Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Conversations With Strangers: Part 2

My second conversation with a strange one took place outside the restrooms in Marks and Spencer. We'd been to the rally, taken the girls to lunch and I was all on my own waiting for them to come out. There was a comfortable seating area and I was feeling rested and content.

There was a woman close by, around my own age, fussing with a wheeled shopper. She asked me,

Do you know if the buses have started running yet?

I had to confess I did not know that.

She said in grumpy tones,

It's those protesters at City Hall. No buses running because of them. I don't know what they're even protesting about!

I said,

It's not a protest. It's a rally, part of International Women's Day. It happens every year.

Well, I don't know what they need to be out shouting and marching and stopping the traffic. There's no need for it!

Of course, I informed her (with some delight) that I had taken part in it. She did not look impressed.

Humph! I don't see the point of it. Stopping the buses. They need their backsides kicked! 

So I said to her,

You know how this country is. Everyone enjoys taking to the streets for a bit of a march or a parade.

She never even answered me. Just flounced off pulling her wee shopping trolley behind her.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Conversations With Strangers: Part 1

On Saturday I went to Belfast with Zoe, Martha and Evie to take part in an International Women's Day rally. Three generations of one family ready to Reclaim the Agenda.

I was on the train first and while I was waiting a woman, close to my own age, struck up a conversation. I've got one of those approachable faces. As all inhabitants of the British Isles are wont to do she started with the weather. It has been rather changeable recently. Then things took a different turn.

What do you make of Brexit?

I was surprised. One doesn't expect such a blunt question from a stranger.  Still, I answered her.

Absolute shambles.

She agreed.

This Karen Bradley. What do you think of her?

She should resign. Possibly the worst Secretary of State we've ever had.

She agreed then said,

I liked the last woman. What was her name again?

Theresa Villiers. Awful woman. Hadn't a clue about Ireland. Supported Brexit. 

What about Geoffrey Whatshisname?


The Labour man.

Jeremy Corbyn?

Yes. Do you like him?

Perhaps not the best Labour leader for the present time. What do you think?

I prefer the Conservatives.

Really? Conservative with a small 'c'?

What do you mean? Oh! I hear the train coming. I'd better go out and find a place.

Three minutes later the train did come. I didn't see my interviewer again.

 Zoe and Martha on the train

 Gathering for the rally

Flying Tiger

My second conversation with a stranger in the next post. She spoke violently and rather than sloping off, she stormed. All I could do was laugh.

Friday, March 08, 2019

March Reading List

For several months now I've been reading 10-12 books simultaneously. I was inspired to do this by Will Self, who in answer to the question,

What are you reading currently,


Before I read digitally, I’d be reading perhaps 10 books simultaneously – but now I read as many as 50 at once...

This intrigued me. I don't read digitally apart from journal and newspaper articles so thought that 10 would be a good number to start with. So far it has worked out well.

Since embarking on this project I usually have ten on the go, never more than thirteen. I have a system (I love systems) where I aim to read three of the books every night. If there is time, and there usually is, I read three in the morning. That way each book will get picked up every other day or so.

When a reading session is finished one book is retained, the one I am most eager to go on with, and two will be returned to the back of the queue and two picked from the front for the next session. This method has increased my reading dramatically and I have completed more books in 2019 than I'd normally read in half a year.

The books are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and there is normally a couple of very light reads among them. These light reads are not necessarily the most enjoyable but I usually persevere.

Currently, I'm reading twelve books, fiction by Charles Frazier, Esther Freud, Kate Atkinson, Patrick Ness, Toni Morrison, Anna Burns, Sebastian Faulks and Matthew Thomas and non-fiction by Stephen McGann, Suki Kim, Edward Stourton and Catherine Simpson. Stourton is the light read. I may not finish it.

Half of the books are from the local library, one is a new book (Milkman) and the other five are second-hand. I got Jazz in Amsterdam.  Varina and Human Traces I'm reading after Bert. He loved both. Almost finished Hideous Kinky and have just begun Simpson and McGann. 

  I should return to this theme in a few weeks time so that we can all see how I'm getting on. One more thing, I should add a previously read book to the mix. There are novels on my shelves I've had since I was sixteen years old. I'm sure some of them could bear another read. After all, there must be some reason I've held on to them for half a century.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Blogger's Block

I struggle these days with Nelly's Garden. Two recent posts have discouraged me. The most recent was A Bit Of A Siege in which I described some fraught visits to Ikea. A response (from a dear cousin) worried me. I'd been critical of some aspects of my Ikea experience but ultimately felt that part of what went wrong was my own fault. My cousin had a relative (her husband's side of the family) who worked in the Belfast store and she was concerned, on his behalf, that I had a less than satisfactory experience. That worried me. Made me think that my attempts at light-heartedness might be making someone else feel less than good about themselves.

What can I say? I'm a snowflake. At least no-one has got in touch to rail against me for disrespecting the besieged defenders of Derry.

The other posting that attracted opprobrium was Alpha and Loudmouth. I wrote that one out of shame. Shame because I listened to vile racist abuse and did not speak up. In the comments in response to a regular commenter, I remarked that both women would have been Trump supporters if they lived in the USA. I am certain of that. This drew fierce comment from another regular commenter. I get it. I was associating racists with Trumpism. And I stand by that in the context of this place.

The thing is, I know my conservative (right-wing) and Loyalist neighbours. They don't trust Catholics, they don't like foreigners, they have little compassion for immigrants. They voted for Brexit, even though as citizens of Northern Ireland that was very much against their interests. British right-wingers mainly approve of the United States' current leader.

Definitely, Trump gets a very bad press in the kind of papers I read but I do understand this - not all Trump supporters are racist but, it does seem, that most racists are Trump supporters. And this is what I would like to know, and I know I have at least one Republican Trump supporter who reads this blog, is this - what is it about this man that you support?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Bit Of A Siege

It was Bert who I first heard using the expression 'a siege' to describe a situation that was somewhat fraught. It must be a Northern Ireland Protestant thing, Derry never far from their minds, the taste of rattus norvegicus still on the tongue.

Well, it's been a bit siegy at Nellybert's this past week or more what with all the dog visitors (Gracie, Maya, Dora and Jack) and the kitchen fitting. Good news. It's nearly done. It's almost functional but, as it is sore in need of decorating, there will be no photographs until that is completed.

Today was a complete siege. Thankfully I had Zoe by my side to support me through it. It was The Return To Ikea.

There was a lot of stuff to bring back. For some reason, Ikea sold and delivered to us an entire set of drawer fittings for a unit that was meant to be shelved. So that had to go back as did various white bits, some superfluous fittings, a damaged door and some knobs that we'd changed our minds about. The whole lot came to about £250. Shame I'd lost the original receipt. So it was off for a bit of a wait and a people watch at Returns.

There are some funny people around. One woman returned three packets of paper napkins. I cannot imagine bothering to do that myself. I'd have kept them to use another time even though when that time came I'd have totally forgotten where I'd stashed them.

Eventually, my number was called. I wheeled my laden trolley to the young man's desk and began explaining that I was going to be a complete pain in the ass as I had no receipt as it had become buried under four grands worth of kitchen and then I'd gone to Amsterdam and never saw it again.

Amsterdam? he said. No problem, he said. And then efficiently worked his way through everything while telling me how much he loved Amsterdam and how he'd been there eight times and was going back in July. Did I partake? he asked. Sure, said I. When in Rome and all that.

As sieges go, that part wasn't too bad.

Zoe and I had arranged to meet in the restaurant. I was to phone her when I was done but, siege!, no coverage. Eventually, I had her paged. What's the name? asked the Ikea co-worker. Zoe Surname, I told her. Soon this message rang out throughout the store,

Customer Announcement. Can Zoe go to the restaurant where her Mum is waiting for her?

I was worried that there might be flocks of Zoes descending on the restaurant but just one turned up. My one.

We had the usual run through the store. I replaced handles and damaged door, bought another pull-out tray for the larder and inserts for the cutlery drawer. The door and tray had to be ordered, paid for at the till and collected from another desk. Somehow, between the till and the collection desk, I mislaid the receipt and another one had to be printed. Siege! Meanwhile, Zoe started gathering her bits and pieces to take to the van and somehow between the till and the collection desk and the van a little alarm clock she'd bought for her youngest daughter was not to be found. Siege! First thought was that it had been left at the till but apparently not. What happened next was that an Ikea co-worker had to take details and then go and watch security footage whereupon she returned and informed us that they had Nelly on camera picking it up at the till and placing it on top of some shelf brackets and then leaving the till area. So that was gone. Dropped somewhere and picked up by someone who has got themselves a free alarm clock. Good luck to whoever it is, may they never oversleep again.

To console ourselves for the loss of Evie's clock we returned to the restaurant and ate cake. Nothing else for it. As siege tucker goes that had to be a whole lot nicer than boiled rat.

This is the style of our kitchen. Not the handles. Ours are black.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


I said to Bert the other day,

We'll need to get those worktops off the floor before Frank comes. You know he'll piss himself silly all over them.

Well, as it turned out, Frank paid his last visit to our house this very evening. In the gloaming, there was just enough light for Bert to make ready his little grave.

Jazzer was distraught. She'd just made a very hard decision but the right one for Frankie.

He was nearly eighteen years old. That's a long time for a dog. A dog that lived with one family and one home for his entire life.

Guarding the younger members of his family. He was around four then. Already a regular visitor to Nellybert's.

And this was on his first visit.

Scared of nothing. Frank faced up to other dogs, cattle, cats, horses, goats and...



Dear Frank. We will never forget you.

Friday, February 15, 2019

After Amsterdam Before Ikea Kitchen

At The Minute

I got back from three nights in Amsterdam on Wednesday and, honestly, it's taken this long to regain my equilibrium. The house is literally upside down. No kitchen sink, no worktops, no oven. Yet Bert has been working flat out. It didn't help that Ikea's picking and delivery service did not come up to scratch. Only today I had to hotfoot it to the Belfast store to get the brackets that hold the oven up. And had to wait an hour to get it sorted. There is no word of Ed the Electric. (We're having to move plug points and light switches around) and the kitchen sink worktop won't be cut until Monday/Tuesday at the earliest as Bert has decided to have the experts do that. Then we'll need a gas fitter to connect the hob. So much for do-it-yourself.

My private secret sitting room has become a flatpack store room as has the hallway. The dishwasher is disconnected so all dishwashing has been moved to the scullery. Still, a week will make a big difference.

A Day Or Two Ago

Amsterdam was lovely. I walked for miles and miles. Walking in unfamiliar cities has to be one of my very favourite things. I set off each of the two mornings with no particular plan. I might go to the Botanical Gardens, I might go to the Van Gogh. I will stop off at any interesting place or site that catches my eye.

Hortus Botanicus. 

Things I noticed about Amsterdam,

1. The men have amazing hairlines.

2. David Beckham must have Dutch ancestors.

3. The people (notably the men) are very polite.

4. The Men! Still sexy in their sixties and seventies.

Some other things.

1. There were no apparent homeless people or beggars. I'm told there are two reasons for this. The Dutch social welfare system is supportive and Dutch people have no time for beggars.

2. The ladies on the trams are very impatient. Not very Dutch. Still, I expect they have to deal with a lot of very silly tourists.

3. The cyclists take no prisoners and they do not wear helmets. Neither do their children.

4. There are hardly any children.

5. In keeping with the Dutch refusal to wear cycling helmets, they are also fairly unconcerned that there are acres of deep water hazards everywhere, and that their stairs are amazingly tricky and steep with no warning signs to watch one's head or beware of falling. I found this refreshing. Dutch people (unlike the British) expect people to take responsibility for their own personal safety.

Where we stayed.

In a hostel! I always thought that hostels were grim, utilitarian places inhabited by penniless youth. The hostel was called Generator, 4 years old and formerly a university building. It was lovely. Great atmosphere and everything one could possibly need except room service and a heated swimming pool. It was well-connected, public transport had one at the centre of things in no time but during the day, I found it more fun to walk.

Other things I found interesting.

1. A huge amount of ring-necked parakeets just like in London.

2. The city felt safe.

3. Walking through the red light district (daylight hours) there was a commotion. A woman, wearing a lacy slip, little else, outside on the cobbles trying to entice a little French bulldog back to their shared apartment.


1. Vacation time means reading time.

2. I brought Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. Seemed appropriate. By the time I got to the section actually based in Amsterdam, I'd already walked those places.

3. I finished the McEwan on the third night and immediately swapped it for another in the hostel's book exchange shelves. The book I picked was The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch. I'd heard of neither the title or author before. It was a thought-provoking and gripping read. I finished it on the plane home the next day.

4. Of course, I found a bookshop. It was wonderful, specialised in English language books and was alphabetized! I bought Sula by Toni Morrison. The bookshop owner seemed impressed with my choice (or maybe he was just being polite?). Still, you never get that fellow intellectual knowing nod when the paperback proffered is a Cecilia Ahern.


Then I ate what Amsterdam calls a space cookie but our friend L. calls home baking. Things might get surreal. Best stop.