Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

My father died in the month of June, not long before before Father’s Day and I found the run up to that third Sunday in June almost unbearable. I remember feeling bitterly resentful at all the advertising and posters encouraging shoppers not to forget that most special man in their lives. Twelve years have gone by now and I don’t mind so much. Father’s Day is just another day. It belongs to other people now.

But there are still some important fathers in my life. The children’s father is celebrating his day in sunny Cypress, Martha and Evie’s father went on a family day out canoeing and James and his father and mother are sweltering in Suffolk. Closer to home, one of my best ever girls, Miss Erin has given her partner his most wonderful present ever, a baby daughter who arrived yesterday afternoon, just a few hours early for her dad’s first Father’s Day.

Death and birth, birth and death and that all-important bit in between. It’s what keeps us going.

Seamus and Bert

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Right Decision

I find, that when life is full and complicated, it's far harder to make the time to write this blog. So. What's been going on? First of all, I spent a lot of time with small children, the majority of whom were not even related to me! Martha and Evie on Thursday, all day because their school was closed for voting day - then their friends Caitlin, Cara and Maria on Thursday afternoon.  Five girls altogether.

I stayed up late on Thursday evening then got up very early on Friday morning to check the election results. Roughly four hours sleep in all. The results were better than I expected. A hung parliament. Exactly what we needed. No landslide for the Tories, no improved majority, a good slap up the bake for Mrs May. I allowed myself to feel pleased until... this.

Company expected on Friday afternoon, one of Hannah's friends and her little boy. Not quite three, he was a live wire who spent almost the entire visit 'adventuring' with Hannah.

Saturday was sleepover day with the girls. Zoe brought them out mid-morning and we were all very excited. The girls because of all the telly they were going to watch, me because I haven't had them for a sleepover for ages and Zoe because she was going to get some uninterrupted sewing time. She had hardly left when she was back with the saddest news. My brother-in-law had just returned to Kerry after taking a stint on that journey and he had also spent part of three previous summers rowing the naomhóg from Dublin to Spain with Danny, Liam Holden and Brendan Begley.

On Sunday I brought the girls to Cara's party where there must have been at least two dozen children in full roar. I surprised myself by actually enjoying it.

Come Monday I was exhausted. Girls and their parents for tea. I cooked something cheesy and spinachy (Jamie Oliver) that was delicious and Sticky Toffee Pudding (Nigella) that was a bit overdone. Can't wait to get it right as it was still yummy. Monday evening we settled down to watch Better Call Saul and I fell asleep on the sofa and missed the best bit, a scene with Mike in it. Watched it again this morning.

Then to the internet where I found out that a former boss from my days in the hostel in Spide City had died. For so often, these days, that is where we first hear this kind of news. It wasn't a shock for I knew she was very ill and I arranged to go to her funeral. Then Jazzer rang. She had an urgent appointment  in a Belfast hospital and wanted me to go with her for support. I explained about the funeral and she understood. I carried on with my day but something was nagging at me, I felt anxious.  And I did what I always do when I'm anxious, ate a lot of food. Then it came to me - Anne, the woman who had died was a famously kind person who cared very deeply for her friends and family. If I could have asked her about my dilemma she'd have told me not to be so silly and take my friend to the hospital. So that's what I'll do. It feels like the right decision.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


Thursday is my looking after the girls day and it is also the day of the week that citizens of the UK vote, as vote we must when we are called to do so. As Martha and Evie attend a school that is used as a polling station, they get the day off lessons. They've been getting a lot of days off recently. My local polling station is also a primary school, five minutes walk from our back door and the school that Bert used to go to. I like to take Martha and Evie with me when I vote and Martha likes to get a look at how other schools do things. It is also an opportunity to let the girls see that the right of suffrage is important.

Yet I do have to be careful not to influence them overly. After all, they have the right to make up their own minds when they are old enough to vote and I do hope that will be when they are sixteen rather than eighteen. But I do tell them that I will not be voting for any of the candidates whose posters adorn the poles and posts outside the school because I do not agree with the things these candidates believe. Evie has a political insight she wishes to share with me.

Did you know Granny that you can get toilet paper that has Donald Trump's face on it?
She thinks this is very funny. I have to confess that I am shocked that she should even know such a thing for when I was five I didn't know the name of a single politician. By the time I was seven all that I knew of were Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Gerry Mandering.  And that out of those three Mandering was the worst blackguard. I'm sure I was twelve before it dawned on me that gerrymandering was not actually a person and that it wasn't gorillas that were fighting the Americans in Vietnam. Hopefully my grandchildren will have more sense than me.

On the way back from the polling station we lean over a five-bar gate and watch Bert's cows and calves and I thought of Daddy saying that the people who did not exercise their right to vote were no better than the beasts of the field. Lucky old beasts of the field, for they will not go to bed tonight fretting about what the morning will bring. I know my chosen candidate will not be successful. All I hope for is that Mrs May will not get the big victory she wishes for.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Contains Spoilers!

Tesco in Ballymena have a charity book stall that raises funds for diabetes and, when I'm in there, I usually have a rummage through it. I'm afraid that it does not show Tesco customers in a very good light as the books available are pretty poor. Too much Cecilia Ahern and Dan Brown and not enough Good Stuff. However, I struck lucky the other day and picked up a copy of Louis de Bernieres' Red Dog which is something I've always wanted to read. So much so that I already have a copy, somewhere, some place. It might take me a week to find it for long gone are the days when I categorised my books by genre and the novels by author. Far easier to plop 50 pence in the collecting tin and start reading immediately.

When I got back Bert spotted it straight away.

What's that about?

It's about a dog. Set in Australia.

Does it have a happy ending?

Unlikely. When does a book about dogs ever have a happy ending?

Five minutes later I find him reading the book. The last few pages. One of Bert's strangest habits is that he reads the ending of a novel before the beginning.

Well? Happy ending?
Nope! It's at the vet. Got poisoned with strychnine and is being euthanised as I read.
Thanks for the details. Not!

And that's the true thing about dogs - they die far too soon. To love a dog is to store up a future sorrow. I've written about this before. 

Right now I have friends whose senior dogs are giving them a lot of worry. We're thinking about Frank and Tycho and hoping that they'll both be around for a few years more.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Amazing Jumping Smarm-Hound

Bert: C'mon Judester, show Charlie your amazing jumping abilities.

Judy: Sure thing Dawds! Just waiting until the stupid collie gets out of my way.

Charlie: Complete arsehole...

Bert: Clever girl, Judes!

Charlie: Sad human-pleaser, Judes!

Bert: Don't listen to him Jude. You're awesome.

Judy: Am I Dawds, am I?

Judy: Kiss, kiss, slurp, slurp.
Charlie: (offside)  Puke, puke, retch, retch.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dining on Dianthus

Around five o'clock yesterday while planting in my raised bed I spotted a flying creature that I was sure I'd never noticed before. It was feeding from a patch of sweet william (dianthus) at the end of the bed. I stopped to watch it. Its wings were a blur, tinged with orange and constantly in motion as it moved from flower to flower. Its backside was bulky, dark blotches on a pale background and the proboscis was long and black. I called Bert over to see it and he was quick to identify it as some sort of hawk moth. After about five minutes I thought I'd fetch my camera from the house and the hawkmoth was still there when  I got back. But I was still too late for it had finished with the flowers and flew off before I'd even removed my lens cap.

Later on that evening we researched the butterfly sites and identified it as a hummingbird hawk moth. or macroglossum stellatarum. One interesting observation was the moth often returns to the same feeding site at the same time every day.

So today, hopeful, moth and camera ready I headed for the polytunnel to await my visitor. Perhaps it wasn't warm enough, and maybe too windy, for it didn't show and I had to make do with this Red Admiral which also seemed to be enjoying the dianthus patch.

One thing's for sure, and Zoe agrees - we are definitely going to continue growing flowers alongside the vegetables in the tunnel for not only are they gorgeous, we are also getting a greater variety of insects visiting us. Good pollinating insects. And often we don't have to sow these flowers for they just turn up.

At the present time there are several varieties of red poppies growing beside the veg and another, Zoe's bread seed poppies are just about to bloom. We also have foxgloves, nasturtiums and marigolds growing freely. All are self-seeded.

If all goes well there should be a decent crop of peaches this year. This tree is supposed to be espaliered but Someone must have forgotten to prune a branch.

So I'll be on the lookout again for the hummingbird hawkmoth but, even if I do get a picture it won't be as good as this one.

Photo courtesy of Jindrich Shejbal via Flickr.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Young Gardener

We were visited this afternoon by two community gardeners and Miss Martha excelled herself in making them feel welcome. She herself has been a keen gardener and a habitué of the polytunnel from a very early age. 

It started with strawberries. Once Martha realised that strawberries could be grown she never looked back.

It was no time until she was looking after her own plants.

Here she is wheeling bedding plants to her own little plot.

With a little bit of guidance from Bert she was soon on her way to becoming a horticulturist.

She has always been very conscientious about watering.

And digging. She likes to dig.

Here she is watering her beloved strawberries.

She soon outgrew the miniature pink rake although I still use it to level my raised beds.

Our young gardener has recently become very interested in trees. Here she is watering an oak tree that we inherited from Martha's great-grandmother Martha. It has since been planted in our wood. Martha has her eye on the hundreds of beech seedlings that have sprung up under our trees and wants to plant her own wood.

Inspecting the plants for pests.

A day off gardening. Martha checking out the Spring bedding in the Palm House in Belfast.

Planting perennials while little sister looks on and learns.

So, it was very little wonder that Martha enjoyed talking to the community gardeners this afternoon. She took one of them to see her pond and showed him her most recent addition to the garden and when he asked her what it was she answered "Lithodora 'Heavenly Blue'." I believe he was impressed. She then presented him with one of her beech trees which he graciously accepted. No matter that he too was surrounded by beeches, sure one more would do no harm.

Her next project? A fairy house. We'll keep you all posted.