Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Meadowsweet: Snippets of Interesting Things, Part 4



Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)


Meadowsweet is famous.  But we’ll get to that in a mo.  You’ll have seen this one about, its both prolific and beautiful, a lovely sight: frothy smallish  offwhite/cream coloured flowers, smelling of marzipan and tasting gently of almond according to James Wong, herbalist, ethno-botanist and author of the catchily titled Grow Your Own Drugs (2009), and of cucumber according to Jeff Cox and Marie Pierre-Moine, authors of The Herb Garden for Cooks (2010).  It’s a member of the Rose family.

It’s another hardy herbaceous perennial.  It grows between2-4 feet high and spreads about 2 feet outward when it’s growing happily in good dampish ground (it would like my garden).  Its leaves are darkish green, serrated and deeply veined, smelling of oil of wintergreen when crushed[1].

Meadowsweet has uses today even beyond its most famous one, and beyond its strong use in modern herbalism; it’s very handy in the kitchen.  Jekka McVicar has this to say: “both the leaves and flowers are edible. The flowers have a mild almond flavour[2] and can be added to stewed fruits, jellies and jams.  They are also good for flavouring meads and beers, and make an interesting wine.  Young spring leaves have a dry flavour and can be added to salads and soups.[3] 

The roots are also used for a black dye, to this day, in some UK textile factories; though meadowsweet is actually very versatile when it comes to being a dye, and depending on mordant, was used in Scotland in the past to create yellow (using the flowers; mordant: alum), reddish brown (using the root; mordant: ferrous sulphate) and a grey black (which utilised the flowers, not the root; and again, used ferrous sulphate as mordant)[4].

Usage in History

Meadowsweet has a long history of being used to flavour mead, especially in Scotland. Highland Wineries use still, for example.  Agnes Walker (2003) wrote a book on historical herb usage in Scotland, and has this:
Gerrard (1663) says that ‘the floures boiled in wine and drunk do maketh the heart merrie’.  According to Dickson and Dickson the old name for meadowsweet in southern Scotland literally means ‘mead plant’.  Extensive research into the types and proportions of pollen, found a sticky substance in a funerary beaker from a Bronze Age cist in Fife (dated 1250) that contained immature pollen from unpollinated flowers and mature pollen which could have been picked up by bees in making honey.  Other pollen grains found were common ingredients of honey.  This led them to conclude that the mixture must have contained a honey drink, perhaps fermented, flavoured with meadowsweet flowers. Experiments by a distillery firm showed that adding meadowsweet flowers to barley ale produced an ale that remained drinkable for months[5].

She adds that, culinarily speaking it was the favourite stewing herb of Queen Elizabeth I’s court, and among the nobles.  They also used it as one of their floor strewing herbs, as they found the release of the wintergreen oil on treading pleasant, especially in the winter months.  It was also used to scent linen and the flowers used for pot pourri[6].

Medicinal Uses, past and present

Culpeper waxes lyrical again over this one, another herb of Venus[7]:
It is used to stay all manner of bleedings, fluxes, vomitings, women’s menses, as also their whites; it is said to take away the fits of quartan agues[8] […]  it speedily helps those that are troubled with the cholic, being boiled in wine; and with a little honey, taken warm, it opens the belly; but boiled in red wine, and drunk, it stays the flux of the belly.  Being outwardly applied it heals old ulcers that are cancerous or eaten, or hollow and fistulous, for which it is by many much commended, as also for sores in the mouth and secret parts[9].

We’ll come now to why meadowsweet is famous.  It was traditionally used in the Highlands and Islands for treating fevers and headaches[10].  Meadowsweet contains a substance called salicylic acid, from which the Bayer Company in 1889, synthesized acetylsalicylic acid, the basis for what we now know as Aspirin[11]:
The main uses are for alimentary tract disorders and rheumatism.  Unlike aspirin, however, meadowsweet appears to be protective to the stomach lining while providing the anti inflammatory benefit.  There is documented scientific evidence for some of the antiseptic, anti-rheumatic and astringent actions, despite the absence of human clinical data[12].

Modern Herbalism Usage

The aerial parts are used in modern herbalism.  It’s thought preferable to aspirin, its synthesized cousin, because as a plant, it works in compound fashion, reducing the chances of a reaction of the stomach lining that aspirin can induce (aspirin = stronger, but rougher).  Meadowsweet contains more than just salicylic acid; it’s an essential oil with compounds called spiraeine and gualtherin, as well as tannin and citric acid (in other words, for the more nutritionist amongst you: flavonoids, oil, and phenolic glycosides).  It acts as an antacid, anti-emetic, astringent, anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, and is thought of as:  “one of the best digestive remedies for holistic practitioners. It protects and soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and easing nausea.  It is used in the treatment of heartburn, hyperacidity, gastritis and peptic ulceration.  Its gentle astringency is useful for treating diarrhoea in children”[13].  Because it also acts as a mild diuretic, it can help with treating edema.  Bartram describes it as “the herbalists bicarbonate of soda”, explaining that the salicyclic acid is so potent because of its anti-thrombotic effect on the blood vessels[14].  Taken as a tincture, 1-4mls is recommended 3 times a day; whereas if taken as an infusion, 1-2tsp of the dried herb should be steeped for 10-15 minutes, again, for drinking 3 times a day, initially.  (Obviously, if you’re feeling all this applies to you, go see a proper Medical Herbalist, yes?)

 Taken from the goodly cooks at perrone.blogs.com

Magickal Uses, past and present

Said to be one of the three most sacred herbs of the Druids, the other 2 being watermint and vervain.[15]

Used as a suitable floral tribute at grave sites in the Bronze Age; shown by analysis of pollen grains found as far and wide as the Orkneys, Perthshire in the North, and Carmarthenshire, Wales in the West.  Druidically (by which I mean a mixture of attempted historical reconstruction and a range of sympathetic neo-pagan modern practices, as enacted by those members of OBOD or the BDO, for example), this is still the perfect herb for funerals, because its considered a rite of passage herb.  A herb journeying from one state to another, much like its traditional usage: from fever to normal temperature, from pain to placidity.  It was also “strewn before bridal couples”, giving it its other main folk name of ‘Bridewort’ or ‘Bride of the Meadow’[16]. 

Nowadays, this herb is often used in spells and charms to lift depression and promote peace, both within the person, and within a home or work environment.  Ellen Every Hopman maintains this is a herb of gentle love spells[17], calling for peaceful affection.  Cassandra Eason goes further, saying it “can bring lasting love, happiness and psychic awareness, especially about those who have wronged you and have malice in their hearts.  It is used for both gentle cleansing and healing, bringing peace within the self, warring factions and globally”[18]. I love the optimism!  That makes me want to carry some about with me forever (at the rate I annoy people; it might well be sensible!).

It’s particularly associated with Lammas, with women encouraged to wear garlands of Meadowsweet to join with the essence of the Goddess[19].  It can be foraged for from June onwards, through to Lammas time, when new growth should be picked – as if you’re planning on cooking or making a cordial with it (say), to honour the Goddess, the fresh new growth will contain more active ingredients and taste better.

Culinary Treats!

Since I seem to have gone all contrarily summery in the midst of November, I thought I’d finish this post with 2 brill recipes from ethno-botanist James Wong’s excellent home herbal remedy book A Year With James Wong (2010).  The first is for a pain relieving syrup (with a child friendly variant after, and one that you can also use if you think you may experience any irritation with the salicylic acid in meadowsweet).  The second is for a delightful sounding sorbet.  I can imagine eating this in winter despite how wonderfully summery it sounds, and with the added pain reliving ingredient…sounds good for a cold to me…

Take it away James!  Here on in, it’s all him till the end of the post…
Ehem, irrelevantly pretty ethno-botanist, James Wong 
(image from The Telegraph, thankyou)

***
Meadowsweet Cordial

James’s intro:
Sweet, fragrant, and with the power to relieve pain – it’s hard to see how a remedy could get any better.  This flowery syrup is based on the frothy blossoms of meadowsweet plants, traditionally used to treat headaches and fevers, and one of the plants from which aspirin was first derived[20].  The very word ‘aspirin’ comes from the plant’s old Latin name, Spiraea[21].  With a flavour like a fizzy cross between elderflower and marzipan, meadowsweet flowers can be found in damp meadows and along banks and ditches all over Britain.

Ingredients:

1 lemon
10-20 meadowsweet flowerheads (pref. fresh)
180ml water
180g sugar

Method:

  1. Grate the rind from the lemon and squeeze the juice.  Place the lemon rind and juice with all the other ingredients in a stainless steel pan[22].  Bring gently to the boil, stirring occasionally, and the simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Strain into one or two sterilized bottles and allow cooling before sealing.  (Its best to make small amounts of this recipe as the syrup can go mouldy within a week of opening.)  For a year round supply, simply pop a couple of bottles of the cordial in the freezer, where they will last for at least one year.

For Use:
Dilute with water for a refreshing drink.

CAUTION:
Should not be given to children under 16.  Don’t take if pregnant or allergic to aspirin.

Storage:
Keep in the fridge, and use within 1 week.  Or in the freezer for up to one year.

Child Friendly Variant:
For children aged 2-16, you can use other fragrant summer flowering herbs such as lemon balm or elderflower, instead of the meadowsweet.  Just substitute 3-4 heaped teaspoons of the fresh flowers for the meadowsweet, and follow the recipe above.

Meadowsweet and Peach Sorbet

pic from deli-cute-essen.blogspot.com - check for excellent vegan recipes
James’s Intro:
Pairing the pain-relieving properties of meadowsweet with the flavour of sweet summer peaches, this cooling fruity sorbet is a true guiltless pleasure.  (For the meadowsweet cordial component, see the recipe above.)

Ingredients:
3 ripe peaches
1 orange
120ml meadowsweet cordial
2 egg whites

Method:
  1. Peel and stone the peaches and put them into the blender.
  2. Add the grated zest and juice of the orange, as well as the meadowsweet cordial, and whizz for a few seconds.
  3. Put in a plastic container and leave in the freezer until just beginning to freeze (about 1 hour, depending on your freezer).  Remove from the freezer and beat thoroughly.
  4. Whip the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the peach mixture and freeze until ready to eat.

Use:
Gorge on as required.

CAUTION:
Should not be given to children under 16.  Don’t take is pregnant or allergic to aspirin.

Storage:
Will keep up to 3 months in a sealed container in the freezer.

Tip:
As for the last recipe, to make this child friendly, for ages 2-16, make the sorbet with lemon balm or elderflower cordial instead of the meadowsweet cordial.

(These recipes are both taken from: A Year With James Wong, by James Wong [London: Collins, 2010], pp.102-103 – and thankyou very much for them!  Yum!  I recommend all 3 of James Wong’s books – he writes very readably about basic safe home practice of herbalism.  He’s a great place to start if you’re interested in this topic.  Series 1 of his BBC programme, Grow Your Own Drugs was still available on Amazon when I last checked.  It’s often handy to see this sort of thing done, if it seems at all daunting.  Also check out his website, it has audio, and video clips from his programmes, too: http://www.jameswong.co.uk/)
***

Till Our Next Merry Meeting, people!  I’ll try and be more seasonal and do a wintery herb next time I do a herb post!!

And remember: just enjoy the info here; I’m not a doctor, I’m just an enthusiast – don’t go dosing yourself without a professional to hand!!





[1] Jekka McVicar, New Book of Herbs (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2004), p.161.
[2] That’s one point to James Wong in the taste test trial, then!
[3] McVicar, p.161.
[4] Agnes Walker, A Garden of Herbs: Traditional Uses of Herbs in Scotland (Scotland: Argyll Publishing, 2003), pp.94-97.
[5] Agnes Walker, A Garden of Herbs: Traditional Uses of Herbs in Scotland (Scotland: Argyll Publishing, 2003), pp.64-65.
[6] Walker, p.82.
[7] Though Ellen Evert Hopman views it as a herb of Jupiter.
[8] ‘Quartan ague’ = Malarial bacterias…
[9] Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London: Arcturus, 2009), p.308.
[10] M. Beith, Healing Threads (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1995), p.67.
[11] Walker, p.35.
[12] For much discussion of this interesting angle and the sort of testing that has been done already, on meadowsweet and other herbs, see these 2 books: J. Barnes, L.A. Anderson and J.D. Phillipson, Herbal Medicines, A Guide for Health Care Professionals (London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 2002, 2nd edition), AND, C. Newall, L. Anderson and J.D. Phillipson, Herbal Medicines, A Guide for Health Care Professionals (London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 1st edition).
[13] David Hoffman, New Holistic Herbal (London: Element Books, 1990), p.215.
[14] Thomas Bartram, Bartram’s Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine (London: Constable and Robinson, 1998), p.287.
[15] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 9, p.7, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[16] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 9, p.8, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[17] Ellen Evert Hopman, A Druid’s Herbal of the Sacred Earth Year (Vermont: Destiny Books, 1995), p.99.
[18] Cassandra Eason, The Modern Day Druidess: A Practical Guide to Nature Spirituality, (London: Piatkus, 2003), p.134.
[19] Harold Pryce-Thorn, Miscellany of Superstition (London: Mondham and Son, 1902), p.7.
[20] The other one is Willow Bark.
[21] (This as you remember, is one of the active compounds within the meadowsweet plant.)
[22] This is one of the few herbal recipes that calls for a stainless steel pan; most will insist on enamel (you can get them from specialist cookshops) as it is completely neutral when it comes to simmering herbs for long periods, and there will be no hint of metallic flavour. (This recipe doesn’t have a long simmering time, hence ordinary pans are alright to use.)  Enamel also holds heat differently.  It’s the same idea as when trying to be authentic when cooking a Middle Eastern tagine, for example, and using a….Tagine (the clay cooking pot) as it distributes heat very evenly.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Mugwort: Snippets of Interesting Things , Part 3



It’s been a while since I did any of my Druidry reading, and told you of any herbs.  So today I’ll tell you a little of Mugwort…and then tomorrow I’ll tell you of Meadowsweet.  How’s that sound?

Mugwort (Artemsia Vulgaris)

Jekka tells us this is a hardy herbaceous perennial growing freely both by the road and by small water courses.  It can grow up to 4 ft and spread 18” (apologies, despite being born in 1971, I do not appear to have gone metric at all…).  It has tiny reddish brown (and sometimes yellow) flowers that appear in summer.  Its leaves are dark green serrated and appear covered in down, as are all the leaves of plants in the Artemesia family (including Vulgaris’s close relative Absinthium, aka Wormwood, of the famous scary absinthe drink!; and the brilliantly named Dracunculus, which is French Tarragon, commonly cooked with today).[1]


Historical Usage

If they wad drink nettles in March
And eat muggins in May
Sae many braw maidens
Wadna gang to clay.

This is a poem quoted by folkorists of the mermaid of Clyde’s pronouncement on seeing the funeral of a young girl.  Gabrielle Hatfield, author of Memory, Wisdom and Domestic Plant Medicine [2], explains the poem, and then goes on to tell of a historical phenomenon I’ve read of often when researching herbal remedies for these posts and for my own interest:
The ‘muggins’ mentioned by the mermaid was a plant well known for its use in treating ‘women’s afflictions’.  Known also as Mugwort, this plant appears in proverbs in Scotland and Wales.  Carmichael quotes:

Wad ye let the bonny may die in your hand
And the mugwort flowering I’ the land?[3]

When I began studying plant medicines in use within living memory in Britain, mugwort did not appear at first.  Then a letter from a man brought up in Essex gave this information, recalled from the 1920s: ‘In our garden my father grew a clump of “Mugwort” and I think my mother used this for irregularities peculiar to women.’  He added that he particularly remembered the mugwort because of his father’s strict instructions not to pull it up!  Mugwort grows in the wild, but presumably in this case the family wished to be assured of a constant supply when it was needed.

Originally, practical instructions were part of the common knowledge of plant remedies, and would have been passed down orally from one generation of plant users to the next.  Once copied into the literature of the day, they became altered in various ways.  Scorn was poured on them in some quarters, and still is today[4].  In other instances, they were altered and exaggerated, and tied in with astrology and all kinds of other beliefs.  Culpeper, for example, embroidered this aspect of plant medicine.[5] […]  In any case his readers represented the literate minority, and the illiterate majority doubtless continued to use plant remedies in the same way their families had done for generations.  This is an example of how the written version of plant medicine diverged increasingly from empirical plant usage.

As Thompson[6], Ewart Evans[7] and many others have testified, oral testimony is often remarkably accurate.  However, once information is committed to print, any errors that creep in tend to become perpetuated, and an […] example of this has already been mentioned [earlier in her book] where the oral version of a remedy used for horses had survived accurately whereas the printed version in a veterinary book was totally wrong.  This is the kind of incorrect evidence which has often, quite unjustly, brought traditional remedies into disrepute.[8]

Whilst that was a monster long quote there, I felt it needed leaving in its entirety, as I’m not only telling you about individual herbs in these posts, but a little about the history of their usage, and their recorded usage.  It’s as well you’re aware that there have been, and continue to be, sometimes serious discrepancies between oral and written record concerning dosages, usages etc.  (In another post later, on Comfrey, I’ll let Ms Hatfield tell you all about the dangers of incomplete herbal information, too…and why you should always check multiple reliable sources before attempting any herbalism on yourself at home.)

Culpeper, impugned so thoroughly there by Ms Hatfield, has this to say on Mugwort, and we’ll start off where she complains:
This is a herb of Venus, and therefore maintains the parts of the body she rules, and remedies the diseases of the parts that are under her signs, Taurus and Libra.  Mugwort is used with good success, among other herbs, in a hot decoction, for women to sit over, to provoke the menses, help delivery, and expel the afterbirth; also, for the obstructions and inflammations of the womb.  It breaks the stone, and causes one to make water when it is stopped.[9]

He also describes it used as a pessary, and the roots made into an ointment with ‘hogs lard’ to take away ‘wens and kernals about the neck and throat’.  He tells of it also being used as a remedy for an overdose of opium (not sure quite how that would work), and ‘three drachms of the powder in dried leaves, taken in wine’ as a ‘sure and speedy cure of the sciatica’[10].  So he felt it something of a wonder drug; then again, in those days, most herbs were used for multiple functions.

It wasn’t only used medicinally.  In the extremely informative The Medieval Garden, the author describes a house called Bayleaf, in England, circa 1500, a yeoman’s residence, from various papers left behind.  Mugwort was in use as a vermicidal by the mistress of the house.  When the floors were regularly swept out (and the results composted), the new herbs strewn down would always include both mugwort leaves and its relative wormwood to discourage rats and mice, as well as mints and fennel for their fresh smells[11].



Herbalism Today

Mugwort is still in use within British Herbalism today.  It’s known as ‘the Mother of Herbs’ because it’s still used for multiple purposes.  “Best described as a tonic with particular application to the digestive and nervous systems, it reduces nervous indigestion, nausea, and irritability.  As a womb tonic it is useful to regulate periods and reduce period pain and PMS”[12] – so little change in that aspect of its traditional usage.  The parts used are the flowers and leaves, primarily.  Its usually taken as an infusion, dosed at ¼ - ½ tsp 3 times a day.  And strictly avoided in pregnancy, for the obvious reasons above: it interacts too strongly with the womb.

Nowadays, a common usage of mugwort is in Japanese Herbalism, where it is used to make Moxas, a cure for rheumatism[13]; and also used in acupuncture, a resinous fluff lump (!- Ok my descriptive powers are limited there) lit gently to smoulder and suspended on one of the needles, so as to heat the needle softly with the additional stimulation simply of heat, to that point where the needle is placed.  (I once had a funny moxa accident during acupuncture; it just fell off, as it was slightly too big for the needle…and yes, I got a burn from it.  In the perfect shape of a triangle on my stomach.  It didn’t hurt too badly, and for years, in a mischievous and silly way, I would show off the scar and tell people I got it when abducted by aliens.  Eventually, due to regular and copious lathering with lavender oil the scar faded clean away, so I have been forced to stop telling that enjoyably untrue anecdote. Tsk.)



Magickal Uses, traditional and current

As suggested by its Latin name, sacred to the Goddess Artemis (goddess of the moon and childbirth).  Its folk remedy characteristics as an ‘easer of the troubles of women’ are reflected here too: periods, menopause, childbirth – but more widely, as a general protector, aimed mostly at women but also available to men.

Used primarily in magickal terms as a cleansing herb, in the same way as Agrimony (see previous post).  Using both herbs in an incense thoroughly cleanses a room, creating an atmosphere conducive to meditation and/or divination.  It’s supposed to aid clairvoyance, and it’s suggested that an infusion be drunk before scrying “to widen perception”[14].  Alternatively, rubbing the infusion over a mirror or other glass surface[15] to be looked into (go get your crystal ball!) will do a similar job. Sleeping with an herb pillow of Mugwort is “an encouragement to Future Seeking Dreams”[16]. Protectively, it was hung over doorways to houses, as a folk charm against lightning, misfortune and thievery; but under the doorway to stop unwanted visitors[17].

Cassandra Eason, prolific modern writer on all things odd and mostly interesting to Blackberry Juniper, adds these as variations on traditional magickal uses for mugwort: it’s a help to shape-shifting (in the vision quest, astral sort of way) and is protective of all travellers, especially from predators, human or otherwise[18].

The leaves are supposed to be gathered on Midsummer’s Eve; the roots during autumn.  The flowers, though so familiar and gorgeous looking, are not often used magickally nowadays.


***
And there we leave it for today, people!  Remember, I’m not a doctor, so don’t go dosing yourself based on anything I’ve said!  Just enjoy the info, and if interested, do more reading! 

It’s a fascinating subject, herbalism in history and in practice, both medical and magickal – which I stress, are 2 completely different emphases, and Medical Herbalists will get most shirty if you bundle them in with neo-pagan practitioners like myself, so don’t go doing that!!

Till tomorrow, and the gentle Meadowsweet…



[1] Jekka McVicar, New Book of Herbs (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2004), p.136.
[2] A Professor of the University of East Anglia for many years, and also an Honorary Research Fellow at Kew Gardens, to list her credentials!
[3] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, 6 vols, vol V, p.125 (Edinburgh:1970-71).
[4] From Hatfield’s footnotes: ‘Dr Speller claims there is little in these bizarre and entertaining “cures” that can have any basis in therapeutics’, letter in Margaret Baker, Folklore and Customs of Rural England, 1974, p.169.   Another author goes so far as to state: “In general, native plant remedies are of little value”, D.J. Guthrie, Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 1961, vol 39, part 2.’
[5] Nicholas Culpeper, The English Physician (London: 1652).
[6] E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common (Suffolk: Merlin Press, 1981).
[7] George Ewart Evans, Where Birds Wag All (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), p.18.
[8] Gabrielle Hatfield, Memory, Wisdom and Healing: The History of Domestic Plant Medicine (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1999), pp.79-80.
[9] Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London: Arcturus Publishing, 2009), p.253.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Sylvia Lansdberg, The Medieval Garden (London: The British Museum Press, 1998), p.116.
[12] Sue Hawkey, Herbalism for Health and Wellbeing (Bath: Southwater, 2000), p.32.
[13] Jekka McVicar, New Book of Herbs (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2004), p.136.

[14] Miscellany of Superstition, by Harold Pryce-Thorn, pp.76, Mondham and Son, London: 1902.
[15] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 6, p.7, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[16] Miscellany of Superstition, by Harold Pryce-Thorn, pp.78-79, Mondham and Son, London: 1902.
[17] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 6, p.6, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[18] Cassandra Eason, The Modern Day Druidess: A Practical Guide to Nature Spirituality (London: Piatkus, 2003), p.134.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Night of Bangs and Sparkles: Stanley, The Prince, Fluffhead




Last Wednesday

Let’s talk about the weather.  You know what I hate? Gales, hurricanes, generally wind.  A cool breeze in summer, that’s one thing, a beautiful thing.  But going down the street getting irregularly pushed at by wind, especially when it’s cold and already raining? That’s just annoying.  I feel like I’m personally fighting it. It’s personally pissed off with me and wants to annoy me.

I only mention this, as I came down the hill, and first it was that lovely fine rain. The rain that will coat you completely and have you soaked before you realise it, but it feels more or less friendly.  I was imagining it frizzling up my already unruly hair, which is a nice free service here performed by Mother Nature where some women would pay money for it.  Then the wind started.  Harrumph.

Today has the potential to be highly stressful (hospital appointment for Fluffhead, arrangements of possibly invasive tests; cue massive overprotective co-dependent frenzy of projection and worry on my part), so the least I owe myself is not to get overly irritated by a bit of wind.  You know, prioritise the shit fits.  (Don’t think about the hospital, don’t think about the hospital.)  Sit down.  Write the blog.

                                                            *

Last night was the Night of Bangs and Sparkles.  Fireworks Night, Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night.  Blow up Parliament like V would night.

The Prince, Fluffhead and I stood outside, shuffling and stamping feet in the already smoky air, waiting for Stanley (whose raison d’ĂȘtre is to keep anyone waiting for just about anything for just long enough to piss you off but not long enough for you to deem it worthwhile to have a proper go at him; I end up providing a snippy comment I am unable to suppress, which he will regularly ignore).  We listened to bangs and muffled plosive sounds from the distance on all sides.  Watched the blaring light through the leaves from next door (the crap neighbours) and the total darkness from the other side (the lovely agreeable neighbours, the ones who don’t steal your recycling bins).

Fluffhead pressed the button on his Prince provided light stick, turning it from blue to white torch point, to flashing and dead and back again.  I said I was bored (which is one of my raison d’ĂȘtres come to think of it, and how sad), as well as hungry (ditto), and the Prince smiled as he’s used to me now, and knows when I’m really moaning and when I’m playing at it.

Eventually Stanley appeared, muffled in a big scarf and his army jacket, carrying the box of garden fireworks and the long package of rockets provided by Saint Mum.  (And very luckily too, as we had left it to the last minute, too late to shop, a bit unusual considering we currently had 3 sparkle and bang obsessed males in the house instead of the usual 2.  Mum saved the day.)

The Prince and Stanley set to organising the little display.  The Prince pulling free all the fuses?, wicks? – what exactly are they?? – from the tissue paper tops, Stanley fixing the little metal shelf we balance them on securely to the ground.

Fluffhead, quite interestingly I thought, seemed to remember the whole production from last year, and kept saying in a guttural croaky voice, “BANG!”  “BANG!”  (This is also very similar to his garbled pronunciation of the words ‘brown’ and ‘black’ but contextually, and with the accompanying hand gestures of rising  – outward fan – falling, it became clear what he meant.)

He settled himself on the small stoop by the back door and held his hands together in his lap, smiling and calm, like a small gentleman waiting for the opera to start.

The Prince scuffed his feet some more and looked about him for things to be helpful with (this is what he’s like).  There was nothing immediately doing so he grinned at me a bit ruefully and looked perturbed.  I gave him one of my biggest teeth smiles, as his helpfulness both amazes and amuses me.  As in, its so kindly and nice and er, helpful, to save other people time by doing stuff for them…and then on the other hand, I can’t help comparing myself to him, so he makes me feel a bit like Saint Mum does sometimes: like I can never be this Good and Kind to people, and indeed, I rarely want to be (as in the words of Phoebe from Friends, any favours for others are to be considered in terms  of whether they are boring, expensive or time consuming; and evaluated for action or rejection accordingly).  In the face of such regular unselfishness as a mirror, I often feel like flopping down on the sofa, remote in hand and saying “feck you all”, just generally, to the world.

This is actually one of the major differences between Stanley and The Prince.  The Prince is unfailingly kind and considerate.  Making a moody person like me feel a bit rebellious and naughty.  Stanley on the other hand, can and does help people.  But entirely on his own terms, in his own time, and very often accompanied by mocking irreverent good humour; generally inappropriate rudeness.  I like the way we move around the house Being Rude to each other, swearing  like teenagers just discovering the joy of a good cuss (it has to be said, the swearing part is mostly me).  It’s refreshing, childlike, and weirdly sincere.  I can be my irritable downcast and insecure self around Stanley, and it becomes incorporated into a sort of joke.  Real but not a cause for concern.  To an extent, Stanley fulfils exactly the same function for The Prince.  He calls him out on the sometimes excessive Butler-like helpfulness, and the tolerance and seeing well of other people that can cause him to be taken advantage of.  He is Rude to him.  The Prince smiles.  Stanley makes us laugh and not take ourselves so seriously – a very good skill.  And he does it often.  I don’t know where he fetches his good humour from.  Its consistency in the Face of Life impresses me, daily.  His non-sponginess I aspire to.

The show starts.  Fluffhead springs up.  I pull him back by the hood of his jacket, and he makes a cross noise before taking my hand and standing relatively still.  Stanley is muffling the view, running back from the lit firework that’s gassing Chinese Green behind him.  The Prince takes his hands out of his pockets and watches.  His eyes light. “BANG!” says Fluffhead, even though this one is mostly cream and green sparkles and shoots.  He jumps up and down.  I keep one hand close to his shoulder, a small part of my head filled with public information films from my childhood about burns.

There’s 30 fireworks, but they seem short, shorter than last years.  By the end, there have been some semi loud ones, and Fluffhead has pressed himself back against the glass door to the living room, corners of his mouth pulled down.  Cryface.  He’s had enough.  I pick him up and he puts his chill face in my neck, I feel snot.  I rub his back and we go indoors to watch the last one from there.  The smell of gunpowder sulphur follows us in.  Fluffhead kicks off his wellies and leaves his jacket on the floor, rushing to the glass door and putting his whole face against it. I turn the light off so he can see better.

Stanley and The Prince banter outside, about who gets to clean up the mess.

“BANG!” I hear, followed by an actual one from the garden.  Stanley and The Prince are murmuring together, yes, that was the best one, the last one, how weird.  Fluffhead turns to me, all teeth, happy.  Precious.

I go to the kitchen to put the kettle on for the men.