Monday, 27 July 2015

Making sure your diet has gotta lotta bottle

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to have you looking again at your diet and wondering if it’s nurturing you or killing you, then it’s something such as a heart attack in the family.

The Other Half is now attending rehab sessions after his recent Event and these include a weekly talk.

Recently, one on nutrition provided the news that no, locally-produced honey does not render you immune to local pollen. It also included a call for those present to drink more milk, since there’s a risk of an osteoporosis timebomb and they need their calcium.

It’s probably already far more of a problem than most of us realise.

According to Guidelines for diagnosis and management ofosteoporosis (1997) by JA Kanis, P Delmas, P Burckhardt and others, which was published by the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and Bone Disease, in “women over 45 years of age, osteoporosis accounts for more days spent in hospital than many other diseases, including diabetes, myocardial infarction and breast cancer”.

And that’s just women – osteoporosis affects men too.

Of course, the milk-drinking advice included stating that the milk should be skimmed or semi skimmed, and noting that, while calcium can also be found in cheese, you should only to eat a matchbox-sized amount of that in a single day because of the mortal threat of fat.

Look away now – this could be the death of you
Bad luck: today’s lunchtime salad – made at home – included about two Swan Vesta-sized matchboxes worth of feta (together with chick peas, broad beans, sultanas, a little couscous and a ‘dressing’ of plain, Greek-style yogurt).

Having had a small glass of apple juice before leaving home, my breakfast had consisted of a hard-boiled egg, a little poached salmon, some edamame beans and a squirt of teriyaki sauce, with an espresso on the side.

Thank you Itsu: tasty, healthy food, and actually cheaper than the far more conventional breakfast fodder I’ve been having recently.

There was a mid-morning snack of a few dates.

Oh dear – never mind the cheese, am I in danger of eating too much fruit, given how it all sugars?

The point, though, is that my rule-shattering amount of feta for lunch should be considered within a wider context of a fairly healthy diet as a whole.

But back to osteoporosis and calcium intake.

I recall reading, approximately 15 years ago, that women on a  diet had a bone density deficit of 22%.

This should surprise nobody, given that one of the first things that goes out of the window when you start dieting is dairy produce.

And on this subject, let’s take a little look at figures for osteoporosis in France and the UK, since the French notoriously eat more cream, cheese and butter than any other nation on planet Earth.

In 2010, there were approximately 377,000 new fragility fractures in France. The number of people aged 50 plus, with osteoporosis, was approximately 3,480,000.

Bone – healthy and not-so healthy
The economic cost of new and prior fractures was estimated as €4,853m each year and it is further estimated that, by 2025, that figure will have increased to €6,111m.

In 2010 in the UK, there were approximately 536,000 new fragility fractures. The number of people aged 50+ with osteoporosis stood at approximately 3.21m. The economic cost of new and prior fractures was £3,496m (€5,408m) each year; by 2025 burden will increase by 24% to £5,465m (€6,723m).

These statistics are from A Svedbom, E Hernlund, M Ivergard, et al, Osteoporosis in the European Union: A compendium of country-specific reports, 2013.

It’s worth noting that calcium deficiency is not the only cause of osteoporosis, but that alcohol consumption and smoking both also increase bone fragility.

In which case, given levels of smoking and alcohol consumption in France (and given that it has a higher population), the lower number of fragility fractures is even more remarkable.

But then again, the French have not – thus far – lost any sense of a national cuisine; of the traditional and largely seasonal food that has sustained them down the centuries.

We have. We expect asparagus and strawberries in December, and are faced with a dizzying array of culinary styles in shops and restaurants.

And in a way, the culinary snapshot from our recent trip to Rye is indicative of that: poor versions of a ‘national’ dish – fish and chips – cooked on the basis of pre-prepped, largely-frozen ingredients, while local gems such as Cromer crab were noticeable primarily by their absence.

That’s not to say that there is no place for culinary evolution and global influences – or that the French don’t have these (see couscous as an example of the latter), but merely that we have gone to an extreme.

Subject to the whims of British culinary fashion
We fall out of love with genuine British ingredients – and then it takes a celebrity chef to bring them back into fashion. See cooking apples and cauliflowers as but two recent examples.

Sainsburys summer TV advertising campaign, “tigers don’t eat quesadillas”, also illustrates the current climate, starting from the perspective of a family where the children get to say what they will and will not eat.

I know it’s not hip parenting these days, but what was actually wrong with ‘Dinner time! Come and sit down!’ followed by (if required) ‘that’s what’s on the table – if you don’t like it, there’s nothing else’?

The idea of giving small children a choice about what they eat is nonsense: they need to be able to make an educated choice before being given a choice – and that means a food education first.

Nor is that an education where you make pronouncements on what’s good or bad for health. It’s a question of educating the taste buds.

Okay, it’s still probably going to be something of a battle, given the amount of high-processed, industrialised junk around the place for children to be tempted by. And Big Food spends an awful lot of money working out precisely how to get children hooked on that junk, so it’s not an evenly-matched battle: this is classic David and Goliath.

But getting home in the evening and asking your pre-primary school child what they want for dinner – and then responding with “you can’t have dippy chips every night” because they regularly have that because you don’t want to cook a fresh meal after a day at work, is not the answer and not the way to a healthy diet.

And why quesadillas? What’s wrong with a salad? It doesn’t have to be limp, tasteless lettuce and cucumber, with flavourless tomatoes.

Take some broad beans (in season at present). Pod and cook for 3-4 minutes, in unsalted water, depending on size. Allow to cool before popping the little green gems out of their skins.

Hull and halve some strawberries (also in season).

Broad beans. In season now. Yummy
Pop on a plate together with some feta – the natural saltiness of the cheese is a fabulous foil for the beans, and works well with the fruit too.

Dress with some Balsamic vinegar.

If it’s a main meal, have some good bread on the side or a few new potatoes (also in season).

Colourful, tasty and healthy – and not complicated.

The media doesn’t help – producing scare stories about health and further confusion about diet.

I freely admit that I find myself wondering if I’ve got it basically right: am I getting enough calcium, for instance, or do I need to start guzzling a pint of skimmed milk every day?

Indeed, am I really getting it all so badly wrong that today’s second matchbox of cheese will ensure that I won’t live long enough to get osteoporosis?

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Inspired by walks in Rye and Hastings

Yew and Boat
If the weather on our visit to Rye was mixed – two days sunny and dry, two days wet and grey – it didn’t ruin the trip.

On Sunday, with drizzle in the air, we headed back out across the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve to Camber Castle, a low fortification built by Henry VIII.

Now a ruin – and only open to the public on limited days – our only company as we gazed inside were sheep.

The Little Gate
It was a walk that had already taken in the Stanton shelter from WWII, and the sight of a lone Spitfire above the salt marshes, banking
and turning to head back east.

I’ve seen Spitfires before – and Hurricanes and a Lancaster bomber: ceremonial fly-pasts in London come in low over our little patio garden, with The Mall just seconds away; so low, you can see the markings on the wings above.

But to see one like this, as one would surely have seen one, 75 years ago during the Battle of Britain, over this same landscape, had something both awesome and haunting about it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera to hand.

The Gate Post
And later, when we spotted a hare leaping among sheep in the distance, and shortly afterwards, a marsh harrier hovering over the vegetation, the camera was absent too – but not our pleasure in seeing such sights.

There were flocks of geese – of at least two species – plus ducks (not just mallards), and a family of swans out for a Sunday morning swim with a cygnet.

You could stand in the middle of the reserve, reeds towering on one side, and listen as the wind rustled through the greenery: the only sound to be heard. In London, there is always at least the background hum of traffic.

As reported previously, it’s an environment that provides plenty of inspiration for local artists – and little wonder.

Camber Castle
So to conclude these posts about the trip, here is a small selection of my own efforts, inspired by the same surroundings.

The photographs were all taken on an iPhone 6 Plus, which saves lugging something bigger around and produces some very good results. They have been processed in Photoshop and I have experimented with a wider variety of approaches than usual.

The first one, Yew and Boat, was taken on the Friday walk and is a perfect illustration of how, sometimes, youre torn between whether to not to use monochrome or colour.

Sheep Under the Hawthorne
Its wonderful in either, but I think the colour version simply sings – and, of course, alongside the others, gives a real impression of just how sunny it was.

I admit to be particularly please with this – a good framing, but still requiring the fortune to come upon it.

The Little Gate is another where I was fortunate enough to spot it – and the contrasts between the light and shaw work so well.

Its almost a cliche of the English countryside – and none the worse for that.

Gate Post, Camber Castle and Sheep Under the Hawthorne were all taken on the Sunday walk, in the conditions mentioned above.

Door at Ypres Tower
The first of these has been de-saturated – a quite trendy look – and has been sharpened to bring out the detail even more. The second has a simple monochrome treatment.

The third has had some desaturation – but nowhere near as much as the Gate Post, and has none of the same degree of sharpening.

And while I appreciate that its the wrong part of the country, theres something about the subject that makes me think instantly of Thomas Hardys novels.

Door at Ypres Tower is just what it says on the tin – but works well in black and white, which adds drama to the strength of the inside of the door itself.

Anchor Detail
Anchor Detail is also what it says. This is a close-up of part of the wood of a two-ton Napoleonic anchor thats on display alongside the net shops in Hastings.

While photographed like this it becomes abstract, theres so much beauty in the pattern and colour of the wood.

Lastly, Ive included Teasel, which was done on a 15x10cm scraperboard, taken from a photo I shot during the first walk on the nature reserve.

I did quite a lot of scraperboards in the mid 1970s, copying an etching of an otter that my parents had, and selling form for something like a fiver a throw.

It was last year when, contemplating producing my own Christmas cards for the first time, I bought a packet of small boards – black ink over a gold-coloured background – in order to produce an image.

It took some time to get back into the swing of it – and theres some debate about how much I managed that – but while I wasted plenty of the small boards, I found myself with two left.

A picture of a teasel, snapped from above during our first walk in Rye Harbour Nature Reserve had the sort of graphic quality that seemed to be crying out for a treatment along these lines.

Its a reasonable effort, I think – given how long ago it is since I played with the technique.

I hope you enjoy these pictures here – it is, of course, entirely possible that the inspiration will continue in the coming days and weeks.

But only time will tell – and that will be for another post, another day.

• All images are copyright.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Finding art in Rye and Hastings

Camber Sands by David Purdie
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that much of my own art takes as its starting point the built environment – after all, I live in a pretty extreme version of that and experience it on a daily basis.

But our trip to Rye was not limited by walls, and the outdoors and natural worlds that we found ourselves enjoying is clearly  an inspiration to plenty of artists working in the area.

That first walk down to Rye Harbour saw us, as mentioned before, take tea and cake at the Avocet Gallery and Tea Room.

The cake was delicious – and the art on display was appetising enough to have me smacking my lips at the range of high-quality works by local artists who had been inspired by the varied land and seascapes.

I came away with a delightful limited edition, signed and numbered print by Sue Scullard, an illustrator and artist whose woodcuts are simply incredible in their detail.

They’re also very small – which is particularly handy when you’re running out of available wall space in your own private gallery.

Out of a superb selection, I chose a print of a woodland scene – anyone who has been following this blog will know that I have a growing fascination with woods and forests, so it was a perfect picture.

The Edge of the Wood by Sue Scullard
But it wasn’t the only art that we saw – or that I picked up – although it was the most expensive, at £55 (plus what it’s costing to have it framed in plain oak, which seems an appropriate choice).

Find out more about the gallery – and they are constructing an online shop – at

Sue's own site can be found at

We had ambled up and down the High Street in Rye on the Friday evening, by which time all the shops were safely shut. But it had given us the opportunity to see what was around.

There was a general art gallery – and next door, a gallery belonging to photographer David Purdie.

A few doors down the street, another photographic gallery displayed works that had had colours so heavily saturated that John Hinde postcards would have natural by comparison.

It hurt my eyes every time we passed it over during the course of our stay.

But David Purdie’s gallery, on the other hand, drew me inside.

Red Hut by David Purdie
Making your work pay is not always easy for artists. In David’s case, his superb photographs are available in a number of ways, from signed prints, to posters to greetings cards.

It’s a long time since I bought any photography to display at home, but I was more than happy to spend under £20 to buy a specially-made frame that holds three of the greetings cards.

Like the print, it fits into a specific spot – indeed, on the wall in my little bit of study/studio space, thus adding additional inspiration.

And since the three photos I picked – groynes at Winchelsea Beach, an old fisherman’s hut next to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, and dunes at Camber – are united by the sea, which I love so much, it was entirely apt.

It was amusing talking to David: he moved to the Rye area from London – not far where we’re based. After some years in the area, he finds it quiet – we’re desperate to get to somewhere where you can actually hear yourself think!

You can find out more about David’s work – there is an online shop, and he also runs photography workshops – at There’s also Twitter for keeping informed about the gallery – at @PurdieGallery.

Not that this was the end of the artistic aspect of the trip. On Monday, with the wind lashing in and a constant drizzle falling, we’d headed through the grey to Hastings.

Initial disappointment had given way to pleasure and interest when we’d discovered the fabulously-named Rock-A-Nore Road, a designation given it in 1859 and derived from a former building “lyinge to the Mayne Rock against the north”.

It borders The Stade – a Saxon term for ‘landing place’, where Europe’s biggest beach-launched fishing fleet is based and where you can find the incredible old net shops – black-tarred, tall, wooden buildings that used to be used to store the nets and other fishing tackle.

Misty Morning by Andrew Dennis
Later, wandering along one of the winding streets of the old town, we spotted a gallery with pictures in the window of the net huts.

This was the Old Gallery, and it largely serves as an outlet for work of self-taught local artist Andrew Dennis.

The Other Half spotted instantly why his pictures of the net shops would particularly appeal to me. Such was the way in which they caught my attention that I picked up another small print.

This is already on the wall – a simple, black frame picked up for next to nothing in Cowling and Wilcox last weekend does the job very well.

To find out more about Andrew’s work, visit

These were not the only artists’ work that we admired during the trip.

Pill Box, Rye Harbour by Brian Yale
The Rye Art Gallery was a revelation, with a small exhibition in one of the rooms upstairs, as well as the sale rooms downstairs.

My favourite work on display was the acrylic painting, Pill Box, Rye Harbour (2002/3) by Brian Yale.

Deceptively simple, it seems to me to contain the past and the future in the region’s familiar shingle landscape: humanity’s interventions in the landscape returning to that landscape as nature reasserts itself.

The gallery has a website under construction at

So, while we’d headed to the coast with literature in our minds, we found far more art than expected – and this just gives you a hint of what can be found in the area.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Wry Rye literature and a dose of history

Mermaid Street, Rye – genuinely Olde Worlde
As I said in my previous post, our long weekend in Rye was both the best of England and the worst of England.

But the food and the public transport were far from being the only aspects of the break, and there was plenty to relish.

High up in that category came history and, over the four days, we began to gain an understanding not only of the story of Rye itself, but more generally of that part of the south coast and, indeed, all of the medieval confederation of the Cinque Ports.

This included learning just how much the area had changed physically, with what are now the salt marshes adding a stretch of land between the previous coastline and the edge of the sea today.

St Mary's, Rye
The border area between East Sussex and Kent, upon which Rye pretty much sits, has long been associated with the sea, from providing ships for the king in time of war to being involved with smuggling in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It’s only just down the coast to the west that we find Hastings, looked down on by the ruins of one of William I’s first trio of castles in England.

Rebuilt in stone in 1070 on William’s orders, it was slated for demolition by King John, re-fortified by Henry III in 1220 and then battered by the storms of 1287, to the extent that part of it collapsed into the sea with the soft, sandstone cliffs beneath.

It suffered during French attacks in 1339 and 1377, was hardly helped by Henry VIII’s destruction of monasteries, then became overgrown and forgotten as the land around was used for farming, before being hit by the Luftwaffe in WWII.

Finally, in 1951, the Hastings Corporation purchased it and turned it into a tourist site, but this potted history of just one building gives an idea of the area’s story.

Stanton shelter
And it’s even in worse condition than Camber Castle, Henry VIII’s low fortification on the marshes. Walking out to that, we came across a small, concrete building, which turned out to be Stanton shelter, a decoy bombing site that was built in 1942 to deflect Luftwaffe raids.

It was what was known as a ‘starfish decoy’, which operated by lighting a series of controlled fire during an air raid, to replicate an urban area being targeted by bombs.

The hut with the shelf in the photograph is the shelter itself; the wall with three holes is the remains of the generator building.

Back in Rye, and in terms of all things nautical, there’s a reason that local resident, John Ryan, set his cartoon stories of Captain Pugwash in ‘Sinkport’, which was actually a fairly recognisable Rye. Today, you’ll find Pugwash references throughout the little town.

Ryan also penned a short, illustrated book about the notorious 1742 murder of deputy mayor Allen Grebell by local butcher John Breads in St Mary’s churchchard, Rye.

Ready for tea in the garden at Lamb House
Breads had been intending to kill the mayor, James Lamb – who subsequently tried and convicted him – after he had been fined by Lamb for selling short weights.

Readily admitting the killing and his intended victim, Breads was later hanged, and his corpse gibbeted and left on display in an iron cage for some years.

Which cage is now on display in the town’s Ypres Tower, of which more later.

The Lambs of Rye were a particularly wealthy family, who built Lamb House as a statement of their prosperity and power, and then bought out nearby properties to create the biggest garden in the town.

Occupied rather later by American author Henry James, it also provided a home for EF Benson, the prodigious author who remains most famous for his Mapp and Lucia novels.

Flowers in the garden at Lamb House
These delightfully bitchy satires on social one upmanship filled six novels between 1920 and 1939. There have been two television adaptations: first, 10 episodes for Channel 4 in 1985 and 1986, starring Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan as the eponymous battlers, with Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie.

I watched it at the time, but was never quite caught up in it.

However, last Christmas, the BBC screened a three-part version, adapted by Steve Pemberton, with Miranda Richardson and Anna Chancellor as Mapp and Lucia, and Pemberton himself as Georgie.

This, I adored – and crucially, it made me want to read the books. Indeed, the BBC’s use of Rye itself as the location was what inspired me to suggest we take a break there – and how I came to be carrying a copy of Mapp and Lucia, the third novel in Benson’s series.

Benson set many of the stories in a place he named Tilling, which is a barely-disguised Rye. Mapp’s house, Mallards, is in fact Lamb House.

Town gate, Rye
Now in the care of the National Trust, we pottered along to see it on the Saturday. There’s not a great deal to look at – just three rooms – although they’ve added to the displays with props, costumes and hats from the BBC production, which also used Lamb House itself.

The garden, however, is a joy – as was being able to sit in the shade of the trees and sip elderflower cordial. We had never tasted elderflower cordial before, but it felt appropriately Tilling.

For all the literary clout of James, the locals are far fonder of Mapp, Lucia and Pugwash. And why wouldn’t they be? All are, in effect, set within the town itself and all are typically English in their satire or comedy.

The town also has a volunteer-run museum – a tiny affair, but nonetheless with enough to see that you will learn something. It too includes these literary icons – plus a small, 2D ‘flat’ metal model that was labeled as being German and showing the Kaiser in WWI.

Ypres Tower
This allowed me the joyful opportunity to show off my pedantic credentials (to the Other Half, at least), pointing out that it was actually showing the Kaiser and Bismarck, which put it as 1871 or so, rather than the following century.

On the Sunday, on a rather greyer day, we visited the previously-mentioned Ypres Tower, which offered more insights into the local history, including the chance to view a remarkably large cell that was built for female prisoners after a visit to the area by prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.

I’m not one who is necessarily convinced by ‘interactive’ exhibits, but this had a set up where you could pick up a trio of weapons and feel just how heavy they were, and also try a construction that allowed you to see just how much strength was required to use a longbow.

We managed to get to the aforementioned Hastings, on Monday, in the damp and wind.

Fishing boat, Hastings
At first, I think we were both close to turning back: as mentioned in the previous post, some of the new architecture, for instance, was stultifyingly bland, while the promenade has been damned by running a dual carriageway along it.

But with nothing else in mind to occupy the day, we persisted. And thank goodness we did, because shortly thereafter, reached the fabulously-named Rock-A-Nore Road, while the A259 turns north north east.

This is where the Jerwood Gallery stands – unfortunately closed when we were there. But it’s also where the Fisherman’s Museum has been set up, in an old chapel at the back of the shingle beach.

This is where the biggest fleet of trawlers to still be launched from a beach in the whole of Europe is based. And where the fishermen sell much of their catches in small cabins.

It’s an old area, as the tall net huts near the museum attest.

Net huts, Hastings
And in their unflinching black attire, with old boats, a two-ton Napoleonic anchor and an old harbor light scattered alongside on the shingle, they offer a deeply atmospheric window into the town’s past.

They make a fascinating photographic subject, even in the inclement conditions – perhaps particularly in those conditions – and I got absorbed in the business of trying to capture something of the place.

One over-arching thing did hit us about the trip. Many is the time that, when looking around old places on the Continent, we have bemoaned how little of our own built medieval and Elizabethan past still exists.

It was a great pleasure to find a town where that is still very much a living place, but which actually gives a glimpse of several centuries of English history.

And with that, it’s time to bid you all ‘au reservoir’ from this post, as I raise – in genteel fashion, of course – a glass of elderflower cordial.