Monday, July 31, 2017

Happy Birthday and Thank You

Eleven days ago, on the third anniversary of Pearlie’s death I wrote a post where I left something hanging in the air…

Here’s a reminder,

I often used this blog to let off steam and there are lots of posts featuring Pearlie. Some of them were verging on harshness and someone once challenged me about that. And that is a story in itself and I will tell it... but not tonight.

The person who challenged me was my brother Eamon, when I was visited him in Vancouver in the summer of 2013. We talked such a lot during that time, very few subjects were left untouched. I remember him saying one evening,

I don’t like the way you write about Pearlie in your blog.

I was surprised to hear this from him but we discussed his feelings about it and I discussed mine. I believe we might have agreed to differ on the matter. But it got me thinking about this very different viewpoint from mine.

It had been such a great relief to spend time away from the home situation where every day was taken up with the needs of a frail, elderly woman and her constant stream of carers. I had time to think rather than to just react. And it was in Vancouver that I made the decision that we would give up the eight weeks of free respite care for Pearlie that we were allowed. Because she hated it, and knowing that she hated it, this respite break did Bert and I very little good.

When I got home I told her this,

Pearlie, Bert and I have decided that you’re not to go to Rylands any more.


We think you’re too old for it.

I’ll never forget the expression on her face. It was utter relief and happiness.

From then on everything got better. We only had another year and while things weren’t always perfect I I could be much more patient with Pearlie and as a result our relationship improved. My only regret is that I didn’t stop the respite care a lot sooner.

So tonight I’d like to thank Eamon for giving me the opportunity to take a good long break from home cares and then helping me to accept what needed to be done.

And, by the way, Happy Birthday Bro!

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Bert told me he had a nagging pain in his back so I phoned the surgery to make him an appointment. 

How long have you had it?

Two or three months.

Why didn’t you say anything before?

I knew you’d only be nagging me to go to the doctor.

Anyway, I phoned the surgery and that is when I found out that they had changed the appointment booking system.

We don’t book appointments any more.


If you leave a number the doctor will phone you back.

I was a little miffed about this. But the doctor did phone Bert within about thirty minutes and offered to see him straight away. Off he went and was away much longer than I expected. When he eventually returned he said the doctor had sent him into Ballymena for an X-ray. All this within a few hours. I thought it was a great improvement on the previous service which would have entailed a week to wait for a GP appointment then a drive to Antrim and a two hour wait for the X-ray.

If the new appointment system is intended to screen out the scores of people who go to the doctor for damn all then I approve.

My old mum was a bit of a hypochondriac and I remember my father saying that every time he drove her to the local surgery,

It’s always the same old faces.

I wonder if he considered his wife to be one of those old faces but, if he did he never said so.

I’d hate to be as overly concerned with my health as Matty was and I am happy to say that I am definitely not a hypochondriac. Except… except in the wee small hours when every twinge, every ache is the harbinger of some dread disease. And it's getting worse as I get older.

And what of Bert? His results came back. Nothing sinister she said, just an old rib fracture and the effects of chronic smoking. Nothing sinister? That would scare me. It's time he quit that nasty habit. And I’ll cut down on the gin and buns. They give me a sore tum.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


One of the very many things that I enjoy about sharing my life with Bert is his endless capacity to entertain me.

Unlike the Boy Scouts, and he was once one of their number, Bert is rarely prepared for anything. His attitude is always, ‘Sure it will be alright’. And sometimes it is, and too often it isn’t. Take today - we were expecting a visit from Henry the Eighth, the AI man. Bert danders into the kitchen and enquires, “Are ye ready to shift a ween o’ cattle?” I agreed that I was. We had the usual discussion about where I should kep. The long lane or the short lane. It seems to me that the long lane is the better choice for if they gallop down that it’s a longer distance to catch them. Bert, for some reason, prefers the short lane to be kepped. Maybe because it is very boggy and he is usually wearing unsuitable footwear?

I kepped the long lane and he called them out. Most of them obeyed except for the Quiet Cow and her calf and Edna’s calf who took fear when Ziggy looked at him. Four dogs about this place and not one a damn bit of use with cattle. At least Roy is a good pig dog.

I had some useful advice for Bert on our return to the house.

Perhaps we could leave Ziggy inside?
A bit of an ash plant mightn’t be a bad idea. Help to chivvy them in the preferred direction.
Boots instead of Crocs. Better for running in.

He agreed with every suggestion although I know that he’ll not pay a blind bit of attention to any of them.

Henry the Eighth duly arrived, did the necessary business then settled down to have a long conversation with Bert about bees for he and his brother Prince Arthur come from a long line of bee keepers. I think they might be fourth generation.

Henry left and Bert came in all excited,

You know what he’s at now?


Artificially inseminating bees!

Next thing I see him heading out to the hives wearing bee jacket and gloves.

Twenty minutes later he’s back in, swearing and stamping his feet on the ground.

Bloody bastards! They have me stung useless. Fuck! One just got me on the heel.

He runs out again, peeling of the bee jacket which is full of angry bees. I am convulsed with silent laughter.

When he calms down I give him some wise advice.

You need your trousers tucked into wellies and a belt round the bottom of your jacket. You know they are angry bees so you have to prepare yourself properly.

I know. Henry said that when the bee man from the Ministry came round to inspect his hives, he’s got twenty y’know, the bee man was amazed at how quiet Henry’s were. Mine are complete bastards.

He shakes all the dead bees out of his jacket and heads out again.

Then back again in less than five minutes, stamping, swearing, almost in tears. Bees had gone straight up his trouser legs and stung him perilously close to a very sensitive area.

Did you go out just the same as before?

Aye. I only had to close the box up but they were straight on to me.

It was Albert Einstein who is supposed to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I must remember to tell Bertram that.

Ulster-Scots translations

Dander - stroll

Ween - few

Kep - act of standing in a gap or opening waving arms or stick about to prevent cattle from running everywhere.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Remembering Pearlie

Three years today since Pearlie died and Bert and I still talk about her almost every day. She was a rare one, the sort of woman you don't meet every day. When I first started going out with Bert she didn't like me one little bit. I was older than her darling son, a Roman Catholic, divorced and had three children. Not at all the sort of future daughter-in-law she'd hoped for.

The first time I met her was in the Waveney Hospital. I'd been seeing Bert for a few months and he'd been admitted suffering from acute appendicitis. She was already there when I arrived and she was wearing a hat! A church-going hat at that. I thought she was the sort of woman who always wore a hat but it turned out she thought she might meet me at the hospital and had dressed to intimidate. It worked.

It turned out she wasn't intimidating at all and over the years she and I developed an uneasy rapport. She could be awkward but she was also funny although I don't think she ever intended that. Pearlie never quite 'got' social conventions. When, eventually, she moved in with us things got very difficult indeed. It was a tough six years. There are parts of it that I'm not proud of.

I often used this blog to let off steam and there are lots of posts featuring Pearlie. Some of them were verging on harshness and someone once challenged me about that. And that is a story in itself and I will tell it... but not tonight.

Instead, on Pearlie's anniversary, the reading that Hannah gave at her funeral.

Pearlie was born on the 10th of February 1926. She lived in Maxwellswalls with her parents and 3 younger sisters, all of whom she was close to but it was her second youngest sister Lizzie that Pearlie shared a special bond with. As a young woman Pearlie would often visit the Orr family at Springhill. It was here she met her husband Johnny Orr.
Pearlie and Johnny married in 1952. Seven years later they were blessed with their only child Robert, known to everyone in the family as Bertie. Pearlie and Johnny spent 45 happy married years before Pearlie lost him in 1997.
Pearlie was a very creative woman. She enjoyed sewing and embroidery in her spare time. She also kept scrapbooks and spent many a happy hour cutting pictures from various magazines to stick down in her scrapbooks. Pearlie was good at ‘thinking outside the box’ and she could have several innovative uses for normal, everyday items. There were no back doors with Pearlie. She said what she meant and meant what she said. She was a genuine person, kind and honest but also strong-willed and confident. She always knew what she wanted in life and, even at the tender age of 12, she knew she wanted to marry Johnny Orr.
There were several people in Pearlie’s life who supoorted her greatly when she lost Johnny and for the remainder of her years. Her sister Lizzie visited, faithfully, most weeks despite not always being in the best of health herself. Lizzie was a ray of sunshine in Pearlie’s life and a great comfort to her right until the very end. Pearlie’s niece, Margaret, was a saint to Pearlie and provided her with many hours of company as well as providing ongoing practical support. Pearlie loved Margaret’s cups of tea and sandwiches better than anyone else’s. Margaret has also been a great support to both Bertie and his wife Mary providing them with emotional support and advice throughout Pearlie’s decline. It was Mary who often organised Pearlie's various doctor appointments and, towards the end, became a full time carer for her along with Bertie.
As much as Pearlie needed her loving sister and niece she would have been completely lost without Bertie who was selfless enough to put his mother’s needs before his own for so many years. When Pearlie was more fit and able she would have sailed around the van with Bertie while he made deliveries. On one such occasion Bertie was forced to brake so suddenly that the van made a complete 360 degree turn on the road. Pearlie looked at Bertie and said, “Well that was some spin you took me on”. Pearlie had always liked dogs but when her husband passed away she had a void in her heart that was eased by the company of dogs, in particular, Penny, who Pearlie loved dearly.
Despite the decline of Pearlie’s physical health over the years her mind was as sharp as always and she enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. She would have stacks upon stacks of magazines, organised in a system that only she knew, and they always had to be within reaching distance. As well as reading magazines Pearlie loved to read the Bible. It, too, was always within reaching distance. Her memory was as clear as water and she was able to recall things from all stages of her life. Pearlie could look at a photograph taken 60 years ago and tell you exactly where it was taken and who was in it.

Pearlie will be sorely missed by her family and friends. They will miss her dry sense of humour, her ‘no-nonsense’ approach to life and her little quirks and routines. But she is at peace now and with her husband Johnny once again. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Happy Birthday James Charles!

My one and only (so far) grandson is two years old today. Happy birthday James. Looking forward to seeing you in October.

Other news. I'm picking fruit. It is to rain tomorrow and I will be glad of the break.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New World Order

So, I ended up inventing this really great cocktail and it was a total accident. Dawn sent over some delicious raspberry cake and two portions of sorbet made with her and Les' very own raspberries. The cake was delectable and I scarfed down my portion of sorbet. Bert forgot his.

You didn't eat your sorbet and it's melted.
 Ah sure, d'ye want it?

I sort of did but it was melted. So I tossed it into the gin and tonic I'd just poured. OMG! It was delicious and there I was sitting there in my own Secret, Private Sitting Room but it felt like I was in a Cocktail Bar, the sort you never want to leave.

I tried to recreate it today. First off, into the wild place where the white currants grow and where Les abandoned the raspberry canes that were offshoots from the ones that grew in Dawn's house in the days before they knew each other, before they got married, lived happily ever after etc. etc. only pausing to bake and make delicious food (Dawn) and teach Bert how to play Gypsy Jazz and me how to grow garlic and bake sourdough bread (Les). I picked white currants and battled the nettles to pick Les & Dawn raspberries which, truth be told, are far more delicious than our own ordered rows.

Marty (not Banjo, the Social Worker one) turned up and we picked the ordered canes until the rain came - discussing life and politics as we went. He wanted to do Raspberry Vodka but his wife said Jam so there you go. Later on that evening I gave most of my pick to an Electronics Engineer called Bhrian (there's a fada in there somewhere but I can't hack that at the moment), apparently his five children love raspberries nearly as much as he does.

Anyways, I prepared white currants while watching iPlayer, some police procedure drama - that over I tried to recreate my sorbet based cocktail and think I succeeded when I made a slightly sweetened raspberry cordial. Five sheets to the wind, police procedure over I watched Frankie Boyle's New World Order and found myself nodding in delighted agreement to almost everything that the panel discussed. And I'm thinking that the BBC may still be worth the licence fee. Not sure whether that was due to Frankie Boyle or my Accidental Cocktail which I might call New World Order.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

July Bank Holidays. Looking Back

2005 Ian's Tip for Perfect Spuds

If you aren't sure your potatoes are thoroughly cooked just remove one from the pan and throw it at the window. If the window breaks return it to the pan and carry on cooking. Repeat as necessary.

2006 Chep Calling


Yes. There are about six lying out at the back of the shed.


Aye. Probably. But yerman might have a bit of bother getting them pulled out of the nettle patch that has grown up around them in the past 18 months.


I mean they've been there like forever and you people phone up at least twice a week and then you never send anybody to collect them.


You'll have a lot less to be bothering yourselves about after the other night won't you? Did you see the size of some of those bonfires? Your blue pallets are worth about £7.65 each. Isn't that right? Dear kindling.

Click. Silence.

Bert! The bugger's hung up!

2007 The Head Chef
Nellybert always insists that only the sanest, most sober person be in charge of the barbecue.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

A Bit of a Scare

Friday was our annual day trip to Portrush and although it was tiring I think we all enjoyed the outing. It's a family tradition. The grandchildren take grandparents and Aunt Hannah to Barry's Amusements where they go on all the rides. This was our third year and we found that Miss Martha is an unrepentant thrill-seeker. In 2015 she did not disdain the teacup carousel, this year she was saddened that she is still not tall enough for the big dipper. She was just big enough for a very scary ride that practically turns a person upside down and which bears signs warning folk that the contents of their pockets will fall out. Poor Evie was far too small to go on it but at least she was standing handy when the pound coins started falling at her feet. An extra two quid to spend on sweets.

Hannah and I had a couple of gins and elderflower when we got home and a bit of good craic. I was just thinking what a good day it had been when Bert came in and told me that Rusty had had a "massive heart attack". I went out to see him convinced he'd be dead or dying before I got there. He wasn't but he did look a bit petered out and and was breathing really heavily.

Apparently they'd had the usual piggy row at supper-time and Rusty had been shoulder-charging Lily out of the way when he'd given a squeal and (so Bert said) leapt two feet into the air, then fell over on his side and started gurgling. Bert rolled him the right way up and he managed to get on the four trotters and stood there breathing noisily. I fetched him an orange (his favourite) and he ate it, then moved into his sleeping quarters. We left them to it and honestly, I thought he'd be dead in the morning.

It was the first thing I thought of when I woke at five a.m. and I went out to check. Both pigs were sleeping, breathing normally and I went to tell Bert. He said he'd been out at midnight and they were both settled.

Pigs are not early risers so it was after midday that we let them out. I thought they shouldn't go to their usual field as it's a bit of a walk. Instead I put them into a secure area behind the sheds. There's not much decent grass but there's is water, shelter and a pile of dung. They both had an orange. And fell asleep.

I checked on them later. It was such a lovely warm afternoon and they'd found a sweet spot on the edge of the dunghill. They are pigs after all.

He seems OK today. Ate more oranges. This evening Bert reported that they are back to fighting over food and that Rusty was shoulder-charging Lily again.

Yet I'm not sure that Rusty would have been capable of jumping two foot into the air. I wonder if Bert was exaggerating. He does have a tendency to make things seem worse than they are. Whatever came over Rusty on that evening he seems to have got over it and may live to fight another day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

In The Long Grass

For a while we had a ride on mower and then it broke down. The fixing of it was long and torturous and in the end, after throwing a lot of good money after bad, we did without. During the few years we had the mower Bert had got into the way of cutting the rough grass at the front of the house into something approximating a lawn and for a time that was good. The grandchildren enjoyed playing on it, as did the dogs.

Of course, back then, our grandchildren and their friends were tiny little things and couldn't have managed long grass. We'd have lost them! But now that they are great big girls they can cope with a wilderness.

For a while after the mower broke down I felt very cross about the long grass that spoiled the look of my flower beds and eventually Bert dug out an ancient push along mower and cut me a six foot swathe at the back of the beds. He also cut paths to the swing, the beehive and the greenhouse. The grass grew long and meadowy and I decided I liked it. I even made a Flickr album entitled In The Long Grass. It seems I’d always enjoyed photographing people and animals in meadows.

After a while I realised that the meadow had benefits other than providing a background for my photographs. Butterflies and other pollinating insects became more numerous. I stopped feeling guilty about overgrown and weedy areas. And there were birds everywhere. 

This warbler flew into the glass at the front door and stunned itself. We perched it on a bamboo cane and set it inside the hedge until it recovered its equilibrium. That's how I got the picture.

We spotted willow warblers, more wrens and the swallows returned. Then, this year, a pair of spotted flycatchers, raised a family of (at least) four in the trellis above the front door. It was the perfect vantage point for looking out at the long grass and the flying insects (probably including our honey bees) that abounded there.

One of the parent spotted flycatchers on a favourite perch, the sumach that grows outside the greenhouse.

Two of the flycatcher chicks. This picture was taken the day before they left the nest. They are looking out for their parents returning with some juicy flies. The black pellets sitting on the edge of the nest are the indigestible parts of the insects that the birds regurgitate. These pictures were taken from a distance using a long lens.

I got the greatest pleasure from watching the parent birds gathering and fetching beakfuls of insects to their hungry brood and was rather sad when they eventually left. There will be no more ride on mowers for us for long grass and wildlife are far more interesting than smooth lawns.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

First Day of July

Just because I live this idyllic life in rural County Antrim doesn't mean that I don't give consideration to what is going on in other parts of the world, or even in other parts of the British Isles. The first thing I do each and every day is check the BBC news site to see how World War III is coming along. North Korea's sabres are being well rattled and the Orange President continues to shake his tiny fists. That doesn't stop me pining for my Spotted Flycatchers who flew away from their nest on Thursday. Since then the weather hasn't been great and I really do hope they will survive.

I read Guardian Online most days and even buy the actual paper on Saturdays but today I can hardly bear to read it. Maybe when I'm feeling stronger. Instead I'm scanning photographs from 1990 and feeling quite amazed at how incredibly attractive Nellybert was back then. Why did no one tell us?

I did read that household income is falling at its fastest rate since 1976 and people's savings are at an all-time low. Perhaps I should crack open my own wee piggy bank before things get even worse. Brexit doesn't seem like it was such a good idea now, does it?

And I read this blog post, written by my sister who lives and works in London. It's to the point and chimes with my own feelings about that terrible disaster at Grenfell Tower.