A Walk Through New Forest, Hampshire

When the children were young, we often went into The Forest to forage and to sketch. Those are my most precious memories of being a mother, and I would gladly have more children just to enjoy the pleasure of teaching them about The Forest again. Today was a blessed day, a trip down memory lane, as I went into The Forest with my parents and my niece.

Warning: do not use this page as reference when foraging for edible mushrooms.  Fungi are terribly complicated because species from the same family could look vastly different, depending on its stage in its lifecycle. Always take advice from an expert. Also, please do excuse my spelling – I am an amateur.

Amanita fulvaf1


Boletus edulisf2

Amanita muscariaf3

Amanita pantherinaf4


Russula emeticaf9

Amanita citrinaf10

Cantharellus cibarius (chantrelles)f12

Sclerotinia f16

Stereum ostreaf22



Fistulina hepatica (beef steak)f29


Hydnum repandum (hedgehog)f36

Laccaria laccataf40

Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom)f42

Outsmaniella nucidaf43Photographs are the copyright of Kate Rhiannon Jones & Jacqueline Koay 2014

Article on the dangers of eating foraged mushrooms:


One life, One Love

My mother never fell out of love with my father. He is her only love, the man she left their hometown with, both of them filled with the optimism of the young. He had a high-flying career in many foreign countries whilst she kept the home fires burning. Life had not been that easy or ideal for her, but she always smiled her big, beaming smile that made us all feel loved and important. We have always known that we were very important to her. Though she was a shining star before she fell in love with him, she shone only for him from the moment they met, and not the world. To the rest of the world, she was just an extension of him, the appendage, the stay-at-home wife.

Many modern women would scorn her – she could have been so much more – but she is my inspiration. If I am 1/100th the woman my mother is, I would be honoured. I have always wanted to love only one man, to bear his children (pieces of him), to put all my emotional investment in the family we build together and to grow old with the one I started my journey with. My mother has taught me over many decades that the only true love is one that is tempered by the years and forged in selfless love, and that being in love means waking up with the same person, looking forward to the new day together. My mother taught me too that excitement is seeing the world through the eyes of my children, not through exciting idealised love that does not exist nor last. My mother, my role-model, I believe her.

No to Anorexia

“It often starts with the chipping away of self-esteem by thoughtless comments. Then an erosion towards body dysmorphia. And the downward spiral into anorexia.”

There are many positives about living in Asia, but for me, one of the biggest negatives as a mother is the obsession with being ‘slim’. Oh, how I hate that word, and the mindset of chasing useless and dangerous physical ideals.

I am three quarters Asian, so being slim is natural for me. But for my two daughters who have a big and muscular Caucasian father, it can be a minefield. My elder daughter Kat is a glorious goddess at 5 feet 10 inches in her stockings and has that strong Spanish built that would be envied everywhere else in the world, except in Asia, that is. Some of the comments that she had to weather during her time in Kuala Lumpur:

“Who is the mother, who is the dotter?”

“She looks older, hor?”

“Wah, why so big?”

“How to find a husband?”

The modeling agencies we went to suggested that she loses half her body weight. I walked out in disgust, dragging her behind me, her self-esteem bruised. Straight after her last exam, she was on the flight back to London, and no one has made a single comment since about her lack of slimness. In fact, she had not heard the hated word since, and that was six years ago.

My younger daughter G is made of sterner stuff. She had been called chunky and fat, and she would meet these ridiculous labels with a steely glare. “At least I am not stupid,” she would reply sweetly, with the hidden subtext, “Like you.”

G has my Asian build, so she is naturally slim. But here’s the thing: she works hard to put on muscle bulk. She trains three times a week on the football field and eats consciously. She glorifies in her ‘chunky’ body, because it is all neat muscles that she had worked hard for. Muscles that played a large part in making her the Malaysian junior national taekwondo champion when she was 10 and a very successful footballer on the British International Schools circuit. She won the Most Valued Player award for three consecutive years, and she is only 14. One of her powerful kicks could send a football from one end of the field to the other, and you could hear the thwack from the stands. She is 14, but she plays a full game of football against under-21 girls and even boys. A ‘slim’ girl would not have the strength and stamina to do that. I am glad that media pressure and the world she grew up in had not skewed her view. Strong and healthy is beauty, not skinny.

I have been skinny – or to use that over-used word ‘slim’ – during the times in my life when I was undergoing chemotherapy, when I was bereaved, when I was working so hard that I forgot to eat. These slim periods coincided with some of the unhappiest times in my life. Yet the compliments flowed in.

“Wah, so slim! Have you been on diet or doing yoga?” Greeted me when I got back into the Kuala Lumpur groove after burying my friend.

No, I have not been on diet. Nor have I done more yoga. My friend died, you brainless woman, and I am seeing psychiatric help to get over my anguish. I am not slim, but dangerously thin.

One of the things I did when I gave up work was building my body. I ran, did weights and yoga, and ate well. My focus wasn’t on getting the perfect body, but a healthy one that will see me through the second half of my life. At 46, I am the best I have ever been.

I owe it all to my chunky but perennially happy Welsh mother, who had always told me I am beautiful, and who showed me that there are other things in life that are more important than what people think about your body. It is yours, love it.

And here’s a humble request from me: please use the word ‘slim’ responsibly.

Body dysmorphia

Anorexia and bulimia

Campaign for body confidence

No Such Thing As A Bad Mother

I watched my mum bustling round her kitchen, a contented beam on her face, happiness radiating from her. She is in her element, here in this sunny kitchen somewhere in leafy Hampshire. This is her whole world – for her, the world beyond these walls means very little. She never had any desire to conquer the world, to achieve or to leave a mark other than quietly and gently through her children and grandchildren. She had no ambition beyond us. She had always been like this.

Yet she was the brightest star in her village. She was the first girl to go to university (Aberystwyth) and whilst at university, she was in the rowing team, winning medals. She even kicked the bar on several occasions (as per the tradition at her university).

When the children came, that all stopped immediately. My mum had a sweet little job teaching Biology in a local school, but it had always been clear that her focus was her children. She devoted her every waking hour to us, and did her mothering duties with a big smile even when under duress.

I was 16 when I first fell pregnant (accidentally, of course), and again at 20.  I didn’t want my first two children.

“Daddy, I have changed my mind,” I cried big tears when I was being wheeled into the delivery room. “I don’t want a baby!”

In the beginning, I never felt that I was a good mother. In fact, I have always believed that I was a bad mother, blaming my youth for my shortcomings.  I was saddled with babies at a very young age, at a time when my peers were out there in the world doing exciting things. I, in the meantime, was stuck at home with squalling brats, and the father of my child was a penniless man who lived an itinerant life.

We were both so not ready to be parents.  The day I told him that I was carrying his child, he was about to set off for the British Olympics Sailing Trials. He wasn’t expecting to be daddy, not for a long while at least. Moreover, I was just the one-night stand on a careless, enchanted summer evening.

The animal passion we had for each other counted for little when it came to raising children or building a home. Our differences as people were beginning to show when we had to throw our lot in together.  I was ambitious and hyper, whilst he was laidback and chilled. I was permanently stressed and exhausted as we had more babies whilst I was at university, hundreds of miles from my soothing south coast life in my parents’ peaceful home. Life was a flurry of dropping the babies off to the university nursery, then lectures, then burning the midnight oil completing assignments and studying for exams.

Though there was lots of love in our household, it was chaotic, messy and haphazard. The children were not always cleanly dressed (in summer months, they ran round naked in their wellies) and meals were not always on time. I was often impatient with them, as my nerves were frayed from university studies, household chores and the stress of raising young children without practical help and financial support.

Later, when I started working (out of necessity), I was occasionally an absent mum. The conflict raging within me was savage. On the one hand, I wanted to stay at home with my babies; on the other hand, I wanted to run towards the exciting opportunities with my arms outstretched. To live and to experience so that I live a life of no regrets was my mantra. I wanted to experience more than the confines of my family life.

And so, on my precious older daughter’s ninth birthday, I was on the plane circling over Heathrow, not being able to land because of the snow. I arrived home the day after her birthday, and I disappeared for weeks on end to the Occupied Territories, armed with the mistaken belief that I was saving lives. I undertook a 1000km Sahara trek for a dare.

My children had a successful mother who often made it into newspapers and glossy magazines. But inside, for the longest period of time, I believed that I was a bad mother, and in my thirties, when the real value of life dawned upon me, I scrabbled frantically to rearrange my priorities so that my children became the centre of my universe. Our family life took a dramatic turn for the better, when I realised that career success, exciting adventures and even friends could not warm your heart the way only your children and the father of your children can. Only they can put their arms round you, and transform a mediocre day into one worth being alive for, and that the love is constant, eternal.

At 46, I am contemplating another two children. I know my future children will have a different mother than the seventeen year old one that I had been:  I no longer have the pressures to live my life, to prove myself, to achieve my ambitions and to earn money. I had done all that.

I mentioned this to my mother.  “I will be a good mum this time, Ma, like you.”

 She stopped bustling. She stopped smiling. She fixed me with a strong stare.  “Darling, you have never been a bad mother. There is no such thing as a bad mother. All women give birth wanting to do their best for their children. We just have different ways, that’s all. Now don’t go beating yourself up for what you did or did not do in the past. Good or bad is subjective, but love is absolute.”

 Yes, Ma, I loved my children more than life itself, even when I did not know how to express it. And I love you, my wise mother, for always healing the cuts in my heart.

The Journey Home

My parents do not come up to London anymore, though it is  less than 90 minutes from where they live. They used to have a vibrant life here. My mother would always be there on the first day of the Chelsea Flower Show with her big hat on, and went to museums, galleries and operas. We had a big party at the Serpentine Gallery for my children’s christenings. We did so much here, once upon a time. Now, my parents rarely venture out of the sleepy little Hampshire town that they call home. I think the bustle and the fast-paced city life became too much for them.

I couldn’t lure them up to London, I had to go home.

Home is Portsmouth, where I spent some of the happiest years of my life. I have such a huge emotional investment in this town, yet most my life is in London. There always seem to be 101 things I had to do that are London-based, such as buy a hat, go to the Passport office, meet up with a friend, medical check-up, family business. It does seem like a chore, an obligation, to make the trek home.

It shouldn’t be. It should never be.

When the train pulled into Portsmouth Harbour, my parents were standing there on the platform. They stood there side by side, married for 52 years against the odds, radiant smiles on their faces. It hit me with a sudden pang that they have aged in the last few years: my father still carries his proud bearing but his ramrod-straight back is now stooped and my mother is visibly slower on her feet. But it didn’t seem that long ago that my mother was taking my many children to the town square, indulging them, running after them energetically.

And it didn’t seem all that long ago, too, that she drove all the way to Chichester to fetch my younger brother and I home at some ungodly hour of the morning, after we had too much to drink. That night, as we hovered on the cusp of alcoholic poisoning, my mother sat up with us, patiently urging us to drink water all night long, holding our heads up when we vomited into the washing up bowl that she unflinchingly held. Oh Mummy, how you proved your love that night!

And again in 2001, when I received the shock diagnosis that I had 2nd/3rd stage cervical cancer. My first impulse, which I followed, was to run straight home. I left my children’s father and took my children home to this sleepy little town that I couldn’t wait to leave when I was a restless teen. My children and I moved into a house 100 metres from my parents’ home. Here, my family nursed me back to health, and paradoxically, it was some of the most precious times for us, despite my illness. During that time, my mother nurtured me once more with her imitable devotion. My father and I found time to have deep philosophical discussions, which were the missing pieces in my early life. My brother looked in on me every evening after work. My nephew and niece became my own children, and they rallied round my children. My new best friends were Mrs. Tomlinson and Mrs. Foster, both in their eighties then, who provided the warm, gentle company I so badly needed then. I opted out of ‘real’ life in London to come back here, only for me to question myself, what is real life? A glittering existence in the exciting capital, peopled by folks who make the news, paying exorbitant prices for a pint of milk, or this sweet and unchanging life in this hamlet, my hometown, where my parents still live? Where will I choose to be, as the years close in on me? Would I wish to spend my final years at dinner parties with friends, or would I go for long walks along the seafront, remembering the days when I was still young, when my parents were still here?

I think of the sunny kitchen in my mum’s house, where I used to sit at the table doing my homework whilst she cooked with a big smile always on her face. How much she loved us, and food was her way of showing her love. I know she would have been cooking all morning, anticipating my return.

As my train slowly trundled past the stations on the way home, I felt a strong sense of homecoming. All my early life, my roots, came back to me, most notably, taking the train to school everyday with my younger brother.

“Darling,” my father said formally, but there is such a wealth of love in that one word.

“Oh, look at you!” My mum enthused, enveloping me into her arms, the only place I have ever felt truly safe in. “You don’t look a day older than when you were a schoolgirl!”

I have not been home for four months, and that is four months too long. So please join me in my intention to spend more time with parents. They won’t be here forever.home


Superfood Snack – Kale Scratchings


At this time of the year, kale (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group) is plentiful and cheap in England. Until the end of the Middle Ages, kale was one of the most common green vegetables in all of Europe. It is a relative of the wild cabbage, and my Welsh mother said it is used to feed cattle.  But it is also a superfood – only 3 tablespoons of this dark green leafy veg make up one fifth of your 5-a-day requirement.

Here’s my simple and quick recipe to get children and adults munching kale:

1 bag kale
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoon Braggs Liquid Aminos
Chili flakes
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 100 deg. You want the oven to be on lowest possible heat to slow-roast the kale, so that it gets crispy and loses none of its nutrients.

Combine the olive oil, Braggs, chilli flakes and sea salt. Pour it into the bag containing the kale and give it a good shake. When the kale is evenly coated, pour onto a baking tray. Slow-roast for an hour, or until it’s crispy.

kale 2

My Much-Loved Mother-in-Law

I had one last thing to do in London before going home to my parents in Hampshire, and that one thing is to visit my mother-in-law. My MiL is in the grips of Alzheimer’s disease. She does not recognise me. She lives in a world where her parents are still very much alive, where she still goes to work. I no longer exist in her world.

Oh, Mum! I don’t have a husband but I have a much-loved MiL. Mum brought me up, because I joined her family when I was a spoilt, screwed-up teenager. She wasn’t going to put up with my nonsense, the way my family had. Her son and I used to sneak into bed in the afternoons, and she would knock hard on the door. “Get up, the pair of you,” she would holler. “Why are you in bed? You are not sick!”

We fought. Because I was lazy and spoilt and did not know the value of money that she had to work so hard for, firstly as a cleaner and then as an office clerk for London Electricity Board. She scrimped and saved all her life, whilst I did the opposite. My parents’ pleasure principle did not sit well with her.

She showed me how to clean the shower cubicle. With a toothbrush. And told me that I have to clean behind refrigerators. “Mrs. Lumkin does that at home,” I told her haughtily. “Surely you can get someone in to do this?”

We fought over sausages. I refused to let my children eat the cheap ones she bought from the local butcher. “Mum, 99p for six! What rubbish goes in there!” I would exclaim. ‘No way will I feed my kids that!”

“Nothing wrong with my kids,” she would retort heatedly. “And they were brought up on these sausages.”

“We’ll bring our own food for the kids when we visit your parents,” I said firmly to the poor man caught in the middle between his warring mother and the mother of his children.

“How do those poor children of yours ever survive?” my MiL would say, half in disgust.

There were always faults she could find with my parenting. Babies being breastfed on demand, no set mealtimes, clothes smelling of mildew, late potty training, kids jumping on the bed, parents sneaking off to bed in the afternoon, oh you name it, and you can bet your last penny that I had transgressed.

I was the daughter-in-law from hell, but Mum never gave up on me. She taught me to sew and knit with varying degree of success. She taught me to cook and clean, of course. In the process, she learned how to love me. We grew especially close despite the tempestuous nature of our relationship when we had to move in with the in-laws whilst saving up for the deposit for our first house.

“Oh, Jack, you didn’t have to go through all this trouble for me!” she would exclaim each time I brought her fresh flowers or a little cake that I had baked. She never wanted to trouble anyone. She was a carer for her mother who went blind when she was 11. Her father died when she was still in her teens. Mum never had anyone looking after her. She never had any frivolities. I loved treating her and see the light in her eyes  miraculously switching on.

“Oh, you didn’t have to!” she would exclaim each time, with my every little gesture.

Over the years, as the children grew, she could see that my extravagances and strange values had not marred her grandchildren at all. My children are still ‘salt of the earth’, equally happy in a rough working class neighbourhood as they were in Knightsbridge or the country. My second son especially did them proud. This boy had always been close to his father’s roots: during his school summer holidays, he would come home to this working class neighbourhood and worked as a furniture removals man. I know that through this son of mine, his father’s race continues. And through my youngest child Georgina, who fights in the same fight club in Woolwich that her grandfather had all those years ago.

My MiL used to come and watch G fight. She would take the front row seat. I could see the dreaminess in her eyes, as she reminisced about her late husband fighting in this same club.

“Nanny, I have beaten up all the English boys,” G would say proudly, sliding her little hand into her grandmother’s.

Children are indeed a wonder, because they are the source of my MiL’s love for me, and mine for her. I have a lot to be thankful for. My children’s strong Spanish genes, for example, and their physical beauty. The tough love my MiL had given me, that was the making of me. My strong relationship with God. A sense of belonging to the bedrock of England. My love for her grows forevermore.

Today, I hugged her close, glad I made this journey. ‘I had to,” I whispered. “Because you are my Mum.”

I hope somewhere, deep within her Alzheimer’s diminished brain, she knows just how much I needed to make this journey to tell her I love her.

Of Mothers and Sexuality

My 81 year old aunt took me aside at lunch one fine day, and said to me firmly, “Girl, you need to update your boudoir skills, you have been with the same bedfellow for far too long. It gets stagnant, you know?”

I opened and shut my mouth like a goldfish, for want of something to say. Bedroom advice from an octogenarian? Golly, am I such a sad case?

But she was right. I was becoming complacent, or to self-justify, ‘comfortable’. Lovemaking was still active and regular, but nonetheless comfortable. I am 46 and have had 5 children. A quick mental run through my lingerie drawer revealed sports bras, an assortment of bikinis, cotton blacks and the occasional Santa-inspired ones from Christmas crackers. Fortunately, there are no granny-pants there yet. And no boudoir wear.

Being the obedient sort of person, I decided to obey my aunt. On a recent trip to the Czech Republic, I splurged out on some naughty, classy undies made of Bohemian lace. I still have not worked out the conversion rate, but my purchases ran to four figures, and since it was not Thai or Indonesian paper money I was dealing with, I know the credit card bill will be severe. And the worse thing is, I know too that I would wreck my lavish purchases in a space of a few washes – I still have not mastered the art of laundry, and the washing machine always seems to get the better of me.

But get those frivolities I must, though they are completely out of sync with my life and who I am now.

Because those little pieces of Bohemian lace remind me of my younger self. My younger self would spend my hard-earned cash on Janet Reger and Agent Provocateur. My children’s father was perplexed why he was allowed to rip some knickers off in the heat of passion, whilst others were strictly on a see-no-touch basis. He could never figure labels out.

Oh, I remember the delicious guilt, knowing that in the little bag contained two tiny pairs of lace that cost as much as one riding class at the Hyde Park Barracks for my daughter. And of course, I remember the sensual pleasure of wearing them. It was like a naughty secret.

Like marriage, sex in a long-term relationship needs investment. In an ideal world, love will see you bound to each other for life, even if sex ceases to be exciting after a while, because after a certain age, companionship trumps over a roll in the sack. You look for the connection and the comfort, squeezed in between children’s homework and 6am football practices, and forsake the occasion and the drama. It is beautiful, deep and reassuring, but the other dimension is missing, probably lost forever.

And indeed, over the years, as I aged (and in particular, after suffering from cervical cancer), my mindset shifted towards becoming healthy and functional instead of naughty, sexual, a little irresponsible, coquettish. I am proud of my body, but it is almost in a clinical way. I glorify my taut muscles and toned skin, but I forget that once, there was a playful, sexual being within me. The teenager who seduced the man who would become the father of her children by inviting him to a party that never was, and who wore delicate French lace. In black. Oh, the fun and headiness!  Clothes, or underwear in this case, does maketh one.

It took an 81 year old to remind me of that. Thank you, Auntie.


Window display at Rigby & Peller, holder of the Royal Warrant. I wonder if the Queen wears this?
Window display at Rigby & Peller, holder of the Royal Warrant. I wonder if the Queen wears this?

The Importance of Family Support

On the second day after my second son was born, post-natal depression hit me. I was sitting in the bath at home, door locked, and Kit was screaming at the top of his lungs. My mother-in-law had come down from London to help, and I could hear her saying to OAB, “She’s not producing enough milk, the poor little soul is hungry, bless him.” I looked down at my leaky breasts and still-huge belly, and felt a right failure. All my friends were at University; I had to take another year out. We lived in a little house with no central heating except those run by the 50p meter, and my bedroom in my parents’ house is larger than this whole sodding house. I was stuck here with a penniless man, his disapproving mother and his screaming brat. I felt like my whole life was over.

I got out of the bath, got dressed, and announced with deadly calm to OAB and my MiL: “I am leaving.”

He was shocked and tried to stop me. His mother, in her infinite wisdom, said, “Let the silly girl go.”

The silly girl went straight home like a bat out of hell to her parents.
Obviously, I went back to the penniless man and his screaming brat. That was 25 years ago. I left him many times since, to move back to my parents’ house, albeit for a few hours, a few days, and even a few weeks. And here’s the thing: no matter how old we are, there is always traces of the silly girl/silly boy in all of us. Who do you take your drama, heartbreak, depression and neediness out on? Your long-suffering partner or do you burden outsiders with your woes? Or do you just bottle those up?

I am blessed that I never had to go beyond my family to seek help. I don’t expect the father of my children to be the solver for all my problems; after all, I am not his child and he has enough children to deal with. I don’t expect my friends to accommodate my occasional neediness; after all, they all have their own lives. There is nothing more unattractive than a needy, desperate clingy grown-up. Fortunately, I have brothers to deal with that unattractive side of me, that I bet you have too, hidden somewhere in your grown-up self.

Here’s my article on family closeness for Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jacqueline-koay/six-ways-of-growing-sibli_b_5871482.html

If you need someone to talk through your problems (don’t go through it alone), these are the people who are there for you:

The Samaritans

Pre and Post Natal Depression Support

Miscarriage Support