Thursday, April 15, 2021

On Reading

 I would love a day out in Belfast. I'd get off the train at Botanic and head towards the Ulster Museum where I'd spend an hour or so. Then I'd visit the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine where I'd take lots of photographs. After that (lunch would be fitted in somewhere) I'd stroll down towards the station calling into all the charity shops, vintage stores and second-hand bookshops where I'd buy at least three books. Not too many as books are heavy and there would be one in my bag already that I'd read on the train journey. And on the way home I'd probably be the only person in the carriage reading as everyone else, even my fellow oldsters, will be stuck in laptops and smartphones. When I was at university some years ago, long before the ubiquity of mobile devices, every solitary traveller would be reading, even if it was only a magazine. I used to try and catch glimpses of other people's books and judge them. Of course I did. 

The majority of the books on my shelves are second hand, some were even bought in the old Smithfield Market more than half a century ago. That is where I sourced most of my Steinbeck novels. Many of those paperbacks were ancient when I bought them and are crumbling to dust now. I cannot bear to part with them unless I can replace them with another copy in better condition. A few I bought new in Palmer's Newsagents in Antrim. I also bought a few books of poetry there from The Penguin Modern Poetry range. All those poets are dead of old age* now but they were pretty modern then. Can you imagine being able to go into an ordinary newsagent nowadays to buy American classic literature and volumes of poetry?

Since lockdown, I've been buying my second-hand books online and it's like this. Ganching or Mikey or somebody else will blog or tweet about a book and I'll think to myself, Barbara Pym? I've never read her. And minutes later I've ordered a Pym from eBay.  

There was a copy of Star of the Sea on the shelves for years which I'd never got round to reading. Then I heard an excerpt from it on Radio 4 Book of the Week. I decided I needed to read it but it had disappeared. I must have given it away. On to eBay and bought it again. Bert read it before I got round to it and we both enjoyed it. He'd already tackled Redemption Falls but said Star of the Sea was far better. 

Motherwell replaced the O'Connor in the reading basket. I'm already well into it will probably finish it by the end of the week. 


I'm only a few pages into The Devil's Chimney which Bert has just finished. He liked it but said he is not sure what was going on. Hopefully, I'll be able to explain it to him when I'm done with it. The Devil's Chimney was a Botanic Avenue buy. The Muriel Spark came from god-knows-where. I'd not read Spark since my early twenties and only remember The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means (which I must re-read). There was something about a shared Schiaparelli dress that was (I think) emerald green.  Perhaps it wasn't. Anyway - A Far Cry From Kensington was very enjoyable and I'm off now to my favourite bookseller on eBay for another Spark.

*Lawrence Ferlinghetti died only as recently as January 2021.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Solace and Sorrow

Is there anyone who hasn't turned to the natural world for comfort during this awful pandemic? Even though the frigging virus is also a part of that same natural world. 

I was feeling really flat yesterday and forced myself to go do some polytunnel pottering to cheer myself up when I heard the pheasant squawk. 

Must go fetch the camera and see if I can capture it. Will be a change from my millions of pictures of finches and collared doves. But when I got back the pheasant had turned into...


...a hare! The first one I've ever spotted around here. I took a few quick shots then fetched Bert. He just managed to see it before it disappeared into the wood. He said it has been decades since there have been hares in these fields. 

It really cheered me up to have seen it and I spent a contented half-hour sowing nasturtiums and beans. 

No more sightings or squawks from the pheasant so I decided to take a dander towards the wood, camera at the ready. No pheasants here, just a quick glimpse of a red fox disappearing into the trees. No photograph to prove I saw it. No time. Now I was even more delighted. Until I considered that, although Fox is a beautiful animal, it will be hungry and pheasants and hares may need to take care.  

It is only a small sorrow that the fox might eat the foolish pheasant. It would be a rare thing if it killed an adult hare but foxes will kill and eat entire leveret populations. 

Bert and I were discussing this when he remarked,

Y'know, I haven't seen any buzzards around for a while. I wonder if some sheep farmer is poisoning them?

Last week we'd found a dead buzzard at the edge of the wood which Bert thought might have been poisoned.

My mood plunged. What if someone was systematically poisoning the buzzards? I felt hatred towards that someone. And couldn't stop dwelling on it. The country is full of sheep at the moment and some sheep farmers believe that buzzards kill newborn lambs. They don't, although are known to feed on dead or stillborn lambs. 

So there we are. Nature isn't all primroses and songbirds. It's horror and death and bastard farmers flailing hedges, cutting down trees and poisoning birds of prey.


 

I did eventually see that stupid pheasant. But not today. When I told Hannah about the fox she said,

Oh good! There will soon be some interesting bones in the wood.

I called her a ghoul.


Hannah's shrine of bones
 


The buzzard's feet


Red dot: dead buzzard
White dot: Hannah's bone shrine
Blue dot: Where the hare sat
Orange dot: The fox

 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Niggles and Twinges

One of my sisters was of the opinion that our late mother, famously hypochondriac, experienced most of her mental angst through her body. I fear this is becoming true for me too. For instance, I have had a recurring pain, more of a niggle really, on the left side of my head. This will be a brain tumour. A twinge in my left nipple, this must be cancer. Only this afternoon I found myself very weary and went for a lie-down. I had an ache in my upper left arm. I felt my pulse and it was racing which must be a sign of a heart attack. I counted the beats of my heart in 60 seconds. Seventy bpm. Googled this and found it to be normal.

All this hypochomdria distresses me. It's not the fear of a terminal illness but the dampening of pleasure in everyday living.  And I know what is causing it. Too much time on my hands and stress about Covid, lockdown and the return of unrest (riots) to our towns and cities. I almost miss Trump as the focus of my anxieties. This is all getting a bit too close to home.

Well, perhaps they'll cool their heels tonight. Out of respect for their Queen's bereavement.

In the meantime, I have birds to watch.


And these two to cheer me up.










Saturday, April 03, 2021

Planting

 On Tuesday morning Bert asked me if I'd like to go with him on a plant delivery to Broughshane. I thought about it for a moment or two then said I would. The chance of an outing is rare enough these days. For those who aren't familiar with this corner of North Antrim, Broughshane is a village famous for its floral displays. I was told by a former resident that those who don't keep their garden nice are not well-accepted in the community. Which may, or may not be true. 

Bert was bringing James McNeill a good selection of climbers, camellias, an acer and a magnolia stellata in bloom. I remarked to him as we were bringing them in that they'd not sit long. While we were in there I spotted some gorgeous lithodora 'Heavenly Blue' and thought I'd quite like three of them for planting in a big pot. Yet for some reason, didn't buy them.

That afternoon we got a call from Broughshane. Plants all sold can we have the same again? So next day we were back and I was intent on my lithodora. I was disappointed to see the plant stands almost empty and no Heavenly Blue. I enquired and was told another delivery was due. 

Next day was Thursday and we were having Martha and Evie all day. I picked them up in the morning and drove straight to Broughshane. Still no lithodora. We bought lots of sweets, the ingredients for an Ulster Fry and a new kettle. I reserved three lithodora 'Heavenly Blues'. When we got home Bert said McNeills were calling. They needed another delivery.

So, on Friday I made the fourth trip of the week to Broughshane. No lithodoras. As we were leaving I was accosted by a woman wanting all the gen on the magnolia. I told her as much as I knew. I believe she thought I worked there and I was beginning to feel that way myself. On the way home I decided that if I'd missed out on the lithodora I was going to have Bert's last magnolia stellata. And so it was. 


All my own work. I did all the weeding, digging over and planting myself and went to bed last night tired and happy.




I still haven't given up on the lithodora. This is one I had a few years back. It didn't survive.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Accident

 


Workers were installing fibre-optic cable on the other side of the orchard hedge today and Bert went over for a chat with them. Judy, Jess and Ziggy did not get to meet these fellows as they were working beside the road and that is a dangerous place for dogs. In fact, Bert was just saying this to the cable-layers,


It’s a bloody awful road to be working on, is it not?


Then. Crash. Bang.


The fellow looked over at the two vehicles which had just collided. He replied,


Aye. It is.


Both cars were badly damaged but no one seemed to be hurt. The drivers were a young mum on the school run and a care worker out on her rounds.


A few people had stopped to help and there was a lot of phoning going on. Then someone’s dad arrived and it turned out that Bert knew him. They decided that it would be better if the damaged cars were off the road.


And that is how they all ended up in our yard. The two wrecked vehicles, the younger woman’s father, husband, the children’s grandmother and a chap who managed to get the care worker’s car out of the ditch and into the yard. Then there was the care worker’s boss, two of her co-workers and the police.


It was very exciting for the dogs who didn’t know who to make friends with first. The biggest group of folk that they'd seen in over a year. Their new friends were a mixed bunch, from little girls, one with a wobbly tooth, and even a couple of police officers.


So here we are with two bashed up vehicles sitting outside. Luckily it’s a big yard. We’re only glad that it was cars that got wrecked and not people. That wouldn’t make for much of a light-hearted blog post.


Drive safe, folks. You never know the minute...



Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Return to Refined Tastes

 


Bert has yet to let the notion of his ‘refined tastes’ lie.


This is a man who refuses to take cold milk on his Weetabix and doesn’t like peppers unless they come from the Polish shop and are marinaded in oil and spices. He’ll only take tiny helpings of pasta and adores pickled fish in jars.


He’ll have mango chutney with all Indian dishes, even when it is not an appropriate accompaniment and adds quantities of soy sauce to any stir fry. When making an Ulster Fry he will often fry a pickled gherkin. He over salts everything.


I’ve said to him (often) that it’s not ‘refined taste’, it’s impaired taste from years of smoking. Of course, he disagrees.



An example of his refinement.


The other day we had a proper lunch so decided on tuna and onion sandwiches for supper. I made the filling, tuna, finely chopped onion, tomato and mayo. I split a soda farl, halved it, buttered it, plonked the filling in my half and went off to eat it. The Refined One was left to assemble his own. It was a work of art. An open sandwich, garnished with spring onion, and served with black olives and a sliced pickle.


He mocked my sandwich. Said it was like something you’d take to the bog for a day castling turf. I said his food looked like something served up to Oberon, King of the Fairies, the only thing lacking a scattering of borage flowers.


What’s really going on.


Bert’s mother was a terrible cook so from about the time he was twelve he prepared most of his own meals. Because his mother was useless in the kitchen he had no idea of how to make nice food and relied heavily on shop-bought sauces and seasonings. He got a taste for them.


Of course, since then, he became quite a capable cook, despite his propensity for adding unusual ingredients to food. He is completely banned from interfering with my cooking. I don’t care what he adds when it is on his own plate but not while it’s still in the pan.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Thirtieth Day

 My thirty alcohol-free days are up today. There are two bottles of wine in the cupboard and I may open one on Friday evening. After all, there is little point in completing the experiment and then starting to drink on a weeknight. 

I'm feeling so dull these days. Lockdowns are tough-going. I miss charity shops and friends coming round and taking the train to Belfast. Most of all I miss my grandchildren in Norfolk. It has been 19 long months since I've seen them and they are getting so grown-up. My Katy sent these pictures and I just gazed and gazed at them.



One good thing about all this extra time at home is the opportunity to read. I managed to complete three books from my reading basket these past few days.


I've been a long time labouring at Sybille Bedford and often lost track of who was who and where. A family tree would have been useful. A Legacy was replaced by the Authenticity Project, a mother's day gift from Hannah.


Next book completed was The Ghost Road, the third in the Regeneration trilogy. All were excellent. As shown, I replaced it with another Pat Barker which I'm looking forward to starting.


Just think! So many books being published right now and I'll be eighty-something before I get around to reading them if Barker and Ishiguro are anything to go by. Never Let Me Go was an odd read but I liked it enough to make plans to read his most recent publication before I'm even seventy. I replaced the Ishiguro with the Hilary Mantel. Bert read that recently and recommended it. Hopefully, it will warm me up for the Cromwell trilogy.