Monday, August 14, 2017

Bupthalmum, Bees and Butterflies

Bupthalmum speciosum in situ

I have grown bupthalmum speciosum* in my garden for many years now. More than ten? I'm not sure. Mine was sown from a packet of Thompson and Morgan seed and only two or three made it. It was enough. After a few years one plant had grown close to four foot and spread about the same. It was nearly too big.

It's been divided a few times and bits passed on to other folk. Two years ago I really cut it back and split it into four, gave some to a couple of folk and stuck some close to a hedge where it has since been swallowed up by  wild raspberries. But that was before I became fascinated with the birds and the bees. Now I want bupthalmum everywhere because pollinators and butterflies adore it.

Bumble bee

Speckled wood butterflies

Small tortoiseshell

Peacock butterfly

Red Admiral butterflies and a honey bee

Time I was hacking into those wild raspberries and get those other two bupthalmums out of there. The bees and the butterflies will thank me for it.

*Also known as telekia speciosa

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Tribulations of Bert

A great sadness has descended on Nellybert's kitchen this morning. Not only has Bert's clarinet got broken but he sent the Fat Cow to market.

Even I felt a terrible pang as I heard the cattle trailer go down the lane. I'm even sad about the clarinet for Bert needs consolation.

We're just not cut out for cattle farming.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Up and About

For the past couple of weeks I've been feeling a bit off. Mostly bloating, indigestion and cramps. I put it down to a diet that needed to be rethought. Then, about ten days ago it got worse, with severe cramps and backache that woke me in the middle of the night. It lasted 6-8 hours, next day I'd feel a bit washed out but carried on. That happened three times so I decided to see my GP. I was actually mid-bout when I saw her, pain that started at 3am. It did not ease until six that evening.

The doc thought it was inflammation of the oesophagus and prescribed accordingly but gave me nothing for the severe backache. I spent the next two days in bed, sleeping whenever the pain abated. I was barely able to drink or eat. By the end of the second day the medication must have started to do its work and I was mostly pain and cramp free by yesterday but, so tired and still without an appetite.

Today though, from my first waking moment, I knew I was nearly better. It was a good day. I pottered around, did some watering, even took some photographs. I rested, watched a lot of streamed TV. One episode each of In The Dark (I cried) and Game of Thrones. I binged on Top of the Lake - three episodes. And I was hungry! And ate several small meals. Doctor's orders!

Tonight, as a beautiful waxing gibbous moon rose behind the trees on the front lawn meadow and bats flittered past my window I felt so happy to be back in the land of the ambulant and enjoying life again.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Happy Birthday and Thank You

Eleven days ago, on the third anniversary of Pearlie’s death I wrote a post where I left something hanging in the air…

Here’s a reminder,

I often used this blog to let off steam and there are lots of posts featuring Pearlie. Some of them were verging on harshness and someone once challenged me about that. And that is a story in itself and I will tell it... but not tonight.

The person who challenged me was my brother Eamon, when I was visited him in Vancouver in the summer of 2013. We talked such a lot during that time, very few subjects were left untouched. I remember him saying one evening,

I don’t like the way you write about Pearlie in your blog.

I was surprised to hear this from him but we discussed his feelings about it and I discussed mine. I believe we might have agreed to differ on the matter. But it got me thinking about this very different viewpoint from mine.

It had been such a great relief to spend time away from the home situation where every day was taken up with the needs of a frail, elderly woman and her constant stream of carers. I had time to think rather than to just react. And it was in Vancouver that I made the decision that we would give up the eight weeks of free respite care for Pearlie that we were allowed. Because she hated it, and knowing that she hated it, this respite break did Bert and I very little good.

When I got home I told her this,

Pearlie, Bert and I have decided that you’re not to go to Rylands any more.


We think you’re too old for it.

I’ll never forget the expression on her face. It was utter relief and happiness.

From then on everything got better. We only had another year and while things weren’t always perfect I I could be much more patient with Pearlie and as a result our relationship improved. My only regret is that I didn’t stop the respite care a lot sooner.

So tonight I’d like to thank Eamon for giving me the opportunity to take a good long break from home cares and then helping me to accept what needed to be done.

And, by the way, Happy Birthday Bro!

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Bert told me he had a nagging pain in his back so I phoned the surgery to make him an appointment. 

How long have you had it?

Two or three months.

Why didn’t you say anything before?

I knew you’d only be nagging me to go to the doctor.

Anyway, I phoned the surgery and that is when I found out that they had changed the appointment booking system.

We don’t book appointments any more.


If you leave a number the doctor will phone you back.

I was a little miffed about this. But the doctor did phone Bert within about thirty minutes and offered to see him straight away. Off he went and was away much longer than I expected. When he eventually returned he said the doctor had sent him into Ballymena for an X-ray. All this within a few hours. I thought it was a great improvement on the previous service which would have entailed a week to wait for a GP appointment then a drive to Antrim and a two hour wait for the X-ray.

If the new appointment system is intended to screen out the scores of people who go to the doctor for damn all then I approve.

My old mum was a bit of a hypochondriac and I remember my father saying that every time he drove her to the local surgery,

It’s always the same old faces.

I wonder if he considered his wife to be one of those old faces but, if he did he never said so.

I’d hate to be as overly concerned with my health as Matty was and I am happy to say that I am definitely not a hypochondriac. Except… except in the wee small hours when every twinge, every ache is the harbinger of some dread disease. And it's getting worse as I get older.

And what of Bert? His results came back. Nothing sinister she said, just an old rib fracture and the effects of chronic smoking. Nothing sinister? That would scare me. It's time he quit that nasty habit. And I’ll cut down on the gin and buns. They give me a sore tum.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


One of the very many things that I enjoy about sharing my life with Bert is his endless capacity to entertain me.

Unlike the Boy Scouts, and he was once one of their number, Bert is rarely prepared for anything. His attitude is always, ‘Sure it will be alright’. And sometimes it is, and too often it isn’t. Take today - we were expecting a visit from Henry the Eighth, the AI man. Bert danders into the kitchen and enquires, “Are ye ready to shift a ween o’ cattle?” I agreed that I was. We had the usual discussion about where I should kep. The long lane or the short lane. It seems to me that the long lane is the better choice for if they gallop down that it’s a longer distance to catch them. Bert, for some reason, prefers the short lane to be kepped. Maybe because it is very boggy and he is usually wearing unsuitable footwear?

I kepped the long lane and he called them out. Most of them obeyed except for the Quiet Cow and her calf and Edna’s calf who took fear when Ziggy looked at him. Four dogs about this place and not one a damn bit of use with cattle. At least Roy is a good pig dog.

I had some useful advice for Bert on our return to the house.

Perhaps we could leave Ziggy inside?
A bit of an ash plant mightn’t be a bad idea. Help to chivvy them in the preferred direction.
Boots instead of Crocs. Better for running in.

He agreed with every suggestion although I know that he’ll not pay a blind bit of attention to any of them.

Henry the Eighth duly arrived, did the necessary business then settled down to have a long conversation with Bert about bees for he and his brother Prince Arthur come from a long line of bee keepers. I think they might be fourth generation.

Henry left and Bert came in all excited,

You know what he’s at now?


Artificially inseminating bees!

Next thing I see him heading out to the hives wearing bee jacket and gloves.

Twenty minutes later he’s back in, swearing and stamping his feet on the ground.

Bloody bastards! They have me stung useless. Fuck! One just got me on the heel.

He runs out again, peeling of the bee jacket which is full of angry bees. I am convulsed with silent laughter.

When he calms down I give him some wise advice.

You need your trousers tucked into wellies and a belt round the bottom of your jacket. You know they are angry bees so you have to prepare yourself properly.

I know. Henry said that when the bee man from the Ministry came round to inspect his hives, he’s got twenty y’know, the bee man was amazed at how quiet Henry’s were. Mine are complete bastards.

He shakes all the dead bees out of his jacket and heads out again.

Then back again in less than five minutes, stamping, swearing, almost in tears. Bees had gone straight up his trouser legs and stung him perilously close to a very sensitive area.

Did you go out just the same as before?

Aye. I only had to close the box up but they were straight on to me.

It was Albert Einstein who is supposed to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I must remember to tell Bertram that.

Ulster-Scots translations

Dander - stroll

Ween - few

Kep - act of standing in a gap or opening waving arms or stick about to prevent cattle from running everywhere.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Remembering Pearlie

Three years today since Pearlie died and Bert and I still talk about her almost every day. She was a rare one, the sort of woman you don't meet every day. When I first started going out with Bert she didn't like me one little bit. I was older than her darling son, a Roman Catholic, divorced and had three children. Not at all the sort of future daughter-in-law she'd hoped for.

The first time I met her was in the Waveney Hospital. I'd been seeing Bert for a few months and he'd been admitted suffering from acute appendicitis. She was already there when I arrived and she was wearing a hat! A church-going hat at that. I thought she was the sort of woman who always wore a hat but it turned out she thought she might meet me at the hospital and had dressed to intimidate. It worked.

It turned out she wasn't intimidating at all and over the years she and I developed an uneasy rapport. She could be awkward but she was also funny although I don't think she ever intended that. Pearlie never quite 'got' social conventions. When, eventually, she moved in with us things got very difficult indeed. It was a tough six years. There are parts of it that I'm not proud of.

I often used this blog to let off steam and there are lots of posts featuring Pearlie. Some of them were verging on harshness and someone once challenged me about that. And that is a story in itself and I will tell it... but not tonight.

Instead, on Pearlie's anniversary, the reading that Hannah gave at her funeral.

Pearlie was born on the 10th of February 1926. She lived in Maxwellswalls with her parents and 3 younger sisters, all of whom she was close to but it was her second youngest sister Lizzie that Pearlie shared a special bond with. As a young woman Pearlie would often visit the Orr family at Springhill. It was here she met her husband Johnny Orr.
Pearlie and Johnny married in 1952. Seven years later they were blessed with their only child Robert, known to everyone in the family as Bertie. Pearlie and Johnny spent 45 happy married years before Pearlie lost him in 1997.
Pearlie was a very creative woman. She enjoyed sewing and embroidery in her spare time. She also kept scrapbooks and spent many a happy hour cutting pictures from various magazines to stick down in her scrapbooks. Pearlie was good at ‘thinking outside the box’ and she could have several innovative uses for normal, everyday items. There were no back doors with Pearlie. She said what she meant and meant what she said. She was a genuine person, kind and honest but also strong-willed and confident. She always knew what she wanted in life and, even at the tender age of 12, she knew she wanted to marry Johnny Orr.
There were several people in Pearlie’s life who supoorted her greatly when she lost Johnny and for the remainder of her years. Her sister Lizzie visited, faithfully, most weeks despite not always being in the best of health herself. Lizzie was a ray of sunshine in Pearlie’s life and a great comfort to her right until the very end. Pearlie’s niece, Margaret, was a saint to Pearlie and provided her with many hours of company as well as providing ongoing practical support. Pearlie loved Margaret’s cups of tea and sandwiches better than anyone else’s. Margaret has also been a great support to both Bertie and his wife Mary providing them with emotional support and advice throughout Pearlie’s decline. It was Mary who often organised Pearlie's various doctor appointments and, towards the end, became a full time carer for her along with Bertie.
As much as Pearlie needed her loving sister and niece she would have been completely lost without Bertie who was selfless enough to put his mother’s needs before his own for so many years. When Pearlie was more fit and able she would have sailed around the van with Bertie while he made deliveries. On one such occasion Bertie was forced to brake so suddenly that the van made a complete 360 degree turn on the road. Pearlie looked at Bertie and said, “Well that was some spin you took me on”. Pearlie had always liked dogs but when her husband passed away she had a void in her heart that was eased by the company of dogs, in particular, Penny, who Pearlie loved dearly.
Despite the decline of Pearlie’s physical health over the years her mind was as sharp as always and she enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. She would have stacks upon stacks of magazines, organised in a system that only she knew, and they always had to be within reaching distance. As well as reading magazines Pearlie loved to read the Bible. It, too, was always within reaching distance. Her memory was as clear as water and she was able to recall things from all stages of her life. Pearlie could look at a photograph taken 60 years ago and tell you exactly where it was taken and who was in it.

Pearlie will be sorely missed by her family and friends. They will miss her dry sense of humour, her ‘no-nonsense’ approach to life and her little quirks and routines. But she is at peace now and with her husband Johnny once again.