Monthly Archives: January 2020

Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen.

“I traced my steps back through the night, Back through the day all the way to the light, Boats full of cargo ready to unload, Arms of the cranes all ready to hold —– And struck a match and watched it burn against the night —–”  The Weather Prophets.  I Almost Prayed.  

Before raves became commercially viable, and controlled, and the psychedelic entertainment laid on, they were underground, uncontrolled, and word-of-mouth.

One such rave was organized by a bunch of revelers, deep in the woods some eighteen kilometers outside of Amsterdam, 1987.   Our whole scene was going, and we knew most of them would be tripping.  Obviously.  Chris and I told everyone that we would not be going.   We hatched ourselves a cunning plan.  We were gonna dress up and disguise ourselves and mingle in with the dancing crowd.  And at an the right moment whip off our masks.

Chris had a Frankenstein mask, a rubber one which you pulled onto your head.  And I had a huge white afro-wig with built in earrings.  And sunglasses.

Around eight on the night of the party we put everything int a small rucksack, got onto our bikes and headed out.  No acid for us of course, we needed to keep our heads clear. This had taken some serious planning.  So we took an ecstasy instead.  It did take a couple of hours to find the spot, but we eventually did, and if memory serves me correctly, and I have correlated, we did have to carry our bikes through a field full of sheep (not to be confused with the Welsh sheep of a previous Strange Tale) which bordered the woodland.  We hid our bikes in amongst the trees, masked ourselves up, took another ecstasy, and slipped into the in full-swing rave.

iI you are high on LSD or mushrooms, everything is distorted, and there are a wide variety of effects.  Mostly visual, but with other senses altered as well.  It is lengthy process, somewhere between eight and twelve hours.  And because you know that things continually move round and change shape you kind of just accept things for what they appear to be in your head, albeit that you know it is not real.   (Unless you have no idea what you are doing and think it IS all real and have no carer with you, then you might have a bit of a wobbler, and have no business taking it.)  So seeing us in our masks would not have phased anyone, we would just have been incorporated into their trip.  Yes, even Frankenstein.  Because even if you wonder for a second who the Frankenstein person was, that thought is gone before you have finished thinking it.

We joined the colourful bunch of hippies and punks turned ravers, and started to dance around, and with, several of our good friends.  Tripping makes your pupils huge, and you could see how high everyone was.  Except us, because we had only taken ecstasy and obviously had everything under total control.   So we took another one.  Music blasting out.

eyes

Ecstasy is different to acid, and you are hyper-aware of what you are doing.  With just a look at one another we took our masks off in unison.  A moment of stunned silence enveloped us all,  the music seemingly disappearing.  Everything in slow motion —- “Chris/Val , is that you?  Is that you?  Really?  Is that you, is that you, is that you?.”   There were no irises, only pupils turned silver from the reflected light, as their eyes came out on stalks.   The dancing Frankenstein and woman with the white hair and sunglasses faded into the trip remnants and now we were just there, as though we always had been. Which was true anyway.   It became a legend.

As the dawn appeared, and the chill-out began, we took our bikes, and put on our masks again so that no one would see our faces as we rode back into Amsterdam.   We were totally trashed and the drug had worn off and the only way back was to take one more. We could see now, and avoided the sheep field.  Trusting the speedy effect would be enough for us to pedal the eighteen kilometers.  Frankenstein and a woman in a white wig pedaling like mad through the Dutch countryside.

We stopped at the corner shop at the end of our road to grab some bread and milk.  It was early morning.  Chris walked into the shop, bought and paid for everything in his Frankenstein mask, and no one batted an eyelid.  That is Amsterdam.

val E

Val, circa 1987

We learned something interesting that morning once we got home and sat down, from having taken rather a lot of MDMA.   It does cause hallucinations too, but unlike acid they don’t move.  There was a netting that completely covered our hands and arms, and it was made up of thousands of tiny hexagons, each firing tiny darts of light.  The hexagonal effect must be something to do with the chemical formula.   Not only do the hallucinations not move, you can pick them up and hand them to another person, who sees exactly the same thing as you.   “Hey, wanna hold this hallucination?”  Wild.  Not recommended for anyone under the age of 99.

This Strange Tale might be a total figment of my imagination.

CQ of APJ.                                                     

 

 

 

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Skincare – Starting Tretinoin

I’ve been using a prescription tretinoin (retinoic acid/vitamin A) cream for a year now and thought it might be worth sharing my experience.

Retinoids are the only topical skincare ingredient that have been scientifically proven to reverse the signs of aging by increasing cell turnover.

I’d been using the Paula’s Choice 1% Clinical Retinol for a couple of years with no issues but now in my late 40s I felt the need to step it up. The retinol serums produced by beauty companies can make a difference but are a lot weaker than pure tretinoin/vitamin A. As I understand it, the skin has to do some work to convert the retinol into vitamin A and some of the potency is lost in the process.

I know that in the States you can buy the retinoid acne treatment Differin over the counter. However, in the UK it’s impossible to get a tretinoin for anti-ageing purposes unless you you pay £200+ to go to a dermatologist who will issue you a prescription.

Then I found Dermatica (not a sponsored post!). They are an online dermatologist-led subscription service that supply prescription treatments for acne and  signs of ageing. I completed the online consultation/questionnaire and uploaded photos of my skin. I also provided my GP details so they that they will be informed.

 

With an introductory discount, I paid £7.98 for the first month’s treatment and it has been £20 thereafter (my subscription is set to every 45 days). They prescribed me tretinoin for anti-ageing combined with hydroquinone for pigmentation. I started with 0.25% and then they put me up to 0.05% the following month. I began very cautiously because tret is notorious for causing irritation and dryness which can leave the skin red and peeling. I applied it only once a week to begin with and gradually built up my tolerance.

After four months I could apply 0.05% every night and experienced no irritation whatsoever. I must say this is quite unusual. It may be because my skin had become acclimatised by the Paula’s Choice 1% Clinical Retinol.

As for the results, it’s still a bit early to say. With tretinoin you have to play the long game but I already feel the skin looks better even if it’s never going to shift deep frown lines, I have noticed an improvement in the skin’s quality, looking fresher and clearer with more glow. One thing to note is that retinoids increase the skin’s senstivity to the sun so you should apply at night only and use SPF the next morning fastidiously. I didn’t use it at all during the height of summer.

tret

 

Have you tried tretinoin or a retinol serum?

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Reading Diary – November/December 2019

Happy New Year!

May 2020 bring you many wonderful books as well as the time to read them.

2019 was a good reading year for me. I just missed my target of 30 books in 2018 so I downgraded last year’s goal to 25. In the end I managed 50, which I was extremely happy with but probably won’t be repeated. My favourite book of the year (though released in 2014) was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The best 2019 release I read was Lanny by Max Porter, see below.

 

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

“- ‘I bet you are not afraid of anything’, I said.
‘Of course I am,’ she said, and she pulled at a loose thread in her apron. ‘I am afraid of lies.’-”

familars

This book had a lot of promise and not just that gorgeous cover. It’s historical fiction based on the true events of the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. I’m interested in the trials and  this period of history and it makes a change to the Victoria era I usually read about. The narrator is 17 year-old wealthy gentlewoman, Fleetwood Shuttleworth, whose midwife is accused of being a witch and we follow her galloping around the Lancashire and Yorkshire countryside trying to prove her innocence.  I felt dissatisfied because I wanted to hear the story from the point of view of the supposed witch, not a rather dull teen. Then we find out (spoiler) Fleetwood’s husband has got another woman pregnant but it all ends happily because he was only trying to protect his wife from a further miscarriage. That’s okay then. It has an average rating of 3.9 on GoodReads so I’m in the minority.  2/5

Overcoming Anxiety by Helen Kennerley

My CBT therapist recommended the ‘Overcoming…’ series of books and I started with this one. It’s a lot better than many books on the subject and has practical tools to help you cope, including breathing and relaxation techniques as well as written CBT exercises. I also liked its compassionate and down to earth tone. However, I would say it’s better for those whose anxiety causes phobias than those with generalised anxiety disorder. 3.5/5

Lanny by Max Porter

“We are but pitiful narrative creatures… obsessing over the agony of not knowing. Sisyphus, Atlas, Echo, all those poor souls, now us. It is the oldest story of them all; never-ending pain.”

lanny.jpg

Oh Lanny, how I love you. This novel was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize and while it has an unconventional format, I found it to be a page-turner. I almost read it in a single sitting but knew I had to get up for work the next morning. Lanny is one of those exceptional, magical boys who seems connected to the natural world in a way the rest of us can’t imagine. Sadly not everyone in the tiny village where he lives understands him. His mother is consumed with writing a crime novel and still sees him as her baby while his London banker father is constantly freaked out by him. The person who relates to Lanny the best is a once famous artist dubbed by the locals as ‘Mad Pete’. Running beneath all this is the ramblings of mythical bogeyman Dead Papa Toothwort who we follow as he listens to the conversations of the various villagers. He grows in power from their words and eventually reflects them back in a strange and unsettling way.

The narrator switches from character to character and to start with each is labelled: Lanny’s Mum, Lanny’s Dad etc but as events escalate so the narrative becomes more free-flowing. We see people’s prejudices amplified by quiet village life: some reassess them when Lanny is in danger but most are reinforced. It’s a call for tolerance of difference and not to rush to judgement. It’s a warning that the stories we tell ourselves and each other matter more than we realise. Most of all, it’s a very special little book and totally captured my heart. (Owing to the format, it’s best read as a paperback or audiobook). 5/5

Becoming by Michelle Obama

“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

I tend not to read memoirs because they are real life and that’s what I’m trying to escape through reading. However, this book has gained so much praise and was picked by Val the Cookie Queen as one of of her 2019 favourites and so I decided to try it on audiobook.  Well, believe the hype. I thought I’d be more interested in her time as First Lady and of course, the details of life inside the White House were juicy (it was gratifying that she didn’t pull any punches with Trump). But hearing about her upbringing and seeing how she made the absolute most of the opportunities her parents worked so hard to give her was what stayed with me. We learn how generations of black men were unable to progress economically because they were kept out of the unions. How her father with MS practically dragged himself to work at the filtration plant as his disease progressed. Michelle herself is a model of what dedication and drive can do for anyone given half a chance (being someone with almost zero ambition, I found it fascinating). That coupled with immense empathy and a strong belief in social justice, is a compelling combination. You just hope it gets to all those young girls who need to read it because it has the power to change the course of their lives. 5/5

Autumn (Seasonal Quartet Book 1) by Ali Smith

“All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won. All across the country, people felt they’d done the right thing and other people had done the wrong thing. All across the country, people looked up Google: what is EU? All across the country, people looked up Google: move to Scotland.”

autumn ali.jpg

Autumn is the first book in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet with the fourth book, Summer, expected next year. The books are fictional but reflect the political landscape in Britian at the time. Autumn was written around the time of the referendum and while the story revolves around the relationship between a young woman named Elisabeth and an elderly man, named Daniel, the vote is directly referenced. In fact I found myself reading Brexit into a lot of the scenes in the book. You can see nearly everything as a metaphor. Despite the age difference Elisabeth and Daniel are clearly soul mates. Daniel is now seeing out his final days in a care home where Elisabeth visits him. We go back in time to see how their friendship developed.

The main narrative takes detours into the Profumo Affair and the life and work of little known Pop Artist, Pauline Boty. I was fine with these but can understand why some find the other elaborate flights of fancy pretentious. I just let them go over my head and rolled on through until it made sense again. Overall it was really interesting to read something based on such a turbulent and divisive time and one we are still going through. I also really liked Elisabeth and Daniel and hope they’ll turn up again later in the Quartet. I decided to continue with the others books in the series. 4/5

Winter (Seasonal Quartet Book 2) by Ali Smith

“The people in this country are in furious rages at each other after the last vote, she said, and the government we’ve got has done nothing to assuage it and instead is using people’s rage for its own political expediency. Which is a grand old fascist trick if ever I saw one, and a very dangerous game to play. And what’s happening in the United States is directly related, and probably financially related.”

winter ali

The core narrative of Winter is nature blogger Art’s trip to spend Christmas with his fragile mother in Cornwall. He pays a girl – Lux – he meets on the street £1,000 to pretend to be the girlfriend he has recently split from. After realising that his mother Sophia is suffering from delusions, he calls her estranged sister Iris who arrives to help out. Happily there is a connection with a character from Autumn which becomes clear at the end of the  book. Brexit is still rolling on with fearful Sophia being a Leaver and bohemian Iris, a Remainer. Sophia has become a recluse, wrapped up in her own psychosis and scared that food is poisoned. Iris meanwhile has been living in Greece helping the many Syrian refugees arriving on boats.

As with Autumn we zip back and sometimtes forth in time to learn more about the characters. We see that Art has suppressed his sensitivities to the point where he doesn’t really know how to be himself anymore. His ex has commandeered his Twitter account in an attempt to show him up. Lux is there to illuminate them all and we later learn that she can’t get permanent employment because she might not be able to stay after Brexit. There are mentions of Trump’s election and Grenfell and we go back to when Iris protested at Greenham Common. It’s an incredibly layered book and I fear I only scratched the surface.

The books definitely bear repeated reading to get the most out them. Each one in the quartet references a different Shakespeare play and Dickens novel. Not getting these nuances didn’t bother me although some of the obtuse (to me) imagery did irritate. I have no idea why Sophia sees a disembodied head or Art, a piece of coastline floating above him. All the same, the characters and the story are captivating.  I don’t whether to continue with Spring now or read it just before Summer is released. 3.75/5

 

What was your favourite book of 2019? Do you have any reading goals for 2020?

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