Bits and pieces

Spring feels a long way off right now.

The wind is whipping down my street
and rain lashes against the windows.

It’s mid morning and yet
I still need the light on to see.

People are battling with umbrellas
as they hurry past.

Spring feels a long way off right now.


Extract from ‘Ideogram for Green’ by Alice Oswald

“In the invisible places
Where the first leaves start

Green breathes growth

Simultaneously dreaming into position what impinges on its edges
So that grasses of different kinds should appear in the world

Green lights flowers…shines rain”

Sunflower shoots


Despite the forecasted snow, you should definitely read Thaw, from Josie over on Bimblings.  Poetic and thought provoking, as always.  She inspires me and I aspire to write as magically as she does.

(Click the link, it’s about two minutes and it’s good. It’s supposed to be embedded but wordpress is being stupid…)

“The language of birds is very ancient, and like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical; little is said, but much is meant and understood.”
—Gilbert White

“In the unmapped territory between night and morning, birdsong is the traveller’s only guide.”
– Ian McMillan

A couple of powerful posts about swallowing issues from Kayla Whaley:

Some great advice from Chani Nicholas.  It’s from my horoscope but I think everyone should pay attention:

Saturday’s new moon is my moon to make the most of. I take it up on the opportunity to catch up with myself. To check in with myself. To remember the importance of staying true to myself.

I can’t fake, skip, or evade this process if I want to make the most of the opportunities that I have. Everything else needs to wait until I no longer have to work at getting my own attention. I deserve to receive what I need from myself.

I deserve to receive what I need from myself.  How true.  How powerful.  And for me, how relevant right now.



Sea Monsters: Jaws

Deep below the depths of the ocean, strange things lie. Hidden in the dark within sea caves, your fears reside.
Folklore Thursday

After Darwin and the 19th century, monsters changed from the mythological creatures they were into real species who have been demonised for simply trying to stay alive.  They knock us off the top of the food chain, they hunt us as prey and this terrifies us.

Where once we feared sea serpents, today we fear reality.  Or at least, the version of reality we have spun for ourselves.


Jaws was a watershed moment for the sharks, taking them from the shadows to centre stage, from un-thought-about to villain.  Jaws portrayed a ruthless maneater who killed for cruelty.  This idea of the vengeful shark infiltrates our language.  We talk of seas infested with sharks, sharks menacing our coast lines, sharks invading our beaches…

Sharks merge into the large fish category when it comes to looking at myth and legend and older texts so it’s not always clear to see how literature has reflected this creature.  And whilst there are few clearcut examples of literary sharks, those that do exist don’t seem to expand our understanding of the species, often being cast as monsters and more recently, in animated films for example, as cute and cuddly.  The reality being somewhere in between.

Humans are far more of a threat to the shark than they are to us.  We kill millions every year to eat them, for their fins, for their teeth or simply because of our fear.  When we come face to face with this apex predator, our sense of self and our place in the world is challenged and we react with fear and we lash out.

Between 1986 and 2000 in the northwest Atlantic ocean, the hammerhead shark population fell by 89%, the great whites fell by 78% and for tiger sharks there was a 65% decline.  In contrast, about 5 people a year, worldwide, are killed by sharks.  Far more people die from bee stings or lightening strikes than from sharks.

Sharks are not a threat to human life but they threaten our importance, reminding us how small and vulnerable we really are.  They become a scapegoat for our fear of the unknown seas.  Where once we drew mythological monsters on our maps as a symbol of the uncharted and dangerous waters, today we have the shark.  A painful reminder of just how little we know about life in the deep.

But communities who live by or on the oceans tend to have a more nuanced view of sharks.  In some cultures, for example, the shark is revered, respected for its strength and hunting prowess.  In Hawaiian culture the shark is seen as a protector or a brave warrior and deceased family members are thought to be transformed into guardian sharks.  Sharks can also be a boom for the tourist industry.  A single living shark is allegedly worth $50,000 a year in tourist revenue according to a report from Fiji.

These magnificent and complex creatures are terribly misunderstood.  If we can step outside our humancentric way of thinking and seeing, we can appreciate how wonderful sharks are, how fantastic they are at being sharks and we can gaze upon them with respect.


Plant, animal or other? Sea Anemones

Described as the flowers of the sea because of their colourful appearance, sea anemones are actually animals.  They are made up of stinging tentacles and a mouth, with a column shaped body and a sticky foot which it uses to attach to rocks etc.  Most are a few centimetres in diameter but some species can exceed a metre.  And as well as the variety of size, you find a huge range of colour, pattern and shapes.  These bizarre beauties have been said to inspire ‘whimsy and fancy’, but only when alive; their colour fades very quickly after death, making them difficult to preserve.

Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share.

Chödrön, Brain Pickings

So what do anemones have to be afraid of?  Well, there are the pom pom crabs which pick them up and use them as weapons.  And the wonderfully named butterflyfish who eat them.  There are also the humans, especially Victorian humans…

Naturalist Philip Henry Gosse used lavish prose and scientific acumen to inspire the Victorians to a love of anemones and a desire to collect them.  Unfortunately, this craze put pressure on some areas of wild anemones.  And those which were collected didn’t necessarily have a great life… Anemones need oxygen to survive and Victorian fish tanks didn’t come with pumps… More recently, finding nemo put pressure on anemone populations with a rush of interest from buyers.

Other dangers come from snails and sea slugs, not your typical predators, with some species living almost exclusively on the anemones.  Sea stars wrap themselves around the anemone, essentially engulfing it with their stomach.  And then there are loggerhead turtles who use their powerful jaws to munch down on the tentacled creature.

But it isn’t all bad for them, they have a friend in nemo!  Clownfish have a protective coat which means they don’t get stung by the tentacles of the anemone.  In exchange for this shelter, the clownfish aggressively protect the sea anemone from predators.

And they don’t need to be so concerned about getting hurt as some species are almost immortal – if you cut them in half you get two, if you cut off their mouth they grow a new one.  They are constantly replacing their body and cells – a strategy which may provide scientists with insight around ageing and human immortality (not that I think that’s a great idea…).

In addition to this, they are active predators.  The slightest touch against their tentacles fires a paralysing neurotoxin into their prey which is then helpless to defend themselves.

So, despite their shy seeming demeanour and their vulnerability to slugs, sea anemones are a lot more robust and resilient than we might give them credit for.

Feeding tubes: PEG

For short term feeding, NG and NJ tubes tend to be used but for long term artificial feeding, a PEG is one of the main options. PEG stands for percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy which means it’s inserted with a needle through your skin with the help of an endoscopy and creates an artificial external opening into the stomach. You may also hear this called a g-tube, particularly I think in America.

The process

The process of putting in the PEG is normally very straightforward. You get given some sedation to make you drowsy and then hopefully you remember nothing. But if you’ve had an endoscopy before then it’s much the same except they also make a hole in your tummy which will have been given local anaesthetic. My first attempt didn’t work as my stomach wasn’t quite where it was supposed to be…

When you come round you’ll feel sore, after all you’ve had a hole put in your stomach which goes through skin, fat, muscle and the stomach wall. You may experience trapped wind which is very common after the procedure and there will be pus and fluid around the site. The hospital will advise you about how to care for the site, when you can wash it etc.

If you can, the best thing to do to help yourself feel better is to move around. It’ll hurt but it’ll help. Pelvic floor exercises are another suggestion and I found variations on the knees to chest yoga pose (with gentle rocking back and forth and side to side) and ‘windscreen wiper’ pose helped with pain and with strengthening my core.



I’ve had my PEG exactly four weeks and I’m pretty much pain free around the site. When I had mine inserted I was very weak and had lost a lot of strength and muscle tone etc so I would think if you have the procedure done when you are healthier, you won’t have much recovery time at all.

As well as keeping the site clean, you’ll also need to advance and rotate it at least once a week. You’ll be shown how to do this and it’s really easy. I was a bit worried it would hurt (the tube gets pushed into your tummy and turned so that it doesn’t get stuck in your stomach wall) but it doesn’t. It can feel a bit strange, especially if you think about it too much, but no pain.

The feed

I’ve touched on feed already when I talked about NG and NJ tubes but I wanted to say a bit more. There seems to be a trend in the US to blend your own feed but in the UK I think it’s standard practice to use the packaged bags of feed from nutrition companies.

There are various makes and what you end up with will most likely depend on which company your hospital buys from. Your dietician will work with you to find the feed which meets your nutritional needs and which agrees with your body. It comes in bags and bottles and does not look anything like food. It doesn’t smell nice and it’s a funny colour, but in a lot of cases it’s probably saving your life so these things don’t matter so much.

The feed gets into you via a pump and you and anyone else who might use it can be trained although it’s very straightforward.


At some point, you will spill some of the feed. In my case, when I was in hospital, the PEG came detached from the feed and it went all over my bed. You may not want to, given it’s likely the middle of the night, but act quickly. The feed dries like cement and it will stain things. Be especially quick with teddies, mine still bears a grudge about the feed which ended up in his ear…!

The other vulnerability to spillage comes if you forget to put the clamp on when you’re putting water or medication down the tube. I have a towel with all my peg equipment so that every time we do something with the tube, we put a towel on my knee.

A lot of people who are on artificial feed are fed overnight. This means it doesn’t impact on your life as much, although if you are being fed during the day there are backpacks and things which can make your life easier.

Eating, or missing eating

“Many of us have odd habits to kick the drive for oral consumption such as gum, flavored drinks, lozenges, hard candies, or even chewing up food and spitting it out!”
Tube Fed Wife

I can eat a little and can drink a lot of stuff so I’m making use of that to get flavour into my life.  For example, ice pops can be made at home in all kinds of flavours.  And crisps which dissolve in your mouth like cheetos and skips can be easy to eat and give you a satisfying crunch.  I’ve been able to go back to eating sweet potato chips provided that I don’t get them too crispy and I don’t try and eat many at once.  Adding in melted cheese also provides some lubrication which can help with swallowing.

If you or someone you know is being fed by a tube, remember that food is often much more than nutrition.  It can be a social activity, it can be routine, it can be celebration and you’ll need to think about how you can enjoy these things despite the feeding tube.

I had a long lead up to my feeding tube so had some time to think about these things and how I would cope with them.  Because I can still eat a little and I can drink, it’s not going to be so hard as it might be.  When I go out with friends I can have a drink and watch them eat.  I’ve got a long history of eating difficulties anyway so I’m used to going for a meal and ending up with just a plate of chips.  This isn’t going to be a big adjustment for me.  Also, my social life doesn’t really revolve around food.  The same is true for celebration.  But if your life does, then having something to suck on for flavour or chewing gum or similar may help you feel more involved or bring your feeding tube into the celebrations!

And there is always the option to chew and discretely spit out your food.  Do it into napkins or take a little tub (with lid) along with you.  If you can have a tiny taster of something then do that, even if it means you’re having ice cream whilst everyone else tucks into a takeaway.

But also, look after yourself.  If you know that your friends are going to your favourite restaurant of all time and that it’s going to be upsetting to be there and not be able to eat, then join them after.  And talk to your friends and family.  This is likely to be an adjustment for them, especially if you always meet for coffee and cake.  Explain what you feel comfortable with and if you aren’t ready for food related socialising, have a think about what else you could do together and how else you could celebrate events.

Plant, animal or other? Coral

Most of us know coral when we see it and I think everyone has probably seen a picture of a coral reef at some point but what exactly is it?

An individual coral is a polyp, a very small, simple creature which has been described as essentially just being a stomach and a mouth surrounded by tentacles.  Living inside the polyps are algae which provide the coral with food and gives it colour. Thousands of identical polyps live together in a colony and this forms the reefs we are familiar with.  Different coral grow at different rates but to form a reef takes a very long time, with estimates for todays reefs being started 5-10,000 years ago.  That being said, not all coral are reef builders.

An alternative take on the creation of reefs comes from Greek mythology.  It was said that they were created from the blood that was shed when medusa was decapitated.  This blood mixed with the seaweed to create the stone reefs.

“With no Pharaoh to lead them, this army of tentacled midgets has built the greatest of the ocean’s wonders, working together for millions of years on their mighty projects.”
– Jeffrey Levinton

Cooperation is a theme amongst the creatures of the reef.  A symbiotic relationship between coral and algae allows the reef to grow and provides the coral with their colours. Coral reefs are home to lots of organisms and provides cracks and crevices for fish and crabs to live in.  So when a starfish comes along and attacks the coral, the fish and crabs step in and defend it.  This allows the coral to keep growing and creating more cracks and crevices for future fish and crabs.  There are also fish which ‘farm’ on the coral, growing algae and in doing so, they are creating ideal conditions for more coral to grow.  And then there are the cleaner wrasse; fish which clean other fish, a service which improves the health of the sea life around the reef.

“No other marine habitat shows so well the intricacies of biological interdependency”.
– Jeffrey Levinton

But despite this incredible interdependency, the reef is a dangerous, cut throat world.  Coral use barbed, venomous tentacles to catch zooplankton and tiny fish and they can also extrude their stomach and digest neighbouring coral…

The competitive nature of the habitat means some coral dwellers have developed nasty chemical defences.  For example, the sea squirt makes sulphuric acid to burn predators and also a poisonous metal that could kill a horse.  The sea whip produces higher amounts of prostaglandin than other creatures making them taste terrible to most predators (although a type of snail and worm can eat them).  Poisonous fish live among the coral and sharks patrol the edges.  This beautiful underwater garden can be a deadly place.

But those deadly poisons and chemicals may actually be of use to us.  We may be able to use some of them to develop cancer cures, to help neurological diseases, to treat infections and to fight drug resistant bugs.  Corals themselves can be used in bone graft surgery as well.

As well as medical value, coral reefs provide coastal defences, tourism, food (an estimated 0.5 billion people rely on coral reef fisheries worldwide for 95 percent of their protein) and jobs.  The Great Barrier Reef has been valued at at AUD $56 billion, contributing 64,000 jobs and $6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy.

But despite their importance, we are not treating them kindly.  Coral reefs are threatened by overfishing, pollution, invasive species and ocean warming and acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels.  In the last 30 years, we have lost 50% of the coral and scientists predict that we will lose 90 percent of coral reefs globally by the year 2050.

This would be catastrophic.  Life on the reef is a diverse one, paralleling that of the rainforests.  Apparently, despite reefs covering less than 1% of the earths surface, a quarter of ocean biodiversity depends on reefs for food and shelter.  Without the reefs, the health of the ocean will suffer and without a healthy ocean, we cannot have a healthy planet.


Feeding Tubes: NG and NJ Tubes

There are various different types of feeding tube which enter your body in different ways and go to different parts of it. I’ve had an NG, NJ and a PEG and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learnt and tips I’ve picked up as I would have found them useful.

NG Tube

An NG tube goes in through your nose, down your throat and into your stomach. Having it inserted isn’t the nicest of experiences but there are things you can do to make it better. Have music playing to distract you, squeeze the hand of someone, swallow water through a straw as it’s being put in and remember to breathe. Also, you have the right to request a different member of staff if you aren’t comfortable with the person putting it in. My first NG tube was put in by a nurse who thought I was making my issues up, needless to say, she wasn’t very gentle with me. Or at all reassuring. Having a nurse that I was comfortable with, that I liked and that I felt listened to me made the experience a lot easier.


Me and my NG tube

On one occasion my NG tube placement failed because my nose was blocked. Avoid this! For the next attempt, I got some Halls Soothers to suck on to clear my head. These also came in useful once the tube was in. Because your throat isn’t used to having a plastic tube down it, you will probably feel some discomfort. Sucking on ice pops and cough sweets can help ease this a bit (assuming you can safely manage them, check with your medical team).

I found the NG tube to be uncomfortable the whole time it was in but there are ways of reducing this or at least not making it worse. I found turning my head and keeping it turned for too long led to irritation. Similarly if I talked for too long or if I bent down. Basically anything that would move the tube too much was uncomfortable. But it eased off if I returned to having my head facing forward and my chin up. This applies to sleeping positions as well. They recommend sleeping at a 30 degree angle if you’re being fed via your tube anyway but I found this to be the only position I could actually sleep in from a comfort point of view.

Having fluids or food down an NG tube feels weird, at least at first. Because the temperature of the liquid is different to the temperature of your body, you can feel it moving across your face and then down your throat. The first time this happened I wasn’t expecting it and I started to gag. My body seemed to think that I was drinking but that I wasn’t swallowing and I freaked out. Just breathe gently and get the nurse to talk to you as a distraction. After a while it feels normal and you won’t notice it.

NJ Tube

An NJ is very similar to an NG except it doesn’t go into your stomach, instead it goes further into your digestive system, ending in your duodenum or jejunum. Mine was put in whilst I was sedated so I can’t tell you anything about the procedure but I understand it’s much the same as the NG.

That said, I much preferred my NJ. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t been aware of the insertion but it felt more comfortable and more stable. I think the tubes themselves are softer as well. The disadvantage of an NJ tube is that you can’t have as much feed going in you at once compared with the NG. This is because feed can sit in your stomach and wait to be digested whereas feed from the NJ has nowhere to sit. This meant I was on my feed continuously. Not a major problem but taking a drip stand everywhere can be a pain!

Both the NG and the NJ tubes can feel worse when they ‘hang’ as they pull on the tube inside you. I employed a couple of strategies to take the weight off my tubes. Firstly, I hooked it up and around my hairband. Secondly, and this is a slightly stranger look but works well, is I hooked an elastic band around the tube and used a hair clip to attach it to my hair. This meant it have enough give that I wasn’t pulling the tube if I moved and took the weight off the part of the tube that was down my throat. You might also want to look at ways of taping the tube to your face, some nurses are better than others when it comes to that… I believe you can also get stickers which mean you look less medical – and who doesn’t want a dinosaur on their cheek?!

A note on feed

Your dietitian will probably prescribe you a standard feed. When you first start on it you will probably experience diarrhoea. Depending on your other health issues, you may want to ask the hospital for some incontinence pads. Especially if you’re in hospital and sharing the toilet with other people. As awful as it feels, it’s good to have the back up of the pads. When I was in hospital most recently I was violently sick every time I moved so getting to the toilet was an ordeal and it took ages because I couldn’t walk. This meant getting a nurse who then had to get a commode and then get me to the toilet, providing of course the toilet wasn’t in use.


My yummy feed…

There are other types of feed out there, if you aren’t getting on with one, talk to the dietitian as they can explore others. For example, the one I was put on to start with was repeating on me and tasted of meat, which as a vegetarian was really unpleasant. If you find the diarrhoea continues, they might explore feeds with higher fibre etc.

Depending on why you needed an NG or NJ tube, you might also still be able to eat and drink. In my case, I could still drink and I collected a range of different flavours and types of drink to keep life interesting. I also craved certain foods and I was able to suck on ice pops. I also sucked on spicy roasted chickpeas for the flavour and salt and then spat them out, discretely I’d like to add! Avoid toffee and you might want to start with moister foods if you’re able to eat.

I’m also going to do a post about my PEG and what I’ve learnt, tips I’ve picked up etc.

Add your own seaweed pun here

Moving up a little in the oceanic plant world, we get to algae. There are two categories, micro algae which are, as they sound, tiny, and macro algae which is where seaweed fits it and is what I’ll be looking at.

We tend to think of seaweed as the annoying, slimy stuff which litters the beach and wraps around our feet as we try to paddle in the sea but seaweed is a very diverse term. In general, seaweeds need saltwater, light to photosynthesise and somewhere to hold onto.

Algae are used in so many ways and can be found all around us. In the late 17th century it was discovered that soda and potash (important to the soap and glass industries) could be extracted by burning kelp. Today, we find algae in cosmetics, in soaps, in paints, as fertilisers, in foods as well as as a food item itself for both humans and animals.

Like with other marine life, algae may also have useful scientific properties. For example, some have developed protection from UV light and understanding the process and chemicals involved may help develop new protective products. Algae can also help open our eyes to other ways of being, pushing our thinking, our expectations and our world view. As a species we are terrestrial centric and macro centric, focusing heavily on land based large species such as trees and lions but there is so much we can learn from other species, including the under appreciated algae.

And talking of underappreciated… Seaweed allowed women to carve out a tiny niche in the scientific world in the 19th century, a realm dominated by men.

Whilst the hobby of collecting seaweed can be traced back to the 17th century, it grew in popularity in the 19th century. And in doing so, it created space for women to engage in science and, to a limited extent, to contribute to science.

Male seaweed collectors were able to join in with scientific endeavours but women were encouraged to see it as a hobby. Seaweed scrapbooking became popular and it’s alleged that even Queen Victoria dabbled in it. It was framed as a hobby rather than a scientific undertaking and the social aspect was emphasised for women. However, some women managed to make a name for themselves:

Amelia Griffiths, 1768-1858

Griffiths was an ‘amateur professional woman of science’ who specialised in collecting seaweed and who raised awareness of the diversity of marine plant life in Devon where she lived.

Her reputation proceeded her and a species of red seaweeds was named for her in 1817. She was also able to correspond with leading algae experts which I suspect was a significant honour in her day.

Margaret Gatty, 1809-1873

Gatty was a children’s book author who took up seaweed collecting when she was convalescing by the coast in 1848. She eventually published an illustrated field guide to British seaweeds, an endeavour which took 14 years and included 200 specimens.

However, instead of placing herself as scientist, she framed herself as interested in seaweed because it was an expression of God creating beauty in nature.  She would also use her children’s books to preach this message, teaching that god and nature were not to be treated separately and she argued against Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Anna Atkins, 1799-1871

Like Gatty, Atkins published a book about seaweed but this is also of note as it was the first photo illustrated book ever. She used cyanotype prints to document different species and part one was published in 1843.

And today?

Women still play an important role in seaweed collecting; in most developing countries, the majority of people involved in seaweed farming are women.  In Zanzibar, for example, it’s estimated that 80% of seaweed farmers are women.  The seaweed grown and gathered by these women becomes our toothpaste, food additives, shampoos and medicines.  Definitely food for thought next time you find yourself on the beach getting tangled by its slithery ‘arms’!