Thursday, April 27, 2017

Busy Day

First of all, I baked this loaf. It had been rising all through the sleepy-time hours so I gave it a quick knockback, turned the oven on to high, took my coffee back to bed then baked it for thirty minutes exactly.

Sorted out my chickens, showered and went to Belfast.

Then straight to the Ulster Museum to look at the exhibition that wasn't child-friendly, the Francisco Goya 'The Disasters of War'. It was harsh. I also took another look at recent Irish history section, the part that depicts what some call 'The Troubles'. I have a friend, a Republican and Sinn Fein activist, who finds this part of the museum anodyne but I am always affected by it and often tearful. The so-called Troubles were my entire adult life from around fifteen years old until they ended, if they even have ended. Maybe my friend is right. I'm sad and sniffly at the Ulster Museum but in our other city at the Museum of Free Derry  I was in pieces.

As always it was impossible to resist the Palm House which is so close to the museum and the delights of the exotic and wonderful plants within. Just one niggle - why aren't they named. I alwys feel i don't know a plant unless I have its Latin name. I knew the Dizygotheca elegantissima, Passiflora caerulea, Crassula ovata and Monstera deliciosa because I have or have had those plants at some time but what's this?

Or this?

No doubt I'll find out some day.

It was a good day. I needed to get out on my own and when I got home the people I live in where in very good form (they had enjoyed a Nelly-free day) and the sourdough bread was very delicious indeed. 

Since posting this I had the following message on Facebook from a South African friend.

The yellow flower is a Hibiscus that is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family Malvaceae. They grow prolifically in SA.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April Sleet Showers

It was bitterly cold today and not boding well for my Wednesday trip to Belfast. Will just have to wrap up good and warm. Despite the snow and the sleet I managed a little outside gardening and rather more inside. I'm behind with seed sowing this year but they'll catch up.

I did manage to take a couple of garden pictures between the showers. Close up as the flowerbeds still need a bit of work.  And I started another sourdough loaf. If Bert doesn't get to it before my camera does I'll have a nice picture of it tomorrow. Now, time to sleep.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Look What He's Done To My Bread Ma

I persevered with the sourdough bread, kept the mother going and worked out a recipe and method that works for me. My last two loaves have been excellent. The trouble is, they are so yummy that it is hard to get a photo before the bread is scoffed.

I was going to take a photograph earlier today but it would have meant decluttering the kitchen and today was a gardening day - so no time for housework. If there was to be a picture of my delicious bread then everything had to be just right, perhaps an artfully placed linen tea towel, or a posy of spring flowers, maybe I could even arrange one of the cats to sit on the dresser to add interest to the background. What I wouldn't want is dirty dishes, piles of unsorted laundry and a massive heap of newspapers on my catless dresser. I consoled myself with how very pretty my loaf looked, good texture, unburnt crust, decent shape. With a few slices cut from it would make a very decent picture.

Now imagine how I felt when Bert hacked my lovely loaf to pieces before I had the chance to Instagram it. It couldn't have been less photogenic if a rabid donkey had got to it. Why? He couldn't find the right knife, sure it was only going to be eaten anyway. What did it matter what it looked like?

It's a pet hate of mine when people leave loaves, pies, and cakes looking unpresentable. And, of course, when I say people I mean Bert. Do you know what he'd do if he thought he could get away with it? I'd be taking some delicious baked thing out of the oven and before it even had a chance to cool he'd have pulled a lump out of it to taste it. Sharp rap over the knuckles with a wooden spoon soon put that nonsense out of him.

Anyway, here is a picture of one of my first loaves. The one that got mauled looked better, was bigger and tastier and was going to have a better tea towel. Here's to the next one.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Visitors

Well, who knew? It seems that fun is definitely much more tiring than work. Katy and James arrived on Monday afternoon and we had an action-packed few days during which James did far, far more than anyone.

On Tuesday we all went to the Ulster Museum. That was a busy day. It was a child-centred visit which meant that there was building, painting and drawing to be carried out. James discovered that the art galleries were marvellous echo chambers and he made an awful lot of noise. I only noticed one person who minded. Surely anyone who visits the Museum in the Easter holidays should expect it to be brimming with children and, if they are decent coves, they should be jolly pleased about it. Martha and Evie are frequent visitors to the Museum and they had a wonderful time showing James their favourite places,

On Wednesday James went on a playdate to Martha and Evie’s house where I am told, he tore around the house like a whirlwind and then ate an enormous lunch. It seems he got on very well without his Mama as all well-adjusted boys should – for an hour or so at least. Meanwhile, Katy and I lunched and perused charity shops. I bought a straw hat for Bert, some wool for Zoe and a chiffon cloak for the girls’ dressing up box.

Yesterday, we went to Ballycastle, amused ourselves at the amusements, went to the beach, went duck-watching and all that before lunch. Lunch was outdoor fish and chips at Mortons where I made two new friends. One was a single-legged seagull and the other a very cheeky jackdaw who perched on my shoulder, sauntered down my arm and tried to eat my fingers. My grandchildren took all this in their stride as if it was the most usual thing for grannies to have tame jackdaws strolling about their upper bodies.

It's likely that the highlight of James' trip to the seaside occurred on the downward journey when we passed several miles of major roadworks. I don't believe the child had ever seen as much heavy plant in one place, ever. He looked left there were dozens of diggers and heavy tractors, he looked right - more of the same. He was entranced.

Tame stuff but at least he's in control

Today I got up at half-five and drove Hannah to work then went back to bed and slept until nine o’clock which was wonderful. James and I spent some quality time jumping in puddles, watching chickens, feeding cows, examining tractors and other assorted plant. We watched Sammy the Digger Man clean out a drain, then Clint spreading manure with his Davy Brown. For James there was no contest. Diggers are OK but tractors are his particular passion. It was a good morning. James and Katy lunched on Ulster Fries and then it was time to drive to the airport where I felt very sad to kiss them both goodbye. The plan is that I will visit Norfolk in October and, while I don’t expect Katy will have changed much (maybe just another few strands of silver curls), James will an inch or two taller and will have a much bigger vocabulary. Looking forward to it already.

Mary, James, Evie, Zoe, Hannah, Martha, Katy 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rooster Attack

When a rooster flies at you and puts his spurs into your leg, you notice it. This fellow was a big heavy lad and he ruled the roost. I'm going to miss hearing him crow tomorrow morning. Blogged on 02/06/2015

This is Duke, our senior rooster. He was reared as a battery hen and turned out to be a male so, as our previous rooster had been taken by the fox (see above), we gave him a home.

He was a timorous fellow to start with but, as his confidence has grown, he has turned out to be one of the most vicious roosters we've ever had. I have to keep a tight eye on him when I go into the run. Tonight I forgot. The seven youngest chickens take ages to go into the house at bedtime and I was giving them a bit of encouragement or, to be honest, chasing them, when he came flying out of the house and launched himself at my right leg, at knee height.  I limped into the house to clean the wounds, both bleeding, where his spurs had punched right through my heavy jeans. My knee had already started to swell. Of course, I was raging and considered having Bert kill him, or leave him out in the woods for Foxy to find. It's not as if he hasn't three fine sons to take up rooster duty in the hen run. But,  then I relented for he was only doing his job, protecting his flock.

Hopefully, my knee will feel better tomorrow and I won't lose the leg owing to some filthy chicken disease. Then he gets to cock-a-doodle-doo for another while and we won't be eating cock-a-leekie soup for our Sunday dinner.

That was the bad news. The good news is that my latest sourdough loaf was a big success and my grandson James thought it was delicious. Sadly, no pictures of the loaf for it got scoffed far too quickly. All I can offer is this picture of James after spag bol and a bowl of yogurt. I wonder if he would like some chicken soup?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sourdough Wars

The husband is in my bad books. First, he suggests that I can keep my egg money. I reply that I’d rather not as he buys the chicken feed, so he should keep it. He says it would be handy for you, give you a bit of independence. I say, what is the egg order again? Two and a half dozen. That's £2.50 a week. A generous allowance indeed. Go on Bert, you can keep it.

Did I ever mention that I am one of the multitude of women caught out by the rise in the pension age? There are women I know, only a few months older than I am who have been receiving their pension for over four years now which is very galling.

Yet, it was very unfair that women reached their pension age five years before men but it doesn’t stop me wishing that they’d waited until I got mine before the rules were changed. Still, I’ll probably get a pension some day and with me being the frugal sort, it will seem like a fortune when it comes. Unlike my poor children who will be quite old before their pension day arrives.

Now, back to my devilish husband – for there were two things… now, what was the other? Oh yes, sourdough bread and the imaginary competition between Les and Nelly. It was Les originally piqued my interest and was quick to offer recipes, advice, and encouragement. Les has created a great many loaves and is close to perfecting his method. I know, because he has shared those loaves with us. I, on the other hand, have been successfully feeding the ‘mother’ but have actually made just three loaves. For life gets in the way. Then Bert goes to Les for music practice on Tuesday and comes home raving, raving about the awesomeness of Les’ latest loaf. And there is half of it sent home with him and it’s true, the bread is sublime. Bert goes to check my ‘mother’. His verdict? Not as good as Les’ ‘mother’, too watery, needs more flour. Then there is the way Mrs Les served the bread, oil and balsamic vinegar, sea salt on the side, bet you’ve never even heard of that? Heh, Nelly?

Nelly raging, says,

Of course I’ve heard of it. Why, I was reading an article in the Guardian about that just weeks ago! I’m glad you enjoyed it because that’s what you’ll be getting for your supper all week! Bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt! We’ll see how you like that!

He says,

Well I won’t if it’s Mother’s Pride bread!

I bet you all never knew how hateful he can be.

Anyway, I started another loaf on Wednesday. Assembled it yesterday, left it to prove overnight. It looked very promising this morning and I baked it at lunch time. Slow bread. Put the oven on high, placed a bowl of water on the bottom shelf, put the bread in, forgot about it, burned it slightly.

Had some with my homemade chicken broth made with own leeks. Tough crust but good flavour. Had some with Bert’s omelette at supper time. Made with own eggs, own broccoli, and own chives.

Later on we had some broken up and dipped in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt. Accompanied with glass of own rhubarb wine. Very nice but wouldn’t want to eat it every evening. (Unless it was Les’ sourdough loaf.) Did I mention I am turning into fat, bloated, sourdoughy lump? And it’s not even Easter yet.

Les and Bert

Monday, April 10, 2017

Field Dressing

So, just as the oul' sore shoulder starts to ease I get a tension backache that starts every evening after supper but I will not complain as my sister is laid up with a very sore face after taking a nasty fall at the weekend. I was on the phone today speaking with her when Martha came in and I knew by the child's face that she wanted to tell me a big story so stalled her by telling her that I was talking to Aunt Gan who wasn't feeling very well and, bless Martha, she sat patiently and waited, even had a little chat to Gan herself.

As soon as our call had ended Martha announced,

Aunt Gan's not the only one of the family who's had an accident. Bert has cut himself on barbed wire and he won't come in from the fields to get it washed so I'll have to bring him a plaster.

I said we were out of plasters so she'd have to bring him a bandage and I put together an emergency pack of bandages, tape, scissors and wipes.

Off she ran, heading for the field where Bert was fencing.

I said,

Don't run. You must never run with scissors. Hasn't there been enough accidents in this family?

About half an hour later Bert and the girls returned. His wrist and hand were heavily bandaged. He told me later that she'd ordered him out of the muck hole he was standing in as it was far too dirty a place for him to have his wrist cleaned and dressed. Not bad going for a seven-year-old.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Relatively Speaking

Last year, when my cousin Peggy was visiting from New Zealand she mentioned that she was putting together a family tree for the benefit of her grandchildren. I offered to share some of the information that I had gathered over the years, then promptly forgot about it. As I do. So today I get a message from Peggy reminding me and immediately sent her all the details I had on our maternal grandfather's siblings. And that reminded me that I'd never got around to recording that particular branch of the family tree onto my very complicated Family Echo app. So I made a start on it, and discovered about a zillion more relatives, loads of whom don't even look like McAnespies!

So there you go. A lorry load of cousins that I have absolutely no use for. They didn't give me one tiny percentage of the pleasure that I had when Miss Martha found the wee white hillbilly hen had laid me an egg.  At long last! It was immediately packed up with five others to be delivered to Martha's house.

Proper McAnespies, dapper and a wee bit nebby.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Birds of a Feather

We have sixteen chickens now. Sadly, four of them are roosters which is three too many. The seven young ones (a gift from the ever generous Les) were kept apart from the others for about six weeks as the four roosters would have murdered them. When we reunited the flocks I kept two of the cockerels in the old run but their sister would not be parted from them and kept flying over the fence and lingering outside their gate. I gave in, let her join them. That group are known as the Hillbillies because of their incestuous lifestyle. And the female hasn't laid one single egg since she got there. I have to say that last year's egg hatching experiment, whilst exciting, ended in disappointment. Five chicks brought forth, three males and two females, then one female dispatched to Dr. Leitrim Sister's rushy fields whilst masquerading as a male. Our Dede didn't even want a rooster and, as it turned out, she didn't get one for Miss Rocky is laying well.

There are seven or eight eggs a day coming from the other lot, most of them from the young hens. They stick together and have adopted the young white rooster as their harem-master. They knock around together and roost in a row at night. Duke, the old rooster, makes do with the two old browns and the two old blacks. The two brown hens chum about and they hate the young girls. The black hens are pals too. Duke perches on another part of the roost with the black hens on one side and the brown ones on the other. Thankfully the run is big and they all have plenty of room but there is definitely a distinct pecking order at scoff time. The old browns are the boss hens and everyone except Duke gets chased off. When my lovely bantams were here they stuck together as well and did not get on with the others.

I'd love more Silkies and Pekins but I'm not sure I could cope with their inherent broodiness and too many boys hatching. Unless I can toughen up and turn the cockerels into a nice nourishing soup. Peter told me this evening that he dispatched his rooster for raping the ducks but hadn't the heart to eat him. I don't think I could eat mine either.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Bindweed and Beetroots

It was around ten days ago that I decided to manhandle a single bed mattress up the attic stairs. I could have waited for Bert to return from whatever errand he was on but I didn't. And even as I was hauling it up there I knew there would be a price to pay. The right shoulder was sore for a week. In the end, I had to resort to co-codamol and brave the wee lecture about addiction that the pharmacy assistant recites on each occasion (maybe once or twice a year) that I buy pain medication. I have this theory that painkillers, by alleviating the soreness, helps me to relax and it's the relief of tension that truly mends the hurt. Two days and eight co-codamol later I could feel myself beginning to feel better.

So out I went to clean the greenhouse which was overrun with bindweed and couch grass. Bad gardener! The grass was tough, not at all easy to pull but I yanked away with all my might. Guess I'll be dosing myself with tablets yet another night. Don't tell the wee lass in the pharmacy!

In other news, we missed Homeland* on Sunday night as Dr. Leitrim Sister was visiting. As was Prof. Swisser. Two doctors coming for supper! Bert wondered if he should mention his dodgy elbow but I told him not to be so puerile. What do Irish Academics eat, you may wonder. Well... they eat cheese and onion pie made with butter and newly laid eggs.  Professors also eat boiled beetroot, fresh from the garden, which Dr. Leitrim Sister wouldn't even lip. She doesn't know what she missed.**

* Watched it tonight.
** Pink pee.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Bit of A Catch-Up

Thursday - Ganching expected! She is very caulrife so I was determined that our home should be warm and cosy. Bert was off on a jarvey to Larne and I had a few hours to myself to make the place welcoming, to change beds, hoover the corners - that sort of thing. House to myself did I say? Sure Bert never gets out of my road but one of his mates turns up looking for him. And always just as I've washed the floor. Hi, Wee! Make yourself some tea. I'll take a cup too when I've finished washing dog footprints off the sofas and maybe take a wee dash upstairs to fluff up the pillows.

Thursday evening. Ganching will be here soon. Martha and Evie are very excited. I turned on the central heating as it was a bit cold so the house should be snug by the time she gets here. At last, she arrives. Girls gave her a lovely welcome. House still a bit cool so I checked the thermostat. It's at 20 and I go to feel the radiators. They are freezing. That's when I realised we'd run out of heating oil (which never happens) and it was so close to five o'clock that we hadn't a hope of getting any that day. Disaster! We could light fires downstairs but bedrooms would be freezing. I have to say my sister was very decent about it and was happy to have an extra blanket and a hot water bottle.

Friday. Off to Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy. We breakfasted on muffins and lunched on soup and wheaten bread and in-between times spent a leisurely three hours taking in the exhibitions. It was my second visit but the first time, on our way to Sligo, was a bit rushed and, if you ever go there, give yourself lots of time for it's well worth lingering over.

Saturday. Ganching at Martha and Evie's house. I am having more guests - the Banjos and Hannah's Friend(s). We are to have a Musical Evening and we are having cheeseburgers and chips for, at this point, I'm only expecting Hannah's omnivorous friend, not her vegan one. At last minute hear about vegan friend and have momentary panic until am informed that Hannah has bean burgers in freezer and Jazzer offers to make potato wedges as chips to be fried in pure lard.

Sunday. British Summer Time arrives but I pay it not a blind bit of notice. Was very tired all day. Probably my terrible diet of red wine, cow, lard and RJ Kerr soda farls. Mother's Day part very nice. Watched Homeland and admired Rupert Friend's lurching skills.

Photo by Ganching. Sodas by Paul Rankin. Not as good as R.J. Kerr but nice plate.

Monday. British Summer Time arrives with a vengeance at twenty past five. That's what the clock said but my body said it was the middle of the night. Took Hannah to work. Lucky me could go back to bed while she had to work her shift, then go to college. I'm up again at half-eight and showered and dressed to meet Ganching and Zoe for breakfast. Had poached eggs on sourdough toast. Sourdough much better than mine, eggs not so good as mine. How could they be? Evie arrives, then Martha. Parents too. Bert took the girls, dogs and Holly De Cat on an adventure to fields and forty minutes later all returned. Girls and dogs were excitable, happy and covered in mud. They had obviously had a wonderful time. Evie reluctant to wash her hands as she had "washed them in a river" but eventually allowed herself to be persuaded. Then visitors arrived just as we were about to serve pudding. I saved them some and Martha wasn't too pleased as she had hoped for second helpings. A promise was extracted that I would make the same pudding next week, only bigger.

Today. Had a lie-in. It was wonderful. Got up at ten. My body thought it was nine o'clock. It takes me ages to get used to Summer Time.

Right now. Going to watch the second episode of the original House of Cards. I didn't see it back in 1990 when I was 37. I'd little interest in politics back then even though I was always a diligent voter. It was last night's visitor (the gent) who said it was worth seeing for he's very interested in political affairs. His wife, somewhat less so. He was discussing the history of the East India Company when she turned to me and said,

"That's why I never vote"

I laughed, not sure what to make of it. But perhaps she's right. Maybe all politics are a matter of Company Misrule.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The News

There is always too much news. Sometimes it comes from a distance and sometimes it is closer to home. Yesterday there was the news of the carnage at Westminster, too soon to say much about, just the hard facts, four people dead and many more injured. Anyone who has ever been to London will have walked or driven over Westminster Bridge. Indeed, my sister, until recently, walked over it regularly as part of her commute to work. Like all do, in this time of almost instant communication, I established that both London sisters were safe. And watched as the television news went round in circles showing the same sad and terrible footage over and over again.

And today's big news in Northern Ireland will be the funeral of Martin McGuinness, former Deputy First Minister at Stormont. Opinion on his legacy is, as might be expected, divided. We are a divided people here in these six counties but I'm happy to declare that I am on the side of those that respected him. I came late to that stance but then, we're all on a journey, are we not?

In Drumrankin, our wee bit of it anyway, the news is homelier. The chickens are free again and we are observing all the orders guidelines laid out by the government to protect them from avian flu. My main contribution will be to never set foot in a commercial chicken farming establishment. Should be easy enough to keep to.

Keep safe everyone, no matter where you are and don't believe everything you hear, even if you hear it from me.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Success (Of Sorts)

When all around the world goes sad, mad and bad, it is the simple pleasures that count - one's chickens, the new calf that was born today - Martha says her name is Ava and we must never sell her. I say that we must but she shall have first refusal. Our other pleasures include friends, family and music.

And, of course, there is food. This weekend was not one of my better ones when it came to home-cooked food. Supper was shop-bought sausage rolls, tinned beans and an interesting salad made from tender leaves of kale (home-grown), olives, tomatoes and little sweet peppers. The dressing came out of a jar. I made (at Evie's request) the steamed chocolate pudding, chocolate sauce and ice cream dessert.  It was the wrong ice cream. Not popping candy ice cream. I made the excuse that I'd forgotten to bring my glasses which was a lie. It didn't matter anyway as Evie had been to a birthday party and was full to the neck of sweets and cake. She didn't even have dessert, said she was 'tired of it.'

Breakfast was Kellogs Variety Pack and Peppa Pig on Netflix. I wasn't part of it as I was reading The Guardian in bed. Some lad from Buckna was supervising the young'uns, helping them eat Variety and watching Peppa Pig. Lunch was (hang my head in shame) shop-bought pizza. I attempted to jazz it up with extra toppings and Lidls mozzarella cheese. But then, my triumph, the food that made up for all other culinary shortcuts and shortcomings, my first successful sourdough loaf. For, even though the first attempt resulted in rolls that could have served as missiles, I kept the mother going and made this...

I know it is boastful but that loaf was not my only success this weekend. At Martha and Evie's storytime I selected a book of fables, beautifully illustrated by Janusz Grabianski. But one forgets how shite fables are. There is no real story, no satisfying ending, no resolution. The one I chose was about a fox who fell down a well and couldn't get out. Said fox tricks a decent old billy goat to jump into the well and help it escape. Then, the fox being wily and all, fucked right off mocking the billy goat for his gullibility. And that was the end. So I said to the girls,

I didn't think much of that story! I think I could make a better job of it!

So, putting down the book, beautiful illustrations and all, I finished the story bringing in two brave young animal rescuers called Martha and Evie, a grandfather (Bert) with a length of baler twine in his pocket, a lovely woman called Denise who was in need of a billy goat, then a billy goat in a new home in The Parks with two wives and four lovely kids (three girls and a boy) and a nasty fox who called round and ended up getting butted over a hedge never to be seen again while everyone got to live happily ever after. I believe I enjoyed telling it far more than the girls enjoyed listening to it. My reward came this morning when Evie joined me in bed and said,

That was a good story last night.

Thanks, Margaret Green (and Aesop) for the beginnings of the tale and thanks to Janusz Grabianski for the wonderful pictures.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Saint Patrick's Day And How I Gave Up Smoking

Saint Patrick's Day means little to me even though I am an Irishwoman. When we were children it meant a day off school which was marred by compulsory attendance at Mass where almost everyone would be wearing a clump of weedy shamrock and the choir would sing 'Hail Glorious Saint Patrick' which I rather enjoyed for I found the lyrics very rousing, more Unrepentant Republican than Devout Christian. At that stage of my life, I had yet to hear the Wolfe Tones.

Hail, glorious St. Patrick, dear saint of our isle,

On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now that you’re high in your mansions above,
On Erin's green valleys look down with your love.

On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys look down with your love.

Hail, glorious St. Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan's wiles and a heretic throng;
Not less is thy might where in Heaven thou art;
Oh, come to our aid, in our battle take part!

In a war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear Saint, may thy children resist to the death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, and prayer,
Their banner the Cross, which they glory to bear.

Nowadays I don't go to Mass and all that the day means to me is remembering dear old Paddy, wondering if any of my younger relations will be arrested in the Holyland and despising eedjits who carry on like this.

And what is it with the four-leaved clover? The whole point of the shamrock's association with Saint Patrick is that he is supposed to have used the plant to explain the concept of the Trinity to the native Irish. It isn't known as trifolium for nothing.

Anyway, Paddy's Day, my hole. This is the best Paddy I ever knew. Thirteen years ago we fetched him from the shelter, and thirteen years and two days since I gave up smoking for he sure took my mind off tobacco. That's my main tip for giving up. Get a dog. And some chickens.

Paddy was a great fellow for the hens

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Springtime Resolutions

There is a stage in a person's life where she has to embrace the idea of change; either that or sink into a rut where she will drown at 70 or 80-something if she should live that long. That's where I am.

Things I think about? How much I eat and drink. My diet is not the best, too heavy on carbohydrates and sugars and I am very fond of wine, both homemade and shop bought.

Other things to ponder? The time I waste. There isn't such an awful lot of it left. Twenty years? It would be wise to make those hours count.

That said, I am currently enjoying an overlooked blackcurrant from 2014. Amazing how the extra time in the bottle has mellowed its flavour. So, I'm not going to over-concern myself with wine right now, other than enjoying it (in moderation). Instead, I am going to try very hard to spend my time wisely. It's like a Spring resolution.

What pissed me off today?

Bert not liking my parsnip soup.

Too many dead badgers on the roads. Slow down, people!

May. Trump. The usuals.

My chillis have yet to germinate.

Bert (him again!) nicking my private hose-pipe and carrying it to his side of the polytunnel.

What pleased me?

When I forgot to pay for my parking ticket and, more than thirty minutes later, returned to the carpark to find that the traffic wardens hadn't ticketed me. I said Memorares all the way to Castle Street and, once again, the BVM did not forsake me. I'm having such a struggle with my atheism these days.

The two shirts I bought with the money I saved from not having to pay a parking fine.

Sowing beans. I thought nine bean rows but sowed ten to be sure.

Les' yummy olive and tomato sourdough toasted. Really must get my act together with the sourdough. Tomorrow!

Knowing that my chickens will soon be released from their government imposed incarceration.

A book I've started by Patrick Ness. Apparently, it's for young adults. What do I care? I'm an adult, but hopefully, still young at heart.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dog Years

Today I looked at a file on my external hard drive entitled Blog Drafts and found this snippet from March 2013. I’m pretty sure it never made it to Nelly’s Garden. I even carried out a keyword search, ‘procreate’ and ‘Cesar’ which are words I rarely use and they are not there. So off we go, recycling time!

March 2013
Cesar Millan tells us that the method of calculating dog years by counting each year of their lives as seven years of ours is flawed. I've always thought so myself. After all, a dog at a year old can procreate and usually, at seven, humans don't. A more accurate way of counting dog years is to take their actual age and subtract 2 from it, multiply by 4 and add 21. It works! Using this method, puppy Jess born in October is 14 and a half and Judy, born in the summer of 2010 is 23 and a half. That fits. Jess is a crazy, hyped up teenager and Judy is a dignified 20 something with lots of energy and a busy social life. Jess eats like a savage and burns it all off and Judy watches her figure.

March 2017
How have they aged in the past four years?
Judy will be seven this summer. She is not quite as agile as she was and is beginning to go grey around the muzzle and flanks. Jess will be five in October. She appears to be in the prime of life. Let’s do the math.

Judy – 6 and three-quarters (approx.)

(6.75 - 2) x 4 = 19. Add 21 and that makes Judy 40.

She isn’t quite as nimble as she used to be but likes to keep herself in shape with swimming and ball fun.

Jess - almost 4 and a half.

(4.5 – 2) x 4 = 10. Adding 21 has Jess at 31 human years. Still a girl at heart.

Four years ago Roy was still living with Paddy Bell. He was far too fat (Roy, not Paddy) and getting very little exercise. For the past couple of years, he has been with us and is far more active even though he never leaves the farm. We think he will soon be eleven years old as he was around two when Nessie (his original owner) died and she’s gone 9 years now.

So if Roy is 10 and a half…

(10.5 – 2) x 4 = 34 add 21 makes Roy 55. Seems right enough for he wasn’t that far gone and a better diet and more activity took years off him.

When he was fat

I wonder what age I am in dog years? Subtract 21 from my actual age and I am 42 and a half (I wish) then divide by 4. That brings me to 11 and a half so, subtract 2 and I am coming ten in dog years. Shit! I’m not even as fit as Roy! I couldn’t run after those pigs the way he does. But then, Roy neither drinks wine nor eats chocolate. Time I caught myself on.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sourdough Day 7

Les said everything was ready to make the bread starter on Saturday evening but Mrs Banjo arrived and we drank prosecco (with hibiscus flowers?) and red wine and I sort of forgot. So it got begun yesterday and today I made my first loaf. It didn't rise! So I turned it into bread rolls and we ate it with roasted parsnip soup and Martha said it was fabulous and she had the sharp little teeth for it. Les came round this evening and heard the whole sad story and he pronounced me too impatient for I should have given the bread more time. I'm to try again tomorrow.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sourdough Day 4

This picture shows the little pinholes that indicate that airborne yeast spores are active in my starter. Les reckons I will be able to bake my first loaves on Sunday.

The chickens finished the last of the Les disasters today. Several days old now, I had to soak them in water to make them crumble. Little feathered friends loved it and it must have put new vigour into the seven new hens for two of them escaped when I was cleaning out their house. It was the sawdust spooked them. Happy as clams as I scraped and brushed but when I started throwing fresh sawdust down two of them panicked and soared over the fence and into what we like to call an orchard (three scabby apple trees and a bunch of rushes) and it was some job catching them. To make matters worse I was breaking the law for had a Defra spy been driving past we would have been in obvious breach of the keeping chickens away from wild birds rule. Or would we? What wild bird would ever go near a crazy woman chasing two chickens around a so-called orchard? Not even Bert's two tame robins, the ones that are really pissed that he has run out of mealworms, would have come near me and my henny friends.

Anyway, I caught the buggers and was very pleased with myself that I managed it, for this is how my life has narrowed - the big achievement of the day catching escaped poultry. That,  and cleaning out two hen houses and starting a damson wine.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Sourdough Day 3

There is no photograph of my sourdough starter so imagination will have to be used. It is much the same as day one except for a few little holes which, Les informs me, are evidence that it is beginning to ferment.

Tonight I am weary although I did not do much. Picked the girls up from school, began fox-proofing the hen run in preparation for my feathered friends release from chicken jail on the 16th of this month. That is, if they don't find another dead whooper swan on the shores of Lough Beg. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sourdough Day 1

A day that began full of worries and ended full of hope, that's a good day to begin a sourdough starter.

Tonight is usually Bert's music night but his clarinet is in for a service so Les came round here for a glass of wine and was very keen to hear if I'd begun my starter. I hadn't. His starter is five days old and he has baked his first batch of bread and the results pleased him. He stood over me until I began mine - so simple, one empty mustard jar, one spoonful of strong white flour, two spoonfuls of water, stir and set aside. I'm to make a note of feeding times, in the morning just before I see to the hens. Les will be checking.

Y'know, I actually love Les. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be growing my own garlic and Bert would be nowhere near as good on the clarinet. And I wouldn't have those seven new hens. Friendship is magic. At least, that's what Martha and Evie tell me, being ardent fans of My Little Stinking Pony, which is what Bert calls their favourite Netflix show.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Kopi Luwak

It was Hannah's friend Gus who introduced us to competitive quizzing. Any Sunday he's round we usually spend half an hour on Thomas Eaton's quiz in the Weekend Guardian magazine. We had two today and had the usual poor to middling results but it was great craic. 

Bert got the one about posthumous Nobel Prize winners. I knew what was going on when you hit a sliotar with a camán and Hannah knew where Ajman was. Gus knew heaps about Mighty Joe Young and dart scores, so much that I had to tell him to shut up. 

But there was one question to which we all knew the answer or most of it.

Hannah asks,

Kopi luwak coffee has undergone what process?

Then says,

I actually know this.

And I say,

I do too.

And Gus says,

I know it too.

Bert was out attending a calving cow so he missed out on this one.

We all knew that it was beans that had been eaten, partly digested then defecated. Gus even knew which creature processed the beans.

Some sort of weasel.

Turns out he was wrong but sure it was a valiant effort.

I said,

We all knew that because we're so interested in dung!

Gus says,

I learned about it at a coffee seminar.

(He used to be a barista)

I say, 

So you're not interested in dung?

He says (defensively),

I am! 

Just then Bert comes in announcing that a fine bull calf has just been born and its Mammy loves it.

And his overalls are dung to the knees. We all look at him admiringly. 

Asian palm civet

I really do enjoy these Sunday intellectual exercises.

P.S. We should make a point of avoiding kopi luwak coffee, and not because it's incredibly expensive or because it has been through an animal's digestive system. The demand for the beans has led to civets being trapped, caged and treated inhumanely. The species is now under threat because of these practices.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Van Book

I have taken to keeping a book in the van to while away those odd minutes that I spend waiting for places to open, or people (Hannah) to finish work or whatever errand she is about. A van book has to be moderately entertaining and without importance. It must also already be in shabby condition as our van is no place for any decent tome. I mean, you should see this vehicle - it's a nest of dog hair, compost, mud and silage. When decent people travel with us we have to put down blankets to protect them from the grime.

My current van book is one I picked up in the Tesco charity book exchange, Spilling The Beans by the late Clarissa Dickson Wright and she does rather draw one in with her very first sentence,

I was conceived in a bath in Norfolk in September 1946.

Already we had something in common. Firstly, I too was conceived although probably not in a bath. I'm not sure we even had a bath. And it was County Antrim, definitely in a bed and shortly after the Rosary was recited. Secondly, I know and love Norfolk and even have a  Norfolkian grandson.

The book has been a slow read as there aren't that many van moments to kill. Dickson Wright is currently right bang in the middle of her alcoholic phase, drinking her way through 2.8 million quid. She is seeking out dark and sordid places, particularly the Irish pubs on the Kilburn High Road, where she picks up Republican sympathisers and teaches the benighted fools how English folk do sex. She even had the gall to boast that there are marriages in Ireland that will have benefitted from some country lad having learned more than the missionary position.

But the best bit? When the author claimed to have stored in her memory all the verses of 'When Rhodri Macaulay Goes to Die on the Bridge of Taum'. I do hope that wasn't our Eamon taught Dickson Wright that after a night at the Gaulty Boy Dance Hall on the Kilburn High Road. I don't know if I can read any more of it now for it's only page 149 and it cannot get any better than that. And has anyone even heard of the Gaulty Boy Dance Hall on the Kilburn High Road? I wonder did Clarissa mean the Galtymore Ballroom in Cricklewood. After all, she was very, very drunk at the time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Every Picture: Jess

Yippee! Last day and last post of the month and tonight's main topic will be Jess the Sprollie who everyone (except for Rod) thinks weird. I expect it is because she was the one that no one wanted. There were six pups in that litter, one male and five bitches and they were all going to be drowned. Until our friend heard of it. He said he'd take two and when he told us we said we'd take the remaining four and find homes for them. Swisser said she'd take the boy.

Handsome Rex, who lives between Bradford and Portballintrae

Howard chose Tegan and Pip who had to share their living quarters in rural Magherafelt with a couple of cats.

Of the four that came to us the Banjos chose Dora. She lives in Antrim and only rarely sleeps in Marty's banjo case.

Some people we didn't know came to look at the remaining two and they didn't choose Jess. They chose Darcy.

Darcy is the one at the front. Dora is in the middle and Jess is at the back. She was very lonely when Darcy and Dora left.

But she still had Judy. 

And Bonnie for a little while.

Now Hannah has informed me that I must pay more attention to Jess before she becomes irredeemably weird as there is no one special in her life. Well, she has Rod, who loves her dearly. He loves all the dogs but Jess is his favourite and she knows it. She used to see him very often but these days, not so much. For Rod is a musician and spends a lot of time on the road.

Rod and Tracey on stage. When Rod has to sing sad songs he thinks of Jess and how much he misses her. 

Jess and Tracey

When Tracey has to sing 'Jolene' she thinks of Jess.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Every Picture: Chocolate Face

The Heavenly Chocolate Pudding went down well even though it stuck ever so slightly when I was sliding it out of the pudding basin. I use, on Nigella's recommendation, a plastic bowl with a lid and I expect I didn't butter it enough. This would be Ben's fault as he stayed here on Saturday night and ate, in addition to his evening meal, his mother's entire chocolate stash, a loaf of bread, three-quarters of a pound of butter and nearly all the cheese. That's teenage boys for you. So, the pudding was not quite as photogenic as the one in my previous post and there was me with yet another pretty narcissus plate to pose it on. That will be one for another time.

Nevermind food photos. What could be more photogenic that Miss Tis cand her chocolate face? Much nicer that any daffodilly pudding plate.

It's Martha's turn to pick the menu next week. She just wants beans then a sponge pudding covered in whipped cream and sprinkles. We will add sausage and mash to the beans for a more balanced meal.

When it is my turn to choose (I'm last because I'm the oldest) there will be plum torte for dessert.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Every Picture: Heavenly Chocolate Pudding

On most Mondays, I make dinner for Zoe and family and last year I came up with the idea of letting people choose, in turn, what I should prepare. It saves me having to rack my brain wondering what to cook. Monday Dinners are seasonal and tie in with the gardening year. They usually finish in November and begin again in February. Tomorrow, the first dinner of the year will be Evie's choice and we have already discussed the menu. We're having pepperoni pizza and Heavenly Chocolate Pudding. Evie always chooses chocolate pudding and there must be lots of chocolate sauce as that is her favourite part.

Other accompaniments have been added as time went on. She asked for ice cream and that was very good. Of course, I chose vanilla but Evie found this rather dull so now we have steamed chocolate pudding, lashings of chocolate sauce and popping candy ice cream. It's very easy to prepare too. Can't wait for tomorrow although I'm not convinced about the popping candy but, it is Evie's choice.

Here's one I prepared earlier. If I remember I'll see if I can get a picture of Evie's chocolate face for tomorrow's post. Cannot wait for February to be gone so I can have a day or two off blogging.

In other news, would you ever let Quinn babysit your kid? Homeland this evening was nail-bitingly good.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Every Picture: Altered Realities

Tonight I am mostly drinking red wine and hanging out with some old and dear friends. Our conversation has been about altered reality and, this being a public platform read on occasion by people who may well approach me at a funeral and say, "Hi Nelly, been reading your blog, the one about mushrooms" I feel that I cannot elaborate too greatly. To make up for this I'm showing some photographs 'altered' and 'enhanced' by the photo app Dreamscope.

 Nelly at 20, original photo a 'selfie'.

Exuberant, original picture by ZMB

Hannah by me. I think she looks like Carrie from Homeland, only happier

Friday, February 24, 2017

Every Picture: Then and Now, Curfew Tower

Curfew Tower in the olden days.

The Curfew Tower, in the centre of Cushendall village, was built around 200 years ago by the local landowner, Francis Turnly. Its purpose then was to confine riotous prisoners. The tower, also known as Turnly’s Folly is four storeys and 40 feet high. It is built from red sandstone rubble and has a medieval appearance with turrets and a narrow ironclad door.

It is currently owned by artist Bill Drummond, formerly of The KLF and the K Foundation. Famous for burning a million pounds in 1994. Since 1999 the Tower has been run as an artist residency

Cushendall and Curfew Tower now. As usual, the village is choked with traffic.