Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve

It's seven o'clock and I've had four hours sleep. Awakened by Roy barking to be let out. I'm not pleased. I look outside, then I go outside to look at the sky. Sun's not up, the moon is waning gibbous but so bright. There is a passenger jet blinking past and Venus is dazzling in the east. I think it's Venus. I decide to have coffee and keep and blog Christmas Eve even though I've already got plenty to do. Who hasn't?

Who hasn't? Well - Bertram for a start but he'll find something useful to be getting on with as the day progresses. Just like yesterday when he took over my kitchen to melt beeswax, something I think could have been postponed until the festivities are done.

Blog excerpt from ten years ago.

And on the home front, Bert has embarked on his traditional Christmas preparations. This always involves a large, messy and thoroughly non-urgent task that he has been putting off for at least three years. I think it was last year he decided to demolish the turf shed and this year he’s building (from scratch) a sliding door between the scullery and the hall. The house is knee deep in sawdust and I’m terrified the kitten is going to decapitate itself on Bert’s Makita.

Two minutes past eight. The eastern sky is brightening and I'm off back to bed with another coffee. I won't stay long.

Just long enough to read another few pages of Fire and Fury. I've got to the bit where Bannon's still in the West Wing but teetering.

By nine o'clock I had the Heavenly Chocolate Pudding on the hob. It's Evie's favourite. Bert is still in bed but awake. I asked him, ever so nicely, not to embark upon any project that encroaches upon the domestic sphere. He promised he wouldn't. Actually, he said he might stay in bed all day. Surely in jest?

Twenty-five past ten. I'm tired. Hens fed and watered and a Christmas gift from one of the red girls. A big brown egg. They've all been off the lay for weeks except for the white one and she lays out. Her current nest is underneath the palm tree which is very inconvenient as collection entails having to kneel in the earth and stretch in to lift them.

Eleven forty-five. Managed to get Bert (he did get up) and Vancouver Brother out of the house for an hour or two and am eating a favourite breakfast of toast, strong cheese and my own chilli jam. I have produced a giant bowl of breadcrumbs for the turkey stuffing. I still haven't laid eyes on the bird.

A quarter to two and the boys are back after breakfasting at Grafters. I've had a shower, read a bit of my book, took some photographs with my new (to me) camera, cleaned out the fire and peeled a dozen onions. I am at present drinking a cup of peppermint tea and feel very tired.

Much more practice needed with this camera

Three hours later. Nearly 5 o'clock and I have a new lease of life. Trifle started - the fruity, cakey alcoholic bit and with the help of Vancouver Brother vegetables and meat prepped for tonight's supper. Melanie has just arrived bearing gifts. I got two geranium Rozanne. Apparently I said on this very blog that I wanted those. Who needs letters to Father Christmas? I just tell the blog and I get everything I want. Martha, Evie and their parents will be here any moment. Aha! That's them now. It will be a few hours before I return to blogging.

A quarter past seven. Listening to Dixieflyer (our brother-in-law) on Mad Wasp Radio. We've eaten, exchanged presents and said goodnight to two extremely excited young women. Supper was good, sausages, mash, veggies followed by my choc pud, Bert's ganache and vanilla ice cream. Banjo Man has been and gone and I'm not the slightest bit tired.

Great-Uncle Eamon and the noisiest girls in the world.

Nearly half-eight. I've had a glass of wine, courtesy of The Bun, and a little doze so now it's time to load the dishwasher and make the turkey stuffing. Bert has offered to chop onions and grate carrots. The turkey has been weighed. It's a big one and will need the most of five hours in the oven .

Half-past nine. Eamon and I finished making the stuffing, Bert cleaned up and we completed another stage of the sherry trifle. The men are cooking the ham and no doubt they'll eat a whack of it after I go to bed. But that's OK. They're good fellows, they deserve it.

Wishing everyone who visits the Garden a peaceful Christmas.

And hit publish.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Calling

It is nearly seven days since I updated the blog. Blame Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monstera Deliciosa (Tales From A Room)

I look back at this picture taken Christmas 1976 ( I was 23) and it brings back so many memories. That dress. Floral, bought from the Go Gay Boutique (yes, really!) in Lower Mill Street, Ballymena. It was floor length, fashionable then and showed a lot of cleavage which I was shy about hence the long fringed shawl. Silly to be shy, for I had a most magnificent bust. But unlike maxi-dresses and fringed shawls,  bosoms were not so fashionable back in the mid-seventies.

Who was the guy in the background? Somebody sleazy, masquerading as respectable. He sired a child back then that he ignores to this day. Shame on him. Nothing to do with me.

I remember that night so well because I was to meet a boy at that party. Someone I'd been seeing for a while, someone I thought I was in love with. Heck, I was in love with him in the way people are before they know what love is. He jilted me that night. Went off with someone else and broke my heart. I knew I'd been stood up when that picture was taken and I was pretending not to care.

The plant was a Swiss Cheese Plant, a Christmas gift from my friend Rosie. I had it for years.

Forty years later and a favourite haunt of mine is the Palm House in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast. There the Monstera Deliciosa plants are enormous. That picture only shows a few of the leaves at the base of the plant. That baby is more than ten foot tall. So I'm yearning to have one for myself. On my most recent visit to Ikea, I said to Zoe,

Should I?

And she says,

You should.

So I did.

Call back in several years when it's ten foot tall.

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Spoilt Walk

I took the dogs for a lunchtime walk by the river path from Cullybackey. Sadly, our walk was curtailed because of the danger from falling trees and branches. It wasn't even windy today.

No doubt, the signs are put up so that the council isn't liable should someone be killed or injured by falling timber. Or maybe (my suspicious mind) it's that damn hotel trying to do another land grab

Back in 2006, the wire fence that the hotel put up was ripped down and when the fence was replaced with those metal barriers that are placed around building sites someone (not me) used bolt cutters to dismantle them and then threw them in the river. Total renegades live around here and they will not have their walks curtailed.

Another annoyance, actually more upsetting than annoying was that our walk coincided with a pig delivery to the local abattoir. Their poor, pathetic squeals carrying over the fields would make any meat eater feel horribly guilty. 

The final blight on my walk was the number of discarded dog poo bags. I can never understand this. Why pick up dog faeces in a plastic bag then hang in on a branch, or fence or throw it on the ground? Most of the bags (I counted at least a dozen) were within five minutes walk of a bin.

Do they pick up the dogshit only if someone can see them? And toss it as soon as no one is looking? No matter why people do it, they are dirty savages festooning the pathway with their little black bags of filth. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


I've been on tenterhooks all day. Even though I don't actually know what tenterhooks are although I intend to find out before this blog post is published. One could even say that I have been 'on eggs' which means nervy, slightly anxious, worried about sudden a move or commotion that might damage one's eggs. What has me on tenterhooks, on eggs? Three things, in order of importance from not to a lot.

First thing - will I get the dress I'm intending to bid for on eBay? I love shopping for clothes on eBay. I relish the thrill as the final seven seconds ticks by. My bid goes in at eight seconds to the finish which is far more fun than Auction Sniper. Of course, I don't always succeed but it's all part of the game.  And I got the dress.

Second thing - will Theresa May survive the confidence vote? It's not that I like her or anything but the wannabes waiting in the wings are mostly a crew of despicable blackguards and a leadership race at this time of crisis is the last thing needed. I still hope that Brexit will not happen although that seems unlikely now. If it does happen my next hope is that Ireland will be whole again and that Scotland declares independence. May survived it.

The third and most important thing - a friend got some really good news today after a worrying health scare. Relief reigns. Thank you.

See the dog in the middle? That's Judy. She's a floozy. I'm not sure what exactly a floozy is or even if a mongrel bitch can be one but I intend to find out before this blog post is published.

See the fellow that all the dogs are sitting and lying on. That's Peter. He loves Judy and Judy loves him. At least she did until another visitor arrived then off she went to schmooze with Trev. Peter was sad. Trev's beard isn't anything like as long or as red as Peter's beard. And we all thought that dogs are supposed to be loyal. Not Judy.

plural noun: tenterhooks
  1. a hook used to fasten cloth on a drying frame or tenter (see tenter1).

  1. a girl or a woman who has many casual sexual partners.

Oh dear. The floozy definition is rather judgmental. And Judy definitely doesn't have casual sex with our friends - unless intense sniffing of beards is some sort of foreplay.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Ink On Her Hands

Some Thursdays Miss Evie alights from the school bus in something of a rage. Yesterday was one of these days. I understand this for the trials of Year 3 must be difficult for a young person. She was crying frustrated tears, I went to take her little paw but she pulled it away. Why? She had ink on her hands. And she had - the sort of thick and sticky ink contained in cheap ballpoint pens.

So we had to go to the bus station toilets. There were quite a few people waiting on the seats for it was a cold and windy day. I looked meaningfully at a young man with a holdall on the seat beside him. He removed it and I sat down because I knew it might be a long time before Evie and Martha would emerge. There was some light conversation with the other people waiting while behind the toilet door I could hear Evie’s frustrated sobs and Martha attempting to soothe her. Then the outside door opened and a tall young man burst in shouting.

You have to help me! You have to help me!

We all looked at him with interest. I don’t know what the other people thought but my guess was a medical emergency and that the bus station staff would take care of it. First aid, ambulances, that sort of thing. Probably happens all the time at bus stations.

He went on,

My girlfriend was on the train but she couldn’t open the door! And now she’s gone and she’s a foreigner and she won’t know what to do!

The person behind the desk explained to the young man that she couldn’t do anything as it was a matter for the railway staff and he’d have to ask them to help. But the next stop was Cullybackey and his friend could always get off there.

The young man was sobbing and distraught. He left the waiting room and another young fellow got up to see if he could help him which I thought very kind of him. But he was back in soon after as there was nothing to be done.

Meanwhile, Martha opens the door and says,

Granny, we need your help.

I went in. Evie still had ink on her hands and it wasn’t shifting. I told her not to worry as I had special stuff at home that would take it off and that mollified her. We left the waiting area.

The young man who had lost his girlfriend was outside, still distraught. It occurred to me that I was going to Cullybackey and that, teens of years ago, I’d have involved myself in his drama and ended up regretting it. But I didn’t because, for all I know, his girlfriend (if she even was his girlfriend) might have looked out to the platform, saw him, and thought to herself,

I’m not too sure about this one. I’m not getting off this train!

And we had our own drama to contend with. The ink on Evie’s hands.

When we got home I mixed sugar and cooking oil into a paste and Evie rubbed it into her hands and most of the ink disappeared. I told her the rest would wear off and that the sugar and oil paste was a special trick I learned from her Great-Grandmother Martha. She was OK after that.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Today's Question

These past few days I've been racking and bottling wines. Much easier in the winter months when there are no fruit flies. Recent batches are an improvement on some that have gone before in that they're dry. And strong. I do dislike sweet wines. Today was bright and sunny and I loved the way the sun caught this blackberry and raspberry and made it glow. Obviously, going by the lovely red colour, a lot more rasp than black.

The bright day tempted me out to the tunnel where I chopped down the remains of the sunflowers (saving seed) and cleared one of the vegetable beds. The bed was covered in cardboard to keep down weeds and on top of that will go a barrow load of well-rotted manure.

I went to inspect the midden for a choice bit of well-rotted dung for the veggies and peach trees. It was easy to spot the good stuff as Zoe had got there before me. Following Zoe is mainly how I grow my fruit and vegetables. Returning indoors I noticed how gorgeous the sky was in its colours of carmine and dove grey. Bert was sitting smoking by his fire and in deep thought. He had been looking at the sky too and had a question for me.

What if the sun was to go down on the other side of the sky? D'ye think anyone would notice?

My answer?

I think the vast majority of people would notice. As long as humans have existed the sun has set in the west. We might not always be paying attention but we'd figure out something wasn't right.

Isn't he lucky to have me to answer his questions?

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Mrs Google Woman

Bert must think that I am a veritable Fount of Knowledge because he is always asking me questions and expectant of a full and correct answer. I should try and remember some of the best ones.

Today’s questions included,

Which President came after Bush senior?
Too easy. You should know that Bert. It was Clinton.
I thought it was. Just checking.

Other people fact-check on Google. Bert fact-checks on me. But I don’t always know the answer. For instance,

Who won the fight last night?
What? What fight?
Fury and Wilder.
How should I know? Go check it on your Smart TV.

Bert’s television is smart, his phone is dumb.

He has his friends at it too. Rod was round the other night and we were watching vintage pop on Bert’s Smart TV. Rod asks,

Where is Clodagh Rodgers from?
Newry? Wait a mo’ - I’ll check Google.

Turned out it was Warrenpoint. I’m not infallible.

Clodagh Rodgers. God, she was deadly. Amazing legs but couldn’t dance for toffee.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Visiting Dippy

I had me a day out in Belfast yesterday, my first in four months. I made the usual rounds of the Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum. The museum was thronged with pre and primary schoolies and their courageous minders known to the rest of us as 'teachers'. The noise was deafening. The draw was the big lad in the photo, Dippy the Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton on loan from the Natural History Museum in London. 

After that and a dip into the vintage shop on Botanic Avenue (I bought a yellow Rupert scarf), I walked to the city centre and had a dander through the continental market which was thronged and a complete rip-off.  Then off to Next to buy pyjamas for Master James. Whilst examining the racks I heard a familiar voice address me. Banjo Man in his painter whites there to measure up a job. We looked at each other awkwardly and decided not to hug. We always hug. But not while I'm shopping and he's working and he's got a mate with him. Like I said, awkward. 

My next stop was Cath Kidston for Miss Emily's nightwear. Yet again I noticed how very pleasant and friendly Belfast sales assistants are. Job done, it was time to shop for me. I went to the new Seasalt store and had a most enjoyable time picking out a few items. I liked almost everything in the shop which is an unusual experience for me. 

The only fly in my ointment was that, yet again, I'd left my phone on the kitchen table and that was where I'd stashed my book token so I had to buy some books with my real money. I'll have to brave the dour salespeople of Ballymena to get that book token spent.

The other difficulty of the left behind phone was that I had to use a public phone box to call home for a lift from the station and of course no one answered and the phone box still took my sixty pence. Sixty pence for a phone call! Outrageous. So I had to spend a fiver on a taxi. We met Bert on the lane and made him reverse. According to Hannah, he'd been on eggs all afternoon waiting for me to phone and the two minutes he popped out for firewood was when I called. My own fault, for forgetting my phone. And my book token.

Later that evening Banjo Man called round. Still in his whites, on his way home from work. I said,

I know why you're here!

And we hugged.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Displacement Activity

This photograph is my most viewed on Flickr. It is also, according to Tineye, my most purloined picture.

Holly De Cat is twelve years old now. We got her just before Christmas 2006, which is why she is called Holly. She still looks like a young cat. The people we got her from asked me, "What will you feed her? She will only eat chicken!" No pandering in this house. She eats what she is given. Doesn't turn her little pink nose up at anything.

Why am I writing about my cat? Because I am at a loss for writing anything after reading my sister's blog entry for today.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Steinbeck and Ness

It was Billy who announced to us a few months ago that he was reading the best book he'd ever read in his life. Had we heard of it? Out of all our friends, he'd be one of the keenest readers so I was interested and ultimately delighted to discover that the book he was talking about was East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It so happened that Bert had, on my recommendation, read it himself only a short time before. The first time I read it (in a Reader's Digest condensed edition with pictures) I was only a child and the most of it went over my head. I only remembered Lee, the twins, Abra and Adam's soggy lettuce debacle. I read it again in my late teens and again about a year ago. That's when I put it on Bert's To Read pile.

It rarely happens now, discovering a writer whose books are so enjoyable that you cannot wait to start the next one. So, when Billy came in one day and said he'd been reading a great book, one he could not put down I was all ears. He couldn't bring the name of the author to mind but the book was set in the future, about a planet, colonised by humans and where everyone could read each other's minds. Science Fiction? I used to like SF when I was really young but not so keen on it nowadays. I read a lot of book reviews so was able to figure out that the author was Patrick Ness. I agreed to give it a go.

It wasn't long before Billy brought it around and it sat on the shelf for a few weeks. Eventually, I picked it up and dipped into it. A planet, colonised by humans who can hear each other's thoughts and there are no women! I was unimpressed. Well, maybe being able to communicate with your dog is cool but, apart from that... but I read on and soon I'm gripped.

I realised two things. One, I've read a Patrick Ness book before. More Than This which, interestingly, begins with the main character's death. Science Fiction again but I remember liking it. The second thing I realised that my current book The Knife Of Never Letting Go is the first of a trilogy. As soon as I finished it I ordered the second one and as soon as that was finished I ordered the final one. Bert and Billy are reading them too although Bert got a bit cross with Ness because of something that happened in the first book. He says he mightn't read the third one. I think he's anxious about the horse.

As Billy, Bert and I are in our forties, fifties and sixties some might say that we are a tad mature for fiction written for young adults but a good read is a good read no matter what age group it is aimed at.

I found another Ness book in the library this week The Rest Of Us Just Live Here and am halfway through it. I thought, a book about teenagers in America and featuring vampires! Of all things. I haven't read anything about vampires since Anne Rice (hated her books) and thought I was done with them but if it's Patrick Ness it'll be worth a shot and so it is.

Back to Steinbeck. A good few of my collection was sourced in the very early seventies and many of the covers were illustrated by this uncredited artist. I thought they were very modern at the time. This one is going on my To Read pile as I've completely forgotten what it's about.

Then I opened it and saw this,

That book was a present from my two years younger sister. Almost a half-century ago.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Saying Goodbye

The house my parents built when Zoe was only a tot changed hands today. The new owners are a young couple with small children. I’ve not met them but I expect my brother, their next-door neighbour, will get to know them in time. Of course, I am biased but if they don’t make a friend of our Joe, they’ll be losing out.

My parents signed over the house to their children many years before they died so we’ve owned it for a long time. It never seemed real until after Mammy died. It never seemed more real than today when I entered the house for the very last time as a stake-holder. I may never enter it again. It was an emotional moment. I only went into three rooms.

The kitchen. The heart of the home. Where Mammy reigned. The first place you’d go in. Sit at the table, drink tea, eat her scones, freshly baked if she knew you were coming. Her dresser, the display of plates and jugs forever changing.

 All empty today. When she lived and I came to take her out her coat would be draped on one of those chairs, her bag ready on the table. She'd offer me tea. I'd usually refuse. "We'll get tea when we're out." She was always ready for the road.

That was Daddy's spot. His chair. His special corner.

And this was what he looked out at. Pictured today. This view, this space belongs to another family now. They have a sound and well-built house, a safe and contained garden for their children, a field to do with what they wish, a  road full of good neighbours and a homeplace steeped in memories of love and kindness. I wish them every happiness in the world. It is what Martha and Seamus would have wanted.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Stressful Day

I had a stressful day today and I expect tomorrow might be more of the same. I'm just not used to stress any more for which I am very thankful.

And no! It was nothing to do with Brexit. That's merely a distraction, although I follow all
developments keenly and hope for an interesting outcome that will eventually lead to an independent Scotland and our island united. That's my dream.

My nightmare? That we remain part of the UK and that someone like Rees-Mogg becomes Prime Minister. What horror!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Birthday Traditions

Monday Supper day and as it is Dave's birthday tomorrow we had cake for dessert, got out the fancy vintage china and put two candles on his cake.

These are traditional arrangements. We always do it. According to Miss Martha anyway.

Our Birthday Traditions

1. Making Monday supper for Martha's folks. This has been happening since Martha was a foetus. Around ten years now.

2. Having a birthday cake on the Monday closest to someone's birthday. Been going on since Martha was old enough to take notice of birthdays. Six or seven years.

3. Getting the old bone china out. I did that once for Martha's birthday. Next birthday along had to do it again. Because we always do that. Been doing it ever since. Couple of years now. Last week, Evie's birthday, I trotted out some old pastry forks I found in a charity shop. New tradition. Martha is talking about getting napkins.

4. Having a system for candles on an adult's cake. Add the individual numbers of their new age. If needs be, add them again until a number between 1 and 9 is produced. There are two candles on Dave's cake. Care to guess what age he will be tomorrow?

The cake was flavoured with ginger and the filling was lemon butter icing with a lemon glazing. It was a bit wobbly (my trademark) and was delicious.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Let It Be

Going into the kitchen this morning I spotted a little creature, skittering about, hiding behind the compost bin. My first thought was rodent but it was a wren. I tried to catch it, but it evaded me and made for the hall. I captured it (gently) by the front door. Outside. I hoped it might fly away but it couldn't so I laid it on a pile of beech leaves in the corner of the garden steps.

The culprit had to be a cat. Although no cat was to be seen. Our dogs police the cats so perhaps they harassed it into dropping the wren. Who knows?

There was a time when I might have thought it my duty to try and save that bird. Now I realise that doing so would only prolong its agony. If it was to die it would prefer to do so outdoors and without the interference of well-meaning humans.

Nevertheless, when Bert returned from an errand I told him what had occurred and as we approached the wee bird again it managed to fly towards the safety of a clipped buxus. So we couldn't see it any more. We left it. I like to think it recovered from its ordeal and was fit enough to continue its life on this earth. And, if not, it was still a very good year for wrens.

Cats are fuckers.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

An Anniversary

Somehow, as a much younger person, I absorbed the notion that anniversaries were very important occasions and that personal anniversaries were particularly significant for women. Indeed, it seemed that one of the most unforgivable wrongs a man could visit on his female partner was to forget her birthday or, worse still, their wedding anniversary. But not Nellybert. Nellybert really does not give a fig.

There are two ways I work out those significant dates but only to the year. How long have we been together? That's easy enough. We became an item the summer before Miss Laura was born. Miss Laura is the daughter of the Mr and Mrs Wee who actually introduced us. That's not strictly accurate as it was Mr Wee who introduced me to Bert and the new Mrs Wee on the same evening. That was a couple of years before Bert and I started seeing each other. So, if I need to remember how long Bert and I have been a couple all I have to do is think of how old Miss Laura is. Although that used to be easier when Laura was younger. I always ask her when I see her.

Laura, how long have Bert and I been together? What age are you now?

We went to her thirtieth birthday party a year or two again so it's been at least that long.

Now the wedding date is easy enough to work out. It was a leap year which was the only way I could get Bert to tie the knot. So I tend to think of the anniversary in four-year gaps. The month was August and I can never remember the actual date without looking it up.

Still, I was a bit taken aback today to realise that I'd let our tenth wedding anniversary slip past unmarked and unremarked.  And missed out on all those presents made of tin!

It was coming across this photograph that reminded me. Taken ten years and eighty days ago. And here are some more.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Food Critic

Kerry Sister tells me that the part of Ireland she lives is full of people who would begrudge you a compliment. That way of thinking is described in the phrase,

Sure, she wouldn't give it t'ye.

Here, in the North, we are fulsome with our kind words and praises.

Sure your hair is lovely! Where did ye get it done?
You're lookin' great! Have ye lost weight?
Look at ye! You're getting younger looking every time I see ye!

That's the North for you. (Or maybe that was just Sheena?)

Now, Bert. Bert wouldn't give it t'ye a-tall. Especially when it comes to cooking. When it comes to cooking he's a harsher critic even than Martha. Swisser still talks about the time he went to the Sizzlin' Sausage rather than partake of another of her low-fat, vegetarian stews. So, I suppose I should know better than to ask him if he enjoyed anything I've cooked.

Did you like the chicken soup?
It was alright.
What do you mean? What was wrong with it?
I don't really like chicken soup. The stock was cooked too long. It tasted boney.

What did you think of the pasta sauce?
Too tomatoey.


Did you enjoy your porridge?
Did you put salt in it?

But we hit a new low the other day. I'd been making beetroot wine using some giant beetroot that Zoe grew. With root veg, I only use the liquor they are boiled in so the pigs get the actual veg.

I asked Bert,

Did the pigs like their yummy grub?
They didn't seem that fussed about it.

I can't even please the pigs with my cooking! I'm going to stop asking him and just sling the hash and let him and the pigs like it or lump it!

Now here is someone who enjoys my food. Especially when it is chocolate Aero birthday cake.

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Other October

When I decided to post every day in October I expected it to be the usual thing, garden, dogs, grandchildren, Bert, the odd rant - just everyday life. And mostly it was, and that's what I blogged.

What we were not expecting was that the 2nd day of October would bring the hardest news to my youngest brother's family. One of his grandchildren, a little girl of seven, had been very ill but it seemed as if she was going to be OK. That all changed at the beginning of the month. Her illness is progressing rapidly and she is not going to be OK. Her parents and closest family are doing everything in their power to bring her peace and joy and I am humbled by their courage.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The High Road From Tara To Dunseverick

Trip to Waterfoot contd.

The Terrace, Waterfoot was built in the late 1860s. Nine cottages constructed with local limestone they were intended to house workers connected with the iron-ore mining industry. (Illustration by Sam McLarnon scanned from one of Matty's address books.)

On our return we drove on the other side of the glen past Ballyeamon Barn. There has been a huge amount of tree felling there and the remains of the old railway line from Ballymena to Parkmore was clearly visible.

Bert took the turning to travel along Skerry East Road, a single track mountain road on the way to Newtowncrommelin.

The minute he spotted this sign, he was out of the van and over the fence to peer into some collapsed mine shaft. I advised him not to in words of my own choosing and thankfully he heeded me. He wouldn't be the only man to meet his end in the iron ore and bauxite mines on Trostan and Slievenanee mountains but he'd have been the first for a long while.

A sculpture by Ned Jackson Smyth that marks the site of a nineteenth-century Iron Ore mine on the slopes of Slievenanee in Glenravel.

Driving home, Bert said,

Y'know this stretch is part of the high road from Tara to Dunseverick. People have been travelling this way for thousands of years. 

Back home I checked it out. Could Skerry East Road be one of the five ancient roads of Ireland? Looking at Google Maps I'm doubtful. It would have made far more sense to go by Armoy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Would you just look at that! The finest of fine late Autumn days.

There was some talk today about Clint bringing the digger over to level a piece of ground at the end of the lane to allow a turning point. This, so we can go off for a day and lock the gates behind us to keep scoundrels from coming in and stealing Stag's Horn Sumachs and the like. But Clint had other things to do and Bert suggested a run to the beach with the five dogs. We're looking after Zoe's two while they are in Dingle and Roy doesn't like leaving the yard, so five it was. Our two, Zoe's two and Hannah's Ziggy.

We saw something rather sad on the beach. A very recently dead seal cub. We knew it wasn't long dead because the dogs, though interested, made no attempt to roll on it.

Then we saw something poignant in the sea. A pair of seals, close to the beach, popping their heads up every so often as though looking for something.

Monday, October 29, 2018

What's Going On Here Then?

I'm well on my way to making digital copies of all my photographs. Doing so brings back lots of memories but sometimes I can't remember a single thing about a picture. Where was it? Who was it? And why? I've even got three separate files labelled Who, What and Where and may even have to start a fourth file called Why.

This picture might fit into the Why category.


Why is Bert lying on the ground with moss and grass scattered on his bare chest? Why is his chest bare? Why is he smiling? What are the girls doing?

I remember where. It was Brocknamuckley Wood near Portglenone where we had gone for a walk. The youngest girl is a cousin. She must have been spending the day with us. Bert's shirt is off because it was a very hot day in 1992.

I imagine he is lying on the ground with a smile on his face as shortly before he was doing...


this, and...


this. So he would have been enjoying the restfulness of lying prone. I believe they were playing at being pagans with Bert as their human sacrifice.

Bert and Hannah

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Looking Back Because I'm Too Tired To Do Anything Else

Around this time last year, I was worrying about the rise of racist attitudes that were becoming more prevalent, even among people that I know. And I was also falling in love with wrens.

The sweet, brown, sneaky wrens that live in the polytunnels. Impossible to photograph so I just watch them. They delight me. Here's someone else's picture.

Five years ago I was writing about my late onset allergies. Thankfully that seems to trouble me less than it did.

Any exposure to trees, wind or rain and I'm all blotchy and itchy with hives. My recent trip to Fanad really brought it to a head. I got wet a few times and any skin that came in contact with damp clothes was itchy and covered in hives. My face was a sight and so were my hands. Guess it is time to visit the GP.

Ten years ago I was writing about the time that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand got suspended from the BBC for being horrid to Andrew Sachs. I don't think I could be bothered writing about celebrities nowadays.

This blog has been going for fourteen years now. Back then I was feeling sad about the death of John Peel. What a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Peel must have been fourteen years older than me for he died at the age I am now. Need to get on with things then. One never knows the minute.

Anyway, going by that brief foray into Octobers past it seems that I was always feeling a bit flat about this time of the year. No wonder, it's getting colder, the nights are darker and I absolutely loathe the return to GMT. Did I ever mention before how much I HATE the clocks going back? 

2006. The clocks go back at midnight tonight. I hate this. It will take weeks before I acclimatise and it means longer, darker nights and the onset of winter.

I wish they'd leave the clocks alone. Give me BST all the year round and I'll be happy. Who cares if it is dark in the morning. Is it not preferable to have a bit of extra light in the evening?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Day Full of People and Dogs

Wansn't the best of weather but today I hung out with eleven people and nine dogs. We began at the People's Park in Ballymena, some kind of Halloweem Fun Day Celebration that Miss Martha was keen not to miss. I have to say that it was a lot more enjoyable than I expected. 

Afterwards, back to our place where the girls played dress up, schools and trampoline and  Bert and Caleb bonded being the only males in a very female environment.

Nine dogs. Judy, Jess, Roy and Ziggy were pleased to welcome overnight visitors Maya and Gracie, Frank and Dora. Rex dropped in for a few hours but returned to Portballintrae with Mistress Swisstress. I was slightly dreading the nine dogs but they were ever so easy as were their people.

Quote of the evening,

Swisser: Nelly wants me to get Rex castrated,

Fergus: Never did me any harm.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Looking Forward

It's two months today until one of my favourite days of the year, St Stephen's Day - the day Stupid Christmas is over. I can't wait.

Tomorrow I am going to Party in the Park, a mid-term break event aimed at small people. The weather is to be diabolical but children cannot be dissuaded, especially tough, outdoorsy types like Martha and Evie.

I need to save my energy for that. So no more blogging tonight.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Good And Not Good

Garlic is all planted and chilli jam finished. That's good.

Found a delightful half china tea set in a Ballymena charity shop for £5. Good. It compliments the delightful half tea set of china I bought for £5 in an Antrim charity shop on Tuesday. Very good. When I was unpacking it I dropped a teacup which smashed to smithereens. Not so good.

Served me right for upsetting my granddaughter who threw a spanner in the works of my carefully laid plans for Saturday. Not so good. That's already getting worked out. Good. And to console herself after our spat granddaughter hi-jacked Granda (Cousin) Bert to take her to the shop and came back with sweets that she had no need of. For her, good.

I said to Bert,

You shouldn't have,

He said to me,

She made me.

Not good.

Then there is the Facebook Messaging thing I am having with my Canadian step-nephew. It's good and not so good. He thinks one thing. I think another. I suspect he likes Trump (I don't) but we have yet to discuss that and frankly, it's pointless as neither of us has American citizenship. Generally, that's not good (the spat, not American citizenship) except for maybe it's good for me to stand up for what I believe in.

A little bit of me longs to say to him. Please don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

I'm looking forward to discussing all this with my first husband next Thursday. Hi Mick! We're having fish for dinner. How do you like your potatoes?

(You have to ask English people that. They don't understand spuds like we Irish do.)

Two red-haired Celts explain potatoes to an Englishman.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Doing and Not Doing

It was my intention to write a longer blog post this evening but life, in the form of entertaining visitors, got in the way.

Other things that did not go to plan was allium planting. I did get the Senshyu onions in the ground and a few rows of elephant garlic. The hard necks are still to be planted but it's just a matter of plonking them in as the bed is fully prepared. Tomorrow.

Les' garlic crop

Another unfinished task was the chilli jam. It will be easy enough to complete tomorrow as it's all chopped, vinegared and sugared and just needs to be boiled. First thing in the morning after coffee. It was the entertaining guests got in the way of that one.

I had a couple of forms to fill in but that didn't happen either. I hate filling in forms especially if it's to do with finances.

It is a shame I couldn't just transcribe the conversations of the interesting visitors for that would make a very entertaining blog post but cannot tell as I'm bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

One thing I did do today was to take part in a piece of online research associated with Harvard University. I'd been pondering about how people with racist attitudes tend not to think of themselves as racist. So, as I don't identify as racist I wondered if perhaps I actually am?

The task was fairly uncomplicated and I did it to the best of my ability. On completing, I got a thank you for taking part and was informed that I showed a moderate bias towards people of Arab ethnicity.


Part of the preparation for the task was to think of a person or persons that I considered typical of Arab people. And I chose  Mohammed bin Salman.

Which is where I went wrong.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

For The Day That Is In It

Cannonstown, late 50s, Two cousins born on the same day.

Antrim, 2012, feeding the ducks. Two cousins together for the last time.

Wishing London Sister a very wonderful birthday.

And remembering Joseph.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Cousin Bert

While Bert was strangely unperturbed about being one-third Scandinavian (he doesn't like Ikea but loves a pickled herring) he was utterly astonished when Martha and Evie's father came in this afternoon and announced that he and Bert are fifth cousins. How did he know?

He got sent an email. 

Bert couldn't get over this. Why would Dave get an email? Although Bert called it a text as he does not understand communication technology at all.

But why? Why would they do that?
Do what?
Send Dave a text. Do they know that we know each other?

I tried to explain it to him while I was making supper. Cornish pasties, salad, pickled beetroot followed by a sublime apple and blackberry crumble, all fruit courtesy of Les. Thanks, Les!

Bert's a strange one. Finds out he's less than half a Celt, more than a third Scandi, polluted with Angle and doesn't turn a hair. Finds out that he's actually related to his wife's daughter's partner and cannot get over the fact that the company we all sent our cheek scrapings to knows all about us and is sharing our info with thousands of other punters and god knows who else! But sure, it's only a bit of a diversion to stop us brooding on Brexit, the DUP and the US mid-terms.

The good part is, as I pointed out, it means he's actually related to Martha and Evie. Their Cousin Bert. But they'll still be calling him Granda.