Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sometimes Google Is Just No Help

This morning I went for a walk in the Glens with Nez and Fly. Nez knows the name of all of the hills and has tramped over the most of them. Fly likes to run the drains and culverts but then he is a water dog. While we were out I found myself remembering all the times I'd spent in the Glens as a child.

Our parents would pile us into the car, Matty would have made sandwiches or maybe a ween of wee currant buns. We'd go to the beach, usually Waterfoot or Cushendall, and sometimes Daddy would park up on the way down and we'd run down to one of the streams that ran through the Glens and play in the water and jump from stone to stone and eat our picnic there. Sometimes I thought I liked the river better than the beach.

During my childhood there was a landslide in one of the Glens that made headline news on local television. Those were the days when events in Northern Ireland didn't regularly make the national or international news and this event was very notable. If I remember it correctly some livestock was lost, a cottage was swept away and a farmer had a narrow escape. Some time afterwards Daddy drove us down to look at the aftermath. I remember seeing the brown earth and boulders where the grass, plants and trees had been.

But I cannot remember where it was and an hour or more of research on Google has not made me any wiser. It would have been sometime in the 1960s. Anybody out there who might have an idea when and where it happened?

But anyways - my research turned up the BBC archive site and I found this clip of a 1964 Fleadh Cheoil in Clones. There are quite a few well known musicians playing including Luke Kelly and Andy Irvine. They'd only have been in their early twenties then. Luke's long away but Bert went to see Andy Irvine in Ballymoney last week. It's worth a look if you like that sort of thing.

Monday, January 30, 2012


A while back Hannah's boyfriend Raymond bought a raffle ticket for a children's charity and won a chef! Well what he actually won was a three course meal for two prepared by a chef in the winner's own home. They are a cunning pair young Raymondo and the Banana and I guess they knew they'd have to give their kitchen a serious cleaning so they wangled it that Willy (the chef) would prepare a three course meal for four in Nellybert's kitchen. So on Saturday past Bert gave the kitchen a wide berth while I cleaned and decluttered. I reckoned chefs need plenty of room and if they don't get it they'd be all shouty.

Anyway the time came, the kitchen was fairly presentable and the chef rocked up with a box of ingredients and knives and things. The knives looked pretty sharp and I was glad I'd made the surfaces shiny and empty for him. I don't know why I worried myself. He was pretty easy-going and not a bit shouty. After a wee test run of the cooker he got started on the meal and didn't even seem to mind that the cats kept going to sleep in his box of knives and things.

Bert naps between courses.

What can I say? The meal was delicious and enjoyable. Maybe the best bit, apart from the monkfish in orange sauce, was watching how he worked. The more he cooked the cleaner the kitchen got. And he only used a tiny part of the kitchen surfaces. If I'd been preparing a three course meal the kitchen would be like a battlefield. I decided that I'd have to make more of an effort in future to clean as I go.

Fred eats monkfish tail

Afterwards I told Bert this and he said,

Haven't I been saying that to you for years?


Haven't you ever watched me cook? I clean as I go. I don't use every saucepan in the house. I don't leave a big mess behind me.

Bert you can't even make a cup of coffee without spilling milk and/or water on the surfaces and the floor and you always leave the cupboard doors open. When you baked that cake the other evening the minute you had it in the oven you walked off for a smoke telling me to keep an eye on it and leaving me to put away the mixer and wash all the dishes.

Not true!


I cooked a two course meal for Zoe and the family this evening. I attempted to recreate Willy's bed of curly kale cooked with smoked bacon and was determined to better his apple crumble. The curly kale recipe still needs work but I succeeded with a pear crumble made with fresh ginger. Bert made yummy gravy (we had a pork shank) to which he added Willy's secret ingredient and then he made yummy custard.

And what of the clean as you go? I didn't do too badly at all and the clearing up after we'd eaten was minimal. It included wiping up the cornflour Bert spilled down the front of the cooker while the dogs cleaned up the custard he spilled on the floor.

To be fair though he's the boy who cleans out the chicken house, the pig sty and the cattle shed. What's a bit of cornflour compared to that?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saving Teddy From The Flames

Are you sentimentally attached to this old bear or shall I throw him out?

Ach! Throw him out.

Are you sure? Would you like me to open the fire door right now and burn him in front of you?

Bert goes silent. Then answers,

No I wouldn't like that.

Teddy must be at least 50 years old. He is a bit disgusting and his stuffing (whatever that is) appears to have atrophied inside his body. He's as flat as a pancake and not a pretty sight.

Hannah and I decide to perform emergency surgery.

The stuffing is pretty horrible. Bert thought it was sawdust but it seems to be some sort of foam rubber and it has undergone a chemical change. By rights this bear should be blazing in the fire.

Yucky stuff. It sticks on our fingers. We decide that no child must ever come in contact with this hazardous bear or, at least, not until they've had all their injections.

We stuff him with old cut up purple tights. It takes four pairs! And Teddy is still still pretty flat.

But at least Bert is pleased.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Well Hello!

Some things I like very much about this new template and they are...

  • I have followers! Who knew?
  • It is really easy to add people to my links list. This is something that I have neglected for a long time because it was such a tedious task.
  • I now go to my blog to check up on who is updating and it is a much pleasanter place to do so than dull old Google Reader.
All good - so far.

Early To Bed, Early To Rise

As 2011 wore on I found myself getting into the unfortunate habit of sleeping far too late. This was not good. One sluggard (Bert) in our family is more than enough. Setting the alarm for a sensible time did not work for me. Unless I really had to get up I rolled over for another snooze. My getting up time was creeping towards ten o'clock and sometimes after ten! So I devised this cunning plan. I would set my alarm for 8:30am. If, the next morning, I obeyed its call, on the next night I would set it one minute earlier and if I had been slugabed it would stay at the previous night's setting. Today I got up at 7:59am. If all continues to go well I will be jumping out of bed at seven o'clock by the 24th March which which just happens to be one day before British Summer Time when the clock goes forward one hour.

So what will happen then? I'll have to let you know. But my ultimate plan is to be getting up at six o'clock. And then I shall be healthy, wealthy and wise.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

At Last

The title of this post is in no way inspired by the demise of the late, great Etta James.

Rather it introduces a long overdue new lay out for the Garden. Hope y'all don't hate it too much.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I have just received some very sad news. Scruff, my sister's dog, died today in a freak accident.

Scruff was one of those wonderful dogs that everybody admired. He stayed with Nellybert on several occasions and every time he walked into our house he immediately assumed the status of pack leader. Did I say 'walk'? That should have been 'strut'.

It was only a couple of days ago that Bert remarked, "I don't suppose Scruff will ever stay with us again?" and I agreed that he probably wouldn't as he was getting old. He was thirteen. He might have had a few more years but they wouldn't have been his best. And he died doing something he loved - out walking the hills and valleys with his beloved Brendan. He'll be missed.

From Nelly's Garden October 2008 when Rosie died.

Loving dogs is bloody hard sometimes. Which is why the French call them bêtes de chagrin - beasts of sorrow. For they break our hearts - they die too soon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


A long time ago I had a friend whose home was in total disarray. Phyll was a single woman with four children and, at that time, her youngest was only a baby. Her house was always extremely untidy and cluttered and that made it very hard to clean up. Most days she did her best. Four children made for a lot of laundry and that alone took up most of her day. Like myself she could not afford an automatic washing machine or dryer so she depended on an old fashioned twin tub and washing lines and dryers. So - what with the laundry and the cooking and looking after the baby she had little time for anything else.

My sister and I persuaded Phyll to take a holiday. We thought it would do her good. It was early summer and she and the baby went to stay with another friend in the west of Ireland. While she was away I was to look after the her children.

As usual my friend left her house in a big mess – filthy kitchen, mountains of laundry, untidy bedrooms and dirty floors. I had plenty of free time during the day while all the children were at school so decided to tackle her washing pile. The weather was fine and perfect for outside drying. I started carrying loads of washing over to my house . It was easy enough to run them through my twin tub but soon I ran out of washing line space. My next door neighbour noticed how much laundry I was doing and jokingly enquired if I was taking it in. I told her that was exactly what I was doing. She kindly offered me the use of her line and when Jean, my other neighbour, saw me hanging laundry on Dorothy's line she offered me the use of her line as well.. By this time the kids were home from school and we had quite an assembly line going. They'd haul the laundry to me in baskets – I’d wash it and peg it out on my three lines and we'd all help to fold the stuff when it dried.

When that was done we became enthused and decided to clean the entire house. For the next couple of days we cleaned, decluttered and polished. Everyone helped, even the youngest boy who was only about five or six. I even fixed the broken down refrigerator. All that it needed was a new fuse.

Beds were changed, everything was polished and on the day that Phyll was due to return I’d lit a fire and filled the living room with flowers from my garden. She was to be back late so the children were spending a last night with me. Phyll had enjoyed the break. And instead of going over to her shining house (I hadn't told her) she sat chatting and drinking cup after cup of tea. I was enjoying our chat but itching for her to see her house and hoping that the fire wasn't out. At last she decided to go home and I walked over with her. Her delight when she saw what we'd done was wonderful. She couldn't believe it! She literally jumped for joy!

I sometimes recall the joy I felt at Phyll's pleasure. Soon afterwards, she fell out with me and, despite our eventually making up, our friendship was never the same again. But even that doesn't dim my happy memory. nor does it spoil it when I remember that within days Phyll's house was well on the way back to its usual disorderly state.

With the help of her children and some friends we cleaned her house. She was more than pleased, it gave me a lot of happiness. That's enough.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Her Last Drink

My current obsession is hoarding behaviour, the American TV series Hoarders and tossing my own hoard. It's rather wonderful. I watch a little bit of Hoarders and I am inspired to throw out some object I've clung on to for far too long. I don't want to end up like those poor American folks, although I can see I'm going to have to be careful about the animal hoarding. Four dogs, two cats and two pigs - that is Nellybert at the limit.

A friend of mine is helping an elderly relative declutter her house. During the process a cardboard box of assorted glassware was unearthed. The elderly relative said,

Dinnae throw those out! There's a special glass amongst those. It's the glass that Davy's mother took her last drink out of.

Davy's mother was this old girl's mother-in-law and Davy was her husband dead himself this forty years or more.

I told this to Bert.

Imagine! Clinging on to an oul glass because your mother-in-law took her last drink out of it!

I wonder what her last drink was?

Some class of poison? That might explain the sentimental attachment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

There Would Always Be String

Some odds and ends of Mum's needed a final sort out. These were photographs that had been removed from her picture frames, a few newspaper cuttings and a lot of greetings cards. They were stashed in the room that I'm intending to turn into a workroom and it needs dealt with for it is very cluttered.

Throwing Mum's stuff away is not easy to do. I found the assorted greeting cards the hardest to dispose of for she had kept so many of them, some even dating from more than thirty years ago. My parents had seven children, eight grandchildren and lots of friends so they got a lot of cards. As I hesitated over this one or that one I had to keep reminding myself that a bunch of cards are not a measure of how much Seamus and Matty were loved. I did keep a few – mostly because they were particularly pretty and some because they contained messages that would have meant a lot to my parents.

I am going to have to watch for that sentimental hoarding streak for I don't want to leave my children the chore of going through the amount of crap that Pearlie had packed away. Mum kept stuff, maybe a little too much stuff, but it did not impede her life.

Recently Bert and I watched a terribly sad documentary* about a man, Richard Wallace, who had accumulated so much clutter in his home and garden that he only had a crawl space in his home to get around. His cooking area consisted of a gas ring piled on each side with stacks of newspapers and magazines. His only bit of comfort in that junk-packed house was a chair in front of a tiny television set. He slept in that chair. That poor man was in despair with his life, which he called 'an existence', but his urge to hoard was too strong for him to resist.

All Pearlie's sisters have or have had hoarding tendencies. Bert's Aunt Nessie lived a lot like poor Richard Wallace. I wrote about her a few years ago while she was still alive.

Bert's Aunt Nessie keeps, among other things, every loaf wrapping she's ever had - in case they should come in useful. Now if I were to list all the things that Nessie hoards I'd be here all day. Enough to say that there is just one narrow path through her house that is filled to the rafters with stuff. It is a blessing unto God that she never goes out to get more stuff and a further blessing that she only spends about three and sixpence a week so the amount of stuff trickling into her house these days is very minimal.

Nessie was definitely the worst afflicted with the hoarding compulsion. The other three sisters crammed their homes with knick knacks, linens and so on but Nessie gathered up stuff that was actually rubbish. I never visited Nessie's home as for obvious reasons she did not welcome visitors. If people did call she came out and spoke to them in the front yard.

Compulsive hoarding severely affected Nessie's quality of life and I believe that her persistent health problems were exacerbated by it. Living like she did made it impossible to maintain the house and her roof was in poor repair and none of her windows or doors were fit for purpose. This made the house cold and damp. Her house was condemned by the local housing authority and they were prepared to knock it down and rebuild but she refused this offer outright. In many ways Nessie was her own worst enemy.

These days Bert has only the one aunt left and she is over eighty now and not as able as she used to be. She has two younger friends who are trying right now to declutter her home so that she can get around more easily. Sadly she is not enjoying this process and is resistant to everything that they are trying to achieve.

I will say this about Bert's mum – she might have hoarded a great quantity of stuff that was not always as useful or as pretty as she thought it was but she was a great curator of The Museum of Pearlie. She pretty much knew where most things were and she labelled everything. When I was packing up her previous abode I found a box neatly packed and labelled 'Rubbish'.

In Pearlie's day she hoarded margarine tubs by the score. I don't know what she ever intended to use them for. She kept plastic bags, rubber bands and great quantities of string. She never threw out a button, a used stamp, a letter or a piece of yarn. Occasionally Bert will be looking for string and there will be none and he'll say, “In Pearlie's day there would always be string!”

So I suppose there are good and bad aspects to holding on to things. The thing is to be organised and always know where they are. Many is the time that I have had to buy something I knew I already had (somewhere) because the task of looking for it was too arduous. Hopefully this will change in 2012 – the year of living simply and cutting the crap.

By the way Pearlie is still hoarding in a small way. She is collecting obituaries from the local papers and the caps from her Fortisip containers. The obituaries I understand, the bottle tops not so much - except that they are a beautiful shade of lilac. Old habits are very hard to break.

*Channel 4's Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder

The documentary focused on Richard Wallace, whose 30-year hoarding habit has prevented him from having a bath and a single night's sleep in his bed for years. "It's getting a bit silly now," he admits, and yet he appears to be unable to stop the compulsion to hoard.

Friday, January 06, 2012

What A Stupid Thing To Do

A dog? Did you really rescue a dog? What a stupid thing to do.

So said Margaret Thatcher to Matthew Parris when she presented him with an RSPCA medal for rescuing a dog from the River Thames.

She was a hard-nose that Mrs Thatcher and it doesn't surprise that she'd take an unsentimental line towards our four-legged friends.

Still I can't help thinking that she might have been right. Risking one's life by jumping into a stinking river to rescue a dog does seem pretty foolhardy. I wouldn't do it but then I can't swim. Another thing I find myself wondering about – very often when there is a big flood or a freeze we hear about a pet owner risking their life, jumping into water, to rescue a dog. Sometimes the would be rescuer gets into serious trouble, sometimes even perishing, but when they do survive and are written about in the papers, or interviewed for television news no one ever mentions the dog. I expect it's just far too sad.

I just can't thank the Rescue Services enough. God knows what would have happened if they hadn't risked their lives to save me.

And I'm wondering, 'What about little Scruffy? Did poor little Scruffy not make it to the river bank?

Back to old flint-hearted Maggie and her cruel words,

A dog? Did you really rescue a dog? What a stupid thing to do.

These words have been ringing in my ears for days. I think of them when I clean up pees and poos. I think of them when I look at the pawmarks on my chairs. I think of them when I look at all the mud trekked in over my freshly-mopped floors. I think of them when I buy disinfectant in 5 gallon jars and I think of them when I have to supervise the pack at eating time because they all steal each other's food and it's devil take the hindmost. I may not have jumped into a dirty river to get Charlie but I bet Matthew Parris didn't keep his rescued dog.

Anyway - this post was supposed to be an update about Charlie, the border collie I rescued back in October. He's a weird little dog with some rather unsavoury habits. Among other things he pees in the other dogs' food bowls. But I adore him. It was rather stupid rescuing him when I already had three dogs but it's done now. I get pleasure every day from his company. He was thoroughly unsocialised when he first came but underneath it all he's a great wee dog and every week he makes progress of some sort. But that's it! There can be no more dog rescuing for me.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The 2011 Boxing Day Disaster

It has taken me a while to be able to share this story. I must warn you in advance that it is a very sad story and that you will probably cry. This is the story of Nelly's Boxing Day Dinner Disaster.

My day began at 6am Why so early? I wanted to get a handle on my day and a start made on my enormous 22 pound Black Norfolk Turkey, a gift from Clint.

By 10:30am the turkey was thoroughly cooked, in fact it was a tad over-cooked. I was a little dismayed but Bert said, never to worry, sliced in gravy, nobody would notice a thing. Still I was embarrassed to see it sitting there all black skin and singed legs so I got Bert to slice it up and I tucked it away out of sight.

All was under control – desserts ready, most vegetables prepped, a nice pork roast sizzling away in the slow cooker. I just had some stuffing to prepare. At 2pm the pork was succulent and only needed a quick blast in the oven to make the crackling. This was a method I was quite confident about as I'd cooked pork in the slow cooker at least a dozen times.

I put the oven on to high and left it for thirty minutes. To tell the truth I got involved with other tasks. Suddenly I remembered I needed to put the pork in for a blast of heat so transferred it to a roasting tin. Over to the oven, door open....

Oh dear God! There were my turkey slices, burned, dried out, totally fucked. I was so distraught I dropped the pork whereupon it fell on the floor and disintegrated. See! I said you would cry. I certainly did.

What Happened Next?

I saw Bert coming across the yard carrying a bucket of logs. I ran to the door. I sobbed,

Bert! Come in! Something terrible has happened!

He took one look at my anguished face, dropped the logs and ran in. I believe he thought I had discovered his mother lying dead. Little did he know it was far worse than that.

Then What Happened?

I had hysterics.

Then What Happened?

I stopped crying and went to collect Hannah and her friends. On the way in I started howling again thinking of that noble turkey who had lived and died in vain. I gathered up my guests who. I believe, were rather apprehensive about their evening's entertainment.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

Zoe and family arrived and measures were discussed as to how dinner could be salvaged. With the help of my lovely guests we saved the day. There was enough meat underneath the burned turkey and above the splattered pork to feed us all. Second helpings were in short supply but thankfully there were lots of desserts.

Last Year's Boxing Day Dinner

I seem to remember that there was also some sort of disaster at the 2010 Boxing Day dinner. I don't recall what it was about but it culminated in me running out and sobbing in the polytunnel and when I allowed myself to be persuaded back into the house the guests had eaten all the food. Ah well. I dare say it served me right for being such an hysterical bitch.

Next Year's Boxing Day Dinner

If God spares us things will be very different in 2012. There will be no more trying to serve two kinds of potatoes, three kinds of vegetables, stuffing, turkey and other festive meats to a party of a dozen or more, all at the same time and without a warming oven or enough chairs. Next year I'm going to go for a Polish-Irish feast. There will be thirteen dishes, desserts, casseroles, fishy things, pickled cabbage, mixed vegetables, turkey, pork, soup, flans, salads etc. Many of these dishes will have been prepared in advance. There will be a stack of napkins, plates and cutlery. There will be glasses and at least three bottles of vodka. There will be crackers. Because this year I forgot to put the bloody crackers out. Ah well. Next year.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Bert Cullybackey

So if you ever want to start stalking Bert that is all you have to do. Just write his name and the small County Antrim village he hails frae. And to think he doesn't even have an email address, nor a blog, Facebook or Twitter account. Mind you I bought him a laptop for Christmas so who knows where it will all end?