James is At The Beeb

It is always great to catch up with long term friends that you haven’t seen for a while, and regardless of the amount of time passed – you pick up where you left off. At my friend Sophie’s wedding I was pleased to catch up with my school friend Chris. Chris is a great guy who gives me much pleasure to talk about as he is definitely one of life’s good guys and he only needs to open his mouth and if you’re not careful you will wet your self with laughter. He often reminds me (without meaning to) of the importance of good bladder control.

Chris works for the BBC as a radio presenter for Radio 5 Live and can be regularly heard on his own Saturday show (Saturday Edition), or stepping in for other established presenters like Nicky Campbell or Victoria Derbyshire.

I am always pleased to hear about Chris’ career progression and as I have watched him on live webcam and listened into many shows I was able to ask him a few informed questions about his job. As he talked I realised that he could facilitate another mini-adventure (of sorts) and so I just came out with it and said “so how ’bout I sit in on one of your shows?”. ‘Seize the day’ as they say right?!?

Chris was very pleased to welcome me up to visit him at the BBC and was more than happy to show me what goes on. I agreed a date with him and on the Saturday after work I headed straight up there pleased to have a break from parental responsibilities for a weekend.

I arranged to meet Chris a couple of hours before his show started. He met me in the large glass paneled BBC reception which was decked out with a ballroom dancing theme, no doubt this was to promote the prime time Saturday night show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ which had coincidentally started filming in a studio nearby a few moments before my arrival. I could hear the warm up guy going through the motions with the (over) excited audience.

Chris showed me around the Televison Centre which was interesting although he was quick to point out the failings of the centre and what the benefits were of the BBC moving to Salford. You could almost hear the building creek with age and the Broadcasting Corporation was visibly bursting at the seams. Time to move was possibly well over due.

The BBC Centre, other than studios and the exciting stuff, is just made up of three other components;

1. Staff – obvious really, someone has to turn the lights on/off.

2. PC’s – more screens than you can shake a stick at, seriously, there were enough computers to rival Houston’s Mission Control Centre.

3. Corridors – miles of walking space broken up by fire doors. Yep, if the staff liked to walk (and open doors) and walk, then they were working in the right place. Carrying a coffee any distance though must have been horrendous, add possible complications of carrying a Danish too – impossible!

Chris walked me through the Newsroom where the news comes in (funnily enough) and the TV studios which were mostly off limits due to ‘Strictly’ being filmed. We headed back to the radio studio where Chris continued his preparations for the show.

There is  an awful lot of work that Chris, the producer and the editor (plus other contributing regulars) put into making a show happen, and I was very pleased to meet two of the ‘regulars’; Helen and Olly who I have listened to their (Sony award winning) podcasts for some years (Answer Me This!). They do a  slot on Chris’ show giving a round up of all that has been going on in the world of the web over the week and review some of the interesting or slightly odd stories.

Despite being coy on my visit so far about getting my ‘proper’ camera out, I casually asked Olly for a photo and he casually agreed so I casually reached into my bag and not so casually gave it to Steve Fowler – the top journalist from Auto Express magazine (who does a slot about the top new cars and motoring news) and asked him to take a snap, which he did.

I watched the show from the production suite with the editor, sound desk lady and another guy that linked Chris up with the journos reporting news from the Ruby World Cup, Westminster (Liam Fox and Werrity story just breaking) and wherever else things were going on.

I was told that “what happens in the suite stays in the suite”, so I can’t tell you much more about what tricks are used to drive the engine of a BBC radio show but when I eventually felt brave enough I took a cheeky picture with my phone of what it looked like.

The show went smoothly and afterward the Editor held a short debrief meeting to gather thoughts and feedback.

As we collected our bags and pressed the button for the lift Chris gave me a smile and reached for his wallet, “I’m buying…..” Music to my ears! A couple of pints of Doom Bar, an exchange of stories and some Iraqi food was a great end to the evening.

Big thanks to Chris and his lovely Mrs for their hospitality over the weekend. You can follow Chris on Twitter; @chrisjwarburton or listen in to Radio 5 Live every Saturday from 8pm.

Have a look at Chris in action…!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00cjh1m/Saturday_Edition_04_12_2010_The_5_live_family_talk_about_our_family_survey/

Wishing you all the best in Salford – I’ll be listening!

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James is A Dad

I have dug into my archives and dusted off this article I wrote for the National Childbirth Trust Magazine. It is very old! Molly is now almost 7 years old (I can bearly believe it) and a very different little person than described/shown here!

Two years and two months ago, my wife (and I) had a beautiful baby at The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. What an experience!

Being our first child Gayle (my wife) figured it might be a good idea to attend the NCT group meetings. I wasn’t quite so eager as it meant giving up some of my precious ‘chill out from work’ time and anyway, what if the other blokes are complete weirdo’s… at best they are likely to be more serious and adult than I. I still love my Hornby trains…! Would we get on…?

My wife and I had a brief discussion; she reminded me that when it comes to her pregnancy she is the boss so with no defence argument; we went. Once there, along with several other nervous looking mums-and-dads-to-be it was actually rather interesting and I learnt much about what happens. The guys were a mixed bunch but we were all up for a laugh and I soon relaxed.

Being somewhat of a wimp, I couldn’t watch the video of the water birth, however the ladies seemed fascinated and we all had a lively talk about why a midwife was holding a small goldfish net?!? As well as enjoying the comical aspects of the process together we all left the meetings feeling somewhat more prepared.

Having said that, nothing could prepare us for the actual reality of a grainy scan picture becoming an actual little person.

When the time came and labour ‘commenced’ I had 14 long hours trying to recall what I had learnt at the NCT course. ‘Long labours and how to keep bright and interesting’ did not feature as far as I recall. Thank goodness I thought to take my laptop with me! After watching a couple of my favourite DVD’s I thought I should really consider my wife’s entertainment needs and offered to put on “Aliens 2” but strangely she wasn’t in the mood so instead we sat and lay on the bed together watching ‘My Pictures’ roll past the screen in slide show mode. That for me was the best bit, seeing pictures of friends and family, thinking how the dynamics will change with a new addition. Being the 5thNovember we could just see fireworks out the window in the night sky. That is a memory that I will always cherish.

Being ‘supportive’ for such a long stint was hungry work. The hospital shop was closed but the garage opposite the hospital had a wealth of crisps to choose from so with a Lion Bar and a packet of cheesy Quavers in my pocket I returned.

As I re-entered the room it seemed like things were progressing at last. I tried to be ‘The Rock’ that I know Gayle wanted/needed me to be, yet I could only give reassuring nods and statements like “everything is fine, you’re doing really well.” In truth I had no idea how she was really doing, and as for fine…will she be fine, I don’t have a clue…. If the noise in the next birthing suite down the corridor is anything to go by then perhaps I should change my reassurance to “I am sure everything will be ok in the end, and I think you are doing well (so far…)” and then perhaps back up the statement with “no matter what happens – we’ll get through it” as it sort of covers all eventualities.

As I finished my Quavers and brushed the crumbs from my face the baby was born – Thank goodness… we’ve done it! I was knackered! (Oh and Gayle was too…!)

The midwife put the little thing under what looked like a mini hotplate briefly while the fingers and toes were counted. Fortunately everything was in order and Gayle was presented with the little bundle on her chest. We shared a moment – I didn’t really get ‘moved’ by much before then, but it was a great experience (apparently I shed a tear, but I think Gayle made that up as it is a preferred memory to the one of me eating Quavers).

Then it dawned on us – Boy or girl!?!?! – a girl, a gorgeous precious little baby girl. Obviously I wanted a boy, don’t all men…? However she was a real cutie and stole my heart immediately. Woooo there – hold up!!! What the hell was all that white stuff on her body…?  Turned out to be some weird stuff called Vernix. Then she was passed to me… wow… so small, so beautiful. As the realisation that I now had a family crept up on me my little girl marked the occasion by delivering a gift on my forearm called Meconium. If you dont know what it is – ask someone. Lets just say it takes more than one wet wipe to remove. I hoped it didn’t symbolise her future behaviour toward me.

Gayle is now 7 months pregnant…. Does it get any easier with two….?

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James is In The Paper

9

A tree house will delight your children, and building one is a perfect Easter family project. We show you how in five easy steps

Nick Weston Published: 17 April 2011 – Sunday Times

Tree houses are magical places. Few other things can conjure up the dreams and desires of adventure and escape within the minds of children — and of adults, too. Almost everyone has a tree-house story from their youth: either they had one, wanted one or played in a friend’s. When I was eight, a few planks crudely nailed to the fork in an oak tree did it for me. Two years ago, yearning for a change in my life from working in London, I went back to those boyhood dreams of life among the leaves and, with the help of a slightly broader range of tools than the hammer and the nail, I built a full-size tree house from recycled and natural materials in West Sussex, and lived in it for six months.

Recently, tree houses have become increasingly popular, prompting various companies to pop up, offering high-spec arboreal dwellings (all very well if you can afford the £10,000 price tag for a kid’s high-rise playpen; see panel, far right). For me, that’s not what tree houses are about: they are the very pinnacle of do-it-yourself, an exercise for the amateur, aspiring builder to flex his (or maybe her) construction capabilities. Designed to use up unwanted scraps of wood, they exist to fuel the imagination. And above all else, anyone is qualified to put one up (providing you know which end of a nail to hit).

Building a tree house is every parent’s duty and should be accepted as a challenge, rather than a chore Building a tree house is every parent’s duty and should be accepted as a challenge, rather than a chore. With spring in full flow and the schools off, it is a great way for the family to all work together: dad wields the drill and takes the position of foreman, children are the architects and help out where possible, while mum keeps everyone fed and watered, and is in charge of interior design. (Apologies for those sexist stereotypes.) A fun family project with only one requirement: a tree.

Even so, James Gaydon, 34, a manager from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, was apprehensive about building one for his daughter Molly, 6, and son, Reuben, 4.

“I’m terrible at DIY, and I’m not sure if we have a tree that’s suitable,” he told me when I offered my services as a tree-house consultant. “We have a willow and a fir, but one’s a bit wonky, and the other is by the fence.” While James clearly didn’t fancy himself as a handyman, his wife, Gayle, 36, had more confidence in his ability: “Well, you didn’t do a bad job of the shed…”

Gayle was right; the fact the two of us knocked up the tree house in two days (in the wonky willow) is testament to her husband’s abilities. And the whole thing cost just £160. It was a bit of a rush, though; ideally you should take three to four days, which should be easy, given all the bank holidays coming up.

Before reaching for your saw, bear in mind tree houses may be subject to planning rules. These vary, but as a general rule, a tree house must be less than 4 metres high to the pitch of the roof, if more than 2 metres from the boundary (and less than 2.5 metres high, if it’s within 2 metres). If it has a flat roof, it can’t be more than 3 metres. It should also be at least 5 metres from a dwelling and have no more than 30 square metres of floor space. If in doubt, check with your local council.

When it comes to materials, I’m a great believer in “treecycling”; that is, using recycled and natural wood. This not only keeps down costs, but adds character. And it’s a good test of your magpie instincts.

My nearest timber yard, Mid Sussex Timber, is happy for me to take offcuts for a few pounds. Skips, new developments and friends’ garages are another source (make sure you have permission, of course). Natural wood can be used as soon as it’s cut, and seasoned in situ. Hazel, ash, chestnut and birch are excellent for their natural straightness, and oak and hornbeam for their curves and contortions.

Nick Weston - Who has built a tree house - for the Gaydon Family. (Stuart W Conway)                                                   Nick Weston

Some materials will need to be bought: make the foundations or frame for the platform from treated two-by-four or two-by-six timber. For roofing, use shingles, featheredge fencing or corrugated iron.

The tools needed are fairly basic: a power drill, a jigsaw or skill saw, handsaw, hammer, ratchet, spirit level, tape measure and set square for marking. For fixings, a bag of nails and a variety of screw sizes are handy, though screws of 40mm and 80mm will meet most needs.

Large coach screws are best for attaching the platform frame to the tree; galvanised ones will minimise the damage to a tree (they don’t rust, and form a tight seal that reduces the risk of infection).

A few days building a treetop escape with the family will provide lasting memories. There is nothing better than sitting back and admiring your hard work, knowing that you have created a space for your children to enjoy for years: somewhere for them to play, to do their homework or to escape their parents — or maybe for you to escape them.

Scenic branches

If you are lacking in DIY skills, there are plenty of companies that will construct your tree house for you. The buildings range from children’s play houses to fully insulated grown-ups’ hideaways, complete with plumbing and electricity. Here’s a selection.

The Treehouse Diaries by Nick Weston is out now (Collins & Brown £16.99);huntergathercook.com

8

How it unfolded. My account! My blog!

“James, out of interest have you got any tree’s in your garden?”

Twitter is used for all sorts of things but a request for tree information from someone was a little… well odd. Why would anyone be ‘interested’ in my humble trees? What I then realised was that the ‘tweet’ had come from Nick Weston – a guy that had made his name by living in a tree house in a Sussex woodland for 6 months. Now when I say tree house don’t go thinking Wendy house 3 ft off the ground or flat pack shed type structure… no, it was somewhat more substantial and original than that.

Nick wrote a book called ‘Tree House Diaries’ and it is a great guide to living with the resources around you and using knowledge and skills to get by.

Nick's Tree House

Now for those of you that regularly read my blog posts (I appreciate that may just be me… and actually I am no frequent visitor) you’ll know I have mentioned Nick 2 or 3 times in the past in relation to his tree house adventure and also his knowledge and willingness to eat food that others wouldn’t consider (fancy a bit of Pike?) – my personal interest lies in picking up tips for eating the meatier wild food varieties. So it was a great surprise to hear from him, although it still didn’t answer the question of why he was interested in my tree.

I responded via Twitter and after a couple of emails I understood that he had set himself a challenge and needed a) a tree and b) a family that like to get involved in a project. Nick planned to build a children’s tree house from scratch in 2 days using at least 60% – 70% recycled materials (only buying wood for the platform base and some for the roof). Nick sounded positive about it but in 2 days? Really? He then explained that the Sunday Times wanted to cover the build for an a feature in the ‘Homes’ section in the following edition on 17th April. Nice, nothing like getting your picture in the paper eh!

Saturday morning came and Nick arrived with the content of a small copse poking out of his car which turned out to be the main upright and roof supports that he had cut himself that morning from woodland, mostly birch and hazel. Once the recycled bits of wood (skirting board, a woodflooring plank, some off cuts from someones new porchway etc) had also laid out I was pleased to discover that Nick believed that every good project should never be started without a cup of tea. As we drank there was a fair bit of pointing at branches, head nodding and statements from Nick like “yeah we can do that”.

Nick had only seen a photo of the tree before but had sketched a rough design which was a cute small version of his tree house. I knew Molly and Reuben would love it.

Work began and with only a rare glance at the clipboard design the sawing and hammering began. I soon realised that my skills were best suited to holding bits of wood, and fetching drill bits however Nick pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and get busy. I made the door and after that grew in confidence and happily put out some of the exterior cladding and made little adjustments here and there.

The tree house is accessed through a little trap door ensuring that the kids felt it was very much their tree house and gave them a sense of ownership. What they don’t fully realise is I have the agility of a mountain goat so if I needed to I could get in to stop any naughty behaviour or give assistance if needed.

Molly taking it easy…

Reuben getting involved…

Day two arrived and a cheery Nick arrived and once the tea mugs were empty more hammering and drilling started with surprising pace. The platform that we built the day before was soon fitted with a frame for the roof and then the sides and windows starting taking shape.

Both Molly and Reuben really enjoyed doing a bit of drilling although learning of this tool that ‘made’ things then meant I had repeated requests to drill and screw off-cuts together to make small wooden objects that only they could see any point in. Two small lengths with a screw drilled in the middle soon made a pair of scissors (of a sort) and a couple of other pieces soon made a Reuben what can only be described as a weapon… ummm…. that was soon confiscated.

It was a great opportunity to work as a family (with Nick in command) to construct this awesome tree house. The weather was great and it was amazing what we were achieving, never before had I considered taking on such a task but I began to realise that actually it wasn’t THAT hard! I smiled when I noticed that Molly had written her name on the trap door – she’s a proper little ‘tagger’ but she doesn’t put her name to just anything so I knew she was pleased with our work and wanted to lay claim to it.

The day passed quickly and although we were under pressure toward the end, the tree house looked great. Gayle got busy dressing the tree house with a floor rug, blankets, bunting, paper chains that she had been making with the kids that day, some flower pots and of course the Gayle trade mark – fairy lights. Beautiful. The very final touch was putting the name plaque on it… “Star Lodge”.

Stuart the photographer from The Times arrived and took some photos of us all in staged poses which was fun although Gayle was keen that I didn’t wear my ‘horrible bull t-shirt’, but too late, no time for a costume change now.

Interested to see how the article looks and read Nick perspective on how the project went.

As the evening sunlight began to fade Stuart and Nick packed up and after some high-fives and words of thanks they both left. Gayle got ice-lollies from the freezer and we all sat in the tree house licking our lollies with fairy lights lighting up our grinning faces. I was exhausted and very happy to see the delight that Molly and Rubes had sitting in their new den (that didnt involve 2 chairs and a blanket!).

Plans for their first sleep over are in place and once a couple of finishing touches are made… although originally it was designed just for the kids it will fit us all in there… I dont know who is more excited, the little ‘uns or me!

If you want to employ Nicks services in making something bespoke for you, give him a shout and I am sure he’ll be happy to talk it through with you.

Have a look at the ‘Products’ tab on his website www.huntergathercook.com

Tagged: tree houseNick WestonSunday Times

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James is Searching For The Easter Bunny

One of our annual treats is to visit the in-laws in Ringwood, Hampshire every Easter.

The kids have the easter egg hunt in the garden, we visit some location attraction and visit or walk along the beach. Great fun.

One constant desire of mine has always been to understand the many different types of seaweed to create a seaweed snack, but even with The River Cottage book – Edible Seashore close to hand, I am still not confident enough to try the seaweed and unless I look like I know what I am doing in the kitchen my mother-in-law is unlikely to want to accommodate me. I think I am already seen as a bit of an oddity within the family as it is, so cooking up bags of seaweed wont help me…!

Thankfully there is more than one food for free, and rabbits are in abundance. I am more familiar with these cheeky little furballs than seaweed so I was thrilled to get the chance to shoot a few with my Ringwood friend Pete; who hadn’t previously ever shot rabbit. An opportunity to shoot and eat rabbit with my friends in the beautiful backdrop of the New Forest was something not to be missed.

Hiding near the paddock (suitably away from the horses) we were spoilt for choice and within minutes I had bagged a ‘biggy’ and shortly after Pete added a couple more, (he loved it!) so much earlier than we expected we sparked up a fire and started the prep.

Plenty of protein available for the taking

After skinning and gutting, I firstly quartered the rabbit and then removed the bone and chopped into bite size pieces. I used a mint type of marinade (I cheekily got it for free from the girl behind the meat counter, but can’t recall what it was exactly!) and covered the meat.

A Few Selected Cuts

I prepared a potato, a carrot, some courgettes, and onion, and leek and put in the pan with some water ready to boil.

The rabbit went on and cooked nicely and then I added some chopped lamb liver (got to have a bit of liver) and the veg pot went onto the hot ashes.

The end result was very very tasty and Pete, Heidi (Petes’ Mrs) and I sat drinking pear cider and reflected on the day and enjoyed the clear skies.

Rabbit, lambs liver, potato, carrot, courgette.....Done.

Only problem… the rabbit was tough as my old Doc Martens, but with a strong jaw and some determination, I got through it. I later learnt it was because I cooked the rabbit too quickly… the slower the better.

Next time I’ll possibly boil up in stock for a few hours and then pull off the bone to mix into a delicious dish.

Live and learn eh? You got to try these things!

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James is On ‘This Morning’…

Not a typical blog post, more just a video clip and write up from the ‘This Morning’ website. I think I’ll write something more extensive when the whole treatment has finished. I am due to return in the Autumn but I have no idea what’s happening! All part of the fun…
Bald busters Male grooming expert Richard Anthony joins us to offer his follicle advice

This Morning

The issue of baldness is something many men worry about, but very few admit to.Not only can it lead to daily jibes from friends, it can affect your relationships, confidence and even career.

Richard Anthony joins us to offer advice on how to treat and cope with baldness.

What does Richard recommend for our case studies?

James Gaydon

Treatment: James is testing the Satura product range which costs £3,000 for four months of treatment in a clinic. The three products in the range he will be using are Satura Rosta – regrows and thickens hair (twice a week in a clininc); Satura Pro – stops hair loss and thickens hair (daily) and Satura Super Scalp – for oily/freasy hair, dandruff, inflamed and itchy scalp (daily). Once this treatment is finished, there are no more costs involved and this is not something you have to continue to use for life. The hair you grow back will stay. The products are all 100% natural and there are no known side-effects to the treatment. For more information, go to: www.gzlabs.co.uk

Nick Ward

Treatment: Nick is going to use Procerin Tablets and XT Foam which costs £200 for a four-month supply and claims to have no unwanted side-effects. This product is ideal for men with thinning hair or a receding hair line.  The less hair you have, the longer it will take, and if you have been bald for some time, it is likely that the hair follicles have died and can’t been kicked back into use. In the first two to three weeks you may notice an increase in shedding – this is because the hair follicles which are in their dormant phase are being kick-started into growth: the old hair falls out to allow for new hair growth. Between three to four months you should notice a significant improvement in the health of your hair: it may start to feel thicker and fuller. At this stage, many users also report a reduction in the thinning of their hair. For the best result, users should continue using this for six-plus months. For more information, go to: www.procerin.com

Tony Flack

Treatment: Male grooming expert Richard Anthony will be seeing Tony regularly for four months. By regularly cutting, dying and looking after his hair, Richard believes he can improve its health and thickness. For more information, go to: www.richardanthony.co.uk

Tags: hair

http://thismorning.itv.com/thismorning/style-and-beauty/bald-busters

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James is ‘Living With Epilepsy’

Published February 2011

Lindfield Life

Getting my head around it

My body was beaten up but I had a real sense of being under the control of something in my head. I was filled with fear knowing that it could happen anytime.

The doctor lent over his desk, looked over the top of his glasses and said “Well James, you have epilepsy, how do you feel about that?”. I wanted, initially, to let my fists do the talking and show him how this news wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.

I am not the violent type so I just fumed. I let him explain that many people take this type of news badly and as a consequence need to be referred to a psychologist to help them readjust. It was about six months earlier that the first incident happened.

My dad was woken by a banging coming from my room in the early hours. I was known for keeping odd hours (I was a teenager) so my dad lay there for a moment before realising that this wasn’t just me being inconsiderate but that something was wrong. As he walked in my room I was having a seizure. They used to be called ‘grand mal’ but nowadays are referred to as tonic clonic seizures. My body convulsed and shook like it had electricity being passed through it. With my jaw clenched I struggled unconsciously for breath and my eyes rolled back. Mum and dad stayed with me while the convulsions continued and then after a few minutes they began to ease. The doctor came and even now I can remember the smell of his jacket. I think all doctors over a certain age who wear jackets and have the medical bag have a similar smell. However, I think they say that before or after a seizure your sense of smell can be heightened (don’t quote me, I have it, but I am not a doctor!). The doctor said that I had suffered a seizure but the cause was unclear and at this time no specific medical treatment was required.

I think anyone may have a seizure once and that may not mean you’ll have another, so it was a case of wait and see what happens next. He advised rest and correctly stated that my body would feel fairly battered. To be more accurate I felt that I had been 12 rounds with a pro boxer. My tongue was blood-red with teeth marks and swollen, all my muscles were filled with lactic acid and ached, I mean really ached, and I had a banging headache.

Once the doctor and his strange smelling jacket had left my mum gave me a Magnum ice-cream (a rare treat usually) to reduce the tongue swelling but on this occasion there was no pleasure in the eating. It actually hurt to open my mouth and my tongue didn’t want to be consoled.

Time passed and I tried to shrug off the event and continue on. I was always aware that ‘it’ may return and did do some research on epilepsy, but confident that I didn’t fit the epileptic demographic it wasn’t something I was going to worry too much about. I was coming up to 17 years old so I was concentrating on gaining some financial independence, and keen to have fun with my friends.

About six weeks later it happened again. Much the same situation except this time it was a shorter episode. This time I actually woke up after the seizure (I cannot recall how much longer after) however I was petrified. My body was, as before, beaten up but I had a real sense of being under the control of something in my head. I was filled with fear knowing that it could happen anytime. There was no way I could sleep that night until I passed out with complete exhaustion.

I saw the doctor and he arranged for an Electroencephalogram (EEG) and MRI test. Although my fears were becoming reality, I was also really pleased that questions were hopefully going to be answered. The possibly horrible truth was better than the very scary unknown. The doctor showed me the results of both tests and both were unremarkable. No I didn’t have a tumour, and yes I did have a brain. My poor GCSE results were down to my inability (laziness), not a medical deficiency.

At this point he delivered his diagnosis with all the tact he could muster. Epileptic? What? You said the tests were clear…? How do I feel about it? Come here and I’ll tell/show you! I believe it was this same doctor that told me how epilepsy will affect my life. Specifically, I couldn’t work with children as I could harm them during a seizure. Sports teacher plans out of the window then… no need to aim high with any further academic qualifications.

Despite learning to drive when I was 15 years old (when working on a farm) I couldn’t hold a driving licence of any kind until I had been seizure free for 3 years. Independence denied. Stuck in my rural village for another 3 years (at least).

Furthermore, I had to take pills everyday, twice a day. I was given the standard anti epileptic drug called Epilim. These purple tablets were to be taken every morning and every evening to ensure that the drug remained in my blood around the clock. I really did need to start living by the rules that were being laid in front of me.

As I walked from the doctors to the car I made a decision. I could either become angry, frustrated and be a victim in this situation, or live to the maximum that I could and endeavour to overcome any obstacle. Well there was no choice so I decided it was time to ‘man-up’.

Later in my mid-twenties, after many seizure free years I had another seizure while I was working for Volvo as a salesman. This was a daytime episode so this meant I lost my licence for 1 year (DVLA were more lenient by now) but importantly I lost my job. I had to reluctantly ‘sign on’ while I had an increase in my drugs and started taking Lamotrogen (also used as an anti-depressant) with my Epilim. As I was keen not to sit about I went to a college for people with disabilities for a year to study Sales, Marketing and Customer Service. The college was residential and was a really interesting experience. Plenty of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Well to be honest not so much rock n’ roll. I didn’t seem to fit the demographic there for sure. I spent most of my time as a recluse in my room minding my own business trying to avoid getting involved in the police raids (two in 10 months). There were a lot of people angry at life, frustrated by the limitations of their bodies and many who had also had their lives turned upside down and dreams and aspirations broken. The impact of my disability on me was not as harsh as those experienced by others. I was, and I am, very lucky.

So in conclusion, life is hard, it is full of surprises, some good and some bad. It is my belief that the important thing is how we choose to respond to the challenges that we face. One thing I am reminded of again and again is how lucky and privileged I am. Regardless of what happens I have family and friends that love and care for me, and now as I write this at 34 years old I am particularly blessed with my wife and two children. With this love and support nothing can touch me. Our blessings always outweigh our troubles, sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of that.

Someone who knows more about Epilepsy than me can tell you about the relevance of this diagram. I just like the colours…

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James is Eating For Free

Pigeons… an easily sourced free food that has been sitting under my nose…

As I continue to look for food to forage and struggle to find people willing to let a stranger with a gun roam around their garden/land I have had to look closer to home – literally.

Since reading a blog post by Nick Weston (Tree House Diaries) about a 100% foraged meal I have been inspired to try it out for myself but lacked the confidence to take aim within my garden due to legality. I was encouraged to check it out by some like minded mates and it seems I am allowed to shoot in my garden if NO pellet leaves the boundary of my property. GREAT NEWS!

Up until now the pigeons have ruled the roost, but not anymore (well they are perfectly safe for 99% of the time when I am at work) but when opportunity presents itself I like to gather the food on offer.

It seems always important at times like this to state that shooting animals is not a good idea unless it serves a purpose. Any animal or berry that I remove from the countryside has one destination and that is my tummy – via the kitchen.

Before
Ready to roast (well almost)

After

I will soon be taking bookings for my first “Food For Free Meal” and I cant wait… I am a little way off as I am giving away too many pigeons to chef friends but with two in the freezer it wont be long.

Short of a loaf of bread for sandwiches the other day I cooked 2 pigeon breasts with garlic, bacon pieces and pasta. I stirred in some Thai source…. which was a bad choice of source… but it was very nice all the same!

I am learning as I go!

Nick’s Blog post on his forgaged meal is below…

http://www.huntergathercook.com/

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James is Eating Out.

I love my wife… I really do… but she drives me nuts.

The opposition I get when I wish to cook anything that you don’t generally find in Sainsbury’s (although these days you’d be surprised) is so great that I only ‘go there’ when I need to. In any good marriage you choose your battles carefully. Nine years of marriage and I am still learning which are the right battles…

Ok so enough marriage guidance – my point is that I have got a new outlet for cooking my wild food and enjoying the outdoors.

My good friend Charlotte has an allotment in Lewes which is a great venue to meet up on a cold evening, upturn some large flower pots for seats, build a fire and throw a pan on the hot flames.

Charlotte works for an organic vegetable producer and so always has something good to bring to the pot from work or indeed from her patch around us and I try to bring at least one meaty offering from a field (rabbit) or tree (pigeon) to cook.

The food is not exclusively free, foraged, or wild. In fact the meat and fish for our first meal was 100% supermarket produce, and there was no theme to it! Plaice, sausages, lamb chops, lamb kidneys, and a piece of steak… Since then we only supplement our hunted/gathered offerings with items to have a variety of food to eat.

Charlotte and I worked together some years ago but do not know each others friends so each time we meet up we invite a person that we would like the other to meet, and hopefully that person will enjoy sitting out in the cold sharing stories and eating what we have. Despite more recent meals being prepared by torch light and the chopping board is wood from a pallet, there have been no complaints so far verbally or from anyone’s guts!

Speaking of guts we had an interesting experience last time with offal as we had to visit a supermarket to buy some kitchen roll and water to boil the vegetables (ok, ok… poor planning) and on our walk around Steve, (our invited guest) disappeared and returned with 6 lamb hearts. Rough…. hearts… um, not my thing…. but I could not let Steve-o out do me, so I warmly congratulated him on his find and reluctantly went to the checkout.

Once the flames had died down and veg was ready to go on Steve took great delight in cutting up the hearts into manageable pieces. He clearly was listening in this GCSE or A Level Biology because as I sat wittling my hazel ‘folk’ I could hear him proclaim “I think this is the ventricle” and later “this must be one of the arteries”. I tried to ignore it as it wasn’t helping be ‘O.K’ with eating this much over-looked food. I suggested that they should be stewed (which we didn’t have time to do) to soften them up but this feeble attempt to avoid eating these hearts wasn’t enough to dissuade Steve or Charlotte.

It would be nice to drop a picture in here of the hearts but I rarely think about taking photos when out doing these things, and I was trying to stop myself retching so taking a picture for future reference was not high on my agenda – sorry.

Yes I ate some. I did it, it is done. I am unlikely to do it again…

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James is No Ray Mears

I checked the weather forecast on Friday morning; no change – rain, rain, and more heavy rain, but my enthusiasm for the weekend was not dampened.
Once we had gathered Leon the lead instructor led us deep into the dark wood to ensure that we had as authentic experience as possible of survival. Having two children I couldn’t help but be wary of Gruffalo’s lurking with terrible teeth and turned out toes… but the wood was Gruffalo free.

The rain was already falling heavily but all of us were looking forward to what was ahead. A male nurse, a solicitor, a warehouse manager, and an IT technician were some among the group and we all had an interest in bushcraft and had different levels of experience but what we all had was a desire to get stuck in and enjoy the course.

The campsite with only a basic tarp and camp fire.

On arrival at the ‘campsite’ we had a warm mug of chunky lentil soup and got straight into ‘Fire by Sparks’. Using a Fire Steel we scraped sparks into a bundle of hay. For some this was picked up quickly but others took a little longer to get the technique. Afterward with a cup of hot nettle tea Leon explained the importance of the four cornerstones of survival (fire, shelter, water and food) and how we were going to cover each component in the morning. As the fire died down we turned in for the night.

We slept under a tarp (canvas sheet) with rucksacks as pillows and listened to the rain falling above. Camaraderie increased and we laughed into the night about what was to come and we soon felt at home with each other and shared stories.

We slept under the tarp on the first night during heavy rain.

Next day we were up at 7am to collect water from a nearby stream. Following it to the source we collected several litres which were then filtered through special canvas bags (later boiled too) next we went foraging for food. As we walked Leon showed us different plants, fungi and berries and explained that some are good if cooked (Acorns) and others will stop your heart beating within minutes (Foxglove). With this in mind nothing went into the tin without Leon giving it the nod… Other than the last of the blackberries we collected burdock, roots from bulrushes which taste like sweet potato, elderberries and some garlic bulbs from a river bank.

We used Millbank Bags to filter the water we collected before boiling it.

Back at camp we drank more nettle tea and made breakfast.  Flour mixed with water and a sprinkle of raisins made bannock; a basic dough. When cooked it was absolutely delicious. Later we learnt how to gut and skin rabbits which resulted in lunch and dinner which were two very tasty meals added to the other things we had collected.

Once the rabbits were prepared we kept two for spit roasting and the other two were browned and added to a stew.


As the rain continued to fall Leon explained that it was now our turn to build a shelter. I pulled down a previously built shelter made by someone that clearly didn’t have much/any rain to contend with and started over. This was my big mistake. I should have placed new bracken and on the older more compacted leaves to increase the density of the roof covering rather than replacing it. By the time I realised it was too late and I just had to get as much bracken as possible which was very energy sapping.

My loose leaf shelter. My accommodation for night two.

As I unfolded my foam mat and sleeping bag (with broken zip) I feared the worst. I did have an ace card up my sleeve; a bivi bag – a waterproof covering for my sleeping bag so I felt as ready as I would ever be. I wiggled down into my bag hoping that I was the only thing with legs in my bag. Once I found a position that didn’t hurt I prepared for sleep. You yourself will know that point where you exhale deeply as you relax your body for the first time and prepare for a change in consciousness….. well it was at this time I felt a drip land on my forehead. It was only a drip so I wiped it off and still congratulated myself on the shelter I had built. Three and a half hours later with rain dripping from everywhere I could take no more! Fumbling to find my head torch I tried to get out of my sleeping bag which was stuck to me and struggled to pull on my wellies on which were behind my head…not easy in a 3 foot high shelter. I marched up to the tarp used the previous night and closed my eyes… ahhh the joy of a tarp… I quickly slept/passed out.

I opened my eyes…. at last it was morning, AND it wasn’t raining. With more bannock and nettle tea in my tummy we evaluated the success of our shelters. Leon then taught us about making ‘Fire by Friction’. After much effort with the bow and drill I tipped the orange ember into some dry tinder (hay) and teased it into a hot spark and then a flame. The sense of achievement and satisfaction was amazing. It was great to encourage others to keep persevering until they too had smoke then fire. Then we looked at how to turn stinging nettles into cord which I struggled with from the start, but others did really well.

Fire by Friction kit. Bow, spindle, Hearth, and Bearing block.

The last cooking activity was lunch; a sea bream gutted, washed and then slowly cooked on a stick in the heat of the fire, this was fairly straight forward and tasted really good. Finally for the last hour we were shown how to make a wooden spoon using a piece of silver birch. Using a saw and a crook knife we all managed to create something that looked like a spoon. We chatted about what we had learnt and what we would do again and how and much we were looking forward to a hot bath!
You may have noted that I haven’t mentioned the toilet… well this was a survival weekend…. best left at that!

www.wildwoodbushcraft.co.uk

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