I’m proposing a new word for 2014


Please go to my new site http://redoable.co.uk

for the entire story!

I invented this word purely to get in the face of the originators of the word “selfie,” because the word I’m proposing doesn’t have the narcissism, self-absorption and ego.

“Selfies” originators  were then egged-on by the Oxford English Dictionary which made “selfie” the “word of the year for  2013″ which only celebrated the vacuous planet of celebrity and party-goers and its St Elmo’s fire of notoriety and does nothing to further the English language. Some forms of “Selfies” can be dangerous as people now use their mobiles/cell phones as a new form of mirror with which to measure their form of reality.

The word I’m proposing is shadowies – a picture of your shadow in various poses that leaves the “me” out of the photograph, allowing only the essence of you. It’s similar to Victorian silhouettes but with more scope for artistry all without worrying about combing your hair, or even what you wearing, or make-up, or skin imperfections.

Dependent on how the light strikes you, you can be tall or short, thin or thin-challenged. It’s the perfect anonymous portrait. You don’t have your silly duck-faced photos living on in internet eternity.

Go back into the shadows and lose yourself in the anonymity.

Here are some I took earlier.

Frozen in mid-word – how the cold weather works against you when you have aphasia


 

We’re getting the last blast of winter on the second day of spring. Snow storms, high winds and sub-zero temperatures, which isn’t good for my aphasia.

How does the weather affect your ability to speak? Frozen lips, that’s how.

frozen face

Since my stroke almost three years ago destroyed a part of my brain, the communication part, leaving me similar to sounding as if I’m trying to talk with a mouthful of porridge while being strangled. Call it aphasia – everybody with a scientific mind does.

To talk, I find that I have to get my lips around the beginning sound of a word, completing one word, and the next one until I have a sentence. That’s normal for me with this aphasia gagging me. It’s even more frustrating because sometimes I have to stop to search my vocabulary for the right word, but then I find that I fall back on a synonym because it’s easier.

Inside my brain there's a mis-connection

Inside my brain there’s a mis-connection

Well this kind of weather means my lips get frozen which makes it harder to find even the beginning of a word.

The reason I come out in this blizzard? Me and the dogs.

Amoret, some of dogs, and me (photographer)

Amoret, some of dogs, and me (photographer)

I have to take my dogs on a daily walk – me too, to stay in shape. It’s rehabilitation.

Chomping at the choke chain – the clock is running


Still no word a week later from The Stroke Association magazine editor. So I’ll soldier on, starting with  setting up one of the interviews.

Let’s see, how do get in touch with an actor from EastEnders?

I used to work with a guy, in fact he’s called Guy Bailey when were at The Open University public relations. Before that he used to work at BBC press office. So, direct message on Twitter and a few hours later I have the name of the woman “who’s all thing EastEnders at the BBC press office” and her phone number.

(Since Guy is also a blogger and a damned good writer, there is a chance here for product placement: Blessay  From America. He is English, who married an American, the total opposite of what I did.)

From the BBC website I caught up with the “Jim Branning” story played by the actor John Bardon:

‘Before suffering with a stroke in 2007, Jim was a regular bar prop in the Vic and a keen gambler. You wouldn’t even trust him with your pint.

His fathering skills leave a lot to be desired too, as locking your young son in a coffin overnight wouldn’t exactly win Father of the Year! Although, falling in love with Dot and marrying her in 2002 has softened his heart.

He almost broke Dot’s heart in 2008 when he suffered a stroke. She feared that she wasn’t strong enough to look after him and wrestled with her feelings of guilt and frustration at her inability to stand by her man in his time of need. But love won out in the end. Jim may be away, but his visits are something to look forward to and he’s the man who keeps Dot standing when times are hard.’

I find myself thinking the thoughts of the production of the interview – thoughts I just took for granted before the stroke (maybe I should refer to my life before the stroke as BS?)

What will I ask him? Where would we do the interview? EastEnders set? (Oh, I’d love to do it there) He has aphasia, how will he respond? Maybe I should talk to the producer? Tape recorder of course; I can’t write very fast. Why feature a stroke victim? How’s Jim stroke affect others in the cast? I see The Stroke Association has a link on the BBC EastEnders website. I still get offended with that BBC phrase: ‘If you are affected by [anything] in the show call our helpline.’

If I call the helpline, could you reverse this stroke?

Pictures? Of course, I’ll bring my camera. I’ll find a person of similar age (non celebrity) and feature them along with the feature.  There’s an idea!

At last a way back – I could help The Stroke Association with this creativity creeping back in my blood


Courtesy: New York Public Library

Now I felt I was ready. I could conjure up words, mostly. Occasionally I got stuck on remembering the odd word, or spelling, but this is when my crosswords habit came into play – I could think of a synonym for the lost word. My speech therapy resulted in me finally be able to write. I felt the creativity back in my blood. Welcome back. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.

Now my client was The Stroke Association. The editor of the Stroke magazine Zoe Beer came to a local Stroke Association meeting and asked what we’d like to see in the pages. I’m sure she didn’t expect it but I would give her the full treatment, falling back on my reporter/photographer days, and public relations days and work up a whole media campaign.

It’s what I felt I needed after the stroke swept the foundation from my life. It would give me a purpose. It would give me a way back. I still could not speak properly, but I could write.

I thought what I could do. I cold interviews and write them up albeit slowly. I could take photographs (I wasn’t using my high-spec wedding photographers kit, another casualty of the stroke)

I thought that the celebrity factor would help them out. As much as I hate the whole celebrity culture (do we really care that Cheryl Cole visits poor people in Africa while the BBC films it for Comic Relief/Children In Need? She goes back to her 10-star hotel every night and puts up her 8 inch Jimmy Choos Safari Boots™) but they have a way of getting people’s attention; getting people to listen.

More than that some celebrities have had a stroke

 – the character Jim Branning in EastEnders (Dot’s husband) had a stroke in real life and it was made a part of the story.

The author, Jilly Cooper has done interviews about her TIA.

The singer Jesse J had a stroke at 18.

Now I’m from the old school. My initial thought is celebrities are not experts, so why would you ask them anything than the facile dross they are adept at, performance, luxury lifestlyes and fashion. But research shows they reach audiences. There’s this article by Weh Yeoh arguing for non-disabled people to front campaigns because they reach people.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

“We want to change the world, but we rarely talk about how best to do it. Courtesy of a recent study cited in New Scientist, here is one way in which we can better advocate for equal rights in disability – have more non-disabled people as the face of disability advocacy. This might come as a surprise to you and may even provoke reactions of defensiveness. How on earth could I be suggesting that it should be non-disabled people, rather than people with disabilities, as the visible advocates for equal rights? Primarily, it is because research suggests that it is the messenger who is crucial in creating change, perhaps even more so than the message itself. ” Full article

So I drafted an email to Zoe telling her what I thought I could do. Just to be safe I copied in the all-purpose address at The Stroke Association and sat back and waited.

I had some ideas that I thought could help.

Put me in coach.

The screaming pirate presents his demands


Copyright: me

After my cardiovascular surgery

It was a beautiful portrait inside my mind, a blue Monet through which I crept effortlessly, neither cold nor warm, neither here nor there.

Then, from a distance, a scream crept into my unconscious, my drug-induced sleep.

First I thought it was the thing of nightmares, but slowly the phrase kept repeating itself: I WANT TO GET OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE!

Louder, the same phrase.

OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE!

When I was fully awake it was still there, only louder yet.

I WANT TO GET OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE!

It was the unseen screaming pirate in next ward (think Robert Newton’s version of Long John Silver, an exaggerated West Country accent, loud and brash).

He had a specific demand, put simply, and the point of which was obvious.

It got me thinking – this is the day the surgeon said I should be going home. Maybe I would join the pirate’s lonely soliloquy if I were here the same time tomorrow.

The girl with the dragon tattoo lives in a remote cottage in the mountains of Wales


In this eleemosynary existence of a person who has had a
stroke, living on a pension of pittance, holidays are few and far between.

But when Amoret sets her bookkeeping target on something, it can happen.

She felt we all needed to get away for a change of scenery, but we are limited in that
we have three Border Collies as part of our retinue, making stays at five star
hotels non-existent (not to mention the extravagant and unaffordable cost).

The past two years we have gone to northern Wales to satisfy
the scratch to our getaway itch. And Amoret again found the perfect place for
us in Wales for the third year. Why Wales?

It’s close – 2 ½ hours.

It has seaside – Barmouth.

It has mountains, same shot, different time day – Snowdonia.

It has history – Castles (this one is Harlech).

It has food to be coveted – Anchor Inn’s leek sausage
breakfast.

(If I sound like an advert for the Wales Tourist Board, I’m not employed by them, although I would
like to sell them some of my photographs, one from Wales recenly used by BBC, if they would just get in touch).

So, what if you could find a place that was roomy and
interesting and safe for the dogs? And affordable?

Amoret did.

It had about an acre of fenced land around the remote
cottage, in the mountains, with a coursing stream that ran through the property.

Inside was everything you could want in a cottage – completely equipped
kitchen, satellite TV, BBQ , three bedrooms… etc.

More than all that is the feeling that you were at home. Or
was because I wish it were home?
Probably, but it still felt like I was at home.

Well-worn furniture, not tacky, but not designer-home new.

Easy accessible kitchen with all the gadgets you would have at home.

Comfy beds with satellite TV in the bedroom.

On the second night I could navigate within the parameters
of safety in the dark (and it gets dark in the wild mountains of Wales) without
leaving a wet spot next to the toilet, I was that at home. You know how some
buildings just give you a sense of comfort, a sense of smell like a faint
incense of childhood of known, familiar things? This was it.

It was during this holiday that I developed the third part
of my Swedish phase.

First, I was captured by the TV series Wallander…in
Swedish, with subtitles.

Then I talked like Swedish chef off the Muppets (hurdy burdi
hamburginsky bullski bůmm  sergudd) which
may been from watching too many subtitles.

Then I was absorbed in the Swedish crime thriller trilogy.
This just involved silent reading, but I couldn’t get enough of The Girl With
the Dragon Tattoo (and then the other two in three weeks after we got back – one character has a stroke) and
I still had time for walks with the dogs, taking some photos, seeing the
wildlife and cooking (not the wildlife) and talking with Amoret.

In other words, I relaxed. I felt good. Life felt good. I was in the driver’s seat of my life and the stroke, and its obvious effects, took a back seat.

That Amoret! She sure knows how to spoil me.

Rehab with Cockney- Cajun seasoning


“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”

— Mark Twain, 1884

I’m eating better than I ever have with my personal lifestyle/eating coach/coordinator Amoret and sometimes my eldest daughter T doing the cooking.

T made me a memorable Moroccan Chicken with butternut squash over couscous (kind of like grits in consistency).  Amoret has daily meals that include lots of chicken (to satisfy the meat eater in me) and plenty of tomatoes (she’s found a passata with negligible salt), with fresh vegetables. I’ve developed a fondness for fruit such as blueberries, peaches, nectarines, pears, melons.

But I can’t just lay back and let them feed me, much as I’d like. The time has come for me to fly alone. I feel the need to cook, to take
part the way I used to in the kitchen, because you don’t have to “talk” culinary expertise (unless you’re Nigella), you can exhibit it too. It’s the one
thing I feel I can do after the stroke despite a record of misjudging distances.

There’s one way I can get Amoret to agree – I’d make my world-famous Cajun chicken and sausage gumbo – her favourite. Amoret wasn’t too keen on me cutting vegetables and chicken and handling hot oil on my own, but the thought of a gumbo for dinner took hold and she relented (the way to a woman’s heart is also through her stomach).

I didn’t spend all my time in New Orleans working and drinking. There was subterranean magic (voodoo?) in the foods that made me want
to learn more about it, eat it, then actually create it.

Crawfish boiled and served on Times Picayune newspaper.

Oysters, fresh shucked.

Getting shrimp fresh off the boat in a variety of sizes.

Onion sacks full of crabs, boiled in a special mixture.

Lucky Dogs in the French Quarter (hey, that’s not Cajun cooking. Sorry).

I learned that my favourite author, Lafcadio Hearn, had written a cookbook La Cuisine Creole during his time in New Orleans. It even has the recipe for making your own yeast, and how to make a whitewash for the walls.

In other words, I was in a New Orleans cooking school, except I just didn’t know it. It just rubbed off on me and has been there ever
since. Later through the years, I gave some classes in Cajun cooking (complete with Cajun dialect jokes) in kitchen stores the result of the 80’s Cajun cooking craze, as well as to contribute to cooking shows on television.

Now gumbo and assorted Cajun dishes were for family only and one fabulous D-Day holiday in France for dinner with a French family.

Amoret watched as I put out the cutting board out and got my trusty chef knife (sharp!). Now there are two ways I could hurt myself: cutting
my fingers, or burned in hot oil, so I had to focus, and take each step slowly.

There are hundreds of ways to make gumbo, but with all of them you first start with a roux. Equal parts of flour and oil cooked together
to make a roux. My Cajun teachers tell me it has to be a dark roux and I’ve learned to make it in the microwave (Plain flour:  ¾ cup- vegetable oil: ¾ cup – for 7:30 to 8 minutes) instead of stirring constantly over a fire for 45 minutes.

Then it was into the pot without burning myself.

For my chicken and sausage gumbo (the only kind that’s practical – you can make alligator gumbo), the chicken breasts have been cut into pieces and marinated in a dusting of Cajun spices (you’ve seen the bastardised versions in the supermarkets I have my own recipe which retails for £5.00, now on special offer to readers of this blog for only a comment), and I mix it in over a low to medium heat, coating the chicken roux everywhere. It’s great physical therapy; it beats doing reps on some machine.

Now the holy trinity of Cajun cooking: celery, green peppers and onions. If I were to use Jamie Oliver’s show-off chopping technique I might
lose a finger, so slowly goes the knife, each downward stroke methodical and deliberate and safe. It would be great to play the Cajun national anthem Jolie Blonde as background.

The trick is to “let the chicken give off its juices” as I learned it – so let it slowly cook over a low heat, covered, stirring occasionally until
a “gravy” is created.

Add two chicken stock cubes, slice a link of smoked sausage (unless you can get andouille), and a litre and a half of water (if you’re into Communist measurements) or 2 and a half pints of water (if you’re from the free world) and cook.

I generally leave it on all day, but simmer at least an hour. Controversially, as I found out, you may
add a couple bay leaves, although some say you will go to hell for this transgression.

Serve over rice (two measures water to one measure of rice; 20 minutes, low heat, covered).

Amoret was more than pleased she had a gumbo. More than that she was quietly pleased I could do a gumbo and clean up without hurting myself,
which means I could be trusted make another gumbo.

You don’t know the difference between Cajun and Creole?
Learn yourself right here.