Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dead Woman's Shoes

So this has happened to me twice now.

A couple of weeks ago whilst perusing Portglenone's charity shops I found a pair of unworn Hotter lace-up leather shoes costing a mere £3. And have been wearing them ever since. According to the lady in the shop, they were part of a house clearance which usually means belonging to a dead person. I'm not superstitious about such things - I was delighted with my bargain. Last night I gave them a jolly good polishing so as to be smart for today's trip to Belfast. All went well - the shoes were very comfortable and lasted the entire day during which I walked at least 13000 steps. But when I got home I noticed that the soles on both shoes had partially crumbled away.

The first time I experienced the crumbling sole phenomenon was a few years ago. Once again it was Hotter, a walking boot that Hannah used to wear and that had been lying in the wardrobe unworn for several years. I was planning a day out to Belfast and, the night before gave them a jolly good polishing etc. etc. On that occasion, I didn't even make it off the train before the soles began to disintegrate. I actually had to buy another pair of shoes that day.

So I hit the research button on the internet. Apparently, crumbling soles are actually a thing.

Molded polyurethane foam soles can be amazingly comfortable but, unlike leather soles, they have a limited shelf life. According to footwear industry consultant Phillip Nutt, the shelf life of a direct-injected polyurethane sole should be in the range of four to five years. He says the material tends to "crumble into a sticky mess" when stored for "periods longer than four years or so."

Disuse apparently increases the risk that polyurethane soles will degrade--and that probably increases the indignation of consumers whose barely worn shoes disintegrate. If you wear your shoes every day and walk miles in them, you expect the soles to show wear. You don't expect shoes to be destroyed by months or years of sitting unworn in their box in your closet. (Patricia McLaughlin)

So, I've learned something today and am only mildly disappointed in my three quid shoes. After all, the number of times I've worn them since purchase they've only worked out at a cost per wear of less than 50 pence and this time I even managed to get home from Belfast before they fell to pieces.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Look Back In Bemusement

I am planning a visit to Belfast* for recent pokings about online has led to me discovering little snippets of family history on one those genealogy sites. Of course, I could register and pay for more information but why would a penniless not-even a pensioner** wish to do that when she’s in possession of a free travel pass and could do with a day out in the big city. Through reading these snippets I discovered that I come from a family of incorrigible lawbreakers. Don’t worry, Mammy’s ones – it’s all on the da’s side so far.

The great-grandmother set it all in motion back in 1906 and 1907 with several summonses for allowing drinking in her public house outside opening hours. It was to be hoped that when, in 1910, she transferred the licence to her son, our grandfather, that a more law-abiding era would ensue. Alas, this was not to be for the granda was in the papers a time or two himself for selling hard liquor after hours. It can only be assumed that they were at this kind of thing a lot as the peelers couldn’t have caught them every single time.

Then the young ones grew up and what a crew of villains they turned out to be. Never out of the news from 1939-1950. Out after dark with no lights on the bicycle, fined one shilling, shamed in the papers. That happened a lot. Then there were the motoring offences. The roads were a lot quieter in those days and, where we came from, chances were that the only vehicles on the local roads would be driven either by a police officer or one of the Byrnes. Easy pickings for the constabulory.

The authorities must have taken a very dim view of motoring offences as fines were massive. In 1941 Shemus*** (the da) was fined 15 shillings for having no insurance for a tractor and no brakes on the trailer. His brother was fined at the same court for some other piece of motoring villainy. Outlaws. The bobbies sure took no nonsense from the public in those days.

Meanwhile in Randalstown in 1924 a Constable Seay summoned five young boys, aged about 9 or thereabouts and hauled them off to a special Children’s Court. Despite their young age, they were named in the papers. Two of them were friends of my mother’s family. Their crime? Playing football in the street. What happened to them? I don’t know for I only got to see a snippet but the full story will be there in the newspaper archives in our local library. I do know that at least one of those boys died at Gallipoli whilst serving in the British Army.

Constable Seay must have been a terror to the people of Randalstown and about. In 1924 he charged an omnibus driver for allowing more passengers on his vehicle than were permitted by law. In 1926 he charged a Moneyglass man for working a pony in an unfit condition so, obviously, he wasn’t all bad. Seay must have had a soft spot for the animals for in 1934 he went after a man who shot a duck on a Sunday. He persecuted drunks from Toomebridge to Ballymena and, sad to say, was himself assaulted by a Mr and Mrs Clifford on the Twelfth Day in the year 1934. I believe the Cliffords were intoxicated.

*Newspaper archives, Belfast Central Library.
**Sore point.
***How the paper spelled it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Political Critters

My youngest daughter has tried, on more than one occasion, to ban me from talking about politics but I cannot help it for I am seriously interested and 2016 has been a particularly eventful year what with the referendum and the USA elections. I took a keen interest in both and was tremendously disheartened with the outcomes. During this time our own local politics seemed rather tedious – until now, until the RHI scandal, the arrogance and intransigence of the First Minister and the resignation of the Deputy First Minister. It appears, that once again, we are living through interesting times. Another election looms, no strange thing in this province for we are always having elections. Mrs Foster claims that it will be ‘brutal’ and I do hope that means her own party will be brutally ejected from the driving seat.

Yet I’ll not get my hopes up too high for Brexit devastated me and Trump’s win was a huge disappointment. The eventual outcome of this local crisis may be just as depressing. 

The black and white dog is strongly Conservative. She voted for Brexit. The other dog voted to Remain. Their disparate viewpoints have created a distance between them.

The tan and white dog is a Remainer. Generally, she takes a liberal view but tends to be rather anti-politics. Her friend in the foreground never votes and deplores the discussion of politics at dinner.

These two are Green Party voters who strongly support the legislation of marijuana. Grass is all they care about. 

This one has strong socialist principles and votes Sinn Fein. Would take a lump out of anyone from Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

Fully paid-up member of the Labour Party. Adores Jeremy.

The brown one with the pointy ears used to vote Unionist but now she's not telling. The one howling at the moon is an SDLP supporter but she's feeling disillusioned with the party.

They're far happier now that they've gone over to Sinn Fein.

So there you go, a vague post about politics… no wonder Hannah tries to change the subject and has banned all such discussion at meal times.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


Today Nellybert hung out with two of our oldest friends, the Wees. First, we attended the sixth birthday party of our friends' oldest granddaughter. Martha and Evie were also part of this event. Then we grannies and grandpas went to the funeral of a gentleman of our own generation. The Wee had been to school with him, Bert and I had another connection with younger members of the family. This man, was in the parlance of our country, very well-connected so his funeral was very large. Being well-connected in Northern Ireland usually means that a person comes from a large family. He or she will have been very well thought of during their working life. They often belong to clubs and organisations and being involved in music brings people flocking to the send-off. Our man loved traditional music and was a fiddle player. I saw people today that I haven't seen in years.

After the funeral, I collected my girls from their party which they seemed to have enjoyed immensely.

We were at a party ourselves on Friday evening - a friend's 50th birthday. The news of our friend's death came just as Hannah and I had returned from an enjoyable morning buying gifts (for ourselves as well as birthday girls) and drinking coffee in cool cafes. As is often the case, the news came via social media. Immediately spirits dampened and I thought - but we're going to a party. This doesn't seem right. Then I thought again. Our friend's dad was the life and soul of any party he was at. He'd have been dismayed at anyone not getting themselves out there and socialising. So out we went, were entertained to gipsy jazz, had a delicious meal and talked to people that we knew, folk we hadn't seen for decades and others we'd never met before. It was a lovely evening.

2 h 24 min on the road today

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Strictly Restricted

It was the first day back at school for Martha and Evie and they bounced off the bus as happy as sandboys. I lost no time in telling them about my New Year's Resolution which was for them to watch less TV when they are at my house. They could watch cartoons half an hour before their Daddy collected them and that would be it. Straight away Martha started to negotiate with me but I was resolute. She accepted it.

Back home and she tried again,

Maybe just one programme?
No. We'll stick to the plan.
O.K. Then maybe we'll go on the trampoline for a while.

Evie said,

I was thinking about the trampoline today!

And off they went for around 30 minutes until they came in cold, Martha crying because Evie had knocked against her big sister's wobbly teeth with her hard head. Apparently, they thought it would be fun to trampoline with eyes tight closed.

Then we got the arts and crafts out and they spent a very happy hour making pictures along with Aunt Hannah. It was a pleasant afternoon during which Martha informed Hannah that television was 'being strictly restricted.' An hour later and after many pictures were produced Netflix was turned on and the girls watched Ben and Holly until Daddy arrived.

I have realised that too much television irritates them and they are far more fractious with each other. There are also many unnecessary cries of hunger. This evening food was not mentioned and they got on pretty well apart from the head-teeth collision on the trampoline. This is one resolution that must be kept. Television is fine as long as it is rationed and is not the only entertainment on offer.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Root Soup

When it comes to soup there are only a limited number of recipes that Bert is prepared to try. He dislikes any made from root vegetables or squashes with the obvious exception of the potato. His reason for this is that he finds soups such as parsnip or carrot 'sweet' and, in his view a soup should not be sweet.

Nevertheless, I plan to work my way through 200 Super Soups with no thought to his odd preferences. Sometimes he'll like it, sometimes he won't. He wasn't too sure about yesterday's French Onion. That would have been the spoonful of sugar (to caramelise) and the cup of medium sherry. But last night's mild aversion to French Onion was nothing to the horror when Swisser served him a large bowl of vegetable soup made with carrots, parsnips and swede. I thought it was delicious and was particularly impressed with the aromatic spices she'd used, especially the ginger. Bert said that the ginger was the worst part and if he'd had to eat another spoonful he would have boked. I took the recipe anyway. He can eat weird Lidl fish on my root soup nights.

After lunch, we went for a brisk walk on Runkerry beach where Bert lost his mobile phone. He has some hopes of getting it back. It is absolutely worthless, being the cheapest and most basic phone in the shop so anyone finding it may well think it was thrown away because it is so crap. Anyway, I was more gutted than him, as only yesterday, I'd gotten him to put his accountant's number back on his phone after a year of asking him to update his contacts. Ever since he lost his last phone, back in September 2015 he's been getting me to look up phone numbers for him, numbers he should have put on his phone the last time he asked me.

Anyway, losing his phone with all the inconveniences that will bring him is surely karma for turning up his nose at Swisser's root soup. So, you may wonder, what are Bert's preferred soups?

Leek and potato, mulligatawny, pea, chilli bean & pepper, any fish chowder and,

his all-time childhood favourite, chicken broth! Just look at the glee on that little face. Poor hen. She thought Bertie was her friend.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Pig's Head

Tonight I prepared French Onion Soup, probably for the first time in over forty years. I don't know why I left it so long because I remember thinking it was rather fine the last time I made it, in Domestic Science (Home Economics) class, Antrim Technical College sometime in the 1970s.

The teacher we had, she was only a young girl, in her first job and she had very grand ideas about cooking. No plain soups or puddings for the pre-nursing class. We made chocolate profiteroles and other fancy stuff. Before Christmas, Miss S, to impress the other teachers, had us cook them a four-course lunch, turkey, ham, every imaginable trimming and a well-laced sherry trifle for pudding.  The centrepiece of the table was a pig's head, boiled and glazed with the traditional apple in its poor, murdered mouth. This was a feast very far from the simple (yet delicious) Christmas dinners enjoyed in our happy home on the Murphystown Road.

I'll never forget the sight of those teachers sitting down to that meal, averting their eyes from the pig's head and recoiling at the sherry trifle. I believe many of them were teetotallers and would have considered that dessert a sin on their souls. I only remember a few of them, John Bell, the headmaster, a Miss Something, horrible old cow that she was, Miss Law, best teacher in the school, a Mr Anderson, Math and Economics, jolly and sinister. Miss S, the Domestic Science teacher I remember very well but I daren't name her for fear of a libel suit. She was a card. Invited a group of us to her parent's house for coffee and homemade petit-fours and turned out to be an anti-Semite. I was shocked. She didn't last as a teacher after she developed a tremendous pash on a boy of seventeen, who she first tormented with smouldering glances and later with love letters. He was afraid of her and told his Mammy. Miss S was history.

I worked hard in Domestic Science and still failed the 'O' level, despite excelling at my practical. Miss S had neglected to put us through the less glamorous side of Domestic Science and I got a long question on drainage systems that I totally flunked. Most disappointing.

There was one other thing. We all broke up for the Christmas holidays after that lunch and somehow the pig's head got forgotten about. When we returned in the New Year, the stench that wafted down the stairs from the Domestic Science room was abominable.

Antrim Technical College as it was when I attended. It has since been demolished.