THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
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The soft touch
“There’s pink, and blue, and primrose too …” Well, there were all these delightful colours – until someone discovered that the dyes might cause an uncomfortable cancer. “What’s the gentlest tissue, in the bathroom you can issue? Why, it’s sorbent, sorbent, sorbent, sorbent, sooorbent!” These musical ads featured fluffy kittens, playful puppies, and cute human babies tangling and disentangling themselves in toilet paper. If you, like me, can remember these catchy tunes and amusing images, you are probably of an age to remember other, less gentle, less pastelly-coloured, alternatives. I don’t remember having newspaper as a ‘toilet tissue’ substitute at home as a child, but certainly it was the only one available at my grandparents’ farm. That was, until a new bride was brought to the farm, a bride with more sophisticated habits. Before the new bride arrived with her penchant for gentler papers, a trip ‘up the yard’ – as my grandmother called the outhouse which was, well, up the yard a bit – was a treasury of old magazines and newspapers. With luck, the pages hadn’t been torn yet. If you lingered long enough, you might get to read a whole page. But in the long run, the new bride’s habits were proved better, in more ways than one. The ink used on newspapers in those days was, like the pastel dyes of the colourful and soft, also suspected of causing nasty cancers.
One person’s treasure
The coronavirus has given us some lasting images: the incredibly sad and the extremely frightening ones; images of exhausted, fed-up travellers; triumphant scenes of singing, clapping communities. From our supermarkets have come some striking clips of people squabbling over packs of toilet rolls, then the resultant empty shelves, and then the unlucky shoppers who missed out. Australia is not the only place where toilet rolls are so desirable as to be in danger of becoming the national currency, but it is notable that this is happening only in affluent, first-world countries. Our poorer cousins, who are facing lockdowns and deprivations without the prospect of being able to adequately feed themselves, would surely be aghast at this as a priority. Forget toilet paper; for many of them, their only access to an actual toilet is to a communal one. For us, who often enjoy homes equipped with multiple toilets, this is a benchmark of civilisation. We have come a long way from Grandma’s ‘up the yard’ and torn squares of discarded newspaper. But what about the rest of the world? And times before there was even paper of any kind? Ask a question and, as always, the World Wide Web will answer.
Keeping it clean
In February 2013, Bryan Dugan wrote for Mental Floss, “Ancient Romans … opted for a sponge on the end of a long stick that was shared by everyone in the community. When not in use, that stick stayed in a bucket of heavily salted seawater in the communal bathroom.” (Dugan topically updated his article in March 2020!) In the fourteenth century a Chinese emperor of the Song Dynasty demanded large paper sheets. “Until then, people in China just used random paper products,” writes Dugan. “Commercially produced toilet paper began circulating in England in 1857 [but] toilet paper’s appeal is not universal. Many in India use the left-hand-and-bucket of water method.” Writing for BBC History Revealed, Jonny Wilkes says, “Some options of nature’s toilet paper sound sensible enough – leaves, grass and moss. In some societies, cloths or materials like wool, lace and hemp became the wiping choice for the wealthy.” And, finally, Ben Lindburgh wrote for theringer.com as recently as March 23, “Amazon has sold out of toilet paper, physical stores have seen their stocks run low … empty shelves suggest that somewhere along Maslow’s ‘hierachy of needs’, along with ‘what will I eat?’, ‘what will I drink?’, and ‘where will I sleep?’, humans must wonder ‘how will I wipe?’.
We will get by
Some societies forbid putting paper down the toilet; it clogs their inadequate sewerage systems. Others have made the bidet not only an essential piece of bathroom equipment, but part of the décor. Visiting the Daintree in North Queensland once, we were warned of an potentially nasty experience: it is painful enough to accidentally touch, or be touched by, the leaves of the stinging Gympie-Gympie plant. It stings like acid apparently. (We were never tempted to test this!) But, the most dire warning of all was to anyone considering ‘using the leaves for toilet purposes’. Not a nice memory of your tropical holiday. I suspect we all have enough toilet paper by now, and that future supplies will languish on supermarket shelves, gathering dust, until we have nearly run out. Those who don’t are sure to know someone who will oblige – you may have something they need: pasta, rice, flour …
The Kitchen Garden Guide
Our gardens have now become our refuge. The worms, the bees, the birds, the plants and all the life that has always been there, is still there. My chair on the verandah is still there. The chooks are still pecking, scratching, chatting and sometimes even laying. I found another 20 eggs under a bush! In the garden, everything is the same, except ourselves. For me, just being in my garden, working in the sunshine in my garden, having coffee under a tree in my garden, chatting to the chooks and even talking on the phone in the garden, bring some relief from all that
Our gardens know it is autumn; the leaves are turning, seedlings are putting on a burst of growth, birds and mice are scurrying to find a place for winter. Firewood is stacked and an evening fire brings warmth and comfort. It is time to take stock of our lives, maybe to change some things, maybe to continue this period of having time to think, even when we get to the other side.
April is a nice, gentle time in the food garden. Lots of self-sown seeds are germinating, ready to bring nourishment for winter. These include all sorts of mustard greens and various kale. I will eat the thinnings, which I just snip with scissors and eat as microgreens in salads. I know I can buy food or sow seeds but there is something deep within our human psyche that links self-sown food with a kind of contentment that nothing else provides. For the first 100,000 years or so of Homo sapiens’ development, we had to forage for every morsel, and the sight of germination after rain must have brought that same sense of security to the many nomadic peoples spreading across the earth. I think this is still in us as evidenced in the frenzy of people making food gardens in this time of fear.
Seeds we sow now are mostly kept damp by the dew and occasional showers. I have sown shungiku, coriander, lettuce, wasabi greens, bok choy and some red-flowered broad beans. It is getting late for sowing seeds but the soil is still warmish. I will be sowing more broad beans, planting out advanced brassicas and planting garlic. I might sow coriander in my asparagus patch this week, so that, as the asparagus dies down, the space is used over winter.
Beans: three crops from one
Before you pull out your scrappy, exhausted bean plants let me tell you about the three stages at which you can eat beans. I learned this in France where you can buy onion bag sized mesh bags of beans in their dry or semi dry pods....
1. Of course we all know about eating whole bean pods, before the seeds inside begin to swell. They are usually green or yellow, thin or flat, stringless or not.
2. At full production, we often miss picking some beans at their peak and discover them later, with swollen, knobbly pods which are then too tough to eat as green beans. This is the perfect time to let those swellings grow and then use them as you would broad beans, shelled. You will be amazed at the beautiful colours of the beans developing inside. They cook quickly.... I throw them into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds at a rolling boil, then drain. Tip back into the hot pan and add salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomatoes and a good squeeze of garlic. Serve immediately.
3. Let some of each bean you have grown dry completely on the plants, so that the pods are crisp and brown. Crack open the pods and remove the now mature, shiny, magnificently coloured bean seeds. These can be saved and sown next season or used in winter soups and stews, as you would lima beans or kidney beans. Put them in a bowl on your table. They will be like a bowl of jewels which is a delight to behold and gorgeous to run through your fingers. Let them sit and dry thoroughly for a week or more before sealing
Plant out soft neck varieties now, into damp soil but do not water until you see little green shoots appearing, or you risk them rotting. These will be ready to harvest before Christmas, when their soft stems brown off and begin to flop over. If overwatered at this time the water seeps down into the garlic head and can cause rot or cause them not to store well.
Plant out hard neck varieties later and into May. Later they will produce tall, curly, green stems called scapes, which are fabulously
delicious. I leave some to grow scapes because they are so delicious, but some I cut off so more energy goes into growing the bulbs. These will be ready to harvest in January or even February and have a hard stem, right down into the garlic head. In a wet spring, these survive better as they are less prone to rot because of the way they grow tight around the hard neck.
A trick I learned recently is to put late planting varieties into the fridge for a month now, to help them come up faster when you do plant them out, because last year some of my hardnecks did not emerge until July.
We had a touch or two of frost in my garden last week, which has burnt off a few pumpkin leaves. This is a sign that the pumpkins will not mature much more and that they are at risk of developing soft patches, where the frost might touch and freeze them. I have seven pumpkins growing on one plant of Peter Cundall’s variety. I will cut the ripest of them this week and put them somewhere warm and dry to harden off. Leave at least 20cm of stem at this stage, or they will not store so well. I will keep an eye on the night time temperatures and pick the rest before the next frost.
• Lime brassica beds, fruit trees and deep hay areas.
• Make compost in one cubic metre bays. Cover thickly with hay. Leave for winter.
• Take herb cuttings
• Harvest sunchokes, Chinese artichokes, horseradish, seeds such as tomato.
• Use natural lactose fermentation to pickle any hard vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots, radishes, Chinese cabbage, beans
• Don’t worry about running out of food. Tasmanian farmers and growers are still growing everything we need
• Asian greens
• English spinach
• Broad beans
• Miners’ lettuce
• Spring onions
• Sugar snap peas (frost free)
• Green manure
• Sweet peas
• Winter annual flowers
• Spring bulbs
• Garlic, shallots, potato onions
• Evergreen shrubs and trees
Stockpiling – pros and cons
Understatement alert! The coronavirus lockdown is certainly starting to seem serious! With world leaders forced to admit that there is a global health problem, we must all do our part. Now comes the serious bit – obeying instructions and keeping ourselves out of circulation. Making the work of frontline workers and essential service personnel easier is a role for us ordinary folk.
Consulting official and authoritative sources is the best, or the only, way to go. However, people are turning to social media for information, entertainment and contact. Some information is useful, some is silly. It is very easy to get spooked into over-reaction. Fear and panic spreads like a wildfire. Some of us have resisted the urge to go out and buy up every roll of toilet paper we can see, but we may regret our reluctance to grab what is available, if the crisis goes on for, say, up to six months. Sharing stories with others at the last public event I attended almost three weeks ago, most of us thought stockpiling was a joke. It was easy to feel amused, or even a bit superior, recounting tales of panic buying and irrational shopping that one has witnessed. One friend said she asked a woman at a supermarket who had a trolley loaded with toilet paper, why she thought she needed to buy so much. The woman replied: “I don’t know, everyone else is doing it.” It was amusing at the time, but who knows, that woman may have the last laugh. Official advice is to buy sensibly, to only purchase what we need. One thing – if, in the future, some person tries to sell a roll of toilet paper to me for $50, I will not be amused. Over-buying may cause waste. I have already seen articles on social media asking for help with ideas – what do you do with five dozen eggs?
Use it – don’t waste it
Sensible buying should include making an inventory of what is needed. I know, I know, sensible being the operative word. This is a good time to go through your cupboards and see what food is already there, still within its recommended use-by-date. Whenever possible, use up goods that are opened already. Making up large quantities of soups for the freezer, using half-used packets of lentils, split peas or pearl barley is a good plan. A very satisfying, prepper thing to do. I always make large quantities of soups for winter, as lunch standbys. Going through the spice drawer is also a good way to use up leftovers or to throw away out-of-date goods. The same with dried fruit – better to make a cake now and eat it, than waste any of that expensive fruit not used up in the Christmas bake-off period. Overbuying occurs often, special deals – two-for-the-price-of-one – may seem like a good deal, but not if you forget that the items are at the back of the cupboard.
Throw away is not good
Recently we had to clear out the worldly goods of an elderly gentleman who decided that he needed help. Due to declining health, he finally consented to going into an aged care facility. Said chap is as happy as a pig in the proverbial, even in the lockdown situation that he is now in. He even thinks it’s an adventure and is enjoying the safety and security of his new home. A Second World War veteran who has lived through depressions, recessions and all sorts of lifetime tribulations, this man has always been practical and frugal. A good cook, he had a full pantry that had barely been used for probably over a year or more. Cleaning out the cupboards meant that a great deal of food had to be thrown out. It was sad and out of character for a person who had always been on top of the buying and stocking the pantry task. Don’t leave it too late to do a stocktake – of your life and your pantry – it’s a shame to waste anything, either food or previous life experience.
How to keep your immune system fighting fit
Our immune system is a large and complex frontier that scientists haven’t completely explored as yet. Because we don’t fully understand how our immune system works there aren’t any miracle remedies for immune system function, but based on current data, there are several things that scientists suggest may help our immunity. Most of these fall under the umbrella of a healthy lifestyle, and this isn’t a coincidence. Like any other complex system in our bodies, the immune system requires harmony and balance in order to function properly. A healthy lifestyle aids in this balance and provides what the immune system needs to function effectively.
Because of its complexity, our immune system needs a large cocktail of nutrients to function properly. One of the best ways to support immune function is therefore a balanced and nutritious diet. While a generally balanced diet is good, there are some foods that are thought to be particularly beneficial to the immune system, such as blueberries, spinach, almonds, garlic, dark chocolate, sweet potatoes, broccoli, ginger, green tea, red capsicums and sunflower seeds.
Another good rule of thumb is to have a variety of colour in your diet because different colours are associated with different nutrients. As nutritionists say, “eat a rainbow”. And, as always, moderation in everything. Blueberries may be good for you but eating a couple of kilos will probably just make you sick.
The hormones produced by stress suppress our immune system and chronic stress makes us more susceptible to illness. While stress is often an unavoidable part of life, learning to manage stress can mitigate its negative effects on our immunity. Different people will find different stress-relieving strategies work for them but common ones include meditation and mindfulness, connecting with others, exercising, laughter, keeping a journal or gratitude diary, listening to or playing music, and doing yoga or tai chi. If you find you are feeling overwhelmed in trying to manage stress it can be useful to talk to a counsellor. An outside opinion is often helpful and professionals will tailor stress-management strategies to suit you.
Sunlight is not only good for our mood, it also triggers our body’s cells to produce vitamin D, which performs several important roles in the immune process. Getting a moderate amount of sunlight each day can be beneficial to immune function. It’s important though to remember to wear sunscreen and not to overexpose because UV rays can conversely suppress the immune system.
How much sunlight is a good amount depends on your skin tone and where you live, but it is recommended to get about five to 15 minutes per day, up to 30 if you are dark skinned. If you wear sunscreen you can also stay out longer before you suffer any harmful effects.
If you are in wintertime or somewhere that generally doesn’t get much natural sunlight, a blue light lamp can also be helpful. Taking vitamin D supplements can be good if your body isn’t producing enough naturally but they come with some caveats, which I’ll talk about later.
Exercise is, in general, good for your health and therefore your immune system, but it can also provide an added benefit of improving your circulation, since the circulatory and lymphatic systems are extremely important for immune system function. Studies have found that strenuous exercise also increases the amount of immune cells in your system, which first accumulate in your blood then move to important sites such as your lungs. You don’t have to run a marathon to get the benefits though, even just a walk outside is good and also provides the other immune-boosting benefits of sunlight and de-stressing.
Getting enough sleep
Studies have shown that a good sleep cycle is important for immune function. Getting enough sleep and having a good circadian rhythm helps regulate the immunological process. If the immune system is a large company of workers our circadian rhythms are the clock that they work to. When we don’t sleep well the result is chronic low-grade inflammation and immunodeficiency.
So how much sleep is enough sleep? Although it does vary somewhat individually, the optimal amount of sleep for adults is seven to eight hours, for teenagers nine to 10 hours and for school-aged children 10+ hours. It also needs to be good quality sleep. If you don’t sleep well, ie: wake often or have difficulty falling asleep, it might be a good idea to look up guides on sleep hygiene or to talk to your doctor.
Supplements and immune function is a complicated topic. While we do know that some minerals and vitamins such as vitamins D, C, E, B2 and B12, selenium, iron, folic acid and zinc are important for immune function, it is best to derive these from a nutritious diet. If your diet or environment isn’t providing enough of these essential nutrients, there are blood tests that can show this. Since this is a very individual topic that changes due to a number of factors including nutrition, age and medical history, I would suggest talking to a doctor before you make any decisions on what to take, especially as many of these micronutrients can actually be harmful if taken when not actually needed.
Things to avoid
Most of these are no-brainers and things we already know we should avoid. Alcohol, smoking, undue stress and unhealthy foods will all limit your body’s ability to fight off infection. While the Covid-19 pandemic is active, it’s probably worth considering reducing these as much as you can. Even if you yourself are not likely to be at risk of complications, you will more than likely be in contact with at least one person who is, and immunity is often a communal issue more than an individual one, so by protecting yourself you are also protecting others, including those you care about.
Disclaimer: This article is of a general nature only and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult your doctor or medical practitioner for advice specific to your needs.
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