Mark and Toni’s Learning Odyssey 2019, Week 5: Champagne and onward to Wells, More Food for Thought, Family, Friends, Dental Updates, Cathedrals and Cathedral Thinking.

It was a hard drive in heat to Champagne after finals with Lynne and Philippe. We decided early in the week to not attempt the long trek north early in the morning to get to Charles De Gaulle International and risk missing the onward flight. Our attention turned to staying in Champagne with an old acquaintance in Mailly Champagne, a little village in the Grand Cru Blanc de Noir region south of the capital Reims.  We’d visited it occasionally way back when and returning was a chance again, like in Sancerre, to catch up.


One of the previous “flying” visits saw Toni and I drive south from Weybridge to Mailly over a Friday afternoon in March 2009, on her birthday. We had booked into a local restaurant, Relais du Sillery, near to where we were staying. I had called ahead of time to Anni France Mailisart, the owner of the nearby bed and breakfast to ask her to confirm with the restaurant the time and that it was Toni’s birthday too.

Not only was the evening special but Anni France hauled us rapidly into her 2cv6 van and raced us to the destination after we arrived, just in the nick of time. The meal and wine, a Mailly Champagne Grand Cru, was outstanding but the total surprise came at dessert when unbeknownst to Toni, out came a birthday cake with fireworks exploding out of it. The whole restaurant stood up and burst into song. Happy birthday was sung with gusto in the way only the French can do. We felt touched and very honoured.

Screenshot 2019-08-14 03.16.01

Anni France Mallisart is a kind, generous and hard working individual, looking after a brand new Chambres D’Hotes that sits on her champagne cellar and press. We found her new place eventually, parked up and welcomed renewed friendships.

Offal Foods

We had booked, once again, into Relais de Sillery and prepared for an evening out. We had looked at the online menu and decided, mainly due to cost but also out of nutritional intrigue to select the Fricassée de Ris et Rognons de Veau aux Champignons. Pancreas we think and obviously Kidneys, Wild Mushrooms and New Potatoes in a jus.


Sweetbreads are in the offal (variety meats) group and so are meats coming from organs rather than muscle tissue. Sweetbreads come from two organs, the thymus (sometimes called the throat sweetbread) which is an organ from the immune system and the pancreas (sometimes called the stomach sweetbread) which is an organ from the digestive system. Usually sweetbreads come from veal or lamb or occasionally young pigs, but veal sweetbreads are the most popular. Sweetbreads are seen as the most prized offal meat due to their mild flavour and colour and their rich, velvety texture.

However, a bigger question, And one posed by our good friends Ralph and Hanna back at week 1, is not how it’s cooked and how much it costs but whether offal or organ meat is nutritious. In the past organ meat was valued more than it is now. Hunter-gatherer and native Peoples valued it above muscle tissue (meat) leaving it to their animals to consume. They also ate intestines, brain and testicles. Vitamin’s A and B12, folate, iron and protein are rich in offal, and anti-inflammatory Omega 3’s are found in brain. Liver is particularly nutritious.

Vitamin A comprises a group of organic compounds including retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and beta carotene. It plays a key role in eyesight, teeth and bone development, reproduction and the immune system.  Plants and microorganisms make their own Vitamin A but we have to get it from our diet, animal food sources of the active form than plants. Cod liver oil is a particularly good  source and has Vitamin D and various beneficial fatty acids too.

Source, The Dental Diet, Dr. Steve Lin. Pages 74-75, 174-175, 2017.

After recent discussions with aging parents and in-laws about their first food memories, during and after the War, a common tread was being ritually forced, at school, to consume fresh full fat milk, apples and, interestingly, cod or haddock liver oil.  In my day we got just milk and apples.


A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of cooked beef liver provides; RDI (Recommended Daily Intake)

  • Calories: 175
  • Protein: 27 grams
  • Vitamin B12: 1,386% of the RDI
  • Copper: 730% of the RDI
  • Vitamin A: 522% of the RDI
  • Riboflavin: 201% of the RDI
  • Niacin: 87% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 51% of the RDI
  • Selenium: 47% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 35% of the RDI
  • Iron: 34% of the RDI

Eating organ meats has several benefits:

  • Excellent source of iron: Meat contains heme iron, which is highly bioavailable, so it’s better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron from plant foods.
  • Keeps you fuller for longer: Many studies have shown that high-protein diets can reduce appetite and increase feelings of fullness. They may also promote weight loss by increasing your metabolic rate.
  • May help retain muscle mass: Organ meats are a source of high-quality protein, which is important for building and retaining muscle mass.
  • Great source of choline: Organ meats are among the world’s best sources of choline, which is an essential nutrient for brain, muscle and liver health that many people don’t get enough of.
  • Cheaper cuts and reduced waste: Organ meats are not a popular cut of meat, so you can often get them at a cheap price. Eating these parts of the animal also reduces food waste.

The drawbacks of eating too much offal are minimal, but high levels of Vitamin A are not indicated for pregnant women and those suffering from gout don’t benefit from Purin, a dietary form of Uric Acid.

From the dental perspective Vitamin’s A, B6 and B12 have essential roles to play in preventing dental diseases and deficiencies can result in enamel hypoplasia, xerostomia, gingivitis, gum disease and its use as a nutrient in oral leukoplakia and submucous fibrosis. In children B12 deficiency is linked to increased caries and gum disease risk. Vitamin B6 is, again, associated with gum disease risk and anemia related sore tongue and burning sensations in the mouth.

It maybe appropriate from a dental health perspective to encourage moderate consumption of offal rich in A and B vitamins. Vitamin A may also be particularly important in early facial development too. Vitamins A with vitamin D essentially tell our cells to produce certain proteins—osteocalcin and MGP—that help build and repair teeth and bones by taking calcium where it needs to go, among other things. But for the body to use these proteins, it has to call on vitamin K2 to activate them.

Continuing Professional Development

Burgess Hill is on the rail line to Brighton, the venue for a Periocourses dental update I’d booked several months prior. The course leader is a former RAF Dental periodontitis of my acquaintance. We’d pasted each other going from and to Saxa Vord, a radar outpost in the very north of the British Isles in the mid to late 80’s. Phil Ower is a dental legend, gentle, softly spoken and very engaging. Recent changes to classification of gum disease and a mindful re interpretation of it by him and his colleagues that makes more practical sense to the coalface clinician.


Phil in action

The statistics for poor dental gum health are staggering. 98% of the UK have gingivitis, 10-15% of gum disease to the extent of losing their teeth. The primary culprit is the oral bacteria out of balance, causing inflammation and altering the host response as a consequence. The oral microbiome, the collection of microorganisms in the mouth, is complex, they communicate chemically and electrically, they are symbiotic, constructive, protective of themselves and collaborative. Factors that affect host response include;

  1. Genetics
  2. Smoking
  3. Stress
  4. Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Nutrition
  6. Obesity
  7. Lifestyle behaviours – sleep, sedentary behaviour, depression and loneliness

80% of hard tissue damage(bone loss) is caused by how the body responds to the pathogenic oral flora. Interesting learning outcomes to the course indicate a developing nutritional and lifestyle bend to diagnosis and treatment. These include the need to test perio cases for prediabetes and diabetes, and a HBA1C glycated haemoglobin blood test is indicated. A 3 day diet sheet might be appropriate but I disagree with Phil regarding saturated fat, especially quality saturated fat. The culprit in my eyes is refined sugar and ultra and processed foods, less nutritional dense but more energy dense and glycating inflammatory foods. Something to chew over on another occasion me thinks.

Wells and our wonderful Whanua

Two journeys and two days later we arrived in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. We went via good friends Sue and Chris and Dave and Rachel once again. The later will feature on their own in a future post, their journey and influence on ours is immense.

Shepton Mallet was our staging post for a very special occasion. My step-mother Audrey, now living in Wells, Somerset was celebrating her 80th birthday. She’s been a widow for many years now and had recently moved from her home established with my late father to a retirement lodge. A big move at such an age.


Toni, Audrey and myself at the Halfmoon Inn, Melplash, Dorset.

I’ve not always been on her wave length but recent years have seen me in particular change my position. I’m only human and had issues that needed correcting. I’m a better man for it I feel. We discussed many things together, I was very interested to learn about her nutritional life journey, being an evacuee during the War, being trained down to Wool, Dorset, with her twin sister Shirley. It brought on many changes, dietary too. After the War and after the post rationing period Audrey become the secretary to the head of Coca Cola Europe, her stories regarding that and a stint as a rep for Birdseye span the nutritional changes that shape our current, unhealthy food environment. Little did we know or were allowed to know in those days. This story of Audrey’s will develop into further reading. We enjoyed her fellowship and were very pleased to see and be with her.

St. Cuthberts Church, Wells


Recently attended church sermons had taught lessons of atonement and redemption and the benefits of being forgiven, forgiveness and behaviour change. Not being religious but believing in our spiritual connection with nature, I find organised religion an ongoing challenge. Things that bring us together should be greater than that which divides us. My philosophy, if it is one, is to treat all the way I want to be treated, compassion before reaction, forgiveness before judgement and loving kindness that dispels fear and promotes a fellowship of peace and harmony.

That’s not to say the church doesn’t do good, it certainly does but the physical building is a just like Mother Nature from the canopy of the ancient elder forests. We aren’t separate, we are connected in physical fellowship with each other and everything around us. When we do things wrong we need the courage to accept it, make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again, offer apologies and move on. Redemption and atonement can be found everywhere, be it on a Sunday at church with others, after offending someone at work or at home. Even offering something in return as a demonstration of atonement, perhaps your time, energy or a certain future behaviour change…..

Yew Tree and Cathedral

Wells Cathedral is immense, but at the same time simple. The Yew Tree in the centre of the land acts like a natural nucleus far from its pagan origins. The imposing building houses one the oldest clocks in the World, a stripped back interior in comparison to the less austere Winchester Cathedral. Outside in the nearby market square is a twice weekly market. Nothing comparatively to those of Provence and The Dordogne, Britain doesn’t embrace its deep food history cultural, have the days of Empire have turned the focus on conquered foods rather than that which sustained us before and during those times? Despite its paucity Wells Market presented some treasures. The Bagnell Farm stall had rare breed meat from their Ruby Red cattle, Jacob sheep and Iron age pigs, others had local cheeses, colourful vegetables and a variety of pies and pasties.

Cathedral thinking and Extinction Rebellion

On a completely different spiritual level and something that ultimately affects us all, young or old, even rich or poor is climate change. The deniers, the rich and powerful, those with scientific and critical minds or those blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that will befall us need to wake up. Let’s not deny, obfuscate or ignore any longer, we have a climate crisis. It’s torch has recently be taken up from the most obscure and determined of individuals and is virally spreading through global culture through deep activism.


Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old young lady on the spectrum with ADHD and Autism is capturing the imagination and opinion of those who want to see climate change with a change in our behaviours. She subscribed to “Cathedral thinking”.

Thunberg said that “Notre Dame will be rebuilt, I hope its foundations are strong, I hope that our foundations are even stronger, but I fear they are not.” She points a finger at World leaders “If our house was falling apart, our leaders wouldn’t go on like the way they do today [in tackling climate change]. You would change everything you do.

She listed how humans were causing “climate economical breakdown”, such as deforestation, air pollution, the extinction of animals and the acidification of oceans. Accusing world leaders of being too relaxed in tackling climate change, she said that she wants leaders to panic, evoking an image of a house on fire, comparing the Notre Dam event to the climate emergency.


Extinction Rebellion

Spiritual change maybe considered optional but environmentally, sustainably and climatically the situation is far from a lottery. That maybe the biggest challenge to us on our return to New Zealand. Extinct Rebellion might become the activism we find occurring in our everyday home and workplace environments. More to come on this subject is inevitable.

The Litton and Cousin Sally


On a less sombre note and one that I’m proud to say I have a certain degree of genetic association with is The Litton, a destination pub, a place people travel to and stay and use as a base for visiting local sites and attractions. The likes of certain 80’s pop heroes and International artists travelling to play at Glastonbury nearby are regularly visitors. It was once a ruin until a certain Sally Billington, my cousin, had a moment of madness and decided on a whim to act. It is a passion project like no other. Sally’s eye for originality and retaining its former glory is demonstrated in her mission statement, “Tradtionally Untraditional”. She has an indoor and outdoor restaurant, a bar selling local craft beers and a whiskey bar dating back pre Sally times and some. Renovation and resurrection leach out of every seam. Attention to tradition morphs into the food philosophy too, locally sourced and seasonal dishes are available to those wanting something homely and comforting. Audrey, Toni and I opted for Sunday Roasts, mine, Roast Beef was very hearty and generous. It filled me but not quite enough for a Sticky Toffee Pudding to top off the occasion. Sally afforded precious moments to catch up with many years of lost opportunities to be as we once were back in the early to mid seventies. A guided tour followed and parting was as the immortal bard put it “such sweet sorrow”.


Sally taught me a few things that day at her Litton. It has taken her years of dedicated effort, frustration and delight, moments of despair but also of great of joy and meaning. She manages dozens of staff, pays them well, has programmes that support their welfare and development and like Philippe in Sancerre, and has a hands on and very present approach at work. She is very honest and sincere, is aware of the need to continue to improve through feedback from customers and is super proactive and direct when need be. She’s modest too, not displaying her awards and gongs too obviously. I’d, for one, would love to work for her. Please call Toni and I whenever you want Sally, we’d be straight over.


I’m sitting aboard NZ1 bound for LA pondering this reflection. the changes we are witnessing environmentally are happening at 38,000 feet. Plastic cups are being used on the flight but the cabin crew have asked all to keep to using one cup. The problem still remains with them wearing disposable gloves as they take back the food trays. Interesting eh? We’ve gone one step further and are keeping the plastic cutlery too.


It’s not enough to write everything I feel at this moment and make it more meaningful. I’m creating a carbon footprint as I write, am I a hypocrite or just continuing a journey which is thoughtless and perhaps even a little touch of hedonism? What I am certain of is my future will be different, less unsustainable, more activistic, less consumptive and more aligned with what I’m learning about and with whom I’m learning from.

Week 6 will take us to Scotland, Royalty, natural splendour, family once more and intimacy with nature once again. Amen.



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