Some years ago my eldest son, now 23, decided to learn Mandarin, so I thought I’d have a crack at it too. Yes, I’m that malleable. The text sheets only had a couple of suggested names, so he became Handsome From the North and I, Winter Plum Blossom.

One of the punishments landed on my progeny when they’re being unhelpful is to have extracts of Hiawatha read to them until they do something useful. Works fabulously. If I intone, ‘By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water,’ I get instant obedience. Very Pavlovian, but with less meringue.

Handsome recently bought his own Hiawatha, presumably because he wanted the younger ones to do something for him; I feel a clean bedroom/car coming on. My little grey cells thought this was funny; thus appeared an East/West fusion…


Handsome From The North they called him.

And his arm was strong as bear

And his bare arm strong as lion.

And his lion around was legend.


And his mother was a blossom.

Of the winter, of the plum.

But the cadence was against her.

In a single line, she couldn’t

Put her name, poor Winter P.

For the Blossom, it was too long.

Though the Winter it was quite short.

And the Plum was even shorter.

Thus she struggled, though her daughter

Was a student, English major.

Though she rambled, rules were broken.

Yet she could not get her name in.

So she failed, sweet Winter Plum



Then she cheated even more so,

Put the cart before the horse-o

Blossom Winter Plum for syntax.

Though it sounded strange and foreign,

BWP was somehow pleasing

For at school; some moons ago;

An acronym all pupils used

To denote a thing of no note

Waste paper bin: WPB.

Thus bin name Winter Plum Blossom

As it carries probs with cadence

Blossom Winter Plum she’ll be.


Handsome found that thus to ramble

Passed right down the family tree

Then he sweated and he cried out

For a rambler such he’ll be.

Nights of torment, nights of terror

And yet nothing he can do

For the fates have now decided

He shall be a rambler too.

Fly his puns as straight as arrows

Hitting target, makes him quiver,

Bad enough to make a bull sigh.

Bravely shaft you with his humour.

Other mortals bow to topics

Verses, rhymes of serious note;

But he won’t change his tone, for he

Will not be blue: ‘snot in his genes.


Handsome’s father, Ha Ha, said

To Handsome’s brother, Minihaha,

‘Caution! Near the Big-Sea-Water

Temptation’s lying all around:

Little magic playing boxes,

Designer envy: Gimme Gucci;

Sticks hit balls to flags on greens;

Squaws whose clothing don’t abound

In the sun the paleskin’s redskin.

Beware of Peeling Face and shun

Fall-Over-Water, Spicy Wind.

But these vices have a function:

For moral lessons: mock a sin.’


Handsome From The North; they’ve shelved him

Now in print his words abound

His story tomes now are book ends

Bound, his stories became ledge end.



© Winter Plum Blossom 2012

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Beating, whipping, rubbing, slaving, dustup.

50 shades?

No, housework and cooking. All negative words. Nothing positive except gleam. I’d be a happy puppy if housework was entirely banned and a little polish pertained only to a small gentleman from Warsaw.

Yet you can’t expect to bin housework entirely. Even if living in a cave you’d need an occasional swipe at the floor with your second best broomstick to get rid of carrot peelings, squirrels, an overstock of newts’ eyes or left-overs, like frogs’ bodies.

Nowadays glossy magazines and TV programs promote house worship; froufrou furniture, bijou bidets, pretentious paint, designer glue: it’s a DIY make-over take-over. An explosion (though a neat one) of homephilia, or even chez-moiphilia if French. Yet a foreigner (bless their pronunciation-challenged cotton socks) might be startled by our interest in euthanasia, there being so many ‘die’ outlets available.

It’s time we dispensed with DIY. A much better option would be returning to the barter situation, so I babysit your sprogs and you put my shelves up. An hour’s dog walking might equate to half a metre of ironing or some light bulbs changed. This system will be called SEDIFY: Someone Else Do It For You. Much more time efficient, as people would be doing tasks they liked and were good at. This would bestow a warm and fuzzy feeling on both donor and recipient; like kidney donation, but without the fuzzy-making anaesthetic. Or blood.

I’m a terrible wallpaperer; my husband decided we’d move home shortly after one of my more notable efforts. However, I have other talents; walking dogs, making apple crumble, arguing with teenagers; you get kitchen and plastered, I get teenagers and curfew, although there seems to be a short straw in that pairing.

We use SEDIFY at home as everyone has some culinary piece de resistance. When I delegate dinner, we eat flapjacks, chocolate cake, spaghetti hoops or beans depending on which child has been designated chef. No, vegetables don’t feature; artistic licence, they tell me. That’s their piece of resistance.

The worrying bit is if the government decided to tax SEDIFY. We’d have to go to the Houses of Parliament to change 25% of their lightbulbs or put up 40% of a shelf. In return, politicians could use their best skill, supplying us with green fuel from the Westminster Hot Air Generator: natural gas.

So if you’re bored of ironing join SEDIFY – or get somebody else to join it for you.

Alison Gardiner

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Spin it again Sam

I’m fascinated by the power of spin, such as that put on a high profile politician’s grandfather, a notorious horse thief, who was hung for his crimes. This was re-modelled: the grandfather was a very notable historical figure, dying at a ceremony being held in his honour when the platform on which he was standing collapsed beneath him.

I also love the hidden messages in stock phrases. Being a doctor I generally try and avoid saying, ‘That’s very interesting.’ Medically interesting is absolutely the last thing in the world you would want to be. Medically dull should be the pinnacle of one’s lifetime achievement. As soon as my eyes start sparkling and I lean forward in my chair, you can be sure that the diagnosis is not going to be great news for you. Terrific for me, possibly, as it could be the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in months. But for you, not so good.

Phrases such as ‘I’ll just run a few tests,’ could mean, ‘I’ve got absolutely no idea whatsoever what’s wrong with you, but a trawl through your bodily fluids may produce an answer.’ Or it could be as blunt as, ‘Your liver seems to be shot to pieces, but I think I’d better see all the numbers on paper (doubtless in red) before I break it to you.’

‘See you again soon,’ could be that simple or, ‘Frankly, you’re looking really unwell. I doubt that you can make it through the next few days. Better come back.’

Medical acronyms can be fun. On Sundays we used to have a regular stream of LOL CIC, ie ‘little old lady; collapsed in church’. GOK is the diagnosis of God Only Knows. TBF is to be avoided, being Total Body Failure. One of my colleagues used to write J P FROG in the notes which meant ‘just plain … run out of gas,’ (TBF really). TATT (tired all the time) is really useful. ‘Well the diagnosis is clear: you have Tatt. Take 2 aspirin, take up tap dancing and see me in a month.’

Ladies have earnestly informed me that they’ve had an ex-directory, or an extra-ectomy which, after some thought, is a hysterectomy. A Black-and-Dectomy turned out to be a prostate op. Distalgesic, a historically useful tablet have been requested by the much more jolly Disco-gesics and Digestolastics. Lactulose, for constipation, has become Vast-A-Loose which is much more graphic, almost onomatopoeic. A patient describing himself as a Brochial Spasmatic requested a Ventokill inhaler; it leaves you breathless in anticipation to know what happened to him when he used it.

It’s great when I ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And get, ‘Prostrate.’ Generally, I’m not going to take this lying down, so try to ascertain that it’s their prostate or general plumbing that’s at fault, not that they’re verging on a state of collapse. A patient once informed me that he had been born later on in life. Age 3, perhaps? Presumably his mother didn’t fancy the baby stage and felt that the trade-off for a rather unpleasant labour was worth it.

My gynaecologist father didn’t always display a massive sense of humour. Totally straight-faced, he wondered aloud how Fred, an ENT surgeon, could bear to spend all day looking down throats. My father did not, however, greet patients with ‘At your cervix.’ He told us that one of his friends was asked in his final exams what the symptoms of phosphorus poisoning were.

Fishing wildly his friend replied, ‘Fluorescent stools.’

‘Ah,’ replied the examiner. ‘A flash in the pan?’

My father’s GSOH challenges skipped a generation luckily for me, yet he imbued into me his love of gynaecology. So I must push off now as I’m needed at the orifice.

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Men in Bras: The Sequel…


Summer madness has struck: a potent combination of social conscience, family togetherness, avoirdupois guilt and the need to support what is largely most precious to us. As my husband, Adam, feels that the thing which is largest and most precious to him was my bust, Adam, my son Alex, and I are taking to the streets in bras on the Moonwalk to support breast cancer. More accurately, we’re not actually supporting breast cancer but the fight against it.

We decided not to be The Tamoxifen Trio; might seem odd as the team is more than three, although we could have gone for Surgeon’s Seven if we didn’t mind sounding like a film. We chose Cooper’s Troopers, taking our name from the suspensory ligaments of the breasts, a mechanical arrangement related to the Golden Gate Bridge in my case.

On applying, we had to give our bra sizes; prising this info from my fellow walkers seemed as safe and easy as pulling teeth from a rhino. At least they weren’t asking for our weight; no hope of accuracy there. We think Alex was tricked into agreeing to do the walk; he thought he was receiving 36 bees. For the men, bra sizes are a nightmare. Do you go for big cup sizes to carry drinks and snacks or smaller ones to make sure they don’t ride up at the back? Despite ordering the largest chest size available, I expect that by the end the men will have a neat white line all around their chests where the fur has been rubbed off.

This year’s bra decoration theme is Hollywood glamour, yet therein lies the problem. One could have swathes of gold lamé across one’s chest, two top hats strategically placed or enormous amounts of silk and lace stuck to one’s frontal appendages. However, what bothers me is rubbage. I’m mentally scared by the mere thought of walking a huge distance with lace scraping at the softer parts of my anatomy. A friend of mine has thus decreed décolletage decoration with masses of small, multicoloured paper roses (those of you who immediately thought of Marie Osmond are showing your age) which could link to many films, so we’re not only polychromatic but polycinematic. Our Fabulous Floral Fronts might invoke memories of American Beauty, South Pacific or Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls asleep in a sea of poppies might be the closest to our reality as we will be walking at midnight. My body clock, which is dormouse-esque,  bleats that this is a bad plan, but the logical part of me tells me that adrenaline will surge in and, inspired by the thought that if I stop walking I’ll get trampled by the other 14,999 walkers, it’s likely I’ll stay awake long enough to stumble across the finish line. I’ll also be propelled by the magic of finishing= cold beer.  Alex might go with a Batman theme, but I don’t recall the episode where Batman wears a bra; doubtless, it is yet to come.

Thus we are springing into action, tramping the streets of London dressed as tramps, having signed up for the half marathon. Although the organisers, bless their cotton socks (on their blister free feet) have decided to add an extra 2 miles. We wouldn’t mind so much if they had added it at the beginning when we would still be fresh, but it’s been added onto the end, presumably to make sure that we sustain an appropriate level of exhaustion for the event (they already did; it’s midnight, 15 miles, pavement, no beer.)

Still, people have been kind in supporting us as we support Moonwalk supporting society. I might post photos afterwards, although those of the sensitive nature might prefer to delete them quickly.

If you are kind enough to want to support all of us, click here.

In summary, my three big points are it’s a good cause and … you know the other two.

Onwards and upwards!

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A Cat with Five Tails

Joyous is a cat with two tails. I feel as if I’ve now got five since becoming joint winner (with Joanna Thomas) of the January SCBWI Slushpile Challenge. The mental vision of multiple waving tails is a beautiful one; pleasing, soothing, purrfect.

I don’t enter many competitions, owing partly to time being irritatingly finite and non-stretchy, partly to the ‘Yeah, right. Like they’d choose me’ effect, but one from such a fantastic organisation like SCBWI was too much to resist. So I didn’t. Does everyone feel buttock-clenching fear as they press the send button?  My precious book was floating off into the ether, either to return home with the prize of Gemma Cooper attached or to drop into a black hole.

Finding out that I’ve won was a brilliant moment, a tail sprouter, although the Hooray! bit came after an eon of disbelief on seeing my own name on the computer screen. Gemma contacted me very rapidly and when I found her nestled in my inbox, I began to believe that the next email would come winging in from the Easter Bunny or Santa.

Winning Gemma Cooper as a prize was totally fabulous. I first assumed that she’d be dropped on my doorstep wrapped in brown paper, head sticking out of the parcel, stamp on left ear, but soon discovered that the rather more convenient modern mode of communication, a phone, was to be used. Our talk was supposed to be for half an hour, but she is so fantastic and friendly, full of all sorts of wonderful, useful advice that we ended up yakking for an hour. This was despite her having freezing feet. If I’d known this in advance, I could have sent her my cat; his raison d’être is to create a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Gemma was charm itself, very sweetly saying that she would be delighted to read the rest of my manuscript. This gave rise to polarised emotions: joy that such an agent wants to read it; panic that she may find a higher than acceptable adverb count. My nightly reading is now Strunk and White, Elements of Style, my daily editing is tying up any looseness. I have to be absolutely black-and-white this has to be the best manuscript I can produce, uber-slick; there’s no room for shades of grey (despite the tying).

It would be wonderful if the ordinary Microsoft grammar check would point out redundant phases and grammatical crassness. But it might start overreaching itself:  ‘Look, that sentence has got a spliced adverbial subjunctive passive interjection right in the middle. Can’t have such idiocy. Delete.’ What? Me or the offending sentence?

So I’m enjoying wrestling my manuscript into flawlessness, or at least quasi-perfection. It’s fun and good for me, distinctly healthier than the accompanying caffeine river.

If anyone is in the doldrums, having doubts over whether to enter next time, my advice is to go for it. Soon you too might have five tails and be feline better.

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Cooking up a Storm

My eldest son kindly offered to help me cook for a charity dinner party recently. I informed him that I’d be chef and he could be sous chef as my greater culinary experience gave me top dog position. He pointed out that he was six foot and I’m five foot seven in heels. Totally irrelevant, I told him.

My role of sous chef consisted of weighing things, finding bowls, chopping and sweeping up after comments like, ‘Look, there’s a hole in this bag of sugar.’ I was working my socks off (becoming five foot six) knowing that Alex would get all the glory for the creations; no-one said ‘Fantastic! There’s no sugar at all on this floor.’

We found one of the most useless cooking instructions ever: ‘do not overcook’ pertaining to a hot compote of raspberries and strawberries. We had to aim for the mid-point of slightly warm but not done yet and frankly a mulch. Tricky, but luckily required a lot of sampling.

Facing an ambiguous instruction on how cream should be whipped, I followed my gut feeling (which was full, following the compote tasting). Unlucky decision. On meeting the chocolate gunge, the cream formed itself into little balls, so my confection looked like yummy mud with small Ping-Pong balls in it. like. There followed an intense squashing so that the younger kids wouldn’t discover, by the presence of fluffy white balls,  that their favourite chocolate torte is made with cream (which they actively dislike) (maybe that’s too strong; only passively dislike). I was trying to avoid a recurrence of the unfortunate gastronomic unveiling experience when my youngest son discovered that ingredient X in Spaghetti Carbonara is a raw egg. He was almost put off eating it, but his stomach overcame disgust, so it’s still a favourite (carbonara, not his stomach). The kids still don’t know what’s in haggis, but doubtless one day will discover the offal truth.

I’d intended to make a modified Baked Alaska, using a pineapple as the base instead of sponge. As I had no recipe for it, I ended up flying by the seat of my pants. The last major example of pant-flight was when I decided to use up everything in the freezer before buying anything more. The curried peas weren’t too bad but the spinach ice cream was interesting in the extreme.

The good thing about having a dinner party is being able to make, thus eat, what you like. Left to my own devices, this would be only puddings plus maybe a cup of really decent coffee. This would avoid the vegetable-generated paediatric kitchen exodus.

We rapidly discovered quite how far icing sugar can spread. We and the kitchen looked as if we’d been covered in a light sprinkling of snow. Clearing it up rapidly, but badly, I ended up with counters that were sticky, but tasted delicious. In the past I’ve been spattered with zabaglione, batter, chocolate cake mix, raw egg: not in a food fight, just cooking with my best friend from university who came along, but luckily didn’t teach such skills to my new chef. Once I’ve wrestled him back into sous chef position I’ll care less. Probably.

Cooking is a great switch off from Medicine, however the day job does have its moments. Patients often tell me how they examine various bits of themselves for early signs of cancer. One gentleman was so keen on this concept that he took to examining his own prostate. An interesting gut feeling.

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Aural Sax…

I have a song stuck inside my head. Unfortunately it’s Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off. Very corny. It’s a jolly song- unless superglued into your cranium- and doubtless very popular. Yet having it stuck in your head is a 12 on a 0-10 drive-you-crazy scale. I’ve worked out that the ‘pop’ in song is what it could do to your brain. There are other tunes which equally get wedged horribly easily, such as it’s a Small World After All, Happy and the nanananas from Hey Jude. I wouldn’t care if it was something classical or the sax from Baker Street, but no, it’s pop corn.

Presumably everyone in world gets the same unscratchable irritation. I have been reliably informed that this is called an ear worm, although in the old days when we listened to cassettes it must have been a tapeworm. My godson insists that the best thing for worm cleansing is to sing the offending tune aloud. This could be remarkably inconvenient especially at a funeral. Even during a business meeting, singing it could be a teeny problem.

Mr President, why are you not doing more about the crisis in Iraq?’

‘Because I’m happy; clap along if you feel like a room without a roof…’

Or on a Royal note…

‘Your Majesty, what would you like to do with the corgi sleeping on your foot?’

‘Shake it off, Shake it off …’

The problem is that these worms are particularly catching, like a virus.  Now that I’ve mentioned the above songs, you are probably stuck with them now; ear-wormed up. Sorry… but if you try and rid yourself of it by singing it aloud then- kaboom- a whole office of people will be infected. Save the environment – keep your mouth shut. Unless you are an aural anarchist; in which case, Hey! go forth and spread chaos…nana nana, nana nana…

There should be some sort of a vaccination available to prevent it happening, although would you need a 1-Direction vaccination, an Earth, Wind and Fire one, a Barbie song one etc? Unless they invent a worm batch vaccination, you could end up looking like you’ve just lost a fight with a porcupine.

It’s worse when you can remember the tune and not the words, so end up humming disjointed little bits and scraps; although on the bright side, my voice is so awful, this disjointed musical lego is an improvement. Makes no end of difference if you can’t actually tell what I’m singing.

My mind is now being plagued with Ernie, who Drove the Fastest Milk Cart in the West. Wish I could just shake it off.

Alison Gardiner 2015

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