Saturday, September 27, 2014

Stroke City Again

Every year I hope for a decent summer and wish for an Indian summer. This year my hopes and wishes came true. At the back of my mind I worry that this is climate change in action then, being sensible, remember that climate change and the weather are different things. Still, it is good to know that fine summers are not a thing of the past.

The hedgerows are loaded with berries and, as always, I've been out picking blackberries, I've not had to walk further than ten minutes from the house to gather pounds and pounds of them. Stretching for the juiciest berries, always high in the hedge, is doing wonders for my stiff shoulders. It's a bitter sweet thing gathering blackberries for I'm loaded with memories of my younger days and remembering 2012, gathering berries for consolation as my dear cousin Joe lay dying.

I hope the Indian summer continues into October as we expect many family visitors. Ganching is doing a tour of Ireland and Vancouver Brother will be here in just over a week. He is including London and France in his grand tour. Leitrim Sister will be popping up at some point, London Sister is expected near the end of the month and everything would be complete if Kerry Sister could make Antrim this side of Christmas.

And I've just had daughter Katy and her husband to stay. It was little more than a long weekend but still a delight to have them. On Tuesday we went to Derry on the train. It was rather a dull day but we were able to appreciate the spectacular scenery between Coleraine and the Maiden City, described by Michael Palin as “one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world”.

We visited the murals in the Bogside and Mark was taken aback to see graffiti stating 'Brits Out.' Katy was quick to reassure him that this didn't apply to the average Englishman, rather to the British state and government. I'm not certain that he was completely consoled by this knowledge.

Katy and Mark in the Craft Village

Derry is not a big city and the part within its walls is small too. We visited Bedlam and I noted that the crocheted and knitted cladding is looking less vibrant than before. The weather takes its toll. The Bernadette mural in the Bogside is in need of restoration too. Before Derry became the City of Culture many of its buildings were dilapidated and overgrown with buddleia. Now there are signs of a return to dilapidation. Despite this I love Derry, I love its history and I love its vibrancy. Some say that it is a violent city by night but I find its people to be incredibly welcoming and friendly.

On the way home we sat on the other side of the train, the side that does not look out to the sea and instead admired the hills. A worthwhile visit for sure and I look forward to going back very soon.

Places we enjoyed visiting in Stroke City.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stag's Horn Sumach

I saw a few of these when I was driving Katy and Mark to the airport and it made me wish I still had Stag's Horn Sumach growing in my garden. The one in the picture was in my last garden (now Clint's) and he, of course, ripped it out. Before he did so I planted up three or four suckers and they were growing well. I left them in the poly tunnel among Bert's climbers. They went missing and I believe some one stole them. It happens occasionally. We might not spot a few missing clematis but when it is something of mine, I notice.

I stopped in Antrim to check a few garden places but no Stag's Horn. At home I checked my new Chiltern Seeds catalogue and discovered that I can get seeds. Joy and happiness. Next year I am hoping to start enough perennials and shrubs from seed that will give me enough of a surplus that I can sell to cover the cost of the seed, maybe even make a small profit.

We did go to Derry yesterday and I'll write about it soon. I miss Katy so much.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fun With Cardboard

I have had the pleasure this weekend of the company of all my children and grandchildren. Yes folks - my darling Katkin and her husband are visiting from Norfolk. It's a whole year since I've seen her. Tomorrow we are going to Derry. There will be photographs. Until then here are some photographs.

What ever can Aunt Katy be pushing in the NinkyNonk? Dave knows but Jess doesn't.

My word! Small children. Someone needs to inform the Health and Safety Executive without delay.

Martha might be deciding that all she wants for Christmas this year is a selection of large cardboard boxes. Who needs toys?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Significant Date

Seamus as a young boy

I'm not one of those women who gets upset if the husband forgets the wedding anniversary. I usually forget it myself. It was only yesterday that I had to go to the filing cabinet to check the actual date of Nellybert's 2008 marriage for a form I was completing. That anniversary was less than a month ago and, as usual, I forgot it for I've far better things to be thinking of.

And I'm far more likely to remember my parents' birthdays than the date of their deaths. Birthdays have had longer to get lodged in the part of my mind that records such things. Daddy's birthday was exactly one week after my own and when I was a child I thought that made me special. We were both September, both Virgos. I was his first born child and considered myself his early birthday present. That is the conceit of small children - I see it in my own grandchildren and think it very sweet.

Seamus and Katy

I was 27 when he was my age and thought him very aged indeed. His two grandchildren, my first and second born were six and nearly two. His other five grandchildren, including my own youngest, were still to come. Daddy adored small children. Like many of his generation he found teenagers difficult. He wasn't the easiest father when we were growing up. He was hard to talk to and we thought he was rather a bear, a grizzly bear. I think one of my sisters called him Badger but not to his face. No matter what we did, he was always there for us, always ready to help, always prepared to rescue us from whatever scrapes we found ourselves in. And the curious thing was that the greater the wrongdoing the less he had to say about it. Although I made him cry on more than one occasion. I used to be ashamed of that.

This is the anniversary of the day he was born. Happy birthday Daddy. You were a wonderful father and grandfather.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Judy and Coco

Four years ago we picked Judy from a litter of motherless pups. We were told that they were a cross between a collie bitch and a chocolate Labrador. Although I have my doubts about the Labrador part. Judy looks more like a lurcher than anything.

Most of the pups were the typical black and white border collie type but there were just two that were milk chocolate brown and white and it was those two that caught my eye. I had one of them in my arms. Sniffing that glorious puppy smell and kissing its adorable, silky ears. This is the one, I said to Bert.

Then I looked at the other brown and white one. The black and white ones did not stand a chance! I set brown number one down and picked up number two, smelt its puppy delectableness and felt its soft and silky ears. No, it's this one!

And that one it was.

I heard, although I'm not certain it is true, that Judy was the only one of the litter homed direct and that the remainder of the pups went to a rescue centre.

A few years back we spotted the picture in the local paper. And thought that Coco looked a lot like Judy. We wondered if she could possibly be the other brown and white pup. Then, while going through Pearlie's bits and pieces we saw that she had clipped the picture and kept it. Bert is convinced that Coco is Judy's long lost brown and white sister. I wonder....


Friday, September 05, 2014


Anyone know exactly where Linford is? It's near Sallagh Braes. John Steen my g-grandfather lived in Linford in 1901/1911 while his father Jacob Steen was in Sallagh in the 1850s.

Posted on Facebook August 2014

Linford, Sallagh Braes and the surrounding area

In the census years 1901 and 1911 my great grandfather John Steen was living in Linford. John Steen was a shepherd and he and his family were the only people in that area. He worked for a landowner Campbell Tweed whose descendant, also called Campbell Tweed, still owns and farms the land. Linford is a hilly place not far from the Sallagh Braes. I was curious as to what it must have been like to live and work in that bleak country. Lonely and bleak it may have been where the Steens lived but Linford and the surrounding area is now designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.

I got a few responses from my Facebook post but the most helpful was from my cousin Clare who put me in touch with local historian, Felix McKillop. I spoke to Felix on the phone a few nights ago. The first thing I learned was that he is kin to me. His grandmother and my great grandmother, Rose Steen nee Campbell, were sisters and that makes us second cousins, once removed.

I also learned that the herd's house where John Steen lived is still there, the only dwelling house in the townland. I had imagined it fallen down but remembered that the house belonged to a gentleman farmer and that the gentry do not abandon their properties. It is very likely that the house where Granny spent her childhood was pointed out to me when I was a child for we were often taken for drives through the Glens of Antrim. Sadly I was not interested then and consequently have no real memory of it. Ancestral tales did not make much of an impression on me when I was young. John Steen was a shepherd. That was all.

Johnny's brother Father Joe Byrne was a Catholic priest and in 1911 he was living in Altmore Street in the village of Glenarm. Felix told me that Father Joe was a regular visitor at his father's house where friends and neighbours would gather together to play cards. John Steen would also have been part of that group. That is probably how Johnny came to meet Jeannie. I cannot be sure when they met but they got married in 1913. Hugh McKillop (Felix's uncle) and Jeannie's sister Agnes were their witnesses.

Jeannie Steen was only eighteen when she came to live in the comparatively lush pastures of Lisnevenagh. Johnny was twelve years older. She was, by all accounts, very innocent when she married. Matty told the tale that when she first became pregnant she had no idea how long it would be before her baby was born. Yet she was an intelligent woman and had been a pupil monitor at her local national school in Feystown. That would be a post similar to that of a classroom assistant today. It was an unpaid position but it offered her the opportunity to continue with education.

Johnny, Jeannie and their first born son

Coming from where she did, it is no wonder that Granny was so austere. She abhorred waste and despised new clothes. Yet going by the only photograph I have of her as a young woman, she could dress well and she had a tiny waist but I only remember her as a big woman who wore a man's grey gaberdine coat for Sunday best.

Matty had a very telling story. Once, during my parents courtship she was visiting his home place and wanted to help out. It was a busy farm and pub and there was always plenty to do. She noticed the scullery sink could do with a clean and set to with a cloth and scouring powder. The job was completed and the sink gleaming when her future mother-in-law crashed through the back door, Jeannie was wearing a hessian bag as an apron and was carrying a big creel of freshly dug spuds. She looked at the sink, scowled, elbowed my mother out of the way and tossed the potatoes into the sink, clods of earth flying everywhere.

Granny was such a fierce woman. And fiercely nationalist. She'd quiz us on the history of the Easter Rising and cried bitter tears that our knowledge of Ireland's martyr's often fell short. She blamed the educational system for that. She spent her latter years keeping a petrol station (always called The Pumps) where she sat with a huge stick at her side and if we annoyed her she'd wave the stick at us. I made sure never to get too close to her. I was so scared of her. I certainly never felt any love either for her or from her. She had 26 grandchildren and I always felt that our part of the family came far down the pecking order.

Granny at the Pumps

Both my grandmothers had large families of their own and lots of grandchildren. Jeannie had her 26 living grandchildren and Granny Mac had more than 40. Each granny seemed to have their favourite family of grandchildren. It was never  us so I did not have that experience of grandmothers being very special people in a child's life. Perhaps it's a generational thing for both my grannies had hard, hard lives. My own children had loving grandparents as do Martha and Evie. 

Some of these days I'm for driving to Linford and I'll have a good look around and I'll remember my cross old grandmother. I may even take a walk. It's a beautiful part of the world.

Sallagh Braes

P.S. Attention Game of Thrones fans - apparently they were shooting in this area today. Brienne of Tarth and Pod were being filmed riding down the Braes.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Carrot and Orange Wine

It's been ages since I've blogged about my wine making activities. The truth is I've been too busy growing fruit and vegetables to have time for making wine and, like last summer, I've rather neglected the wines already started. Five months and nothing racked, nothing progressed. I'm beginning to realise that. for me,  wine making is going to be an autumn and winter pastime.

Carrot & Orange 10/05/13 29/05/13 20/10/13 23/11/13 26/01/2014 & 7/04/2014
03/09/14 2nd R -heavy sediment/3rd R: Heavy albumin bloom decanted out topped with cider & water

Still, the freezer is full of peaches, all colours of currants, rhubarb and raspberries. The damsons look like they are going to crop well this year and the hedgerows are full of blackberries. It's been four months since I laid anything new down but, I promise, I'll make up for it.

And so it was I bottled the Carrot and Orange. Started in May 2013, racked 5 times and bottled tonight. It is drinkable already. Nellybert shared a couple of glasses tonight. Too soon but we are reckless fools.

Carrots always make good wine. My experiments with pineapples, pears, oranges and strawberries are over. From now on I shall concentrate on the fruit and vegetables that make dry and palatable wines. I know I used a dash of orange in this one but it was juice only, no rind. Wines with rind included tend to give me a headache so no more of that.

Sixteen months from start to bottle. Too long but the wine is yummy. A friend, Emma, gave me loads of sultanas today. Carrot and sultana wine coming up!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A Cake For Music Night

Peaches. We had so many peaches this year. I took the last of the fruit off the trees today. Our trees are growing in the poly tunnel and we are learning to manage them as we go along. I pollinate by hand in early spring. Peach blossoms early when there are not many helpful insects around. There must be some though because I don't hand pollinate the two trees that Bert is attempting to train in a fan shape. They cropped but not heavily. The third year the top of the free standing tree broke under the weight of the ripening fruit and we lost half the crop. This year I did extensive thinning, the tree remained intact and the crop was wonderful.

Les Bamber's wonderful picture of peach blossom taken in our poly tunnel in 2012.

Anyone who came to the house got a bag of peaches, I froze a lot for cooking and wine (peaches make a delicious wine) and made a quite a few desserts.

Tonight, our turn to host music night, I made a cake. It's the easiest cake ever. I used sliced peaches but there are lots of alternatives such as apples, raspberries, plums, anything fruity and juicy.


100g butter
100g caster sugar
150g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (use cinnamon if using apples)
2 eggs
100ml milk
A quantity of sliced peaches (I used five/six)


Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Add everything else except the fruit. Mix to a batter. I used a hand held mixer. Add the fruit and add the mixture to a standard sized, greased pie dish. Bake at 190 degrees for 30 minutes then cover with greaseproof paper and bake a further 15 minutes.

Tonight I lined my pie dish with greaseproof paper to make for easier slicing. The music night boys loved it. Brendan is after the recipe and Rod dreamed of custard. I know what's for dessert next time he comes for supper. Les said I shouldn't tell anyone how easy it was to put together, but you know me, honest as the day is long.

Now the next thing is to top the free standing tree as it is brushing the roof of the poly tunnel. According to the books pruning should be done in February. Must get that on my list of Things To Do.

The fruit in this picture is very pretty but it should have been thinned. This was Clint's tree and it broke in half that year. It never recovered.