For more – not to mention the destruction wrought by the snails….. – see the Garden pages.
Food allergy and food intolerance, freefrom foods, electrosensitivity, this and that...
For more – not to mention the destruction wrought by the snails….. – see the Garden pages.
In between garden-greening downpours last week our FreeFrom Skincare Awards judges did manage to sniff the jasmine on their way down to the garden for a quick cup of coffee. But for most of the week I fear they have been locked away sniffing frankincense and lavender and patchouli and neroli – or…. deciphering labels.
You would think that our problem in judging the entries would be deciding between creamy balms and oily balms but in fact, when judging skincare products, one of the major issues is ensuring that everyone is abiding by the mind-bindingly complex regulations.
First there are the medical claims
These are not new. Quite rightly they were put in place to prevent consumers being misled by manufacturers claiming that their products could ‘cure’ this medical condition or ‘heal’ that one when they had no proof, beyond a wish and a prayer, that they could.
While this has certainly helped to protect consumers it has made it extremely difficult to market products which genuinely do help medical conditions such as eczema. The nearest you can legally come to promoting your product is to say that ‘the product can be suitable for those with skin prone to eczema’. Not only convoluted but plenty of ways to get the wording wrong.
Then the more general claims
These are the ones that are currently causing the most trouble – and I am not going to even attempt to explain exactly why. Suffice it to say that there are already regulations in place which require you only to make claims that are ‘honest and truthful’ and which do not ‘denigrate any specific ingredient’ (such as parabens) for which there is extensive scientific proof that it is safe.
But these regulations have been expanded to cover wider ‘freefrom’ and other similar claims – but no one seems sure at this stage whether these are actually regulations or merely ‘guidance’ – nor is anyone really agreed on what they actually do or don’t say.
As a separate issue, it is not always clear that they actually do benefit the consumer which is, theoretically, their intention. Flagging up that there are ‘no preservatives’ in a product may raise technical issues. For example, a product will not need a preservative if it does not contain any water so you should not be labelling an oil based product as preservative free as should not contain any preservatives anyhow. And, since the scientific research says that there is nothing inherently unsafe about preservatives, then you could be seen as ‘denigrating’ preservatives by flagging up that there aren’t any in your product. But for someone who does react to some preservatives (and there are certainly people who do) a front of pack flag saying ‘no preservatives’ will save them fighting their way through the often illegibly small ingredients list on the pack – which they may well not understand anyhow as it is in Latin!
Which brings us to the next problem – the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) format. This requires that the names of the ‘botanicals’ (the ingredients derived from plants – which means the majority of the ingredients in any skincare product) have to be in their original Latin, while any chemicals used have to be in their full chemical format. As a result ingredients lists are ridiculously long and, because many of the containers are very small, they are printed in such tiny print that even those with 20/20 vision need a magnifying glass to read them. And even you manage to read them, the chances of you understanding them without a degree in classics, botany or chemistry are slim.
All of that said, there have been some excellent products entered and tested during the week by our panels of expert skincare judges – they had already been tested by our consumer panels. For full details see the Skincare Awards Facebook, Twitter and Insta pages and keep an eye on the FFSA site for preliminary results.
We were also amused to note in these Brexit-ing times, that out of the 13 judges who have graced our judging room this week we had only six Brits– joined by a Russian, an Iraqi, a Finn, a Bulgarian, an Iranian, an Italian, an Indian and a judge who hailed from Holland!
We would also like to log the presence of a fourteenth judge who oversaw proceedings without taking too active a part – beyond inspecting the judges, finding a comfortable chair with a towel ready for the judges’ use – and going to sleep.
And finally we would like to note that because judging skincare products is hard, brain-teasing work, we made sure that they were well fed. What Alex calls my ‘ploughed field lentils’ on day one (Puy lentils with lots of ginger and garlic, water chestnuts and spring onions)…..
Butter beans with red peppers, chilli, tomatoes and lots of herbs, on day two; rice ‘n peas – with more ginger, chillis, green beans and broccoli on day three, this slightly strange combination of buckwheat, quinoa and chickpea pasta with potatoes and Cavolo nero on Thursday….
and quinoa tabbouleh on Friday. All, obviously, gluten, milk products and soya free, and, on most days, nut free.
Plus LOTS of dates and delicious strawberries from Suffolk to keep them going in between. Oh to be a FreeFrom Skincare Awards judge!!
A few weeks ago I took myself to Longborough Opera Festival, in the heart of the Costwolds. Perched on the top of a hill overlooking a rolling green valley sits ‘the big house’ – neo classical terra cotta and creamy Cotswold stone. Across a generous courtyard and behind some trees nestles a dinner tent and the large ex-chicken shed which now accommodates a 500 seater opera house. Nothing left now to remind you of the chicken shed – except the tin roof which, if it rains, adds an interesting extra dimension to the music!!
The festival was started in the early 1990s by Martin and Lizzie Graham who love all opera but whose overriding passion is for Wagner. (See this nice piece in the Spectator a few weeks ago.) For the last 18 years they have shared their passion with Wagner expert, the conductor Anthony Negus who had learnt his Wagner under the great Reginald Goodall. And those years have see three complete Ring cycles along with performances of the full Wagner oeuvre. And it was this year’s production of Das Rheingold that took me to Longborough a few weeks ago.
I’m afraid that, for this year, Das Rheingold is now over (a review in the Guardian here) but reviewing the opera (which was wonderful) was not really the point of this blog.
Since I was going on my own I decided to continue my efforts to reduce global warming by taking the train instead of driving – so called Longborough to find out what time the opera finished so that I could book a train. The extremely nice and friendly girl on the phone said that I needed to go to Moreton on the Marsh and get a taxi. Did I need to book a taxi back? No, not really – there were lots of taxis outside the opera house each night when the performance finished.
Well, I should have known…. I have been to Longborough several times before. Admittedly I am usually dashing for the car so that I can get on the road before the rush, but even so – had there been a queue of taxis waiting outside the chicken shed, I am pretty sure I would have noticed….
In fact, I did not book a taxi either way, assuming, in that awful London centric well-there-are-always-taxis-at-King’s Cross sort of a way, that there would be taxis waiting outside Moreton in the Marsh station. As it happened there actually were two – but apparently that was already rare. Anyhow, I got one and did have the forethought to ask her if I should book her back. Well, she would have gone home, she said, but I’ll give you Andy’s number.
So come the end of the opera, I nipped out quick to be the first in the taxi queue to find – as you will have already have guessed, that there was no taxi queue – and there were no taxis. So, I called Andy.
Not sure who I got, but he said that he would ask his booked fare if they minded taking me too. Why didn’t I go to the gate at the end of the the large ‘parking’ field and wait there and he’d call me back. So I did – but he didn’t…..
I had had 45 minutes between the end of the opera and the train departing from Moreton in the Marsh – and that was already down to 20. And, surprise, surprise – Andy was permanently engaged…. However, finally – he wasn’t.
‘Oh goodness – I’ve just got back into town. Tell you what, you start walking down the lane into the village as far as the pub and wait for me in the car park and I’ll come and get you.’
And, bless him – he did…. and we raced down the country lanes and arriving at Moreton in the Marsh station about three minutes after the 9.50 to Paddington had left….
‘No problem,’ I said, ‘I’ll just get the next train….’
‘I don’t think you will,’ said Andy. ‘I’m pretty sure that was the last train….’ And he was right.
‘So, Plan B’? said Andy
‘I’ll just have to stay the night and go back in the morning….’
‘Right’, said Andy. ‘Let’s try the Acacia – they’re just round the corner from the station.’ So off he went with me following obediently in his wake.
A large and rather imposing gent opened the door of Acacia.
‘Yes – got a room – it’s going to be £70.’
That seemed rather a lot for a B&B so I demurred and said I’d think about it and turned away.
‘You’ll pay more in the town,’ said Andy ‘if you a get a room at all – the town is packed.’
‘You’re right,’ I said, and headed back to Acacia’s closed door and rang the bell again.
‘OK – sixty quid’ said the large gent –’It’s gone down….’
‘Done.’ I said, thanked Andy profusely and head into Acacia.
‘Just one night? On your own?’ said the large gent’s lady.
‘Well, that’ll be £50 for a single to include breakfast.’
(If I had left again and come back, would it have gone down to £40?……)
As it happened, I was up betimes, after a fine night’s sleep, and caught the 7.06 back to Paddington so I never got to enjoy her breakfast.
But I did text Andy to thank him for rescuing me and to tell him that Acacia’s price had gone down yet again.
‘Aww bless them’, he texted back. ‘There is some good people here in the Cotswolds. You were lucky to get a room to be honest, the area is flooded with tourists. Have a stroll up our High street before you go.
P.S. If you have Facebook could you post a review of my services please.. Andy’s Taxis, Moreton In Marsh.’
Well, I don’t have a Facebook page but I am hoping that some of you, my readers, do and that you will post this blog – or at least my thanks – on his page!
You may remember that some months ago I was waxing lyrical about the concept of a Salon Musical, having been invited to one by the lovely violinist Madeleine Mitchell. So enchanted was I by the evening that I suggested to Madeleine that maybe she might care to hold another in our ‘withdrawing room’ at Lawn Road – and on Saturday night, that came to pass.
Unfortunately, so excited was I by the whole procedure that I entirely forgot to take any pictures. So the best I can do is a ‘morning after’ shot of an abandoned music stand and an eclectic collection of chairs in tidy rows…
£5 IKEA plastic ‘folders’ rubbing shoulders with elegant Italian steel and cane numbers bought a considerable expense some years ago, and the even more expensive, and now most desirable, 1970s Scandi wooden dining chairs bought in Columbia Road flower market! And all boxed in by the ‘normal residents’ – a couple of wing armchairs with my six foot and very-sleepable-on paprika velvet sofa making up the front row!
But while the seating was scarcely elegant, the musicians certainly were. Madeleine herself in flowing burgundy silk, viola player Kate Musker, also in flowing burgundy, violinist Gordon MacKay, cellist Joseph Spooner and clarinetist Tony Lamb. Equally elegant was the programme.
Rondo for Dancing – a short piece by Grace Williams, a Welsh composer who died in 1977 and whose work Madeleine champions as being sadly overlooked. (Apart from leaving a large body of symphonic work and one opera, Grace was the first British woman to score a feature film – Blue Scar – in 1949.) On International Woman’s Day this year, Madeleine, Gordon and Joseph released a record of Grace’s Chamber Music.
This was followed by Dvorak’s String Quartet No 12 in F (American) – a fabulous piece with a totally heart wrenching slow movement. As Madeleine said in her ‘programme notes’ –
During a 3-year stay in the United States, Dvorák spent some time in a Czech immigrant community in Iowa. In this idyllic pastoral environment he felt very happy, and composed two major works – the Quartet Op. 96 and the String Quintet Op.97. The nickname ‘American’ was not given to the Quartet by the composer, and little evidence has been found of any musical material derived directly from African-American or native American sources. However, certain aspects, such as rhythmic ostinati, frequent solo melodic lines and a feeling of simple enjoyment of the natural world do place this work outside the main European tradition, in which musical ideas are usually developed in a more structured and rigorous manner. One particular feature is the use throughout the piece of the pentatonic scale, common to the folk music of many countries. After an early performance of the Quartet, one listener commented “there is the spirit of eternal sunshine,” – an apt description of this glorious music.
And finally Tony Lamb joined the group for Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A, K 581 – a glorious piece of music that even if you think you don’t know it, I am sure you will have heard. Again, to quote Madeleine:
If Mozart had not known Anton Stadler – a fellow Freemason and a leading player of the day – the clarinet repertoire would be incalculably poorer. The two men first met in Vienna in 1783, and Stadler’s artistry inspired several works which have never been surpassed: three wind serenades, the Trio K 498 for clarinet, viola and piano, the Concerto K 622, and this Quintet. The whole piece is a miracle of musical form and texture, with the clarinet sometimes set against the strings, sometimes integrated with them. In the magical Larghetto, the clarinet floats a long melody above a muted string accompaniment, later sharing a new musical idea with the 1st violin. Unusually, the Menuetto contains two trios: the first, scored for strings alone, is intense and passionate, while the second is a cheerful Ländler. The last movement is based on a cheeky tune that might easily belong to Papageno. In a typical stroke of genius, Mozart follows several lively variations with one marked Adagio, in which time almost seems to stand still, before a whirling Allegro brings the Quintet to its close.
Pimms glasses, filled to brimming on arrival, were stilled for the concert and then refilled as my delighted audience of 20 raised the roof, enjoyed an Elgar encore – and then headed to the kitchen for supper.
While not exactly tropical, the evening was sunny enough for guests to spill out onto the balcony and even down into the garden – while tucking into a classic Lawn Road, gluten-free and largely milk-free/vegan supper.
A particularly tasty version of what Alex calls my ‘ploughed field lentils’ – Puy lentil with chillis, red peppers, ginger, water chestnuts, cashew nuts and coriander. They do taste delicious, but do definitely look like a ploughed field!
Vegan rice ‘n peas with coconut milk, leeks, broccoli tips, spring onions, peas and more ginger. Chrain – the amazing Jewish relish made from grated beetroot, freshly grated horseradish and cider vinegar – only for the strong in heart….
Crudités with a broad bean hummus and for the meat eaters, the MOST delicious super thinly sliced topside of beef with homemade fresh horseradish sauce (mayo, coconut yogurt, grated horseradish, lemon juice, salt and lots of pepper) and a stunning spelt bread from Gails. Not gluten free of course, and certainly not cheap at £6 a loaf – but a sort of coarse pumpernickel with big grains of tasty spelt and – currants…. I was very dubious about the currants when cutting the loaf (again very thin slices) but actually, the combination worked extremely well.
All finished off with wonderful English strawberries from Igtham in Kent and delicious cherries.
Our audience was a mix of my friends and of Madeleine’s so that everyone knew at least one other guest – but there were plenty of new like-minded souls to meet and talk to. And, an extra bonus provided by the music, a ready made topic of conversation.
I loved it – and if the emails and notes through the door the following morning are anything to go by – so did my guests.
So…….. A possibility of a viola, flute and harp trio in July or August – assuming that the harp can be got up the front steps…. And, in September, an evening of classical Indian music with my lovely basement tenant and BBC presenter, Soumik Datta….. If any of you saw his three part series, Rhythms of India, a few weeks ago you will be hammering on the door to get a seat!
Watch this space…..
Oh and, just to add a little colour – here are the lovely Sweet Williams – tightly knit clusters of dark red and pink flowers which you rarely see outside a cottage garden – and stunning white spikes of scented stocks, brought by my guests.
And here is the herbaceous patch looking extremely lush and lit for the evening, although you can scarcely see them, by the fairy lights which have leapt back into life after a period when, thanks to the foxes munching their wires, they plunged the house into darkness whenever we turned them on!
A couple of weeks ago the Guild of Health Writers ran an excellent evening session on PTSD – understanding the nature of the trauma that can provoke Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The four speakers included Noel McDermott, a psychotherapist who lived through many years of PTSD as a result of his own horrendous childhood experiences; Dr Jonathan Leach, a GP who spent many years as a military doctor and therefore has worked with many veterans who have suffered from PTSD as a result of their service; Dr Angela Kennedy, a clinical psychologist, who has worked in adult mental health in the NHS for many years and Dr Stephanie Lewis who has just completed research on the mental health of young people who have been exposed to traumatic events.
It was a very illuminating evening, even had you no specific interest in the area. So – for general interest – here are a few of the points that were made.
An interesting alternative approach, although not mentioned by the speakers, is the use of psychedelics in the treatment of PYSD – see this report in Neuroscience News:
Summary: MDMA shows promise for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Combining the use of Ecstasy with psychotherapy treatments resulted in a reduction of PTSD symptoms after just one session. 54% of the study participants no longer met the PTSD criteria after two sessions. Patients also reported improvements in depression symptoms.
For a very much more in-depths investigation into the fall out from childhood abuse and trauma – and how to recover from it– see Micki Rose’s Eight Step Healing Plan to Recover from Chronic Illness.
Last week I went to the really wonderful Edvard Munch exhibition at the British Museum – about which I will say no more than, if you get the chance, you must go. It is on till July 21st so you have plenty of time.
But emerging from the galleries full of praise for how well the exhibition had been curated and how fascinating and inspiring it was, we had (as one always does) to walk through the shop. Oh dear…….
What had poor Munch ever done to have his most famous image reproduced on a pair of socks…. a finger puppet… or a kitchen spatula!!
Not to mention (well, I suppose this is just about alright) – pencils…
….but really not alright are chocolates…..
…or the nail files!!!!
Please, British Museum – I know you need to make money but really. There has to be a better way……