Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chilli Jam

Matty was not a maker of jam but as children we never wanted for home made preserves as the other mothers were forever producing vast quantities of jams made from blackcurrants, gooseberries, plums and, my favourite - rhubarb and ginger. Jam would be made from the most commonplace fruit, the fruit that grew in almost everyone's garden in great quantities. Rarely did we have raspberry and strawberry jam for these fruits were grown less and were more prized. Actually I cannot think of anything more horrible to do to delicious raspberries or succulent strawberries than to turn them into a dreary jam.

Like my mother I've not been keen on jam making. Like her I prefer to use fruit to make pies, puddings and crumbles. And when I'm not making sweet desserts I will be making wine. But then there are fruits and that do not lend themselves to wine at all. Fruits like chillis. Our friend Les has been giving us little pots of delicious chilli jam for some years now. Then last autumn he gave me a well-grown chilli plant which I planted it in the poly tunnel and hoped it would not die. It survived and, this year, produced a good crop of waxy red fruit so, obviously, I had to make my own chilli jam.

I've been putting the dread moment off for over a week now but had to do it tonight before Now I'm sitting here with hot, chilli-burnt fingers waiting for the jam to cool for it was runny when I put it into the jars – so hope it sets, hope it's not too hot.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Being Informed

Sometimes I really, really love the internet. Almost all solutions to life's little problems are to be found therein. For example, my printer wouldn't print and I knew it had enough ink. So I input Google with the printer's name and model number and the error message and lo and behold - there is a step by step You Tube video that only a cretin could fail to understand and within moments the printer is printing. Did I mention that sometimes I really, really love the internet?

The first time I realised how awesome it was in helping out with technical stuff was when I wanted to check the oil and water in my car. This was many years ago and I wished to prove to Bert that this was something I could handle on my own. But I couldn't figure out how to open the bonnet! Off to the internet I went and Googled something like this,

How to open the boot of a Peugeot Whatever.

I don't remember what sort of Peugeot it was except it was dark green but I knew then and the internet informed me that there was a little lever in a compartment under the steering wheel. How weird was that?

The only thing is, what will happen to the parts of our brains that held practical information when we always turn to the world wide web? The only thing I personally seem to have held on to are the recipes for shortcrust pastry and Victoria sponge and who played in every band that I liked when I was 15-18. Everything else I have to Google.

A band I liked when I was 15-18

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Looking Back: This Day Ten Years Ago

The Role of Strong Drink in Alien Abductions

Young Loveheart called round tonight. He told us a very strange tale about a recent lad’s night out when his good friend, Young Rooney, was abducted and taken to Logan’s Fashions near Cloughmills. Young Rooney believes that at least one of the 20 plus measures of Smirnoff & Red Bull that he had consumed was spiked. I asked Young Loveheart why he hadn’t looked after his mate a little better and he explained that he was drunk himself and too busy ‘getting off’ with women. The fact remains that Young Rooney went missing for several hours and was eventually found wandering aimlessly along the Woodtown Road.

Young Rooney has no idea how he got from the Countryman’s Inn to Logan’s and back again to the Woodtown Road. I think he must have been abducted by aliens and that the aliens must have administered a hangover cure because he had no suffering the following day. Despite this stroke of fortune he is badly rattled by his experience and says he will never drink or go out ever again.

I had a similar experience myself many decades ago. Vodka was not involved. In my case it was gin. I have only the haziest recollection but I do remember I was rescued by a lovely couple in a Volkswagen Beetle.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On The Kindness of Strangers

I am not the kind of person who feels the need for the latest phone but, several years ago, a young friend who does feel a need for the most up-to-the-moment gadget, sold me his old iPhone. This phone came complete with something called a Griffin All-Terrain Survivor Case. It wasn't elegant. It looked like it ought to belong to a macho building site worker or maybe a mountaineer. I kept the case despite its ugly appearance because you'd never know when something bad might happen. Since then that phone has survived several falls on to hard surfaces and even a winter's night lying in the yard outside our house. It rained that on night but not heavily.

Not like the downpour that Evie and I were caught out in this afternoon. That was one of those sudden heavy showers that soak you to the skin after a few minutes. We were crossing the road, only yards from the van when it started and by the time we reached it we were both drenched. I could barely pull the car key from my saturated pockets in my haste to get Evie into the dry. We drove home singing 'silly songs' about rain and getting wet and when we arrived on our yard there were Caitlin, Cara and Maria over to play while their Mummy and Hannah went out for coffee.

First Evie and I had to get into dry clothes while Caitlin, Cara and Maria rang brass bells, banged Fisher Price pianos and blew harmonicas. Then the phone rang. British Telecom wanting to speak to Bert. I told them he was on holiday and wouldn't be back for a week. Next week I'll tell them he's in hospital, the week after I'll say he's in prison. I'd only put the phone down when it rang again. I'm still wet and the girls are still ringing bells, bashing pianos and blowing harps. It's a young woman, foreign accent, talking about a phone. I could barely hear her. Then I realised she's talking about my phone and she's on my phone! I'd dropped it. I was able to tell her that my daughter lived around the corner from where she'd found it and I'd be very grateful if she left it there.

Evie's dad brought it round later that evening. He said the finders were a young couple, very pleasant. I wish I could have thanked them myself. The phone looked OK. But it had been dropped in a downpour and there was water inside the casing. For the first time ever I took all the casing off and that six-year-old phone looked like it just came out of the box. It's elegant now but I'd be better to put all that rufty-tufty casing back on. You'd never know when I might be half way up a mountain on a very rainy day.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Getting Stuff Done

One of my plans for September was to write a daily post to Nelly's Garden and it seemed to be going fine until the 17th of the month. On that particular evening I was feeling extra tired and the very idea of dragging myself into my private, secret sitting room to write was wearisome indeed. Instead I posted this to Facebook.

Was going to write a blog post every day in September but then I got this nice bottle of red and the craic was good and I realised the internet is not the boss of me! Well, maybe Facebook is - a little bit.

Of course I thought I'd just miss the one day...

Then I read Oliver Burkeman's column in yesterday's Guardian. This paragraph resonated with me for I am always making complicated lists and plans that never succeed in the way that I'd hoped. They actually make me feel like a failure most days.

When attempts at unbending discipline fail, I turn to a post the Buddhist teacher Susan Piver wrote in 2010, entitled Getting Stuff Done By Not Being Mean To Yourself. It relates her own frustrating attempts at rigid scheduling, and the approach she chose instead: asking what she felt like doing. 

So today I did keep asking myself what I felt like doing and at one point in the mid afternoon I realised that what I really wanted to do was go to bed and nap. Which I did, and then when I got up about an hour later felt really refreshed and did lots of things without once consulting a list. And I even updated my blog.

Earlier today...

Sister and daughter 

We all went to Waterfoot for a walk on the beach.

Dogs and daughter

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Early Start and an Anniversary

Today started rather well. I got up just before 5:30 am and drank the cup of coffee my daughter made for me, then into the van, Ziggy on board for company and for our viewing pleasure a huge, nearly full moon setting in the south-west. Hannah was dropped off at work about a quarter to six and we spotted Daniel the Tesco cat approaching the staff entrance for his breakfast. Then Ziggy and I headed for Antrim to search for the exact pair of pale pink slipper boots that Miss Martha wants for her birthday. Approaching Asda, Ziggy alerted me to the Asda cat (name unknown) heading for the staff entrance for his morning meal. In the door at 6:00 am and slippers and croissants purchased by ten past. By 6:30 am we were outside my daughter's house posting Evie's forgotten homework book through the door. Met the next door neighbour, Hannah's colleague departing his house and wished him good morning. Like my conscientious daughter he too is expected to be on duty at six but apparently this does not trouble him.

Off home for more coffee, croissants and apricot jam. Hens out. The other bantie is sitting on eggs but I'll deal with that tomorrow. Bert is still in bed and will remain there for a further two hours.

It was my father's birthday today, his exactly a week after my own. I found myself thinking about him throughout the day, trying to remember specific things, early memories. I remember the feel of his large hand enclosing my tiny one as he walked me down the kesh beside our first home in Cannionstown. Going out in the green AEC lorry, me and my sister, both of us sitting on a thick rug in the middle where the heat of the engine beneath warmed our legs and bums. No call for seatbelts back in those days. There are other memories that aren't mine, ones my mother told me. She said he carried me down the stairs on the 9th of March  wishing me a happy half-birthday and she said that I'd stand in my wooden cot rattling the sides with excitement when I heard his lorry arrive in the yard.

I don't know if my younger siblings would agree with but sometimes I think that we older ones knew the best of him when he was in his thirties and had less to worry about. For there were four more children in his forties, he bought the farm, worked two jobs and sometimes times were hard for both my mother and father. And as if that wasn't tough enough they found themselves the parents of teenagers. Oh dear. Daddy just didn't get teenagers. But that is quite another story. Today on the 97th anniversary of my father's birth I'll only be thinking about those early years.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Wild Life

This little creature is a Goldcrest. Earlier today it flew into a window and stunned itself. Bert saw it happen and picked the wee bird up before either of our two cats came upon it.

Hold on, 'til I get my camera, although I really hope it's flown off before I get it.

It didn't fly off, still too stunned. I asked Bert,

Is there something wrong with its feet?
No. It's not used to standing on flat surfaces. It needs to be holding on to twigs.

We took it over to the clematis montana and set it on a tendril. It fell for a moment, then found its wings and flew away over the hedge and into the meadow. Relief.

Now this fellow is a vine weevil. I've no idea how it found its way into the kitchen but that day that Bert got injured by the bullock there was one in the cab of the van. I was going to tell him all about it but forgot when I saw how he was hurt. Vine weevils are the enemy of horticulturists for their larvae love to eat the roots of plants such as clematis, primula and strawberries. I let the little brute wander around the kitchen and hope it dies before it finds one of my plants. They make a horrible, crunchy noise when they are killed and I'm just not in the mood.

Isn't it funny how one of God's creatures is a complete darling and another an utter bastard. Makes one think.