Sunday, September 30, 2007

You're Never Alone With A Head Full Of Relatives....

You might think after umpteen years of investigating my internal world, I would be adept at managing the ancestral voices in my head. You would be wrong.

Rooting through the fridge today, I came across a paper bag of slimy mushrooms, the unsuspecting victims of my current domestic lethargy. I was just about to put them in the compost pile when I heard my long-deceased grandma’s voice in my head.

“Eeh bah gum!” she said. “Dost tha ‘ave money to burn?” (She really, really did used to say “eeh bah gum!”, arms thrust under her ample bosom and mouth set firmly, waiting for a suitable reply.)

I don’t have money to burn, nor do I have a mint in the garage or a money tree in the garden.

Chop onion and garlic very finely and sweat in a generous knob of butter.

My son is very fond of home made mushroom soup. I took him to a friend’s for lunch when he was three. “Mushroom soup? “ she asked.

“Mmmm, my favourite” he replied.

She placed a bowl in front of him and he took a taste.

“Is this from a can?” he asked innocently, “because mummy makes her own, and I really only like it home-made.”

“You,” she responded to me, accusingly, “are making a rod for your own back.”

I fear she was right.

Sort through bag of mushrooms, composting the worst and peeling and finely chopping the rest. 20 minutes. Pour large glass of gin and tonic.

My grandma was born in 1912, leaving school at the age of 14 to work in the Yorkshire cotton mills. Life was hard, and food was not for throwing away, even if it was growing its own life forms. She married young and had children straight away, family planning in those days consisting mostly of crossing fingers – and legs – and slapping the husband hard when he came home from the pub. She had an amazing capacity for conjuring up a family meal out of bugger all, and although it was comprised mostly of flour, lard, water and those bits of the animal that the posh folk wouldn’t eat, I remember her as a wonderful cook. I developed a fondness for stodgy dumplings and neck end of lamb as a small child, although I would caffle at the sheeps’ brains, pigs’ trotters and tripe that she would serve up for my granddad.

Sweat mushrooms for as long as it takes to get rid of the slime. About another 20 minutes. Pour another large glass of gin and tonic.

The Mother has the same skill, and would produce daily meals for our family of seven from a bag of flour, a block of lard, a couple of bendy carrots and whatever the butcher was throwing out. The Mother retains her fondness for lard, and will buy some in especially when Sister #2 visits from Italy.

“I’ve bought you some lard!” she announces, the minute my sister arrives on her annual visit.

“Fabulous” responds Sister, “because Italian extra virgin olive oil really is so disappointing when you have been brought up on beef dripping.”

Stir in a suitable amount of flour, and cook it out for at least 3 minutes, stirring continuously.

The Sister leaves after a month, half a stone heavier and about to birth a 9lb meat and potato pie.

Add enough vegetable stock until desired consistency is achieved. Thicken slowly…remember just in time that under no circumstance must it boil. Approximately 3 minutes.

I have successfully abandoned my maternal line’s attachment to carbohydrates and cheap cuts of meat. I still can’t throw food away though.

Add some black pepper, a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and a dash of single cream. Ready to serve.

So I appear to have spent the best part of an hour making a single bowl of mushroom soup. One, measly, single bowl of soup. Granted, I have simultaneously marinated a chicken in garlic, lemon, coriander and chilli and prepared some vegetables for roasting, but nonetheless the voices in my head have convinced me that an hour’s worth of soup-making is morally superior to composting a bag of slimy mushrooms.

If someone could persuade me that feeding my son slimy mushrooms is damaging to his health, I would be most grateful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Normal Service Is Resumed.....

Several weeks ago, the lovely Anticant sent me a list of questions. Then life took over. I am hopeful that life is largely back to some semblance of normality and that blogging duties are now resumed as normal. But I'm not promising. So, Anticant, here are your insightful questions and my considered answers........

Why do you call yourself Ms Melancholy? You don't seem like a gloomy person to me?

I like the post-modern notion that there is no such thing as a 'real' self, but that we are merely a collection of multiple selves: different personal narratives that describe significant ways of experiencing ourselves in the world. Some of my earliest memories are of an acute awareness of the existential void. Meaninglessness coupled with the tyranny of awareness was the bread and butter of my childhood. Clearly I didn't use that particular discourse as a four year old, but the sentiment was there nonetheless.

Having spent many years in therapy trying to 'cure' this melancholic aspect, I eventually came to the realisation that this was neither possible nor desirable. Melancholy is an integral part of my personal narrative, and accepting this has brought me a great richness of experience. I have other, equally valid, selves which are happy and jolly and take great pleasure in being in the world. Ms Jolly Happy never appealed to me though. My favourite piece of music is Mozart's requiem. It could only have been Ms Melancholy.

Did you always want to be a therapist, or did it happen by chance?

Those of us for whom therapy is a vocation, rather than a money-job, would probably agree quietly amongst ourselves that we began our training in pre-school as we tried in vain to heal our unhappy families. For some reason the discipline of psychology tends to pathologise us for this, assuming, presumably, that only the misery-free can act as healer to others. I completely disagree. My personal journey has given me the ability to attune to others' emotional states, and, provided I keep the needs of the client at the core of the process, I think this is A Good Thing.

Like the good, working-class, moderately achieving, sort-of-aspirational, political young woman that I was, I muddled a path through community work, social care and mental health work before finally embarking on my therapy training when I was 29. I have never regretted it, although a little more financial recompense for my labours wouldn't go amiss.

What personal satisfaction strokes do you get from your work?

I think it is a given that being an integral part of someone's personal growth - their 'recovery' if you will - is profoundly satisfying. There is an unexpected benefit to working at a deep emotional level with an individual, however. Sitting quietly, in the moment, simply attuning to and attending to another's emotional state becomes, surprisingly, a transformational experience for the therapist. Neuro psychologists refer to this state as 'limbic resonance' - the experience of vibrating at the same emotional frequency as another being. It has a profound regulatory affect on the client - both at an emotional and physiological level - and ideally they learn to take the experience into other significant relationships. An unexpected benefit for the therapist is that exactly the same thing happens for them. It's a two-way street: that's how relationships work. Shhh, don't tell anyone though. That's our secret.

What do you like most about where you live?

No surprise here.....easy access to the most wonderful walking country in the Yorkshire Dales. The melancholic part of me loves the wild, barren moorland and the jolly-happy me loves the green, fertile valleys of the Dales. I have a favourite spot: watching the sun go down behind Pen-Y-Ghent, high up on a moorland road listening to the curlews and lapwings. Sheer bliss. Having spent the best part of 20 years living in cities it is an absolute joy to live in this part of the world again. (Immensely difficult to find mung bean noodles, though.)

If you had 3 months sabbatical, with enough money and the freedom to do whatever you wanted, what would you choose?

I love Latin cultures - that fab mix of politics, passion and manana - so it would have to be 3 months in Costa Rica. El Coco in Guanacaste province is a rinky dink little seaside town, filled with partying Ticos at the weekend and sleepy as a graveyard during the week. You can eat barbecued fish at a shack on the beach and listen to the howler monkeys in the nearby jungle, whilst watching the world go by at any pace you want. I would read all of the stuff that is piled on my 'to read' shelf, and probably try my hand at writing. But mostly I would just potter and swing in a hammock, watching iguanas and humming birds and smile knowingly at the existential void.

And if anyone wants to be interviewed, please email me and I will attempt to come up with a list of probing questions for you.....