Friday, July 03, 2020

A Bucket of Bleach


My Granny Mac's house on the Staffordstown side of Randalstown had an outdoor toilet and no running water which was not unusual in rural Ireland in the late 1950s. Despite this Granny kept a clean house. Water was pumped from a well in the garden and carried into the kitchen in a white enamel bucket. Granny used a lot of bleach. Her pine kitchen table was scrubbed every day with a bleach solution and was as white as snow. Likewise, the wooden boards that covered the outdoor toilet. Bleach couldn’t disguise the toilet smell but it went some way.

I’d been warned never to drink bleach as it was a deadly poison. This lesson was so well learned so that when I used the outdoor toilet one morning just after Granny had scrubbed it and got bleach on my bum I was worried. I tried to clean the bleach off with the lavatory paper (cut up newspaper) but didn’t succeed except for transferring it to my hand. Poisoned bum and hand. This was a very bad situation.

Without thinking things through I went into the house and plunged my poisoned hand into the big enamel bucket of water in Granny's kitchen. Now there was no bleach on my hand. But then it dawned - the water was poisoned now and Granny would use it to make tea and everyone would drink the tea and then they would die. I would have to confess.

Aunt Clare came into the scullery and filled the kettle. I wanted to tell her about the poisoned water but I couldn't for she was scary. I couldn’t tell her and even if I told Granny, Aunt Clare would find out and she’d be so angry. She would shout at me, she might slap me. I couldn’t risk it.

So I said nothing and waited for them all to die. It was an anxious time.


Granny and Aunt Clare. They survived. No thanks to me. Aunt Clare is in her eighties now. I hope no one tells her about this. For she might still slap me.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Family Rosary



When I was a child, the Rosary was an important part of practising the Catholic faith. The prayer would be said in Church services but it was also strongly encouraged as a communal evening prayer in Catholic homes.

Looking back, it seems to me that we did not always say the Family Rosary. I'm sure that we mostly said it but there were times when the prayer fell by the wayside. When the parents resurrected it after a fallow period I mightily resented it. Maybe that was the problem. If it had been said every single night I'd have been used to it.

I hated the Rosary. Ah sure there were times when I was trying to reconcile myself to a decent practice of the religion that I tried to like it but I could not. It was long and dreary and boring and tedious and off-putting. In the chapel, I could bear it but home – sure there were a million better things you could be doing, watching The Man From Uncle, playing with Bunty dolls, listening to Radio Luxembourg, reading books, fighting with the sisters, even just thinking.

Apparently, you were supposed to 'dwell' on the Mysteries. The Joyful were dreary, The Glorious tedious and the Sorrowful, they were interesting but, ultimately, deeply depressing. The Rosary just did not do it for me.

Then, when the five decades were completed there were end prayers. I think we did three. I actually liked the Memorare and can recite it to this day. The rest were an awful drag.

The worst Rosaries of all were when the parents decided to say it on the way home from visiting relatives, late in the evening when you'd be tired. It was so intrusive. Riding in the car, all of us children asleep or half-asleep was an introspective, thinking time, not a time to be reciting some dreary dirge of a prayer.

Y'know when I look back I think I must always have been a Crap Catholic.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Blackbird Again

This is Mr Blackbird earlier this evening singing as loud as he could to drown out the Dreen Road traffic. This picture was taken from ground level. He is sitting at the very top of a very tall and dying ash tree.


Four days now since I fell out of the treehouse and there is something to add. Two feet, for the drop was twelve-foot, rather than ten.

Every day I'm a little less sore than I was the day before, and yet...

On Day One I was super-hyped on adrenalin and glad to be aliveness. The pain was almost a joy to me because I had survived the fall with no serious injury.

Day Two was more of the same but with less pain.

On Day Three my left breast was really sore. As always, I went to That Place. Then Bert noticed that there were a lot of butterflies in the garden. Mostly Small Tortoiseshells and a couple of Red Admirals. I grabbed my camera.




I spent a happy half hour taking pictures. And afterwards, the breast pain had completely eased. Not cancer then, just boob whiplash.

Today, Day Four. Just one sore area, somewhere under my left shoulder-blade. It was really annoying, much less bearable than Day One's multiple pains. I succumbed to pain relief even though it was against medical advice.

I have been thinking about the fall and have figured out why I got off so lightly. My legs must have got caught up in the trap door cover so than when I landed on the ground I only impacted my shoulders and upper back. My head, lower back and limbs were entirely unhurt apart from abrasions and a big bruise on my right arm where it caught one of the wooden struts holding up the platform. The strut broke, my arm did not. Zoe said I'm as hard as nails. I hope she's right.

Today I took some pictures of our flycatchers. Himself sitting on the sumach outside my window.

 
Herself sitting on their second clutch of eggs. They are a busy pair.




I might go out now to see if I can catch a glimpse of the long-eared owl babies that are hopping around the big trees at the back of the sheds. That is the second pair of long-eared owls that have nested here this year. One pair in the middle of the wood and another pair nearer the house. The young ones kick up quite a racket after dark.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Blackbird Singing


This is the blackbird which sits every evening in an ash tree and sings his heart out. It's not a good picture and I would dearly love to get a better one. I've tried using a long lens on a tripod and that didn't work for me so do I need a better camera or a better vantage point? Why not see if I can get a better picture from the treehouse?

I haven't been up there for more than a year. Bert was working on it last week, making the stairs safer. Ben stood on the platform to secure the swing. Evie was there too. I took photographs.


I was planning to use the rail to steady the camera and stepped on to the exact spot where Ben is standing in that picture. One foot on, then the second and the floor collapsed and I fell through landing on my back more than 10 feet below. The floor, actually a trapdoor where, when the treehouse was being built, was used to haul up furniture and a pot-bellied stove. The supporting frame had rotted away.

Well! Time seems to slow down when one knows one is going to hit the ground with a big thump. And maybe die. My life did not flash before my eyes but there was enough time in that split second to be hugely concerned about my camera. Which isn't even that great.

I landed. There was gasping and wailing. I wasn't sure if I would be able to get up but eventually, I did. I had a horrible headache. I got on to my knees, so slowly and first thing started looking for the camera. And couldn't find it. Then I pulled myself up and found I could walk. Very slowly.

I made it to the house just as Bert was leaving it. Called him back,

Bert, I've had an accident. I fell out of the treehouse. I can't find my camera. Can you get it for me?

He went off, came back a few minutes later as white as a sheet and holding the camera which hadn't a scratch even though the lens cap was off.

I can't believe you walked away from that!

So, I took some painkillers and after a while went back outside and took a photograph of that bloody blackbird. Still singing, no idea he was nearly the death of me. And then I set up the moth trap and went back in the house, had a wee medicinal whiskey and Bert and I watched an episode of Ozark.



That happened yesterday. I woke up this morning, so sore and stiff but after a couple of painkillers and a coffee, I was able to have a look at the moths. And bagged, for the first time a Light Emerald and a male Ghost. Both beautiful. Though the photographs were crap.








Thursday, June 18, 2020

Greedy

I am feeling greedy tonight. Two moth traps on the go, my Heath (thanks Rachael) and a top of the range and borrowed Robinson (thanks Rachael).



And, while all this is going on Bert and Les are playing Gypsy Jazz on clarinet and guitar because somebody has to and I am listening to Rory Gallagher on YouTube because somebody has to.

Earlier today one of Bert's friends came round to check out the state of the wood because there is an issue. Roger is also very interested in lepidopterology. He had a look at the moth traps as he is considering investing. I brought out the Heath that hasn't been used in several days and to my dismay discovered an overlooked Poplar Hawkmoth that must have been there since I last used it. I was confounded as to how a Poplar Hawkmoth could be overlooked but there it was.


Many hours later and there it still is. Sitting on a Buxus completely ignored by the spotted flycatcher family that are nesting (on their second brood) only yards from it. Lucky hawkmoth. I learned today that they don't feed as adults which is why it survived the overlooking. I must be more careful in future.

Hungry for bugs

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

In The Midst Of Pandemic, A Lovely Day

I took so many photographs and videos today that I hardly know where to begin. Actually, I do. As every day begins with moths then so shall this post.


A Buff-tip, one of a pair I found in the trap this morning. They look like little pieces of broken birch twig. Wild strawberry plants are not the normal habitat but then, neither are light traps. I hope that this one and its companion fly off tonight and make babies together.

It is Tuesday and that is the day Zoe comes to work on her allotment, a government-sanctioned form of exercise. Dave heads to the wood to continue the building of a sweat lodge and the girls take possession of the shepherd's hut. Social distancing is maintained at all times. I gave them my camera and they took pictures of some improvements they made to the decor.


I don't know which is the worst thing in this picture, that Evie is perhaps a tad too close to her granda, or that her granda is smoking a fag. It's all about perspective. Evie is easily 2 metres away and well away from his noxious smoke.


Inside the hut. Martha must have set the camera on timer.



Martha thought this little cabinet would look better with some small books. She was right.



Martha relaxing. Photo by Evie.


I have been advised to get a yellow ukelele to hang on the wall. This one is the photographer's own.

The next item on the agenda was the restoration of the swing. Evie supervises from the treehouse.


A very tall ladder had to be erected. If Martha seems closer than two metres to Ben that is a trick of perspective. Our home is practically a park. Sorry to boast but we're more than happy to share in return for your labour.



Up with the ladder!


And heave!




Evie was the first to scale the 30-foot ladder to check safety features


Martha was slightly more cautious.


Hannah didn't make it to the top.


Ziggy never took his eyes off her.

The swing happened. The ladder was dismantled. Dave (Knot Expert) advised on knots, the swing was tried. Apparently, it is amazing. Sadly there were no photographs as everyone was too busy advising, knotting and swinging and the Chief Photographer was in the kitchen finishing off and packing up supper for removal to Ballymena.

I am so looking forward to having them all around the table again. Back to normality.

The day ended as it began, with moths and the borrowed and very excellent Robinson trap removed to the polytunnels beside which there are willowherb, sallow and dog daisies. We are hoping for elephant hawk-moths.






Saturday, June 13, 2020

How's Bert?

Bert and Jess

How's Bert, asks Mr B who I hadn't been speaking to in ages. It was an online conversation and while it was going on, Mr C chimes in on a separate convo. Earlier in the day, I'd commented on a picture he'd posted of a butterfly on a bush. I was trying to be smart and wrote,

Very nice, Vanessa atalanta on Buddleja globosa.

I do like showing off my binary nomenclature.

Then Mr C reminded me that I'd given him the buddleja. It was grown from a cutting taken from my mother's garden. Matty's buddleja came from a cutting taken from my garden when we lived in a previous house and that bush was grown from a cutting taken from Clint's father's house in Tullygarley over thirty years ago. It sure got around.

While all this was going on I spotted the Bert photograph on the Mr C's timeline. I think it answers Mr B's question.


Monday, June 08, 2020

The Hut




It was one of my dearest wishes to live in a house with roses around the door. That dream was realised but it turns out that Nellybert are not too great about looking after those roses.  This year they are quite the overgrown tangle. And will stay that way until the flycatchers are done.

A few days ago we saw a pair of Spotted Flycatchers catching insects for their young. They have returned to us, nesting in the same spot as three years ago and there are at least two chicks in their trellis nest behind the roses.

So we got this shepherd’s hut and placed it where Bert’s greenhouse stood. It needs repainting but is otherwise in great nick. There’s a little wood-burning stove in it which heats the whole hut quickly and uses not more than a handful of wood to do so.


The hut is in a good spot for birdwatching. In a short period of time this morning, I saw wood pigeons, a thrush and blackbirds flying to and fro their nests. And, of course, the aforementioned flycatchers. I also intend to use this space for peaceful, uninterrupted reading.

I am really looking forward to seeing Martha and Evie who don't yet know that the shepherd's hut is in place. They are going to be delighted. All dressing-up boxes and craft supplies will be shifted to the new space. 

This evening I lit a fire in the hut, laid myself down on the little bed and finished Dara McAnulty's book, Diary Of A Young Naturalist which I loved.  A good end to the day.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Long Eared Owls

Something happened last night that made me very happy. I went out at dark to check for activity around the moth trap and heard the cries of long-eared owl chicks calling for food. At least two, maybe three. So I fetched a lamp and went out in the direction of the wood. An almost full moon, the company of two dogs and a cat and all I had to do was follow their calls. I turned left into the wood, down what I call 'the track' and they were so near. A flaff of wings, as an adult broke cover and the owlets became silent. I turned on my heel and withdrew. The chicks calls resumed. I couldn't stop smiling. I saw nothing, I heard everything, I knew they were there. It was magical.




My own photograph taken in 2009 when the owls nested in Scots Pines close to the house but as the wood got bigger they withdrew further away. Wise owls.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Fifteen Years


Fifteen years today since my father died. The first two pictures were taken by my sister Tricia, the third by me. He is in his working clothes in all of them as he usually was. I wonder what he'd have thought of today's goings-on. Some things I know. He would have despised the current leaders in the UK and the USA. He would have greatly admired the leaders in Scotland and New Zealand. Daddy was a believer in the advancement of women whilst retaining a smidgen of chauvinism when it came to things like laundry and cooking. Women's work.

I'm glad he went first. He'd have found life without Matty very hard.




Sunday, May 31, 2020

Another Sunday


 I have been getting up ridiculously early these past few mornings to deal with my light trap. On the advice of MothsIreland I'm rising at sparrow's first fart to male sure that the birdies aren't eating my moths for breakfast. Sparrow's first fart is earlier than 4am.

After turning out the light, and safeguarding the trap by stuffing a tea towel into the opening I return to my cosy bed. The first picture is a Beautiful Golden Y which is only distinguishable from a Plain Golden Y by extra goldiness and glitteriness. I had it verified on the aforementioned MothsIreland group on Facebook.

These are two moths found in the trap this morning. I have yet to name them but know that they are male and female. I placed them in an identification pot and put them in the fridge to show Bert but they had separated out before he got up and were released into the wild whereupon they went their different ways. Guess it was just a one night stand.

I realised that I'm becoming obsessed with moths when Norfolk daughter posted some photographs from a woodland walk she took with her children, my actual grandchildren, and I found myself enthusing about her picture of the cinnabar moth on a bracken frond before I liked and commented on my actual adorable grandchildren.


A kerfuffle in the sunroom. This one, a juvenile jackdaw, flew into the room and couldn't find a way out. Is very handsome. Only seconds after this picture, the bird was off and away.


Bert and I spent the afternoon dismantling the greenhouse. It has been in that spot for slightly over forty years but it is time for a move. The place where it stands is earmarked for something new.

Two skinny blokes in faded jeans. 

We were glad when H turned up. After the glass was removed and stashed safely Bert and H and Hannah and Nelly took a corner each and moved the frame to its new spot. 


Moth trap out for the night. I'll miss the greenhouse for checking the catch but...

Watch This Space!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Is Sobriety Next?


If this lockdown was happening in the drear, cold months I don't know if I could bear it. If I didn't have Bert, the dogs and my moth trap I don't know if I could bear it. Today is Bert's birthday. I made him this cake.


Perfect ginger cake





Felicity's perfect ginger cake
 Felicity's perfect ginger cake. Photograph: Felicity Cloake

100g butter, plus extra to grease
100g dark muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour
4 tsp ground ginger
175g golden syrup
3 tbsp ginger wine
2 free-range eggs, beaten
Walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
150g candied ginger, finely chopped
75g icing sugar
1 piece of stem ginger, to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 23cm loaf tin. Cream together the butter and sugar with a pinch of salt until fluffy. Sift together the flour and ground ginger.
2. Pour in the golden syrup (the easiest way to handle the syrup is with a lightly greased spoon and a silicone spatula) and 1 tbsp wine and mix to combine.
3. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, then gradually mix in the flour. Finally, stir through the fresh and candied ginger and spoon into the prepared tin. Level the top and bake for about 50–60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
4. Allow to cool in the tin. When it's completely cool, make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and remaining ginger wine and drizzle over the top of the cake. Slice the stem ginger thinly and arrange down the centre of the cake.

This is, without doubt, the most delicious ginger cake I've ever made. Tonight's was the third attempt and there were adaptations, as there must be, during the lockdown. I used dried ginger, and fresh ginger but did not have candied ginger. Instead, I used ginger in syrup from Sainsburys. Hannah, who shops for us in these trying times, does not bake and does not 'get' baking ingredients and this ginger in syrup was a substitution but it is delicious, much nicer than candied. The recipe also calls for ginger wine, I substituted cider which fizzed the batter a little but it worked.
There was cake on Tuesday too as we always celebrate birthdays on the day the girls come out. This year photographs were outside and socially distanced. You can tell by the expression on Martha and Evie's faces that they weren't entirely happy with that.


This cake was coconut and lemon. Check the candles if you want to know how old Bert is. The blog title (an anagram) also tells that tale.

Another delightful distraction is mothing. Rachael is my mentor in this and when I mentioned that I had found a Green Silver-lines in my trap a few mornings ago I was not prepared for her reaction. Apparently, it is quite the find. 

There is nothing so fine as coming across a beautiful moth in the early morning. Quite sets one up for the day. And swanking about it on all the moth and butterfly groups on Facebook and Twitter feels so much better than angsting about the donkeys* that lead us. 

*Apologies to actual donkeys.