Monday, 6 August 2012

Edible Landscapes

Hidden away in the corner of a corner of Finsbury Park is a gardening project with a difference. On other community growing sites you might find neat rows of tomatoes, potatoes or leeks. At Edible Landscapes London Caucasian spinach scrambles up a tripod of knarled wood, walking onions brandish their crop in tight bunches in the air and sarsaparilla produces beautiful deep purple flowers which turn to feathery seed heads. 

What are these weird and wonderful plants for? Are they just for decoration? Do they need special looking after? Why not grow useful, traditional crops?

The answer is that not only are these plants beautiful and interesting, they are also (and these are the criteria for being grown in this garden) good to eat and easy to look after. And Edible Landscapes London’s (ELL’s) aim is to teach the wider community how to grow and eat them.

My interest in this kind of gardening began when I came across Plants for a Future, first published in the early nineties:  a fascinating catalogue of a vast range of different plants which I would have never dreamed could be eaten and the result of years of growing and research by its author, Ken Fern. So when I found out that there was a group raising some of the plants I had read about right on my doorstep, I was keen to go along and find out what they were up to. And to see in the flesh plants I had only read about before – like the marvellous walking onion!

On my first visit the pouring rain offered a good reason for an extended lunch, including, as afterwards I kept telling anyone who would listen, ‘the most amazing salad I’ve ever tasted’. Sedum, wild rocket, fennel, sorrel, marguerite leaves, and much more – all just picked from a plot overflowing with colour and taste.

On subsequent visits the rain held off a bit, but the amazing salads and shared lunches continued, around tending the garden. These plants may be good at looking after themselves, but there is still work to be done - especially as one of the ways ELL promotes robust and tasty plants is through its work as a community plant nursery, raising new plants and distributing them to local food-growing projects. After just a few visits I had helped with propagating sedum and fuchsia, spent an enjoyable half hour untangling bindweed from a small hazel tree, and painted up a sign explaining the uses of a hop plant (the young shoots can be steamed and eaten).  

Many of us have edible plants growing happily in our garden without our even being aware of it. Roses, sedum, fuchsia, lime trees, hollyhocks, campanula, nasturtiums: parts of all of these plants are edible (check which parts before you cont...
start eating them!).  All of this has much more than just amusement value. There is a growing recognition that producing our food locally is an important way of reducing our carbon emissions, as well as often being much healthier than buying tired, plastic-wrapped veg in the supermarket. Forest gardening, which ELL’s plants are ideal for, has a lot to offer, especially in the face of climate change. Not only is a forest garden more ecologically sustainable than a conventional vegetable patch, it is also more resilient in extreme weather conditions: trees protect the smaller plants from strong wind, and permanent root systems hold water and nutrients in the soil, protecting them from drought and flooding. This kind of gardening is also less work, with gardeners spared the repeated tasks of digging over soil, weeding, replanting and regrowing plants each year. 

If any of this catches your interest, there are several ways of finding out more. Edible Landscapes London has volunteer days on Mondays and Fridays from 10am to 3pm, and also runs courses on plant identification and tree grafting. Check their website for details:, which also has directions to the site in Finsbury Park. 

And if you want to find out more about forest gardening, you could start with Martin Crawford’s How to Grow Perennial Vegetables, with clear advice and plenty of colour photos. 
Review: Meg Kelly
Photo: Deanna Harrison

American madness

I will out myself before I write this review as someone very skeptical about a lot of aspects of psychiatry, especially those within the profession who claim to know all about the origins of mental distress and who fixate on diagnosis and the consequent pharmaceutical ‘treatment’. This is still very much the case in 21st century USA with the DSM wars, the hugely corrupt role that the pharmaceutical industry plays in the over medicalization of near normality, and the over diagnosis of children, young people, adults and the elderly inappropriately with various psychiatric disorders.

 The US psychiatric profession (or ‘alienists’ as they used to be called) has, in its short documented history,  thrown up probably more than its fair share of differing movements, terrible interventions, examples of neglect, ignorance, sidelining etc

This book, thicketty and academic, does bear persistence . It’s written in a not-exactly-jaunty style and does demand a large measure of commitment. The triumvirate at the heart of this odd piece of history are Adolf Meyer, Emil Kraepelin and Bleuler. 

Germany was feeding ideas through to the US at the turn of the 19th century. The whole idea of ‘disease’ was being challenged. For years illness was thought to be caused by a ‘disruption of natural balance’  - maybe a ‘miasma’  (fog, or filth), ‘imbalance of humors’, or heredity.  Occupation and personal habits were seen as causes of disease too (‘governess psychosis’, ‘milk fever’ etc). 

Then came the ‘specificity of disease’ theory – focusing on biological mechanisms. Neurologists reigned,  claiming professional jurisdiction over ‘functional ‘ nervous diseases such as ‘neurasthenia’ and ‘hysteria’ . Asylum doctors were the alienists. Asylums were overcrowded, apathy had descended and  the length of stay had drastically increased. Alcoholism, paresis (caused by syphilis) and depression and ‘dullness’ seemed to produce chronic patients. The popular thought then was heredity so psychotherapeutic efforts were limited. Medical students were untrained in psychiatry.

Heavy drugging with hypnotics and sedatives took place (plus sa change..) – bromides, chloroform. morphine, cannabis and hemlock among others.  Those in homeopathic hospitals had a much higher recovery rate and lower death rates.
The county asylums were filthy, cockroaches as well as infectious diseases such has typhoid and diphtheria were rife.

Fast forward:

This book tells the story of the sudden appearance of the diagnosis dementia praecox by 1912, when in 1895 there had been no cases. Then by 1927 it was fading away. Eventually it was replaced by schizophrenia. It is a dramatic story and Noll shows the codependency between a disease and the scientific status of the profession that treats it.  

Kraepelin named dementia praecox ‘corresponding with hebephrenia’. It marked a patient as incurable and transferred patients to asylums for the long haul. He equated each condition with ‘natural disease entities’. It also meant that psychiatry could reject ‘brain psychiatry’. He still believed in biological basis for mental diseases but he didn’t believe all causes were in the brain. Thus we weave through the many vicissitudes of diagnosis, conditions, explanations and conclusions. Meyer critiqued Kraepelin and so it went on. It pingpongs back and forth from a very ‘medical’ interpretation to a psychological one – nearer to  Freud and co who were airing ideas at the same time.

It’s a tough read but fascinating. Nothing really changes in the polarization of ‘cause’ and subsequent treatments. All through the 20c theories have swung from highly  medical to societal and stress-injured.  Time please for a swing towards the stress based model for origins.
Review: Polly Mortimer.

No Lone Zone at the Tate Modern

Sadly, by the time you read this it will be too late to visit No Lone Zone. The exhibition provided powerful glimpses of the work of three individual artists and one art collective, all from Latin America. I was lucky enough to catch it on its last day at London’s Tate Modern, though it was then on display at the Sala de Arte P├║blica Siqueiros in Mexico City until 15th July. 

A ‘no lone zone’ is an area too sensitive or unstable for any one person to be present there. It’s a military term that may also be applied to laboratories, banks, casinos, or any highly vulnerable or risky environment. Stepping into this particular sensitive environment – “accompanied” by the gallery attendant in the next room – I was immediately captivated by David Zink Yi’s video installation, Huayno and fugue behind. I found myself looking out onto the bustle of a market place: a fast food stall, market-goers making their way through the crowd, traders touting their wares. But this view was particular in two ways. Firstly, my window onto the market was crossed by vertical, multicoloured ‘bars’ – the strings of a harp-like instrument, whose player’s hands moved constantly in the foreground, plucking the strings until the last few seconds of the clip. Secondly, as the harpist played, he, his instrument and the camera slowly turned, allowing a gradual 360° view of the surrounding scene. Presumably by chance, the CCTV camera looking down on me from above the projected video added an extra dimension: I was being filmed as I watched the faces of those filmed as they watched the harpist in Huayno. 

The harpist’s music was as enthralling as the market bustle surrounding him: a cheerful, delicate tune. It was hard not to hum along, though I stopped short as I read that the stately flag hanging just beside me had been stained that distinctive reddish colour with ‘blood and other fluids’ from execution sites in Mexico. This piece is the work of Teresa Margolles, who continued the juxtaposition of the alluring and the horrifying later in the exhibition. Her Score Settling series consists of items of expensive jewellery in brightly-lit display cases. They turn out to have had their jewels removed and replaced with fragments of glass from the windscreens of those killed in drug-related shootings. 

In the room between Margolles’ bloodied flag and broken glass jewels, a giant squid sprawled, collapsed on the gallery floor in a pool of blue-black ink. 

The focus of the exhibition was on violence and politics in Latin America, but I found myself wondering how the ideas it touched on might relate to experiences closer to home. Could it be that each of us has our own potential ‘no lone zones’ – experiences or memories too powerful and intense for us to bear on our own? That if we find ourselves with no way of articulating these experiences to others we may, in distress and confusion, end up expressing ourselves in ways that are labelled psychotic or neurotic or abnormal or crazy? And if this were the case, for recovery to be possible might it be necessary for others to be open to listening to what we have to say, for us to discover new ways of speaking and being with ourselves and with each other? In other words, could some distress be the result of our having had to venture alone into dangerous ‘no lone zones’? 
Reviewed by Meg Kelly

The Dignity Challenge: A new initiative in Haringey

Cards are now available with ten vital points:
High quality services that respect people’s dignity should:

1  Have zero tolerance of all forms of abuse
2  Support people with the same respect you would want for yourself or a member of your family
3  Treat each person as an individual by offering a personalised service
4  Enable people to maintain the maximum possible level of independence, choice and control
5  Listen and support people to express their needs and wants
6  Respect people’s right to privacy
7  Ensure people feel able to complain without fear of retribution
8  Engage with family members and carers as care partners
9  Assist people to maintain confidence and a positive self esteem
10  Act to alleviate people’s loneliness and isolation

What’s in our intray

News from OXFORD about mindfulness:Prof Mark Williams from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre part of the Department of Psychiatry has been conversing with the head of the Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Mindfulness is based on ancient Buddhist practices – and is a western adaptation of eastern 

The clinical term for mindfulness is Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Researchers have found that those who regularly meditate feel happier and can alter the physical structure of  the brain. Trials showed that after an eight week course of MBCT those who had had three bouts of depression were 44 per cent less likely to suffer another episode.

His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa  projects a common message: Reduce attachments to burning emotions, contain the ego, accept yourself and discover compassion. Mark Williams calls mindfulness ‘secularised spirituality’. ‘Mindfulness is a mode of awareness that is available to us all.’

Mindfulness sounds like a wonderful and powerful nonpharmaceutical tool to become mentally healthy. Worth finding out more.

News in Brief

Bipolar UK National Conference 2012
Squinted at the slides from the Bipolar UK National Conference 2012 on Diagnosis. Nothing revolutionary and still stuck in the dark ages treatment and cause wise, but good to see some thought was being put into how things may look in the future – fluidity of‘diagnosis’ , emphasis on the individual etc. But all pretty pharmacological.

New Books
The Fix by Damian Thompson sounds like a must-read. Charting the (among others) stories of 21stcentury addiction – including the young people in the States addicted to Ritalin and Adderall (18 million prescriptions a year). Hope to review in the next Equilibrium.

Bullying and self harm
Although not yet completely researched and therefore only a preliminary conclusion, the suggestion so far is that a child who is bullied is more likely to self harm. From a purely objective angle this would make sense in that there is a need to vent anger but there is also a fear of reawakening any external anger, so the subject takes pent up emotions out on him/herself, internalising the issue. The research was established by studying twins of age 5 to 12 and included interviews with the children’s mothers. Pumla

Outdoor mental health therapy service expands
A Scottish mental health initiative that encourages people to learn basic wilderness skills and undertake conservation activities is expanding into new territory.

The Branching Out programme, which is run by Forestry Commission Scotland, has announced its first course in East Renfrewshire. The 12-week course, run in partnership with East Renfrewshire Council and the Glasgow Association for Mental Health, will see participants take part in site walks, tai chi, forest photography, hut building, tree identification and willow weaving among other outdoor tasks. Research has shown people who make use of green spaces significantly increase their physical activity levels, improve their confidence and self-esteem and tend to enjoy better mental wellbeing.

Epidemic: a piece of community theatre

It’s a warm Wednesday evening in May (remember those?) and a crowd of us have been seated in the darkness of a tunnel running under Waterloo station. We have gathered to hear a story, relayed to us by a team of nearly two hundred, addressing the public health concerns of the people of Southwark. We are here to see the fruits of eighteen months research and development, brought to us by the Old Vic New Voices; we are here to encounter an Epidemic.

A new musical by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Suzy Davies (produced by Steve Winter and directed by Alex Ferris), Epidemic is a piece of community theatre – a musical, exploring mental health and obesity through the story of Marlon, a young man battling with schizophrenia. Ambitious topics and an ambitious production, Epidemic was designed to tap into the current zeitgeist: the strain of London public health, an unsteady NHS, and over-burdened, under-resourced mental health services. The title and performance also strongly alluded to the ‘epidemic of opinion’ brought to us by new social and news media, particularly how this ties in with our views on mental health and obesity.

The narrative interweaves the stories of Marlon (aka ‘#busnutter’), Iris – an elderly lady suffering from dementia, and Lawrence – an obese American. Panicked by paranoid fears of hospitalisation, Marlon has stolen the mobility bus parked outside his G.P. in which Iris and Lawrence are waiting to be taken to a day centre. What follows is a poignant, at times hilarious, and always affecting tale of hope and fear, community and isolation, stigma and acceptance, as the three embark on a journey to the beaches of Norfolk, to escape the lives and labels that entrap them. Thelma and Louise meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest, the production combined music, dance, theatre and mixed media to bring the characters and issues to life in a way that was never didactic and avoided easy answers.

Some of the most memorable lines came from the songs (occasionally a little too jazz-hands for my liking, with a chorus of very pretty young “actoooors”), including a rousing rendition of ‘Bugger the bankers and politicians. Bugger the bureaucrats too. Bugger the buggers who make up the rules, and if you’re one of them bugger you!’ Another favourite was the finale song, ‘Life, in all its complexities’, which, to me, encapsulated the heart of the piece: ‘Life, with all of the highs and the lows, the yeses and noes, the joys and the woes, the maybe I don’t knows. Life, the passion the glory, the strife, if you’re lucky you’ll breeze through easy – chances are you won’t, ‘cos that’s life’. Far more ‘we’re all in this together’ than Cameron and Osbourne will ever be. My only recommendation would be that Old Vic New Voices take this show not only around UK schools, but also to the House of Commons. Although presented theatrically in a world of heightened reality, there was an authenticity to this performance which spoke of real people, real experiences, and real battles with services and stigma. Although a very atmospheric setting, Epidemic – like the characters – should be brought out of the darkness (of the tunnels or of fear and shame) to take the world head on and show it what it’s made of.   
Review: Kate Massey-Chase

Gail Hornstein

I hadn’t been prepared for Gail’s individual and personal style. She is consummately professional, yet allows her grumps and grumbles and individual reactions to filter through, thus lifting and rounding the whole experience of reading the book. She ferrets and sherlocks her way through her journey towards understanding and grips the enthralled reader. 

Near the end of the book, she visits the Rosetta Stone engraved with ancient hieroglyphics in the British Museum in an attempt to gain inspiration about deciphering the text on the jacket. Many people had tried to decipher the marks until a brilliant polymath Champillon managed to crack the mystery.

‘Even brilliant, dedicated scholars can be blinded by incorrect assumptions. Because they rejected the idea that hieroglyphics made sense, Champillon’s competitors prevented themselves from figuring out the meaning of ancient Egyptian texts.

What if today’s biological psychiatrists are stuck in an equally misleading train of thought? What if their PET scans and genetic studies are based on a fundamentally wrong assumption about how to understand mental distress?’

Part‘tec, part humane listener, part psychology prof, combined with her forensic ear for detail and what’s important in the fractured lives of those she writes about, makes for a fascinating author. Finally she sees the real jacket. To me this was the most moving part of the book. It was like finding Tutankhamun’s treasure.

‘My white-gloved hands carefully ease the jacket from the protective paper it’s wrapped in. Sliding the storage box to one side, I lay the jacket out on the counter, its sleeves fully extended. Bettina has given me a magnifying glass and I hold it up to the intricate writing on the left arm. The room is silent. I’m holding my breath.’
Everyone needs to tell their story. From Arturo Bispo di Rosario’s huge cloak (Equilibrium 2008) covered with his life, to Hungarian apron patterns to protect against unseen forces, to Agnes, from draughty church halls to autobiography, from blogs to balladeers, making sense and recording that sense and having it heard, seen, touched or read is supremely important. Read this book! 
Polly Mortimer

Agnes’ Jacket by Gail Hornstein

It took a long while to read this book – each morning this August (I was ‘between jobs’!) if it was sunny I would take my breakfast into the garden and savour a few pages of Agnes’Jacket. I found it a truly compelling , as well as harrowing, read. The essence of this book is the overwhelming importance of telling one’s story and that story being heard. Agnes Richter’s jacket was sewn in the late 19th century while she was in an asylum – all over it is text in Deutsche Schrift – a script almost unintelligible to anyone, even experts. 

‘What if Agnes’ Richters jacket and other madness narratives are like this? Her embroidered garment and the diaries and memoirs of other patients aren’t actually so different; ’text’and ‘textile’ do come from the same root. These texts have all been woven into patterns we can’t make sense of on our own. But what if we had someone fluent in the language of madness to translate what seems beyond understanding to the rest of us?’

So she sets out – through the US and Europe – to survivor’s groups, Hearing Voices gurus and group members, to the basements of academic libraries, psychiatric day centres (the Clarendon!), to displaced individuals, police advisors and Wiltshire aristocrats . She patiently listens to archival testimonies in the British library sound archive and scales fall from her ears. She is discovering meaning in psychosis, heard voices, mutism and all forms of distress that too many professionals write off as gibberish.
Polly Mortimer


The name dyslexia can be described as a learning disorder which causes difficulty in areas of reading, writing, and numeracy. Or nontechnical known as word blindness. This is a general term, because for each person it could be different. For example one person maybe good at math’s and physics like Albert Einstein, another maybe good at language like William Shakespeare, and someone else maybe good at creative things, whilst being bad in other areas. In this case both of them had Dyslexia.

Another description which I find more appropriate is abnormal brain may have ten neurons connected to both sides of the brain allowing the information to move in between both sides of the brain more frequently. Where as a dyslexic brain have may have the same amount of neurons but some lets say half were not linked to the other side of the brain. This means that the information from one side to another takes more time to travel between hemispheres. 

This does not mean that dyslexic can not do well. The thing is you have to remember that it is very frustrating for us. When we are in “normal society” we try to fit in but sometimes it takes several tries to get into our heads. So what happens we have to use visual methods (colors, drawings, videos, flowchart etc) to help us? In some cases we use humor to get ourselves noticed. Dyslexic do not want their weakness to hinder them in their chosen fields. Many dyslexic thrive in their respected fields. Now a day’s dyslexia is found and treated very early. There are however some people who do not find out till their later years.

What is recovery?

At different points in my journey ‘recovery’ has meant something different. At my worst, recovery to me meant being able to sleep for more than an hour at a time. To go a day without a panic attack. To feel alive and not like a shell of a person. To eat a meal without seeing it as poison. Being able to deal with pain without cutting my body or taking to another’s bed. To not feel trapped by invisible walls...

When I was agoraphobic, recovery meant being able to go to a local shop and buy a pint of milk. When I was recovered enough to go to a local shop, recovery meant being able to go to a supermarket.
When I dared to dream beyond this, recovery meant being able to hold down a job, socialise, or dare I think, start a family..?

Seven years into my recovery, I have achieved all of the above. I am no longer a shell, but a person who loves life, who embraces all that life has to offer. I get up every morning to a happy marriage. I have a beautiful son that lights up my world. I hold down a full time career, a business and a part-time role also. But am I recovered?
Yes I use gloves to put petrol in my car.
I use my sleeve to go through doors. I hand gel every time I touch something someone else may have touched. I hold my breath when I walk past a bin and fear taking my son to school, as in my eyes those lovable class mates are germ ridden snot rockets waiting to infect...

In the eyes of the world I am still ‘odd’. But do their eyes matter? Really? If using my sleeve to open a door means I can conquer what is behind it. If having my husband do the school run means I can be a brilliant, chilled out mum that does other things with my son, if using gloves in a petrol station means I can drive hundreds of miles on my own to meetings and presentations without feeling dirty... Their eyes do not matter.

YES I could go through a door without a sleeve. YES I could fill up without gloves. YES I could take my son to school. BUT as a wise man reiterated to me yesterday ONLY if the benefit from doing so outweight the fear/difficulty. And surely it is only for me to judge that?

Do I long for a day that isn’t a fight? Yes. Do I wish I could be free from all the little fears that try and screw up my every day? Of course. Do they make me any less of a person? Absolutely bloody not!
I’m proud of where I am, happy with what I’ve got, and embrace the next stages on my journey of recovery... Because that’s what recovery is to me: a journey, not a destination.

Charlotte Fantellii

Excerpt from Mentally Healthy blog

What’s in a name?

Nicknames are a common place; many cultures use this to refer to without mentioning the person’s forename. Sometimes names come are reference to their physical aspects a friend of mine used to wear large square glasses, hence he was called See fax another friend was built as an tree and was called Frankenstein. As for me I used to be known as Spam-head because my fore-head was as big as a pigs behind, spam meaning being 90’s terminology, or  known as Gorbachov
(former president of USSR). 

With each age group the type of nickname changes but they are sometimes dependant on a persons actions or the way they behave. For example a person that is too much into technology like me maybe called tecy in the 2000’s or a geek, 90’s term or square eyes in the 80’s. At times it could be used as a point of reference with out using that person’s name. This could be used to protect the person’s identity. Mostly it’s done by using speech marks to show that it is not their name.

Sometimes it is as I mention above it could be about the way they behave. For instance a person with only his legs moving and the rest standing still could be called Beeny. Or even a person who cracks jokes all the time could be known as the Joker.  Even a person who can not keep a secret can was known as Microphone. On a serious note it could be used as a way of insulting a person with out saying their name i.e. Mop-head, specs, butter fingers even fat head. These types of reference are stated to directly insult a person. To the person doing that it makes him or her feel bigger.

Sometimes people give people silly names like Coochipoo, Bubbles, Hunky, Tweetypie, Sweet lips, Hunky- pie and many more. I do not why they use these names. But it is obviouse that people will find out that so and so has that name, and would cause them embarrassment.

This is not just used in one single country but globally. And in each country they use their own nick names indigenous to their country. Sometimes it could be used to hide a persons identity if they are doing something illegal i.e. hacking, robbery, grafity etc. Sometime to hide they are using a sudanim (nick name), they call it a tag. If you look at grafity all they are is the persons tag name. To be honest nicknames should only be used as a point of reference either if you are protecting a person or you don’t remember their name. 

What we notice in the city: The Cat

She’s grey: soft dust-coloured, but brighter, and she has tabby markings. I spot her on the other side of the railings, tilting her head to chew tall stems of grass. The traffic roars on the road behind me, exhaust fumes taint the air, and at first she doesn’t notice I’m there. She is somehow larger than the cats I’m used to seeing, as if her bones were on a different scale. She looks up, and our eyes meet. Hers are a luminous pale green. She pauses, holding my gaze. I hold hers. I greet her. She pads towards me, up to the railings, and I wonder whether she’ll mew, ask me to stroke her. Not a bit of it. She is sussing me out.

I move away, walk round the corner, though the gate and into the grounds of the church. With no railings to separate us, I approach her again, cautiously. The same challenging gaze meets my curiosity, my wish for contact. As she stalks off, away from me, unhurried and alert, her body is slung low between her shoulders. There is a wildness in her gait, and a slight awkwardness. Is she pregnant? Her neck is collarless. No one to look out for her but her own untamed self. 
Meg Kelly