Sunday 31 May 2020

My life becomes more surreal with every day

We have been on lockdown for a few days short of twelve weeks now. We are very fortunate: we have a house with a garden, good wifi, many books and (eventually) access to food delivery services. We have walked around the block but haven’t had to visit shops. 

I have “attended” webinars and had several zoom meetings, watched my great nephew’s barmitzvah on zoom, shared a zoom Passover Seder and had many FaceTime conversations as well as telephone conversations. It hasn’t been unpleasant, in fact quite restful as there is no time pressure and little stress.

We are not all in this together. I cannot compare my own very privileged situation with those working in front-line services which include not only the caring professions, but also the delivery people, people in supermarkets, who clear our rubbish and recycling – the list goes on. I am not in a tiny flat; I don’t have small children at home, I am not home schooling while trying to work from home – this list goes on as well.

That’s why it all feels a bit surreal – isolated from the world. Let alone what is happening in the UK, I have also watched what is happening in the USA in horror – both in the response to COVID-19 and now to the murder of a black man. 

At the beginning of the lock-down I decided that I would only do what I could do and shut out the rest.  I cannot go to the food bank that I normally support every week so I have donated money (and happily they have been inundated with donations of food). I have supported a few other charities as well.

I watch the news headlines and the daily broadcast from Downing Street – I don’t watch very much else. However, the situation in the USA is so shocking. I admire Trevor Noah, a South African of mixed race now living in the USA.  Read his story it is fascinating.

Here he shares his thoughts on the killing of George Floyd, the protests in Minneapolis, the dominos of racial injustice and police brutality, and how the contract between society and black Americans has been broken time and time again. The riots are awful and self-defeating to the rest of us – perhaps one can understand them better after reading this.

Friday 15 May 2020

That was then….

A friend sent through some “lockdown” jokes this morning – the situation has certainly opened up a very creative vein of humour! This was it.

It reminded me of when I was first married.  Apart from a two-day trip to Salisbury as I mentioned in my last blog, I had never left South Africa.  Our honeymoon was the sea voyage from Cape Town to Southampton, then travelling to London on the boat train to Waterloo. If you can imagine leaving sunny Cape Town and arriving in a grey cold wet London on a January day, it was daunting. This was before all the buildings had been cleaned and were still dark from the smog laden days of the 1950s.  

I grew up in a household with staff. Yes, I was a princess. I had never cooked a meal, washed a sheet or ironed a shirt. I learned to do all three in time!

What this photo reminded me of was the first time I abandoned hand washing everything in our flat (no central heating so damp stuff draped everywhere) and ventured to the launderette. I had no idea that you couldn’t use the same detergent in a washing machine that you used to hand wash. I loaded up with the Lux flakes and watched miserably while the foam poured out of the detergent tray and the top of the machine.  One woman was a bit sympathetic and helped me clean up. 

I learned to cook quite quickly because I like to eat and my first efforts were so disgusting that I reckoned that either I would learn to cook or I would have to go home.  This was a favourite South African recipe.  


1K minced beef or lamb or mixed         
2 onions, chopped
2 tab butter                                  
1 tab oil + for greasing
60 grams chopped almonds                  
110 g sultanas
1 teas mixed herbs
1 garlic clove crushed                           
juice half a lemon
1.5 tab curry powder                    
1 teas salt
1 tab wine vinegar                                 
1 tab sugar
grinding of black pepper                       
3 thick slices white bread
300 ml milk                                            
2 eggs lightly beaten

Heat the oven to 170C.  Grease a large deep pie dish with oil.  Melt the butter and oil and add the garlic and onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes or lightly browned.  Remove the onions and garlic to a large bowl.  Sprinkle the curry powder over the onions, add the almonds, sultanas, herbs, lemon juice, salt, sugar, vinegar, pepper and meat.  Mix well with a wooden spoon.  Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze it out (keep the milk) and mash and add to the meat with one beaten egg.  Put in the dish and press down with the back of a spoon.  Bake for about an hour until the meat begins to brown.  

Reduce the oven to 150C. If necessary, top up the milk from the bread to make 180ml.  Beat the other egg in the milk and pour over the meat. Bake until firm.

 PS One used curry powder in those days.  Today I would make my own mixture with garam masala, chilli etc.  Whatever works for you.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

A brief glimpse of summer, now and then.

Being in lockdown with the sun shining has been no hardship. We have a garden: it makes all the difference. My heart goes out to those in apartments who can’t get out. There is something healing about being in the open air.

While the weather was so warm I enjoyed the luxury of sitting in the garden reading: nothing to do and nowhere to go.  We live in suburbia so there isn’t too much noise most of the time but it did strike me that the birds were incredibly loud and very loquacious.  

View from the grass….

The sky was also bluer than usual and there was another absence of sound.  There were few aeroplanes going overhead – perhaps one an hour?  We are not under the flight path but it is very common to see and hear the noise and to see the vapour trails. 

It reminded me of growing up in Johannesburg in the 1950s.  I would lie on the grass, hoping the vicious red ants wouldn’t get me, and look up at the sky.  It was as blue then as it is now.  The occasional (propeller) plane would fly over – it was not a very common sight so something to look at. 

I also remember going with my grandparents to my uncle’s engagement party in Salisbury, Rhodesia.  My parents took us to the airport and then waited to see the plane leave – as one did.  It was one of the newer jets and they were stunned that we were in Salisbury at the same time that they arrived home.

When we went on holiday we usually drove and sometimes took the train – I wonder if we are headed back in that direction again?  Of course it wasn’t just a “train” it was the famous Blue Train, which went from Johannesburg to Cape Town, taking about 26 hours.  The modern Blue Train has been featured in many documentaries but in those days it was still bunk beds, no showers etc.  But the meals were “silver service” and for part of the trip the views were spectacular.  

Muizenberg was a very fashionable resort near Cape Town from the nineteenth century on. Sir Herbert Baker, a British architect who designed the Union Buildings in Pretoria and Government buildings in Delhi, designed a number of the grand homes. It was a very popular resort with the Jewish community who would go there in the summer, as did we. There were three apartments, across the road from the beach, and the same three families rented the same ones every year. Our cooks and nannies went ahead with all the linen to open up the apartments before we all got there. 

There are many stories I could tell about all of that, but for today I remember fiercely resenting the fact that all the children had to go back at lunchtime to rest for two hours.  This was in the days of polio epidemics and that was the only precaution one could take. The anti vaccine brigade have no idea how awful it was. 

Roll on a COVID-19 vaccine.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Health Visiting and Florence Nightingale

Say the name Florence Nightingale and most people think of the Lady of the Lamp and the Crimean War.  She was much more than that.  

2020 is the 200th anniversary of her birth.  I am not going to go into details of her life here – there are many websites where you can see all the information you need.

Her main contributions, which continued long after Crimea, was in the organization of nursing training, in hospital planning, public and military health, and in effective collection of medical statistics.

I was very privileged to be interviewed for my post as Chair of the Trustees of the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) by Ros Bryar Professor Emerita Community and Primary Care Nursing, City, University of London, who was a founding member and is an Honorary Fellow of the iHV.

Please read this excellent paper by Ros to celebrate International Nurses Day.  

I would like to add that it is also a very worrying time for health visitors and the families they serve. As they are all highly trained nurses some were “repurposed” by the local authorities.  While one can understand the urgency of the current crisis many of them were already struggling under huge caseloads and looking after some of our most vulnerable families.  

I absolutely applaud our staff for a fantastic effort to support our many members to help them to continue and ensure best practice and the most up to date accurate information is disseminated.  I will shine a light for them tonight!

Friday 8 May 2020

75 years today since peace in Europe was declared

Of course on the side of the Allies it was Victory in Europe – or VE Day as it is now referred to.  I wasn’t born (just) yet and my parents were in Johannesburg, South Africa.  There was no conscription in South Africa – in fact it was touch and go whether the Government would stay neutral, support Germany or Britain and the Allies. Although South Africa was constitutionally obliged to stand with Britain there was strong opposition from the anti-British, Nationalist pro-Afrikaner party who were in support of Germany.

When Jan Smuts became Prime Minister he immediately joined with the Allies and declared war against Germany. However, John Vorster and other members of the pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag strongly objected to this and actively sabotaged the Smuts Government.  Smuts jailed its leaders, including Vorster for the duration of the war. I mentioned Vorster in particular because he was Prime Minister 1966 – 78 and subsequently President!!

South Africa may seem a long way from the European conflict but it was important to protect the Cape sea route and further, bordering South Africa, what is now Namibia was a German protectorate. 

Although there was no conscription thousands volunteered including my father who was a surgeon. He served on the British hospital ship, AMRA, a converted troop ship: the SA government had taken over the running expenses of this ship and it was present at several of the landings in the Mediterranean. Over 300,000 volunteered, from all races. 

Here is a photo of my father.

South Africa had its own version of the Home Guard and here is my late father-in-law with Number One Husband in Upington, a town in the Northern Cape, between the Orange River and the Kalahari Desert. 

Friday 1 May 2020

When the going gets tough the tough get cooking

I haven’t reached the point of making my own sourdough starter (we don’t eat much bread) but I am spending much time in the kitchen. Part of it is really therapeutic and part is grindingly tedious.

We had a few weeks of fabulous spring weather, took out some summer t-shirts and put away the sweaters and of course, the weather changed and it is now cold, windy and very wet. Food therapy is required.

This is the first soup I ever made. The original recipe came from the late great Robert Carrier – his Great Dishes of the World was my first recipe book. It assumed no knowledge or skill and the recipes were straightforward and delicious – before the days of Delia.  I also ate in his restaurant in Islington.  This is a modification of that recipe which called for many small onions…..

Onion Soup

Serves 6 

4 large Spanish onions                 
1 large clove garlic
4 tab butter                                   
6 rounds toasted French bread
1800 ml beef stock*             
½ teas mace
180 ml cognac                      
mixture of grated Parmesan and Gruyere

Peel and slice the onions thinly.  Heat butter with a little sugar and cook onions gently over a low heat, stirring until golden brown.  Add the beef stock and mace gradually, stirring all the time until the soup begins to boil.  Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about an hour.  Just before serving add the cognac, salt and pepper and serve with toasted bread heaped with grated cheese. You can use any Swiss style cheese which will provide the lovely stringy pieces of cheese with the Parmesan adding the more robust umami.

*Time was when I made my own stock – I still make chicken stock/soup but not beef.  You can use tinned consomm√© if you like a strong taste, the purists just use water but my favourite cheat is a chicken stock cube and an Oxo cube.