So – what happened?

13 06 2017

I have had lots of  response to the previous post about my daughter who had reflux.  I appreciate I left things in the middle of the story, rather – after we’d seen Dr Shah initially. So this is what happened next!

Did the antihistamine work?

My baby was 10 months when we got the antihistamine (Ketotifen) treatment.  As soon as she was on it we saw a steady, sure improvement.  It wasn’t hugely dramatic – just every day she was less sick, less blotchy, slept better.  Within 6 weeks she was eating pretty normally – though without dairy products, egg or wheat, just in case.  When she was 11 months I introduced wheat – I was bricking it, but there was no reaction; then eggs – no reaction; and over the next 6 months we gradually did the milk ladder.   I was a massive scaredy cat and (as far as I can recall) I didn’t give her straight, uncooked milk on its own until she was nearly 2.  But there were no reactions to anything.

I think we took her off the omeprazole about 14 months. To be honest, I think we could have done so earlier, but we didn’t know either way.

She is now 3.5, scoffs ice creams and milk smoothies and cheese and everything, and has no digestive or other trouble at all.  We are keeping our eyes out for asthma just in case, but for now, touch wood, she’s fine.

Little sister helpfully provides a second case study

I hadn’t had enough of sleepless nights and reflux …  so we had another baby!  Little Sister also started showing signs of silent reflux at about 9 weeks. I had been swanking around saying “It’s great not having a refluxy baby, look how well she eats and sleeps!” Then she started getting all the telltale signs. Yay.

Like an idiot, I didn’t go straight to Neil Shah again. This was because I couldn’t remember where he was based. I looked up the Portland hospital, which told me he was on sabbatical. I had forgotten the crucial detail, which was that he is really at Great Ormond St, but with consulting rooms at the Portland.  So I got referred to another consultant at the Portland. Gah.

We went down the Neocate route again and also ranitidine then omeprazole. No mention of antihistamines.  When Little Sister was 4 months she topped out on the omeprazole – she was a giant huge 95th centile baby and was on a high dose (I think 10-15, Losec MUPS but memory is hazy, sorry).  More than 15, and she had writhing, not sleeping, painful stomach cramps. You could see her doubling up.  But less than that, and after a couple of days she would get reflux and stop drinking any milk.  She was a great milk refuser, for a baby who was so massive!

I asked the consultant whether Lansoprazole would do better, and he said I could change, but didn’t seem massively encouraging either way. So I didn’t change.

When she was 6 months I found Neil Shah again!! But for some reason I wasn’t optimistic and had convinced myself he wouldn’t be able to do any good.   He gave us the same consultation as Big Sister. Little Sister had the scratch tests for all the allergies, everything came up negative.

He prescribed the Ketotifen, and on hearing about our good results with the previous baby, confidently said he thought our younger daughter would also “be a good’un” and she’d be off the omeprazole in a month or so.  Yeah, right, I thought.

Again, Ketotifen gave us a slow, gradual improvement, her sleep (always better than her sister’s, but getting pretty patchy) got really good, with long stretches of 4 or 5 hours (at 6 months) and none of the grunting and squirming in sleep that we had been used to.   She had some ezcema, which Big Sister hadn’t had, and this faded on the antihistamine too. We took the omeprazole down to 5 mg by the time she was 7 months and basically started to forget to give it to her after that.  At about 10 months, she was totally off it and just on the antihistamine.

Weaning was totally different as we started when she was already on the Ketotifen. We were very careful, and did everything very slowly again but we had NO random throwing up, NO blotchy skin, NO food refusing or stomach aches.  After a couple of months I stopped being careful and she’s tried everything now and is fine.

She is now age 14 months. We reduced the ketitofen to half dose (2.5mg) when she was one, then down to nothing over the next couple of weeks. She has the occasional eczema patch but very tiny. She has no reflux at all.

She still has Neocate for her bedtime bottle, but will wean off this gradually. It feels a bit safer to keep her milk the same, I don’t see any reason to switch her onto cow’s milk bottles, just for the sake of the last couple of months of having milk at bedtime.  (I would, though, if I didn’t get it on prescription).

But don’t antihistamine cause them to be massively drowsy, and then when they come off it, they are AWAKE FOREVER??!

Not in our case.  To be fair, ours were not on it for that long, in the scheme of things.  I think with both children, it really helped to get them sleeping after their massively unsettled start. (Big Sister for example would only get through one sleep cycle of about 42 mins then wake up – for the first 9 months!) Our oldest daughter got the hang of staying asleep and became a champion sleeper from about 18 months, very happy in her bed. She now sleeps all night there, enjoying being in her room; bar the usual night terrors, needing a wee, deciding to put on some random dressing up, general playing silly buggers that 3 year olds love to do…

Little Sister slept pretty soundly on the antihistamine, better than average for a 7-10 month old I suspect. I do think that when we brought her off it, she woke a bit more. This was for a period of about 2 weeks. During that time she went from no night wakings (sleeping 7pm – 6am) to maybe one, or needing an extra feed if she’d not eaten much in the day.

Now at 14 months she either sleeps through, or wakes once (unless she is sick or has very bad teething, blah blah usual caveats apply).  She loves her cot and will point urgently to it, going “Unhhnnn! Unhhnnn!!” as I put her to bed, to hurry me up.

I have read some worrying things about messing with your mast cells, however, and I’m not sure if antihistamines are a good idea for a long time. I’m no expert and I decided to put my head firmly in the sand about that. I felt that the short term benefit to my children’s digestion and sleep, even if it led to other problems, would be better than the alternative, of untreated reflux.  You may want to do more research than I did. I was perhaps negligent in not looking more deeply into the whole thing… but I was so happy to find something that worked!

What if anything can be learned from all this?

This is the story of two children. Genetically related, it’s potentially likely that they had similar allergy profiles,  so perhaps it’s unsurprising they both responded to the same treatment.

This is NOT data – it’s anecdote. It’s not a study or anything like that.    I really hope your children respond to similar treatment but of course I don’t know.  I think Shah is doing a larger study and perhaps the antihistamine approach will gain greater currency if the results are useful?

I posted the update, though, because I still look on reflux forums -nearly 3 years later – and yet I still read the same stuff.

“My baby has silent reflux and I haven’t slept in 2 months and my GP thinks I am overreacting and won’t talk about milk allergy and will only prescribe Gaviscon”.

“My baby is on the top whack of Omeprazole and is getting side effects but it’s not touching the reflux, what should I do? My consultant hasn’t got anything else to try”.

This is intended as a story of what worked for us. It might give you another avenue to explore.

It’s not a golden bullet however. For instance a friend of mine has also tried this route, and hasn’t seen so much success, her little boy still has bad reflux.  Others I have heard of, anecdotally, have experienced difficulty on Ketitofen, with increased appetite and night waking from their babies, or trouble weaning off it as the babies find it hard to sleep.

I wish you success and peaceful nights with your babies!   If anyone wants to post in the comments about your experiences with antihistamines for silent reflux it might help others who come across this blog.


Bringing it all up – the history of our little refluxer and the advice we’re now getting

9 09 2014

If you’re here to look at stuff about reflux, hello! I hope your babies get better. xxxx Do ignore the rest of the blog – it’s just somewhere to put things…

General disclaimer – I’m not a doctor blah blah and this is just our experience. I wanted to set  out everything I have done and namecheck all the doctors, so that others could draw from this if applicable.

Silent reflux – the early days.
So. We have a little baby who has had silent reflux since 8 weeks old. She’s been on neocate milk, ranitidine and gaviscon initially, then omeprazole with her neocate from 5 months.

Obviously GPs know little about these lines of treatment and are sometimes unwilling to prescribe. To get these prescribed, we had to go privately to a consultant, who then wrote our GP a letter telling them to prescribe it. We researched consultants ourselves. We did NOT wait to be referred through the NHS, but simply made an appointment with Dr R Brown in Dr Raffles’ team at the Portland hospital. It took 2 days. The initial consultation was something like 150 or 200 quid. I almost cried during that process because he listened to her chest and just said “Yes, she definitely has reflux”. That was the first time a doctor had actually diagnosed her, prior to that I had decided she had this, through my own research, and nobody seemed able to help me. What a relief. (Well, in a way).

A tip about GPs. We are with North End Road Medical Centre. It’s a very big successful efficient London practice and they have NO problem prescribing expensive things like Neocate. If your GP baulks at the price and refuses to give it to you, or gives you some old bollocks about trying gaviscon for months or your baby just being spoilt… then think about switching to a richer surgery! Not every GP surgery has the same resources. It really does make a difference.

Ranitidine worked to keep her free from pain for a few months. Gaviscon – meh. It probably did something, but only really to help the ranitidine and help the milk stay down. And it helped her get really constipated, hah. We upped the ranit dose about every TWO WEEKS – it really is that weight sensitive. I needed to research the dosages for baby weight and work it out myself. I often found myself upping the dose myself, then emailing the consultant to say “Is this OK?!” Again, I really think it’s up to us parents to get as informed as we can about things like dosages. I know the forums have to tell us to take medical advice.  Of course the doctors need to be confirming what treatment is needed, or we could make mistakes with tragic consequences. But all the information you need is there online and in dosage manuals and I wanted to bring my own brain to the problem to help my little girl.

Then Dr Brown moved her to omeprazole which worked very well and she is still on it now. We also switched from gaviscon to carobel which I would really recommend.

Sit up, stand up

My life changed when she was 5 months and could sit. She crawled and walked very early – this was a baby who HATED lying down!  It helped the food and milk stay down and gradually the horrible gurgling ceased.  The reflux improved until at 7 months she was pretty much, on a good day, reflux free.

However. We are not yet out of the woods.  Because weaning.

Honey I threw up the baby rice

The problem now is weaning. We have had to wean very slowly as she’s had random and extreme reactions to different foods, with the reflux coming and going throughout.  We started with pear just before 6 months. God, how she loves pear. Pear, pear, pear. Personally, I never want to see another pear.  We then gradually introduced sweet potato, squash, parsnip, chicken, turkey, lamb, fish, courgette, quinoa, barley, millet, broccoli, green beans, blueberries, plum, melon… she lives on this lot, pretty much, and is happy. However she has had violent vomiting from oats, rice, apricot, and randomly at other times.

Dr Brown also referred us to the dietician Ana Kristina Skrapec who is ace. She gave me a weaning plan and said do ONE ingredient every THREE days at most, and take it slowly. She showed me what was best to do first and gave me the order of foods to proceed with.   It is slow going introducing new things but again, on a good day, she’s OK.  We do no p0uches or ready prepared stuff just so we know what she is having.

But WTF is she actually allergic to??

There have been 2 “big” occasions where she has started to react to something and then got worse and worse, spiralling downwards and then gettting better again over weeks.  The first was at 7 months after beef and the second was just 2 weeks ago after a bad cold.  In general, there is a lot of “noise” in the system – she will react to some things some times but not others, or react when she has a lot of something but not a little… I was at my wit’s end trying to work out whether she is in fact reacting to any of the foods I am giving her!  She has now also started to get hives and rashes on her face and dry skin on arms and legs sometimes. Again, not necessarily correlated with new foods.

Dr Brown eventually said “She’s been on omeprazole a while and I don’t know any more, she needs gastro-enterology help” and referred us to Neil Shah at Gt Ormond St.

Dr Neil Shah makes sense of it all

We saw him yesterday and he was great. Again Bupa paid for one consultation.

He explained things in a way which I will now try and reproduce. (Ana K says this stuff too). I’m not a medical professional so apologies if I get it wrong – I find it a really useful concept though!

The gut is like a membrane, letting some things in and keeping others out. If something gets through that shouldn’t, it can cause irritation.  All fine if the gut starts by being OK, but if the gut is already irritated, it swells. Imagine this on a molecular level. I find it quite easy to imagine. Swelling means all the molecules move apart from each other, leaving spaces between them. So, a cheeky little molecule can get in through the hole, which it wouldn’t normally do.  You’re not ‘intolerant’ of chicken, but if your gut is already inflamed, eating chicken might make it worse as the chicken molecules ‘get in’ through the gut wall.  Hey presto, you have more of a reaction, the gut swells more, it all gets worse.

My baby has a huffy gut!

My baby has a gut like a very easily offended person. We never know what might piss it off and then when it starts to react it totally overreacts!  The hives and skin problems are the same thing.

The summary, then, is that for us reflux is now just a symptom.  Dr Shah says we need to calm down her gut, stop it overreacting and then when she is on an even keel, test to see what she is actually intolerant of.  It may be that she will just grow out of it, or there may be one or two true trigger foods.  This helped me because he said it’s not my fault – I’m not feeding her the ‘wrong’ stuff – sometimes the food isn’t actually the point.  We focus on the food choice and assume that if we stop the trigger food, the reaction will stop. This isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes she could be reacting because her gut is reacting.  I found this very helpful to make sense of the whole confusing picture.

Dr Shah has prescribed her antihistamines and antibiotics (which have anti-inflammatory properties) with the aim of getting the omeprazole reduced when she is no longer so reactive.

Other things we learned was that babies in this position usually have lower immunity through the winter months to ear infections – the antibiotics should help with that as well (even tho v low dose).

I don’t know if it will work. We are only on day 1 of the treatment. I have grave reservations about putting her on more medication.

But we have our fingers crossed that it will all help her.

I hope this offers useful food for thought for some people.

Love S x

Books you might like to read, based on your childhood favourites – UK version

2 03 2014

I saw this brilliant set of children’s books married up with adult books that are a bit like them.  It really works – I’ve tried a few already.  Lots of the books are American so I thought I’d try a more UK version .Some of the ones on the other list were of course British, but I wanted to add more of the children’s books I loved when I was little, and some of the adult books which are perhaps similar but with darker or more complex themes.

This is a start, please comment and disagree or suggest more and I’ll edit and collate. 

1. If you liked Moonfleet you could read The House on the Strand

Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner is an atmospheric story of 18th century smuggling in a (sort-of-Dorset) village.  The House on the Strand is a Daphne du Maurier which, like many of her works, showcases the atmosphere of 14th century Cornwall and gives you a memorable and romantic story. Additionally, it’s got, like, psychadelic drugs, man! Yay!  And a modern-day story with a supernatural twist. Both books deal with the effects of prominent local families on the landscape and psyche of the area and how this resonates through history, and both have an adventuresome, page-turning plot. 

2. If you liked the Chrysalids you could read Riddley Walker

Russel Hoban’s ambitious book, Riddley Walker, is set in post-apocalyptic Kent where hardly anything remains of the civilisation we know except a few garbled legends and a sort of evil version of a Church government that does disciplinary puppet shows to keep people in order. The Chrysalids is by John Wyndham, and deals with a society desperately trying to avoid the after-effects of a nuclear war which has caused all sorts of genetic mutations. Some children have a mutation which they must keep secret or they will be ruthlessly culled. Fun, huh?  Both books are a lot more emjoyable than I’m making them sound! Apart from being both set in a distant dystopian post-nuclear future, the two books aren’t that similar in plot. What draws them together is the idea of people struggling to build a world out of fragments of our world – the reader sees things are all too familiar, but the characters don’t really understand the meaning of those half-remembered things. Also, the main characters are working towards some sort of enlightenment beyond the stern and scary powers that be of their times, leading to the triumph of the human spirit, and all that good sort of stuff, yada yada.   Oh, and Riddley Walker is written in a crazy made up dialect language, which is  the thing about it that makes it a) the most difficult to get into and b) the most rewarding thing, once you do.

3. If you liked A Little Princess, you could read The Crimson Petal and the White

Okay, so bear with me on this one. Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s A Little Princess tells the story of the rich pampered Victorian child Sara Crewe who suffers a reversal of fortune and is cruelly treated. In a garrett. But she maintains her sweet nature and slightly sickening Pollyanna-ish sensibility and wuv for all wivving fings.   I loved it when I was a child. LOVED it.  I liked the rich textures of Victorian life, the velvets, the food, the hair ribbons, the porcelain-faced dolls, the formality, and all this hiding the hard dirty cold life of servants.  There was something incredibly satisfying in the reversal where poor little Sara has nothing and then at the end gets given all sorts of riches again. (Ooh, spoiler alert. But you knew she’d turn out OK, didn’t you, really?). Michael Faber’s clever book The Crimson Petal and the White gives me all the same sorts of feelings but in a complex, grown-up way. The writer tells us the story of Sugar, a high class prostitute. He gives us all the sensual textures of Victorian riches that we love. There are perfumes, silks, mahogany tables and Christmas plum cakes, but there’s also sleaze and sex and dodgy chemical contraception sponges and abortions.  The author cleverly makes us complicit in Sugar’s bad treatment by those in power. The Victorian patriarchs in the novel believe she only exists for their pleasure.  We are made to recognise that we aren’t so different, because as readers we naturally expect the characters only exist to serve us!  Faber shows us we we arrogantly expect a right of access into the privacy and thoughts of Sugar. So, both stories of the dark underbelly of Victorian hypocrisy and the way society treated poor women and children. Sara Crewe has a happy ending and we all leave cheered up. Sugar has her own ambigious ending which makes us think again about our expectations.  Both books are just lovely.

4. If you liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time you could read Engleby

The Curious Incident… by Mark Haddon is only sort-of a children’s book, but hey, it was published in a childrens’ edition.  It’s the story of an autistic child and the way he sees the world, he has to puzzle out human relationships as if he is a detective. We read between the lines as to the real experiences and intentions of the other characters such as his parents and teachers, and because the book’s written from his perspective we have great sympathy for his view and start to get an understanding of how the world is, as he sees it, from his unique perspective. Sebastian Faullks’ Engleby tells the story of a very clever young man who goes to Cambridge and is then caught up in the disappearance of another young female undergraduate.  The same device is employed – we’re in his head, seeing the world through his eyes. Faullks brilliantly evokes the detail of Engleby’s life and only gradually as the book progresses do we start to piece together what his life is really like, indeed how far he is from ‘normal’. But by that time, we’re kind of on his side. 


To posh to politic

13 05 2013

Well, “Xander” Armstrong should thank his lucky stars and then suck it up, really. When there’s equality of opportunity for all, then we can start tackling the injustice of resentment against poshos. We all find it hard to get worked up about the issue of resentment against posh actors, when there are women being genetically mutilated, children starving to death being abused and traumatised, political prisoners being tortured in the world, etc etc etc etc. It’s a bit graceless for Armstrong to belong to the Minority Group That Owns All the Stuff and complain about it.

On the other hand – this article is just quotes from him. It’s kind of a non-article. He probably doesn’t even want to make that point, I expect he was just replying to questions he was asked about his career.

So don’t get distracted and miss the real point of this article! The nasty insinuation here is that the author subtly conflates two sorts of resentment against posh people in “public life” – entertainment and politics. Maybe we shouldn’t resent posh actors, but we SHOULD resent a Cabinet full of Old Etonians. Inequality of opportunity in the entertainment industry is a shame but not that bad. Inequality of access to the positions of greatest power in the land is a shameful indictment of our education and welfare system.

Hanging on the telephone

27 02 2013

My friend always apostrophises the word  ‘phone when he writes it in an email.

This has a startling effect. The word ‘phone leaps out, leering obscenely, with an audible clash of cymbals, distracting me from the rest of the writing for quite a long time.  I get a sudden red mist of angry wrongness. In fact, let’s not beat about the bush, I wish to go round, tell him to stop it, then shove a sharply-whittled apostrophe up his nose.

The Red Mist of Wrongness is a very useful tool for doing sociolinguistics. When you get one, be thankful! You can be sure that change is afoot in language.

An apostrophe used on a clipping (shortened word) is a tool available to us when we are writing.  We can use it to signal that the word is undergoing change and is unstable. Some clippings are not acceptable in formal written English, but are in colloquial or spoken, so writers put in the apostrophe to reassure you, the reader, that they, the writer, know the rules and are not just making a foolish error.  My red-mist problem is I don’t think phone needs an apostrophe any more.

Clippings undergo change. They move along a cline and the longer version gets more old fashioned while the shorter version gets more acceptable.  They eventually lose their better halves and stay as clippings.  For instance we’d all be happy to get a first class plane ticket or a recording of a duet between a cello and a piano – we don’t need to say aeroplane, pianoforte, and so forth, any more. Similarly, we’d write “Send a fax” . Only a weirdo with a bow tie and a point to make writes “Send a facsimile”.

Mind you, weirdos with bow ties are the only people sending faxes any more, so that’s probably OK.

For me, telephone has moved a long way towards the old fashioned end. While phone, to me, blatantly sits with plane, bus, cello, lab, demo, fax, bra, fridge, photo, vet, exam, piano, flu…. Totally fine to use now, even in a very formal context.

I think there is some semantic change in play as well. Today’s phone is a different item, semantically, from yesterday’s telephone.  Compare which of these pairs feels more right to you…

  • (1) I looked it up on my phone

  • (2) I looked it up on my telephone

  • (3) We spent hours on the telephone and neither of us would hang up first
  • (4)  We spent hours on the phone and neither of us would hang up first.
Don’t you think number
(2) is almost incomprehensible, certainly unproductive? (Unproductive means that it might be technically correct, but wouldn’t get the point across for the speaker).  And does number (4) feels a bit cursory and informal? They’re talking about different gadgets, different eras and different cultural behaviours.

The brilliant thing about sociolinguistics is that you can draw on the very convenient “native speaker intuition”.  This is how I’d use these words, and because I’m a native speaker, that means the subtle differences between telephones and phones are out there; contributing to language change.

Every decision taken by a speaker or writer is intended to smooth communication. The premise of sociolinguistics is that we’re each trying to do the best we can, to be maximally effective and efficient in every interaction, drawing on what we know of the rules and trying hard to signal that we know them.  But the problem is the rules only exist in our heads, and sometimes we clash.

For me, the apostrophe on ‘phone makes me jangle, it makes me think on some level, that my idiot friend doesn’t know that a phone and a telephone are different things.  My friend is equally irked by leaving it out and feels it’s sloppy and inelegant to do so.

We’re both right. Though of the two of us, I am more annoying and smug about it, because I think my way is probably going to triumph in the end.

Eventually, in most clippings, the apostrophe vanishes, even when we retain the longer version for formal situations.

“The laboratory was run by an eminent professor”  vs  “The brains!!!  They’ve escaped from the lab!”

Some grammarians think the apostrophe is the next thing on the way out in English – it’s a bit of an old hangover from inflections. I’d say its loss is part of the big tide drawing inflections out of the language, a tide which has been moving in that direction over the last 700 years. I might also argue that all shortened forms and clippings could be seen as part of the wider impetus to grammaticalization.  I won’t say that, though. I can’t remember enough about grammaticalization, and have no intention of going and refreshing my reading on the subject.

Perhaps I need to phone a friend.

The eye of the tiger – review of the film Life of Pi

31 12 2012

Life of Pi is the book that was thought to be unfilmable.  The book’s about this stuff: What is the purpose of religion? How do people survive trauma? How should we react, faced with the wonder and terror of the universe?  A book that discusses these questions through a complicated metaphor about boys and tigers should indeed be impossible to film.   But oh, it isn’t.  The film grabs these ideas, shakes them around, and kicks the heart out of them in whole new ways.  All this, AND  it’s the  first proper, purposeful,  intelligent use of 3D I’ve seen.

I never like films more than books. Really. I never do. I’m a card-carrying word-lover with shockingly bad visual sense.  But in this film, the pictures do things that the book can’t do, which makes it a different, ravishing, and no less complete work of art.

Here’s how it ravished me.

The film co-opts a Disney truth – that it’s easy to cry at sad animals on screen – to make us appreciate how much harder we are on our fellow humans than we are on animals. When the zebra falls and breaks its leg, the whole cinema says “Ohhhh!!!!” But a human extra breaking his leg? That happens all the time in films – we’d hardly notice.  Seeing the tiger near death on the lifeboat is a sharp pain, almost unbearable.   I realised I felt a purity of sorrow for these animals’ suffering that I couldn’t feel for human travails.    When I see a chap dying on a lifeboat, I want story and moral context. Who is he? Is he deserving? Do I like him? Is he a goodie or baddie?  Pi is suffering too, but it’s much more painful to see the magnificence of the tiger brought low, rib cage heaving up and down, paw dragging in the water. The tiger is a canvas onto which we project our own sadness and pain.

I knew the story, (er, spoileration) so I couldn’t avoid seeing the creatures as both animals and humans at the same time.  In this way the film forces us to confront how we behave towards other humans.  Physically seeing the animals makes us notice, guiltily, that our empathy for a human is conditional, while our empathy for an animal is unconditional.

The film (and the book) asks about the uses of religion. So the film’s juxtaposition of humans and animals helps to answer these questions.  Religion should help us  ‘treat all humans as if they were animals’. We should not judge humans. We should simply notice that they are beautiful (as we notice the animals in the amazing opening credit sequence).  We should remember that people, like animals, are just trying to survive, and that will make us kinder.  In the story, we are invited to see the events on the lifeboat as things that happen to animals.  The animal nature of the tiger helps Pi to survive and cope.  If we accept that story, we take something good about ourselves; we all have an essential, innocent, animal nature within us.  If we reject that story, and believe there were only humans on the boat, we get a gruesome, dirty story of wilful selfishness and evil (the story where the humans on the boat fight and kill each other in madness, hunger and fear).  And then what do we think of humanity? Something pretty depressing.

I found this easier to assimilate, seeing the humans and animals, than I did reading the book.  Now, as I say, I love words more than I love my own dear aged father.  But sometimes, you can’t beat a picture for expressing an abstraction.

The visual imagery of the film also shows us how lonely we are.  If the book says ‘religion is the story that lets us see the world more beautifully’,  the film, by contrast, tells us ‘religion is the story that helps us cope with the bleak solitude of life’.

Time and again, like hundreds of different paintings on the same theme, the tiny lifeboat is set against the deeps of the sea or the infinite sky.   The 3D relentlessly heightens this sense of infinity. It gives us always another layer, always another order of magnitude of space and time bigger than we expect.

There’s a lot I could say about the 3D in Life of Pi.  One theme in particular is worth a mention, as it is so enhanced by 3D – the Krishna’s Mouth idea.

We are told ‘Krishna’s mouth contains the whole universe’. This is revisited throughout the film. Any one thing or person is insignificant.  But at the same time, “Krishna’s mouth contains the whole universe”. This means the universe is within the head of a single being.  Humans invent gods; the gods invent and swallow the universe. The universe is therefore inside the god, and like Russian dolls, the god is inside each of our imaginations. This could be Pi’s imagination, yours, mine, Yann Martel the author’s, or Ang Lee the director’s. The universe is infinite, but at the same time, invented by each of us every moment.

The film mirrors this by the movement of the camera in and out, infinite distances covered by one camera shot.  There’s always another layer deeper, but it always comes back to your point of view, or a single image. Infinity is encompassed in your own mind’s eye.

I didn’t actually remember the Krishna’s mouth image from the book.  I think it was just something mentioned in passing.   It is, however, the idea I will retain from the film. It’ll take me a long time to forget the gaze of the tiger, following his sight down, down, to the bottom of the sea, falling through the water and then moving back up, revealing that the eyes of the tiger and the eyes of the boy are the same.

Cupcakes made of nothing at all

28 10 2012

I love cake. With a passion words are unequal to the task of expressing. But I also have to eat a diet at the moment which helps me grow hundreds of healthy little eggs, so that I can do IVF.

Now your basic egg, right, it  likes protein. Gallons of protein help it to grow. But it doesn’t like sugar at all. Sugar gets right in amongst it, annoys the hell out of it, so it doesn’t know what to do with all its hormones and ends up crying in the playground.

My task for the weekend has been to make cakes which have no sugar in, and also have protein.  And no soy, cos that messes with hormones too.  This wouldn’t be hard, but my beloved husband also wants to eat them, and he’s not allowed any peanuts, dairy, or eggs. (He’s not growing eggs, that would be weird. He’s just allergic to everything).

So with the help of this great book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, I have managed to make some cakes which have almost NONE of the things in that you would associate with cakes.  I’ve changed their recipes up a bit, to make several different sorts. All of them come with icing in the original recipe, but I haven’t yet worked out a no-sugar-no-dairy-no-soy version of icing!

Here are a few of the best.  Preheat oven to 190 C for all these. You need those irritating American ‘cup’ system things to measure with.

Vanilla and Agave Cupcakes

2/3 cup almond milk

1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

2/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup corn oil

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup ordinary self raising flour

1/3 cup spelt flour

1/4 cup quinoa flour (that’s the protein bit, along with the almond milk!)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix rice milk and vinegar in a cup and leave it for a bit to curdle. With a hand mixer beat the agave, oil, vanilla, almond extract together and add the rice milk/vinegar mix and beat some more.  In a different bowl sift together all the dry ingredients – the various flours, baking powder, soda, salt.  Mix until smooth but don’t over-beat.

You’ll get quite a runny batter. Fill cupcake liners only 2/3 full and then bake for about 22 minutes.   They rise well, and you can stick something into them to see if they’re done –  but then fall quite easily. If in doubt turn the oven off and leave them in for a bit, maybe with the oven door a bit open, so they don’t come out into the cold air straight away. They take an hour or so to cool down, if you eat them too quick they fall apart.

Banana split with pineapple and chocolate

This is a bit of a cheat because there’s sugar in the chocolate and a bit of jam too. However, it’s one teaspoon of jam and about 10 choc chips between 12-14 cupcakes – which is pretty good going.

1/2 cup pineapple – the original recipe says it should be pineapple jam. I used mashed organic baby food pineapple which was a mix of pineapple and apple, then added one teaspoonful of jam (happened to be rhubarb jam but I guess any light fruit like apricot could work). That was just to make it sticky enough.


1/2 cup mashed ripe banana – I pureed it in the blender

1/2 cup white self raising flour

1/4 cup spelt flour

1/2 cup quinoa flour

1 teaspoon baking powder (you might need more – the quinoa doesn’t rise well, so you may need to experiment)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup xylitol (granulated – the sort that looks like granulated sugar)

1/3 cup corn oil

2/3 cup almond milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate. I used really high quality dark chocolate chips blended in blender and didn’t need so many.

Stir pineapple/jam mixture in small pan until it goes all melty. remove from heat and leave until later. Sift the various flours, baking powder, soda, salt, xylitol in a large bowl together. In a different bowl whisk oil, almond milk, vanilla, almond extract and the banana (blend the banana so it’s totally smooth, first).  Make a well in the dry ingredients bowl and fold the wet ingredients in, mix well but don’t beat it to within an inch of its life.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full with this batter. On the top of each, pour a little of the jammy mixture from earlier, and a few of the chocolate bits. Mix lightly with a knife so that these bits ‘swirl’ into the top of each cake.  Bake for 22 minutes.  Xylitol doesn’t go as dark as sugar does when the cake is ready, so they might look lighter than normal. But make sure they’re done by sticking a thing in them as you normally would.  They hold together better than most others as the banana is so squishy, so you can rip them from the oven and into your slavering mouth pretty much instantly.

Hazelnut butter cupcakes

For the severely-peanut allergic person in your life, who also likes the dangerous taste of things similar to peanuts… The sugar cheat in this one is that there is a tablespoon of molasses in there, again divided between the 12-14 cupcakes. There’s meant to be 2 tablespoons, so I replaced the second one with a bit more xylitol and a bit more nut butter. It makes it more dry, but it’s just about OK and doesn’t fall apart.

3/4 cup almond milk

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 – 3/4 cup organic hazelnut butter (the sort that is 100% hazelnuts)

1/3 cup corn oil

2/3 (or a bit more) granulated xylitol

1 tablespoon dark organic molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons ground flaxseed (I used the Linwoods mix of ground goji berries and flax seed which is a bit sweeter)

1/2 cup white self raising flour

1/2 cup quinoa flour

2 tablespoons spelt flour

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix the almond milk and vinegar in a cup and leave aside to curdle. Cream the hazelnut butter, oil, xylitol, molasses, vanilla, flaxseeds with a hand mixer until very well combined. Add the milk/vinegar combo and cream some more.  Sift the flour, baking powder, soda and salt all together and then add this all to the wet and mix until just combined. Don’t over mix. Fill liners 2/3 full with the runny batter, bake for 25-27 minutes, be cautious about taking them out if they look like they’re going to fall leave them in a warmish oven for a few more minutes.