Saturday, December 31, 2016

State of Play

Well, here we are - the last evening of 2016 and the 31st blog post in a row. We are expecting a quiet one. Our Godson is here and we hope for two extra guitar players. There are already two extra dogs. I had my first glass of wine at 4 pm and may well be asleep before midnight. I have made a coconut loaf and am in the middle of preparing a sausage casserole.

Here is a picture.

Nothing could be better than listening to and enjoying, in one's own home, live and beautiful music. This has been our pleasure in 2016, in all the years before and, I'm hoping, in all the years to come.

Happy New Year. No matter what, there will always be music.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Waxing Religious

To pot has gone this diet! But at least no turkey was wasted. We got an 11 pound one from Clint, got two good days out of it and then three days of (amazingly good) turkey broth. Swisser called this evening just as we were serving the last of it for supper and there was me worrying that we mightn't manage the last two bowlfuls. Swisser took care of them, no bother. I love it when all the food gets eaten, especially when it is good food.

Hannah and I took the girls to a Hipster cafe in Ballymena today. Couple of coffees, 2 kiddy meals, and one bowl of soup and the bill was eye-watering. And it turned out they hadn't even billed us for Evie's French toast! We got that one on the house which was very Christian of them. The place was full to the rafters and they must be making a small fortune but, fair play to them, moustache wax ain't cheap.

There were a couple of fan boys sitting next to us and I was eavesdropping like mad. Turned out they were very interested in the twirly-whiskered one. One asks the other,

What church does he go to?

I didn't catch the answer. They then proceeded to have a conversation about St Thomas Aquinas and how the prayers add zest to a plainer diet of general Bible study. It was only marginally better than listening to the girls bicker and fight. What is happening to young people today?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Feeling Proud

It's normal to feel pride in one's children's (and grandchildren's) achievements and, I'd also include in that the pride I feel in my sibling's achievements. Part of the pleasure I feel is knowing very well the obstacles and struggles they faced in reaching their goals. But I'm a realistic person. I know that everyone feels proud of family member's achievements and that is why I rarely boast of it. Unless it is to someone who knows our family well.

When I meet people who do talk expansively about what their children (and grandchildren) have achieved I will rarely compete. Except for this one time. I bumped into an old acquaintance and invited her for coffee. She is a lovely woman but, we had barely taken our seats and she is telling me about her granddaughter who is a pilot. Well, why not? I ask if she works for an airline but it turns out she is a helicopter pilot which is very impressive. But, when my friend got to the part where this young woman's father had bought her a helicopter for her birthday I almost lost the power of speech. My friend is a decade older than me and for a moment I wondered if she was living in the land of fantasy. But no. T'was true. (I checked it all out on the internet later).

Well with this on the table what could I offer? That my seven-year-old granddaughter is the lead vocalist in a folk group and debuted (to great acclaim) at a gig in Sligo town that was attended by a great number of leading academics and someone from Vancouver. But I didn't say so. So this was my best shot - that my three girls are great at managing money which, I believe, comes from childhood experience when they were reared in less than affluent circumstances. My friend said this was applicable also to herself.

Ah well. It was great to see her for she hasn't a boring bone in her body.

This makes me proud. My second youngest sister, my granddaughters and my oldest daughter performing at the party to celebrate my youngest sister's Ph.D. There are lots of things that make me proud of my family, almost too many to mention, but I will sneak them in, in other posts.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nelly Christmas

About five weeks ago I decided to cut down on the eating and drinking as I was getting way too fat. And, it was all going so very well. I'd have a few glasses of red wine on a Saturday night and avoided alcohol on the other six days of the week. I watched what I ate, reduced my portions, got back to a daily walk. I was feeling lots better and had reduced my tonnage by 9 lbs. Some of my trousers were actually getting a bit fally-off.

Then Christmas. I had good intentions about the scoffing but the drinking got in the way of that. Stepped on the scales this morning to find that I have gained 6 lbs. Ah well. I will just have to start all over again.

Here is a picture of chubby ol' Nelly hiding behind a dog. Photo courtesy of Miss Martha.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

T-bar shoes

Hey Ho! Just blocked someone on Flickr. someone who seemed to have a thing about little children wearing t-bar shoes. I checked his profile and he (I'm assuming it is a 'he') does not share. That is a deal-breaker for me.

Then, after I blocked him I checked his favourites and they are 'safe for work'. Still going to block the person even though I'm feeling very uncomfortably judgemental about it.

These are a selection of my blocked Flickr user's favourite pictures. I'm assuming all these children are probably dead - unlike Bert, in his t-bar shoes.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Boxing Day Chillfest

First Boxing Day in years that I haven't cooked a three-course meal, instead we had a hot, peppery soup and delicious potato soda bread. Desserts were the sherry trifle and the Sicilian Orange and Almond Cake. I have to say that this has been the best Boxing Day ever. Here are some pictures to remind me...

Martha and Fergus working on 'You Are My Sunshine'.

Roy wanted to duet with Hannah but he stank of dead sea bream.

Evie just wanted Fergus to read her a story.

Alan and Jess began the love affair of the year.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Day Arrives

I have noted some folks posting their Christmas table settings on social media and very lovely they were too. In fact, I was almost tempted to post my own but, instead of that, I will describe it. The tablecloth was the chicken one I bought from the packman, the plates were my best Poole Pottery ones, just the three of them. The cutlery was lifted pell mell from the drawers and left in a bunch, there were no ornaments other than a jar of cranberry sauce. We helped ourselves from the kitchen island, piled our plates with traditional fare, turkey and ham, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, gravy, stuffing. The peas did not work out but there was no room for them anyway.

It has been a pleasant, stress-free and chilled Christmas, just as it should be.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

Christmas jobs done - stuffing, mince pies, ham, made turkey oven-ready, last of presents wrapped, decorated tree and put up Christmas cards, wrote this blog post.

Other tasks completed - fed pigs and hens, cleaned house to usual low standard, entertained guests, phoned plumber.

Not done - I did not make a wreath, forgot the tinfoil and did not make the chocolate cheesecake.

Happy Christmas Eve!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Two Sleeps

It is going to be so very fine going to bed tonight and knowing that I don't have to get up to take the hard-working Hannah to work for 4 am. I'm writing this with a wee gin by my side, Hannah is off to her staff do and Bert is making supper. 

Bert also shopped today and made a very good job of it. I had listed three lemons and he came back with three lemons and two limes because that was cheaper than three lemons alone. He also wrote one card and was almost in tears because he said he has 'forgotten how to write.' I had to show him how to make the letter 'f'. Obviously, he must sell no plant that contains the letter 'f'. Now let me think - clematis, Parthenocissus, lonicera, hedera, solanum. No 'f' anywhere there. He used to sell standard fuchsias and they were beautiful. He told me that he stopped because they kept falling over when he delivered them but I reckon the true reason was because he couldn't make an 'f' when he was writing the invoices. 

 One beautiful standard fuchsia, three interested punters. The one in the cap is Bert's late father. And the dogs are our first dogs.That's how long it is since Bert sold fuchsias. 

Christmas preparations so far -

Baked Sicilian Orange & Almond Cake.
Brought Christmas Tree into the house.
Collected Christmas decorations from attic.
Bought sherry for trifle.
Forced Bert to write a Christmas card (see above)
Gave up on wreath. Too stormy to source ivy and berried cotoneaster.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Three Sleeps

There was more gridlock today, but despite that, it was a good day.

We went to a Christmas Party, Martha, Evie, myself and Bert. Was at the Oldpark Road, with the girl's friends - Caitlin, Cara and Maria and our oldest friends Robin & Lorraine, also known as the Wees. The food was good and the craic was mighty, I'd forgotten how much fun hide and seek was, not that the grands played it, we just lied a lot as to where certain small people may or may not be hiding.

On the way back I headed for Cullybackey instead of Galgorm and there was Gridlock. I allowed a huge tractor and trailer in front of me just for the fun of it. As Bert said, it might cut a swathe for us. No such luck. The tractor and trailer pulled out, all optimism and the Peugeot van (us) behind it, all filled with Christmas spirit and then - everything stopped. Then - a steady stream of small cars driven by small people mounting the pavement and edging slowly past the tractor. All it would have taken would have been just one considerate, mannerly and decent soul to wait until the tractor, the Peugeot van, and a few other vehicles to pass and we'd all have moved towards our final destinations. What is it about Cullybackey drivers that brings churlishness to the fore? As always, there was the usual ignorantly parked drivers outside Boots the Chemist. This would be Boots that actually has an underused car park at the back of its premises. See sick people? See so called sick people with big free prescription needs? These are people that believe themselves to be so entitled. Let someone else pay for my paracetamol only 25 pence per packet at most leading stores. I'll park wherever I like. I'm an invalid. Who cares if delivery trucks and other humans are inconvenienced? Not I.

Enz-way - rant over. I'm glad I don't work in a chemist shop. I think I might get to suffer those killing people fantasies I had when I worked at that Dunclug hostel.

Which reminds me, last night's waking dream was Prince Harry dying from a wasting disease in a squalorous building and tended in his last hours by my brothers, Eamon and Joseph. What the hell's that all about?

Christmas preparation - presents wrapped and given. Party attended and human beings treated in a loving and Christmas-spirited manner.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Four more sleeps...

Busy day today. Took Hannah to town and shopped in Lidl where the Christmas vegetables were so cheap they were practically free. Got into a conversation with a pleasant lady who informed me that she expected her vegetables to stay fresh until New Year's Day as she planned to keep them in a cold shed. Also bought three more bottles of wine. Will keep them in a cool scullery.

Got home and removed vegetables from packaging and took them to a cold shed where I found Bert fashioning a table from a vintage Singer sewing machine base and a slab of cold marble. I expect this will be my Christmas present.

Cleaned the house to a low standard. Went back into town to pick up Hannah. It was Bert's turn but he was fashioning a table etc. and he also needed to bring the pigs in from the cold field.

Cullybackey. What can I say? It's never easy to get through it at the best of times but five o'clock, a few days before Christmas is far from the best of times. There was a big yellow dump truck in front of us and I was explaining to Hannah that it was a good plan when following a large and bulky vehicle to assume that if it could get through then the medium size van following it should get through too. It has always worked for me. Until today that is. We got as far as the Mace shop when the dump truck stopped. And did not move. After four minutes or so the nose of a white jeep appeared, the driver trying to get between the truck and the Maine Bakery with only a slim chance of making it. Inch by inch the truck moved forward, the jeep was nearly through the window of the bakery and I managed to wiggle into a space in front of the supermarket taking Hannah and I out of the jam. The dump truck got through and the jeep got through, the woman driving it staring straight ahead as she knew she looked like an eejit and there behind the jeep was a huge forty foot lorry. And the reason the traffic had come to a standstill - some dickhead parked outside the chemist, nose to the kerb, arse sticking out a foot and a half from it. There are these stickers you can get that say Parked Like A C**t. I don't believe I've ever seen a more deserving recipient.

Christmas preparations? Made mince pies, bought and wrapped presents. Got the Christmas tree as far as the door and forgot, until just now, to give any thought to the wreath.

Feeling pretty relaxed. Received as gifts bottles of champagne and gin. This is looking like a good Christmas.

We were visited this evening by three men and a dog. Everyone thought the puppy was pretty cute, except, of course, our own dogs who either ignored her, were afraid of her or, tried to bite her.

Bad Girl Jess!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Five More Sleeps

Poor Hannah started work again at 4 am today but I got to sleep on as I was not on taxi duty. I'm on again on Thursday and Friday. Because I got the lie-in, I picked her up at 11 am and took the opportunity to do some Christmas grocery shopping. I bought one of those big square loaves that are only sold at Christmas for home made for stuffing. No ready-made for us. I even have my own sage growing in the poly tunnel.

I also bought some festive alcohol and was telling my sister this when she phoned.

I got a nice wine, some Cava and a bottle of Tia Maria.

Well - that's Christmas morning sorted then.

I thought some more about the wreath and decided where I was going to place the Christmas tree. I finished my Klimt jigsaw and thought about putting it away. I went for a walk in the woods and got rained on. Really should have worn the Drizabone.

Then I made a delicious supper of spaghetti, meatballs, and tomato sauce. There were some complaints. I was told that the meatballs tasted too much of meat. Ingrates! I made that meal from scratch too. Well, maybe not the spaghetti. It came from a packet.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Six More Sleeps

Nellybert received an unexpected Christmas gift yesterday evening and it was just as well I had my amazing, covers all eventualities, delicious chilli jam to reciprocate. Awesome on turkey sandwiches, I said. He said, how is it on beefburgers? Even more unbelievably awesome, I said.

The gift sat on the kitchen island. I'm perfectly happy to wait until Christmas Day before opening but I suspect it is biscuits. Bert says, what is it? I urge him to wait and see. He picks it up and rends a great tear in the wrapping. I pounce on it, sellotape in hand and re-wrap before he gets a chance to peek.

Did your mother allow you to open presents before Christmas?

Aye. Pearlie didn't give a fuck.

Honestly! That woman didn't have one single ounce of Christmas spirit. Apparently, they had tinned peas with their Christmas dinner. Can you imagine?

Not one thing prepared for Christmas today. I thought about the wreath. And I helped the postman. He was delivering mail on the road where I was out walking (briskly) and he asked me to put some cards in a postbox at the end of some farmer's lane. I mightn't say which road as it is, no doubt, a disciplinary matter to allow the unanointed to handle Her Majesty's mail. One other thing I did which was sort of Christmassy was get up at half-three in the morning and take Hannah to her work which she is starting particularly early because of Christmas. Home again within thirty minutes and straight back to bed. I awoke at seven from a dream where I was about to hang a raggedy, bearded man. Yesterday I was skinning my favourite cat. It's such a blessing that I am able to escape my violent and bloody nightmares.

The wrong kind of peas

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Christmas Spirit

Only a week to go! Yet today I did absolutely nothing towards Christmas preparation, not one thing. Unless... unless giving away two jars of my chilli jam whilst telling the (lucky) recipients that chilli jam enhances turkey sandwiches like nothing else on earth.

A Christmas memory from 2014 - Martha and Evie in front of the smallest Christmas tree ever which they decorated by themselves. This year's tree will be slightly bigger. Maybe it is 2014's tree grown a bit. You never know. A young fellow came up this afternoon to collect a pot-grown tree and brought his little ones with him and I had to draw on all today's Christmas spirit to cope, for I wasn't expecting the children. Such noisy little buggers and when they're not your own it's hard to bear. Sunday evening should be a quiet time for old girls, not listening to bashing on xylophones and drums and fighting over plastic tiaras. But it's the children's time of year and they are all so excited about Santa Claus.

This week I should like to sort out four more presents, get grocery shopping, decorate the tree, and make a Christmas wreath. Christmas pudding has been crossed off my list. And I'm toying with the idea of having that young rooster killed as I caught him raping his own mother today. Although I probably won't.

Tomorrow I will get up at 3:30am to take Hannah to work. How's that for Christmas spirit?

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Buggeration indeed. Bert and I launched ourselves on Belfast city yesterday to partake of rich food and strong alcoholic drinks. Belfast was crammed with bright lights. frantic shoppers, Christmas jumpers and office parties. A body was glad to plant themselves in a seat and was prepared to tolerate drinks rounds (for four people) that cost in excess of £30. We were glad to be on the train home at 8pm. Who knows what craziness would have ensued in the hours before closing time.

At the station, thirsty Bert, went in search of bottled water. He came back waterless saying that he could not justify spending the money on plastic encased water when so many people were lying on the streets without shelter. We did donate on the journey to the station. There is something seriously wrong with this world when we spend so much on food and drink for ourselves while people lie freezing on our city streets.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Just caught a wee quiet moment to update my blog. Well, slightly quiet as there is a five-year-old floating about, a wee dog snarling, and a big guy sitting on my sofa performing the theme tune to 'Rawhide'. I think I can tune them out long enough to fulfill my daily blogging promise. Oh dear, the seven-year-old has just approached me asking me to mend a broken handbag. I have delegated that task to Bert. The five-year-old is screaming now.

I got the last of the presents posted to England today. As usual, there was a chatty old guy in the queue and I was enjoying his company when he was called to the counter and it turned out he wanted the post office assistant to call his telephone company and he could not be persuaded that it was not part of her role. She was very nice to him so I expect she'll call round to his house after work and do it for him there.

Tonight I am going with Hannah and Gus to an open mic night in Ballymena although  I don't think they are planning to perform 'Rawhide' unless they are expecting the audience to go a bit Blues Brothers on them.

Tomorrow Bert and I are going to Belfast for our Christmas Day Out. It will be touch and go if I get to post tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Preparations

There are days when a person might consider themselves to be well-organised, ahead of the game, doing rightly but, as always,  chaos can never be far away.

This was such a day. Supper was prepared before midday, all that was needed to accompany it was a simple little salad. No reason why I should not be able to make a batch of chili jam, prepare butternut squash soup, rack the Summer Fruits, take a little dander around the Buttermilk Bridge, relax with my 1000 piece Klimt jigsaw, wrap some Christmas presents, pick Hannah up from work and so on...

Was just as well I prepared supper early (seriously delish lasagna since you ask) as I found myself roasting butternut, rinsing lentils (for the soup) and preparing a wrapping station for the presents. Scissors, sellotape, festive paper were all set up, as were the gifts. Hannah helped out and we were done in no time. I cleared the work surface of Christmas things, tossed up the salad, took the lasagna out of the oven and we started supper. Bert was off on an errand as he always finds something to do ten minutes before meal times. He came in soon after and helped himself.

I had barely started clearing when I noticed two unwrapped presents. Sure it wouldn't take a minute to wrap them up. Out again with the sellotape, scissors and paper. First one wrapped. Was it just the tiniest bit greasy? Never mind, second one wrapped and just as I was folding over the last corner and starting to sellotape I spotted the little shred of lettuce stuck to the gift. Oh damn. I wrapped it anyway. Who'll notice a pick of vegetable matter in the present unwrapping frenzy that is Christmas morning? It was Bert, always careless when dolloping food from bowl to plate and myself, of course, careless in my cleaning. The person who will be having salad with her Christmas gift is Miss Evie. I don't think she'll care.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Night At The Carol Service

Have just come back from my granddaughter's carol service which was held in a nearby church.

Good - Miss Martha excelled herself in the singing department.

Not Good - Flipping teacher kept standing in front of my special child waving her arms around so I only caught glimpses of the darling.

Good - All the children sang beautifully.

Not So Good - The 'carols' sounded more like middling pop songs. I like traditional carols, such as Away In The Manger', 'Adeste Fideles' and so on but expect Latin would be too big an ask in a Presbyterian Church.

Quite Good - The church was comfortable and roomy.

Less Good - It was far too warm. I wonder did it have one of those biomass boilers that are causing such a scandal these days.

Good - We all got a Benediction at the end. You can never have enough Benedictions.

Less Good - Too much Christianity.

Not Good At All - Hardly any Paganism. Just the one Christmas Tree at the entrance.

Good - Free entry.

Not Good - At exit begging bowls brandished by little children.

Better - No pressure.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Warm For The Time of Year

The other morning I went out to feed the hens and the weather was positively balmy. There was a warm wind blowing from the south. It's not unpleasant but it does get one wondering, where will it all end?

On this day last year it was a miserable, sleety cold day. I know this because I took a picture of our wintry garden. And a few years before that a poor wee mouse drowned and froze in the greenhouse. This year no sleet, no snow, no frozen mice. I expect I should be glad but, this year, I'd love snow for Christmas.

So, there you go, twelfth post in a row and all I can manage is a bit of a chat about the weather. This is what it comes down to. Yet in Real Life I have opinions, hard opinions about Arlene Foster and Donald Trump, climate change, the alt-right and Brexit among other topics. In Real Life I swear like a sailor and have a filthy sense of humour, not like the nicey-nice me that writes Nelly's Garden. In Real Life I have daily achievements that I brag about. Why only today I made an incredible stew, edged a 1000 piece jigsaw and went for a brisk walk. I also progressed several gallons of wine. The Blackcurrant & Beetroot and the Raspberry were particularly tasty. Nelly is much more modest than I. In Real Life I am obsessed with my daily poo but we won't even go there. In Real Life I sing funny made-up songs to my grandchildren, my husband, my dogs and my chickens. And my cats. They all love them (except the cats) but I'm too shy to share and I worry that my silly songs may not be as funny as I think they are. In Real Life I am fiercely proud of my three daughters but I rarely bring that to the garden. In Real Life I am an atheist but I won't speak of it here for I know many of my on-line friends have faith. In real life I am a hard-working, naturally lazy sod who has no money, loves being retired and has never been happier in her life.

Little wonder this blog is so boring.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Two Weeks Until Christmas

Holly de Cat's first Christmas. 2006

A Christmas that falls on a Sunday is, without doubt, my very favourite Christmas for it doesn't disrupt the week. One knows where one is with a Sunday Christmas. So this year will be good. I read it today's paper that people are particularly looking forward to this year's festivities - even people who normally dislike Christmas, people like me. The reason for this is that 2016 has been widely thought of as a very shitty year - very Brexity, very Trumpish. And, because of this,  we are all looking forward to a bit of seasonal cheer.

It has also been a year that has seen many fêted personalities die. Of course, famous and talented people die every year  but to lose David Bowie and Prince so close together was a lot to bear. Most recently AA Gill passed away and I was so sorry to hear of it for I admired his writing very much. For years I read the Sunday Times and his television review page was my favourite part. You didn't even need to have watched the show to enjoy his writing.

I lost a good friend myself in April this year and I still miss her very much. We remembered her in Sligo when the family gathered to celebrate Leitrim Sister's graduation, both events that proved 2016 wasn't all bad. And Master James, Katy and Mark's long yearned for baby boy turned a year old in July. Another gold star for 2016.

So, back to looking forward to my Sunday Christmas. Today I planned my Christmas menu and ordered the turkey. There are still some presents to buy and the tree has been chosen. It's a handy thing to be married to a man who sells potted fir trees. I haven't had to buy a tree for over ten years now. In the early days of the Bert's Wood we could get a tree from there but now those trees are 2-3 metres high are pretty damnable looking even if we did live in a castle.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


I really need to keep tonight's blog post short and sweet as it is a Saturday (Treat Night) and that means I am drinking wine.

Tonight's story is about connections. Northern Ireland is a very small place and, I often think, take us all far back enough and we're probably all each other's cousins and, never mind all that Protestant and Catholic stuff, I reckon we married and mated all over the place in days gone by and we're all mixed up.

When Hannah was a teenager she'd mention a friend of hers and I'd say what's the surname, and she'd say, Mum! You wouldn't know him/her, yet nine times out of ten, if she even knew her friends' surname I'd know who they were.

So, this afternoon her friend's father gave her a lift home and he got invited in for a cup of tea and we got chatting about this and that. I've met him before, he's a local historian and before long we were chatting about the war years (after my time). he tells me that he was in Belfast when things started to get a bit hot and heavy and his father moved them to a place called Tannaghmore.

Tannaghmore! Tannaghmore where I was reared?
Yes. It's about halfway between Ballymena and Antrim.
I know! It's my home place. Where did you live?
There's three little houses, I think there is more than three now, near a pub, Byrne's pub.
 I know! Those three little houses (and the other one) where right at the top of the road I lived on.

Turns out he knew lots of people that I knew yet was gone from Tannaghmore 12 years before my mother got there and 13 before I was born. He even went to the same school my father attended. It's a small place, these six counties. All you have to do is get chatting. Incidentally,  the last time we chatted we discovered that one of his associate historians is my second cousin, once removed.

Friday, December 09, 2016

A Tight Tidy Theory

Happy Birthday To You,
Happy Birthday To You,
Happy Birthday Dear Katkin,
Happy Birthday To You!

Of course, Katy is a little older these days and, if you want to know how old, you must work out the anagram contained in the title. Go on! It's easy.

And keeping on the birthday girl theme, I discovered this drawing among Matty's things. An early work  by Katy dating from September 1989.

I can assure you that it is Seamus' spitting image.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Pubs of Ulster

That poster (I had it postcard size) was for a Northern Ireland Tourist Board promotion and was the work of the acclaimed local photographer Bill Kirk. It dates from the late 1970s and used the olde worlde charm of our local public houses to draw visitors to this troubled province.

Now, at that time, I wouldn't have been that well-travelled around Ulster hostelries. Forty years ago my lot's idea of a night's craic would not have been sitting in some dingy, traditional pub with some sour-faced oul' doll behind the bar, looking like she'd far rather be at Mass than serving strong drink to a shower of ne'er-do-wells. We liked a young crowd, people like ourselves, disco lights, music and dancing and the chance of a pull.

Yet I know for sure that I was in one of those pubs, the Crosskeys Inn, near Toome. There are two pictures of the pub, an exterior (thatched roof) and (third one down from that), a shot of the proprietors looking just as respectable as members of the Protestant Ascendancy, which they most definitely were not.

Further research threw up the Causeway Tavern, near Bushmills and I suspect that the Crown Bar, Belfast is somewhere in there as well. I'm sure the lady with the updo at the bottom of the poster was a County Antrim publican but the rest are mysteries to me. I'd love to be enlightened.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Looking Forward

Even though the turkey legs were a little overdone, as Boxing Day Disasters go 2013 wasn't that bad a year.

I hope it’s not tempting fate to say so but this year I am really looking forward to Christmas. There are several reasons for this happy state of affairs. The first is, that when we had our recent family celebration in Sligo, I had the opportunity to give Christmas gifts to family members who live in far-away places. No stressing about getting things into the post! Another reason is that we have decided not to do the Boxing Day dinner for it had become a serious source of seasonal stress and I had stopped enjoying it. Then, of course there is the fact that our responsibilities have diminished as there is no elderly, bed-ridden, Christmas-hating person and no carers coming in on top of us on our family day.

The following is a throwback post written nearly five years ago. It tells the tale of the worst Boxing Day dinner ever. I still get shivers when I think of it.

It has taken me a while to be able to share this story. I must warn you in advance that it is a very sad story and that you will probably cry. This is the story of Nelly's Boxing Day Dinner Disaster.

My day began at 6am Why so early? I wanted to get a handle on my day and a start made on my enormous 22 pound Black Norfolk Turkey, a gift from Clint.

By 10:30am the turkey was thoroughly cooked, in fact, it was a tad over-cooked. I was a little dismayed but Bert said, never to worry, sliced in gravy, nobody would notice a thing. Still, I was embarrassed to see it sitting there all black skin and singed legs so I got Bert to slice it up and I tucked it away out of sight.

All was under control – desserts ready, most vegetables prepped, a nice pork roast sizzling away in the slow cooker. I just had some stuffing to prepare. At 2pm the pork was succulent and only needed a quick blast in the oven to make the crackling. This was a method I was quite confident about as I'd cooked pork in the slow cooker at least a dozen times.

I put the oven on to high and left it for thirty minutes. To tell the truth, I got involved with other tasks. Suddenly I remembered I needed to put the pork in for a blast of heat so transferred it to a roasting tin. Over to the oven, door open....

Oh dear God! There were my turkey slices, burned, dried out, totally fucked. I was so distraught I dropped the pork whereupon it fell on the floor and disintegrated. See! I said you would cry. I certainly did.

What Happened Next?

I saw Bert coming across the yard carrying a bucket of logs. I ran to the door. I sobbed,

Bert! Come in! Something terrible has happened!

He took one look at my anguished face, dropped the logs and ran in. I believe he thought I had discovered his mother lying dead. Little did he know it was far worse than that.

Then What Happened?

I had hysterics.

Then What Happened?

I stopped crying and went to collect Hannah and her friends. On the way in I started howling again thinking of that noble turkey who had lived and died in vain. I gathered up my guests who. I believe, were rather apprehensive about their evening's entertainment.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

Zoe and family arrived and measures were discussed as to how dinner could be salvaged. With the help of my lovely guests, we saved the day. There was enough meat underneath the burned turkey and above the splattered pork to feed us all. Second helpings were in short supply but thankfully there were lots of desserts.

Last Year's Boxing Day Dinner

I seem to remember that there was also some sort of disaster at the 2010 Boxing Day dinner. I don't recall what it was about but it culminated in me running out and sobbing in the polytunnel and when I allowed myself to be persuaded back into the house the guests had eaten all the food. Ah well. I dare say it served me right for being such a hysterical bitch.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Monday Suppers

Zoe's last task of the year, pruning and tying in raspberries

Zoe and family have been growing vegetables here in Springhill for many years and
I’ve been cooking Monday supper for them all for most of those years. At first, it seemed like a lot of work, especially the part where I’d have to decide what to make. Then, earlier this year, I had a great idea. Instead of me choosing what to cook I’d ask everyone, in turn, to pick the menu starting with the youngest, Miss Evie and working up to myself, the most senior member of the family.

Typical menu choices would be,

1. Evie – Hot Dogs, Steamed Chocolate Pudding with Chocolate Sauce and Popping Candy Ice Cream.
2. Martha – Pizza, Cake with Icing and Sprinkles
3. Zoe – Lasagne, Fruit Crumble
4. Dave – Lamb Tagine, Lemon Meringue Pie
5. Bert - Mince and Onions, Mashed Potato, Apple Tart
6. Me - Cottage Pie, Trifle

And then it would be Evie again who would choose Hot Dogs, Steamed Chocolate Pudding with Chocolate Sauce and Popping Candy Ice Cream. Her menu choice has never varied since we began taking turns. Martha always has pizza but sometimes varies her dessert. Zoe will choose something that she knows I find easy to make and Dave won’t. I’ve tried a few new dishes thanks to Dave and I’m glad of it.

Yesterday was the final Monday supper of the season as they won’t be gardening again until February. We had Pollo Verde, which was Dave’s choice, and Apple Crumble. I made a salad of lettuce, apples, flaked almonds and tomatoes and dressed it with a mustard and honey dressing. In keeping with the plan to use up ancient foodstuffs the honey (our own) had fermented but that only added to the piquancy of the dressing.

Bert said it was the best Monday supper ever. My portion was moderate and delicious and, at one point, sitting there with the family, I experienced such a rare and delightful feeling of utter contentment. All felt right with my world. Roll on February!

Martha watering strawberries back in 2012.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Two Joeys And A Dog Eating Nuts

Over the past few days I've been sorting out a few boxes of mementos, bits and pieces belonging to my mother, Pearlie and myself. That drawing was among Matty's keepsakes. It is, of course, the view from her kitchen window and features her beloved birds feeding on the bird table. There appears to be a squirrel there too. The artist, Matty's granddaughter, was very skilled at drawing birds as they are very recognisably a robin and a blue tit. Her squirrel might have needed a bit of extra work as, at first glance, I thought it might be a small dog. But enough of my carping criticism - the picture is charming and Matty must have thought so too, to have kept it for at least a dozen years.

The postcard from Dingle was given to Matty by Katy so must be more than 20 years old. I wonder how many of those shop fronts are still the same. The last time I visited, nearly five years ago, An Cafe Liteartha was still going strong.

And this from among Pearlie's memorabilia - a Christmas card given to Bertie by his friend Thomas. Mid-sixties I'd say. Every home had a budgie back then and I believe every budgie was called Joey. Ours certainly was. According to Matty I thought anything with feathers (and feathers) was named Joey. Which explains the title.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Mouldy Old Drizabone

Many, many years ago Bert bought a Drizabone coat. They were all the rage for a while and I thought he'd look lovely in it. But, as it turned out, he rarely wore it and it hung around for a while and then it disappeared. I thought perhaps someone had spotted it lying about and nicked it.

Then I forgot about it until The Wee turned up wearing a snazzy Barbour gilet that he'd picked up for next to nothing in Bushmills. He said the wax he'd bought to condition it cost three times as much as the garment! I mentioned the Drizabone that had disappeared off the face of the earth and suggested that it had been stolen. For some reason I never, ever forget about stolen items even if the theft occurred 40 years ago.

There was the cheap camera that was nicked from my house in Ballee, the one that contained undeveloped photographs of my little ones and some gorgeous poppies. I yearn for those unseen pictures to this day. I still miss Bert's leather bush hat, a present from South Africa (the Wee again) for he looked so cool in it and there is never an Autumn passes that I don't resent the theft of three well-grown Stag's Horn Sumach from the poly tunnel.

But, back to the Drizabone.

Bert said,

That coat is still here. I found it scrunched up in the big shed. It's a bit mouldy but still dry inside.

I got him to fetch it in from whatever hole it had been lying in for a decade or more and sure enough it was covered in mould yet dry enough inside. I'm going to see if it can be returned to its former glory. Watch this space!

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Private Secret Sitting Room

When we first renovated this house this room, the front room that looks out to the garden was the last area to be completed. It was maybe a year before the wooden floor was laid, the fireplace finished and the furniture installed. My dream was to have a wall of bookshelves and eventually Bert got this sorted and voilà I had my bookshelves stacked with books and cherished objects.

I had hardly a year to enjoy the room when Pearlie moved in. It was the obvious place for her - spacious, ground floor, an open fire. I moved everything of mine out - except the books, where would I even put those books.

Pearlie had the room for over six years and when she died it took the best part of another year before I could bring myself to take it back. Then Banjo Man decorated it to a very high standard and I gathered up some more furniture and hung my best pictures and unpacked the cherished objects, installed my PC and I had a den again, a den I called my private, secret sitting room. Entrance was by invitation only.

That was the way of it for a year or more - then Hannah came home. By then the private, secret sitting room had turned into a bit of a dumping ground, stuff was gathering up and I was using it as office and storage space, nothing else.

Then it occurred to us all that Hannah, used to a roomy flat, was stuck in two rooms upstairs. So I cleared the room, made it more homely, bought some softer lighting, started making fires and invited the family in. My private, secret sitting room is no more. And even as I am writing this Hannah and her friend are making music, enjoying silly shows in front of a cosy, open fire. Private, secret rooms are so very overrated. This room has come back to life again. And about time.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Not Dead Yet

Rusty and Lily. Not on the menu...yet

Tonight’s menu featured Pea and Ham Soup made from a recipe of my own devising, using split green peas of a similar age to Miss Martha. The sell by date on the packet was December 2011. The ham is that same parcel rescued from the freezer where it had been languishing since Christmas 2015. I also made a carrot cake with some middle-aged carrots that have been hanging around since Saturday last. A week is a very long time for a shop bought carrot and there probably wasn’t a vitamin left but sure the eggs were freshly laid. Which will make up for it. Thanks hens.

It is good that we have embarked upon the eating of ancient foodstuffs as our continuing existence will give hope to you all when, in the coming apocalypse, we will all be far too poor and hungry to throw out perfectly edible food.

Take it from me, times are going to get tough. I don’t think I’ll ever get the pension I so looked forward to at eighteen when I would soothe myself to sleep thinking ‘only forty-two years to go’. And when the ravening hordes come storming up the road intending to stamp through our herb garden, steal our hens and barbecue Rusty and Lily then - our young friends, Bilrus, Dave, Ben, Peter and Locky will fire on them from the tree house with home-made bows and arrows. Dave will be the Chief Archer. If the ravening hordes get really cheeky we may have to get the heavy artillery out. I hope warning shots over their heads will be enough to deter the mob.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Eating the Old

Bert whistles as he fries

Obviously I did not expire from eating historic lentils and sultanas. I even went back to the mulligatawny soup this lunchtime and it was even yummier than before. But - there was this defrosted package I wasn't too sure about. It was a meat thing, I thought it might be turkey, one of Clint's birds hatched and cooked in 2015 and hauled from the freezer near the tail end of 2016. But as any housewife knows flesh frozen for a year loses its looks and it turned out to be ham. I was dubious but Bert was gung-ho - let's eat this.

I wasn't keen but I was prepared to let him have a go as long as he operated to my strict instructions.

Chop an onion. 

He chopped it.

Now three garlic cloves.

He prepared them.

I knew I couldn't trust him to dice a carrot so I did that myself.

No Bert! Don't put the oil and onion in together! The oil needs to be heated first.

Cube the ham.

He cubed it.

Bert makes a cake

Oil and carrot were softened, garlic added, then a bit of green pepper, a nub of chilli, some leftover spice mix found on the window sill, kidney beans and a can of pulped tomatoes.

I'll make a cook of you yet Bert.

I'm a brilliant cook. Better than you!

Ha! Who thinks so? No one!


Because you never cook.

Well if I did I'd be far better than you!

I let him prepare the rice while I went to pick up Hannah.                                                      

How do I cook it?

Bert makes an apple tart. 

You're a brilliant cook. You should know.

Well I don't. Tell me!

I told him and it turned out fine. And so was the ham and bean stew. But I really should label the stuff I put in the freezer.

He's not actually cooking here. He's spinning honey from the frames but as he's in the kitchen making a mess, a very big mess, I thought I'd include it.