Thursday, April 26, 2012


When someone you love is nearing the end of their life everything else narrows. The wider world dims and becomes unimportant.

This time last year our mother, our beloved Matty, had slipped into coma and we were, as we say in Ireland, awaiting on. What do I remember? I remember that on the roads from my house to her house the verges were smothered in dandelion blooms. I remember how good our friends, neighbours and relations were. I remember the devotion and care of her priest, her doctor, the Marie Curie nurses and her carers. I remember walks in bluebell woods with one sister or another as we sought respite from her dying.

I knew nothing of the devastating tornadoes in the United States nor of the floods in Colombia. I was barely aware of the Arab Spring. The impending wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was an irrelevance. Some months afterwards as I leafed through a magazine featuring their wedding I found myself wondering why I hadn't seen anything of it on television. After all, it must have been saturation coverage. Then I remembered. I was at my mother's funeral on that day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I'm not even sure that I like the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria), although I do like the crossword setter of that name very much indeed, as do most cryptic crossword fans. But Bert's father Johnny Orr liked monkey puzzle trees and he planted one in the lawn at Springhill nearly thirty years ago. The dog pictured is Tweed, I never knew him, he was before my time. Tweed bit a small child on the face, a child who was a near neighbour of Bert's parents and the dog was put down for his sins that very same day. The bite was savage and the boy bears the scar to this day despite having received extensive reconstructive surgery. The first time Bert ever visited me in my home was the evening of the day that this terrible thing occurred. Bert was very sad and near to tears about the day's events. That was the evening that our relationship began.

We move on nearly three decades, Bert and I live at Springhill now and the Araucaria tree is still there, I still don't care for them very much but the history of this house is not about me, it is about everyone who ever lived here. Because Johnny Orr cared about this tree I never want it not to be here. I love it because I loved Johnny. And there are still dogs racing under it. That dog may look like a giant hamster but she is a dog, a blurry dog, an action dog, running in the shadow of the Araucaria that Johnny Orr planted many years ago.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Like A Thatcher

Swisser came round for supper last night and as soon as she arrived on the yard she went off in search of Bert who was working in the big shed. I carried on cooking. About ten minutes later I spotted her coming out of the shed carrying one of my director's chairs and placing it in the boot of her car. Almost immediately Bert came in whereupon I lit on him like a thatcher.

I lit on him/her like a thatcher. This is a phrase I heard my mother use. As I understand it, it means to challenge someone in a very forceful way. It has nothing to do with the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, although I'm sure she lit on plenty of people. I just asked Bert what he thought it meant and he said, to give someone a good eating. That would be eating as in ate the head of him. I've been trying to figure out why, in the days before the Dragon Thatcher, that thatchers, as a trade, should be seen as particularly belligerent or scolding.

But to get back to Bert. Says I to him,

What's Swisser doing with my chair?
Sure we never use them. 
We do so! You've no business to be giving away the things that I buy with my own money without asking me first.  
Sure you didn't even know where they were. 
did so! One was is in the poly tunnel, your man was perched on it yesterday and the one she's lifted was in the shed, folded against the wall behind the seed potatoes.

Swisser comes in so even though I'm still cross I pretend not to be.

We converse generally about this and that. Then she spots the lovely enamel pie dish I bought in TK Maxx a few months ago.

Oh! That's a lovely dish.

Before I could stop myself, I say,

You should tell Bert how much you like it and then he'll probably give it to you.

Oh dear! Awkward situation. Bert tells her I'm mad she got the chair and she immediately offers it back. I demur. She insists. She returns it to the shed. When she comes back I tell her that this is not the first time Bert has done this. A few weeks ago Banjo Man was idly looking at some bits and pieces on my dresser when he noticed a little brass box decorated with shamrocks. He asks Bert about it. Bert says,

That's something belonged to Nelly's mother. Isn't it Nelly?

I say,

Actually I found it among your mother's things.

He immediately offered it to Banjo Man not taking into account that I must have liked it enough to have it on display. I protested and got to keep the little box although it made me feel a bit selfish. But I'd have felt worse if Bert had given it away without taking my feelings into consideration.

I talked to Bert about this today and he informed me that he'd told Swisser to sneak the chair into her car without me seeing and then he said, “She blew it.” So I lit on him like a thatcher.

Pictured above - Bert sitting on my lovely chair quite a few summers back. It still rankles, nay it enrages me, that some light-fingered toad stole that hat he is wearing. Maybe I do get far too attached to material things.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Country Wines

It's a long, long process this wine making. I started in August and, so far, have only bottled the blackcurrant. It will be at least six months before it's ready for drinking. Maybe I'll try a bottle for my birthday. Of course, the wisdom is that you would be better leaving it for a year or more but that depends on the wine. Apparently apple can be drunk while it is relatively young.

I've started 15 gallons already and I now have an assistant (not Bert) who has helped me with the last three batches.

Picture courtesy of Zoe Bowyer, photographer and dandelion picker

These are the wines that are currently in production.

Blackcurrant (bottled)
Rhubarb the first
Rhubarb the second
Blackberry and Raspberry
Birch Sap

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Dilemma

What do you do when an elderly relative, barely fit to look after herself, has an old, sick dog that she won't even take to the vet because she is afraid she'll be advised to have the animal put to sleep?

There were other people, far closer to this relative than I was, and, as far as I know they held their counsel too. But privately I thought, everyone thought, that our relative was being unkind and, perhaps, selfish.

The dog was deaf and blind, his back was humped, he was fed cake because it was soft. His life must have been a misery. His owner's life wasn't much better for he frequently destroyed her sleep with his restlessness and frequent need to pass water.

Well. It all came to a head at last. The poor dog staggered into an open fire and burned his feet and this is the unbelievable part – it happened three nights ago and still she wouldn't get him to a vet. Her cousin intervened today and at last the pathetic creature was put out of his misery.

I know that his owner was not intentionally and deliberately cruel, that she herself is very old and that her dog was a much loved pet and he will be her last dog. I know that she has suffered other terrible losses these past two years which is why she might have clung on to her pet but I still feel I could have done more. I do know that if I had known of this last incident I would have, at the risk of her never speaking to me again, have got that dog to a vet. I still feel I should have, at the very least, spoken plainly to her long ago.

Cultural Olympiad: Maurice Orr

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Hannah 30 Today

It must have been 30 years and one day ago that my mother and I got on the Ballymena town service bus and asked the driver to take us to the Waveney Hospital. I was going in for a planned delivery which would take place on the following day. Of course I didn't tell the driver that, or that I was around ten days overdue. Anyway he took one look at me, drove straight to the bus station, left the other passengers there and got Mum and me on to another bus whereupon he drove us straight to the door of the Waveney Maternity Unit. Nice guy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Evil Wolf

An old Cherokee told his grandson, "My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth." The boy thought about it and asked, "Grandfather, which wolf wins?" The old man quietly replied, "The one you feed."

Found, read and appreciated at Brighid's place.

Something I've noticed is that the Evil Wolf clamours for food in the wee small hours. Far better to get up, make a cup of tea, read something restful than to lie there fretting and feeding one's Evil Wolf pecks of bitter nourishment.

Monday, April 09, 2012

For The Love Of Chickens

Anyone who follows my Flickr photostream will have realised that Nelly's got a brand new printer/photocopier/scanner to play with. Well - I say new but actually it was given to me by Les, who occasionally gets free range eggs from us and a wee bit of ground to grow things on and then, in return, we get blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes (wine) and chillies (yummy) which is much better than going to the shops and buying things.

Last night, while going through a packet of Pearlie's photographs I noticed a theme. Bert's female relatives have always been very keen on keeping chickens. The first photograph shows his Great Aunt Maggie feeding her little flock. I like the look of Maggie. She is, in Ulster parlance, a tidy wee woman and she has a very kind, sweet face. I also like that she is doling out the grain very generously indeed.

And this is Bert's Aunt Annie, who, when she was a girl and lived on this very farm. Those chooks are living where pigs hang out these days and I note than chickens keep a far tidier house and yard than Rusty and Lily do.

This is a shot of Pearlie and her dog taken a few years ago. That shed to her left is gone now. You can just make out to the right of the flock little Bernie the black bantie who lived for many years, until the fox finally grabbed her as she was minding her one and only chick. Bernie was the only one left when we came to live here and when I suggested getting some laying hens, Pearlie protested, "What need d'ye have of a lot of oul hens?" which I thought was rather unreasonable. We ignored her and got them anyway. Free range eggs are better by far.

And now, thanks to Les, I am able to scan these old photographs and give the originals to the grandchildren and children of their original subjects. Pearlie thinks that is a good idea too.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Cooking With Gas

In County Antrim, back in 1959, it would have been the height of sophistication to be connected to the telephone system. Numbers in those days were two or three numbers long. We didn't get ours until the 1960s and our first number was Kells 416. People who got the phone installed in the 40s or 50s would have had three figure numbers starting with 2. The phone was so posh that Daddy had a special telephone voice. He'd say, "Helloooo." How I sniggered. I was a horrible child.

I must still be a bit horrible for if Bert were to ring me and tell me he was bringing anyone home for dinner in 20 minutes I would be rather pissed off. The only thing I'd be rustling up would be beans on toast. Mind you he never calls me 'Darling.' That's where he must be going wrong.

I remember those cars. They were proper cars. Not everyone had the phone but pretty much everyone had the big solid car. I confess I actually remember cars with running boards and my Uncle using a starting handle. Upholstery was leather and awfully cold (at first) to the cheek of a sleepy child. there were no seat belts, no child seats. Baby sat in the front on Mother's lap and the rest of the family would be in the back squirming and squabbling like a nest of puppies.

Now Bert would never tell anyone that I'm a wonderful cook. But then he's never called anyone 'Sir', not since Cullybackey High and he sort of had to then.

Darling is awfully calm about it all. I don't know how she can get all that organised in 20 minutes and still have time to smarten up. In my case 'smartening up' would mean removing one pair of mud-stained and pig-snotty jeans for clean pyjama trousers. No wonder Bert never brings his boss home! Oh but I forget - he doesn't actually have a boss, unless you count Clint and he's just bossy.

I see Darling gives all the credit to her bloody gas cooker. We modern women are not so much in thrall to our kitchen machinery. We like to take the credit for ourselves. Well I do anyway. I prefer cooking with gas myself but it is me who plans the meals, shops and prepares - not the bloody appliance.

What a corker Darling is. Sir announces that she and hubby are relocating to Brazil and she doesn't bat an eyelid or turn one perfectly coiffed hair. Just hopes that she can have a gas cooker out there. That's the sort of standard the ordinary woman had to live up to way back in 1959. No wonder she persuaded hubby to buy her a gas cooker so that she could live the dream of peach crumble, tiny-waisted taffeta dresses and promotions that took her and hubby all the way to Rio de Janeiro.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Happy Birthday Little Brother

seamus and joe, originally uploaded by NellyMoser.

He's not so little these days. That's Joe helping Daddy to paint something. Joe celebrates his 48th birthday today. At least, I hope he's celebrating. Mind you - it's a bit much when Child Number Seven is that sort of age. Makes Child Number One feel pretty ancient.

Party Time

Party Time The Earlier

Our good friends the Banjos came over last night and we had a small party for ourselves which consisted mainly of chocolate, wine, whiskey and pork and bean stew. I had intended taking charge of the catering but I was busy with my country wines, lots of sterilising, racking and little tastes. The raspberry has a divine flavour already but the carrot will need a lot more time. Speaking of wines, Mr D and I started a batch made with birch sap. That was a new one for me. We're also planning on making nettle wine and Japanese knotweed wine this year.

But anyways – back to the Banjos and the catering. I had intended making some kind of a cassoulet but before I got to it Jazzer had the meat and some onions boiling in water. I nearly fainted! What about the browning off and seasoning? What about the vegetables?

Jazzer doesn't do vegetables. She hates them and she says her children hate them too. Personally I think it is a miracle that the authorities have allowed her to keep those children. But she has an excuse. It's not that they hate all vegetables – it is just that they hate cooked vegetables. Why, Jazzer will tell you, her sprogs have eaten delicious raw vegetables all their lives. They cannot get enough of them. They scoff them by the bucket load. If I dredge through my early memories of the Banjo young 'uns I do recall pleas of,

Nelleee! Can I have a carrot?

Nelleee! Can I have some celery?

And then five minutes later they'd be in shouting for crisps and the yard would be strewn with carrots with just one small bite taken from each one.

So, back to the pork in water. Jazzer assured me it would be delicious and she started looking for things to add. In went a tin of tomatoes, some fenugreek (?) and other assorted spices and seasoning. She refused carrots, assented to mushrooms (then didn't use them) and I managed to get her to throw in some tinned kidney beans. She still felt it needed something. And started to hunt for vinegar. I was a bit worried about this. Anyway she located the vinegar (it was actually sloe gin) and put the whole lot on a slow simmer.

Two or three glasses of Merlot later it was time to serve. We boiled some rice and we dished. I'm afraid the dishing lacked finesse. I'm sure that weary cowboys around a campfire in Montana would have served their pork and beans with more delicacy. Then. Guess what? Jazzer didn't even have any! Said she wasn't hungry! Deprived the rest of us of delicious vegetables because she didn't like them then didn't even eat it. I was raging. And how was it, for those of us that ate it? It wasn't bad at all. The sloe gin helped.

Party Time The Later

I went to bed at around eleven and I'm told the rest followed at about midnight. Charlie and Judy were left downstairs, where to their glee, some fool hadn't closed the fridge door properly. They feasted on cat food, chocolate, butter, cheese and salami. At some point a fight broke out. Probably over the salami. Judy barked for assistance and Bert got up to rescue her. He failed to notice the signs of Canine Party Time. When I got up this morning Charlie was lying on the sofa surrounded by an incredibly clean and shiny cat food tin, several chocolate wrappers and the shredded butter paper and two piles of disgusting buttery vomit. Ah well. Better out than in.