professor smellie sprout

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I have several nicknames, my husband endearingly calls me the Septic Ferret, this has nothing to do with my personal hygiene but was a result of his response to me calling him a lazy old goat at precisely the moment during an episode of Blackadder in which Baldrick had clearly done something unspeakable.  Such billet doux as we send each other (please remember to feed the dog/electrician arrives at midday/we are out of  milk) are invariably signed off sfx or luvlog.   Beat that Cyrano de Bergerac.

However, it is  my most recently acquired nickname that is relevant today.  Professor  Smellie Sprout.  Again this has nothing to do with overcooked Christmas vegetables.  This name was given to me by my knitting group on hearing that I had recently completed a certificate course in Herbology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.  .

[Oh and I got a distinction by the way] 

Much mirth ensued until I cured a very swollen ankle with my sore muscle salve , and offers of beatification followed.  Sainthood is not my thing, I couldn’t keep up the good behaviour for a start,  but herbs most certainly are.

[Did I tell you I got a distinction?]

So in October 2020 I start fours years of training to become a fully fledged, officially registered Smellie Sprout at the School of Plant Medicine in Cork.  In the meantime I need to keep my hand in so I have been writing up  my Materia Medica.  I imagine most people write up theirs electronically.  I don’t, not least, because come the apocalypse when the internet is but a dimly lit memory my Materia Medica will still be going strong.

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Even its box is a thing of beauty, and apparently an office appliance no less.

On one of the first mornings when I could wander around the garden without the need for wellies and waterproofs I began to take photographs to attach to the notes.  It’s surprising how much medicine you can plant in your garden.

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Verbena officinalis  Vervain.  The subject of my first monograph.  One of the oldest sacred herbs for the Romans, Greeks and Druids.  Useful for tension headaches, migraine and may also have a role, in conjunction with some antibiotics, in the control of MRSA.

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Hypericum perforatum  St John’s Wort.  Well known as an antidepressant it is also an important external wound healer.

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Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew.  Best known for the treatment of migraine (and its ability to self seed with gay abandon) it is also an anti-inflammatory and is used in the alleviation of arthritis pain.

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Borago officinalis  Borage.  One of my favourite garden herbs, so pretty and a delicious addition to summer drinks.  A cooling herb it was once called “cool-tankard”.  “Borage for courage” is an oft-quoted expression indicating its ability to restore life and vitality to the  downhearted and those weighed down by mental exhaustion.

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Artemisia verlotiorum  Chinese Mugwort.  One of the many medicinal Artemisia, one of the digestive bitters and strongly linked to the female reproductive system.

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Artemisia absinthium  Wormwood.  Forever to be linked to the era of Toulouse Lautrec and the apparent hallucinations brought on drinking copious amounts of absinthe.  The hallucinations were believed to be the result of the high levels of thujone in the plant, although that has now been debunked.  Today its extreme bitterness makes it a valuable member of the digestive bitters group of herbs and may also help the body cope with infection and fever.

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Verbascum thapsus  Mullien.  Unsurprisingly also known as Aaron’s rod, it provides dramatic structure in the garden both when flowering and as a dry autumnal stem.  Primarily a respiratory remedy, reducing inflammation and increasing fluid production. During a long and nasty viral infection this summer I drank mullein tea every day and can confirm that it is an excellent expectorant and soothing plant.

2019-08-23 08.45.08Leonurus cardiaca  Motherwort.  A member of the mint family, the clue is in the common name, motherwort has a long association with the female reproductive system and motherhood.  Its Latin name indicates its use as a cardiac tonic.

2019-08-23 08.45.30Foeniculum vulgare Fennel.  Almost ready to harvest the seeds.  A carminative, aiding digestion, antispasmodic and often used to relieve colic.

2019-08-23 08.41.17Matricaria chamomilla  Roman Chamomile.  This isn’t doing quite as well this year since the husband “weeded” my original plants earlier this summer.  These are the replacements and with only two flowers thus far my  harvest will be very low this year!

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Lavendula sp Lavender complete with friend.  I’ve been cutting and drying all summer, we have about six bushes which have been very productive this year.

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And here it is drying in the kitchen.

Time to write up all the notes now.

Love Gillie x

messy and the magic of building 20

According to a study by the University of Minnesota messy people are more creative and more intelligent and more creative than tidy ones.  As I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent and quite creative I was slightly put out as I cannot bear an untidy desk or an untidy kitchen or studio.  Where I work (and even where I sleep) I need order.  I have watched my husband put a chopping board on top of the Sunday papers and start preparing dinner.  Now whilst I am delighted that he helps I want to scream at the disorder.  Instead I remove the newspapers whilst his back is turned.

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How I like to work

I can understand the theory behind messy spaces and creativity.  I just can’t put it into practice, it pains me too much.  So it was with some trepidation and some excitement that I started to read Tim Harford’s book “Messy”. Subtitled “How to be creative and resilient in a tidy minded world”, I wondered what I could learn about how to bring messiness into my life.

Beginning with Keith Jarrett’s famous concert in Cologne which almost never happened because the piano was frankly rubbish but became an iconic and best-selling jazz album, he takes us through a wide range of stories about people, music, books and even buildings that became something amazing because in one way or another they were messy.

My favourite example was Building 20 at MIT.  Built during the Second World War as a temporary structure and only given planning permission on the grounds it was knocked down as soon as the war was over it went on to survive 55 years and became a magical incubator of ideas, research and innovation.  Why?  Because it was in theory a dreadful design.

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Building 20 MIT  (copyright MIT Computer Graphics Group

Huge long corridors with more corridors coming off at right angles, the corridors were named by letter and the rooms by number, unlike most American buildings and all of the rest of the MIT buildings  where the ground floor is 1, the first floor 2 etc. building 20  began with 0 for Ground and 1 for the floor above etc.The main corridor was corridor C  and those that came off it were  A, B, D, E and F.  So a room on the first floor on corridor B could be 20B-133.  Even the permanent residents were always getting lost.

Second, it was a dumping ground for projects that had nowhere else to go.  Amar Bose was struggling to finish his dissertation and decided to buy a hi-fi.  He was appalled by the quality and noticed that he was next to the acoustics lab.  The dissertation was abandoned and he practically moved in to play in the lab.  Three years later he produced a contraption with 22 speakers inside.  Thus was the Bose Corporation born.  There was a homeless botanist who squatted where he could find space, apparently he turned down a job at the Field Museum in Chicago to remain in Building 20, MIT later tried to evict him but lost the case!  Noam Chomsky the anti-establishment linguist was next to the Reserve Officer Training Corps and the ice research lab.  Solar car researchers (who used the corridors as roads) were next to the anthropologists.  There was even a piano repair shop with the proud sign “computer free zone”.

The geography of the building and the chaotic allocation of rooms forced people who would never normally have crossed paths to become friends.  People were always getting lost and found new labs and projects.  The long corridors gave people time to talk as they looked for the room they wanted.  Ideas and  projects grew out of chance meetings and lost souls.

Finally, nobody worried about the building.  It was supposed to have lasted only a few years after all.  The infrastructure was run along exposed walls.  If you wanted a phone line, an electric socket you just hacked straight in.   If you wanted to run a wire from one room to another you didn’t have to put in a request and wait six months.  You got out your drill and made a hole.  The team building the atomic clock removed a whole floor in order to make room for it!

This is the messy I can understand.  It is why places like Hubud in Bali work so well.  I have a friend who spent 3 months building her online personal styling business there.  She speaks glowingly of the mish-mash of people and skills in a small place which encourages and supports cross-fertilisation not possible in a trendy co-working space in Shoreditch where everyone goes home at the end of the day.

I have an idea for a small start-up.  It is nothing like anything I have ever done or even thought about before.  The idea came to me during a conversation with a dentist, and it has nothing to do with dentistry or teeth, but her need lit up a little bulb in  my head.  She has no idea of the seed she planted.

Messy is not, for me at least, being untidy it is about getting out of boxes, it is about building your own Building 20.

Love Gillie x

 

 

decluttering changed my life

One year on.  Remember this?

 

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and this?

 

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Well now it looks like this.

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In fact that is a mere fraction of what has gone.  As I write I have six more bags to go to charity and the Singers have been dispatching some of the Boss’s clothes on Ebay.  So what next?  What have I learned?

What next?  Well there is still a huge amount to go.  The Boss is slowly working through his wardrobe and I will have to work at his pace.  The study still has far too much in it and there are a few black holes around the house to which we have been turning a blind eye.  The videos and CDs are a case in point.  But as the house has emptied we have begun to turn our attention towards the garden.  I have plans to turn our garden into a mainly physic garden where all the plants are either medicinal, edible or have other practical uses.  Meanwhile the Boss has finally got on top of the meadow and is planning the wild flower border around it.  Currently it’s mainly vetch, poppies and cornflowers, but give him time.

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What have I learned?  How long do you want me to go on?

Don’t give  up  Like learning to play a musical instrument it is hard at first.  You can see other people knocking off a snazzy sounding concerto whilst you are still struggling to coordinate your left and right hand sufficiently to get three notes out in the correct order.  But everybody has to start at the beginning.  Everybody has to practice, practice, practice before they are a master of the art.  Decluttering is no different.

It does become easier.  Trust me, you will come to a point when you are instinctively picking up things that you don’t want or need and putting them in the charity bag or recycling.

Let go of guilt.  Just because it was a gift or a family heirloom does not mean that you have to keep it.  Offer the latter to somebody else in the family to caretake if it will cause a ruction.  So you bought a dress and have never worn it but keep it because you feel you must.  Don’t.  Let it go.  Sell it on eBay BNWT!

Space is beautiful.  The things you love can shine when they are bordered by space, space in itself is something to love and cherish.

Don’t clutter it up the space.  My entire summer wardrobe fits in less space than my shirts used to take up.  My bookshelves contain books I want to read.  I know every shoe I possess, I no longer open a shoe box and look at the contents with surprise.

As I decluttered my belongings I decluttered my mind.  Now I can’t promise that this is true for everyone or that the two were actually connected.  I suffer from acute  and severe depression, the kind where all is well and suddenly for no apparent reason the lights are all turned off.  I made an active decision after a particularly nasty attack that I was going to think differently.  Thus it is quite possible that  my mind declutter is down to that.  Either way.  This year  I have gone from unsure what to do with my life stay at home mum to published author with a second book in the works; professional tarot reader; workshop facilitator and have plans for a small handmade toiletry collection.  As I decluttered I became more focused.  The things I focussed on were not those that I had expected but I am loving life and have big plans for the future.

Not everyone likes it.  A bit like losing weight and discovering that not all your friends are as keen on the new you.  I have been told all sorts of reasons why “they” can’t do it; why “they” could never let go of books (heaven forbid!) and so forth.  Maybe they really can’t or maybe they are jealous.  Whatever the reason it has nothing to do with me so I shall continue my path.

I have discovered my own style.  As I have let go of things that I didn’t like, need or want I have discovered a style that is mine and I like it.

I have made some amazing friends and some incredible business contacts.  I have discovered crossovers and potential joint projects with people I probably would never have met had I not started, and gone public with this journey.

I have more time.  I can’t explain this one, I still live in the same house, I still have the same family.  Perhaps it is more that I am more mindful of my time, I don’t fritter it away.  As I am only keeping things I cherish I am learning to cherish my time as well.

And finally, I did it because I wanted to.  You have to want to.

 

 

 

 

 

going home and thinking about what next

Today is our 20th wedding anniversary.  We met at the Boss’s brother’s wedding.  He married an old school friend of mine.  She and I met on our first day at boarding school on 16th September 1973… and now we are sisters in law.

The Boss proposed four weeks after we first met.  As I was living and working in Sussex and he was living and working in Glasgow that means we had only met three times before he proposed.  I knew he would propose that weekend.  I told Chrissie, with whom I then shared an office at Sightsavers   that I knew he would propose that weekend.  She laughed but laughed again on Monday when I told he had and I had accepted.

So twenty years  and three children later we are in Australia and have had the most wonderful laid back day.  We travelled up to Nimbin;

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ate samosas in the park in the craft market and listened the music; drank margaritas at The Balcony

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and watched the world wander by; had stupendous burrundi and chips at The Fish Head

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and listened to the drummers on the beach; lay on the beach whilst I taught the Boss the little I knew of the southern hemisphere constellations (the Southern Cross and the Keel); watched the fire dancers; wandered back to the market and bought our daughters a present and came back to our apartment for a glass of wine and some good music.

What do I want now?  Not a lot.  I am going home with a drive to divest myself of more stuff I don’t need or want.  I am going home with a desire to do what we want to whilst we can.  I am going home with a wish to instill in my children that life only  happens once.  I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that if my daughters said they wanted to buy a bakkie (hello my SA friends 🙂 ) and just cruise around until they ran out of money or decided what they wanted to do with their lives then I would be happy with that.  We only have one shot at this life, why should it be something that other people think it should be?