Solaris

I have a weakness for the way words sound. Rissole, curmudgeon, impecunious, ravioli are clearly all in the 'good' camp. There must be a prog rock band out there called Bolus. If not, start one today. I also spend too much time working at home, listening to music or the radio as I write or work outside. The combination is a powerful one.

A while ago I wrote about a dream I had with Gordon Brown in it, and I mentioned that whenever I heard his name I silently sang '...texture like sun...' after it. I have a compulsion to say 'you and I know' should someone say 'chicken tikka'. I am in good company: the great Danny Baker has a similar weakness - when he hears the great Zidane mentioned, his internal ipod is singing '...you're rocking the boat'; should a commentator mention Zat Knight he'll mouth the words '..is a long way from home'. I mention this because I have finally decided on the new variety of grape vine for the vineyard.



Those more observant amongst you will remember I have been pondering whether to drop a variety - Sauvignon blanc - as it seems to be struggling to get established. Well, I have. I've gone for a lovely variety called Solaris. It's natural resistance to many of the tediums that might befall a vine make it very suited to organic growing - it's produces gorgeous fruity grapes that can be picked early to make a drier wine or taken late to add fruit and warmth to other drier varieties, or even make into it's own dessert wine. We planted them all last week - all 500 of them.

Sadly my idle brain finds itself singing this every time Solaris is mentioned. I think, subconsciously, it may have been part of the decision making process. It looks like a nice word too - a little science fictiony, although that maybe something to do with its similarity with 'Polaris'. Or not. You will stop me if I'm getting dull won't you.

Sheila Take a Bow

It's been a very pleasant few days. Shortlisted for Food Book of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers, Sheila Dillon came here to record the Food Programme, I had some very good fudge at the Kentisbeare Fair, Liverpool have just won 5-2, and my book is (as I write) 17th bestselling book on Amazon.

It's not all been fabulous: many more of the apricots have succumbed to canker; I'm back to working 18 hour days for a bit and I had electrical shocks in my hand and arm today in an attempt to diagnose what's going on with my hand.



The appointment with electrical shocks that took me to the hospital for 8.30 today was supposed to tell the specialist how my nerves were reacting to impulses. The specialist, a nice man, smelled of yesterday's garlic. Wires placed around each finger in turn and a pad throwing out pulses along each nerve in my arm in turn. The sensation is a peculiar one - not painful as such, but similar to having the end of each finger hit with a heavyish hammer and being hit on the knee reflex at the same time. In the annoying-making stakes it's up there with stubbing your toe, and as such I found myself looking around for someone to get crabby with. It didn't seem appropriate to admonish the nice garlicky specialist, lot least because it was his hand on the dial of the pulsing machine. The appointment finished off with needles in my forearm and thumb muscles, a current sent down each. I confess to feeling a little dischuffed after 30 minutes of it.

A month ago, after four months of weakness in my right hand (settle down at the back) I had an appointment with a specialist. He told me he suspected Parsonage Turner Syndrome. A syndrome: what could be worse. I imagined a series of horrendous futures - extreme, unremitting randiness coupled with the inability to achieve the necessary tumescence; the galloping compulsion to stand on upturned plugs; a fondness for Radio 4 comedy*. He quickly followed up by telling me that Parsonage Turner Syndrome was the old name for it. He should refer to it as brachial neuritis. I wanted to ask if I'd make it til the end of the Bank Holiday weekend.




I had, apparently, the classic symptoms - huge sudden, inexplicable pain in the back, followed by some loss of motor function in the arm. Each of us has four major junction boxes in our back, two high up on the shoulder blades and two lower down. My right shoulder blade junction box was the problem - it had become inflamed. This occurs seemingly randomly, although often after a virus, and is apparently sometimes caused by the immune system taking it out on the brachial plexus, the Clapham Junction for the arm. After two weeks of pretty special pain, my shoulder felt better but I noticed my hand was weak. On a wet day in London I realised how I'd been compensating for something quite serious over the previous weeks when I couldn't force my fingers into my pocket to get some change out - they were just folding up at the top of my pocket, as if made of plasticine. I saw the doctor. He tried a few tests - I couldn't hold an envelope between the side of my thumb and my first finger, it just fell out. Hence the specialist. He told me there was no cure but neither would it get worse. It would right itself in any time between a month and two years. I write and I grow stuff, so having my leading hand severely weakened isn't convenient. It's weakening effect was weirdly selective on the muscles and nerves - I could still dig a hole but not open a packet of crisps. And I do love crisps. He booked me up for today's electric treatment and told me to go home and look it up on the internet. It confirmed what he'd said, although the last sentence on the entry on wikipedia didn't cheer me much: 'recovery is occasionally complete'.

The specialist today sent me on my way with promises of a report confirming or otherwise the diagnosis.



Four and a half years ago Radio 4s Food Programme came here to talk about the idea for Otter Farm. It was only a year and a bit old and lots of disparate ideas were justing starting to come together. Last week the Food Programme came back, this time with Sheila Dillon presenting.

I know everyone is supposed to get giddy about TV, but once you've done a bit you realise how very dull TV usually is. I'm sure doing your own series can be brilliantly entertaining, following ideas around that you love etc, but when it's somebody else's thing it's mostly waiting about and finding out how to say what you've just said in half the time after you've just said it long to the camera. Radio is different. I'm not sure why but it is. And, for me, the Food Programme is as special as it gets.



For 32 years the Food Programme has been waking us up to what goes in to our food and the stories behind it. I think it's an unrivalled influence, encouraging us to eat and produce better food. Derek Cooper led it originally, and now Sheila Dillon, someone I admire hugely. She not only knows and loves her stuff, she's the perfect interviewer - embellishing, punctuating and probing rather than cutting across, diverting or inhibiting. As a friend observed, she's so good she knows when to shut up. Sadly I don't - I suspect the editor earned their money turning our day into 30 minutes of radio.

If you missed it, you can download the podcast here (and keep as long as you like) or listen again here.

The programme has had a great reception, so thank you, Sheila. It has also nudged A Taste of the Unexpected high into the Amazon charts, so I'm suitably chuffed.

After the appointment, I wandered about searching for the way out of the hospital and looked up for some direction. I recognised the 'Cardiology' sign, stopped and looked right...straight at the door to the room where 13 years earlier my dad had lain, post-heart attack. One of those time-stood-still moments. I plunged my hands in my coat pockets and came across the last piece of fudge from the fair yesterday. And it's particularly good fudge. Fuck the apricots, the long days and the iffy hand - it felt good to be on two feet, vertical.



Sheila has also blogged about her visit here.

For those interested: the pics are of part of the medlar orchard, a corner of the perennial allotment, a Japanese pepper thinking about flowering, and another corner of the perennial allotment.


* I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue excepted.

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D