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.