing is not tinnitus. The headaches and lethargy I can cope with, if they are intimations of imminent transformation.

What I have chosen to write about was not what has been going on with me, but Heston Blumenthal's cheese sauce (you coat grated cheese with cornflour, add bouillon) and to do so under a name suggested by a couple of random foreigners who might have been taking the piss when they told me that 'russell' sounded in their language like, 'more gravy'. Of course, I have form for this.

Rather than get too personal, my blog page has been somewhat desultory and whimsical. I've used it as a place to store recipes and note places I would like to eat at: 'eateries'. Its index does represent my interests, sort of, initially in food. Last year was all about deceased pop idols, but this year has been businesslike.

For twelve weeks, I've published a 750 word blog post every Wednesday, re: diverse topics. I do it as part of my Universal Credit work search commitment, to advertise my skill and discipline as a copy writer, in case you might want to employ me. I will be better off it doing it under my own name at russellcronin.com

Wordpress is a more popular platform among advertisers on the freelance work sites such as Upwork, where I am currently compelled to compete for work with people who live much more cheaply than I can in Central London. They seem ready, willing and able to write, edit and proofread for next to no money. I expect my days of having to demonstrate 35 hours p/w job hunting to end soon, though, one way or another.

Claiming Universal Credit has not been a wholly negative experience. My work search coach, who at first seemed so tough and stern, has turned out to be only human, constrained by the system he is a part of, but motivated in general to do good. Still, I can hardly explain to him that I'm not too bothered about chasing temp. gigs in the global marketplace because I am preoccupied with embodying the new paradigm.

Even if I knew better what those words meant, how to explain to those trapped in consensus reality that what they perceive through their senses about the world in which they find themselves is illusory? 'Reality' is a collective hallucination. But our collective consciousness, shared via this internet noosphere, is changing, rapidly and dramatically.

This coming weekend, I shall undertake a visionary quest. My purpose is not so much to foresee the future as to draw a line under the past. When I embarked upon this journey, 20 years ago, rational understanding was the first thing to go. May whatever comes next be unprecedented.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Legalise cannabis to save #ourNHS


The most urgent issue in the forthcoming general election is the preservation of our National Health Service. If the NHS is the nearest thing we have in 21st century secular Britain to a National Religion, then Mrs May, the Vicar's daughter, is apostate. Her Governbent is hell bent on carving it up and flogging it off. 

If you missed Michael Sheen's speech about Aneurin Bevan, or such documentaries as The End Of The NHS before the election two years ago, watch Julie Hesmondhalgh fka Hayley Cropper declare, '30 days to save our NHS!' or catch yourself up at juniordoctorblog.com.

I've been a heavy user of the NHS since it saved my life in 2011, when a world class team of surgeons in North Bristol amputated my left hand, but managed to save my foot. Their top man, Lead Consultant, Tim Burge, ex-army, pioneered innovative plastic surgery techniques on the battle fields of Bosnia. That's what war is good for.

The NHS kept me quarantined for three months, with my own dedicated nurse, 24 hours a day. I had arrived from India with five varieties of NDM-1; two more than had previously been seen in a British hospital. Its a mutant enzyme that makes bacteria invulnerable to antibiotics. I was carrying super-immune cholera. You're welcome! Never mind my heroic contribution to the annals of microbiology, however, just consider the accommodation cost.

How much d'you reckon a private hospital would charge to implement such extreme infection control procedures? Now consider the potential costs of not containing that infection. My name might now be as well known as Typhoid Mary. Cholera Cronin, that would be me.

The clinical care I received was irreproachable, but there were aspects of my hospital stay that were a bit shit. They were the bits that had been privatised.

I don't just mean the entertainment consoles that are mounted over every bed, with pay-to-view TV and whatnot. You've got to pay to watch telly that's already paid for via the licence on the set back home, which you can't watch because you're banged up in hospital with nothing better to do than look at television. I refused, but my night nurse, Nathan, kindly bought me £10 worth of access over Glastonbury weekend.

Much more importantly, the food was rubbish. FFS, did Hippocrates not say, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food?" That should be clause two of the Hippocratic oath and yet my Consultants knew next to nothing about nutrition. "You are becoming anaemic because of the lack of iron in your vegetarian diet," I was told. "No," I corrected, "I am becoming anaemic due to the complete absence of dark green leafy vegetables in the diet you feed me."

Rather than provide nutritious meals, the NHS dishes out supplements in pill form. They believe in pharmaceutical solutions. "The drugs work," I was told repeatedly, as if it were an article of faith, but no one at the hospital explained how or why. Rather, they continued to offer me Amitriptyline - a 'tricyclic antidepressant' that knocked me out - twice daily after I stopped taking it, for the rest of my stay. I came home with a carrier bag full of drugs and spent a day online learning about them.

Within a couple of months, I weaned myself off all pharmaceutical drugs in favour of cannabis. I made green ghee from the spoil of other people's crops and cooked with it. Rather than risk using addictive opioids with their undesirable side effects, I managed my pain with my own medicine, made from donated plant material. Its side effects - munchies; drowsiness - are pleasurable, too.

So, IMO, the problem of funding the NHS could be solved at a stroke by legalising cannabis. I'm not the only one saying it! Even if we don't follow the example of Colorado, where tax income from legal marijuana sales is directed into funding local schools, legalised cannabis will alleviate pressure upon the NHS, practically overnight. Not only will chronically ill people have immediate access to effective medicine, but alcohol-related casualties will soon start to decline.

None of the major parties agree with me yet, although the Greens and the Liberal Democrats are getting there. Big Pharma and other vested interests who make hefty campaign contributions fear nothing more than legal cannabis. At this election, however, it's them or us.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Grazing On The 'Gras

 Asparagus season is go & it's a gusher!


One day in the middle of my recent meditation retreat, I was gratified to be offered fat spears of asparagus, seared, cold and dressed with olive oil as one of several side dishes at lunch. I was surprised to see asparagus so early, since the season doesn't officially start until St. George's Day, April 23rd.

Living as we do in the perpetual now, with seasonality apparently a thing of the past, one may purchase neatly-packaged Peruvian asparagus tips in the depths of winter (Morrisons had Mexican in Febrary). I won't pretend that I never succumb  - I can resist anything but temptation - but it's just not the same. English asparagus is strictly a seasonal crop, available only for a couple of months, until Midsummer Day.

M&S: 2 for £4; Delia's Foaming Hollandaise
Domestically-grown asparagus has to be better, if only because it hasn't been subjected to extremely cold temperatures while being air-freighted from South America. Thanks to this country’s mild climate, English asparagus is plump and sweet, with more purple anthocyanin and green chlorophyll. As soon as the sun does start to shine, however, asparagus starts popping. Asparagus spears can put on up to 2cm/hour! And shone it jolly well did over the fortnight before Easter.

Great 'gras is not the exclusive preserve of the Brits. Any lush country with a similar, Maritime climate will do. Visiting Wellington, NZ, I was so thrilled to find bushels of asparagus in a local supermarket that I staged an impromptu Asparagus Fest, a medley of recipes that inevitably included a velvety soup and my favourite, griddled 'grass with Hollandaise. My Kiwi hosts were, I think, impressed. Or bemused. I couldn't rightly say.

Back home, I looked up Charlie Hicks' inimitable market report to learn that, indeed, 'some pretty fine weather has worked wonders with the early asparagus crop.' You may remember Charlie from the Radio 4 show, Veg Talk a dozen years ago. Since then, his sidekick, Greg Wallace has become an unlikely Big Hitter on YouTube while Chazza has carried on the madcap greengrocery, describing himself as a Costermonger.

As any costard worth his cotchell may say, when it comes the growing 'grass, you ain't seen nothing like the mighty Chinns. John, the patriarch, made his name in the Wye Valley with spuds. He started doing asparagus a dozen years ago and pioneered 'reverse season' asparagus, a late crop that spears from the beginning of September until the end of October, sold by M&S. In 2010, John grew an experimental crop of white asparagus, a little patch of privilege among the 850 acres of the green stuff grown at Cobrey Farms near Ross, which it said in the local paper, employed 'up to 700 people, mostly east Europeans, to gather it in.'

Morrisons: 2 for £3; store bought sauce
John's sons, Chris & Henry - the second generation of the Chinn Dynasty - are equally innovative. Chris took on the white asparagus, growing the first British commercial crop in 2013. It was acclaimed by The Observer as, "the finest asparagus this country has ever produced," while The Telegraph  quoted the asparagus buyer for Tesco, who said: “ People who have tried the new white variety say it is the finest asparagus this country has ever produced." I guess it was fine, but has yet to catch on.*

Harvesting asparagus is labour intensive semi-skilled work with a sharp knife in a field, but growing white asparagus is laborious in the extreme. You keep it anaemic by blocking its sunlight, piling up earth around each spear as it springs from the ground. I'm not saying it's wrong, but I've not had any for ages. I am, however, curious to try the purple variety, called Burgundine that Henry Chinn has grown in Suffolk. Since Henry also supplies Morrisons & Sainsburys with their packaged asparagus tips, I might not have to visit Borough Market to come by some.

Of course, asparagus is not just a Chinn thing, nor is it the exclusive preserve of the Wye Valley. In the Garden of England, Evesham, the Great British Asparagus Festival runs through the season, climaxing at Asparafest - Worcestershire's Aspara-tastic Music & Food Festival! - over the first weekend of June. Its mascot is Gus, a man dressed as a spear of Asparagus. He's there to lead the revels, reminding up that British asparagus is a fleeting thing and to gorge upon it whenever the sun shines until the Summer Solstice. See you there, spear suckers.

*BLOG UPDATE: Charlie Hicks hits Hereford in May's Total Produce Market Report & visits Chris Chinn at Cobrey Farms, showing Chris harvesting the white asparagus, so you can see what a palava it is.