Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas in Norfolk

Nellybert and Judy have been in deepest, darkest Norfolk for four days now. It was a tremendous palaver organising care for two dogs, two cats, seven chickens, two pigs and a rake of cattle but we appear to have managed it.

The nearest we got to the Queen was listening to her lecture her subjects this afternoon, after lunch but I'm sure she is coping without us.

Baby James had a very enjoyable Christmas, Santa Claus came but now, like lots of others I'm sure, he is tired and worn out after a surfeit of  Turkey and grandparents.

Tomorrow is our last full day here then back to Cully on Sunday.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I Dream of Queenie

It is eight days to my favourite day of the year, the day after Christmas. It is my favourite because it is the longest time until Christmas the next. I got all my shopping done, most parcels delivered, one returned because I omitted to put the house number and it is off again too. I was putting some bits and pieces in a wardrobe today and noticed a box, I pulled it out and there were a number of presents I had bought for various family members that had been forgotten about! Old Timer's syndrome strikes again. Mind you, I bought them in  summer time. Months ago!

We are off to Norfolk on Monday and have a schedule of animal and house sitters arranged. No more the days when we threw some clothes in a bag, a mattress in the back of the van and just took off. I miss those days. Still, it will be good to see Baby James and his people again.

I saw some pictures in the news today of the Queen and Prince Philip alighting a train at King's Lynn station. The very same tatty old station that I came through when I was travelling to Katy's. She'll only be a few miles away. I wonder if I'll bump into her?

Apparently the Queen features in more British and Irish dreams than any other human being. I've dreamed about her a few times myself, no later than last night. I bumped into her on a tour of one of her houses. She and one of her ladies-in-waiting were polishing some banisters. They were both posh old birds but really friendly and chatty and it turned out the Queen knew everyone I knew and was asking about everyone. It was a really pleasant dream.

I told Bert about it and he said, "Of course she'd know all about you. Aren't you her subject?" That rankled a bit. He said he's never once dreamed about the Queen his entire life. Not very loyal of him, is it?

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Life Cycle of Slugs

It has taken me a long time to be able to tell this story for I really hate slugs. They are more loathsome to me than any other creature. My first very close encounter with the horrible slimy things was on the shores of Lough Neagh. I might have been six or seven and my cousin Patrick the same age when I made the mistake of letting him know that I disliked slugs. The ones around the lough shore were very big and black, the kind that seem to skim through coarse grass. Of course he started picking them up and throwing them at me. Of course he did. He was a boy. I'm sure he enjoyed watching me run and hearing my screams of terror. I don't remember if he got in to trouble for it, probably not. I was just relieved that none of his sluggy missiles got caught in my curly hair. Uggh!

But that's not the story - that's just a bit of background. Here's another story. It didn't happen to me but to my sister. It is the Story of the Slug Dance. My third and fourth sisters lived in London when they were very young and not having lots of money they lived in a rather damp ground floor flat. But they were young and enjoying themselves and where they lived didn't matter much to them. One evening they decided to make themselves a treat. I don't remember what it was, maybe custard. Anyway the third sister was standing at the stove, in bare feet, stirring a saucepan when she felt something tickle her foot. She looked down to see a great big slug slithering over her toes. Spoon flung into the air, custard everywhere - she's doing the Slug Dance and fourth sister killing herself laughing at her. I could never have laughed knowing there was a slug in the house. Houses are supposed to be slug free spaces.

Which was why, a while ago, I was very surprised to see two very small slugs climbing the wet room wall. Sometimes one might find its way into the house on a lettuce or cabbage, but two? Crawling side by side up my white panelled walls like two friends out for an evening slither. I disposed of them and thought no more of it. The next day there was another one. Like the other two it was tiny, a slug in it's infancy. I wondered how they were getting in. The next day brought another two until on day seven I said to Bert,

That's seventeen altogether!

And he says,

You're counting them!

As if this was a strange thing!

 I had finally figured it out. I'd brought a house plant in that had summered outside and placed it on the wet room floor. There must have been slug eggs in it which, in the heat of the house, had hatched out so all my little baby slugs thought it was spring and were off looking for food. They were the kind that eats decayed vegetation. Actually good slugs. If one can say that. Of course I had the plant out by the roots, no eggs left but I flung it out anyway. And that was that. Except a couple of days later slugs eighteen and nineteen turned up. I killed them. Then a week went past. We were a slug free zone. I rejoiced. Then slugs twenty and twenty-one appeared. I flushed them down the toilet. That was three weeks ago. It's over. I think.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tale of the Riverbank

I have been trying to get back into the habit of taking a daily walk and as this place is close to home I've used it quite a bit recently, sometimes with the dogs, sometimes without. It is one of those walks where you are expected to keep dogs on a lead. I don't like those kind of places. Probably about half of the folk who walk dogs there do obey the rule. I'm one of the half who usually doesn't.

It really is a lovely walk, along the riverbank part of the way and there are bluebells in Spring. And  it is truly beautiful in Autumn when the leaves are on the turn. And there are donkeys. But this walk also has its downside. You are in sight and sound of the pig processing plant and sometimes you will hear the pigs screaming when they are being unloaded. That is probably the worst thing. Then the path leads to Galgorm Manor Hotel (very swanky) and the new building that they have erected looks very ugly when seen from the riverbank. The second worst thing (after the screaming pigs) is some of the other people.

For, despite the anguish of the pigs and the horridness of the hotel, the walk is very popular and particularly so with dog walkers. Some of the dog walkers are the type who pick up their dog's shit in little black bags then hang it on the low branches of trees. How can people be so vile? Many of the dog walkers are pleasant people who smile and say hello. Some are not. The last time I went on the walk, a few days ago, I had Judy, no lead on her, bad, bad me. There is one narrow part at the beginning and a thin schoolmasterly, vinegary little man was approaching. He had with him a thin, vinegary, yappy Jack Russell Terrier. As soon as he spotted Judy he gathered up his yap dog, and back tracked. I bored on, ignoring him. As we drew level, he's standing there with his skinny dog in his arms and Judy and I just didn't see him at all. He muttered,

Should be on a lead, Should have it on a lead.

Judy and I pretended not to hear. A bit further down the path we met a lovely young woman with an Rhodesian Ridgeback also off the lead. Judy and the Ridgeback had a bit of fun together. Afterwards I pondered the thin man's words. I suspect he would not even have spoken to me had I been a man for he seemed a timid sort. I'll bring a lead with me next time.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Today turned out to be a pyjama day. Woke up to the above and rushed outside to take a photograph of it but I had to hurry as it was melting by the moment. It looks nice but it felt horrible. White stuff always improves the look of a tatty winter garden although I could not be bothered to remove the orange thing lying in the middle of it. What is it? It is an orange plastic creel used for gathering spuds from about forty years ago. Why is it lying there? Bert threw it to encourage the dogs into the long wet grass to wash the cow dung from their paws before they came into the house and jumped all over the furniture. Isn't he considerate? I told him, for I'm always nit-picking, that most people throw balls or sticks. I shouldn't be surprised if there are crocuses growing through that thing in the springtime.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Thy Inky Travesties









Tired Mummy

Happy Birthday Katkin, see you soon!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Funky Funk Donkey

I really do hate this time of year. It's dank and gloomy and I have a rotten cold which I caught from Bert and he caught from Evie. Bert's was man-flu but I got the girly version which means I still have to make the dinner.

Thankfully Christmas will soon be over. My heart always lifts after Christmas. My favourite day of the year is Boxing Day because it's 364 whole days to the next one. This year we are going to Norfolk to see baby James and his folks. We are taking the van and, I swear, we could have got flights to New York for the price of it.

Today's achievements? I went out and looked at the polytunnel. I lifted some begonia corms and harvested some kale. Made a chicken pie (frozen pastry) and crispy kale for dinner.

Today's goggle box fix? The last episode of Catastrophe and most recent episode of Fargo. I watch too much TV these days.

Most irritating thing on the news? Donald Trump. As nephew Ryan wrote,

I'm with you Donald, and I also think we should ban the sea until we know more about the rain.

Most heart-warming news item? The donkey that was rescued from the flood.

Happy Donkey Saved From Floodwater Mike is the luckiest donkey in all of Ireland.
Posted by The Huffington Post on Monday, 7 December 2015

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Ah Bruno. He was Bert's very first dog, one he had from a puppy. He came from a neighbour, a collie crossed with something. Who knows? In the days before neutering, responsibility and quiet roads male dogs were always wandering around impregnating bitches all over the place. And as roughly 33% of the dogs in Ireland were Border or Glenwherry collies most of those dogs were collie crosses.

Pearlie named him. She named all the dogs. Bert didn't care for now he had his very own puppy that followed him everywhere. Bruno even followed him to school, the Diamond Primary School, only a stone's throw from his house. The day that Bruno followed Bert to school was also the day the school photographer was there. Back then, the road wasn't as fast or busy as it is now and folk didn't concern themselves if their dogs strayed on the road.

Nowadays we're always taking photographs. Almost everyone has their own camera phone and most people have a digital camera as well. It's a far cry from the time when film and photo processing were expensive. So now our photographs are mainly digital and practically free. Even our pets have hundreds of pictures taken of them. But, as far as anyone knows there is only one photograph of Bruno. The one the school photographer took.

Bruno was about three years old when he was knocked down and killed on the Dreen Road. He went down the steep bank at the top of the lawn and was hit by the breadman. He was killed in exactly the same place where Charlie was to die more than forty years later. Little wonder we have it fenced off now. The Dreen Road is a dangerous place for a wandering dog.

Bruno lived at a time when photographs were precious. Maybe there was no camera in the few years that he lived. But it is rather wonderful that there is one excellent picture, taken by a professional photographer, to remember him by. Every time Bert comes across it he sighs. He loved that dog and the day the breadman came up the lane to tell them that Bruno was dead was one of the saddest of his life. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ungava by R.M. Ballantyne

I do like poking around derelict and abandoned homes. Once, a good while ago, I found some old damp books in a derelict farmhouse and I removed these illustration pages from one by an author I was familiar with. R.M. Ballantyne wrote about a hundred books but the only two I'd read were The Coral Island and The Dog Crusoe and they were old-fashioned even when I was reading them. Today, whilst sorting out my filing cabinet, I found the pages mouldering in a sad and forgotten file called Hobbies & Home. So I scanned them and stuck them on Flickr. I even checked out the book on-line. I might have enjoyed it if I'd come across it in 1965. There was even a girl in it!

Link to my Flickr

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Weekend of Pies

These past weekends have been busy, busy and yet, I barely left the house. My first husband and his beloved were here this past weekend and stayed with Nellybert on Thursday night. The beds cooled on Friday then we had Jazzer and Ben on Saturday. Bert went to a bachelor party (Young Rainey is getting married!) and Jazzer and I drank wine. I'd been at that oul craic on Thursday too and sure it tires a body out. Tonight I drank no wine but racked a rhubarb and a blackcurrant. Had tastes (as one must) and found the rhubarb to be good and the blackcurrant a tad on the sweet side.

On the Thursday I made a cheese and onion pie as Mick doesn't eat meat and it went down well. the pastry was delicious. On Friday we had a lot of visitors and as the last one was gathering up to leave I said to Bert,

Any thoughts about supper?

And he said,

I just put a pie in the oven.

Which was all very well except it was a stinking pie for one he'd bought at the garage earlier in the day.

So what am I going to eat?
Sure you went out for breakfast this morning with Mick and Linda.
Breakfast? That was nine hours ago. And you were invited too.

I was raging. So while he helped himself to a factory made pastry and dog food pie and a slice of bread and butter I made myself a proper dinner of chili sausages, garden peas, onion gravy and mashed potato. Boy did I take trouble over that one spud, mashed it and buttered it to perfection. My plan was to eat it in front of him and take great pleasure in his dinner envy. I was going to serve him a couple of Rennies as those shop bought pies can be indigestible. In the event, I shared my lovely supper with him even though he didn't deserve it. I'm far too soft-hearted

Then next day it was Jazzer. She is always planning ahead when it comes to eating and likes to take control of the cooking as she is very particular about her food. For a start she doesn't like cooked vegetables. She fancied steak pieces and I suggested a pie. She cooked the filling. It was good enough but she has a heavy hand with the Oxo cubes. The pastry, delicious as always, lightened it. Jazzer always serves potatoes with pie. I would never do that as it is double carbs. Not that I care about the calories - it just seems a bit stodgy. I prefer vegetables or salad. And Jazzer's mash is scary. I think she puts about half a pound of butter in it and you  can feel your arteries furring up with every forkful.

So pie and mash will be off the menu for a day or two. Tonight it was home cooked soda bread and butternut squash soup, tomorrow spaghetti bolognese. No wine until the weekend. I'll let you know how I got on with that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Back To My Fifties

A recycled post from November 2005

Not Social Workers

You may already be aware that Mr Gerry Anderson, the much-loved Radio Ulster presenter, is a former Social Worker. Last week on his show I heard him describe some of his former colleagues as ‘not of this world.’ The best example he cited was of the just graduated Social Worker who asked a Belfast mother if her son ‘accessed his external environment’ only to be met with total and utter bafflement from the mother until Gerry translated this as, ‘Does he go out much?’

In my experience there are two kinds of social worker. These are the goody-goody social worker and the druggy-druggy social worker. Goody-goodies are usually greatly resented by their clients whilst druggy-druggies are often admired and respected. Unfortunately most of the druggy-druggies spend half their time out on the sick suffering from stress because, as Richard Ashcroft so eloquently puts it, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work.’

My colleagues and I may work in the social care field but we are Not Social Workers. We don’t have the professional qualification that brings in that extra several grand per annum but often the Not Social Workers are educated to a high degree. Among the Not Social Workers that I have known and know are holders of degrees in Archaeology, Media Studies, English, Journalism and Philosophy. In those rare quiet moments when we can tear ourselves away from discussions on how best to improve the levels of care and support that we give our clients we can, thanks to our educational qualifications, hold some very intellectual and enlightening conversations.

Why only the other day I was hearing all about La Tene scabbards found in riverbeds in Ireland and then a critique of the later novels of Philip Roth. I found myself at a disadvantage with the Roth discussion, as I had never progressed beyond Portnoy’s Complaint. It was suggested that this was probably for the best, as I’d likely find his later works far too shocking and offensive owing to my advanced years. It is a well-known fact that the older one gets the more tender one’s sensibilities become and the more easily shocked one is.

I myself hold a B.Sc. (Hons). in Social Administration & Policy but this is a very boring subject and no one wants to hear a thing about it. So for non-work related convo topics I have to fall back on things I read about in Heat and tales about the ‘Olden Days’. Funnily enough I’ve never yet encountered any Computing-type degree holders among the Not Social Workers. So while we former Philosophy, Journalism and Media Studies students are cleaning out cupboards, doing shift work and being verbally abused by the dispossessed all the computer wizards are sitting in cosy warm offices, minting money and writing their blogs in work hours. Sigh! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Cannot bring myself to change my Facebook picture to the blue, white & red that so easily, and so superficially indicates that I am appalled by the horrible events in Paris that took place on Friday the 13th, November 2015. Because horrible things happen every single day.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Achievements - Day 1

It's true that I seem to be getting lazier as time goes on. Perhaps I've been beating myself up about it too much. So I decided that now and again, to encourage myself, I would list my achievements. Today wasn't exactly hectic but I did drive to Coleraine, picked up my friend's son and drove him to Antrim so he would be in place for his grandfather's funeral tomorrow. It was a lovely drive down. I went by Kilrea and drove alongside the Bann into Coleraine. The autumn colour was glorious and the river placid and swollen with all the heavy rain we've had recently. As always, when I pass that way I think that some day I must park up and go walking in Castleroe wood. I've been thinking I should do that for more than twenty years.

Then when I got home I threw together two gallons of wine made from raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and elderberries. I'm expecting it to be delectable.

And that was that. The sum total of what I achieved today. Except for writing this post and being truly lovely to Bert for the entire day.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

In Which We Go To A Hooley

Last night found Nellybert at the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine at a Declan Nerney show. This time last week I was unaware of Mr Nerney's existence. In fact, when Brendan Quinn (who was guesting) offered us free tickets I thought he said Declan and Ernie and imagined some obscure folky duo such as McGlynn and O'Flynn or Cooney and Begley.

It was like being transported forty years back in time and not in an interesting way. Nerney was like a cross between Gene Stewart and Gerry Marsden. I'm sure he'd take that as a compliment. Best part of the night? Overhearing a punter saying that Brendan should have worn a cowboy hat and that he still had a great voice for a man that must be near eighty years of age.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Strawberry, Blackcurrant and Elderberry

All this week, whenever I've thought of updating my blog, I've thought - I updated it a day or so ago, no pressure. Then I looked and it's been a whole week! So, here goes...

It's been a good week. Really enjoying my new eyes. I expect I've been so busy seeing stuff, no time to be writing blogs. I had a check-up on Thursday and apparently all is well, eye healing well and given the go-ahead to drive without spectacles, I am, officially, no longer myopic.

Tonight, looking forward to a quiet night in with the ridiculous Downton Abbey and the outlandish Homeland. Phone goes, Rod and Tracey are calling out. Excitement! Haven't seen Tracey in ages. Time to break out the best of my wines. I chose an Elderberry and a Strawberry and Blackcurrant. The craic was, as they say, mighty and the wines went down a treat. It's nights like this that I'm glad I make delicious alcoholic drinks and that I have good friends to share them with.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Big Chubby Returns

12th October

Had second cataract procedure at Mater Hospital, Belfast.

13th October

Removed eye patch and could see perfectly. Threw away spectacles and started using reading glasses.

14th October

Hannah and I flew to Stansted. Trains weren't running so had to get coach to Cambridge then train to King's Lynn. Did not get to Katy's until late. Baby James grown like gosling, still gorgeous and very smiley.

15th October

Went to Hunstanton. Fierce wind blowing off the North Sea. Hannah sad she left her woolly hat in Ballymena. We found a sheltered spot and ate delectable Cornish pasties. Later on went for walk in derelict part of Sculthorpe air base.

16th October

Went to Wells-next-the-Sea. Excellent second hand bookshop and we got to see the places where James' father played truant when he went to school there. Do hope that young James will pay more attention to his studies. Later on went for walk on Syderstone Common.

17th October

Went to King's Lynn. Left Hannah to railway station as she was off home again. Went shopping for skeleton suit for James' first Hallowe'en. No luck. It seems that babies may only dress up as pumpkins in King's Lynn.

18th October

Quiet day at James' home. James' other grandparents called. Much cooing and admiring took place.

19th October

Went to Burnham Market. Shopped for London Sister's birthday present. If London Sister were town in North Norfolk she might well be Burnham Market. Went for lunch in Tilly's Cafe where all women present fell in love with James.

20th October

James and Katy went to Music Event for babies and small children. James apparently slept entire time. I strolled around Fakenham and discovered shop selling battered chocolate. Not battered as in Mars Bar delicacy popular in Scotland, just slightly scruffy and sold for next to nothing. Apparently outlet for sweet factory that supplies Marks and Spencer and Asda. Glad we don't have similar in Ballymena or I would be dead from chocolate poisoning within month.

21st October

Unlike previous visit when he screamed whole journey baby James slept all the way from Katy's to King's Lynn. Bid mother and child poignant goodbyes and started my journey. Was far too early and had to wait three hours at airport. Observed rude, unpleasant security person be nasty to everyone who stood in front of him. Thankfully got pleasant young chap myself. Had not got round to putting my eye drops in plastic bag and he was perfectly nice about it. Did not have to take my shoes off.

22nd October

Bert had made an heroic effort to keep house tidy but it still smelt like ancient public house. Had no time to clean it as it was child-minding day. Evie and Martha were almost as delighted to see me as I was to see them. Evie got good child sticker from nursery and gave it to Bert. It was a lovely afternoon and we spent it on the trampoline, tree house and swing.

23rd October

Removed vintage pub smell from house using vinegar, bleach and Zoflora. London Sister's birthday. Significant. My present and card arrived on time so quite pleased about that.

24th October

Met Hannah and Ziggy and went for walk and catch up. She had noticed horrible security man at Stansted too. Jazzer and Ben came round for the evening. Had red wine, chili and chocolate.

25th October

Amazingly, despite red wine, chili and chocolate, did not wake up with sore head. Caught up with my blog.

The End

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Big Chubby and a List

One of the best things about learning to write is being able to write lists. This is Martha's first list for Bert. I have a feeling it won't be the last.

Martha and Hannah are here for a sleepover as I won't see them for more than a week. Hannah and I are going to Norfolk to see sweet baby James and his people. Those girls do make us laugh. Martha being stern and serious whilst wearing a puppy dog sleep suit complete with tail. Evie poking me in the bosom area while I'm fixing her shoes, calling me 'Big Chubby'. Bert got the best laugh out of that. I had to tell him sternly and seriously  that what might be funny coming from a three year old is much less amusing coming from one's husband. Thankfully I wasn't wearing a puppy dog sleep suit at the time.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Garlic Novice

I first tried to grow garlic about twenty years ago. Like a fool I used shop bought garlic and planted it in an unprepossessing corner of a flower bed. Then forgot all about it. Sometime later I discovered it had sprouted but the resulting bulbs were quite pathetic. I never grew it again - until last year. This time, inspired by daughter Zoe and friend Les, I planted garlic in a prepared bed in the poly tunnel. I remember thinking that it would probably be a disaster yet, despite benign neglect and poppies and other tall weeds growing through it, the results were good. This year I was able to plant another crop using my own seed. As always I plan to do better and weeding will be carried out regularly and my crop will not have to compete with other plants. Maybe. This year I planted a third more than last year.

And the crop I'm using is lovely, flavoursome, juicy and far superior to shop bought garlic. Although I still haven't managed to learn the varieties. Les and Zoe will tell me.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Indian Summer

This was an absolutely beautiful week, real Indian Summer weather and I've spent a lot of time tidying and working in the garden. Which is why I haven't been to this Garden. This is the first year in a long time that I've been excited about my flower garden and, although parts of it were very weedy, the flowers came through. I'm already excited about next year.

Wine making has kept me busy too. Apart from drinking it, I'd not looked near it for two months. In the past week I have racked seven demijohns, bottled damson and made a gallon each of rhubarb and gooseberry. This is the first year I had enough goosegogs to make wine so I'm hopeful it will turn out well. I was checking out the fruit I had in the freezer and found 30 pounds of blackcurrants. Half of those have become the beginnings of wine. Sadly there are very few blackberries this year but the elderberries look promising and Clint has cleared the dunghill. I was never able to get to them before as they grew over a steaming pile of cow shit. So - should be tasty.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Never Forgotten

There are some things that just stick in the mind. One of mine is my great-uncle Father Joe's funeral, which I wasn't allowed to go to. Father Joe or, to give him his full title, the Ven. Archdeacon Joseph Byrne, was the Parish Priest of Larne. He was greatly loved by his family and by all who knew him. Father Joe was described as 'a man noted for his kindness, goodness and piety', and he was certainly very kind to us, his great-nieces and nephews.

On days off he'd drive down to Tannaghmore in his ancient, blue Morris car, do the rounds of the grown ups houses, then pile all us children into the car, probably about six of us and take us out for a 'run'. He drove slower than anyone I knew and always tooted his horn when he approached a bend in the road. There would be a white paper bag of sweets with pictures of fruit which he bought in Mrs Fletcher's shop on the Pipe Road. We'd get one or two sweeties and they were that hard they'd knock the teeth out of your head. These runs would often end up at Uncle Joe's house near Cookstown Junction.

Father Joe died in 1961 at the age of 77. I didn't get to go to the funeral. Mammy said I was too young. But cousin Joseph was going and he was two years and a month younger than me. But that was because he was called after Father Joe, Mammy said. This didn't mollify me. Cousin Joseph was going and I wanted to go too. Mammy stood firm. I stayed home.

Then, about a month later, we were given a copy of a photograph of little Joseph (barely six years old) standing at his great-uncle's grave looking suitably solemn and sad. I was raging with jealousy. I've never forgotten that feeling but, I'm glad to say, I never held it against young Joe. I blamed the grown ups.

Joe's gone himself now. Three years ago today and I miss him still. We all do.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lough Patrick

Today, Bert and I went to Lough Patrick, near Draperstown in County Derry. We only heard about it last week from our friend Howard. He told us that it was a place of pilgrimage with wooden crosses dotted round its rim. I realised that it must be a place where Catholics performed the stations. Howard being C of E knew nothing of stations. He enthused about the stillness and peace of the lough and, like a true traditional pilgrim, he'd gone barefoot.

The lough sits in a bowl shaped hollow with the surrounding landscape out of view. There is a feeling of isolation, even eeriness. It is easy to see why it has been a holy place since pagan times. The lough's water was reputed to have healing properties and it was said that no one could ever drown there. When Christianity came here these wild places were absorbed and the Church added its own stories and rituals. In Ireland holy places abound and some of the old pagan superstitions associated with them continue to this day.

Centuries ago pilgrims came to Lough Patrick from all around and even from as far away as Scotland and England. Eventually the church started to frown upon it. I suspect that some sort of a Fair Day atmosphere might have prevailed with improper behaviour such as the taking of strong drink and, among the younger folk, dancing and kissing.

At the very start we took a wrong turn and found ourselves at the ninth station.

If it hadn't been for the wind turbine sited unfortunately close to the lough it would have been easy to imagine those days, long ago, when people travelled from afar to do the stations at Lough Patrick. There was a great deal of protesting about the turbine from both an environmental and a heritage viewpoint. At around the same time there were plans put forward to build a turbine near Slemish mountain, another site associated with Saint Patrick, but in that case it was found that breeding pairs of the protected curlew bird inhabited the area. No curlews at Lough Patrick so up went the turbine.

I didn't do the stations as it was hard enough just to make my way over the scrags of heather and the boggy patches. It really is a very boggy place. Bert's hiking boots kept the water out but my trainers were quickly soaked through and, like the pilgrims of long ago, I found it far better to go barefoot. And I kept stopping to take photographs. Bert, as always, strode far ahead of me. When I joined up with him he asked if I'd prayed or done anything 'paganish'. I replied that I had not as I'd spent most of my time cursing and swearing as I tripped on heather roots or went up to my knees in a patch of bog. All being well the immersion will have cured my stiff knees. I'm hopeful.

On the way back we spotted in the distance a lanky man with two sprollies approaching. It was Howard, back for another visit to this magical place. And Bert plans to go back tomorrow. For he lost his phone, probably when he tripped on a heather root.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Birthday Presents

Oh but this was a beautiful day. I spent the morning shopping for birthday presents. Zoe's belated and Martha's coming. The rest of the day I spent in the garden, clearing, weeding and sowing. It was blissful.

I wasn't working on this part today even though parts of it are pretty ropey. There is still too much going on and I like looking at it from afar. There are cauliflowers in there which the cows will be eating and there are runner beans at the back. They are really late this year. I harvested some for our dinner tonight and enjoyed them very much.

And I thought a great deal about my father today for this would have been his birthday. A Virgo, like Zoe, like Martha and myself. We are all earth signs, all like grubbing about in good loamy earth. Daddy might not have been interested in growing flowers and vegetables but he was a true horny-handed son of the soil. Happy birthday old fellow.

Photograph by Patricia Moriarty

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Honey and Flour

Our chickens took quite a scattering this summer. Apart from the depredations of the fox we had another one died last weekend, probably from some sort of a respiratory infection. The vet was in the yard on Friday morning and Bert had every intention of getting her to look at it after she had finished testing the cattle, but she started talking about trees and headed off to look at what Bert had available and by the time he'd closed a gate or two she was off and away.

My advice was that he should pull her neck, the hen not the vet, but he didn't take it as he is becoming soft-hearted in his old age. I think that might be the Martha and Evie effect.

She died without the benefit of Bert stretching her neck. That meant we were down to four hens and one rooster and an average of two and a half eggs per day. Definitely time to replenish the flock especially as Bert and Ben had spent a lot of time fox-proofing the run with heightened fencing, reinforced at ground level and, best of all, electric fencing top and bottom outside the perimeter.

I had promised Martha and Evie we'd buy them each a chicken. Evie wanted a pink one and I had to tell her that chickens don't come in pink. Martha helpfully suggested that we could get a white one and dye it pink and I had to disappoint her by telling her that dye would not be good for a chicken's skin.

It was obvious that bog standard hens were not going to cut the mustard with them so after asking around we went to a guy who breeds bantams and other fowl. His place was rather out of the way so I reckoned Bert should drive us as he is usually good at finding his way around. Our van is only a three seater so I had to sit in the back, in the dark as there are no windows. It was very rattly in there but I was just about able to hear Martha and Evie singing their current favourite song, our friend Rod's version of Willie Nelson's It's All Going To Pot. The girls have got it nearly off pat now. Imagine their childish voices doing sweet sister harmony.

All the whisky in Lynchburg, Tennessee
Just couldn't hit the spot
I gotta hundred dollar bill, 
You can keep your pills 
Cause it's all goin' to pot.

Despite my specific directions and a Google maps printout and a photograph of the house Bert still got lost but I didn't mind. For we found the place eventually and the girls were delighted with it. There were ducks, chickens and bantams everywhere. And, best of all, lots of cute little fluffy chicks running around. We had to be specific as to the type of bird we wanted as they needed to be able to cope with the chickens we already had so, guided by the breeder, Martha chose a golden coloured Pekin and Evie picked a white Silkie. They had both been clocking so we also got a clutch of eggs. Back into the van.

The journey home was a good deal shorter as Bert did not go astray. Just as well, as I was sitting in the back with two quiet hens in a box and eighteen eggs up my jumper. The girls put their favourite song on and sang along. I couldn't have been any happier.

There are no pictures of the new chickens just yet. They are in their own little house, in nesting boxes, sitting on their eggs and we don't like to disturb them. Maybe tomorrow.

The hens will be called Honey (the gold one) and Flour (the white one). Girls chose the names themselves. They are called after food. I hope no-one tells Foxy. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

My Own Wee Bed

Bert and I spent the weekend in the caravan in Donegal. Decent weather (it wasn't freezing and it barely rained), it was a pleasant and relaxing break. The only thing was - the bed. It was too small and too soft and despite us telling Judy that she was not allowed on it or in it, each morning we found her lying between us in the bagpipes position, on her back, all four legs sticking in the air.

So it was wonderful to fall asleep in our own big beds last night. One of the best things about coming home. There is hardly a night that I go to my own bed in my own house that I don't feel glad of it. That is what comes of spending many years working in jobs where I was required to sleep on the premises.

There was the care home in Ballymoney where the clientele had intellectual disabilities. I was usually the junior staff member which meant I got to sleep in a camp bed in the office while the senior worker had a bedroom. Every time a resident left their room a panel in the office would set off an alarm, which consisted of a buzzer and a flashing red light. I was required to check this panel and ensure that the person made a safe return to their own room. It did not lead to a restful nights sleep and I'd be lying if I said that I did not resent and envy my senior getting to sleep soundly in a bed. That shift ended at eleven the next day and sometimes I was dead on my feet. Often I'd go to bed when I got home.

My next sleepover job was heaven compared to the camp bed scenario. Same sort of clientele, only this time I was the senior. A comfortable bed, a pleasant en suite room, and in three years I was only called on once.

Then I moved to the homeless sector. In the first place we had single cover. One person looking out for 12 - 15 women and children. The sleepover quarters were fairly decent. There was a phone that connected the hostel to the staff flat and there were quiet nights and crazy nights. We could also be called at anytime during the night by police or social workers to admit people. It was always a bit nerve-wracking when either of the phones went. If it was a resident you could be fairly certain that it would be something trivial. If it was the outside line you could usually be up for a few hours admitting a new resident. The staff bedroom was right at the front of the house which was on a busy street and the noise outside, especially at weekends, was horrendous. There were speeding cars, fighting, drunks singing, people trying to get into the hostel, banging windows, kicking doors, police bringing residents home, parties in the courtyard, boys being sneaked in, other boys sneaking out. I learned to blank a lot of it out. Then that hostel was closed and I was transferred to a mixed hostel on the other side of town.

And how I longed for the mild mayhem of Spide City. Tinkerton was horrible. The building was grim, the area was grimmer still. At least in Spide City, despite the night time noise, there was day time respectability. Outside the building we had riots, disputes over drug debts, drug dealers everywhere. Many of the staff were demoralised and the manager was an incompetent little toad. The staff room was full of vicious gossip. And yet there were good people on that team. There always are.

The sleepover room was the worst I have ever experienced. It was in a flat that was used for storage and it was filthy and full of rubbish. It is not possible to clean rooms that are hoarded with broken furniture and other detritus. The bed was broken and deeply uncomfortable. The actual flat was in a block also used by residents and the doors could easily have been kicked in. The flats had balconies and residents and outsiders climbed these frequently. There were many nights that I lay wakeful listening to scrabbling noises inside and out and wondered if I was going to be murdered in my bed. There was telephone contact with the main office which was manned at night by security guards. Who were a mixed bunch. One Falklands veteran, one a strange little Scottish man and one, the most affable of all, that I quite liked. He was full of himself but good craic for all that.

The residents seemed to have more problems than the women in the other hostel. They were a mixture of heavy drinkers, drug users, sex offenders, prison leavers, people with psychiatric illnesses and a murderer or two. I hated working there. I was burnt out, suffering compassion fatigue, nothing to offer.

I gave in my notice. And while I was working it two brothers, both drug users, were admitted. They were from another county. One of them was put in a flat with a Belfast man that all the staff were fond of. Norman was a drinker all his adult life but a pleasant wee man. The new fellow tried to steal his television and Norman tried to stop him. The other fellow hit Norman with the TV and knocked him to the ground. He then proceeded to kick and stamp on him. Until he was dead.

It was my day off and I heard it on the evening news. So I was prepared when I went back into work. It was surreal to sit at the desk and watch contract cleaners in hazard suits on CCTV screens go in and out of Norman's flat cleaning the gore. Place had to be cleaned, hostels can't run on vacancies. I was glad to be getting out.

Remember the affable security guard? Turned out he was a murderer too. Twenty-year old crime. Smothered an old lady. But DNA evidence got him in the end.

And that is why on every night that I go to sleep in my own bed, in my own room, I am so very grateful for it.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

In The News Today

For about a year now I've been reading and following the escalating, 'Migrant Crisis' and I've talked about it with many of the various folk that I come across and found it disheartening that so many of them held such hard and unfeeling attitudes to refugees. Of course I tried to change their minds.

But now...are attitudes beginning to change? There are far more of us who realise that this is a truly horrendous situation and that these desperate, desperate people need our help. It is as if there is a new spirit, a new way of thinking about things. Not all can be saved but we must try to save as many as we can.

There are two people in my life who put this much better than I can. The first is my daughter Hannah who wrote this on Facebook today.

I consciously try to keep my facebook page light hearted but I couldn't ignore the headlines today. Y'know, there's more than enough of the world's resources to offer every single human being shelter, food, and safety. More than enough! What the world is really lacking in is love, kindness, compassion and a willingness to share.

The second is my friend Hayley who wrote this excellent post. It is well worth reading.

You will have seen the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy washed up on the Turkish beach. He, his brother and his mother where among the more than 2500 who have drowned in the Mediterranean this year alone. It is a heart-rending image and so very far removed from the scores of pictures we've seen this September of our children heading out to their first day at schools and kindergartens. I wish he could have been one of them.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Working For The Man

It has been ten years since Bert was under investigation by HM Revenue & Customs and I still break into a cold sweat when I recall it.

This is a post from September 2005. Incidentally, at the end of the year long process Bert was found to have done nothing wrong.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"I'm not calling you a liar. We're not allowed to do that anymore."

“ The number of tax inspectors has increased twice as fast as the number of new doctors and nurses.” (Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, Hansard, Jan 2005)

To add to the stew of stress that Bert and I have been experiencing this year Bert has had an impending Inland Revenue investigation hanging over him. The reason being (we think) that the IR cannot understand why Bert bothered in 2001, as he appears to have made no profits. And as far as we can recall he didn’t.

So why did Bert become self-employed? There are two reasons. The first is that he did not want to work for anyone else and the second is that he wanted to do something. And horticulture was what he was good at. He did not become self-employed because he wanted to be rich. Most self-employed people aren’t rich anyway

I was listening to the Today programme as I returned from work this morning and I heard this argument for a flat-rate tax. I also heard the Shadow Chancellor say that the number of people working in tax collection has increased by 64000 since 1999. I thought to myself that this might well be the reason why Bert has been called to account by the Inland Revenue. Too many tax inspectors needing something to do.

The following are some of the questions fired at him by the civil servant.

What are you driving? Why no car?
Where did you get the money to concrete that lane? If you say your elderly mother gave it to you from the box of fivers she keeps under her bed we’ll do her too.
If you cannot explain where you got the money from we’ll assume you’re working in a cash economy and have been doing so all along and will bill you accordingly.
Why have you not taken a holiday for four years?
Are Zoë, Katy and Hannah still living with you? Are they working? Are they students?
Why do you keep your dealings with M******* Garden Centre in a separate book? (1)
How much does Nelly earn?
Who buys the groceries?
How often do you go out for a meal? (2)
Where do you get the cash for birthday presents? (3)
That woodland you own. Do you sell Christmas trees of it? We can come and see for ourselves you know.
I’m not calling you a liar. We’re not allowed to do that any more.

And there was much more of the same. The civil servant cub was obviously one of the 64000 cutting his teeth on a man with a shoestring business and a cheap accountant.

Bert is wondering why he bothers. Why not just wrap it all up and go unemployed. The truth is that if you don’t fit into the Norman Normal box you are a suspect. Naughty Bert. Hardly ever uses a credit card, doesn’t have debt, lives within his means, doesn’t spend, spend, spend. Not a good citizen at all. Not doing his bit to make fat cats even richer. Just quietly growing the best clematis in Norn Iron.

  1. Because they are the only concern where he operates a sale or return policy.

  2. His answer was 6-8 times a year. I suggested he should have said, “Do I look like I go out for meals Fat Boy?”

  3. He actually did growl, “I don’t do birthdays.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Independent To The Last

Nessie (Pearlie's late sister), Paddy and a young neighbour. Picture probably from late 70s-early 80s.
It was back in  February 2012 that we first heard that Bert's Uncle Paddy had died. It turned out that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated and he managed to live fairly independently for a few more years. Then he took what folk around here call 'a turn' and ended up in hospital. He was there for more than a month and it was becoming obvious to everyone around him that independent living was no longer possible. His home, a converted chicken shed, had few amenities which meant that home support wasn't an option. Carers tend to look for running water, electricity and flushing toilets. Paddy had none of these luxuries. So he went to a nursing home and, by all accounts, it was a nice enough place.

His turn had left him confused. At first he talked a lot about going home. When his friend Julie visited him he always expected her to take him back to his own place. But it was not to be. He told Bert that the 'hospital' was a nice enough place and that they were good to him there but he'd rather go home. As the months passed he settled down but there was a reason for this. Once when Bert was visiting Paddy put this question to him.

D'ye know who owns this hospital?
I don't know that. 
I own it.
Do you?
I do. I bought it from Samuel Carruthers. He was going to France and needed the money.
Is that so?
Aye. I gave him three thousand pounds for it.

And Paddy was content enough to stay in the nursing home knowing that it was his own place. Julie phoned last night to let Bert know he'd taken another turn and was back in the hospital. She phoned again this morning to tell us that he had died.

Bert saw Paddy two weeks ago, said he looked very well and seemed straight enough in his mind. He was talking about his dogs and seemed pleased that Roy was well settled with us. There was no talk of wanting home. He told Bert again that it was his hospital. Bought and paid for. Three thousand pounds.

The Lorry Jumpers

September again, early hours. I stayed up to watch The Lorry Jumpers, a documentary about some of the people who try to get into the UK from the port of Calais. It was powerful and sometimes painful to watch and I was shocked by the behaviour of the French police. They were brutal. It one harrowing scene an officer actually beat up the documentary maker, Leo Maguire.

Some of the people featured managed to make it to Britain. The film showed them in their grim little flats and they spoke of their hopes and dreams and their gratitude to be in a place where they could work and be safe.

David Cameron referred to migrants as a 'swarm', and one vile commenter (I won't name her) called refugees 'cockroaches'. To me they seem brave and courageous. I believe they can make our countries better places.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


In the (almost) eleven years since Nelly's Garden began I have found, time and time again, that the only way to overcome blog-block is to simply blog, write, put words together, whatever it takes.

What causes blog-block? For me it is,



Lack of confidence.


I'm distracted by family, by reading, by my discovery of an American sit-com called Modern Family, and by gardening. These activities keep me busy and happy.

I'm worried about a pain in the left side of my skull that comes and goes. It is likely coming from a crick in my neck, or wrongly aligned pillows. It is probably not a brain tumour.

Lack of confidence? The more I read the more I realise how limited are my own writing skills. This morning, as I drove to Antrim I listened to part of a dramatisation of A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch. I started reading Murdoch when I was very young and I remember so little about it. Most of it must have gone over my head. I wonder what drew me to Murdoch? To find out I must return, starting with the first, The Nice and the Good which I read (with great enjoyment) when I was sixteen. And what am I reading now? The last novel in the Game of Thrones series. It's great fun, I'm a big fan, enough of a fan to wish that George R.R. Martin would get on with it.

Happiness. I really do believe that I am happier now than I have ever been in my entire life. And who wants to read a Happy Person blog? For instance, today was a wonderful day. Something happened that turned out far, far better than I could ever have hoped. All I did was drive my godson and his mum to a clearing day at our local college and, despite disappointing GCSE results, he got accepted on to a course that he really wanted to do. So very, very happy that I could help in the smallest way.

To finish, this August has been a great month. Not much of a summer in Northern Ireland but I had those two weeks in sunny Norfolk with my new grandson and his wonderful parents and lovely family days here at home,  and I had today and, despite a middling summer, the garlic, the broad beans, the raspberries and the purple turnips did amazingly well in Nelly's Garden. I'm looking forward to the blackberries.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Plundering the Archives

I'm finding this oul blogging lark hard going these days. In days gone past I'd be tootling about my daily business and thinking about all kinds of things to write about - these days, not so much. That's why it's great having an archive. When I can't think of a single thing to write about I can always plunder the archive. It seems that 10 years ago we were having this house renovated and were yet to move in. I also noted that 10 years ago I was a good deal more likely to write posts that might hurt people's feelings. Perhaps I should get back to that style of blogging.

The only thing this picture has to do with today's post is that it is from the 2005 archive. Poor Harry de Cat. We miss him still.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Accidental Joiner

I was hoping that the most eventful happening of the day would have been my boss causing me to suffer bloggus interruptus. It was during my lunch hour but there was no way he could be sure as he wasn't there when the hour started. And I was in the middle of a really good reply to CyberScribe's spooky comment about Cully pubs. How does he know? Where is Greyabbey anyway? Oh Bert's just told me it's in County Down. So the muse deserted me and that's why my eventual reply was so lame Cybe ol' boy.

So that's my quota of italicised words used up for this post and from now on I will have to manage without them.

On returning home I decided to go and inspect the work going on in the new house. I was especially interested in seeing how the kitchen tiles looked and also wanted to see the flight of stairs leading to the attic floor. Seamus the joiner started on them yesterday and they were pretty much finished. There is a little health & safety type issue at the very top which I wanted to take a look at so I asked Seamus if they were safe to step upon. He gave the go ahead and I had my foot on the bottom step when James the electrician nabbed me with a query about the lights I headed downstairs to the room where Matthew was tiling. Matthew says,

"Where's Bert?"
"Down the road. What's up?"
"We've a bit of a problem here."
"Oh! What's wrong?"
"Bert's tin whistle has fallen into this bucket of tile cement."

We were just coming to terms with this disaster when the joiner's apprentice came in. He says,

"Where's Bert?"
"Down the road. What's up?"
"Seamus has cut himself with the electric saw."

And so he had. Apparently it had stuck and he was trying to dislodge it when it had jumped back and gouged a lump out of his knee. Both Matthew and James were urging me to take him to the local GP surgery. Feck's sake! These lads must think Dr Finlay practises in Cully. I said no for the first thing the local GP would say is, "you'll need to go to casualty with that" so that's what we did. Seamus was very stoical about the whole episode and says he'll be back at work tomorrow. They breed real men in Dunloy.

By the way that policeman is still reading my blog. He phoned me yesterday in his professional capacity and before he rang off he said, "Are you still off the drink?"


Meanwhile in the present world Nellybert took a walk up the back lane at dusk and spotted Foxy's big red arse disappearing into the wood. We had interrupted his supper of fat pigeon. He took it with him, leaving the wings and a shiny, black poo behind him. Judy did not roll in it for which we were truly grateful.