Friday, November 30, 2012

My Living Will

Another funeral today, a friend's mother, in her 93rd year. I hadn't known her for long and I certainly never knew her in her prime but she was a lovely woman, humourous, generous, always smiling and with a great zest for life.

Afterwards I said to Bert,

That went off very well don't you think?

And he said,

Sure don't funerals always go off well?

I got to thinking about that. Usually they do. But I have come across a few exceptions in my time.

Years ago when I was new to the funeral game I attended a service for one of the grand old dames of our parish. The chapel was packed. Suddenly there was a tremendous clatter and crash at the back and the priest suspended the ritual and rushed down the aisle. Turned out the old lady's nephew had suffered a fatal heart attack and, as everyone present agreed, no better place for it and handy to Father for the last rites.

There was a similar story about the doors when a fellow came back from the building in London to attend the funeral of his older half-brother. He took a turn at the wake and never recovered and to save time and money the family doubled up the funeral and buried them together.

The saddest funeral I ever was at was that of a boy of 17, the son of a work colleague. He was killed in a car crash where the boy at the wheel was consequently charged and convicted of dangerous driving. His family were great people but they were not particularly religious. In this country there are a lot of people who believe that a funeral cannot take place without the assistance of a member of the clergy. Someone, somewhere had gathered up an evangelical pastor to speak at the graveside. This man stood there and preached the 'born again' sermon. There was a great deal about 'sinning' and 'eternal damnation'. There was mention made that the unfortunate boy had not been 'saved' so we could all reach our own conclusions on that. There was not one word of comfort for the family. The poor child's mother was in a fainting condition and his older brother looked like he might choke the pastor. I'm sinner enough to wish he had.

I've never forgotten that. It must be a comfort, for those that believe, to hear priests and ministers talk of eternal life. But not everyone buys into established religion. My parents are both dead now and I do not (although I reserve the right to change my mind) feel that it would be appropriate for me to have a religious funeral. The parents would, if they'd outlived me, been devastated to have me buried outside the faith. But now there is no one who'd really care. Say a prayer for me if you wish but keep priests and ministers away from my graveside.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


little white horse, originally uploaded by NellyMoser.
Seven years ago I started the good habit of taking regular walks. That continued right up until Matty got ill. I expected to get back into the way of it after she died but it did not happen. It is only now that I am trying again for walking calms and energises me.

Before Matty died I was working regularly and took a half-hour walk every lunch-time. My base was in Kells and there is not a road within a five mile radius of the village that I have not walked. I always took my camera just in case I saw something interesting.

Of course, in the two years I've been out of the way of walking, I've stacked on the weight. I wouldn't care to admit how heavy I'd got but for some reason. I don't know why, I recently lost about 12 pounds. At first I thought I was dying of something but then, when I had a good think about it. I realised I just wasn't comfort-eating as much. So I decided to get back into walking.

Two minutes more every day and I just walk out the door and go - no more getting into the car for it is still broken. I've not got back to taking the camera for I've enough to do with my pedometer, the mobile for timing and the audio book on the iPod. Around the doors just doesn't seem that interesting. But perhaps I'm being pessimistic for that delighful scene above is around the doors for those who live on the Maine Road near Woodgreen

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Cultural Life

Reading with my eyes - My Life by Bill Clinton. My this is a big, big book. I picked it up in an excellent charity shop in Bellaghy last Saturday. I only bought it because it was well indexed. Also got an Andy McNab for Ben, 13 and a picture book for Martha, 3 and all for £2.

Also reading with my eyes - a lot of historical nonsense by Philippa Gregory.

Reading with my ears - The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Contains huge spoilers for Anna Karenina. Luckily I've read that.

Watching - film of Birdsong. Is very pretty to look at but absolute dung. The Stephen Wraysford character is played by Eddie Redmayne, who also did a stint as Angel Clare in Gemma Arterton's version of Tess. He was annoying in that and he is annoying in Birdsong although he is tremendously good at looking like a mooncalf, I will give him that. Birdsong is so shite I can only watch it about ten minutes at a time. If I wasn't a Catholic I wouldn't be watching it at all but you know how keen we are on suffering and penance.

Also watching - Homeland. What is it about Eton and the current crop of British actors? Redmayne went there too. Homeland is very exciting but I feel as if I'm being played with. It's no The Wire (more Eton old boys) or Breaking Bad.

To be watched - Treme and Boardwalk Empire. I'm reluctant to begin for these things do rather take over one's life.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Of Pups and Patience

I had all the available family round for a kitchen supper tonight and afterwards Bonnie and I went to bed for a little rest. Three hours later and I'm still there and me with the latest episode of Homeland to watch!

It's been a hectic weekend but an enjoyable one too.

Ben was staying for the weekend. On Saturday morning we went to visit the pups. I tried to take a picture of each one individually but it was tough. I think I may have photographed some more than once and some not at all. They are wriggly and run everywhere. They live in an old shed and it did not make for the most suitable of locations for a photo shoot. Too much stuff in it. The dam is a spaniel and the sire a border collie and I think the collie look will dominate -  although that is no bad thing. I'm looking forward to having our lot back here. I'd been thinking back to other puppy times and remembering how messy they can be. Then I remembered something far worse. They chew things. Judy loved eating my shoes and must have destroyed at least a dozen pairs. We will have to be very vigilant this time as I have hardly a shoe to my foot.

We had Jazzer and Aunt Lizzie on Saturday afternoon and Ben and I baked cakes and biscuits. Jazzer did the ordinary cooking and Bert fed the old girls their wee morsels. It was a fine bright evening on Saturday. The crescent moon hung low in the sky and soon disappeared. The stars were wonderfully bright. Ben and I got sleeping bags and lay on the trampoline watching shooting stars. There were plenty to be seen. Jazzer joined us for a while but, not having a sleeping bag, she did not stay long. Bert, being 'coul rife' did not even chance it.

Despite these joyous, happy things I was a grumpy sod on Sunday. Maybe not enough sleep, maybe a glass of wine (or two) that I shouldn't have finished. Who knows? The weather was damp and horrid and I ate too much. Then I caught Ben tipping some custard into the bin.

Where are you putting that?
The bin.
The bin! (In tones as incredulous as Lady Bracknell's)

There followed a lecture about waste and recycling. Sometimes I don't know how that boy puts up with me. He's a lot like Bert. Patient.

After our visitors left Bert watched Homeland (I'd already watched it) and I polished up a part of the family tree to send to my cousin. I have all this information and have yet to make complete sense of it. I hadn't realised that my great-grandmother gave birth to fourteen children in 23 years of which two died under the age of three and one in infancy. It was nearly half past one before I got to bed.

And that was when Pearlie started to say her prayers. Out loud. I said one too. God give me patience.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We Like Lots Of Wine

I have just bottled the birch sap wine. There was a glassful over after I filled six bottles and I have sipped it while watching a programme about Canadian wolves. I think I am drunk and wonder if this is a good thing?

Since I started making wine in August 2011 I have bottled  the following. Those in italics are ones that have already been polished off.

Blackcurrant (one bottle left to age)
Rhubarb 2
Blackberry & Raspberry
Rhubarb 1
Parsnip 1
Parsnip 2
Birch Sap

The blackcurrant was far too dry and acidic. I won't be using that recipe again. 

The carrot is a beautiful colour but a bit on the sweet side. I'll make it again but try for a dry finish.

The peach was wonderful. We drank it over the July holidays because it popped the corks. It's OK to drink peach young. William (my mentor) declared it to be the nicest wine he'd ever tasted.

We tackled a bottle of rhubarb at the weekend and it was very pleasant. I've made three batches of rhubarb and they are always different colours. William said he has the same experience. This one was pale pink. 

The bramley is gone. I used a recipe that called for crab apples. At one point I topped it up with cider and that's what it tasted like. Strong Somerset cider. Apparently apple wines should be drunk quickly. No problem.

I've only had sips of the rest. I'm really looking forward to the Blackberry and Raspberry. That came about because there just weren't enough blackberries last year. Another one that promises to be delicious is the damson. There were damn few damsons this year so, sadly, I'll hardly be making that one again for a while.

The birch sap has a very refreshing taste to it. Miss Martha's Dad tapped the birches and helped me make it so he gets half of it. Quite fitting that I bottled it on his birthday. Happy birthday Dave!

And still in the demijohn are the following

Japanese Knotweed
Blackberry 1
Orange & Apple
Blackberry 2
Rhubarb 3
Peach, Nectarine Etc.

The nettle is far too sweet and I don't know what I'm going to do with it. The orange & apple was made from fruit juice, my first attempt and a very easy recipe. It is supposed to be a quick and simple wine that can be drunk while other, more interesting wines are maturing. We shall see. 

I was reading a book on wine making the other evening and apparently one of the pitfalls is that the wine maker gets too carried away and before you know there are ten or twenty demijohns bubbling away. I mentioned this to Bert and he looked baffled. "Where's the problem in that?" he asked. 

Friday, November 09, 2012

With Friends Like Us

Swisser was here this evening. Like most of our peers and cohorts she is usually full of chat about illness and death. She had recently had her cholesterol checked and apparently it is sky high. Consequently she had cleared out her fridge of forbidden food and the minute she came through the door she was doling out crisps. Bert and I ripped the packets open, searched diligently for the blue packet of salt, ripped, shook and scoffed. That was, of course, before she told us about the cholesterol. We had thought she was just being generous. The next thing she produced from her handbag was a big lump of Stilton. We weren't feeling cheesy so we left that for later. Then she brought out chocolate and we got tore straight into that.

It was only after Swisser left that I remarked to Bert that perhaps we were not as supportive as we might have been. After all, a friend comes round, tells us about some health problems she is having, a diet that she must stick to and here is some food that she loves that she cannot eat ever again or any more. And we go, sucks to be you, snarf, snarf, yum, yum.

But we're not completely horrible. We gave her some pickled onions that were only three and a half years past their sell by date. Sadly she forgot to take them with her.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Beyond Redemption

Like many elderly folk Pearlie does not hear too well. However, in her case, that often depends on what is being said and who is saying it. For instance when Cousin Margaret or Aunt Lizzie are with her, Pearlie cannot understand a word I say. I'll speak to her and she'll look at me quizzically, screw up her face as if I'm speaking Mandarin or Gaelic, then turn to her relative and remark. "What did she say?"

I went into her room at midday today and asked her,

Well. Are you ready for something to eat? 
Do you want a bite of lunch? 
I cannae hear you. 
What do I usually ask you at this time of day?

She looked at the clock and barked at me,
An egg!


For a long time now just as I've been settling down to sleep I've been mildly irritated by Pearlie starting to mumble and drone at around the midnight hour. I thought she might have been reading her Bible aloud and even though I found the droning noise annoying I felt I could not take exception to a lady in her eighties communing with her Saviour. I felt it would be denying her human rights.  There was also the matter of not giving her the pleasure of knowing she was getting on my nerves. But there was this one night I wanted to know for sure. Was it the Old Testament or the New? I crept down the stairs and found that she was not reading from the Gospels. She was merely saying her prayers and, like a child will do, she was praying for the people she knew. I listened for a while and my name was never mentioned. She obviously thinks that I am beyond redemption.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Thursday, November 01, 2012

As Good As It Gets

Martha and Evie's Mama went back to work last week. Martha has been hanging out at Nellybert's for two years now and has pretty much found her feet, or to put it another way, worked out how to rule the roost. But Evie is another matter. She's new. She's finding her feet.

Last week Aunt Tricia (Kerry Sister) was around and we spent the first Evie day in Carnlough where we bought the best toy ever (an interactive  musical telephone) and had a roast beef dinner in the Londonderry Arms. Miss Evie is very partial to roast beef. On the second day we had Hannah and that worked out very well too as both the young Misses are very fond of Auntie Han.

Yesterday there was no Hannah and no Martha so Miss Evie and I borrowed Bert's van and headed off to Drumkeeran to visit two very dear friends of my darling Matty. One of Matty's friends is recovering from a bad fall and is only recently back in her own home. It is always a delight to see her as she loves, without condition, the seed, breed and generation of us all. The only thing is, she always cries when she sees us, thinking of our mother. The next visit was to her sister-in-law next door. We entered to the delicious smell of baking scones. It was just like visiting Matty. There was apple tart and custard as well as scones and Miss Evie enjoyed it immensely. She'll never taste her great-granny's home baking but, thank God, they're still making wonderful scones on the moss road.

Today we had both girls and Auntie Han to help me out. (Words will never describe my gratitude.) We had a relaxed, easy-going day. Martha and I went food shopping, then Evie and I had a walk while Martha and Hannah whipped up some biscuits. There were stories and drawing, dancing and Pingu. Bert did some serious baby-dodging but that meant plenty of outdoor chores got done - roses pruned, pig houses sorted etc. etc.

At lunch I looked around at my grandchildren, my helpful and generous Hannah, my baby-dodging husband and my dogs and I thought to myself, "This is what I always wanted. This is as good as it gets."