Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vine Weevil Blues

You may speak of snails and slugs
And other filthy bugs
But no pest is quite so evil
As the ugly, vile vine weevil

The tenth visitor of the day

I like to pretend that I am a kind, considerate person but the truth is I am not! The truth is that I am hateful and harbour murderous thoughts. In fact, I sometimes carry out murderous deeds and not always in my imagination.

This is my Kill List.

In alphabetical order:

Aphids - I set ladybirds on them. If there are no ladybirds available I squirt them with soapy water.

Bores - cannot stand them and, believe it or not, I am not easily bored. 

Carrot Flies - I hate them so much I buy all my carrots in Lidls. Let someone else worry.

Cold Callers - I have no tolerance for these people at all. I have been known to be rude. Or I tell lies. "I'm sorry this is not a good time. There has been a death in the family." And they hang up on me. How rude!

Cruel People - I don't believe in an eye for an eye but often cruelty, especially cruelty to animals, is not properly punished. More jail time needed. And not comfy jail either. Something like the sort of dungeons they have in Game of Thrones. Chained up, bread and water, gruel. That sort of thing.

Other Drivers - shouldn't be allowed. The roads should just be for me and my special friends.

People Who Call To The House Just As We Are Sitting Down To Eat And Comment, “Youse Are Always Eating.” - just fuck off back to your own house then.

People Who Park In My Spot - bloody cheek!

People Who Pee On The Toilet Seat - mainly Bert but he has other good qualities that compensate for an occasional fail in this department.

Preachers - I'm fairly tolerant of religious people and try to be respectful of other people's views but sometimes they are not respectful of mine. My tolerance does not stretch to include the exuberance of those belonging to our local cult. No! I do not want a free hug! I may hit you if you try it.

Slugs - I take great pleasure in feeding them to the chickens and hardly feel guilty at all.

The Tenth Visitor Of The Day - sometimes we get a lot of visitors. It is because we are both at home and because we are both so lovely and hospitable and nice. But when it's been a very busy day I do sometimes fantasise about moats and drawbridges and a hired sniper in the tree house.

Vine Weevils - hateful, hateful critters. I can never find the adults but I do take a delicious pleasure in squishing the life out of the larvae.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Nice Memory

I'm recycling old blogposts again. This one is from six years ago, when our darling Matty was still with us. Back then Ronni made this very apt comment,

Sounds like a lovely day, to be cherished later, when you need a nice memory to get you through.

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of Matty's death. 

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey

Matty and Hannah and I took a trip to Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey Our Lady of Bethleham Abbeytoday. I wanted to get a Mass Card for a friend of ours whose father died earlier this week. I don't really understand the etiquette of Mass cards so I thought it would be a good idea to take Matty who knows all the ins and outs.

Matty usually goes to Antrim with her favourite sister-in-law on Saturday mornings so I phoned first.

You not out with Maud this morning?

No. I told her I just didn't trust my legs today.

Bert and I discussed this over our porridge.

Says she just doesn't trust her legs to go out shopping with Maud.

Why not?

Maybe she's afraid they'll go shoplifting or slope off to score some weed. Or maybe they'll slip into a betting shop and blow the pension on the Grand National.

Happily she felt that her legs were trustworthy enough to go on a jaunt with Hannah and Nelly.

The Abbey is, like all repositories of rosary beads, Mass cards and religious paraphernalia, a weird and wonderful place. You go in. The first thing that you see is a miniature set of priest's Mass vestments. You wonder why? Who'd want that? There are shelves and shelves of religious pictures and statues, there are rosary beads galore, there are stands and stands of pre-signed Mass cards. There is a monk sitting in the corner to bless the holy stuff you buy for it's no use if it's not blessed. There is Status Quo playing 'Whatever You Want' on the sound system. Whether this was the monk's choice or the delightful young shop assistant's choice I do not know. Probably the monk as he was 50+.

I quickly choose my Mass card; a bargain at two quid. Meanwhile Matty gets heavily involved in a conversation with the shop assistant on the possibilities of buying a book on the life of Saint Anne but, said saint being slightly obscure, none was to be found. Matty reports that Anne is the patron saint of grandmothers. With Jesus as her grandchild, she would be, wouldn't she?

I experienced Matty's untrustworthy leg in one of Portglenone's charity shops. She does this genuflection thing with it. She says the strength just leaves her leg for a moment. I tried distraction as a cure and pointed her in the direction of a shelf of brand new shoes. No shoes were purchased - just another beige skirt.

The day ended well. After dropping Matty off in Tannaghmore and Hannah in Ballymena, Rosie and I went for a brisk walk in the Ecos Centre. It was there that I bumped into an old chum who shamelessly told me that he'd always had the hots for me. What's not to like about hearing that?

Of course I told Bert the minute I got home. He laughed.

Aren't you raging? Aren't you going to go in and start a fight with him?

No. I'll just congratulate him on his good taste next time I see him.

What's not to like about hearing that?

Friday, April 25, 2014

In Praise Of The Dutch Hoe

September used to be my favourite month. I was young then. When one is young the beginning of the end of things is poignant and sweet. But when one is older it is just sad, and even a little bit frightening. For, if I live as long as my mother did, I'm in the September of my life.

Now in the September of my life I find that I love April best. For new beginnings, the light and all the summer to look forward to and then, at summer's end, September, my second favourite month.

This is the first year since Matty died that I have enjoyed my garden. Between grieving and cold wet springs it had got completely out of hand. Last autumn Bert and I dug almost everything out of the perennial garden with a view to starting over. Only about half of it survived the winter.

I started working on it after Paris and at first I thought I wouldn't be fit for the task. But a wonderful thing – the more I worked the fitter I became and the fitter I became the happier and and more hopeful I became. I started on my vegetable garden too and I have worked harder in the garden this past few weeks than in all the three years since Matty died.

I have discovered the joy of the Dutch hoe. Bert has been preaching hoeing to me for years but I was unconvinced. I preferred to get down on my knees and battle the weeds at eye level. Now dropping to my knees is something I have to give a bit of thought to. There is the getting up again to consider.

I was worried I was overdoing it with the Dutch hoe. I asked Bert,

What if I blunt it?
I'll buy you a new one.

May was always my best month in the perennial garden. This year the show will be sparse. I have a few wallflowers, saxifrage, primroses on the go. I have pushed in nasturtium plugs here and there. The geraniums and potentillas are far fewer than there were. I don't know if my agapanthus will make it. There are no foxgloves and very few aquilegia. But there is something about that well tilled, almost weed free, brown soil that pleases me. It is a blank canvas. I can do what I want with it. So even and smooth and Dutch hoed to pieces. Until today.

My blank canvas

I had been feeling a bit guilty that I hadn't been keeping up with the planting but I was having so much fun Dutch hoeing and seed sowing in the poly tunnel that there wasn't enough time.

Just before they escaped

And then I noticed that the pigs had escaped from their field. I set off in search. The first one I came across was Rusty. Coming out of our house as if he had every right to be there. He turned the corner to the front of the house and there was Lily, standing in my perennial bed, digging a great hole with her snout. I wonder if she was searching for truffles? I was ever so glad I hadn't completed the planting.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I Wish I Had A Pencil Thin Moustache

So Bert grew a pencil thin moustache, the Boston Blackie kind. At least, that was his original plan. A good  pencil thin needs a lot of training and a delicate touch with the razor. I will give him this - he did shave oftener, all the better to accentuate his new facial hair.

Kent Taylor as Boston Blackie

Opinions on the pencil thin varied.

Pearlie: That's a sketch!
Clint: Damnable looking.
Me: You remind me of Blakey from On The Buses or maybe George Roper from Man About The House.
Rod: Really suits you mate.

Bert chose to listen only to Rod. I wasn't worried. I knew that he'd shave it off eventually and that I would be delighted with his fresh, youthful look.

Today was the day. It was like trading in an old worn out husband for a younger model.

Sorry there are no pictures. I couldn't have done that pencil thin justice. But here is one of Blakey from On The Buses.

Not Bert

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Haying In Marshland

Hannah's birthday today! Happy Birthday Hannah.

The birthday girl is good at anagrams. Can she work out the title of her birthday blogpost?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wine & Cemeteries

The Banjos came over on Saturday night. Mrs Banjo brought her first ever wine for racking. It was a raspberry made from Asda's finest frozen fruit. To be honest I wasn't expecting much from it but it is coming along very nicely. A good ruby red colour, clear, tasty and alcoholic. Of course we judged this on the merest sip during the racking process but I will be looking for the recipe. I might need to use frozen fruit as we replaced our raspberry canes this year, and thanks to the very wet Spring they were late in getting into the ground.

Tonight I racked one of my elderflowers and a rhubarb. The elderflower was made from fresh flowers. I'd previously used dried flowers. The flavour is good but it is rather too sweet for my liking. I'll try it again this year but will go easy on the sugar.

Rhubarb. What can I say? It never disappoints me but looking back at my notes I see I was very adventurous with this one. I started it in February 2013 and used a pint of pineapple wine as a starter. Then, racking it in October I seem to have lashed a bit of birch sap and rhubarb into it. It didn't clear that well but is strong. Not one for entering in the County Show.

And now, back to Paris. This is an illustration from Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline's Rescue. It features the Père Lachaise Cemetery which we visited on our last day in Paris. As Bemelmans did not see fit to include the last resting place of Marcel Proust here is my photograph.

I quite liked Bemelmans' depiction of Oscar Wilde's grave. There was no point trying to take a picture of the tomb as it was mobbed by school parties and middle-aged women in lipstick kissing the plastic barrier.

Interestingly, as London Sister and I were wandering around a handsome Frenchman approached us and enquired, “Proust?” We were so pleased that we had not been taken for Jim Morrison acolytes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Incident on the Champs-Élysées

Eating breakfast in Paris was a real pleasure. On the Rue des Abbesses we found a popular wee place where we got a breakfast based on croissants, fresh orange juice and café au latte. The best part was that it took ages to eat. The French really enjoy their food but they don't eat huge portions and are rarely overweight.

There was a police presence on the street. A van had reversed into some scaffolding creating a potential health & safety hazard. There were two officers gesturing that pedestrians should walk on the other side of the street. There was no officiousness, just Gallic shrugs as if to say, 'this idiot, what can one do?' I can assure you, the PSNI or the Met would have been a sight more straight-faced.

After le petit déjeuner we took the Metro to the Place de la Concorde and proceeded towards the Champs-Elysées. Such a gorgeous walk especially the part where gardens and beautiful buildings abounded. When we finally got to the shops I was slightly less impressed. Fancy stores are fancy stores no matter where one is. The closer we got to the Arc de Triomphe the thicker the crowd became. It was interesting to be there but I am not that keen on jostling crowds. At one point I was knocked slightly sideways and a young woman who I took to have bumped into me looked over her shoulder and smiled a disarming apology. I thought no more of it. A moment afterwards I stopped to take this picture.

We wandered on towards the Arc de Triomphe and decided we had seen enough. As we descended into the Metro I reached inside my bag for my wallet. It wasn't there. I realised straight away that the bump from the smiling girl must have been the exact moment I was robbed. My wallet, the last birthday gift my mother gave me, had contained more than €200, my bank card and my three-day metro ticket. I'd been wearing my bag over my shoulder and it was hanging in front of my body.

This is how I was wearing my bag

There must have been two of them - the woman who bumped into me and an accomplice. I suspect I had been noted and followed as a promising looking mark. The way I was wearing my bag had lulled me into a false sense of security and I was relaxed and very engaged with my surroundings. Typical tourist.

After the shock came the shame. I felt bad that I had let this happen to me and because it put a shadow on our trip. I have to say that London Sister was brilliant. She remained calm and practical and that helped me to keep my head as well. I made a quick decision. I was not going to let this incident put a damper on things. Despite it we were going to continue to enjoy our break.

The theft was reported to the police and my bank card was cancelled. I wasn't the only one making a report either. There were at least two other incidents being reported while we were in station. Afterwards I found that I kept reproaching myself about the incident for I'd made a lot of silly mistakes. Firstly, I had more cash on me than I needed. Secondly, I had too many valuables in one place and biggest mistake of all, my bag didn't zip closed. But I had to put it behind me. We were going to keep on having a good time!

We maybe lost an hour of that beautiful afternoon in the police station but, as LS pointed out, if it had been my passport that had been stolen our carefree break would have been over from that point. Thankful for small mercies. I still had a passport and the theft occurred without me noticing. Imagine if I’d been mugged. I'd be shaking!

After The Incident.

Jef Aerosol street art close to the Centre Pompidou

 Participants in a loud and exciting drum parade

 Paris is full of pet dogs. LS noticed that there were very few Jack Russell terriers. After she made this observation we saw lots of Jacks. This one didn't like the noise of the drums. Poor pet!

Street scene in the Marais district

 We had dinner here. Le Basilic on rue Lepic, Montmartre

Interesting piece of street art in Montmartre

And so to bed. Another full day. Just before dropping off I permitted myself to experience a little sadness about having been relieved of my cash and Matty's last gift. Then I put it into perspective. I was in Paris, not as rich as I had been but still in Paris and still having a good time. And tomorrow still to come.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Paris For Real: Weddings and Pigeons

When London Sister first suggested Paris as a possible destination for our weekend break I was ever so slightly underwhelmed despite never having set foot in France in my entire life - not even to Lourdes or Calais. I'm not sure why this was but perhaps it might have been that I had seen so much of the city in films that I was under the impression I'd already been there. But that turned out to be the most exciting thing. For, like London and (I suspect) New York, Paris seems terribly familiar and yet, like London, it is even more exciting to see it for real. And now that I've been there and come home again I cannot wait to return.

On the Saturday we bought 3-day Metro tickets and headed to the Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries. The weather was delightful, sunny, balmy, Spring at least three weeks ahead of Ireland. We checked out the Louvre but it was far too lovely a day to hang about in queues and then be indoors. The Louvre isn't going away. Another time.

Just wandering around, taking in the sights, walking by the Seine, enjoying Spring. That was enough for me. In the afternoon we went to La promenade plantée, which is an elevated planted area follows an old  railway line. We walked its entire length for LS and I are both very keen on gardens and plants. Over 30,000 steps we walked that day. Tired and happy. That evening we dined well in the Quartier Pigalle and later that night we were asleep before our heads touched our pillows. A great day indeed.

Everywhere there were brides having their photographs taken, on the Seine, by the Seine, by churches beside the Seine. 

Next: A very unfortunate incident on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Friday, April 04, 2014

An Evening In Paris

This time last week when I was packing for my weekend in Paris, Miss Martha said,

Maybe you'll see Madeline.

She was referring to the central character in the children's book Madeline's Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans. This was a very lucky find in Bellaghy's one and only charity shop. The girls love it and I've read it to them over and over again.

The trip to Paris was a birthday gift from London Sister who arranged both flights and accommodation. She flew from London, I flew from Belfast. Very convenient for us both. Of course I had pre-conceived ideas about one of the most visited city on earth. For a start I expected the plane to contain vast numbers of philosophers, poets and lovers. I had forgotten about Disneyland Paris. The plane actually contained vast numbers of over-excited children and their equally over-excited parents and grandparents. The little girl sitting behind me spent most of the journey exuberantly kicking the back of my seat which I bore with great fortitude.

I met LS at the airport and we continued on to Montmartre. Getting off at the Gare du Nord did not give the best impression of Paris for it is a rather seedy area. Rather that take the metro a few stops to the station nearest our hotel we decided to walk. It did not seem that far on the map. And it wasn't. We knew it was close to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica so we kept heading up and before long we were within sight of  the church.

We then took around 40 minutes to locate the hotel although I'd guess we were never any further than 5 minutes away from it. But those little places and streets are confusing. So, by the time we were checked in, it was near midnight. No matter, for this was Paris and a Friday night. We found a lively bar where we wined and dined and had a great amount of fun. I do love bar staff who look like they are having every bit as good a time as the patrons and who ululate to North African music and do, right in our faces, the thing that is now described as 'twerking'. This rarely happens in Ballymena where bar staff neither twerk, ululate or enjoy themselves. 

Next: We nearly visit the Louvre