Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Box Of Photographs

I'm all excited over my new scanner and dug out a box of photographs I might not have looked at in over ten years. Nellybert must have been quite the party animal back in the nineties and it was very strange to see images of myself sitting on my own sofa, a glass in one hand, a smoke in another and chatting away to some handsome young man whose name I don't recall, or what he was even doing in my house.

But I'm not showing any of those! Far too embarrassing to be seen smoking!

Instead here is one of Bert sitting on his very own sofa with a pretty young lady. He still has that pruning book and I still have the quilt and Katy still has the bear. The young lady is now in her twenties and has a very new baby of her own.

My own blonde self sunning myself in 1996. I still have the fat ass. Sadly the vintage chair fell apart a long time ago. Maybe it was the fat ass wot dunnit.

Ballymena Sportsbowl more than twenty years ago. I was a Support Worker back then and we'd take groups of people out for the evening. Great fun. The Sportsbowl was demolished a few weeks ago and I no longer have that shirt. It was vintage and I picked up in a charity shop, dyed and decorated it with fabric paint. Sometimes I wish I still dressed like that.

Mum in 1994. The baby is her great-niece or nephew. Don't know which one.

One of the very best things about moving back to the country was having the space to make a wild garden. I thought it would be fun to have Zoe peeking out of a jungle of flowers. She would have been in her late teens then. The tree is (unbelievably, knowing Clint) still standing but the garden is all farm buildings and concrete. It's very tidy.

Oh, all right then! Here's one where I'm smoking. It's a party at someone else's house and I'm sitting with my lovely sister. So weird to see it now.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Everlasting Sweet Pea

Lathyrus grandiflorus

The other day Bert asked me if I’d noticed the everlasting sweet pea that grows through the hedge next door. I certainly had spotted it for I look out for it every summer and this year it is especially gorgeous. Bert continued,

Sam Hamilton hated it, tried to cut it away. Then he tried to dig it out but it always defeated him. He said it was a weed.

 Did he? I think it is beautiful. Who was Sam Hamilton anyway?

Sam and Lizzie Hamilton lived in that house after Clint’s granny died. The McKays lived next door.

There were two houses?

Aye. They were both wee places. That’s why Clint’s ma and da moved out.

Is Sam Hamilton dead?

He would be. He was a good bit older than my father.

I’ve been thinking about Sam Hamilton and his battle with lathyrus grandiflorus ever since. It didn’t escape me that he had the same name as Adam Trask’s good friend and neighbour in East of Eden. Our road would have been a lot quieter then and Sam wouldn’t have been in fear of his life as he stood on the verge hacking at that terrible sweet pea that he hated so much. He must have been a neat Presbyterian sort of a man, a good Ulster-Scot who would not have wanted such a flamboyant weed rambling through his tidy hedges.

The house that stands there now was built on the site of those two small cottages that had previously belonged to Bert’s father. Sometimes I wonder if it is an unlucky place for it has been lying near derelict for many years, the family that lived there long gone and scattered.

Clint was the boy next door when Bert was a child. He was a bit older than Bert but company was scarce in the countryside and they spent long hours playing together, sometimes getting into trouble such as the time they broke down Johnny’s chicken shed. When Bert’s very cross parent arrived on the scene Clint quickly disappeared down the lane to the safety of the house next door. Truth is, he had little to fear as Johnny was a mild-tempered man.

Eventually the family moved to a bigger house and their place was taken by Clint’s Granny, a slight widow woman who lived there until she came to a very strange end. One morning Bert’s father was passing the place and saw that the windows were discoloured. He discovered the old woman lying on the floor beside fireplace, all that remained of her, her lower legs still clad in little slippers. She must have ‘taken a turn’ and fallen too close to the fire. The room was undamaged and the fireside chair intact. The only thing was that the interior walls and windows were covered with a dark sooty grease.

Tropaeolum speciosum

I believe I have a packet of everlasting sweet pea somewhere around but as it’s at least a year old it might not take. So I must try to remember to collect some seed from the bane of Sam Hamilton’s life for that must be a very vigorous strain. Where I should put it I don’t know as our hedges are under planted with tropaeolum speciosum, the gorgeous Scottish flame creeper and I think they’d clash with the pinks and purples of lathyrus grandiflorus. If I can get it started I’ll plant it somewhere and it will remind me of all the people who lived on this road before me and mine ever stepped foot upon it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

First Trip In The Camper Van

After very many months we finally got the old Ford camper van out of the repair shop and through the PSV. Today we took our first trip. It wasn't far as we only had an hour. Bert didn't even have time to change out of his boiler suit! Three dogs, two grandchildren and Nellybert and we could easily have fitted in three more dogs and one more child and still had room to spare. Our chosen destination was Bracknamuckley Wood near Portglenone, ideal for a quick jaunt with a river for the dogs to swim in and beautiful woodland paths for everyone to explore. We saw a heron, Evie's favourite bird and heard jays. There were more common orchids than I'd ever seen there before and scores of oak saplings. Martha examined these with great interest. I think she thought they'd look good in the forest she intends to plant. Evie found a gall on a willow leaf.

Granny! Come quickly. I've found something interesting.

And she knew there was a grub in there. I'm really proud and pleased that the girls are so interested in the natural world. This van is going to be a natural history museum on wheels.

We found the remains of a brown and caramel coloured bird which we couldn't identify. There is a website but ours wasn't there.

It's getting late and I left those plumes in the camper van - tomorrow I'll photograph them and see if they can be identified.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

My father died in the month of June, not long before before Father’s Day and I found the run up to that third Sunday in June almost unbearable. I remember feeling bitterly resentful at all the advertising and posters encouraging shoppers not to forget that most special man in their lives. Twelve years have gone by now and I don’t mind so much. Father’s Day is just another day. It belongs to other people now.

But there are still some important fathers in my life. The children’s father is celebrating his day in sunny Cypress, Martha and Evie’s father went on a family day out canoeing and James and his father and mother are sweltering in Suffolk. Closer to home, one of my best ever girls, Miss Erin has given her partner his most wonderful present ever, a baby daughter who arrived yesterday afternoon, just a few hours early for her dad’s first Father’s Day.

Death and birth, birth and death and that all-important bit in between. It’s what keeps us going.

Seamus and Bert

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Right Decision

I find, that when life is full and complicated, it's far harder to make the time to write this blog. So. What's been going on? First of all, I spent a lot of time with small children, the majority of whom were not even related to me! Martha and Evie on Thursday, all day because their school was closed for voting day - then their friends Caitlin, Cara and Maria on Thursday afternoon.  Five girls altogether.

I stayed up late on Thursday evening then got up very early on Friday morning to check the election results. Roughly four hours sleep in all. The results were better than I expected. A hung parliament. Exactly what we needed. No landslide for the Tories, no improved majority, a good slap up the bake for Mrs May. I allowed myself to feel pleased until... this.

Company expected on Friday afternoon, one of Hannah's friends and her little boy. Not quite three, he was a live wire who spent almost the entire visit 'adventuring' with Hannah.

Saturday was sleepover day with the girls. Zoe brought them out mid-morning and we were all very excited. The girls because of all the telly they were going to watch, me because I haven't had them for a sleepover for ages and Zoe because she was going to get some uninterrupted sewing time. She had hardly left when she was back with the saddest news. My brother-in-law had just returned to Kerry after taking a stint on that journey and he had also spent part of three previous summers rowing the naomhóg from Dublin to Spain with Danny, Liam Holden and Brendan Begley.

On Sunday I brought the girls to Cara's party where there must have been at least two dozen children in full roar. I surprised myself by actually enjoying it.

Come Monday I was exhausted. Girls and their parents for tea. I cooked something cheesy and spinachy (Jamie Oliver) that was delicious and Sticky Toffee Pudding (Nigella) that was a bit overdone. Can't wait to get it right as it was still yummy. Monday evening we settled down to watch Better Call Saul and I fell asleep on the sofa and missed the best bit, a scene with Mike in it. Watched it again this morning.

Then to the internet where I found out that a former boss from my days in the hostel in Spide City had died. For so often, these days, that is where we first hear this kind of news. It wasn't a shock for I knew she was very ill and I arranged to go to her funeral. Then Jazzer rang. She had an urgent appointment  in a Belfast hospital and wanted me to go with her for support. I explained about the funeral and she understood. I carried on with my day but something was nagging at me, I felt anxious.  And I did what I always do when I'm anxious, ate a lot of food. Then it came to me - Anne, the woman who had died was a famously kind person who cared very deeply for her friends and family. If I could have asked her about my dilemma she'd have told me not to be so silly and take my friend to the hospital. So that's what I'll do. It feels like the right decision.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


Thursday is my looking after the girls day and it is also the day of the week that citizens of the UK vote, as vote we must when we are called to do so. As Martha and Evie attend a school that is used as a polling station, they get the day off lessons. They've been getting a lot of days off recently. My local polling station is also a primary school, five minutes walk from our back door and the school that Bert used to go to. I like to take Martha and Evie with me when I vote and Martha likes to get a look at how other schools do things. It is also an opportunity to let the girls see that the right of suffrage is important.

Yet I do have to be careful not to influence them overly. After all, they have the right to make up their own minds when they are old enough to vote and I do hope that will be when they are sixteen rather than eighteen. But I do tell them that I will not be voting for any of the candidates whose posters adorn the poles and posts outside the school because I do not agree with the things these candidates believe. Evie has a political insight she wishes to share with me.

Did you know Granny that you can get toilet paper that has Donald Trump's face on it?
She thinks this is very funny. I have to confess that I am shocked that she should even know such a thing for when I was five I didn't know the name of a single politician. By the time I was seven all that I knew of were Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Gerry Mandering.  And that out of those three Mandering was the worst blackguard. I'm sure I was twelve before it dawned on me that gerrymandering was not actually a person and that it wasn't gorillas that were fighting the Americans in Vietnam. Hopefully my grandchildren will have more sense than me.

On the way back from the polling station we lean over a five-bar gate and watch Bert's cows and calves and I thought of Daddy saying that the people who did not exercise their right to vote were no better than the beasts of the field. Lucky old beasts of the field, for they will not go to bed tonight fretting about what the morning will bring. I know my chosen candidate will not be successful. All I hope for is that Mrs May will not get the big victory she wishes for.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Contains Spoilers!

Tesco in Ballymena have a charity book stall that raises funds for diabetes and, when I'm in there, I usually have a rummage through it. I'm afraid that it does not show Tesco customers in a very good light as the books available are pretty poor. Too much Cecilia Ahern and Dan Brown and not enough Good Stuff. However, I struck lucky the other day and picked up a copy of Louis de Bernieres' Red Dog which is something I've always wanted to read. So much so that I already have a copy, somewhere, some place. It might take me a week to find it for long gone are the days when I categorised my books by genre and the novels by author. Far easier to plop 50 pence in the collecting tin and start reading immediately.

When I got back Bert spotted it straight away.

What's that about?

It's about a dog. Set in Australia.

Does it have a happy ending?

Unlikely. When does a book about dogs ever have a happy ending?

Five minutes later I find him reading the book. The last few pages. One of Bert's strangest habits is that he reads the ending of a novel before the beginning.

Well? Happy ending?
Nope! It's at the vet. Got poisoned with strychnine and is being euthanised as I read.
Thanks for the details. Not!

And that's the true thing about dogs - they die far too soon. To love a dog is to store up a future sorrow. I've written about this before. 

Right now I have friends whose senior dogs are giving them a lot of worry. We're thinking about Frank and Tycho and hoping that they'll both be around for a few years more.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Amazing Jumping Smarm-Hound

Bert: C'mon Judester, show Charlie your amazing jumping abilities.

Judy: Sure thing Dawds! Just waiting until the stupid collie gets out of my way.

Charlie: Complete arsehole...

Bert: Clever girl, Judes!

Charlie: Sad human-pleaser, Judes!

Bert: Don't listen to him Jude. You're awesome.

Judy: Am I Dawds, am I?

Judy: Kiss, kiss, slurp, slurp.
Charlie: (offside)  Puke, puke, retch, retch.