Feline Focus

Feline Focus
My latest puma, July 2016


Beloved companion to Sarah, Nov 2015

Window To The Soul

Window To The Soul
Watercolour Horse, June 2015

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties
Watercolour Lionesses, Nov 2012


"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Groucho Marx

Snow Stalker

Snow Stalker
Another snow leopard - my latest watercolour offering - July 2013

29 June 2012

A Bee In My Bonnet

  A Pooh song from “Winnie The Pooh”, by AA Milne:

“Isn’t it funny
How a bear likes honey?
Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!
I wonder why he does?”

Probably because someone told him that it’s really good for him!  Alas, they neglected to take into consideration the fact that Pooh bear is rather a sugar addict and compulsive overeater, so the last thing he needs is pure sugar – no matter how healthy it’s supposed to be.  I guess they weren’t into labels (please read ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’ for amplification – if you’re interested, that is; and if you don’t know to what I’m referring, of course).

So, what have I got against honey, you may be asking?  Actually, absolutely nothing.  In fact, my only gripe is that I can’t eat it.  At least, not without doing a Pooh.  Put sugar in my system – nay, you only have to put it in my mouth – and I turn into something akin to a rabid dog, foaming at the mouth and ready to tear out the throat of anyone dumb enough to try to get between me and my supply.  And then there’s what it does to my body and my mind ... 

Which is why I don’t eat it any more: but it doesn’t stop me wanting to sometimes when I hear about the phenomenal health benefits to be had from doing so.  And honey – that’s MANUKA honey, ‘cos your bog-standard variety won’t do anymore – is one such thing that is high on the list of wonderness in the world of wonder foods.  You can tell just how wonderful it is because of the price you have to pay for it – a bit like buying a designer dress.  And its popularity is not guaranteed, this being the health industry, which is almost as fickle as the fashion world – one minute you’re in, the next you’ve been relegated to the second division (designing clothes for Tesco’s), and replaced by the next big thing.  Just look at soya. 

But it was the brief mention of Manuka honey that led me to make the rash decision based on a rash of self-will, which resulted in a most delightful reaction – a rash.  Yes, it appears that I am allergic to bee products – not just honey, because of the sugar allergy, but anything digestible which those furry little insects produce.  Having tried to find a loophole in the whole “honey is pure sugar and therefore bad for a sugar addict” argument (and failed), I came up with the brilliant idea of buying some Royal Jelly capsules, figuring I’d be safe with those.  I would get the same kind of health benefits that the Manuka honey eaters get, and I could stop feeling as if I was being deprived of some magical cure. 

And I’d just have to be content with wearing Manuka yoga clothing.  (No, they are not clothes made out of honey: it just happens to be the name of the company who makes them.  And yes, I finally caved in to my obsession with having to have ‘proper’ yoga clothes for my practise, having made do for the last eight years without.  Hey ho!  Strangely enough, it hasn’t made any difference to my practise either: I still can’t do Shoulderstand without having to hoick up my top so that I can get a grip on my back because my hands slip on the material.  And there I was, seriously believing that they were made with some special non-slip material, and that that’s why none of the pictures of Katy Appleton, or any other yogis I’ve gawped at on the web, show them with their t-shirts half-way up their backs!) 

So, Royal Jelly, for those of you not in the know, is NOT the wobbly stuff made from water and what appear to be coloured cubes of rubber, which happens to have been given the Queen’s royal approval (Americans call it jello, I believe, in case there’s some confusion).  It’s the stuff that is fed to bee larvae and, in particular, is continued to be fed to those chosen to be queen bees, thus producing bigger, stronger, fertile bees, with apparently lovely skin.  I’m deducing that this last point must be the case, as one of its supposed benefits is for the skin, and it is also used in beauty products.  Of course, I can’t actually say for certain whether this is true about the queen, since I’ve never got up close enough to notice whether she has any skin.  I’ve always been under the impression that bees were simply furry little blobs who ambled around flowers, buzzing about amicably enough as long as you didn’t do anything rash (cue ironic laughter) - like try to kill them.  Or steal their honey.

As it turned out, I didn’t get the chance to take it for long enough to experience any of the numerous health benefits attributed to it, nor even to notice whether it had any impact on my skin.  Or, should I say, any beneficial impact.  It certainly impacted - like a comet searing the Earth.  I still have a residual trail of rash marks, nearly a month after it appeared.  Fortunately the extreme pain and itchiness have gone, along with the band of tightness around my chest which made me feel as if I were being squeezed to death by a Boa Constrictor.  I had great difficulty in getting comfortable for a few days, and for three nights I was in such agony I was kept awake by it, unable to find a restful position in which to lay.  I have since discovered that it could have been worse – I could have died (seriously, no kidding).  It puts a whole new slant on the words ‘health food’.  And perhaps there’s some symbolism in the fact that bees live in hives?!  God willing I’ll remember that next time I get another bee in my bonnet.  

23 June 2012

Pulp Fiction

I think there’s a conspiracy to get people to eat crap – and I don’t mean junk food.  Nope, this is a whole new, wonderful world of crap: a bizarre twist on the old, familiar version.  This involves eating what’s left over after you’ve made milk.

Okay, just to clarify – I’m not talking about cows here.  I mean, obviously, you don’t actually make the milk, the cow does: it just requires you to go and milk the cow.  And the only thing that would be left over to eat from that particular venture would be the cow.  Which would mean you’d be killing your source of milk.  Not a good idea, really.  Nor does it actually qualify as vegetarian (which I am).  So, no - cows are out.

No, I’m talking about having discovered the wondrous universe of homemade nut milk.  In fact, as I’ve recently discovered, you can make milk from lots of things (rice, oats, soya beans, seeds): which is kind of logical, really, considering you can buy all these different varieties – at a price.  If you ever consider going vegetarian/vegan, and becoming a health food nut, make sure you have a healthy bank balance first.  And for what you pay for a litre of milk, you’d expect that you’d be getting something exceptional: or, at the least, something which resembled the thing from which it was supposed to be made.  Instead of which, the predominant ingredients in most of them is water and some kind of sweetener: and you get approximately 7% almonds (or soya beans, etc).  So paying £3 for a litre of almond milk means that you’re buying a very expensive, flavoured water.

What I didn’t realise was just how easy it is to make the stuff, and how much nicer it tastes (well, some of them, anyway: oat milk is rather slimey).  But I do now.  And my new obsession is with making milk.  I even bought a blender, especially for the task.  It’s great.  I’m in love with my blender.  It also makes wonderfully smooth soup.

But I digress.  So, I have been making almond milk.  I did my research first, and acquired about a hundred different versions of the same recipe.  And, in the process, I discovered that you could also use the pulp that is left over from the almonds.  There’s even a whole web site dedicated to the care and use of almond pulp – almondpulp.com.  Seriously!  Not to mention all the individuals out there who have also come up with their own ideas.

Of course I figured it must be good, if so many people were saying it was – which they were.  And there was the whole question of it being an environmentally good thing to do, with regard to not wasting anything.  So, on my first attempt at making milk, I decided to keep said pulp, and then stick it in one of my own recipes.  It has to be said that it doesn’t actually look particularly appetising – kind of like damp, mashed-up, crumbly cardboard.  And hey! that’s how it tasted.  Perhaps “tasted” is too strong a word for something that actually had no flavour to it, and which was so dry it felt like I was eating a portion of the Sahara desert.

However, true to my persistent nature (when it comes to obsessions), I decided that perhaps the problem lay with my recipe, and that I should give it another go, this time following a ‘proper’ recipe off the web.  I found loads – interestingly enough, none of them suggestions for using it in papier mache.  And, on my next milk venture, I duly saved the pulp (much like Save the Whale), and proceeded to follow two suggestions – one for crackers (which I have been considered to be on numerous occasions), and the other for an alternative version of houmous.

How can I best describe the taste experience which followed?  It truly is difficult to impart the full impact of eating something which, even with added to it a whole host of ingredients meant to give flavour and moisture, is still able to resolutely retain its full character in the face of a head-on assault by people trying to make it into something it isn’t – edible.  Let’s face it, it’s pulp!  I mean, even the name gives away the truth.  It’s dry and it’s bland, and it’s literally the crap left over after you’ve soaked, blended, and squeezed out from it all of the goodness.  I nearly choked on the crackers, and had to throw half the houmous away, thereby wasting not only the pulp itself but the ingredients added to it in order to save it from being wasted in the first place!

Its blandness reminded me of that other inedible disaster of the health gourmet world – tofu.  And the hype for this stuff is phenomenal – they have been able to turn its lack of flavour into one of its biggest selling points, describing it as being versatile and great for soaking up other flavours.  Funnily enough, despite persisting at great length with it (having believed the hype, and convinced myself that I really did like it, and it was really good for my health), I never did discover any way to mask the blandness (except, perhaps, when I mashed it with tinned sardines.  Yes, I said sardines – in tomato sauce).  Fresh, it was like a solid block of taste-free blancmange: frozen and defrosted it took on the texture, and probable taste, of a sponge.  Perhaps someone should come up with a recipe that combines the two, see if they cancel each other out.  It could be the taste sensation of the decade.

Call me fickle, but I gave up on it in the end.  I realised that life’s too short to be eating foods you don’t enjoy, just because you’re told it’s good for your health.  Of course, I have to keep reapplying this maxim because I will keep on forgetting, and insist on trying to include in my diet every new food I’m told has the potential to cure all known ailments and combat ageing.  I swear I’d eat elephant poo if it was marketed correctly.  Who cares about taste, just tell me the health benefits – my favourite words on the web.

You know the real irony of this attempt to avoid waste, though, is the fact that some of the recipes which require the nutritious, delicious pulp to be cooked actually necessitate that it be put in the oven on the lowest setting for twenty hours.  No, you didn’t read that wrongly.  No, that isn’t a typing error.  Yes, I said twenty HOURS!  This is in order that the enzymes left over from it having been blended to death (so, surely, there can’t be that many remaining?) are kept intact, thereby assuring its continued nutritional benefit.  Can you imagine how much energy is being wasted all over the world by all the people following these recipes, in an attempt to avoid wasting a bit of left-over rubbish?

 And now here’s the really ironic bit: you’re not actually cooking, but dehydrating it.  This stuff, which is already as parched as the bleached remains of a dead camel in the desert, is then going to be sucked dry of the tiny bit of moisture that couldn’t be squeezed out of it for milk.  Are these people vampires?  And I’m told I’m bonkers!  Well, hey, I must be ‘cos I tried the recipe – though the version I followed required the crackers to be left in the oven for twenty minutes, rather than hours.  Perhaps that’s why it didn’t taste so good?  Perhaps I should give the longer version a try ... and join the rest of the dehydrating world in wasting energy, and time, trying to come up with useful things to do with pulp.   

So, the moral of this story?  You really can’t believe everything you read on the web, no matter how great a majority of people appear to be saying the same thing.  My friend keeps telling me this (me being the gullible, literal-minded soul that I am), and she also informs me that people are out there trying to sell me stuff.  That’s why they have web-sites.  And it’s not always obvious what it is that they are trying to sell.  But I usually come off there having been sold some idea or other, so they’re doing a grand job.  As for pulp?  I’ll just put it where it belongs - in the bin – and trust that the waste recycling police don’t come and arrest me! 


06 June 2012

Lamb To The Slaughter

Gullible – easily deceived or tricked, credulous. 
Credulous – apt to believe without sufficient evidence; unsuspecting. 
Absorbent – something that absorbs; retentive. 
Absorb – to suck in; to swallow up; to imbibe; to take in; to assimilate; to take up and transform instead of transmitting or reflecting (this last definition is actually related to physics, but it describes perfectly what I’m talking about). 
Naive – overtrusting and unworldly.

This is me.  At least, this is a part of me.  And, if you ask me, it’s a most annoying part which I could well do without, since it appears to be nothing more than one ginormous liability, and to achieve little other than to frequently drop me in a deep pile of poo.  But no-one asked my permission when they were dishing out personality traits, so I’m basically lumbered with them.

So here’s an example to illustrate.

I had a brainwave recently.  At least, I thought that’s what it was at the time.  And when I got it out in the open and shared it with my friend, she agreed that it seemed like a good idea.  Except it transpired that it wasn’t.  A lot of which was to do with the fact that we were, once again, talking at cross-purposes.  And that the third party involved in this comedy of errors turned out to be wholly inappropriate for an autistic with a history of eating disorders, the absorbency of a toilet roll, and the passivity of a new-born lamb.  Lead me on to the slaughter, baaaa ...

This great idea?  I finally decided to go and see an ayurvedic practitioner to check whether my diet really is as healthy as my friend insists it is.  And ‘cos I love yoga, to which ayurveda is generally attached – so I just have to go the whole hog, trotters and all.  Plus, it’s ancient, eastern, and holistic, so it’s got to be good: well, that’s the message I’ve absorbed anyway, and who am I to argue with a bunch of three thousand year old wise men and their collected words of wisdom, not to mention the force of nature that is today’s media hype?  I even had my friend phone the aforementioned practitioner beforehand (sounds like something akin to Magic and the Dark Arts), to pave the way.  So, on that note, what could possibly go wrong? 

Well, let’s see what happens when we approach this from a more realistic perspective, starting with the not-so-insignificant detail of my autism – you know, the thing that sets me apart from my fellow man, and impairs my ability to communicate with, and understand, the world at large?  Ooops!  It seems I’d forgotten about that.  Or I’d decided that this was not going to be a problem because she’s ayurvedic, so we must speak the same language – yogi.  It transcends all communication barriers.  Yeah, right.  I really must stop snorting turmeric. 

Then there’s the equally-inconsequential item which is my ADHD.  Ah yes, that’s that thing which affects my ability to sit still for nigh on a nanosecond, and influences the length of time I can focus on anything before my brain disengages and my mind drifts off into inner space (of which there appears to be an infinite amount, given the number of times I get lost in there).  But of course that’s not going to be a problem when I’m going to be expected to sit still and concentrate for an hour and a half, in the company of a complete stranger, a feat I can only manage for thirty minutes at a time at home, where I’m by myself.  No, not going to be a problem at all – not when she’s got ayurveda on her side.  Makes perfect sense – to a deranged lunatic, high on the combined effects of numerous eastern mystical philosophies.

And furthermore, we have the negligible factor that is my anxiety.  That’s my Social anxiety.  You know, where a person suffers anxiety when out in society – that thing that involves people.  And where I get extremely anxious about going anywhere unfamiliar, in case I get lost and end up having to ask one of those people-things for directions.  But again this is not going to be a problem because this person is an Ayurvedic Practitioner – she doesn’t count as part of that societal thing.  She was going to have a magical effect on me.  Sheeesh!  I really should give up mainlining coriander as well.

Ergo, the question should really be, “What could possibly go right?”

As it turned out, not a lot, really.  First off, she sent me a booklet to read before my visit.  Bad sign.  I was supposed to be avoiding any more reading because my mind is already addled from attempting to understand what is, basically, another foreign language.  That’s why I was paying to see her, so that she could demystify and simplify it all.  Obviously we were already having difficulty communicating, and we hadn’t even spoken yet.

Then, two days before, I had a blinding flash of insight – what the hell was I doing, going to see someone I didn’t know, with everything I’ve got going on with me?  Really augured well.

The experience itself was underwhelming, to say the least.  The person who recommended her to me (whose dietary advice I have frequently followed like an over-enthusiastic lemming leaping repeatedly from a cliff-top) had said that she had an aura about her.  Well, all I can say is that her aura must have taken a sabbatical that day to get recharged. 

The only aura visible to me was that of wealth, and a carefully controlled and contrived environment of calm and spirituality.  You know, where everything is in its place, she’s got all the right accoutrements (yoga magazines carefully arranged on the dining room table, incense burning, the occasional Hindu statue dotted discreetly around the place), the decor consists of thirty different shades of beige (my idea of decorating hell), and her first words are: “Just be yourself”, followed by, “Could you please take your shoes off as we don’t allow outdoor footwear inside.”  Yep, two phrases guaranteed to make me feel welcome and at ease.  There is something not quite right about a person who has to tell you to be yourself in their company.  “House of correction” is what sprang to mind.

So, what did I gain from my visit?  A headache and a feeling that my mind had reached way beyond saturation-point in its absorbency quota for the day.  Were it actually a toilet roll, then it would have had the composition of one that had been dropped down the loo.

Apparently they don’t do labels in ayurveda – which  confused me somewhat when she labelled me a pitta person (it’s my dosha type.  Don’t ask.)  It also made it rather difficult for me to fulfil her earlier wish for me to just be myself.  By the very nature of being autistic I find it difficult to know who my self is (hence the copying), and labels help me in piecing together a picture of who I am, and how I want to develop.  I don’t use them to restrict my growth but to enable it: after all, if you don’t know where you are then you can’t know where you’re going, or whether you even need to go.  Unfortunately this is not how she saw it, so she completely disregarded all my ‘labels’, which I had diligently listed, when diagnosing me and formulating her idea of my food plan.  I felt so valued.

What I did get was the knowledge that the quality of my diet is excellent – BUT...

I also came away with a great sense of disappointment, and my illusions about ayurveda rather dismantled somewhat.  I’d gone with the expectation of it being something great, mystical, magical, fail-proof, totally non-generic, and tailored completely to the needs of the individual: and come out of there feeling like I’d been put in a box marked ‘Pitta Person’. 
This, as it turns out, is not a bad thing (seeing the truth, I mean, not the part about being put in a box), because I finally have a realistic view of what I have been so gullibly enamoured with. 

Of course, how long this view of reality lasts is anyone’s guess, given my propensity for forgetting the truth at the speed with which it takes someone to mention that Manuka honey is the new wonder food, and is highly valued in ayurvedic medicine ...  The wonder of it all is that anyone bothers to eat any of the bog-standard foods any more, when you can apparently gain everything you need from a few specially selected ‘superfoods’.  It’s also a bloody wonder that I haven’t gone bankrupt or killed myself from my dabblings.  Yep, it definitely starts to sound like I’ve been dallying in the Dark Arts: and me the ultimate sacrificial lamb.  God knows the results are just as terrifying ...

Unfortunately, though, there’s been a high price to pay for the knowledge (and I’m not just talking about the expensive consultation fee).  She has planted seeds in my mind - seeds of doubt, which will now take root and grow, no matter how much I take a spade to them to dig them up and discard them.  And I’ll have to keep doing that for a very long time, to make sure I don’t end up with a bloody forest in there, blocking out the light of truth (not to mention sanity!), otherwise I’ll suddenly find myself surreptitiously changing the bits of my diet she said were not ayurvedic, and altering my daily plan.  My mind, it seems, is nothing more than a manure pile just waiting for any random person to come along and cast indiscriminate information my way, to take root in my fertile noggin.  I should have a sign painted on my forehead: “Plant your seed here, free!”   

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
An experiment in watercolour and gouache

Quotes Quota

"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.

"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."

From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Copied from photograph of the same name by Roberto Dutesco

Quotes Quota

"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama

"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."

Malcolm X

On The Prowl

On The Prowl
Watercolour tiger

Quotes Quota

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step."

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

C S Lewis