The Best of Berries (by )


That awkward moment when someone takes a photo of you picking berries along the foot path to town and you realise OMG! I've turned into a hippy! I'm not even just picking black berries but ones people give you funny looks over as they think they are poisonous (which they are if you don't cook them!). My top was not quiet tie dye but near enough and my baby had no trousers on whilst my eldest skipped about in a hand painted t-shirt - yep I'm one of those mums - also urban blackberrying - BEWARE THE CYCLISTS!

This was a post I put on facebook and some interesting things came out of it - for a start I had to qualify that I meant the Rowan berries as toxic unless cooked. But they are not very toxic as in it is something that builds up over time and can sometimes lead to liver (or maybe kidney failure) from what I've read. Anyway the chemical is broken down by temperature extremes so that is freezing and cooking. Which is why the old country lore is that you don't pick until after the first frost.

And the classic argument over elder berries and weather they are poisonous. Main issue being that ripe berries aren't but they have to be really ripe and that they just aren't very toxic again though the leaves and stems are. Again cooking brakes down the cyanid within (it is also in apple pips and various other things) - some people have developed a tolerance from eating them as a kid etc...

Then I was asked what I thought of berrying along busy roads - which is an interesting one - this was my response.

Ok when the petrol was all lead based it was a big problem but now it should be ok - some of the ones (berries I'd picked) today were from road sides - it helps that my friends did the soil surveys a few years back - only thing I would say is that they shouldn't be eaten directly from the bush still if from heavy roadsides as there will be dust on them but a quick wash should sort that out. (However be aware this is my opinion and I haven't seen any data for years).

Also unless you have a map of the UK with metal ions on it etc... you are going to struggle to know what is safe where anyway - there are areas of Wales for a start where heavy metals weather out of the soil and plants there should be avoided for human consumption - add in illegal human refuse dumps and so on... Somewhere may seem nice a pleasant - even have farm crops growing on it and really not be good at all.

But the risks are minimal anyway as it is build up that's the issue wand everyone eats from a wide variety of places these days.

Having said all this people swapped recipes for things, and then I found out that haw stones contain cyanid - but again the cooking will brake this down - but this lead me to think about the confusing wealth of info out there on edible plants etc... I have not found an actually study of this specifically to tell the public the exact risks of things - for a start a table of how much cyanid is on average in various foods and compares say free food to stuff like apples and almonds etc... Also people seem confused by cyanid groups verses cyanid itself which react very differently - if we cut everything with the groups in out of our diet we would quickly starve (if I remember my A'level chemistry correctly).

Also I have been freely dispensing information about blackberries to people who enquire whilst I am out and about and often on of a group will be really taken with the idea whilst another will have apoplexy about them being dirty etc... There is very little in the way of public knowledge about this stuff - have any tests actually ever been done I wonder? How dirty is a blackberry straight from the briar and what do the soil test etc... mean around the road sides.

In the wake of Jamie Olivers comments about food and poverty and people being silly for not knowing - it would make sense to have an education program, healthy eating reduces costs to the NHS and benefits etc... it is a long term thing. People are scared of food they haven't grown up with or don't want to squander tight budgets on culinary experiments that might go wrong or really just can't get the fresh fruit and veg from the shops but also do not feel safe or confident in going out and finding their own in case they poison their family - these are reasonable fears and so easily addressed.

Jamie has always had a big head but he's also got a big heart and has done a hell of a lot with the school dinners and stuff (I think he just needs to stop and have a little think again over what he is saying and step into others shoes for a bit), but you know he really shouldn't have too - we should have a Ministry of Food anyway :/

So if I was in charge what would I do?

Well I would have all school children out on wilderness trails learning identification of edibles or more importantly poisonous plants. I would have fruit trees planted along verges and in parks - I would get tests done to see exactly what impact traffic fumes etc have and if the levels of harmful things are too high I would look at traffic regulations and find ways to reduce those. I would have cook-ups at community centres and places so that people can come along and learn to cook for free etc...

I would have a government leaflet/website that told you all about were it legal to forage (in clear terms) and the risks set out (this is the risks not just the hazards) but I would include the same for processed and main stream farming foods. I would initiate more allotments and community orchards and let the public know the things exist!

Schools are starting to grow veg and stuff thanks to the super markets and there has been an upsurge in general homestedding activities but they are being seen as a very middle class thing as they tend to be the ones with the time and spare resources to plough into learning about these things. I am finding it very frustrating trying to get hold of an allotment and to be frank most of our shopping bill is fruit and veg and that is just wrong! It is stupid that processed foods cost more than fruit and veg fresh from the field/vine.

As one of my friends posted on FB recently - growing your own food has become a middle class want rather than a working class need - but the problem there is that it is really still a need for EVERYBODY regardless of income or age. I've been reading up on things like depression, stress, learning difficulties etc... all being helped by... well nature - yes I know it all sounds hippy but these are medical studies etc... I think it would need a lot of work though - most of those being pushed into poverty at the moment are households were both parents work (I know surprising isn't it?) and therefore they are not going to want the extra stress/time restraint on already tiring lives - but maybe allotment sharing could come into place or something like that.

You also need to make sure people know they can join these things and that they are not exclusive schemes - I remember some of the allotments near were we grew up were very particular about who they let on to the site etc...

I hear that high end offices in London are now installing gardens on their roofs were people can grown veg and even keep bees. I have hope and I am enjoying my blackberrying - I've received one jar of jam from a friend and the neighbour nabbed me yesterday to shyly ask if I would like some of her 'bramble' jam once it was cool.

Now She is 8 (by )

Jean's actual birthday is hidden at the end of the summer holidays what with her being born on the August bank holiday - so since she has been at school we tend to do her party in September once she is firmly back at school other wise people forget!

So this year for her actual birthday we went to the Library and had a picnic and went hedgerowing.

Apple muncher

We bought the picnic from the Co-Op in order to get more tokens for Mary's Banana toy before the offer ends and then sat and eat it on the grassy bit by the library (think it belongs to the community centre).

Sisters at a birthday picnic outside the library

Me and Mary sang happy birthday though I have to confess Mary continued with 'clack sheep star!' so not the best rendition ever and she kept saying it was her birthday and 'NO Jean! Mine!' etc...

We went into the library for the putting back of 10 books and the getting out of 14 (just for Jean) and settled in for the creepy crafts that go with the reading challenge they had over the summer known as Creepy House.

Jean and Mary making things as part of the creepy house reading challenge

Jean finished the reading challenge weeks ago! We have not been able to keep up with her book habit at all - we have tried to encourage more factual books but she's not interested at the moment - she says she wants to be a writer. I pointed out you need to read factual books for that as well which made her pause and she asked me what factual books I was reading and we got talking about tudors and bees and things and she made me do yoda impressions all the way to the library and she mentioned the fact that Yoda and the seer woman in The Dark Crystal sound the same etc... It was a fun outing.

Both of them made bats and got their photos taken for the newspaper - not this photo though that is one of mine.

Jean and Mary with their bats at Hucclecote Library

And she has also decided she wants to do blogging so here is her first book review over on Orange Monster (that being the kids book and illustration blog so it seemed fitting).

Click here to read it 🙂

Oh and she is getting crushes - she babbled at the 16 yr old at the library about languages for ages - confusing him with Lojban 😉

A Day of Pain and Gain (by )


I woke up early yesterday as in 4:30 in the morning, it was tipping it down and I was in pain, arthritis/joint pain and I had to take pain killers, so I got up and did some writing. Dawn was miserable and grey and you could hardly tell it was daylight if I am honest and I was miserable. I had been planing on walking to the library with the girls.

However, the baby slept in and Jeany was happy to play mathletics so I went back to bed with more drugs and awoke a couple of hours later feeling just a bit achy and sore and the rain had stopped. I got dressed and retrieved an awake but happy MAry from her cott and set the girls up with a film whilst I awaited the boiler service men. They came, had tea, chatted with me about bands from the 80's , said the boiler was fine and went. I packed water and nappy changing stuff for Mary etc... and off we went to the library - walking - I managed this last week with Alaric but knew it was the edge of my endurance.

My pelvis was creaking by the time I got there but I managed it and the girls sat there happily reading the books . for about 45 minutes - all told we were there for about an hour. Jeany has finished the summer reading challenge as of last week but Mary has been getting her little passport stamped and it was her turn to get a certificate. I am hoping to take her to the Tuesday rhyme time there but it is quiet a walk for me still - it took me about an hour to walk each way though I do go rather slowly.

We left ladened with books and Jean navigated us home, I then remembered that I had planned for us to blackberry on the way home as I'd noticed some were looking ripe on the way to the library last week but I had completely forgotten and we had no tubs or bags or anything on us 🙁

Then Jeany had an idea and we drank the water from her water bottle and Mary's beaker and filled those up with them 🙂

It worked really well and there were soooooo many berries! I quiet want to make a black berry wine this year so need loads of the things!

Jean has requested crumble and Mary cake so we shall see, especially as several people have been asking about the hedgerow jam again as well and there are enough elderberries and rose hips and things along the way that I think it should be possible.

It was a hard day physically but I feel I achieved alot and I have at the very least I have gained some blackberries. I am sore today, but not too bad.

Oggy, Babbit and Bubba (by )

I made this story up for the girls on the way down to London at the beginning of the summer - it is based on a typical day (sort of if you take out all the broken washing machines and cats throwing up and that sort of thing).

Oggy, Babbit and Bubba were Mary's special friends, they went everywhere with her. In the morning Mary would wake up hugging Oggy, Babbit or bubba and would then tell them about her dreams.

When daddy came into the room she would stretch up her arms and called 'Daddy! Out! Out!' and once in his arms having a nice morning cuddle she would call, 'Babbit! Oggy! Bubba!' and Daddy would scoop them out of the cot and Mary would cuddle them all the way down the stairs.

As Daddy cleaned Mary's bottom making it shiny and new, Mummy would make biks! for breakfast which were Mary's favourite but Mary was always cross about this and would shout for 'Oggy, Babbit and Bubba' until Daddy picked her up and popped her into the high chair.

There she would see her biks and demand ilk and Mummy would pour on Mary's special milk and crush the biks up. Mary wanted Oggy, Babbit and Bubba but was too hungry to argue and would concentrate on eating up all her biks so she could ask for more.

After biks, Mary would help Jean get ready for school by showing her big sister how to brush teeth - this mainly involved eating the tooth paste off of the brush and hiding it behind the loo when no one was looking and screaming when the flannel and soap came anywhere near her.

Then it was getting dressed time, Jeany would put on her soaks and Mary would pull on hers, then Jeany would pull on her trousers and Mary would do the same, then the shirt and cardigan. Mary would bring Jeany her shoes crying 'shuoosh shush' and put her sparkly pink ones on her own feet even though Mummy said they were only for parties.

Then Mary would hug Babbit whilst queuing to have her hair brushed, the brushing of Mary's hair was really important, not because she had much hair as she didn't but because her big sister had her hair brushed.

Then Jeany and Daddy would put their coats on and Mummy would tell Mary 'NO!' to putting hers on and Mary would cry but then Mummy would cuddle her and they would wave bye bye to Daddy and Jeany.


'Daddy's gone to work,'


'Jeany's gone to school'


'Mary play with Doggy why mummy does some work then we go to the park?'

Mary would nod and set up Oggy and Babbit and sometimes Bubba for their special breakfast of play dough. She wasn't allowed play dough in the living room as there was carpet, nor in the library where mummy was working but she was allowed it in the kitchen but there was no Mummy in the kitchen. After about half an hour Mummy would shout at Mary for treading play dough into the carpet and Mary would cry and Mummy would hug her and they would have no nappy time when Mary would have to remember to use bear chair the potty and Bubba would help by sitting on her own little potty.

Mummy would then redress Mary with clean cloths that were in the right way and not back to front. And Mary would get the pushchair and climb into it. Babbit would be held tight as they went for a walk to the park. At the park Babbit tended to stay in the push chair though did get a bit muddy when Mary decided he had to go down the slide with her.

Mary had a great time on the slide and the swings and the snail bouncer and the green bonging thing. Then it was time to go home and Babbit was put in the washing machine whilst Mary and Oggy sat in the garden with Mummy for a picnic. Mary waved bye-bye to Babbit and explained, 'clean!' to him as mummy shut the washing machine door.

Mary cried and cried as mummy carried her up the stairs, it was nap time but there was such a lot of exciting things to do and see and learn. But then her eye lids were so heavy and mummy gave her milky and tucked her in under ducky blanky and she had Oggy and Bubba and Mummy explained Babbit would be drying when she woke up and then Mummy sang a lullaby and Mary sighed gently into sleep (after a lot of wailing and shouts of NO! NO! NO!).

When Jeany came home from school she zoomed straight up the stairs to wake Mary up, Mary cried, 'Cuggle!' and Jeany cuddled her out of the cott and they played in the bedroom dressing up as solders and pirates and princesses and space men and lizards and cats. Then Mummy called them and they played out side in the paddling pool, Mummy changed Mary into her mermaid swimming costume and Babbit was pegged to the washing line by his ears, Mary reached up her little hands to try and reach him but was far too small.

'No lovely he's not dry yet,' Mummy said and then Jeany helped the sad Mary into the pool where they played with dollies and boats and splashed each other until they giggled and giggled and it was time for an ice lolly. Mary got very sticky and juicy from the lolly but Mummy didn't mind as she went back to play in the pool.

After a while she came and sang inkle inkle ittle star to Mummy and Mummy and Jean and Oggy sang lots of songs together, incy wincy spider, baa baa black sheep, Mary had a little Babbit and the Little Chicken Song.

When Daddy came home he removed Babbit from the line and gave it too Mary who put Oggy, Babbit and Bubba in the bucket seat of her chu chu train and scooted around the garden. Daddy made them Mary's favourite dinner of pasta and peas for dinner with a special treat of Jelly for desert.

Then it was bath time and tooth brushing and snuggling on the settee for film time. Mary was sat on Daddy's lap with Babbit and Oggy and stared wide eyed at the adventures on the screen. And then it was sleepy tired time and Daddy carried Mary up the stairs and Mummy made up a story about Babbit and Oggy and Mary and Bubba.

Then Mary tucked Bubba in and sung her a lullaby and Jeany tucked Mary in and Daddy tucked Jeany in and read them a Mary book and then a chapter of a Jean book and then said nun night and left.

Jeany read to Mary from her book and climbed out of bed to make sure Mary had Babbit and Oggy and re-tucked her in and then Mary was snuggled down and cuddling her friends. Eventually after a few 'oh Mary's' and 'Dean! Dean!' Mary and Jean and Babbit and Oggy and Bubba and Bed Bear and Panda (who was Jean's) were all snoring softly and Daddy quietly turned the light off and removed any books in danger of being drooled on. And with that the moon light and stairs twinkling in from the window and Mary dreamed of Babbit and Oggy and Bubba.

Creativiti Tea – Summer (by )

This weekend we hosted the second ever Creativiti Tea which was quiet frankly epic - though the actual event was on the Sunday the first person arrived Friday evening all the way from London! Two more arrived on Saturday when the BBQ ended up being cooked under the grill whilst Alaric did various bits of his programming projects and began work once again on the furnace.

Creativi Tea

We played board games and Jeany got an early birthday present which was Dr Who Monopoly!

The Games Master

Girls playing Dr Who Monopoly

I baked cakes (they are never as good as Al's ones and I was a bit out of practice with the icing!) - including mini vegan banana bread with red currents (these are from my parents garden I planted a red current stem when I was 13 and now they have taken over the garden - I am attempting to find more things to do with them than make jelly!).

Cakes! Creativi Tea

rose cakes for Creativi Tea

mini vegan banana bread

Then at 10 am Creativi Tea began properly. Mainly we were writing - I personally wrote about 3000 words, we had people working on novels, poetry, short stories and more!

Writing at Creativi Tea

In the kitchen glueing and sticking were a foot.

sticking on rhine stones at creativi tea

Along with bead work - ankle bracelets seemed to be the thing.

Beading at Summer Creativi Tea

Then there was sewing - mainly cat nip mice from old cloths - the cat nip was home grown by our friend Charlee.

cat nip mouse made by Jean and Charlee

Tom puss at least loves the cat nip mouse!

Tom puss finding a cat nip mouse

And I mean he really loves it!

I loves my cat nip mouse

A teddy bear was cut out and partially sewn together and the beginnings of a ball were started.

upcycled teddy bear cut out and ready to sew

Music crept in with the odd bit of laptop composing and the Hammond Organ getting switched on 🙂

music at Creativi Tea

I sold £15 worth of books for Shelter (the books will be there until Christmas if anybody else is interested).

Book sale for Shelter

And we showed Charlee how to make sushi.

Sushi making at Creativi Tea

We geeked and created and played games and laughed and drank lots of tea 🙂 I am looking forward to organising the Autumn Creativi Tea which will also be my book launch! And also my friend Claire gave me the most beautiful roses 🙂


Oh and Jean's butterfly garden produced a butterfly 🙂

Tortoise Shell Butterfly

We had lots of fun and Alaric seems to have gotten one of our friends into learning Lojban - which had us all thinking about actual meanings of our names - turns out there is an older meaning for Sarah than princess - essence or core, pure centre... etc. I love finding out new things 🙂

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