Sunday, October 11, 2015

Big Chubby and a List

One of the best things about learning to write is being able to write lists. This is Martha's first list for Bert. I have a feeling it won't be the last.

Martha and Hannah are here for a sleepover as I won't see them for more than a week. Hannah and I are going to Norfolk to see sweet baby James and his people. Those girls do make us laugh. Martha being stern and serious whilst wearing a puppy dog sleep suit complete with tail. Evie poking me in the bosom area while I'm fixing her shoes, calling me 'Big Chubby'. Bert got the best laugh out of that. I had to tell him sternly and seriously  that what might be funny coming from a three year old is much less amusing coming from one's husband. Thankfully I wasn't wearing a puppy dog sleep suit at the time.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Garlic Novice

I first tried to grow garlic about twenty years ago. Like a fool I used shop bought garlic and planted it in an unprepossessing corner of a flower bed. Then forgot all about it. Sometime later I discovered it had sprouted but the resulting bulbs were quite pathetic. I never grew it again - until last year. This time, inspired by daughter Zoe and friend Les, I planted garlic in a prepared bed in the poly tunnel. I remember thinking that it would probably be a disaster yet, despite benign neglect and poppies and other tall weeds growing through it, the results were good. This year I was able to plant another crop using my own seed. As always I plan to do better and weeding will be carried out regularly and my crop will not have to compete with other plants. Maybe. This year I planted a third more than last year.

And the crop I'm using is lovely, flavoursome, juicy and far superior to shop bought garlic. Although I still haven't managed to learn the varieties. Les and Zoe will tell me.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Indian Summer

This was an absolutely beautiful week, real Indian Summer weather and I've spent a lot of time tidying and working in the garden. Which is why I haven't been to this Garden. This is the first year in a long time that I've been excited about my flower garden and, although parts of it were very weedy, the flowers came through. I'm already excited about next year.

Wine making has kept me busy too. Apart from drinking it, I'd not looked near it for two months. In the past week I have racked seven demijohns, bottled damson and made a gallon each of rhubarb and gooseberry. This is the first year I had enough goosegogs to make wine so I'm hopeful it will turn out well. I was checking out the fruit I had in the freezer and found 30 pounds of blackcurrants. Half of those have become the beginnings of wine. Sadly there are very few blackberries this year but the elderberries look promising and Clint has cleared the dunghill. I was never able to get to them before as they grew over a steaming pile of cow shit. So - should be tasty.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Never Forgotten

There are some things that just stick in the mind. One of mine is my great-uncle Father Joe's funeral, which I wasn't allowed to go to. Father Joe or, to give him his full title, the Ven. Archdeacon Joseph Byrne, was the Parish Priest of Larne. He was greatly loved by his family and by all who knew him. Father Joe was described as 'a man noted for his kindness, goodness and piety', and he was certainly very kind to us, his great-nieces and nephews.

On days off he'd drive down to Tannaghmore in his ancient, blue Morris car, do the rounds of the grown ups houses, then pile all us children into the car, probably about six of us and take us out for a 'run'. He drove slower than anyone I knew and always tooted his horn when he approached a bend in the road. There would be a white paper bag of sweets with pictures of fruit which he bought in Mrs Fletcher's shop on the Pipe Road. We'd get one or two sweeties and they were that hard they'd knock the teeth out of your head. These runs would often end up at Uncle Joe's house near Cookstown Junction.

Father Joe died in 1961 at the age of 77. I didn't get to go to the funeral. Mammy said I was too young. But cousin Joseph was going and he was two years and a month younger than me. But that was because he was called after Father Joe, Mammy said. This didn't mollify me. Cousin Joseph was going and I wanted to go too. Mammy stood firm. I stayed home.

Then, about a month later, we were given a copy of a photograph of little Joseph (barely six years old) standing at his great-uncle's grave looking suitably solemn and sad. I was raging with jealousy. I've never forgotten that feeling but, I'm glad to say, I never held it against young Joe. I blamed the grown ups.

Joe's gone himself now. Three years ago today and I miss him still. We all do.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lough Patrick

Today, Bert and I went to Lough Patrick, near Draperstown in County Derry. We only heard about it last week from our friend Howard. He told us that it was a place of pilgrimage with wooden crosses dotted round its rim. I realised that it must be a place where Catholics performed the stations. Howard being C of E knew nothing of stations. He enthused about the stillness and peace of the lough and, like a true traditional pilgrim, he'd gone barefoot.

The lough sits in a bowl shaped hollow with the surrounding landscape out of view. There is a feeling of isolation, even eeriness. It is easy to see why it has been a holy place since pagan times. The lough's water was reputed to have healing properties and it was said that no one could ever drown there. When Christianity came here these wild places were absorbed and the Church added its own stories and rituals. In Ireland holy places abound and some of the old pagan superstitions associated with them continue to this day.

Centuries ago pilgrims came to Lough Patrick from all around and even from as far away as Scotland and England. Eventually the church started to frown upon it. I suspect that some sort of a Fair Day atmosphere might have prevailed with improper behaviour such as the taking of strong drink and, among the younger folk, dancing and kissing.

At the very start we took a wrong turn and found ourselves at the ninth station.

If it hadn't been for the wind turbine sited unfortunately close to the lough it would have been easy to imagine those days, long ago, when people travelled from afar to do the stations at Lough Patrick. There was a great deal of protesting about the turbine from both an environmental and a heritage viewpoint. At around the same time there were plans put forward to build a turbine near Slemish mountain, another site associated with Saint Patrick, but in that case it was found that breeding pairs of the protected curlew bird inhabited the area. No curlews at Lough Patrick so up went the turbine.

I didn't do the stations as it was hard enough just to make my way over the scrags of heather and the boggy patches. It really is a very boggy place. Bert's hiking boots kept the water out but my trainers were quickly soaked through and, like the pilgrims of long ago, I found it far better to go barefoot. And I kept stopping to take photographs. Bert, as always, strode far ahead of me. When I joined up with him he asked if I'd prayed or done anything 'paganish'. I replied that I had not as I'd spent most of my time cursing and swearing as I tripped on heather roots or went up to my knees in a patch of bog. All being well the immersion will have cured my stiff knees. I'm hopeful.

On the way back we spotted in the distance a lanky man with two sprollies approaching. It was Howard, back for another visit to this magical place. And Bert plans to go back tomorrow. For he lost his phone, probably when he tripped on a heather root.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Birthday Presents

Oh but this was a beautiful day. I spent the morning shopping for birthday presents. Zoe's belated and Martha's coming. The rest of the day I spent in the garden, clearing, weeding and sowing. It was blissful.

I wasn't working on this part today even though parts of it are pretty ropey. There is still too much going on and I like looking at it from afar. There are cauliflowers in there which the cows will be eating and there are runner beans at the back. They are really late this year. I harvested some for our dinner tonight and enjoyed them very much.

And I thought a great deal about my father today for this would have been his birthday. A Virgo, like Zoe, like Martha and myself. We are all earth signs, all like grubbing about in good loamy earth. Daddy might not have been interested in growing flowers and vegetables but he was a true horny-handed son of the soil. Happy birthday old fellow.

Photograph by Patricia Moriarty

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Honey and Flour

Our chickens took quite a scattering this summer. Apart from the depredations of the fox we had another one died last weekend, probably from some sort of a respiratory infection. The vet was in the yard on Friday morning and Bert had every intention of getting her to look at it after she had finished testing the cattle, but she started talking about trees and headed off to look at what Bert had available and by the time he'd closed a gate or two she was off and away.

My advice was that he should pull her neck, the hen not the vet, but he didn't take it as he is becoming soft-hearted in his old age. I think that might be the Martha and Evie effect.

She died without the benefit of Bert stretching her neck. That meant we were down to four hens and one rooster and an average of two and a half eggs per day. Definitely time to replenish the flock especially as Bert and Ben had spent a lot of time fox-proofing the run with heightened fencing, reinforced at ground level and, best of all, electric fencing top and bottom outside the perimeter.

I had promised Martha and Evie we'd buy them each a chicken. Evie wanted a pink one and I had to tell her that chickens don't come in pink. Martha helpfully suggested that we could get a white one and dye it pink and I had to disappoint her by telling her that dye would not be good for a chicken's skin.

It was obvious that bog standard hens were not going to cut the mustard with them so after asking around we went to a guy who breeds bantams and other fowl. His place was rather out of the way so I reckoned Bert should drive us as he is usually good at finding his way around. Our van is only a three seater so I had to sit in the back, in the dark as there are no windows. It was very rattly in there but I was just about able to hear Martha and Evie singing their current favourite song, our friend Rod's version of Willie Nelson's It's All Going To Pot. The girls have got it nearly off pat now. Imagine their childish voices doing sweet sister harmony.

All the whisky in Lynchburg, Tennessee
Just couldn't hit the spot
I gotta hundred dollar bill, 
You can keep your pills 
Cause it's all goin' to pot.

Despite my specific directions and a Google maps printout and a photograph of the house Bert still got lost but I didn't mind. For we found the place eventually and the girls were delighted with it. There were ducks, chickens and bantams everywhere. And, best of all, lots of cute little fluffy chicks running around. We had to be specific as to the type of bird we wanted as they needed to be able to cope with the chickens we already had so, guided by the breeder, Martha chose a golden coloured Pekin and Evie picked a white Silkie. They had both been clocking so we also got a clutch of eggs. Back into the van.

The journey home was a good deal shorter as Bert did not go astray. Just as well, as I was sitting in the back with two quiet hens in a box and eighteen eggs up my jumper. The girls put their favourite song on and sang along. I couldn't have been any happier.

There are no pictures of the new chickens just yet. They are in their own little house, in nesting boxes, sitting on their eggs and we don't like to disturb them. Maybe tomorrow.

The hens will be called Honey (the gold one) and Flour (the white one). Girls chose the names themselves. They are called after food. I hope no-one tells Foxy.