Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That Was The Year That Was

Judy, Bonnie & Jess. Picture taken only weeks before Bonnie was put to sleep.

 I have been reviewing my year and at first ponder it seems as if it has been rather uneventful. For instance, the most interesting thing that happened last January was Martha and Evie building their first snowman and me taking a short movie of Evie stamping in a puddle. February wasn't much better as the highlight of the month was Jess' first trip to the beach.

In March I went to Fanad with the girls and their parents and although it was an enjoyable trip it was very cold. Roll on summer! And what a good summer it was.

Les erected a tiny little poly tunnel beside our big one and crammed it full of peppers, tomatoes and squash. Bonnie took her very last holiday to Fanad and, poor lamb, did not have the strength to make it to the beach. A month later she died.

In May Rusty knocked me down again and I spent weeks limping on a twisted knee. The treehouse project began.

July brought Leitrim Sister's amazing birthday celebration and a great family get together in that rushy county. Back home we had the drama of the sudden branch drop just beside the tree house and swing and moments after children had been playing there. Needless to say, the huge branch has been converted to logs long ago.

End of July and early August brought my trip to Vancouver to meet up with the BC branch of the family. A great time was had by me.

In September I celebrated my 60th birthday with another family get together and a super night's craic in the BT club.

Also in September, everyone was saddened by the death of local poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney. A great man, gone too soon.

October. Nothing happened and if it did I seem not to have recorded it.

In November I finally got around to getting my SmartPass (free bus and rail pass) and started getting out a bit more.

Then Christmas came. In December I blogged every day apart from yesterday. We had visitors who stayed until after midnight and I was too tired and didn't want to cheat by changing the date on a stop gap post. So. Today is New Year's Eve and a few folk are coming over tonight and I hope it will be a fairly quiet night. I might take a day or two off blogging to rest my muse.

Throughout the year I made a lot of wine. 25 gallons to be exact.

A very happy New Year to all that come here. See you in 2014!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Music Night In Pictures

Since Christmas (exhausting) I have found it hard to keep my promise of a post a day. So here's a collage of photographs from last night's party.

Thanks to all the musicians, friends and family who helped make it such a great evening. Tracey took the pictures in between singing herself hoarse. She was rewarded with a jar of our Springhill honey to help her vocal chords. Girlfriend makes a living from those pipes.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Music Night

I said I was going to post every day this month. Tonight has turned out to be quite the challenge,

Food on offer - turkey broth and delicious wheaten bread,

Drink on offer - the damson. God how I regret those trees that can do no more but the wine was, is, so GOOD!

Music - don't care if you are at Paul McCartney's house. What is going on here tonight is unbelievably GOOD!

And that is all.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Boxing Day Dinners: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

How good must it be when your older sister is in possession of a pink plastic Peppa Pig recorder that you want and that she will not let you have because she does not want your slabbers on it, and then, when you are at Nellybert's (your grandparents) Boxing Day party, a kind lady (Swisser) gives you a long tubular present wrapped in shiny red paper that looks like it might be a recorder? And your eyes light up with delighted anticipation and your granny helps you unwrap it (quick, quick!) and it is a recorder, a beautiful wooden recorder, all colours, including pink!

I think that the sight of Evie's thrilled face, when she got that recorder, was one of the best moments of our Boxing Day party. And Swisser didn’t even know she wanted one! What an inspired choice.

Miss Martha got a harmonica which delighted her.

This was the best Boxing Day in years. The food turned out well, a traditional turkey and ham dinner, with curried lamb for those who preferred it and a choice of five desserts. I made all the food myself except for the two very delicious ice-creams which were created by Zoe and Martha.

Tirimasu, Pear and Ginger Tart, Fruit Trifle, Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate & Whiskey Ice Cream

But as successful Boxing Day dinners do not make as entertaining a read as the disasters, I offer this for your reading pleasure,  

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.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The 2013 Boxing Day Success

Photo by Evie's Dad

It's stormin' like a demon out there. Hope the tree house stays up and the poly tunnels don't blow away.

I'm so happy that after a run of Boxing Day disasters, tonight's party was great. Everything turned out well. The guests were a delight. I did not have to go to the poly tunnel to cry fat tears of disappointment.

But I'm tired so I will tell you all about it on the 'morrow. If the power stays on.

Love, Nelly

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day. Here At Last. Soon Be Over. Thanks Be.

So here it is, Merry Christmas.

Task 1. Keep cat off the turkey. Bert's feelings about cat getting at the turkey? Sure there's enough for everybody...

Status. Ongoing

Task 2.

Rack wine.

Status. Completed

Task 3.

Long, luxurious soak in tub.

Status. Completed

Task 4.

Collect Hannah.

Status. Delegated

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

The storm didn't come. According to a friend who works for NIE, and is one of those guys who repairs the lines when the power goes off, it passed above us on its way to the Western Isles. A relief for County Antrim, not so much for other places.

Before I knew this I was at the freezer taking out everything I thought we'd need for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I also removed 4 pounds of frozen blackberries and started a gallon of wine. God spares us we'll be drinking that next Christmas Eve.

It's been another busy day. Lots of friends calling round and lots of baking and cooking. I felt a bit like Nigella except I expect her kitchen is nicer than mine and obvs she has access to better drugs. All I had was some paracetamol for my sore knee.

And regarding that sore knee - I was striding through Cully yesterday when it occurred to me that my knee hadn't troubled me for well over a week. Within moments it had started to throb. I wonder if it had been sore the whole time but I'd forgotten about it? The mind is a very curious thing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Before The Storm

Preparing for Christmas (doddle) and writing a daily blog (really tough) is wearing me out. Every night at around 11:30pm I find myself totally exhausted and quite unable to do another thing.

Today I had the grandchildren around. Martha was pleased to see I had used her artwork to brighten up the kitchen. There were 4 pictures to start with but there had been some other small girls visiting a couple of days ago and they had found Martha's pictures, flung them to the ground, ripped one up and kicked the sparkly glitter off the rest of them. Luckily they did not get it all. Girls are very rough these days. The pictures are much safer pinned up.

Apparently the weather is to be hideous tomorrow. Ferocious winds are expected. If I don't post it will be because there is no power. That will be inconvenient but if the tree house doesn't blow down I won't mind too much about electricity.

That's enough for tonight. I have an hour left before exhaustion sets in.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Wrong Kind of Snow

Thunder and lightning this morning. Not very seasonal. Then I looked out the window to see a dusting of snow which didn't look at all promising. Ah but it was horrible when I went out in it. The hens were still huddled in their house. They didn't like it either. The pigs are going to have a duvet day. Far too cold and miserable to stand in a field. I don't normally complain about the weather but today is horrible. Soon as I finish this cup of coffee I am for having a hot bath and then I'm piling on the thermals.

It is the wrong sort of Christmas snow, just great, freezing lumps of gloopy rain.

This day can only get better and, if it does, I'll tell you about it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lovely Day and Kimchi Recipe

I have had such a lovely day today. It started early. Out to my local supermarket to make a start on the Christmas food and drink shop. Ran in to my youngest, the incredibly hard working Hannah, who had been on the shop floor since 4am. People, think of all those folk who work crazy hours to make your holidays a big success. I know I do.

Then I cleaned house and racked wine. The birch sap and one of the elderflowers have turned out well. Swisser appeared for the wine tasting session and loved Elderflower 2 so much that I have reserved her a bottle. Elderflower 1 tastes slightly of cat pee but sure, you can't win them all.

Quite a few friends round tonight. Makes me feel all Christmassy. Even the dogs have had visitors, Ziggy and Rex. The house was quite mad for a while. Ziggy is staying the night as Hannah's current hours don't suit him. She is going to bed at 7pm, waking at 3am. Dogs don't understand that shit.

Now I know this post is a little bit woozy but when you rack 6 flagons of wine and sample a little bit of each of them (which you have to) it leads to wooziness, a dirty old job but somebody has to do it.

By the way, Swisser tried the kimchi and said she loved it.

Here is the recipe,

Quick Kimchi

Makes enough to fill a 1 litre jar. Preparation time 10 minutes. Fermenting time 24 hours to two weeks.

1 Chinese cabbage washed and dried

bunch of spring onions trimmed

3 cloves garlic, grated

5cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped finely

8 anchovies in olive oil, finely chopped

85 g chilli paste

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

Remove outer leaves of cabbage, slice lengthways into 4 then crossways into 5 chunks.

Slice spring onions down the middle, then into 3 or 4 pieces.

Throw the rest of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl with 1 tbsp of sugar and salt*. Ad the cabbage and spring onions and stir to coat everything. 

Place in an airtight container, such as a Kilner jar and leave in the fridge.

You can use this after 24 hours, but the flavours really start to develop after about one week.

*I used much less salt and found the kimchi still quite salty.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Kimchi & Pineapple

Busy. busy day so this will be another brief posting.

We tried the kimchi. I'm told it goes with everything so we ate it with everything. Tonight's supper - bacon, boiled potatoes, brussels sprouts and kimchi. I love it and will definitely make it again. And to wash all that down? Pineapple wine. It is only eleven months old but it is delicious and strong. Now there is one lucky friend of mine who is getting a big jar of kimchi and a bottle of pineapple wine for a Christmas gift. Beats socks and I hear he already has some socks.

Kimchi is a strange food. It tastes pretty good when you're eating but for some reason it still keeps tasting great after you've eaten it. After all, as Bert says, 50 million Koreans can't be wrong.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tough Day

This has been a tough day and it is not easy to blog on a tough day. The reason - Pearlie has not been in good form. There was something she needed to do, that she wasn't able to do and she was upset all day.  Bedtime brought respite and I found myself thinking (again) how fortunate we all are that she has such a brilliant team of carers. It wasn't always so but this particular group are diamonds.

And that is all I am going to say about that.

Except... we had the grandchildren today, lights of my life, and lights of Bert's life too.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Day Out In Belfast

Finished my Christmas shopping in Belfast today. Yippee! I had a really enjoyable day too. Just got it finished about an hour before my train was due so I took a little rest on the benches beside the Christmas market. I got in a conversation with an older gentleman who recognised my accent. Turned out he had been a Police Sergeant in my home town for nearly 30 years. After establishing that he had never had cause to arrest me, we dandered on to Great Victoria Street to wait for our respective trains. He knew all the people from around my part of the country so the craic was good.

It occurred to me that I am now a very junior member of a club, the folk who like to get out and about using their SmartPass.

There was one slightly sour note on the train home. I had grabbed a cup of coffee at the station and because I was early got on the train about ten minutes before it was due to leave. There was a choice of seats so I picked one with a table so I could put my drink down. Shortly before the train left a couple with two well-grown children got on and as they passed me the mother said, "One person sitting in seats meant for four." They headed past, obviously looking for four seats together. Moments later they came back and  she said it again! Making sure I got the message. I was telling Bert the story when I got home and he asked,

Did you consider giving them your seat?
What do you think? I should have said, 'Even though you are an ill-mannered harridan, I will let that go past. Please take this seat so that you, your ruffian of a partner and your great lumps of children can sit together. It would be my pleasure.' If they wanted a choice of seats they should have got there earlier. 

I have considered since that if it had been a sweet family, with two little children like Martha and Evie and they looked like they would dearly love to sit together I would gladly have found myself another seat.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


There was this boy I fell in love with way back in 1976. It was a short relationship, late summer to Christmas Eve and its end took me by surprise. He was a very attractive boy, maybe a little on the small side but that didn't matter for I am short too. My mother did not take to him. I think she found him glib. To tell the truth she did not take to anyone I went out with for she suspected (rightly) that I was not adhering to the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. This boy, I will call him David, was not from Ireland and he must have been quite lost to end up adrift in Ballymena. He had nowhere to live and was sleeping on various friend's sofas. I think he might have wanted us to find a place together but I had a daughter and I knew that she and I were both better off living at home with my family.

I was so happy then. Somewhere, at the back of my mind, I must have known that David and I were not going anywhere but I ignored these doubts. We were both so young. Our jobs were crap and we had very little money.

Christmas Eve came. I hadn't got David a present. He said it didn't matter. I said I would buy him a gift after Christmas. He said he had something for me but he would give it to me on Christmas Day. He wanted me to stay with him that night but I had my taxi booked. I needed to be home to sort my daughter's Santa presents. He pleaded. I was firm. I would see him at Rob's party the next day.

He never came to Rob's party and no-one knew where he was. There were no mobile phones in those days, no way to catch up with people. I tried to put on a brave face. A couple of days later a friend told me what had happened. After I left on Christmas Eve he had got talking to a girl and he had left with her. She had a cosy flat and he moved in with her that very night!

And that was that. I think about it every Christmas. And I feel for anyone who has a relationship fall apart during this season. But when I do look back what I remember best is the support of my friends and family. And am so happy that I put my little girl before my boyfriend. And I know now that he was definitely not the boy for me.

Jilted Nelly putting on a brave face at Rob's party, Christmas 1976

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dragging My Feet

I awoke this morning from an unpleasant dream in which I had hacked an unknown male to death with a kitchen knife. At first I was very relieved to find it was a dream but then felt disturbed to have dreamed the dream.

I am trying to watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but am rapidly losing interest. It was moderately enjoyable when Benjamin was old and decrepit but now he is looking more like Brad Pitt I don't care for it so much.

I could watch this week's episode of Homeland instead.

Or I could finish this blog post.

I have two books on the go and I have a chapter left of each one and I cannot seem to get round to finishing them.

I did not go to the post office today to post Kerry Sister's present.

I have a cold and feel very tired.

But is it any wonder I feel a bit flat when I read this interpretation of my horrible dream?

To dream that you have committed a murder indicates that you are putting an end to an old habit and a former way of thinking. This could also refer to an end to an addiction. Alternatively, the dream indicates that you have some repressed aggression or rage at yourself or at someone. Note also that dreams of murder occur frequently during periods of depression.

To dream that you are carrying a knife signifies anger, aggression and/or separation. There may be something in your life that you need to cut out and get rid of.  Perhaps you need to cut ties or sever some relationship. Be more divisive. Alternatively, a knife refers to some sexual tension or sexual confrontation.

To see blood in your dream represents life, love, and passion as well as disappointments. To dream that others are bleeding signifies an emotional cry for help.

To dream that you feel guilty about something relates to how you are handling your successes and failures or competence and incompetence. You may feel undeserving of your achievements. Or on the other hand, you feel that you have let others down. Alternatively, the dream is symbolic of repressed and negative feelings that you may have about yourself.

Here is a photograph of a kitten to cheer us all up.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Coming To Terms With Father Christmas

Poor little Hannah was traumatised by the Father Christmas with the serial killer eyes

The Misses Martha and Evie visited Father Christmas today and, by all accounts, the meeting went very well. There had been some concern that Evie wouldn't take to the old guy as she had previously expressed some reservations about him.  It reminded me of my own youngest child's feelings about old Santa Claus when she were a girl. Indeed Hannah was not at all keen on scary strangers in unusual costumes. I recall her running in terror from the Michelin Man at Ballymena Show. 

Another terror figure from Hannah's early days

The sweet Staffordshire Santa that Hannah loved. 

The first thing that cured her of her fear of the fat guy in the red suit was getting a holiday job as an elf while she was at college. She never looked back.

 Totally cured of her Santa phobia. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Begins

I've already completed a bit of Christmas shopping but, as it happened right here in front of this screen it doesn't really count. Today I hit the town, delivered a Christmas tree, took Miss Evie up the street and bought one thing. Then I came home, opened up my To Do spreadsheet, crossed off #27 Buy Kerry Sister present and replaced it with #104 Post present to Kerry Sister. Flushed with a real sense of achievement, I treated myself to a mug of coffee, an Ormo snowball and a read of The Guardian.

Christmas? It's a doddle.

Tomorrow I might tell you about the three incredibly rude women I encountered in the Tower Centre and how I dealt with them. That is if something more interesting doesn't occur in the meantime.

I'll leave you with a picture of the Christmas tree I brought to town and what happened when a pair of young reindeer got their mitts on it.

Organic home grown tree from Bert's Wood

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Day Out In Belfast

Nellybert had a wee day out in Belfast today. It did not start well. Bert wanted to wear his new hat, the one that bears the legend Killyless Stores, Animal Feed and Hardware Supplies but I said he shouldn't because it was too culchie looking for the city. He said I was a terrible snob and that it was a good warm pixie but when it came to the bit it wasn't dry enough because I had to wash it after Martha needed to use it as an emergency handkerchief. Poor child has a sneezy head cold. We decided we wouldn't call Bert 'Snot Hat' because it wasn't his fault.

Belfast was a-buzzing. We had a quick look around the Continental Market at City Hall before meeting our friends the Mularkeys, everyone of them social workers from Belfast. Despite this they like hanging out with Nellybert. Being a social worker from Belfast is, as you might imagine, an incredibly stressful job, so we, being good people, allow the Mularkeys to come to Cully and do unpaid horticultural work to relieve their stress, and this seems to work to everyone's benefit. There is probably not one single clematis montana rubens in County Antrim that has not been potted on by a QUB fully-trained social worker.

We had lunch at the Cafe Havana. Mrs Mularkey is quite the wine buff and her choice was inspired. I really will have to source a good supply of passion fruit to see if I can replicate that delicious wine we had. Afterwards we took a leisurely pub crawl around the Cathedral Quarter. But all good things must end. It was time to hit the train station. We had a leisurely stroll past City Hall, beautifully lit up for Christmas. We got to Great Victoria Street just in time for Young Mularkey to catch his bus. We had two minutes to get to the train so wisely decided to get the next one and headed to the Crown Bar with Mr and Mrs M. This bar, wile popular with tourists and film companies, was so bunged you could hardly see the ornate Victorian features within. We had time for just the one before we had to get our train.

On the train, tired and slightly bored, I logged on to the free wifi and found that even while we were sitting in the Harp Bar there had been a bomb in the Cathedral Quarter. We never heard a word of it. Ah Belfast! Keep on keeping on. You're bigger and better than any stupid bombers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Raise My Head Above The Parapet. A Teeny Bit.

I have been writing this blog for more more than 9 years now and. apart from a few incidents, have managed to avoid controversy and 'flame wars'. I'm a blogger, not a fighter. I keep my Facebook and Twitter accounts pretty vanilla as well.

That doesn't mean that I don't enjoy a bit of controversy on other people's pages and some spats are so compelling that I follow them with great interest. It is different when you don't actually know the people involved.

That changed for me a couple of days ago when someone I've actually met (through blogging) got involved in an argument with Loyalists Against Democracy (LAD for short). I'm a LAD fan although I don't agree with absolutely everything they get up to. For instance, a few of the comments on the site can be as sectarian as those they lampoon.

I won't go into detail as to what the spat was about but if anyone is interested enough  it should be easy to find out. The guy I know did LAD a big sneaky disservice and they came after him. Now I see that his Twitter and Facebook accounts are taken down.

This is what disturbed me. He is now accused as a bigot and a Loyalist while he didn't strike me as either. He has pictures of Loyalist bands on his Flickr photostream. So do I. He has a strong opinion on the Ulster Covenant. So does one of my best friends who'd walk over broken glass to help me if if I needed it.

Ah well people. If you court controversy on the internet you will get it in barrowloads. As for me, I'm just a wee Catholic granny living in Cully, keeping my head down. I'm not courting controversy or looking for a fight. Don't hit me!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I Make Kimchi

 So Zoe has Chinese cabbage growing in the poly tunnel. Lots of it and she said I can have a go at making kimchi. I don't think it is exactly the right Chinese cabbage (Napa is the recommended variety) but it will do for a try. The most boring and difficult bit is washing it. Les comes in (with home made squash soup) and he helps me get all the slugs off the cabbage. Slugs are my most detested creatures in the world. They make me shiver with disgust. I am reassured when Les points out that their presence indicates that the cabbage is clean and organic. After the washing and chopping the rest is fun, I mix together chopped scallions, chilli paste, grated ginger, soy sauce, diced garlic, fish sauce, salt and sugar. I go hard on the garlic and ginger and light on the salt. There isn't a mixing bowl in the house big enough to mix everything together so I use one of my wine making buckets. I thought it would all fit in to three Kilner jars but it only took two. According to the recipe it is edible in 24 hours but better again in a week.

I hear Bert downstairs now. He was out buying calves and I'll bet he is right into those Kilner jars. I'll have to  go down and stop him.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Katy's Rescue: A Story About A Man Who Kept His Head

I found this delightful book in Bellaghy's one and only charity shop. It was published in 1953 so is the same vintage as me. Martha adores it and I read it to her at least two times every day she is here. Both Martha and Evie love stories and love being read to. And I love to read to them. I also enjoy telling them stories that are not written down.

Madeline's Rescue features a dog, later named Genevieve, who kept her head and rescued Madeline when she fell in to the River Seine. I told the girls a true story about a man who kept his head when Aunt Katy fell in to the River Braid.

So girls... are you sitting comfortably? This is a true story that happened a long time ago when Mummy and Aunt Katy and Aunt Hannah were only girls. Hannah was the youngest, She was about the same age as you Martha. Katy was about 8 or 9 years old and your Mummy was 12 or 13. Bert had a yellow car that we called the Yellow Submarine and we'd often jump in to it and go somewhere nice for a walk. One of our favourite places to go was Currel's Avenue just outside Ballymena. We'd take Danny (he was our dog back then) and we'd walk beside the river. There was a swing there. It wasn't a proper swing like the one in the garden. It was just a piece of stick on a rope. You'd stand on the bank and get the stick between your legs and go swinging over the river. It was very exciting and a bit dangerous. Bert went first and he was very good at it. Then it was your Mummy and she was good at it too. Then it was Katy's turn. Katy was lighter than Bert and Zoe and she bounced around when she swung over the river. The next thing she bounced off and went splash! into the water. Down she went under the water! Then her head appeared. Down she went again! I could see Bert starting to kick his boots off and throw off his coat. Aunt Hannah, who was very young, started to scream and she ran off in a panic. I could see that Bert was going to get Katy out so I ran after Hannah who was racing away and not seeming to care where she ran or what she ran in to! She thought that her sister was going to die. I knew that Katy was going to be OK because Bert was keeping his head. By the time I caught Hannah and soothed her and brought her back Katy was safe. Zoe said that Danny the dog had jumped into the river too. He liked swimming and he thought that if everyone was going to be splashing about in the river he should too! Poor Katy was soaking wet so all of us shared out our clothes so she could go home in dry things. Bert just drove us home even though he was drenched. He didn't mind because he was very happy that he had kept his head and been a hero. When we got home Katy had a warm bath and Bert got dry clothes and a nice hot cup of tea and everyone was very happy.

Did you like that story?
Yes. Tell it again.

So I did.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Bedlam Market

Where else but in Derry would you find an old convent clad in the country's biggest crocheted blanket? That would be Bedlam Market in Pump Street.

The market before its adornment

The glorious blanket that keeps the old convent warm and cosy

 The Last Man Standing

Just some of the delights to be found inside

Friday, December 06, 2013

Turner Prize 2013

I went to the Turner Prize 2013 exhibition in Derry today. I had quite a bit to do before I left which resulted in an inadequate breakfast. By the time I reached Ebrington Square I was very hungry. I don't know about you guys but I prefer to experience innovative art on a full stomach. Luckily there was a food cart in the square. I purchased a bacon and tomato wrap and a bottle of water. The delightful young woman who served me said, "Butter? Mayo?" and, in haste, I replied "Mayo." I vaguely wondered if it was a mistake but brushed the thought away, thinking,

Sure - it's only food.

I ate half the wrap and stashed the rest for later. Some of the mayo squirted on to my coat but luckily I noticed this and licked it off. I saw someone looking at me from a window and decided I did not care.

Into the exhibition. Could the gallery staff have been any friendlier, more helpful or more polite. No they could not! Derry people and people associated with Derry are, in my experience, a delight.

I went to each gallery in turn. David Shrigley's Life Model installation was the first. This has been much talked about. I liked it well enough but there wasn't enough going on. Not enough people participating and I didn't either.

Gallery 2 was Laure Prouvost's (the 2013 winner) installation. This was very engaging. After watching the video Wantee I went into the area to view Grandma's Dream. At first this was very playful then it darkened, The floor was on a carpeted slope although there was a seating platform. I did not dare sit down as my silly old knees would have prevented me from rising in a dignified manner. I left the room and spent some time viewing the objects and pictures. Then left. Then found myself very emotional and near to tears. I had to sit and compose myself for a while.

Gallery 3 - Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Initially underwhelmed I felt, when I'd left, that I had not given this artist the time she deserved. I may have to come back to this one.

Gallery 4 - Tino Seghal. I was looking forward to this one and had a slight idea of what to expect. The gallery was white-walled and empty of visual stimulus. I was engaged in conversation by a member of gallery staff. She introduced the topic, the market economy. At first I was a bit lost for words and feeling self conscious about the gap in my teeth. I found myself looking at her teeth which were a bit misshapen but clean and white and real. I found my stride and we talked about give and take and bartering. I earned my pound coin but declined it.

After a bit of a wander I returned to Laure Prouvost's installation and while I was gazing at a teapot in a glass case I caught sight of my reflection. There on the left side of my mouth was a big splodge of mayonnaise. I quickly wiped it off realising that I'd been wandering around for two hours talking to gallery staff, seen by fellow visitors looking like a crazy woman with mayo on my face! No-one mentioned it so it can only stand to reason that everyone thought I was some class of a performance artist.

The Turner Prize 2013. I'd recommend it to anyone with an open mind and an imagination. Just wash your face before you go.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Cool For Cats

kitten in deco box
This is my most viewed photograph on Flickr. I cannot understand why. She isn't even nice. 

Do you know what I have asked Bert to buy me for Christmas? A new partial denture to replace the one that I think Ziggy (Hannah's pup) may have eaten. And do you know what is the saddest part? My dentist says it won't be ready until January. This means that I have to make my way through the holiday like a snaggle-toothed hillbilly. Ah well. I have decided to be philosophical about it for there are far, far worse things that having a gappy smile. What I really need is a new fridge, although Bert says I just need a new fridge door handle. We are heart scalded with pestilent thieving cats and dogs in Springhill. They can all open the fridge door. Even delicate little Holly (pictured above in her kittenhood) just lifts a dainty paw and pulls the door open. The dogs do it with their noses but the cats are the worst offenders. Bert shouted from the kitchen this afternoon,
Those bloody cats are in the fridge!
And they were. Actually in it. I felt like closing the door on them. But what would be the point? a little nudge with their heads and they'd be straight back out again.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Bekvam Step Stool

It is possible to become jaded with Ikea. Even so, one of the best things I ever bought in my life I bought from Ikea and that is the Bekvam step stool. I could never become jaded with that.

I am a small person (5' 2") and small people need some assistance in accessing the higher cupboards in the home. I also have some even smaller people I like to spend time with and the Bekvam is very necessary to their lives too. Evie, ever possessive, will say "Where's my stool?" and when located she will drag it to whatever surface she needs to get to.

I love it that Evie is possessive. I love it that she owns Nellybert. Zoe told me she refers to us as 'My Granny' and 'My Bert'. I want to be owned by an adorable two-year-old.

So Jazzer and I went to Ikea today. I don't know what she spent but it all fitted in to her handbag. She said, "I don't think Ikea is as good as it used to be." It probably is. It's just that we've already bought all the truly good stuff like the Bekvam step stool. My own Bekvam is nothing like the ones with which  I have illustrated this post. Mine is grubby and extensively chewed by pups Judy and Jess.

I spent £45. I bought a new rug for the top of the stairs and some glasses. We ate there. I do not recommend the salmon and spinach thing. I'm sure I could make something far better with salmon, spinach and cheese.

So, I am slightly jaded with Ikea but I still love my step stool. I also love Ikea 100% cotton bed sets. Four pillow slips! Of course. Why doesn't every one do that? Their velour stuffed rats are delicious and no home should be without a Bekvam step stool.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

I Discover Morrissey

I finished the Morrissey autobiography which I bought despite not being a Morrissey fan. Why did I buy it? Firstly, because it was was hugely reduced in Tescos and secondly because I opened it at random and read a scurrilous character assassination of a humble (fat) benefits adviser. I was immediately enthralled. Morrissey was in his teens when he encountered this unfortunate woman. I am very glad that I no longer carry the many humiliations that I experienced in my teens. Or do I still? Maybe that is what is wrong with me.

I could not put this book down. It fascinated me that one man could bear so many grudges, for so long and carry them with him all his days to add grist to his genius. Thankfully I never encountered Morrissey for it would be painful to read this book and find a sentence or two of barbed commentary had I inadvertently caused him offence. Curmudgeon he might be but from this account I found myself liking him a lot. Now I must get back to his music. Better late than never.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Supper and the Turner Prize

I decide to begin to like new things. With this in mind I cook fish pie for supper using Vietnamese river cobbler. I use smoked and unsmoked as it was on offer in Tescos. Previous to this sighting in Tescos I had never heard of river cobbler. I am aware that it is a disgrace bringing fish from Vietnam to Ballymena when we have a lake full of eels just a few miles away. Yet I never see eels in Tescos. I expect they are all going to Vietnam.

The fish pie was good. I cooked it in a cheese sauce with added chilli cheese and topped it with thinly sliced potatoes. I imagine it was very calorific. There was a side of plain broccoli which, for health reasons, I did not butter. For afters we had bread and butter pudding made with cream, eggs and butter, I went easy on the sugar. Bert made custard as he is the King of Custard. He tried to wriggle out of it but I was insistent.

(Had to take a break there to find out who won the 2013 Turner Prize)

All in all we had a very nice Monday evening tea and it was good to have the Misses Evie and Martha join us with their primary carers.

On Friday I think I will go to Derry to check out the Turner Prize exhibition.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

There Is No Kimchi In Cullybackey

I notice that my old housemate Ganching set herself the task of blogging daily throughout the month of November. Inspired by her example I intend to blog daily throughout December. After all there should be plenty to blog about considering the stresses and strain of Christmas preparation, the extra gadding about I shall be doing thanks to my brand new SmartPass and the inspiration provided by Morrissey's autobiography. And so it shall begin.

On the 30th November I took my SmartPass on its first outing. Naturally I was concerned that the issuers might have sent me a pretend card just for a prank but it appears to be the genuine article. I got off the train at Botanic in order to distance myself from the LLP (Loyalist Peaceful Protesters) parade but hearing and seeing the police helicopter hovering got me all excited and I headed briskly for City Hall. I mingled with the crowd, took a few photographs, then retreated with some haste down a side street when a big parading lady in a pink scarf started giving me unpeaceful dirty looks. Apparently the parade was peacable enough at the start but trouble did break out later in the day.

But by that time I was browsing the second hand book shops on Botanic Avenue. It was time to eat so I headed for Cafe Arirang which is a fusion of Northern Ireland scones and sandwiches and Korean dishes. I had spicy noodle soup (delicious) and a side of kimchi. I've been dying to try kimchi for ages ever since my blogmate Hails fell in love with it while she was living and working in South Korea. I've got a recipe and some Chinese cabbage (thanks Zoe) and I'm going to try it myself.

So there you go. Day 1 of blogging every day straight to New Year's Eve. Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Flegging Or Culture?

Here is a thing I have noticed. It is this - if something good happens about which I am pleased and excited then, soon afterwards, I start to feel the opposite. For example - yesterday I received my SmartPass which means I now travel free on all bus and train networks within Northern Ireland. I put the paperwork in six days ago and was told it would take three weeks. It was six days. So I was feeling pretty good. Now I had the freedom to go wherever I chose. It certainly fitted in with my intentions of Getting Out A Bit More.

Then, the very next day, this thought entered my head. "You are sixty years old and what have you achieved? You're never going to amount to much now. Thought you were going to write something decent. That's never going to happen now! You haven't even made a start on that patchwork quilt you were saving fabric for!"  Of course I put this negativity far from my mind. Sort of.

Ach well. What is the point of beating up on myself? I had a lovely day with my girls today and I made some wine and cleaned out a couple of cupboards. I created a good dinner. Tomorrow I shall make plans to use my SmartPass. I'm thinking of maybe going to Belfast to observe the protest. Or perhaps I could go visit the City of Culture. I wonder which would make me feel more positive about life?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Do You Remember Where...?

When I was ten I could never have imagined being fifty years older. To my young self it seemed an unimaginable, unbearable thing to be old. I was sure that I'd never see it. Nor did I care, because back then, even being twice ten, seemed aeons into the future.

My father would have been 44, my mother 37, John F. Kennedy was 46 and his wife Jacqueline 34. Irish Catholics were, at that time, tremendously proud of President Kennedy. It seemed a great thing to my parents' generation that an Irish-American Catholic was the 35th President of the United States of America. We Catholics might be getting treated as second-class citizens in Northern Ireland but, at least, one of our own was the leader of the free world.

It was dark when the news came. Daddy was feeding cattle in the byre and Mammy sent me out to tell him. I knew it was serious news but was still surprised at Daddy's reaction.

President Kennedy has been shot.

His poor face crumpled with dismay.

After the assassination Kennedy's portrait was hung in many an Irish home. Our neighbours even had a portrait of Pope John the 23rd, JFK and Bobby Kennedy, all in profile, hung in their kitchen. As the younger Kennedy died 5 years later I must have been 15 or 16 and I remember thinking it was terribly kitsch.

Time passed and the Kennedy lustre faded. As rumours and scandal emerged the Kennedy icons were quietly removed from kitchen walls. I was far too young to revere the family so experienced none of the disappointment that the older folk felt.

It used to be said, do you remember where you were when you heard the news that Kennedy was shot? I surely do. It takes me right back to the Murphystown Road, on a cold dark November evening when the warmth and light of our Irish-American dream began to evaporate. A strange time for a child. Two evenings later and we were visiting the McAuleys and the grown ups were full of the news. The television was switched on to see the latest and it was then that I saw that Kennedy's alleged assassin had himself been shot and killed whilst in police custody.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Christmas Is Coming

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

Miss Martha is getting very excited about Christmas and at nursery school they are planning to put on a Nativity play. I believe she heard the story of Jesus' birth for the first time today. It can't have been that convincing.

Granny, the Baby Jesus isn't real.
He's not real. It's only a story,

On the way home I taught her the Christmas Is Coming rhyme. She liked it. Kept getting me to repeat it.

Say it again, Granny.

There were lots of questions.

Why is the goose getting fat?
So that people can eat it at Christmas. Who wants a thin goose? It needs to be fat and juicy.
What's a ha'penny?
Old money that we don't use any more.
What's 'God bless you'?
Something nice that people say to each other.

Later, when painting, she was creating a Nativity scene. The stable was pink.

Granny, what colour is a camel?
Sort of orangey brown.

Martha loves mixing colours. She knows how to make pink. Lots of red and lots of white. Her palette is enormous amounts of pink and little daubs of the other colours. We tried to make orangey brown with pink, yellow and black. It didn't look right. I cried off claiming I needed 5 minutes alone with my coffee and no interruptions. Martha declared that orangey brown needed green to make it work. So she finished off with a pink stable, an orangey browny greeny camelly creature and some clouds. No Baby Jesus for he's not real.

However Santa Claus is very real indeed.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Out A Bit More

I'm off on my travels again tomorrow. This time going to Hanna's Close in Kilkeel with the grandchildren and their parents. I'm getting out a bit more these days. The reason is, when I was in Vancouver I realised that putting poor old Pearlie into respite for eight weeks a year was not the best way of getting respite from our situation. She had started to hate the disruption. To tell the truth, she was not fit for the upheaval neither physically or emotionally. When I told her, back in August, that we would not be sending her to respite care any more she beamed. I said,

We think you are getting too old for it.

Her look seemed to say, You have noticed. You have caught on at last!

Since then she has been noticeably happier and she has a much sweeter disposition.

And Nellybert? We're getting out a bit more and it is great. Pearlie stays home all the time and now and again we clear off. Sometimes we even get to go together.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Wine To Five

In the past three weeks I have bottled 5 gallons of wine (30 bottles), racked 21 gallons, poured one gallon down the toilet and started one gallon. It is almost like having a job. I also drank some and gave some away to delighted and grateful  recipients.

In other news I am going to Leitrim tomorrow and will be accompanied by Miss Martha. My packing is nearly completed and hers is done. No doubt her mother will send some stuff too but I've got the important things taken care of - a choice of car seats, games, paints, books and a Snoopy dog. She spoke of her dressing up box but I don't think there will be time to dress up. I have packed The Tailor of Gloucester. I only read it for the first time yesterday and must admit that I found it very heartening. I think Martha will like it.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Happy Birthday, Two Today

birthday girl, originally uploaded by NellyMoser.
Evie is two years old today. Happy birthday adorable one!

Thursday, October 31, 2013


I have great faith in the prayer the Memorare ever since it was taught to me by Mrs Magee at Tannaghmore  Primary School just before I went in to sit my 11+. Which exam I passed not that it ever did me much good. So that makes it around half a century I've been saying the prayer in my anxious times.

I've been saying it a lot this week for I have a special person who needs to find a bit of strength to keep her going. As always, my prayer is for the best possible outcome even if that outcome is not the most obvious one. Our Lady knows best.

Then it occurred to me that there might be another mother praying for her child and that she might be hoping for an outcome very different from mine. Still. Not to fret. Our Lady knows best.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Late Onset Allergies

I spent the greatest part of my life without allergies. Then in July 2011 I was stung by a honeybee and took a severe reaction to it. And that was that. Ever since I have taken the greatest care to avoid stings and I always know where my EpiPen is. Two years later and I never had another allergic reaction to anything. Until I went to Vancouver.

At first I didn't realise I was reacting to allergens but after a few days a pattern emerged. It seemed to be triggered by exposure to trees. It wasn't a severe reaction - just itchy hives all over any exposed skin. They faded within twenty minutes of getting indoors or into a vehicle.  I consulted a pharmacist and bought antihistamine tablets and all seemed to be well. I expected it all to go away on my return home.

Except it didn't. Any exposure to trees, wind or rain and I'm all blotchy and itchy with hives. My recent trip to Fanad really brought it to a head. I got wet a few times and any skin that came in contact with damp clothes was itchy and covered in hives. My face was a sight and so were my hands. Guess it is time to visit the GP.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Simple Things

Today was a good day. And when I'm cooking on a good day it seems that everything turns out well. We had toad-in-the-hole and roasted squash with apple crumble and custard for afters. Simple and delicious. I made the batter using a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Lots of eggs and 1 part water to two parts milk. It is much lighter batter than one made with all milk. The only problem was I didn't have enough room in the oven for everything but Zoe came up with the idea of separating the squash into three loaf tins so we sort of jigsaw-ed everything in.

And nothing got burned.

I enjoy cooking for the family but sometimes I try to go all gourmet and get stressed and have disasters so my new plan is (a) to have a plan; (b) keep it simple.

And when it is simple there is more time for cuddles, fun and giggles with the grandchildren. What could be nicer?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Cave Near Marseille

It is coming close to Halloween so perhaps this is a good time to share a scary tale that also happens to be true.

It was sometime in the early eighties and Bert was coming to the end of a long, leisurely trip around Europe. His funds were running low and his plan was that he would wend his way homewards but, before doing that, he wanted to meet up with an old friend from Ballymena who was teaching English in Marseille. But when he called at her apartment he was told that she was away for a few days. He had around three days to kill before Rosie would return and rather than leave without seeing her he decided to wait it out. Because of his cash shortage he couldn't afford to stay in the city. Being an adaptable sort of chap he decided to travel just outside Marseille. He caught a bus to a likely looking area and on exploring found himself a nice dry cave. It was wide enough to accommodate him lying down, deep enough to give some protection from inclement weather but not high enough to stand up in. It was ideal. He tramped back down to civilisation, bought bread, cheese, fruit and wine and settled down for the night.

The wine did its work and Bert was soon fast asleep until he was startled awake at some pre-dawn hour. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end and he felt quite alarmed. There was something tugging at his sleeping bag. He shone his torch around the cave but there was nothing to be seen. He decided it must be the wind catching it or a animal tugging on it. He settled down and went back to sleep. But not before checking his watch. It was nearly 4 am.

The next day he put the experience out of his mind. It was probably a dream. He spent the day exploring the countryside before going into town for more supplies. That night the wine did its customary work and he fell asleep easily. Until he wakened, hair prickling on his scalp and neck. There was that tugging at his sleeping bag, more insistent this time. Terrified he pulled the sleeping bag over his face and lay shivering until dawn. He decided that this would definitely be his last night in the cave.

The third day brought torrential rain. He mooched around all day telling himself that this nightly disturbance was all in his mind. He decided to give it one more night. After all, he'd see Rosie the next day. There was the prospect of company, a bed and a hot meal and just one more night to get through. What harm would a little ruffling or tugging at his sleeping bag do?

At the usual time, the hour before the dawn, Bert felt the familiar prickling at the back of his neck. He drew the sleeping bag right over his head. Then, horrified, felt himself being picked up as if two sets of strong arms had each taken a corner of his sleeping bag . He felt himself being flung into the far reaches of the cave. And there he cowered, trembling and sweating until the first glimmer of light entered the cave. He gathered up his belongings and left. An hour later he was sitting in a café on the outskirts of town surrounded by people on their way to work. He drank coffee and smoked. And thought, did that really happen?

All was forgotten when he met up with Rosie later. That night he slept on a comfortable couch in a warm apartment, all terrors behind him. But not entirely forgotten, for this strange experience has stayed with Bert all his life. It was one of the first stories he ever shared with me. And now and again it is spoken of, whenever the subject of ghosts, ghouls or hauntings comes up in conversation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hair Story

Miss Evie comes to me with her hair in bows and clips and looking quite the young lady. As the day progresses her pretty hair ornaments are yanked out and she looks rather dishevelled. This does not trouble her overmuch as she is not as concerned about her appearance as her big sister is.

Sometimes Granny tries to remedy matters but she is not as nifty at fixing hair as Evie's parents. I don't think Evie cares much for my efforts either!

Catch Yourself On

I was happy there for a long time, the longest time ever since those long ago summer holidays of my primary school days. I put it down to the contentment that comes with increasing maturity and some needful adjustments to my thinking.

Then my mood started to flag. I was tired all the time. My legs hurt a lot. Reckon I've got a lurgy. I googled all my symptoms and it turns out I've got Blogger's Block. I blame American TV.

Because when one has Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Homeland to watch it does rather eat into one's leisure time.

Then there is micro-managing the household chores and caring too much about how the towels are folded. That is a very foolish way to spend those precious moments.

What I need to do is micro-manage my daily schedule. Any advice would be greatly appreciated and I may need to make a spreadsheet. Now I must go because there is another episode of Homeland to watch where Carrie must deal with the aftermath of having being shafted by Saul once more. She had already been shafted on her stairs but at least he ( a Brodie lookalike lite) had the common decency not to stay the night.