Man Vs Food

Could he, do it?  Could he really eat a burger the size of his head?  After half an hour of build-up, we had to find out.  Welcome to the world of Man Vs Food.

Man Vs Food is one man’s odyssey around the US of A sampling the delights that American cuisine has to offer through the various eating challenges some restaurants have to draw in the punters.  This man goes by the name of Adam Richman.  He is charm personified.  His enthusiasm for food, kitchens, America and life in general has a magnetic draw. You can’t help but cheer him on in his quest.  It’s a great programme showing the diversity of American food.  It’s easy to dismiss American food as all burgers, fries, terrible chocolate and enough sweet stuff to fire a power station.  Yet America is a huge country.  I remember being told once that the distance from New York to LA is the same as from London to Baghdad.  A country so vast must have a lot of diversity within it.

In Man Vs Food, you see amazing seafood from the north-eastern states, Mexican inspired food from the south west, Texan steaks and a never-ending supply of hot wings and other barbecue food matter.  One of the best Man Vs Food came from Puerto Rico, which is part of the States, but somehow isn’t.  Yet Adam and all of us viewers, were bowled over by how amazing the cuisine was as well as the warmth of its people.

America gets a hard rap from most people.  Sometimes this is wholly justified especially where foreign affairs are concerned.  But it is an amazing country.  It has deserts, mountains, swamps and glorious beaches.  It’s quite understandable that two thirds of Americans don’t possess a passport.  They don’t need to go anyway, they have everything they need.

Food is a contentious issue in cancer.  Don’t eat sugar. Don’t eat bacon. Don’t drink caffeine. Every week there seems to be a different bit of advice. It’s a tough call as food is a very personal thing.  We live in a time now where eating is something to feel guilty about.

My cancer has affected my eating.  Thanks to the surgery on my mouth, I can’t open my mouth very wide.  I feel a pang of jealousy every time I see Adam deliver a huge bite into a burger, sandwich or burrito.  My big biting days are sadly over.  It also takes me longer to eat food. This can be a bit awkward, especially in restaurants.  On the plus side, as I’m chewing my food more, the portions I have, have reduced drastically.  Whether this is good or not, time will tell.

I am now a messy eater.  This is something I relish.  I see some people that I eat with recoil sometimes when I am eating.  Rather than be ashamed by this, I get a perverse enjoyment from their discomfort.  This is because, like Adam, I think that food should be enjoyed.  How can you enjoy food without getting a bit messy in a while? Adam often has hot sauce smeared over his face, which he wipes off with the back of his hand, before taking another chunk out of whatever it is he’s eating.  It’s pure enjoyment, plain and simple.

We are lucky to live in a country where food is in abundance.  You could say that programmes like Man Vs Food seems to show the dark side of this where gluttony is celebrated.  Yet food makes people happy.  If you feel like a piece of cake, have that piece of cake.  Just don’t eat the whole cake…

Murder She Wrote

Murder She Wrote is a staple of daytime TV all over the world.  It’s the one programme I’ve seen in both Thai and Czech, which was an interesting experience.  It seems odd that most crime shows involve people solving the crime, who aren’t qualified to do so.  I blame Sherlock Holmes.  He started it.  He went about his investigations in such an arrogant and original way, that he became the go to blue print for modern detectives today.

Now there’s a whole army of these vigilantes going around, sticking their oar in.  Image if that happened in real life?  The Met are investigating a brutal murder when up pops Father Brown to save the day.

There are some parallels with this and healthcare. When you go for an appointment, quite often you a met by Jessica Fletcher rather than DCI Tennyson.  On the surface, there is nothing wrong with Jessica Fletcher.  She solves the crime and everyone is happy.  Yet something is missing.  Police work is often quite boring.  Trawling through phone records and CCTV to get the evidence to prove your case.  But Jessica glosses over that.  Instead it’s all a big adventure.

This is why encountering a Jessica Fletcher in your appointment can be annoying.  They don’t know the detail.  Details are everything in healthcare.  When was your last scan?  What medication are you on?  When was your last blood test? Jessica Fletcher ignores all this.  She wants you out of that room as quickly as possible.  Yet she’s not horrible.  She wants you to feel better.  She is a doctor after all.  Yet when you are spat out at the other end, you are still left with your questions unanswered, bewildered in the waiting room.

That was exactly how I was feeling after all my to-ing and fro-ing in the eye clinic.  No one really knew or cared about the nitty gritty.  Just keep dolling out the eye drops and all was good.  Frustrated I phoned Melissa, my cancer care nurse in ENT.  She was sympathetic.   Within a week, she arranged an appointment for me to see my oncologist and a plastic surgeon at the end of the month.  Simples.  Hopefully now DCI Tennyson would be on the case…

Columbo

Columbo is like Marmite.  You either love it or hate it. Columbo always reminds me of rainy Sundays with my mum concentrating intently, while knitting away.  My mum loved Columbo.  I think this was because you found out who did the murder in the first half an hour of the programme.  With other whodunits, mum would usually fall asleep half way through.  It would be annoying explaining to her the next day who did what.

My favourite Columbo episode involved William Shatner of Star Trek fame.  In it he played a wine buff.  The two of them had a wine tasting face off in the last scene where you were unsure which wine was poisoned.  Seeing two such experienced actors play off against each other was great for a Sunday afternoon.  Of course, Columbo knew exactly what was going on and off went Shatner, hand cuffs and all.

I like William Shatner.  He seems a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously.  I read his autobiography a couple of years ago.  It’s a good insight into the temporary nature of the acting business.  Shatner’s coping mechanism of dealing with rejections that came his way was to shrug it off and keep on plugging away. Our family have a slight claim to fame involving Mr Shatner.  My mum’s cousin shared a room with him while at uni in Canada.  This was a while ago but in his autobiography, Shatner describes his time at uni by “hanging around with cool guys with red sports cars”.  Whether this was cousin Brian or not, is unknown.

My mum also has a quite amazing claim to fame which stunned my husband into silence.  While she was at teacher training college in Loughborough, she popped down to the student union to watch the film that would be playing at their weekly cinema club.  Once she got there, she saw that the film had been cancelled and that a young guitarist would be playing instead.  My mum decided to hang around and see if he was any good.  That guitarist was Jimi Hendrix.  I don’t which fact is more surprising.  The fact that my mum saw Jimi Hendrix in his prime, before he hit the big time or the fact that Jimi Hendrix was in Loughborough.  I wonder what he thought of the East Midlands…

I was once again at another marvellous institution of the East Midlands awaiting my follow up appointment in the eye clinic to see what on earth would be happening. On arriving at the Queen’s Medical Centre, a harassed sounding tram driver told us that unfortunately the lift wasn’t working at the tram stop.  Not a good start. I checked in at the eye clinic, did the usual eye test on arrival and settled down in the waiting area in time for Doctors.

After about half an hour I was beckoned into a room.  I had decided that this time I would use a different strategy.  She had probably already decided what she wanted to say, so I stayed silent.

“How are we today?”

“Fine…” (even though I have half my left eye sewed up, I felt like saying, but didn’t.)

“Right let me look at it then.”

She examined my eye and reported back that it was fine.

“I’d like to see you in three months’ time.  What medication are you on?”

This put me on the spot. I could remember my painkillers and the cancer stuff.  But now I was expected to remember the eye stuff too.

“Urm… something beginning with “L”?”

She frowned.  Surely it must be in my notes! I felt like screaming at her but I kept up the silent treatment.  She scribbled on a prescription pad.  It was barely legible.

“OK.  Here you are and see you in three months.”

“So, I guess the stitches are a permanent thing then.”

“Yes, until you…”

She didn’t need to finish the sentence.  We both know how it ended.

I nodded and left the room.  I smiled one my way to pharmacy.  I had a plan…a very good plan…

How to handle people with cancer

Cancer is a terrible, terrible illness. I have found out those around you have very varied reactions to it.  These reactions are in response to when you say the word cancer, people think of death.  When you tell someone, you have cancer, you are telling that person you are going to die.  This means that the person you are speaking to is forced to acknowledge your mortality.   The awkwardness comes because they are also forced to acknowledge their own morality too which, unsurprisingly, is not an easy thing to do.  So, there are a whole load of hidden demons lurking there.

People with cancer sometimes give others quite a hard time in their response to it.  Whatever they do, it always seems to be the wrong thing.  It’s either far too suffocating or they aren’t doing enough to help.  This is because cancer and any other life limiting illness, changes you.  You have no idea what is going to happen and ultimately, you are going to die.  For this reason, your own life becomes much sharper.  You can see through the fog of nicety and social conformity. You know exactly what you want.  For once it isn’t about others, it’s all about you.

For me, to widely generalise common reactions, most people fall into the following categories:

The “I’m here not matter what” person

Every cancer patient has encountered one of these.  I encountered one just last week.  I was at the cancer support centre I go to and there she was, nursing a green tea.  I said hello and  got the full story.  Her friend was upstairs in the breast cancer support group.  She had been diagnosed with breast cancer about six months ago.  This woman had been to every single appointment with her friend.  She had been to every scan, every blood test, every chemo session, every radiotherapy session.  She had cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for her.  She had cleaned her house from top to bottom.  She had walked her dog.  She had accompanied her taking and collecting her children from school.  She had been at her friend’s side ever since she had been diagnosed.  I smiled.  I was thinking what was going on upstairs.  I bet that now she had finally gotten rid of her, at last she could now finally tell the others in the breast cancer support group what exactly she thought of her!

But she has been soooo supportive! I hear you cry.  Well yes… but to a point.  What you need to ask is how much of all this is to help her rather than her friend?  I got the impression that her friend with breast cancer had no say at all.  It seemed to make her feel better about the cancer diagnosis rather than her friend.

Her friend with breast cancer is partially to blame as well.  When I started my various treatments, I was quick to say to all of my loved ones that I wanted to go through them either with just my husband or alone.  I didn’t want to have the pressure of having to “entertain” people, especially through chemo.  That was my choice. I was always struck by how while during chemo, you would have the cancer patient slumped on the chair.  Next to them a chirpy friend would be asking everyone in the unit if they fancied a cup of tea.  Although I guess this chirpiness is a coping strategy, it can be very annoying.  Be honest with the person who has the illness.  Just have a frank, straight forward conversation where you tell the person what you can do.  Then ask the person if that’s acceptable to them for you to do it.  A person with cancer is finding life hard, but they do have a brain.  In fact they are pretty much the same person you were friends with before the diagnosis, so treat them as so.

The “Just Tell Me What To Do” Person

This person is freaking out.  Maybe you are the same age as this person.  You telling them that you have cancer is like the grim reaper telling them they are going to die.  Obviously you can understand people being shocked that you have cancer.  That is a perfectly natural response.  What is annoying is the response to it.  “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know…”

What’s wrong with that?  Well it’s the ultimate non-committal response.  It relies on the person who has the illness to conjure up a task for their friend to do.  When you have a life limiting illness, your needs vary from day to day and sometimes from minute to minute.  The “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know…” I think weirdly, takes power away from the cancer patient and gives it to their friend.

And all the while they are no closer to accepting the change in circumstances.

This response is more difficult to counter. I have been guilty of saying this when someone I know is going through a crisis.  I guess the best thing is to tell you friend that if you are doing something, ask them if they want to come too.  For example if you are going shopping, ask your friend if they want to come along as well.  If they are too ill ask if there is anything they can get you.  Be specific not vague.  The key is to ask and to remember that you friend is still your friend.  They just have cancer as well that’s all.

The “Do Nothing” Person

I actually don’t mind the “do nothing” person.  To me the “do nothing” person is respecting your space and giving you the time that you need to accept the diagnosis.  This is a completely different story if the “do nothing” person is your husband, your wife or your parents.  If your support network shows no support whatsoever and expects you to carry on regardless of all the poisons and radiation that you are being exposed to then this is a bad thing.

Part of this reaction is denial.  It’s no surprise that quite a lot of marriages break up when one partner gets a life limiting illness.

You must accept that your partner, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend has changed.  They can do most things but there are some things they can’t do.  If they ask for help, provide it.  Don’t tut, sigh, moan and groan.  This is also true for social arrangements.  If they can’t come to your wedding, birthday party, christening, barbecue or whatever, accept it.  Although it does look a little selfish, for the person with the illness, knowing that you have accepted their decision and are having a fantastic day, more that makes up for them being there in person.

It’s hard knowing what to say or do around people who have serious illnesses and there is no one correct answer.  However the key thing to remember is that your friend, husband, wife, brother, sister’s needs come first.  If they are not in a position to articulate these then use your noggin.  You know what they are like.  If they like milk in their tea and there’s no milk in the fridge, buy a pint of milk for them.  If they are fretting about the washing up, do the washing up.  You don’t need to ask permission, just do it.  As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.  Don’t make a song and dance about it, just do it.  Also give your friend, husband, wife, brother, sister a hug.  They will more than likely need that too.

 

Catfish

I have a confession to make.  I am addicted to Catfish.  No, this isn’t some wonder cancer cure.  It’s a programme on MTV.  MTV has gone through a weird change of late.  It used to stand for Music Television and play music videos.  I remember great excitement when my friend, Fran, thanks to a cricket mad dad, acquired Sky TV.  This meant she had access to MTV.  I used to cycle over to her house most weekends.  We became a female version of Beavis and Butthead, slagging off the videos they showed. We secretly hoped the next video wouldn’t be as awful as the one we were currently watching. But it usually was.

Now the last thing that MTV shows is music.  They may feature a quick thirty seconds of something, but that’s your lot.  What MTV does show is back to back reality TV shows.  Most of these shows seem to involve various people getting extremely drunk and doing stupid things.  These programmes have the extremely annoying habit of showing someone doing something stupid. Then a Vox pop with the person who did the stupid thing, describing what they did.  This irritating bit of editing is used in most American reality TV.  It goes something like this.  A man trips over. Next shot is the same man saying as if he’s being interviewed:

“Oh, my God! I tripped over! “

Yes, mate.  We know you did.  Now get over it and shut up!

There is one show that doesn’t fall into this category and that’s Catfish.  Catfish started life as a film.  It was made by a very nice bloke called Nev Schulman.  The film follows Nev and an online relationship he is having with a rather glamourous model called Megan.  However, there is a problem.  Megan is never able to Skype or video chat.  She also lives on the other side of the States from Nev.  Consequently, months go by and Nev has never met Megan face to face.  The film follows Nev as he tries to track down Megan and meet her.  He soon finds out that she is not the girl in the picture.  In fact, she is a married mum in her fifties with two severely disabled children.  Megan was created by her as a bit of an escape from the realities of her world.  Incredibly Nev reacts to this news quite calmly.  He is now friends with the real Megan and is in contact with her.

That’s Nev’s story.  Now Nev and his abled assistant Max Joseph see it as their mission to expose other “catfish” by meeting people who have been in long term online relationships, but have never met their partner.  They set about investigating who the person is.  They set up a meeting between each party and watch the sparks fly.  It is never the person they think it is.  Sometimes it’s someone from the opposite sex.  Sometimes they know the person and they hold a grudge against them.  One time it was the wife of a married couple who felt sorry for the person they were Catfishing.  She even got her husband in on the act by calling and pretending to be the guy that the wife was pretending to be.  Confused?  They’ve had everything on Catfish.  The course of true love never runs smooth…

What Catfish shows is that everyone needs someone to listen to them.  You may secretly know that the person you are communicating with online isn’t who they say they are, but the fact that they seem, genuinely concerned about you, makes you feel special.  The act of listening is something that is missing in everyday life.  As we are no longer listening to one another in the real world, it’s very easy to slip into the online one where every voice seems to matter.

There is also a danger that if you only listen to the how wonderful you are, your ego gets bigger and bigger and you lose touch with reality.  This happened in a classic Catfish episode when this guy was convinced he was in a relationship with Katy Perry.  He had an engagement ring made and was ready to pop the question.  In the real world, he was communicating with a lonely Canadian teenager who had recently moved to England and was struggling to make friends.  Even when he met his Catfish and she explained why she did it, he still refused to believe it.  In his mind, it was Katy’s way of covering up her true feelings for him by getting a stooge to pretend to be her.

It’s easy to live in a fantasy world and to believe our own hype.  The current President of the United States is a shining example of this.  Yet it’s through listening to others that we can see life from a different perspective.  Now, everything is in black or white.  You are with us or against us. You have this treatment or none at all.  There needs to be more active listening, especially in institutions like the NHS.  I hate it when I go to an appointment and the consultant or registrar has already decided what they are going to say before they have met me.  How do they know where I’m at without asking me first?  It’s this lack of meaningful conversation that draws people online.  This could be quite dangerous from a cancer point of view.  Is it really a definite cure or just a huge Catfish that you are dealing with?

The Great British Bake Off

On my way to the tip last Saturday there was a discussion about the Danish concept of hygge on the radio.  Hygge (pronounced hooge) is something that all Danes are proud of.  It is the main reason why Denmark is often voted the happiest country on the planet, said the nice Danish man. It’s a kind of contentment and cosiness that makes you feel good about yourself.  Every person has a different sense of hygge. You can find this on your own, or with others.  With the Danes, hygge is associated with fires and light.  I guess this is because Denmark is mostly dark for most of the year, so any form of light and warmth is greatly appreciated.  Also, it’s where our word “hug” comes from.

One programme that probably is hygge to many people is The Great British Bake Off.   Over recent years, this programme seems to have evolved into having a life of its own.  There is Bake Off everything being marketed at us. If you don’t like, well what is wrong with you! It’s Bake Off! Everyone likes Bake Off!

I do like Bake Off.  I like the fact that not everyone on it is perfect.  The contestants are often portrayed as bumbling.  The judges are often seen as being harsh, when they haven’t been at all. This whole niceness feels sincere and honest.  This atmosphere or hyggeness, is down to Mel and Sue, the presenters. They subtly make sure that no one is too big for their boots by raising an eyebrow on any grand claims made by both the contestants or judges.

The problem I have with Bake Off is baking.  I hate baking.  There I’ve said it.  The reason why I hate baking is that it is by far the most complicated of any cooking process.  There is so much precision to it.  You need to have exact quantities, the exact temperature and the exact timings.  Failure to do so will bring ultimate disaster.  How anyone can find the whole process relaxing is beyond me.  Also what makes things worse is that everyone does the same thing, but in a slightly different way.  You might add sultanas into something and be called a heathen for even thinking of such an idea.  Baking to me, seems just as divisive as politics, religion and music.

Yet somehow, Bake Off manages to make light of these differences.  I think it’s because they often focus on recipes on things that people never make (Jaffa Cakes? I ask you, would you really bother?) or the recipes are so grand, that it would have to be one hell of a social occasion to ever warrant such an elaborate baked item.  This means that we somehow, become a bit like the contestants, wondering how on earth do you ever approach starting such a task.

What is lacking in the understanding of terminal illness is the hyggeness that Bake Off creates so well.  Instead of feeling on the same level as those around you, you can’t help but feel inferior.  Your genes or whatever have messed up.  You’ve had to reduce your hours at work.  You can’t do the things that you could do before.  This is often made worse, though not intentionally, by doctors, nurses, porters, friends, colleagues, family etc who either try too hard or not enough, to accommodate your changing needs.

What needs to happen is what happens on Bake Off.  You have an end to achieve, but there must be a flexibility in order to achieve that end.  In Bake Off this is best seen in the Show Stopper at the end.  Everyone must produce something that matches a certain brief, but it’s up to them how they do it.  It might be a three tier cake, a gingerbread structure or a flavoured bread.  It’s up to the bakers to interpret how best to achieve that aim.

This is true about life too, especially when you have or are recovering from illness.  There needs to be a flexibility so that you can achieve you goals, but in a way that is good for you.  Everyone is different and everyone recovers differently too.  Being terminally ill doesn’t make you inferior, it makes you more aware of your abilities and what is important to you.  When a Dane goes to a restaurant and finds that it’s too expensive, they will often go to a cheaper one as it’s more hygge.  It’s not that the expensive restaurant is inferior in any way.  For other Danes that restaurant will be hygge for them.  It’s about finding what’s comfortable for you and then having the confidence to stick with it.  Despite what Paul Hollywood might say…

InfoWars

It started one Saturday morning.  I woke to hear a man shouting in a Texan accent.  I went downstairs to see who this man was.  My husband was cheerfully frying bacon.  He was listening to the man on his laptop in the kitchen.

“Who’s that?”

“It’s Alex Jones. He’s bonkers.”

This was my first introduction to the world that is InfoWars.

Alex Jones is best known in the UK for having a go at Piers Morgan.  Normally this kind of behaviour should be applauded.  The topic on which Jones was yelling at Morgan about was gun control.  Morgan was for it.  He presented his arguments logically.  Jones just shouted.  How dare a limey interfere in such an issue! Some Americans may have loved this, but to us Brits, he looked like a loony.

So why was my husband listening to him?  My husband loves conspiracy theories.  He likes to debunk them.  Alex Jones is the main gatekeeper to most conspiracy theories doing the rounds.  I’d like to think that my husband doesn’t believe at lot of what Jones says.  He’s fascinated as to why people do put such much faith in Jones and his ilk, when it’s all a bit bonkers.

It’ll come as no surprise that Jones is a Trump supporter.  In the lead up to the election, he went into over drive in his condemnation of Hillary.  He slated her appearance, style, vocal pattern, everything.  Nothing was untouched.  It made very uncomfortable listening.  Jones would argue that the same was done to Trump.  This is true.  Trump seemed to revel in his notoriety while Hillary tried to rise above it.  It was a tactic that unfortunately back fired.  Trump kept on pushing those buttons and Hillary’s silence seem to fan the flames even more.  This was not Clinton’s fault.  It’s because now politics is black and white.  You are with us, or against us.  Any attempt that doesn’t fight fire with fire looks weak rather than statesmanlike, which is wrong.

Now though, Jones has won.  It wasn’t something he had planned for.  He’s got no real reason to be angry. I could sense he was ready to call Trump a patsy for not carrying out his promises, but he can’t. Trump is doing exactly what he said he would.

He’s tried to turn his ire onto the protestors against Trump.  They are obviously being paid by the establishment to block true Americans from speaking.  Yet his arguments are half hearted.  They simply aren’t as juicy as Hillary.

In the UK after the EU referendum, a similar thing happened to UKIP.  They lost their main reason for existing.  No one wanted to be their leader as no one knew what they were cross about.

This is the problem if you dally in the politics of hate.  It’s far easier for people to see differences than similarities.  Everyone loves a good moan or rant.  When you have a consensus, someone must compromise.  And that aint fair.

It’s much easier to blame the man for your problems, than look at yourself. The man is at fault for creating this polarised world.  That said the politics of hate have always been around.  It’s a shock to see it in the interconnected world that we have become.

So, is there an answer?  Can we ever shut up Alex Jones while keeping the Hillary lovers happy too? Each side needs to listen to each other.  It’s questionable if that will ever happen, especially when both sides are using fake news to fuel their arguments.  Yet over time I hope that the echo chambers will become smaller through communication and listening.  Banning cretins like the awful Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking is not the answer.  It widens the echo chamber further.  These people need to be confronted.  When Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time, support for the BNP collapsed.  The same could happen to Alex Jones and the alt right Illuminati if we listened to their views and debunked them.  This isn’t something that will happen overnight.  It will take generations if ever at all.  Changes in technology mean that we are all become insular seeking company with those who agree with us.  There needs to be far more debating in schools, community centres, pubs, cafes, anywhere.  We need to switch off our phones and actively engage with the world around us.  It may be awful, but unless we confront these worrying attitudes on both the left and the right, all will be lost.