Sunday, July 28, 2013

Remembering Matty

Matty would have been 87 years old today. I would have been visiting her with my card and present. Still miss her every day.

This is one of my favourite pictures of her, cradling her great-grandchild and namesake, Martha. She loved that child with all her heart. I wish she could have met Martha's sister, Evie, for she would have been just as adored.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sweet Baby Chickens

Poor Bert has had a tough few days for the dreaded digger man has been here. Digger men are terrible people to have about a place for they need attended from morning to night and they also need massive quantities of stones to fill their drains.This has been a desperate place this last wee while for if it is not Robinson's Quarry lorries roaring into the yard at sparrow's first fart, it is The Silage Boys driving massive plant up the back lane and the minute they have the fields shaved there is Hector the Farmer in straight after them with his slurry spreader totally stinking the place up. Then, if they can find a space to park, we have Pearlie's carers in four times a day. And they say country living is peaceful. It is not. I thought we had the place to ourselves this evening and went outside to shift my baby chickens to their dormitory and of course I was singing them a very silly song that went something like this,

Sweet baby chickens
Have to go to sleep
Sweet little hen babies
Going cheep, cheep, cheep.*

Next thing I spotted Stephen the Farmer lurking in some bushes. I brazened it out and bade him a good evening. If a woman can't sing a silly song in her own yard where can she sing one? To tell the truth I'll be glad to get away from this madhouse and escape to the relative peace and tranquillity of Vancouver.

Four more sleeps and, with a bit of luck, another one on the plane. And, according to my friend Bilrus, I am to keep my eyes peeled for a glimpse of Sasquatch.

Sung to the music from the chorus The Toreador Song, Carmen

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Branch Drop

On the 12th of July, unexpectedly and without warning, a huge branch fell from one of our mature beech trees. It was on a very hot and calm afternoon. Less than an hour earlier two children had been playing on the swing underneath the trees. The branch that fell brought another with it. Altogether they must have weighed at least a ton. I'd never heard of this phenomenon until it happened here at Springhill.

We were having a barbecue and there were a good few people around. When we heard the noise, a loud sharp crack, followed by a creaking and a loud crash as the branches hit the ground, I thought at first that the tree house had come down. Almost everyone made a dash for the trees because no one was sure where Ben was. He had been playing up there for most of the day with another child. It was a big relief when we saw that he was fine. In fact, he had seen the branch drop and was the first on the scene. He whooped, "Bert is going to be so happy! Look at all that firewood!"

One of our guests had heard of this happening. He had worked in a government department that dealt with tree preservation orders. He told us that sudden branch falls in hot, still weather is something that can happen to old trees.

I checked it out later.

Ed Perry, Farm Advisor Stanislaus County
University of California, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Stanislaus County

Over the last couple of weeks a phenomenon known as “summer branch drop” has been apparent throughout the area. Also called “sudden limb failure,” the phenomenon occurs during periods of very hot weather when apparently sound, relatively large limbs break out of large, mature shade trees. Since most people think that branches only break during windy conditions, a large branch crashing to the ground on a hot and calm day causes some excitement.

Branches that fail due to summer branch drop are usually long and horizontal, rather than more upright. Oddly enough, many times the break occurs along the length of the branch somewhere, rather than at its point of attachment to the trunk. While some broken branches may have wounds or areas of wood decay, many that drop are free of any obvious defects and appear sound. Therefore, summer branch drop is very difficult to predict.

There is still no generally accepted explanation for the phenomenon. However, most tree experts believe lack of adequate soil moisture, or drought stress, is to blame. This is a bit difficult to explain, since branches actually become lighter during hot weather as they lose more water from leaves than they gain from the root system. Studies have shown that branches actually shrink and rise during summer afternoons. Another theory is that water stress causes the concentration of ethylene, a plant hormone, to increase. Ethylene is a gas produced by all plants that effects all stages of plant growth and development, including processes involved in cell aging. There is a possibility that increases in ethylene could dissolve the cementation of cell walls in the wood, causing the branch to break. Others suggest that internal cracks in large branches, caused by wounds or improper pruning, eventually spread outward, causing the branch to fracture.

The phenomenon is less common in the British Isles but it does happen. The Arboricultural Association said it was aware of a number of reports of branches dropping off trees, an event it says is associated with prolonged hot spells.

Paul Smith, a technical officer with the organisation, said: “Certainly there’s a clear relationship between the weather conditions and the frequency of summer branch drop.

The indications are that it’s to do with water stresses within very large, often overextended or elongated limbs.

That is how close the biggest branch was to the swing. Had anyone been using the swing when the branch came down, they would have been very fortunate to escape serious or mortal injury.

There was no obvious sign of rot or decay. The part of the branch where it broke from the trunk was very wet beneath the bark.

I have always thought that our mature beech trees were the very best thing about this property. I feel differently now. A little more anxious. Some experts say that when sudden branch drop occurs in a tree, there is an increased chance that it will happen again. The branch that collapsed was not the only large, extended branch on that tree. The swing is on another. With great trees come great responsibilities. Perhaps it is time to call in the experts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


The morning after. Oldest to youngest in chronological order.

Summer came back! We spent the weekend in Leitrim at a family party, It is rare these days that we have a gathering and this one was particularly enjoyable as it did not involve a burying. The weather was kind, the company was wonderful, the party legendary, the music first class. The only snag was the hordes of hungry midges and, perhaps, that all of our vehicles got layered  in a soggy, rushy field.

Miss Martha was of the opinion that this was the best bit of the party. 

Freshly watered vegetables.

 But we were so tired on the drive home. It was a long hot drive. Bert drove the first 50 miles, I drove the next 30 and after that we were changing every 20 or so miles. I wasn't looking forward to having to drive Jazzer back to Antrim after we got home nor was I relishing the thought of the watering we'd have to do in the polytunnel.

And when we drove on to the yard there was Marty! No drive to Antrim. Bliss! It got better. She had made a roast chicken dinner. She had even cooked a vegetable course. Pearlie was happy and content. The animals were fed. The house was shiny clean and, best of all, she'd even watered the polytunnel.

A rare photograph of Bert outdoors without a boiler suit. That is how hot it is!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Too Many Dogs And Too Much Noise

This morning I am in Cullybackey surrounded by Banjos, chewed up crayons and dog poo. Tonight I hope to be in Lovely Leitrim to celebrate my youngest sister's birthday. Last night I decided on early bed as I have been very tired. I managed to get there just after midnight. At one a.m. I was woken by the sound of the Banjos going to bed. Mother and son were in high spirits and giggled and squealed at the amusing antics of the dog pack. I considered screaming at them to shut (the fuck) up but decided against it for two reasons, the first being that I hadn't the energy and the second that it would be churlish. Four hours and ten minutes later (5:10 am) the two youngest dogs were gambolling and frolicking in the attic, up and down the stairs and along the landing. I swear a couple of bull stirks could hardly have been louder. I was churlish.

I am the Princess and the Pea of noise. Why can everyone else sleep through din? Why am I not a hermit living on a lonely island?

Still. Party time. Who knows - I might even enjoy it.

P.S. As I finish off I can hear Benjamin Banjo playing ball with the two youngest dogs in the room next to me. Bert is trying to squeeze a few moments more shut-eye in that same room. This pleases me. I hope he is suffering as I suffered.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Chompy Dog Is No Good, Chop Her Up For Firewood

It has been a funny old week. It was six days ago that we realised that Bonnie was going to die. There has been a lot to get used to. Her favourite hobby was barking and I don't know if I miss that. It is strange her not being there in the morning but rather a relief not to have to watch her struggle out of comfortable sleep to go stiffly out to the yard for pees and poos. She never went far, no doubt the result of spending her early years chained. There was a lot of poop picking. I won't miss that.

The pup has taken up barking in Bonnie's stead. We have a shooting range close by and Jess does not like that. I'd rather listen to gun fire than the pup's shrill barking. Perhaps she will get used to it. I do hope she doesn't take against the sound of Lambeg drums for marching season is upon us. I had to get used to that too.

I was thinking today about how expensive she is. We were out on a run to a local dog shelter donating Bonnie's left over medication. Bert had re-upped just a few days before she died and it would have been wrong to waste it. I left Judy and Jess in the van for ten minutes and when I returned Judy was sitting there like a perfect brown angel while the pup lay on the floor on the driver's side chewing the floor to pieces.

So - a list. Since we have had Jess she has eaten,

Two leather sofas
Half a dozen cushions
Several electrical leads
A mobile phone
Miss Evie's new shoes
Bert's spectacles
My spare spectacles
Miss Martha's uncooked scones
Several pairs of wellington boots
Many soft toys
Miss Evie's favourite Eric Carle books
A Be Good Tanyas CD
A Peugeot van

And that is only what I can remember!