Thursday, September 03, 2015

In The News Today

For about a year now I've been reading and following the escalating, 'Migrant Crisis' and I've talked about it with many of the various folk that I come across and found it disheartening that so many of them held such hard and unfeeling attitudes to refugees. Of course I tried to change their minds.

But now...are attitudes beginning to change? There are far more of us who realise that this is a truly horrendous situation and that these desperate, desperate people need our help. It is as if there is a new spirit, a new way of thinking about things. Not all can be saved but we must try to save as many as we can.

There are two people in my life who put this much better than I can. The first is my daughter Hannah who wrote this on Facebook today.

I consciously try to keep my facebook page light hearted but I couldn't ignore the headlines today. Y'know, there's more than enough of the world's resources to offer every single human being shelter, food, and safety. More than enough! What the world is really lacking in is love, kindness, compassion and a willingness to share.

The second is my friend Hayley who wrote this excellent post. It is well worth reading.

You will have seen the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy washed up on the Turkish beach. He, his brother and his mother where among the more than 2500 who have drowned in the Mediterranean this year alone. It is a heart-rending image and so very far removed from the scores of pictures we've seen this September of our children heading out to their first day at schools and kindergartens. I wish he could have been one of them.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Working For The Man

It has been ten years since Bert was under investigation by HM Revenue & Customs and I still break into a cold sweat when I recall it.

This is a post from September 2005. Incidentally, at the end of the year long process Bert was found to have done nothing wrong.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"I'm not calling you a liar. We're not allowed to do that anymore."

“ The number of tax inspectors has increased twice as fast as the number of new doctors and nurses.” (Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, Hansard, Jan 2005)

To add to the stew of stress that Bert and I have been experiencing this year Bert has had an impending Inland Revenue investigation hanging over him. The reason being (we think) that the IR cannot understand why Bert bothered in 2001, as he appears to have made no profits. And as far as we can recall he didn’t.

So why did Bert become self-employed? There are two reasons. The first is that he did not want to work for anyone else and the second is that he wanted to do something. And horticulture was what he was good at. He did not become self-employed because he wanted to be rich. Most self-employed people aren’t rich anyway

I was listening to the Today programme as I returned from work this morning and I heard this argument for a flat-rate tax. I also heard the Shadow Chancellor say that the number of people working in tax collection has increased by 64000 since 1999. I thought to myself that this might well be the reason why Bert has been called to account by the Inland Revenue. Too many tax inspectors needing something to do.

The following are some of the questions fired at him by the civil servant.

What are you driving? Why no car?
Where did you get the money to concrete that lane? If you say your elderly mother gave it to you from the box of fivers she keeps under her bed we’ll do her too.
If you cannot explain where you got the money from we’ll assume you’re working in a cash economy and have been doing so all along and will bill you accordingly.
Why have you not taken a holiday for four years?
Are Zoë, Katy and Hannah still living with you? Are they working? Are they students?
Why do you keep your dealings with M******* Garden Centre in a separate book? (1)
How much does Nelly earn?
Who buys the groceries?
How often do you go out for a meal? (2)
Where do you get the cash for birthday presents? (3)
That woodland you own. Do you sell Christmas trees of it? We can come and see for ourselves you know.
I’m not calling you a liar. We’re not allowed to do that any more.

And there was much more of the same. The civil servant cub was obviously one of the 64000 cutting his teeth on a man with a shoestring business and a cheap accountant.

Bert is wondering why he bothers. Why not just wrap it all up and go unemployed. The truth is that if you don’t fit into the Norman Normal box you are a suspect. Naughty Bert. Hardly ever uses a credit card, doesn’t have debt, lives within his means, doesn’t spend, spend, spend. Not a good citizen at all. Not doing his bit to make fat cats even richer. Just quietly growing the best clematis in Norn Iron.

  1. Because they are the only concern where he operates a sale or return policy.

  2. His answer was 6-8 times a year. I suggested he should have said, “Do I look like I go out for meals Fat Boy?”

  3. He actually did growl, “I don’t do birthdays.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Independent To The Last

Nessie (Pearlie's late sister), Paddy and a young neighbour. Picture probably from late 70s-early 80s.
It was back in  February 2012 that we first heard that Bert's Uncle Paddy had died. It turned out that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated and he managed to live fairly independently for a few more years. Then he took what folk around here call 'a turn' and ended up in hospital. He was there for more than a month and it was becoming obvious to everyone around him that independent living was no longer possible. His home, a converted chicken shed, had few amenities which meant that home support wasn't an option. Carers tend to look for running water, electricity and flushing toilets. Paddy had none of these luxuries. So he went to a nursing home and, by all accounts, it was a nice enough place.

His turn had left him confused. At first he talked a lot about going home. When his friend Julie visited him he always expected her to take him back to his own place. But it was not to be. He told Bert that the 'hospital' was a nice enough place and that they were good to him there but he'd rather go home. As the months passed he settled down but there was a reason for this. Once when Bert was visiting Paddy put this question to him.

D'ye know who owns this hospital?
I don't know that. 
I own it.
Do you?
I do. I bought it from Samuel Carruthers. He was going to France and needed the money.
Is that so?
Aye. I gave him three thousand pounds for it.

And Paddy was content enough to stay in the nursing home knowing that it was his own place. Julie phoned last night to let Bert know he'd taken another turn and was back in the hospital. She phoned again this morning to tell us that he had died.

Bert saw Paddy two weeks ago, said he looked very well and seemed straight enough in his mind. He was talking about his dogs and seemed pleased that Roy was well settled with us. There was no talk of wanting home. He told Bert again that it was his hospital. Bought and paid for. Three thousand pounds.

The Lorry Jumpers

September again, early hours. I stayed up to watch The Lorry Jumpers, a documentary about some of the people who try to get into the UK from the port of Calais. It was powerful and sometimes painful to watch and I was shocked by the behaviour of the French police. They were brutal. It one harrowing scene an officer actually beat up the documentary maker, Leo Maguire.

Some of the people featured managed to make it to Britain. The film showed them in their grim little flats and they spoke of their hopes and dreams and their gratitude to be in a place where they could work and be safe.

David Cameron referred to migrants as a 'swarm', and one vile commenter (I won't name her) called refugees 'cockroaches'. To me they seem brave and courageous. I believe they can make our countries better places.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


In the (almost) eleven years since Nelly's Garden began I have found, time and time again, that the only way to overcome blog-block is to simply blog, write, put words together, whatever it takes.

What causes blog-block? For me it is,



Lack of confidence.


I'm distracted by family, by reading, by my discovery of an American sit-com called Modern Family, and by gardening. These activities keep me busy and happy.

I'm worried about a pain in the left side of my skull that comes and goes. It is likely coming from a crick in my neck, or wrongly aligned pillows. It is probably not a brain tumour.

Lack of confidence? The more I read the more I realise how limited are my own writing skills. This morning, as I drove to Antrim I listened to part of a dramatisation of A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch. I started reading Murdoch when I was very young and I remember so little about it. Most of it must have gone over my head. I wonder what drew me to Murdoch? To find out I must return, starting with the first, The Nice and the Good which I read (with great enjoyment) when I was sixteen. And what am I reading now? The last novel in the Game of Thrones series. It's great fun, I'm a big fan, enough of a fan to wish that George R.R. Martin would get on with it.

Happiness. I really do believe that I am happier now than I have ever been in my entire life. And who wants to read a Happy Person blog? For instance, today was a wonderful day. Something happened that turned out far, far better than I could ever have hoped. All I did was drive my godson and his mum to a clearing day at our local college and, despite disappointing GCSE results, he got accepted on to a course that he really wanted to do. So very, very happy that I could help in the smallest way.

To finish, this August has been a great month. Not much of a summer in Northern Ireland but I had those two weeks in sunny Norfolk with my new grandson and his wonderful parents and lovely family days here at home,  and I had today and, despite a middling summer, the garlic, the broad beans, the raspberries and the purple turnips did amazingly well in Nelly's Garden. I'm looking forward to the blackberries.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Plundering the Archives

I'm finding this oul blogging lark hard going these days. In days gone past I'd be tootling about my daily business and thinking about all kinds of things to write about - these days, not so much. That's why it's great having an archive. When I can't think of a single thing to write about I can always plunder the archive. It seems that 10 years ago we were having this house renovated and were yet to move in. I also noted that 10 years ago I was a good deal more likely to write posts that might hurt people's feelings. Perhaps I should get back to that style of blogging.

The only thing this picture has to do with today's post is that it is from the 2005 archive. Poor Harry de Cat. We miss him still.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Accidental Joiner

I was hoping that the most eventful happening of the day would have been my boss causing me to suffer bloggus interruptus. It was during my lunch hour but there was no way he could be sure as he wasn't there when the hour started. And I was in the middle of a really good reply to CyberScribe's spooky comment about Cully pubs. How does he know? Where is Greyabbey anyway? Oh Bert's just told me it's in County Down. So the muse deserted me and that's why my eventual reply was so lame Cybe ol' boy.

So that's my quota of italicised words used up for this post and from now on I will have to manage without them.

On returning home I decided to go and inspect the work going on in the new house. I was especially interested in seeing how the kitchen tiles looked and also wanted to see the flight of stairs leading to the attic floor. Seamus the joiner started on them yesterday and they were pretty much finished. There is a little health & safety type issue at the very top which I wanted to take a look at so I asked Seamus if they were safe to step upon. He gave the go ahead and I had my foot on the bottom step when James the electrician nabbed me with a query about the lights I headed downstairs to the room where Matthew was tiling. Matthew says,

"Where's Bert?"
"Down the road. What's up?"
"We've a bit of a problem here."
"Oh! What's wrong?"
"Bert's tin whistle has fallen into this bucket of tile cement."

We were just coming to terms with this disaster when the joiner's apprentice came in. He says,

"Where's Bert?"
"Down the road. What's up?"
"Seamus has cut himself with the electric saw."

And so he had. Apparently it had stuck and he was trying to dislodge it when it had jumped back and gouged a lump out of his knee. Both Matthew and James were urging me to take him to the local GP surgery. Feck's sake! These lads must think Dr Finlay practises in Cully. I said no for the first thing the local GP would say is, "you'll need to go to casualty with that" so that's what we did. Seamus was very stoical about the whole episode and says he'll be back at work tomorrow. They breed real men in Dunloy.

By the way that policeman is still reading my blog. He phoned me yesterday in his professional capacity and before he rang off he said, "Are you still off the drink?"


Meanwhile in the present world Nellybert took a walk up the back lane at dusk and spotted Foxy's big red arse disappearing into the wood. We had interrupted his supper of fat pigeon. He took it with him, leaving the wings and a shiny, black poo behind him. Judy did not roll in it for which we were truly grateful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When Bertie Met Foxy

While I was away Bert had an interesting encounter with Foxy. On that day the big field had just been cut for silage so he gathered up the .22 and headed out the back lane to see if Foxy was out catching frogs. And sure enough, there he was, sauntering through the freshly cut field.

Bert crouched down behind the hedge and raised the gun. He had the vicious chicken killer in his sights. Judy and Jess saw Foxy too, sat on their haunches and stared at him through the five-bar gate. Foxy sat down and gazed coolly back. And all Bert had to do was squeeze the trigger. He waited, and waited. The dogs watched the fox and the fox watched the dogs. He was the same dark red fox that had been in the hen run, the same big fellow that Bert and the dogs had spotted a few times previously.

We don't know why Judy and Jess don't go after him. Perhaps he mesmerises them. Maybe he is even that same fox that Fred encountered on the back lane five years ago. 

Then Bert stood up and Foxy got up too, looked at the man with the gun then turned on his heel and trotted back to the woods.

Bert is not entirely sure why he didn't shoot Foxy. A good few of our friends reckoned he should have squeezed the trigger and about as many again said he was right to let him go. He felt he made the right call. I think so too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Too Tired To Blog

I've been busy, busy since I returned from Norfolk. Too tired to even think about blogging. All being well, come tomorrow I shall recount the tale of When Bertie Met Foxy.