Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Bit of A Catch-Up

Thursday - Ganching expected! She is very caulrife so I was determined that our home should be warm and cosy. Bert was off on a jarvey to Larne and I had a few hours to myself to make the place welcoming, to change beds, hoover the corners - that sort of thing. House to myself did I say? Sure Bert never gets out of my road but one of his mates turns up looking for him. And always just as I've washed the floor. Hi, Wee! Make yourself some tea. I'll take a cup too when I've finished washing dog footprints off the sofas and maybe take a wee dash upstairs to fluff up the pillows.

Thursday evening. Ganching will be here soon. Martha and Evie are very excited. I turned on the central heating as it was a bit cold so the house should be snug by the time she gets here. At last, she arrives. Girls gave her a lovely welcome. House still a bit cool so I checked the thermostat. It's at 20 and I go to feel the radiators. They are freezing. That's when I realised we'd run out of heating oil (which never happens) and it was so close to five o'clock that we hadn't a hope of getting any that day. Disaster! We could light fires downstairs but bedrooms would be freezing. I have to say my sister was very decent about it and was happy to have an extra blanket and a hot water bottle.

Friday. Off to Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy. We breakfasted on muffins and lunched on soup and wheaten bread and in-between times spent a leisurely three hours taking in the exhibitions. It was my second visit but the first time, on our way to Sligo, was a bit rushed and, if you ever go there, give yourself lots of time for it's well worth lingering over.

Saturday. Ganching at Martha and Evie's house. I am having more guests - the Banjos and Hannah's Friend(s). We are to have a Musical Evening and we are having cheeseburgers and chips for, at this point, I'm only expecting Hannah's omnivorous friend, not her vegan one. At last minute hear about vegan friend and have momentary panic until am informed that Hannah has bean burgers in freezer and Jazzer offers to make potato wedges as chips to be fried in pure lard.

Sunday. British Summer Time arrives but I pay it not a blind bit of notice. Was very tired all day. Probably my terrible diet of red wine, cow, lard and RJ Kerr soda farls. Mother's Day part very nice. Watched Homeland and admired Rupert Friend's lurching skills.

Photo by Ganching. Sodas by Paul Rankin. Not as good as R.J. Kerr but nice plate.

Monday. British Summer Time arrives with a vengeance at twenty past five. That's what the clock said but my body said it was the middle of the night. Took Hannah to work. Lucky me could go back to bed while she had to work her shift, then go to college. I'm up again at half-eight and showered and dressed to meet Ganching and Zoe for breakfast. Had poached eggs on sourdough toast. Sourdough much better than mine, eggs not so good as mine. How could they be? Evie arrives, then Martha. Parents too. Bert took the girls, dogs and Holly De Cat on an adventure to fields and forty minutes later all returned. Girls and dogs were excitable, happy and covered in mud. They had obviously had a wonderful time. Evie reluctant to wash her hands as she had "washed them in a river" but eventually allowed herself to be persuaded. Then visitors arrived just as we were about to serve pudding. I saved them some and Martha wasn't too pleased as she had hoped for second helpings. A promise was extracted that I would make the same pudding next week, only bigger.

Today. Had a lie-in. It was wonderful. Got up at ten. My body thought it was nine o'clock. It takes me ages to get used to Summer Time.

Right now. Going to watch the second episode of the original House of Cards. I didn't see it back in 1990 when I was 37. I'd little interest in politics back then even though I was always a diligent voter. It was last night's visitor (the gent) who said it was worth seeing for he's very interested in political affairs. His wife, somewhat less so. He was discussing the history of the East India Company when she turned to me and said,

"That's why I never vote"

I laughed, not sure what to make of it. But perhaps she's right. Maybe all politics are a matter of Company Misrule.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The News

There is always too much news. Sometimes it comes from a distance and sometimes it is closer to home. Yesterday there was the news of the carnage at Westminster, too soon to say much about, just the hard facts, four people dead and many more injured. Anyone who has ever been to London will have walked or driven over Westminster Bridge. Indeed, my sister, until recently, walked over it regularly as part of her commute to work. Like all do, in this time of almost instant communication, I established that both London sisters were safe. And watched as the television news went round in circles showing the same sad and terrible footage over and over again.

And today's big news in Northern Ireland will be the funeral of Martin McGuinness, former Deputy First Minister at Stormont. Opinion on his legacy is, as might be expected, divided. We are a divided people here in these six counties but I'm happy to declare that I am on the side of those that respected him. I came late to that stance but then, we're all on a journey, are we not?

In Drumrankin, our wee bit of it anyway, the news is homelier. The chickens are free again and we are observing all the orders guidelines laid out by the government to protect them from avian flu. My main contribution will be to never set foot in a commercial chicken farming establishment. Should be easy enough to keep to.

Keep safe everyone, no matter where you are and don't believe everything you hear, even if you hear it from me.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Success (Of Sorts)

When all around the world goes sad, mad and bad, it is the simple pleasures that count - one's chickens, the new calf that was born today - Martha says her name is Ava and we must never sell her. I say that we must but she shall have first refusal. Our other pleasures include friends, family and music.

And, of course, there is food. This weekend was not one of my better ones when it came to home-cooked food. Supper was shop-bought sausage rolls, tinned beans and an interesting salad made from tender leaves of kale (home-grown), olives, tomatoes and little sweet peppers. The dressing came out of a jar. I made (at Evie's request) the steamed chocolate pudding, chocolate sauce and ice cream dessert.  It was the wrong ice cream. Not popping candy ice cream. I made the excuse that I'd forgotten to bring my glasses which was a lie. It didn't matter anyway as Evie had been to a birthday party and was full to the neck of sweets and cake. She didn't even have dessert, said she was 'tired of it.'

Breakfast was Kellogs Variety Pack and Peppa Pig on Netflix. I wasn't part of it as I was reading The Guardian in bed. Some lad from Buckna was supervising the young'uns, helping them eat Variety and watching Peppa Pig. Lunch was (hang my head in shame) shop-bought pizza. I attempted to jazz it up with extra toppings and Lidls mozzarella cheese. But then, my triumph, the food that made up for all other culinary shortcuts and shortcomings, my first successful sourdough loaf. For, even though the first attempt resulted in rolls that could have served as missiles, I kept the mother going and made this...

I know it is boastful but that loaf was not my only success this weekend. At Martha and Evie's storytime I selected a book of fables, beautifully illustrated by Janusz Grabianski. But one forgets how shite fables are. There is no real story, no satisfying ending, no resolution. The one I chose was about a fox who fell down a well and couldn't get out. Said fox tricks a decent old billy goat to jump into the well and help it escape. Then, the fox being wily and all, fucked right off mocking the billy goat for his gullibility. And that was the end. So I said to the girls,

I didn't think much of that story! I think I could make a better job of it!

So, putting down the book, beautiful illustrations and all, I finished the story bringing in two brave young animal rescuers called Martha and Evie, a grandfather (Bert) with a length of baler twine in his pocket, a lovely woman called Denise who was in need of a billy goat, then a billy goat in a new home in The Parks with two wives and four lovely kids (three girls and a boy) and a nasty fox who called round and ended up getting butted over a hedge never to be seen again while everyone got to live happily ever after. I believe I enjoyed telling it far more than the girls enjoyed listening to it. My reward came this morning when Evie joined me in bed and said,

That was a good story last night.

Thanks, Margaret Green (and Aesop) for the beginnings of the tale and thanks to Janusz Grabianski for the wonderful pictures.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Saint Patrick's Day And How I Gave Up Smoking

Saint Patrick's Day means little to me even though I am an Irishwoman. When we were children it meant a day off school which was marred by compulsory attendance at Mass where almost everyone would be wearing a clump of weedy shamrock and the choir would sing 'Hail Glorious Saint Patrick' which I rather enjoyed for I found the lyrics very rousing, more Unrepentant Republican than Devout Christian. At that stage of my life, I had yet to hear the Wolfe Tones.

Hail, glorious St. Patrick, dear saint of our isle,

On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;

And now that you’re high in your mansions above,
On Erin's green valleys look down with your love.

On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,

On Erin's green valleys look down with your love.

Hail, glorious St. Patrick, thy words were once strong

Against Satan's wiles and a heretic throng;
Not less is thy might where in Heaven thou art;
Oh, come to our aid, in our battle take part!

In a war against sin, in the fight for the faith,

Dear Saint, may thy children resist to the death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, and prayer,
Their banner the Cross, which they glory to bear.

Nowadays I don't go to Mass and all that the day means to me is remembering dear old Paddy, wondering if any of my younger relations will be arrested in the Holyland and despising eedjits who carry on like this.

And what is it with the four-leaved clover? The whole point of the shamrock's association with Saint Patrick is that he is supposed to have used the plant to explain the concept of the Trinity to the native Irish. It isn't known as trifolium for nothing.

Anyway, Paddy's Day, my hole. This is the best Paddy I ever knew. Thirteen years ago we fetched him from the shelter, and thirteen years and two days since I gave up smoking for he sure took my mind off tobacco. That's my main tip for giving up. Get a dog. And some chickens.

Paddy was a great fellow for the hens

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Springtime Resolutions

There is a stage in a person's life where she has to embrace the idea of change; either that or sink into a rut where she will drown at 70 or 80-something if she should live that long. That's where I am.

Things I think about? How much I eat and drink. My diet is not the best, too heavy on carbohydrates and sugars and I am very fond of wine, both homemade and shop bought.

Other things to ponder? The time I waste. There isn't such an awful lot of it left. Twenty years? It would be wise to make those hours count.

That said, I am currently enjoying an overlooked blackcurrant from 2014. Amazing how the extra time in the bottle has mellowed its flavour. So, I'm not going to over-concern myself with wine right now, other than enjoying it (in moderation). Instead, I am going to try very hard to spend my time wisely. It's like a Spring resolution.

What pissed me off today?

Bert not liking my parsnip soup.

Too many dead badgers on the roads. Slow down, people!

May. Trump. The usuals.

My chillis have yet to germinate.

Bert (him again!) nicking my private hose-pipe and carrying it to his side of the polytunnel.

What pleased me?

When I forgot to pay for my parking ticket and, more than thirty minutes later, returned to the carpark to find that the traffic wardens hadn't ticketed me. I said Memorares all the way to Castle Street and, once again, the BVM did not forsake me. I'm having such a struggle with my atheism these days.

The two shirts I bought with the money I saved from not having to pay a parking fine.

Sowing beans. I thought nine bean rows but sowed ten to be sure.

Les' yummy olive and tomato sourdough toasted. Really must get my act together with the sourdough. Tomorrow!

Knowing that my chickens will soon be released from their government imposed incarceration.

A book I've started by Patrick Ness. Apparently, it's for young adults. What do I care? I'm an adult, but hopefully, still young at heart.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dog Years

Today I looked at a file on my external hard drive entitled Blog Drafts and found this snippet from March 2013. I’m pretty sure it never made it to Nelly’s Garden. I even carried out a keyword search, ‘procreate’ and ‘Cesar’ which are words I rarely use and they are not there. So off we go, recycling time!

March 2013
Cesar Millan tells us that the method of calculating dog years by counting each year of their lives as seven years of ours is flawed. I've always thought so myself. After all, a dog at a year old can procreate and usually, at seven, humans don't. A more accurate way of counting dog years is to take their actual age and subtract 2 from it, multiply by 4 and add 21. It works! Using this method, puppy Jess born in October is 14 and a half and Judy, born in the summer of 2010 is 23 and a half. That fits. Jess is a crazy, hyped up teenager and Judy is a dignified 20 something with lots of energy and a busy social life. Jess eats like a savage and burns it all off and Judy watches her figure.

March 2017
How have they aged in the past four years?
Judy will be seven this summer. She is not quite as agile as she was and is beginning to go grey around the muzzle and flanks. Jess will be five in October. She appears to be in the prime of life. Let’s do the math.

Judy – 6 and three-quarters (approx.)

(6.75 - 2) x 4 = 19. Add 21 and that makes Judy 40.

She isn’t quite as nimble as she used to be but likes to keep herself in shape with swimming and ball fun.

Jess - almost 4 and a half.

(4.5 – 2) x 4 = 10. Adding 21 has Jess at 31 human years. Still a girl at heart.

Four years ago Roy was still living with Paddy Bell. He was far too fat (Roy, not Paddy) and getting very little exercise. For the past couple of years, he has been with us and is far more active even though he never leaves the farm. We think he will soon be eleven years old as he was around two when Nessie (his original owner) died and she’s gone 9 years now.

So if Roy is 10 and a half…

(10.5 – 2) x 4 = 34 add 21 makes Roy 55. Seems right enough for he wasn’t that far gone and a better diet and more activity took years off him.

When he was fat

I wonder what age I am in dog years? Subtract 21 from my actual age and I am 42 and a half (I wish) then divide by 4. That brings me to 11 and a half so, subtract 2 and I am coming ten in dog years. Shit! I’m not even as fit as Roy! I couldn’t run after those pigs the way he does. But then, Roy neither drinks wine nor eats chocolate. Time I caught myself on.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sourdough Day 7

Les said everything was ready to make the bread starter on Saturday evening but Mrs Banjo arrived and we drank prosecco (with hibiscus flowers?) and red wine and I sort of forgot. So it got begun yesterday and today I made my first loaf. It didn't rise! So I turned it into bread rolls and we ate it with roasted parsnip soup and Martha said it was fabulous and she had the sharp little teeth for it. Les came round this evening and heard the whole sad story and he pronounced me too impatient for I should have given the bread more time. I'm to try again tomorrow.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sourdough Day 4

This picture shows the little pinholes that indicate that airborne yeast spores are active in my starter. Les reckons I will be able to bake my first loaves on Sunday.

The chickens finished the last of the Les disasters today. Several days old now, I had to soak them in water to make them crumble. Little feathered friends loved it and it must have put new vigour into the seven new hens for two of them escaped when I was cleaning out their house. It was the sawdust spooked them. Happy as clams as I scraped and brushed but when I started throwing fresh sawdust down two of them panicked and soared over the fence and into what we like to call an orchard (three scabby apple trees and a bunch of rushes) and it was some job catching them. To make matters worse I was breaking the law for had a Defra spy been driving past we would have been in obvious breach of the keeping chickens away from wild birds rule. Or would we? What wild bird would ever go near a crazy woman chasing two chickens around a so-called orchard? Not even Bert's two tame robins, the ones that are really pissed that he has run out of mealworms, would have come near me and my henny friends.

Anyway, I caught the buggers and was very pleased with myself that I managed it, for this is how my life has narrowed - the big achievement of the day catching escaped poultry. That,  and cleaning out two hen houses and starting a damson wine.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Sourdough Day 3

There is no photograph of my sourdough starter so imagination will have to be used. It is much the same as day one except for a few little holes which, Les informs me, are evidence that it is beginning to ferment.

Tonight I am weary although I did not do much. Picked the girls up from school, began fox-proofing the hen run in preparation for my feathered friends release from chicken jail on the 16th of this month. That is, if they don't find another dead whooper swan on the shores of Lough Beg. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sourdough Day 1

A day that began full of worries and ended full of hope, that's a good day to begin a sourdough starter.

Tonight is usually Bert's music night but his clarinet is in for a service so Les came round here for a glass of wine and was very keen to hear if I'd begun my starter. I hadn't. His starter is five days old and he has baked his first batch of bread and the results pleased him. He stood over me until I began mine - so simple, one empty mustard jar, one spoonful of strong white flour, two spoonfuls of water, stir and set aside. I'm to make a note of feeding times, in the morning just before I see to the hens. Les will be checking.

Y'know, I actually love Les. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be growing my own garlic and Bert would be nowhere near as good on the clarinet. And I wouldn't have those seven new hens. Friendship is magic. At least, that's what Martha and Evie tell me, being ardent fans of My Little Stinking Pony, which is what Bert calls their favourite Netflix show.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Kopi Luwak

It was Hannah's friend Gus who introduced us to competitive quizzing. Any Sunday he's round we usually spend half an hour on Thomas Eaton's quiz in the Weekend Guardian magazine. We had two today and had the usual poor to middling results but it was great craic. 

Bert got the one about posthumous Nobel Prize winners. I knew what was going on when you hit a sliotar with a camán and Hannah knew where Ajman was. Gus knew heaps about Mighty Joe Young and dart scores, so much that I had to tell him to shut up. 

But there was one question to which we all knew the answer or most of it.

Hannah asks,

Kopi luwak coffee has undergone what process?

Then says,

I actually know this.

And I say,

I do too.

And Gus says,

I know it too.

Bert was out attending a calving cow so he missed out on this one.

We all knew that it was beans that had been eaten, partly digested then defecated. Gus even knew which creature processed the beans.

Some sort of weasel.

Turns out he was wrong but sure it was a valiant effort.

I said,

We all knew that because we're so interested in dung!

Gus says,

I learned about it at a coffee seminar.

(He used to be a barista)

I say, 

So you're not interested in dung?

He says (defensively),

I am! 

Just then Bert comes in announcing that a fine bull calf has just been born and its Mammy loves it.

And his overalls are dung to the knees. We all look at him admiringly. 

Asian palm civet

I really do enjoy these Sunday intellectual exercises.

P.S. We should make a point of avoiding kopi luwak coffee, and not because it's incredibly expensive or because it has been through an animal's digestive system. The demand for the beans has led to civets being trapped, caged and treated inhumanely. The species is now under threat because of these practices.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Van Book

I have taken to keeping a book in the van to while away those odd minutes that I spend waiting for places to open, or people (Hannah) to finish work or whatever errand she is about. A van book has to be moderately entertaining and without importance. It must also already be in shabby condition as our van is no place for any decent tome. I mean, you should see this vehicle - it's a nest of dog hair, compost, mud and silage. When decent people travel with us we have to put down blankets to protect them from the grime.

My current van book is one I picked up in the Tesco charity book exchange, Spilling The Beans by the late Clarissa Dickson Wright and she does rather draw one in with her very first sentence,

I was conceived in a bath in Norfolk in September 1946.

Already we had something in common. Firstly, I too was conceived although probably not in a bath. I'm not sure we even had a bath. And it was County Antrim, definitely in a bed and shortly after the Rosary was recited. Secondly, I know and love Norfolk and even have a  Norfolkian grandson.

The book has been a slow read as there aren't that many van moments to kill. Dickson Wright is currently right bang in the middle of her alcoholic phase, drinking her way through 2.8 million quid. She is seeking out dark and sordid places, particularly the Irish pubs on the Kilburn High Road, where she picks up Republican sympathisers and teaches the benighted fools how English folk do sex. She even had the gall to boast that there are marriages in Ireland that will have benefitted from some country lad having learned more than the missionary position.

But the best bit? When the author claimed to have stored in her memory all the verses of 'When Rhodri Macaulay Goes to Die on the Bridge of Taum'. I do hope that wasn't our Eamon taught Dickson Wright that after a night at the Gaulty Boy Dance Hall on the Kilburn High Road. I don't know if I can read any more of it now for it's only page 149 and it cannot get any better than that. And has anyone even heard of the Gaulty Boy Dance Hall on the Kilburn High Road? I wonder did Clarissa mean the Galtymore Ballroom in Cricklewood. After all, she was very, very drunk at the time.