So, I’m now 18 months into this blog, and I’ve yet to mention anything about my day job. That’s because, for most days of the week, and some nights too, I’m actually a spy.
Okay, I’m not really a spy. But having a double life as a food-writer and an NHS doctor can feel like I’m inhabiting two very different identities. And you know, I enjoy that. I enjoy engaging two very different sides of me, tapping into two different parts of the brain, experiencing two types of good n’ bad days in the office. (Although, admittedly, a bad day in my NHS office is invariably worse than writer’s block.)
I became a doctor in the year 2000, making me a millennial of sorts. When I look back, it’s certainly been packed with experiences. Mostly highly rewarding. Some terribly challenging. A heady mix of immeasurable joy and painful sorrow. And though of course it’s an incredibly serious job, there’s always room for moments of humour.
And food. In fact, some of my most memorable career moments are related to food ( – ‘quelle surprise’, you might say!)
Home. Mine was once a launderette, back in the ‘70s. I wasn’t living there then. I was hardly even born then. But there’s still evidence of it all over the place – from the peculiar frontage to the panoply of pipes protruding defiantly out of the flooring. But times have changed. At least for this building.
For me though, my home is more than a house – more than four walls, windows, roofs and doors. It’s more than the place where my family and I eat, sleep, or take refuge from the cold and rain. It’s the scene of our everyday victories – big and small – celebrating a good day at work or school, a festival or birthday, or just an elaborately-constructed sofa den. And of course, it’s sometimes where opinions are argued, tears are shed, and shoulders are hugged.
Our home isn’t just bricks and mortar. It’s the stage on which our lives unfurl. And I know how lucky that makes me, especially when so many people don’t even have basic shelter.
Food memories. They’re possibly the most powerful memories we have. There’s some science behind it – our perception of food is primarily streamed through our nasal olfactory system, a region of the brain closely associated with long-term memory. But beyond the biology, food memories form such a large part of our own life story, they cannot help but evoke a potent sense of longing and reminiscence. The weekend roast. Our first sip of wine. School pudding. (I didn’t say all memories had to be good, mind you!)
When we recollect a food memory, we are remembering a time in our lives that food made meaningful. Alternatively, food memories may emerge because of their association with a particular person, place or time. However they became, whatever their provenance, they’re then woven into our tapestry of experience and assimilated into our own life story. And there they remain, little nuggets that we stumble upon again and again.
For me, my fondest and most indelible food memories relate to the week-long Jewish festival of Passover. There’s a myriad of reasons for me why Passover food elicits such an emotive reaction, all of which inter-connect like an intricate dance. View Post
In so many ways, Grandma Beryl was the matriarch of our family and a wise dignified figurehead. She was almost always immaculately turned out, her hair a halo of wispy-white cotton-candy with not a strand out of place. Her elocution was invariably poised and precise, graced with a slight Mancunian lilt, and as mellifluous as any a Radio 4 presenter.
Through the best part of ninety years, us children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would congregate at Grandma’s each week, her home bursting alive with the sighs and squeals of newborn babies, the pitter-patter of toddler feet, children trampolining on the sofa, kids taking penalty kicks in the lounge, and grown-ups sporadically crying out “Mind the ornaments!”, all accompanied by the constant clang and clatter of cutlery and plates as they materialised on and off the dining-room table.
Of course she loved all this, the hubbub of family coming together. And ultimately she yearned for nothing more than her family to be happy and well. To that end, she connected deeply with each and every one of us, like the gravitational pull of a warm radiating sun round which all our lives orbited.
And when it came to my Grandpa Reuben, well she was beyond devoted. He’d been her rock, and she his; a husband she’d lovingly served in an old-fashioned way, a couple and a home steeped in Jewish tradition. (“Call me old-fashioned” was in fact her favourite refrain.) But even after he died, the family would continue to come, week after week, and she remained the constant, the glue, the fabric, by which our family were reassuringly held.
On second thoughts, ‘matriarch’ isn’t quite right. The word conjures up images of haughtiness and detachment which couldn’t be further from the truth when it came to Grandma Beryl. She was a warm, loving, generous soul, totally unassuming, always smiling, gentle in her humility, yet strong in her own way.
A real ‘people person’, she loved snatching a conversation here and there, with everyone and anyone, from taxi-drivers to Big Issue sellers. And she was naturally gifted with a wonderful sense of humour, somehow both knowingly cheeky and yet brilliantly bone-dry, radiant even until her very last days.
For 10th October 2016 was her very last day, when her life was no more and she was finally at peace. View Post
“The White Witch? Who is she?”
“Why.. it’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter, and never Christmas..”
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis, 1950.
“At this moment you should be with us,
Feeling like we do.. like you love to
But never will again.
I miss you my dear, Xiola.
I prepared the room tonight with christmas lights,
A city of candles…”
Three Days, Jane’s Addiction, 1990
My childhood winters were cold Northern affairs. Stretching across the horizon, the distant Pennines lay dark and brooding, looming over Bury like a dormant dragon, its arched back frosted with fairy-dust snow. There, we’d take our sledges and run them down those Lancashire slopes, fast and true: the icy air stinging our watery eyes, the sledge barely skimming the snowy ground below. We were Peter Pan, we were Tinkerbell.
Of all the seasons, Winter kindled the imagination the most: a twilight zone where reality and fairytale would come together before waltzing off into a blur. Each evening, with the garden shrouded in dusk and the air stifled by unearthly silence, we’d joyously roll about in the crunching snow, crafting igloos out of ice-bricks, crawling into these dens safe and snug from the creatures lurking just beyond..
..Then comes a mother’s call. A warm embrace. The sound of water splashing in a distant room. Steam slipping underneath a bathroom door. I’d leap into the bath, my goose-bumped skin ablaze with the sudden heat.