Friday, April 27, 2018

Seven Years

 It's been an ordinary day. I woke up far too early, got up, went back to bed with coffee, then fell asleep again and had a crazy dream about being in a crowded, confusing house with far too many disparate people. This is becoming a recurring dream and it all seems so strange. Actually, that used to be my life and sometimes, even in waking hours, it still is.

I forgot that it was Mammy's anniversary.

Instead of remembering I had one of those pleasant, mooching about days. Bert and I went out for breakfast and when we came back we both pottered. I've been admiring the primroses that are naturalising at the edge of the old laneway that backs our yard. Sometimes it is good to just let nature take its course. Matty would have approved.

Bert was wondering what he should do next. It's good when that happens on a pottering day. A day when you don't have to do anything. The birds had other ideas. They started to scold because their feeders were empty. He knew what to do next. Matty would have approved of that too. She always took notice of the birds.

It was London Sister who reminded me of the day that was in it. And I remembered that last year I met the occasion with a great deal of melancholy. Not this year. She'd have approved of that.

Tomorrow we are going to her house to remove the last bits and pieces of furniture before we put it up for sale. I'm not sure what she'd have thought of that. I'm not sure what I think of that either.

Seven years. Where did it go? I think I might have spent it pottering.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Suppers: Spag Bol

I tried something new today. Spaghetti Bolognese. Spaghetti Bolognese! The dish that even students can make and that everyone else has been serving up for over half a century. I have made it before, probably at least 480 times before but today was the first time ever I used a recipe.

And this is the book I used. It's a great favourite of mine although generally I just make desserts.  

This is the recipe. Usually, when I make spag bol I go overboard with the herbs and throw all kinds of vegetables in. That's what happens when you've been making the same dish since you were twenty. Bad ideas become a lifetime habit. This recipe just uses onion, tomatoes, garlic, carrots and celery. Not a bell pepper in sight. And the solitary herb used was oregano. I cooked everything far longer and slower than I normally would and the only variation from Penny Stephens' book was using damson and blackcurrant wine instead of red plonk.

The verdict? It was very tasty. Dave called it a 'triumph', Zoe had a small second serving and Martha and Evie cleared their plates and asked for seconds despite having already eaten spag bol for school lunch. Bert said it was nice but too many carrots. I'm having the leftovers on sourdough toast for tomorrow's breakfast. Hannah said that Thai people would be horrified by what Irish people eat for breakfast. She was referring to something she called 'slop' and I would call 'porridge'. Apparently, Thai people eat supper's savoury leftovers for brekkie and so shall I. Tomorrow anyway.

And these are the grandchildren with Hannah and Mel. They are drawing nicely with every Sharpie, colouring pencil and oil pastel in the house. Last week they had that table upside down in the middle of the yard with my blue silky cushions padding it and a small dog wearing a pink plastic tiara perched on top. I'm afraid I was cross and I regret that. I should have taken a photograph instead.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another Visit to The Home Place

My two younger sisters and my niece are up visiting from Kerry and Leitrim respectively and yesterday we went to the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy. I've had the pleasure of accompanying seven close family members over five visits and can report that there has been an 85% high approval rate.

Kerry Sister runs an AirB&B on the Dingle Peninsula and she said she will be recommending the centre to any of her guests who are planning to visit Up North.

My take is that even if Seamus Heaney is not one of your favourite poets you will still get a feel for the sort of place that made him. It is one of the best places to visit in Ireland.

And, as well as The Home Place being fascinating, moving and so worth it, the people who staff the centre are a delight and the coffee shop serves delicious food. Just go there and see for yourself. I'll be back soon myself and hope to be bringing two more family members with me. Martha and Evie will definitely love it.

I have not been paid for writing this blog post.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Incey Wincey...Aaargh!

My mother was a bit of a hypochondriac, overly concerned with her health and I have always tried not to be but, as a body grows older it gets harder and harder. My hypochondria, such as it is, manifests itself in the middle of the night if, for some reason, I find myself unable to sleep. Or, even worse, I am wakened by some inexplicable discomfort. Like this morning, when I started from sleep because of a sore and itchy left hand. At first I thought I'd slept on my paw, it was stiff and slightly swollen and worst of all itchy beyond belief. I scratched and scratched which only brought a moment's relief. Anxiety kicked in. It must be an allergic reaction. What did I do? What did I eat? I scratched some more then remembered I had some antihistamines left over. Anything to relieve this damnable itching.

Within half an hour the itching had eased but my hand was still stiff and sore. Still, I managed to fall asleep and did not wake again until nearly ten o'clock. My hand was still swollen but the itch was gone. I felt down, firstly because I had slept too late and secondly because my body was a wreck and I was going to end up allergic to everything. What had I ate? There was the blackcurrant wine but I'd had it a few nights ago and no reaction.  Oh yes, pine nuts. I'd added pine nuts to a rather bland salad and as the packet was still sitting out I'd had a few more spoonfuls after supper. I'm trying to ease off on sugar (afraid of diabetes) and when I do that I always turn to nuts. No more pine nuts, no more pesto. God, this was getting depressing. I might even be allergic to dairy or wine and where was it going to end? Living out the rest of my days eating a dreary diet of milkless porridge, green vegetables and whatever first class protein my stupid immune system permitted me.

I plodded on with my day. Sowed some seeds to cheer myself up. Peter called in. I was recounting the story of being woken up, hand on fire, batting of my husband's puerile jokes about the duvet in flames when Bert said,

Probably something just bit you.

And then I remembered, the last time my hand felt like that was about ten years ago when a spider I was rescuing from a sink bit me on the finger. Knowing what it probably was made me feel a lot better because I can still eat pesto and drink blackberry wine. Unfortunately for the spider clan I might be less careful when cleaning and vacuuming for I'm always watching out that I don't hurt my eight-legged friends. But from now on I'm going to look the other way and hoover the fuck out of them. Imagine it, a decent wee woman sleeping away and Incey-Wincey lowering himself on to her pillow and the good wee person accidentally brushes him with the back of her hand and next thing allergic reaction. And if that doesn't deserve a good run of Hettying  I don't know what would.

Actually, I probably will still be nice to spiders. Getting bit once every ten years isn't too awful. And I can still drink blackberry wine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


I had an argument with Clint this afternoon and I didn't even know it was an argument until he stormed off in a state of high dudgeon. My conclusion was that this meant the argument had been won by me.

The conversation started, as it so often does, on farming.

Bert drew my attention to a compliment that Clint had received from another farmer on his success with calf-rearing. I too, was complimentary.

We then went on to discuss Bert's imminent retirement from the cattle trade. Clint posited that Bert's experience in livestock was 'a disaster'. I took exception to that as he had managed to keep all cattle alive that were meant to be kept alive so it was hardly disastrous. Clint countered with Bert's failure to get cows in calf. I suggested that this was a disappointment rather than a disaster. Anyway, there was a little more in this vein and then the talk turned to the weather.

Everyone was in agreement that the weather was a real disaster. Clint said that the last good day we had was the Twelfth of July and I said that there had been the odd good day here and there but he insisted that Orangeman's Day was the last decent day we'd had. I expect he hoped that this might enrage me as I am a Shinner but I let it go. Instead I mentioned that I'd read a report in the Guardian that studies indicated that the Gulf Stream is now at its weakest since around 400AD. "And how would they know that," says Clint. I said, "Science."

Bert interjected by saying it hardly mattered what the weather was going to be like as Trump and Putin are going to blow the world apart. I think I have mentioned before that Bert leans toward a very simplistic and pessimistic world view. That led to a discussion about Trump which is a subject Clint and I usually avoid, him being an admirer as well as a card-carrying Brexiteer.  I said that if Trump's blustery tweets did turn out to be more effective than old-fashioned diplomacy then I for one would not be unhappy. Clint took this as a capitulation, that I had changed my tune on Trump. I took an opportunity never before open to me to ask him why he had supported Trump even before he'd taken office. He trotted out the usual. Breath of fresh air. Successful businessman. I took him to task on that one. He countered with one of the richest men in America, funded his own campaign... I picked him up on this,  for Trump only self-funded to a point... and the next thing Clint's storming off - which is where we came in.

And I've been feeling edgy ever since.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Botanic Gardens, Belfast

Clear blue sky in the Botanic Gardens. 

Miniature daffodils in Botanic Gardens, The McClay Library in background.

Glorious magnolia beside Peter Froggatt Centre.

Solanum Capsicastrum 

There were a lot of visitors in the Palm House today. I overheard a North American man ask one of the staff what the orange-berried plants were. He was informed ' Soranum, a relative of the pepper family'.

I took the opportunity of letting the visitor know (out of earshot of the person who had misinformed him) that it was 'Solanum'. With that information he can figure out for himself that the plant he was admiring is actually a member of the tomato and potato family. I love being a pedant.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Steeped In Folklore

There is a particular kind of child that I am very fond of and that is a child who has a morbid interest in dead and disgusting things. I was that sort of a child myself.

Years ago, when Ben was only a lad, we found a milk churn in the shed that had housed peanuts for wild birds. A few had been left moldering at the bottom of the container and a rat had climbed in and eaten its fill and then found that it was trapped. This happened more than once. By the time Bert realised what had happened and it was the sweet stench of dead animals that alerted him, there were at least five rats in there and only one was still alive. And what were we going to do with it. I said that the surviving rat had suffered enough and we should let it run free. So Bert upended the barrel on a piece of waste ground and Ratty shot out like a bullet zig-zagging to a place of safety.

The remaining contents of the churn consisted of mouldy peanuts mixed with a mummified rat, a couple of cannibalised rats and an out an out stinking rat. Ben was fascinated. It was a Bank Holiday and we were having people round and, as each group arrived, Ben wondered if they would be interested in seeing what had come out of the peanut barrel - we called it Ben’s Dead Rat Tour. I was slightly surprised at the number of folk who actually took him up on his offer.

I was reminded of this on Good Friday. The previous day Martha and I were exploring and I took her to see the calf’s placenta that Bert had hung on a tree not far from where the Dead Rat Tour had taken place a decade earlier. Like the gory little beast she is, she was delighted with it. She asked me why Bert had hung it in a tree and thanks to a conversation with Bert and some internet research I’d carried out I was able to tell her. In all the years that calves have been born here I hadn’t realised that Bert hung the afterbirth in a tree. Why? Because his father did it. Why did his father do that? For mine didn’t. Because it was lucky.

Apparently Johnny had a particular thorn tree he used but that’s gone now so Bert threw it over another tree. It was hanging fairly high so the dogs couldn’t reach it and Ziggy really wanted to. For it was his persistent barking at the afterbirth that drew my attention to it.

It seems that Johnny's habit of disposing of the cow's cleaning is an ancient tradition that is carried out all over the world. In Germany, the country folk hung the afterbirth on an apple tree to ensure that the cow would give birth again the following year. In Yorkshire a mare’s placenta was hung on a thorn tree to help the foal to thrive. Looking further, in South East Asia, Africa and North America human placentas were also placed on trees to bring good fortune.

Searching for an image I found on Flickr a photograph of a Tree Hung With Cow Placenta To Encourage Bovine Fertility And Milk Production, Kanadukathan Chettinad, India. I wish I’d got my shot of Tree Hung With Cow Placenta Because That’s What Da Did, Cullybackey, Ireland but I was tardy and a fox made off with the tasty treat.

I missed out on the rat photographs too. Sure, I took them but they don’t seem to have survived the occasional computer crash.

Martha and Evie had friends over on Friday and, following in Ben’s footsteps, she gave them a tour. First the new calf, called April and doing well and look, there is the afterbirth hanging on a tree! Shall we get closer and poke it with a stick?

The day of the Dead Rat Tour barbecue. Ben is taking his tour to the right of that shed in the background. Sadly there is no photograph of the placenta but it looked rather like a red and cream satin ballgown all tattered and torn.