Beautiful Beets

The Spring beets laying out on the farmer’s market stalls look lush and inviting. Beetroot has now been elevated to a super good-for-you vegetable. The baby greens are pretty under the bite sized sections of dark crimson roots tossed in with paint-white feta cheese in a salad.
But what happened to Borscht, good old beetroot soup? It appears lost from all but Hungarian restaurant menus. Classic borscht recipes came from Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, with various additions of potatoes and cabbages.
But for today’s cookbooks we are urged towards green watercress and sorrel soups to brighten our spring lunches with creamy yellow hubbard and butternut squash soups to warm us in the autumn evenings.

My borscht recipe was probably birthed from Gourmet Cook Book Volume Two an early, possibly desperate, Christmas gift from my husband. But it has been long since tweaked and fiddled with and now I claim this one as my own.

While here in London, as I edit another ‘final’ version of Farming the Flats, I have come to a page that says, insert Beet recipe here. Oh. OK. Back down to the Turkish greengrocer with Monty I go. But as summer gives way to autumn, the dark beets sit cowering beside the bold orange winter squash who are bursting with fresh grown pride. The beets, like the carrots beside them, have had their greens chopped away. The spring greens that were so bright and brave are fading in this late summer harvest.

Harvest on the kitchen counter

I pluck:
4 beets
2 carrots
1 onion
from the boxes and bring them home where I already have
Bay leaves, sage, thyme and chives from the garden.
Olive oil, salt, pepper, caraway and cumin from the cupboard
Chicken or vegetable stock from the freezer.

Now it is simple soup making.
Parboil the beets in their skins then lift the beets into a bowl to cool.
Strain and save the beet water. Some recipes call for throwing out the beets or the water which is ridiculous. The water only needs straining to remove any left over farm soil and grit.
While the beets are cooling heat the olive oil in a big saucepan,
Add the chopped onion to sweat slowly as you peel and slice the carrots.
(You will notice this recipe is 2 beets to 1 carrot).
When the onion is a sweet yellow add the chopped carrots and then
the caraway and cumin to taste. I’m heavy on both of these.
Stir for a while until the carrots are glistening.
Any wine in the fridge? A glug glug can go in now.
Stir some more and then add the thyme, bay leaves (At least 2) and sprig of sage.
Salt and pepper now as you like it.
When you feel the flavors have been properly introduced then pour in the stock.
Bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots are soft.
Time to slip the skins off of the beetroots, give them a rough chop and add to the mix.
Do you need to add more liquid? If so you have the beet water on hand.
When this is all cooked up nicely, twenty minutes or so, turn off the heat.
Put on the saucepan lid and go and do something else for at least an hour.
Only then come back and fish out the bay leaves, thyme stalk and sprig of sage.
Put the saucepan somewhere low, in the sink maybe, and blend the soup until there are no lumps.
How does it feel? How does it taste?
I like a firmish consistency and to be able to taste the caraway with a hint of cumin
Adjust the liquid with more beet water and flavor with seasoning.
The soup is ready now but will be better still after sitting a little longer.
Because borscht is Russian and Eastern European most recipes call for potatoes rather than carrots and a topping of thick Greek Yogurt.
But since I cooked this in London I used a dollop of fresh Devonshire cream before sprinkling on the chopped chives from the garden.
And the little glass of wine? Well I didn’t put all of it in the soup, just a glug, not two.

Soup supper for one

Monty’s Monday Mornings

Monty on a Monday

In his own words.

Today was terrible and I will never, ever go there again. She was a looking for a big box of baking soda to refresh the drains. We started off down the canal path but then went up the steps to Morrison’s Supermarket. It is vast and smells bad. What she wanted wasn’t there and so we went through more back streets to Sainsbury’s where she did find four bottles of Vinegar at .50 p each. Both stores have security guards and when we got to Sainsbury’s one of them came over and stood beside me. She gave him a firm look and he moved away!

Usually we go to Camden Town on a Monday morning. Camden holds a real mix of working Londoners. It is especially nice on Monday after the midnight city lorries, hosing down as they sweep, have cleaned the punk madness of the weekend away. The streets seem refreshed, though the polka-dot chewing gum still decorates the pavement and the water has long dried by the time we get to town. Often something has been found wanting over the weekend. ‘I may have to go into Camden for that’ is uttered in more than one household whilst drinking the morning tea when lists are made.

Delancy Street

Delancey Street curving in the sunshine

We set out weaving through the Auden Place Estate to Regent’s Park Road and walk to the big five-way junction. We cross through the maze of traffic lights onto Delancey Street and carry on past the curved row of white terraced houses where, according to his Blue Plaque, Dylan Thomas once lived.

Blue plaque for Dylan Thomas

Blue Plaque for Dylan Thomas

It is a quiet, bright street and the sun almost always seems to shine there. Often the C2 and 274 busses pass us on their way to either end of Oxford Street.

Our first stop is the coffee shop owned by George Constinantou who has been at this location for forty-two years and five months. If there are no other customers, there is room for me to come inside, while she waits and talks. She is always talking.

beans roasting

Beans roasting at Camden Coffee House

Georgio

Georgio behind his counter

Despite his shyness and the roar of the roasting beans, she knows about his annual holiday when he goes home to Cyprus to his mother and sister’s family every year. He is constantly in motion, weighing, scooping and roasting beans taken from the sacks piled up along one wall. Then 250 grams of Continental and £3.80 later we are on our way, another half a block to the Camden High Street where the pub on this corner still looks hungover on Monday morning. It is the only place that is not refreshed.

Now she crosses over the busy High Street to The Camden Town Bakery, established 1972, and gets a White Tin Loaf of bread. The bakery closed recently and ‘he’ said there were no more tin loaves, that it has all gone fast food. But thank goodness it was only getting a makeover. Housewives of a certain generation who shop on the High Street don’t want anything too fancy – sweet, yes, quick take away deli food, yes – but please keep the familiar Old Tin loaves in the corner.

She puts the loaf next to the coffee, both keeping the other warm, and we go back across the High Street to Waitrose. It is the only supermarket we like. It is small, there are more shelves with produce for proper cooking and a little less plastic wrap and more organic produce. Mostly she comes here for the household staples and I always have to nudge her at the checkout to move the tin loaf and not squash it with the laundry powder. She never remembers her coupons – she should, at her age.

One time she took me back across the road to the small artsy-crafty shop. The isles were so narrow there was barely room for me. What was she after? Turned out she needed a big bag of toy stuffing. She can’t keep up with the need for knitted piglets for all the little people she meets.

Piglett family

A litter of Piglets

It is sweet really but there are two big sweaters, I know because I’ve seen the wool, waiting for her to finish. The stuffing is cheap, I hear coins changing hands. It is bulky but very light thank goodness as I am always almost full when we leave Waitrose.

Ossie's Barber Shop

Up Parkway past Ossie’s to the greengrocer

Now we are nearly done and cross the Camden Hub High Street intersection where six roads come together by the tube station. We can go up Parkway, past the Odeon cinema, an Italian deli and Ossie the barber, to the Turkish greengrocer. We love this shop the best.  I just get to squeeze in and have to wait by the checkout counters where I can see her. The shop is so small they don’t have trolleys – only baskets. ‘Don’t get too much,’ I try to say but she never listens.

The produce is bright, very pretty and the trays are kept full. Everything is labeled, what it is, where it is from, if it is organic and there are always several varieties of whatever it is. Take choosing the organic eggs: there are chicken, duck, quail or goose. The pears are from Spain and Argentina. She always buys the ones from Argentina. The peaches from Spain are better, at the moment, than those from Italy. But the tomatoes from Italy are better than those from England. These last few weeks she has been getting gooseberries and always a bottle of pomegranate juice. The fresh organic turmeric and ginger are from Peru.

long view

Summer veg lined up

Eventually she is ready and comes back to me at the counter. No she doesn’t need a bag, she has me, and one way and another, moving the tin loaf again, everything fits in and we leave. It is uphill along Parkway but I don’t wobble at all. There are more traffic lights to cross and then the downhill bit along Regent’s Park Road back through Auden Place until we are home.

She could never carry all this on her own and she has quite come to rely on me. Inside it is one step at a time and she can pull me upstairs. Then she unloads everything out onto the kitchen counter. The relief. It is hard work, but I don’t complain. After all she nearly threw me out when she returned home last spring and saw me in my box on the terrace. I know what could have happened to me – off to the charity shop and who knows where after that. When she is done she carries me back downstairs and carefully puts me to bed, tucked away behind the washing machine. But she always remembers to say, ‘Thanks you Monty, I couldn’t have done it without you’. That “Thank You” keeps me content until Saturday when we will go out again, up and over Primrose Hill to the farmer’s market.

A Letter from Madrid

By Saturday morning the sun had come out in Madrid, where we were staying at the Hotel Reina Victoria in the center of town. Around the plaza and on the sidewalks the cafe owners had already pulled out their tables. Tourists and workers were stopping for their first cup of coffee. As I began to write I was given courage and comfort that we are nestled in the Barrio de las Letras, home to Lope de Vega, Cervantes y Quevedo.

The Barrio de las Letras

My days began with an hour and a half scribbling in my notebooks at breakfast. As I came downstairs Walter would be all ready to leave for the film school. He had two and a half full days of lectures to give and, while he loves the speaking, thinking and people, he would be tired by Sunday.

WSM thinking about what to say next

The hotel restaurant is a destination unto itself and through the early morning quickly fills with hotel guests, tourists, city residents, and business folk meeting and breaking bread together as they plan out the day ahead. At 10.30 a.m the music, though still easy listening, gets turned up 4 decibels to remind us all this is a happy place. The three young people beside me all start out their breakfast with a full bowl of pineapple and a tall glass of orange juice. I think how disciplined they are until the second arrives, scrambled eggs and pancakes with syrup. They are young.

Choosing breakfast

On my first morning after breakfast, I left the hotel and turned left, down a one-car-width cobbled street, knowing that three lefts would bring me past the Teatro de la Comedia and the National Teatro Real, which is performing a play by Virginia Wolf, and back into the Plaza St. Martin. The streets were quiet and not all the shops were open. Deliveries were being made. A man stood in the middle of the street speaking on his cell phone while leaning on a roll away bag full of medical equipment. A young man scooted by, propelling himself with one foot on his dolly which was stacked high with boxes of supplies. Older, maybe than me, women walked slowly with crumpled shopping bags only half full. Some were pulling their reluctant toy dogs along with them. The poorer women come out early and are alone. It is the middle-class women who have time for companionship and coffee.

We have not been in Spain for 53 years and, as we drove in from the airport on Thursday afternoon, it was strange to look around and not recognize anything from that time. But the dry scrubby landscape reminded me of the drive into the city of Buenos Aires from that airport in their summer time. Entering the city I become aware of the influence of Spain, as strong as any Parisian or Italian, on Buenos Aires and am suddenly homesick for that city.

When the first evening’s session came to a close a group of ten of us, some from the school and some professionals and academics from Barcelona, returned to the hotel. Gathered around a long table we were quickly served with a series of small plate tapas and glasses of rioja. We began to unwind and explore each other’s lives. Riccardo is a sound designer, now living in Barcelona, and was the one who drove us back from the school into the city. He is from Argentina. He is a grandparent like us, his little Otto lives in Berlin, while our David is in Buenos Aires, where Ricardo comes from. Our grandsons are born on the same day and we are full of simpatico laughter as we talk about our comrades in film, our grandchildren, and struggles with each other’s languages. He assures me that the tiny little fish balls he is offering me are a type of Jaws and it takes us all a while to understand he means shark!
“You must come to Argentina again and see us there.” I say. His face turns serious and he quietly replies, “I will never go back.”
“When did you leave?”
“1974.” And he looks at me with deep sadness as I take in what he is saying. He left, fled, during the troubles.
“There are many Argentines here in Madrid and in Barcelona.” He repeats, “I will never go back. Here in Spain the dictatorship was forty years, in Argentina only seven but the results were very similar.”

Slowly it dawns on me, or do I suddenly come to understand and accept something I have known all along, that the displacement of peoples, one tribe for another, by one government for another, a nation overtaking another, is a constant occurrence. That the sweeping push of power that flows over and through continents, brushing peoples down and away, always crushing many even as a few can rise, survive and thrive, is ever with us. The big questions are found in the smallest of gestures and remain for us all. Who will help the other? Who shares the open hand and gives from the heart?

That first evening a taxi was waiting outside of the hotel to take me to the film school. The driver spoke little English but had a picture of his three year old son on his phone. We talked of sons and grandsons. After over twenty minutes driving through and out of the city he stopped at the address he had been given but we were both unsure. That building looked very closed up. I got out of the taxi and rang the buzzer on the locked door. Soon an elderly guard came out and looked at my instructions. Luckily the young driver had waited and talked with the guard before he held the door open again and gestured for me to get back into the taxi. We drove further on and around a corner to the ECAM. A woman leaned out of a window and told him where I needed to be. He opened the door again and I gave him my hand. I really am too tall for taxis. I was grateful for his kindness as he pointed the way forward, where I should, and he could not, go. I thanked him in shy Spanish and with a smile. He held onto my hand for a moment longer and looked at my face with a masculine appreciation. Whatever happens next, I am grateful.

Photographs of WSM from the ECAM staff and twitter feed

WSM and some ECAM Staff at the close of the seminar

This is the end – my friend

Nurse’s Day 2017

Today is May 6th, the beginning of Nurses Week in North America which ends on May 12th, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, and, since 1974, is celebrated as International Nurses Day.

1963 Prize giving @ Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford

Though I will not be buying any Hallmark cards for my nursing chums, I am thinking of my comrades and sisters who are my fellow nurses. Those friends we made, bonded in student years with the sharing of patients as we changed ward rotations; the remembrance of patients who were dear, beloved, or cantankerous, those we recall as much by attitude and character as by disease, those births celebrated and deaths honored. Then there were the working years before reentry to university bringing new adult companions, both student and teacher. Now, in this final quarter of life, I have found a sisterhood of nurse writers and poets. Some still work at the bedside of, or in the clinics with, patients – others teach, and all of us remain nurses within our communities and families. We write of the past, distant and immediate, bringing disease and care into the present.

Nurse Poets reading in Charleston 2016, Veneta Mason, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch and Jeanne Bryner

 

We are lucky to have found each other and are grateful for the collectors among us: Cortney, Judy and now Jeanne who gather up our words, harvest them to reseed the bare virgin soil of tender young hearts. We write from different geographies of the Americans and the world. Jeannie Bryner from Ohio, Cortney Davis from Connecticut, Venenta Masson from Washington DC, Judy Schaefer from Pensilvania, Madeleine Mysko from Maryland, Patsy Harman from West Virginia.

Before I left California, I took from my bookcase the written work of my nursing friends. It is an impressive display of non-academic writing from professional women and men, and grows each year.

Within my bookcase

In 2018 Kent State University will publish another anthology of nurse writing, ‘This Blessed Field.’ Within this anthology are stories from young nurses, our stories, sharing our innocence with the new nurses of today helping to guide and comfort those following in our footsteps with the light we shine for them.

Each year on May 12th a church service is held in Westminster Abbey in London and at St. Margaret’s Church at East Willow in Hampshire. Wikipedia tells me that during the service, a symbolic lamp is taken from the Nurses’ Chapel in the Abbey and handed from one nurse to another, thence to the Dean, who places it on the High Altar to signifies the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another.
I will be in London that day and will go to the Abbey.

Grieve, Unite, Act.

We Still Have Each Other

We Still Have Each Other

As we leave our West Marin Hamlet we pass two signs sitting side by side on the fence. The first one went up immediately following the November election results and is written in English ‘We Still Have Each Other’. It was quickly followed by the Spanish version, ‘Aun Tenemos Uno a Otro’.

Returning from a village slightly further north is another sign stuck into the hillside,

‘Grieve, Unite, Act’.

We were not the only family to be struck by post election sickness. Apparently there was a wave of illness throughout the country. It could be attributed to the cold winter months, waves of colds, flu or pneumonia – or maybe to the sudden change in America’s fortunes, her perceived place in the world and all manner of personal and global changes that will effect every one of us. As we nursed our loved ones and held our families and friends closer we grieved, united and wondered how to act. The younger generations recovered faster that we did. They shook off the despair that we felt and began to act though one of the manifestations of this activity actually came from a Grandmother in Hawaii. The Woman’s March on Washington. Problems and obstacles have been put in their way and surmounted. The march is going ahead with thousands of women heading to Washington DC. Though the focus and purpose of the march has been knocked this way and that, primarily one could say they are marching to protest the agenda of the new government administration on Inauguration Day.

In our community, as in almost every community around the country, women come together in groups. Some are involved with fundraising for local needs – maybe a school project, or a book group. I belong to a knitting group. The Witty Knitters have been going strong for a good 18 years, I am a relatively new member of maybe of 4 or 5 years standing. We meet once a month at a member’s home. We knit, share news of communities and families, and, of course, gossip while our hostess prepares a meal of nourishing comfort. At last December’s gathering the conversation naturally turned to the recent political events and, as we went around the table, each one of us told of how we are ‘stepping up’ and adding one more thing to our already busy agendas. One spoke of engaging with Planned Parenthood (Love their tote bags), another of joining a local political group, Main Street Moms. I am working more with the United Religions Initiative. We are all beginning to see what we can do.

Baby Starling in knitted nest

Baby Starling in knitted nest

Usually in January we make a point of knitting for others. Carol Block shares her project of knitting little hats for Preemie babies which she then gathers up and takes to Oakland Hospital. Laurel Wroten has had us making baby birds nests.

We love to do this. But this year our January hostess, Susan Allan, has added another project. We are knitting hats for the women marching in the Woman’s March on Washington on January 21st. After she sent out the website, we all started rummaging through our wool stash searching out every ball of pink and red wool we have.

‘Grieve, Unite, Act’.

Beginnings

Beginnings

And finally, those of us who cannot get to a march, those of us who love to ‘do’ something, can. We’re knitting.

In the Christian tradition ,this weekend is the feast of the Epiphany, the day of the visitation of the Three Kings to the Christ child. The word Epiphany came to mean ‘a sudden, intuitive perception into the essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple experience’ – Such as knitting.

Over halfway done

Over halfway done

And in England during the fifteenth century the Monday after Epiphany became Plough Monday marking the start of the agricultural year. This tradition lingers on as the time when work is taken up once more and schools reopen after the Christmas and other festivities of late December. Plough Monday occurs this Monday, and when we meet on Wednesday we will be back at work again – knitting –

 

Norfolk bound

Thanks to Nikki Morris, director of Norfolk’s Big C Cancer Charity, The Bell Lap and I are heading to Norfolk this week. It will be wonderful to be speaking to nurses, carers and other health care providers in the afternoon and then reading and in discussion at Kett’s books in the evening.

Events
2016

Muriel Murch High Res 4

Muriel Murch photo by Beatrice Murch

Muriel Murch, Author of The Bell Lap
Wednesday 7 September 5:00 pm

 

 

All of us age and change – and we all watch while those we care about go through their own life changes.

Muriel Murch’s new book The Bell Lap (Taylor and Francis) shares human stories of caring and being cared for that will ring true for all of us – and the bigger medical issues such as living longer vs ending well are timely debate for those in the medical profession.

Tickets £3, refundable against the purchase of any book.

Kett’s Books is delighted to be donating profits from the sale of this book to the Big C, Norfolk’s Cancer Charity.

BELL LAP

The Bell Lap Stories for Compassionate Nursing Care

Derby and Joan

In the top drawer of the tiny kitchen in our London cottage lies the cutlery. A divided wire basket holds the bright, shiny new knives, forks and spoons bought for the life we are making together in England. Beside them lie a jumble of old utensils culled from my mother’s three homes in Hampshire, each house smaller than the last, and all within two miles of each other. The utensils were scooped up from the collection that she could not bear to let go, I remembered, and still can’t abandon. Prominent among them are the knives: old breakfast knives, a small kitchen knife, the knife sharpener, and her old bread knife.

The bread knife has a stained and cracked bone handle and tightly grooved serrated blades. Even knowing that it struggles with the modern artesian breads of the day, I still cannot bring myself to let it loose in a charity shop where it might linger, like a homely girl at a village dance, waiting unclaimed on the shelf. So I kept it and wonder from time to time how old it really is. It does struggle so with today’s artisan breads, tearing the oblong French baguettes and rounded Italian soughdoughs. German breads with their dense rye flour fair better. The multi-grain wheat breads even better yet. But the bread knife and I struggle on, cutting and slicing on the beach-wood cutting board, grateful for each other. It knows it is safe with me and I have no thoughts to abandon it. In fact, I feel safer and enjoy a duller bladed knife.

One year at Christmas, in despair, one of our daughters gave us a new serrated bread knife for the farm kitchen. It is sharp, German and created to march through any loaf that is placed before it. And it does that with the utmost efficiency, taking no prisoners. Before the New Year had arrived it had also taken a piece of my forefinger along with a crusty slice of local artisan bread. When back on the farm I still use that knife – but – with great caution.

This Saturday afternoon as my husband was going out he asked it I needed anything.
“Yes please. A loaf. We are out of bread.” I was expecting him to pick up his favorite Italian bread from Anthony’s Deli on the high street in the village. But he lingered around the weekend stalls set out on the high-street and was gone a long time. When he did successfully return from the hunt, he opened up the bag and brought out a large English Tin Loaf, unsliced.

Derby and Joan

Tin Loaf comes home

It was a big white loaf, just like we used to get from the baker, Mr. Wright, whose wife and family made fresh bread in their shop every day in Fleet. Daily the queues outside of ‘Wright’s the Baker,’ went out the door from nine a.m. through to noon by which time every loaf of bread was sold and all that was left were the tea time cream-cakes. Every variety they made and placed out on their shelves could make and hold chunky sandwiches with a smear of butter before a good chunk of cheddar cheese, and some Branson Pickle without falling apart. They held together and were ready to eat in the van, on the lunch break or in the fields. The sort of loaf – freshly baked – and on the shelf – that immediately made one hungry for a slice.

And that is how we felt when my husband came home on this Saturday afternoon with his trophy which he unwrapped and laid out on the beach-wood cutting board. The tin loaf sat happily on the bread-board while I opened up the drawer and took out Granny’s old bread knife now long married to the cutting board. I swear the knife quivered in recognition and pulled my right hand towards the loaf, as if reaching for an old remembered friend.

Sliced and ready

Sliced and ready

The loaf of bread held steady under my left hand and seemed to sigh in relief as the blade stroked the crust and then bit deep into the first slice, letting the heel of the bread fall gently onto the breadboard. I cut another slice, and another, clean, even slices of bread. I put the knife down and it rested on the counter as if in a swoon of remembered happiness.

The English Tin loaf was rewrapped and put away for tomorrow’s breakfast. Next we put the kettle on.

Tea time memories

Tea time memories

The fallen slices of bread were firm and smooth and lay flat ready to receive a smothering of butter and honey. It was time for afternoon tea which we enjoyed sitting out on the terrace. Once more grateful for those things found, remembered, and not forgotten.

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.

And it went on. Now, after almost three weeks of tumbling down I’m still so sad and angry, watching as the English politicians made such a cock-up of their dear referendum. Yes I’m going to say that. Though in a global view this is small blip. America is churning and bleeding to death and Africans are dying in the Sahara desert, the Libyan jails and finally the Mediterranean ocean as they struggle to escape a certain death for a less certain life. But still, I’m so sad and mad. I don’t know when I have struggled so to write. If this was a yellow pad, which it was earlier, I would be back at the stationary shop buying another one. But the emotions that have been going around and around in my (and a lot of other people’s ) head, as the television and newspapers reports changed, history being eloquently rewritten every day and Great Britain as it was is no more.

That morning, the one when we all woke up to the Brexit decision was sobering and most of the country, even those who voted out, to show ‘them’ a lesson were stunned and grieving as the realization of what could come to pass began to sink in.

The eye watches London

The eye watches London

So I’ve read, and read and read, mostly coming back to The Guardian editorials which are the ones that make the most sense – to me. I’m suspicious even of my beloved Telegraph, seeing hidden agendas in each opinion column and page. But there are good articles. Lighthearted and accurate from Buzz-feed and somber and intellectual in The Guardian. Maybe there will be a breather today as the politicians wait for Her Majesty to return to London. The Queen is not going to break off other engagements just because these boys have all behaved so shockingly badly.

The weekend after the vote we took a train to Shropshire to visit with a beloved old friend who lives deep in sheep country. That evening he took us and another couple who were staying in Wales, (with more sheep), for dinner. The long evening light was still with us as we climbed out of the taxi (no drinking and driving with this crowd, who can still drink as if they were twenty). Our driver, a young lad, was built like a Sumo wrestler. Overflowing from the van’s upright driving seat he yet held a gentle hand on the wheel and had a sure knowledge of the small country lanes and the farmers heading towards us.

Deah heading the roses

Deah heading the roses

Summer roses

Summer roses

The following day it became clear that ‘a spot of lunch’ was actually a full blown ‘Luncheon for 30 plus’ and I was going to be vastly under-dressed and under-blinged. While the most amazing meal was being prepared in the garage, I was set to deadheading the roses, which with all the rain and very little sun, were glorious.

At noon the guests began to arrive. It was time to change from jeans to a not quite dressy enough skirt and join the friends who had come to share this day. As we sat down to lunch I took the opportunity to really find out a little more what people were thinking, and how they voted. I became impolite, asking those questions one never discussed in public (politics and taxes). Here were the land owners of Shropshire. The charming gentleman on my left was happy to tell me why he had voted Brexit, “We don’t like being told what to do,” And by “we” he did mean all of us, the Sumo wrestler driver, the milk-man, the chicken farmer as well as the Lords of the Manor (most of Shropshire’s around the table) were of one mind.

“We don’t like to be told by Angela Merkel. We don’t like to be told by George Osborne. And we don’t like to be told by Your Barack Obama.” And so out of sheer bloody mindedness they, to a man and woman, voted out.

“To show those politicians what we think.” The rifts that have erupted within families are startling and have taken this grey haired and somewhat still with it generation by surprise.

By the time the cigars and snuff were coming around I was being sleepily interrogated by Algie, (Algernon Heber-Percy Esq.) Shropshire’s very own lord-lieutenant. As the Queen’s representative in the county he could not venture his opinion. But by the languid body language he displayed as he placed his pinch of snuff surely on the back of his hand, he showed that he too was with the aforementioned gentleman on my left, his shepherds and arable farmers.

Today the Queen will return from her morning of duties and have time for a light lunch before meeting with David Cameron (let’s hope he doesn’t whistle a happy tune on his way out of the palace). Then maybe she will have time for a soothing cup of tea before she summons Theresa May to formally ask her,

“Can you command a majority in the House of Commons?” May will say ‘Yes Ma’am I can.”  May might add a curtsey and there you have it. While those two politicians are trotting in and out of the palace moving vans will have been in and out of three houses and on Thursday morning Great Britain will wake up to a new Prime-minister.

Grey skies over Westminster

Grey skies over Westminster

Meanwhile Humpty Dumpty will join his nursery rhyme pals, other eggs who have fallen, and lie broken on the ground, below the wall and under the benches in the House of Commons. They will pretend to care. Some will be swept up and discarded. Others might return to their seats, now knowing how precarious their hold and seat is on the wall. Who knows, one or two may even reach out for a drink with Tony Blair, also bruised if not bowed. The Chilcot Report has been released and the film ‘We are Many‘ is being shown in theaters again and again.

Glasgow Bound

Beatrice presenting her book at the Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires

Beatrice presenting her book at the Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires

Taking a night train tonight from London to Glasgow. A new adventure for The Bell Lap and I as we go to the Royal College of Nursing Congress and Exhibition 2016Wisepress is featuring The Bell Lap at 11.20 am through noon on Tuesday June 21 (stand number A9). I have no idea what to expect – a big convention hall and masses and masses of people wandering about. Hopefully some folks will have tired feet and want to sit down and listen to a story or two. Thinking of Beatrice when she presented her book on the A-line subway in Buenos Aires in 2014.

From Wards to Words and Back Again

It was 1995 when Between the Heartbeats Poetry and Prose for Nurses was first published by the University of Iowa State Press. Conceived and edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer, this was the first Anthology of Creative Writing by Nurses, gathered from around the world.

Heartbeats at Chapters Bookstore DC

Between the Heartbeats writers at Chapters Book Store, Washington DC, 1995

 For many nurses it was the first time our medical writing had been accepted for publication. That summer as many of us who could, maybe twenty out of fifty contributors, came to Chapters Book Store in Washington DC for our first ever reading. This coincided – not unintentionally – with the annual general convention of the American Nurses Association. The evening was exciting, scary and thrilling. Scary because we were reading our own work and thrilling because we were hearing the words and work of other nurses. All of us facing the same direction, our voices so different and yet so deeply in tune with each another. There was an audience, listening, applauding and asking questions. One man spoke up, “Wow, this is amazing. Can’t wait for when you present this to the ANA”. We were all silent before Cortney, in her calmest most diplomatic way, (her speciality) replied, “Actually we won’t be at the convention. They don’t want us and won’t let us present the book there.” Among the audience were nurses who would be at the convention. We were all stunned, silenced and sobered that those nurses for whom we wrote did not deem our words necessary or supportive of their work.

As nurse writers we came together for that weekend forming a tight union of sorts, loosely knit, tendrils of thought, vision, each of us seeing and transforming through words, our patients in the wards, clinics and communities we serve. Since those early years we have continued to write, sending each other our books, reviewing and commenting for each other, hosting nurses writers on the radio and spoke of our work to audiences wherever we could.

Coming together was always a chancy affair but we get our moments. Two years ago The Medical University of North Carolina held its first “Narrative Bridge Conference”. Five of us, Jeanne Bryner, Cortney Davis, Veneta Masson, Judy Schaefer and myself, made it there for the long weekend;. We were billed as “The Nurse Poets” and that is what we have become. Through the years more books of poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and novels have been written and published and within the ‘about the author’ description the word “Nurse” always leads. This is who we are, this is where we speak from, whenever and wherever we can.

It was Lisa Kerr from the MUSC school of nursing who again called us together this year. Lisa wrote asking if we could come, not only to speak to the faculty and students of the nursing school but that there could be an opportunity to perform as The Nurse Poets in the annual Piccolo Spoleto Arts Festival at the Dock Street Theatre. New books had been published, among them, Jeanne Bryner’s poetry Smoke, Cortney Davis’ When the Nurse Becomes a Patient, which won an American Journal of Nursing Book Award for 2015 and my 2016 The Bell Lap Stories for Compassionate Nursing Care were all hot off the press and we were eager to share our work. I was ending a roll-out with The Bell Lap, coming down from New York and a launch at the National Arts Club with the great cartoonist, and tonight – host – Roz Chast whose book about the final years of her parent’s lives Can’t we Talk about Something More Pleasant, remains a best seller.

A little help with the night before prep.

A little help with the night before prep.

It was – is – fun to be on the other side of the microphone. This was a first for Roz who is more used to being questioned about her work, and almost a first for me, being more used to asking those questions. With her questions and comments, memories surprised me and in the quickness of the moment words did not always take the long route – through my brain – as they rushed from my heart to my mouth. Maybe it was not the smartest thing to recall ‘my first leg,’ after Roz’s question about my failed operating room experiences. And so we learn. Beloved friends were there and I was more than grateful to see nurses in the audience, plus a doctor or two. Paul Gross and Dianne Guernsey who co-edit Pulse Magazine “Voices from the Heart of Medicine” came in on the train, Cousin Tom rode the bus from Cap Cod and nurse colleague Gerry Colburn traveled in from New Hampshire.

Tony and Peter and MAM

A Hug from Tony and Peter After it is all over.

It was a great evening and gave me the needed boost and courage to fly down to Charleston and join the band – not yet a rock band – The Nurse Poets.

Four of us had made it and it was grand to be together. Jeanne had driven for two days from Ohio. Cortney flew from Connecticut, Veneta from Washington DC and I from London, via New York. At breakfast we celebrated with coffee and grits. We quickly shared our stories, families, the agonies of book promotions and knowing as all women of a certain age do, that we will continue to balance these lives until illness, infirmity or death claim us.

At noon, under Lisa’s guidance, we spoke at MUSC nursing school for more faculty than students but how eager they all were, how they knew the importance of story, the lives led before and beyond the illness of the patient. Then an afternoon break before being driven past the Emanuel Church where flowers are still laid out daily in remembrance of last years tragedy to an early supper of fine southern food. (Where oh where do I get the real recipe for Green Fried Tomatoes?)

Then we walked to the Dock Street Theater where the audience was already gathering for our evening performance. The theatre is nestled in a small courtyard, intimate and perfect for poetry readings. The seats filled quickly and chairs were added along-side the cloisters until there was standing room only. We sat, warm but not hot, under the evening sky. Our time was tight, and so were we. Introductions by Barbara, the organizer of the festival. then Lisa, organizer of us and then, following each other in alphabetical order, we were on. Each of us brought our full-to-overflowing hearts to the mics and poured out our words. Jeanne watching family, Cortney and Veneta their clinics, and I from the wards and communities before returning to nursing school with an excerpt from The Bell Lap.

Veneta Masson, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch, Jeanne Bryner

Veneta Masson, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch, Jeanne Bryner

The audience rose to applaud these words that came from our hearts and our memories. Why did they love us so? We were good 🙂 yes but was it just the words, or was it the knowledge that with these words they know we have seen them, as people before patients. We have marked and held them in our hearts and returned them to themselves, thus received and healed, if not cured. Giving this audience an understanding that as these words have come from the wards to them they may also return to the new young nurses of today.

Jeanne, Miriam from L.A., Venetta and Muriel

Jeanne, Miriam (The next generation), Veneta and Muriel enjoy the reception for The Nurse Poets.