Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Strawberry and Raspberry fermenting merrily

I had two lots of yeast to choose from last night. One, from VinClasse, smelled a little sour and is three months from its sell by date. The other one (Youngs) was fresher but there wasn't much of it and I wanted it for white currant wine. It might be a while before I get to Nature's Way in Belfast. So I asked Bert to sniff the VinClasse, second opinion and all that. Of course he was wreathed in pipe smoke and could smell nothing else but his aromatic tobacco which reeks like old woollen socks sprinkled with essence of vanilla.

Nevertheless he pronounced the yeast fine and I tossed it into the bucket thinking to myself, if it hasn't started fermenting by tomorrow I'll re-yeast. No need to worry for it was off and running by bedtime. I've used yeast with added nutrient for a long time now and it is always quick to get started.

I really wish we had a decent wine supplies shop close by. There is a place near Ahoghill but it's more about beer and every time I go there there is always something needed that they haven't got. Which is annoying.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Went And Gone And Done It Again

Went and let the home made wines get out of control again. I have 23 batches on the go, 24 if I count the raspberry and strawberry one I started today. And there is still enough frozen fruit in my freezers to make at least another six batches.

Today I racked off four batches that have been sitting around since October last year. Two were blackcurrant. It has a good flavour but is a little on the sweet side which is a pity as I made it in bulk, five gallons altogether. I'm sure somebody will like it. Swisser definitely as she is fond of dessert wines and Jazzer, she will probably go for it too. I also racked two that I've never tried before. The first was gooseberry. Maybe a little sharp but not so your eyes would water. I like it. It's the first time I got to the goosegogs before the blackbird. We definitely need more gooseberry bushes. The other was beetroot and blackcurrant and it is rather good. The earthiness of the beetroot balances the acidity of the currants. Bert thought it tasted of cherries.

Strawberry and Raspberry Stage I, before yeasting

Then I started a new one, the strawberry and raspberry. Easy recipe.

Slightly over 3lbs of fruit, a gallon of boiling water (cooled) and a bag of sugar then a wee bit more. I used a yeast and nutrient mixture which was still in date, but slightly old. It might not work out so fingers crossed. Before adding sugar I squished the fruit up using my incredibly clean hands and tried not to think about how the strawberries looked and felt like slugs. And I dissolved the sugar in hot water before I added it to the fruit mixture.

And this is how I keep track of my wine making activities. The coloured entries are finished wines.

Click to embiggen. But you knew that.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Living in a Backwater

There are times when this bloody place makes me sick. Of course I'm talking about the Six Counties, Northern Ireland, the Backwater Province, the Land that Time Forgot.

In November the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission went to court to argue that Northern Ireland's abortion legislation was in breach of human rights law.* The judge, Mr Justice Horner, ruled that there should be exemptions in the law for women who were victims of sexual crime and for cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Northern Ireland's Attorney General, John Larkin said he was 'deeply disappointed' with the decision. Today the Christian Brothers educated QC, has appealed against that decision.

For we live in a place where the Christian religion rules the roost. Some of our elected MLAs are fundamental creationists who believe the earth is a mere 4000 years old. The pro-life movement is strong here. It's about the only movement that brings Catholics and Protestants together. Although their protests can be quite amusing as the two religions sing different hymns both the same time. Those old nuns and their Dana-esque companions will be belting out Faith Of Our Fathers while the Born Agains give Nearer By God To Thee some welly. Is there even such a creature as the pro-lifer without faith? I don't suppose there is.

I've never been able to grasp why people should be so concerned about the unborn whilst doing absolutely nothing to help unfortunate children already in existence.

So we'll see how this goes. I pope that Mr Larkin gets a good slapping down but this is Northern Ireland. We're not quite ready for the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first.

*The 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Two More In The Box

Three more boxes of books hit the recycling bins this afternoon but not before Bert pulled one out. It was a book on submariners in the Second World War. I thought he'd read it. I finished Lucky by Alice Sebold this morning. It began with a harsh description of a brutal rape which was hard to bear but as I persevered with Alice's story I found it gripping and uplifting and a well written book that I'm glad to have read.

My second choice was a slim book called Leaving Riverton by Jodie Something. It doesn't matter that I cannot remember the author's name as her writing was stiff and dreary and I won't be wasting any time on it. Straight into the box for disposal.

In other news the Catching Myself On project is going well. I have lost 5 pounds and am feeling a whole lot better.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Too Many Books

Staying for now

Thursday There are too many books in this house and too many bookshelves as well. I have three bookshelves in the spare room, one in the bedroom, two in the hall, one in the attic and a wall of shelves in my private, secret sitting room. There is a pile of books on Bert's bedside table and another pile on mine. Far, far too many books.

So I have decided to cull them. I've been off loading as I read for about a year now but am finding it far more difficult to deal with the books that have been sitting around for decades without ever having been read.

I'll need to live until I'm at least eighty to read all these books if I go through them at the rate of one per week. It also needs to be taken into account that I'll want to read books I haven't bought yet. Heck, I'll want to read books that haven't even been written yet! This is the plan. Lift a few from the shelves, glance at them, then choose one and read twenty pages. If it turns out to be tedious get rid of it at once but if it intrigues, finish it, then get rid.

I chose Lucky by Alice Sebold and shall let you know how I get on with it.

Meanwhile here is a rough guide to what went into the recycling boxes.

There were about thirty that I'd two or more copies of. Mostly classics.
All plays except for the complete works of the Bard.
Stacks of crime fiction as they are mostly all the same.
Anything by Alexander McCall Smith.
Lots of old history books.
Everything about Dora the Explorer and Spot the Dog.
Herman Melville for if I ever feel the need I'll get it on audiobook.
Surplus books on birds and the like. How many bird books does a person need? I've still got too many.
A novel by Jill Tweedie that I've never read which for some reason depresses me every time I look at it.
Chick lit with embarrassing covers.
All books about dieting. There were only about three.
Ancient book on palmistry printed to cheap paper.
Pearlie's tattered school books.
Shabby copy of The Origin of the Species. I will never read that from cover to cover. Ditto famous tomes by J.S. Mill and Adam Smith.
All sociology classics, Captive Wife, Street Corner Society etc.
All seriously out of date ECDL and computer manuals.
Christian books except Bible and few improving Sunday School prizes that belonged to Pearlie and need further investigation. Such books fascinate me.
Nancy Drew series. If Martha and Evie ever want to read those they can get them at the library.

Friday. I have completely cleared two bookshelves and have only the ancient books, cookery books and Irish Interest books to go through. There are seven good sized boxes of surplus literature to be re-homed. Bert wouldn't let me throw out any of the D.G. Hessayan books, not even the one on lawns. He also refused to part with any books on pruning.

I'm about a quarter through Lucky and it is so harrowing that I had great difficulty getting to sleep last night.

Moving on

Monday, January 11, 2016

Catching Myself On

It is here at last. The 11th of January, a day I have been anticipating since well before Christmas. The reason I was looking forward to today was that it was the date I had set for catching myself on. The first of January would have been far too soon. A body hasn't even finished the Christmas food, never mind the alcohol and here at Nellybert's we were also receiving unsolicited donations of other people's Christmas food and drink. Tired of eating pannatone? Take it to Cully. A surfeit of Mr Kipling's mince pies? Nelly will soon redd those up. You don't actually like Bailey's Irish Cream? Gorby-guts does. She puts it in her coffee instead of milk and reels about until bedtime.

I began by weighing myself (a rarity) then I reported the result to Bert who said,

You're not! I have a heifer calf out there doesn't even weigh that much.

I had a look at those calves this morning and thought to myself I couldn't possibly be as heavy as them. At a pinch, if he really had to, I reckon Bert could lift me bodily. There is no doubt he'd do himself a mischief if he did but there is no way on earth he could pick up any of those calves.

How did the day go? It went well. I ate moderate amounts of healthy food and felt the better for it. There was just one thing. I had the strangest feeling, a feeling I haven't experienced for a very long time, a kind of flutteriness in the belly area. I believe it might be called 'peckish'.

So I distracted myself by researching typical weights of summer born Hereford heifers. That Bert! I'm only slightly above a third of what those calves (probably) weigh.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Listen With Granny

Martha and Evie like to listen to music when they are travelling with us in the van and as the only CDs that Bert had in there were by Joe Moore, Rod McAuley and Erroll Walsh (all local musicians that we know), the music they were listening to was exclusively folk and country.  Good as these fellows are I thought it was time to broaden the children's horizons. The first new piece of music I introduced them to was the Best of The Small Faces. The first track was Lazy Sunday. Play it again, said Martha. So we played it again about five times on Thursday the 2nd of January. On the 9th of January her first words on getting into the van were, "Put on 'Lazy Sunday'" We listened to it three times. She knows almost all the words now. The first Thursday...

Who is singing?

Steve Marriott. It's from a long time ago. He's dead now. 

How did he die? 

He died in a house fire.

Then she was too busy learning the song.

The second Thursday...

He died in a fire. How did it happen? 
He did a silly thing. He had too much to drink. Some people think he might have been smoking in bed. Some people think he might have fallen asleep and a candle got knocked over. He died from the smoke of the fire. He wouldn't have known anything about it.

(I never like to miss an opportunity to point out the risks of an unattended candle.)

Where is he buried? 
I don't know. He might have been cremated.
What's cremated? 
It's when dead people are burned in a fire instead of being buried in the ground. I'll check it out for you.

I did check it out. Steve Marriott died in 1991 at the age of 44. And he was cremated. He was a talented musician and a great singer and from the tender age of fourteen/fifteen I was a fan. The Wee Manny tells me that the Small Faces played the Flamingo Ballroom in 1968. Apparently on the exact same date that Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake was released. The Wee said that one of the local hard men attacked Marriott on stage and that Marriott came off the stage and battered him.* I don't know if that is true for the Wee Manny is well-known for his far-fetched tales. I certainly won't be bringing that one up with Martha.

According to The Mojo Collection (pub. 2000) the band regretted releasing Lazy Sunday as a single as they felt it pigeon-holed them as a novelty knees-up band. Forty-eight years later I think it's still a fun track, one to share with the grandchildren. It's not my favourite Small Faces track though. That would be Tin Soldier. Released in 1967 when I was fourteen years old. I was transfixed and I have never stopped loving it. Nearly fifty years. Where does time go to?

*Back in 1978 at a Stranglers gig I did see with my own eyes Jean-Jacques Burnel come off the stage to batter someone.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

A Wee Run To Omagh

Apart from a few visits to the Ulster American Folk Park I don't know Omagh all that well. It's the sort of town I usually pass by. But Bert's clarinet needed a to see the doctor and the last person he took it to charged him an awful lot of money. So he phoned around and someone recommended Reynold's Music in Omagh town. Jonathan, the owner offered to post Bert the articles he needed or, if he cared to come to the shop he'd sort it there and then. It was another rainy day in Cully so we decided to make the trip.

It was my very first visit to Omagh town centre and I found it charming - even on a damp, dank January day. Jonathan's shop was easily found and Jonathan himself was very welcoming and helpful. He recommended somewhere for us to lunch - next door! And while we relaxed in The Kitchen he got on with the repairs to the clarinet.

Looking forward to our next visit to Omagh and hopefully next time we'll leave earlier and have a look around the town. And the bill for Reynold's Music services. I wouldn't like to say exactly but it was considerably less than that other guy in Ballyrobbery.

 Turns out there's a lot more to Omagh than that annual bluegrass festival. And here's a thing - Bert maintains that the A505 between Cookstown and Omagh is, at 26 and a bit miles, the longest road between towns in the whole of Ireland. I wonder if that is true. The internet isn't telling.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Rainy Day Woes

Today I did not go for a walk but I did go to visit and old and very dear friend who is recovering from serious illness in a nursing home. That did me far more good than a walk. Anyway, it was teeming down with rain and I have a big worry on my mind. This is the kind of worry that actually belongs to someone else. The weight of it is on Nellybert now but it is going somewhere else. I really wish it did not exist.

In other news, I need a new camera. Readers may have noticed the absence of photographs. I do have the means of taking pictures but not rainy pictures. I'm so glad we live on a hill and that Bert has wood working skills, the tools and the wood. We will have time to build that ark. Such a shame so many of our animals are sterilised.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Sunday, Muddy Sunday

Another drear and soppy day. It is a squelchy walk to the hen run these mornings but at least Flour the bantam isn't clocking any more. Imagine! Going broody in December/January. It's far too cold to bring out chicks and it's not good for chickens to spend three weeks sitting on a nest in the bleak midwinter. She was persistent. We'd keep lifting the eggs from under her and the next day there would be another two or three under her. She must have brought them to the nest herself. Our friend Peter said they gather the eggs up under their wings and transport them to the nest. He also said she needed to get a cold arse to put her off the notion so Bert put her under a bucket and set her in a shed. the next morning I looked out the window and there was a hard frost. Good part, ground not squelchy; bad part, Flour's arse might be a bit too cold so I raced out to the shed and set her free. She joined the others and is now (thankfully) completely off the notion of clocking.

And I've been walking every day since the year began. Today it was so wet I wore my wellies. Not great for tramping the highways but at least my feet were dry. Walking was the good part. The less good part is that I had trifle for breakfast. Roll on the eleventh.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Good Intentions

New Year is often full of good intentions which, as the year progresses, fall by the wayside. I have good intentions. I've let my walking slip and I eat and drink too much. I'm actually drinking a glass of wine as I write this and I'm in the middle of making a trifle. The thing about eating and drinking too much is that I'm way too old for that sort of carry-on. It would be very sweet to see Martha, Evie and James reach voting age.

So, Jazzer and I set a date. The 11th of January. That is when we are going to up the exercise and lower the scoffing and imbibing. I've started already with the daily walks and have noticed already that my pace is improving. It can only get better.

In other news I decided to streamline the books. An hour I spent at that today and managed to put three in the recycling box. There are masses of books on my shelves that I have yet to read and as many again that I'd like to re-read. Perhaps that should be another good intention. Read more books. Another reason to live at least another eighteen years. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 01, 2016

New Year's Day

When I was very young I believed that the manner in which one began the New Year would influence the entire year. If that were so I will spend 2016 slightly hungover and in a very idle mood. I'm still tired from the holidays and this is all I can manage today but I will, I will, try harder in 2016.

Happy New Year!