Friday, August 31, 2018

Black Elder

Evie and I had around an hour to use up before we collected Martha from school, so we went for a walk, our eventual destination being the nearest sweetie vending emporium. On the way, we walked past a very lovely shrub in a garden (pictured above) and I said,

I must get a picture of that on the way back because I'm sure Bert will know what it is.

On the return journey, I was camera ready. Evie held the Haribo and I got my pictures, one at a distance for the general shape of the bush and one close up for better identification. I hoped the people in the house weren't looking out and thinking me presumptuous. Job done, I put the camera away. Evie said,

Granny what's all that stuff? What happened to the house?

I looked at what she was looking at. Outside the front door was a pile of half-burnt and melted stuff. It looked like the type of thing people might stash in their roof space. I looked up. A vast hole in the roof, partially covered with a blue plastic sheet, tiles damaged or missing,

It was easy to find out what happened from the school lollipop man and his friends. An electrical fire in the roof space a few days ago. The people were away. The fire melted the plastic water tank and the house flooded. Scary. My own attic is full of just the sort of crap that those people had but there is no plastic water tank to put out the fire.

And...if it hadn't been for Evie I wouldn't even have noticed the fire damage. Talk about not seeing the wood for the trees.

The shrub? Bert identified it immediately - Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla. Who says Latin is a dead language? Not for horticulturists it isn't.

So what have I learned apart from the name of that covetable shrub?

1. To pay attention to my surroundings.

2. And get the attic cleared.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Your Drafty Foot

Holders of the title Most Beautiful Baby in the world, nos. 1, 4 and 5

That was the story I told Evie today on her mum's birthday for when Zoe was born I thought her the most beautiful baby in the world. Then when Katy came along she was the most beautiful baby... and so on and so on as Hannah, Martha, Evie, James and Emily duly made an appearance.

Evie got it. Every baby is the most beautiful baby in the world to the people that love it.

Happy birthday, Zoe. Hope you've had a lovely day. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sleeping With Dogs

This past week I've been doing one of those interactive thingies on Facebook where you tag other people in the often forlorn hope that they will do it too. Actually, I'm OK if people choose not to engage. But it's nice to be asked.

This one was all about beloved and favoured books. No wonder I engaged. My problem was there was so many to choose from!  And one of the conditions was that the post (a seven day thing) was to be minus comment or review.

But this is my blog and I can comment and review as much as I wish.

Day 1

This was my transition book. The first one I read that wasn't children's literature and I first read at around nine years of age in abridged form, part of my Uncle Desmond's Reader's Digest library. It only appealed because there were children in it, Abra, Caleb, Aaron. Their Chinese caretaker. All the Cathy part went right over my head. The only bit that stuck was the rotting lettuces when Adam went into the refrigeration business. I read it again in my teens and was struck at how powerful it was. I was still too young to understand Cathy. Read it again a few years ago, as did Bert. We talked about it for weeks.

Recently, our friend Billy came to visit and announced,

 "I've just read the best book I've ever read in my life. East of Eden. Have you  read it?"

Billy is a generation younger than us and sadly, Steinbeck is rather overlooked these days. I let him know that we'd most of the books and he was welcome to share.

Day 2

If Steinbeck was my late teens then Flann O'Brien aka Myles na Gopaleen was the boyo for my self-conscious early twenties. Not that that was a bad thing because self-conscious twenty-year-olds need heroes too. His writing made me laugh. Out loud. On buses. The Third Policeman was the third or fourth book of his that I read and I didn't read it on a bus. I read it in the wild garden beside our house (Joe's house now) in a very hot summer and I laughed out loud and nobody heard me and that was alright. I still don't understand what it was about and that's alright too.

Day 3

This one had been hanging about our shanty for ages. I recommended it to Bert a while back and he really enjoyed it but, it was when he started talking about it that, I realised I hadn't even read it myself. So I did and it was good and started me on an Atwood revisitation. I'm currently halfway through the Maddaddam trilogy and re-reading The Handmaid's Tale.

Day 4

Is that a fucking wasp on that book? It is. One of those wee bastards stung me the day before I took that picture and my hand swelled up like a bap. And stayed that way for two days. There was a time that a wasp could sting me and it would itch for a while and that was that. But now, two days of infirmity. Still, at least it wasn't a bee. Not worth getting the EpiPen out for a wasp. The throat doesn't close over for a wasp sting.

But. The book. That book is well-thumbed. It's a gem. It doesn't do much. Just lets me know what I should be sowing in the polytunnel and when I should be doing it. The other stuff, the technical stuff I cannot even be bothered reading about. I just ask Zoe. She knows.

One thing I have learned. If you don't want to eat it, don't grow it.

Day 5

I love old books. Probably lots of people, dozens have perused this copy of The Wind In The Willows but not me. I just picked it up in a second-hand bookshop somewhere, sometime and stuck it in my bookshelves only because I love possessing shabby old books. I read it first at my primary school on one of the rare occasions that our horrible teacher, Cassie O'Neill allowed us to choose books from our paltry bookshelves. I was entranced by it and never got the chance to finish reading it. I don't remember when I got back to it but I would still have been a young child. Probably my Uncle Vincent's collection. Like myself, Vincent had a connection with old and well-read books. Staying at Vincent and Marian's house in Rasharkin was the rarest of treats, myself and my sister, separate beds, linen sheets, and Vincent's bookshelves. It was almost like being English!

Day 6

I had a plan for Day 6. But when I woke up I entirely forgot it even though I had the book laid out and everything. Instead,

I photographed this one,

Bert and I were very taken with the film The Tin Drum which was shown on Channel 4 more than twenty years ago. Soon afterwards we both read the book. It was very powerful. Uncle Vincent once told me that if there was a choice a person should always see the film first, then read the book because the book would always be superior to the movie. He had a point but with The Tin Drum it was a close call.

The book I had meant to feature for Day 6 was Brian Sewell's Sleeping With Dogs which was poignant, lovely, heart-breaking and all about dogs. It's a loan from Zoe and I must remember to return it to her. 

This was my morning.

With my children's dogs. Maya, Gracie and Ziggy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Too Few Poppies

One of the best things about Flickr is albums. I've been gathering photographs over the years and collating them into sets by year. The link above connects to last year. This year isn't finished yet. The photographs give me an opportunity to see what worked and what I missed.

Looking at last years pictures reminded me that 2018 did not have enough poppies in it. Even the polytunnel had fewer self-seeded poppies than the year before.

This will have to be remedied in 2019.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Camino Voyage

Last night Bert, Zoe and I went to Belfast to see a film. To say that the three of us had a fair good idea of what it was all about would be an understatement.

The film was called The Camino Voyage and it was about four men from West Kerry who thought it would be a great adventure to follow in the steps of their Irish ancestors by going on the Camino pilgrimage in a naomhóg.

A picture of the four intrepid adventurers lifted from The Kerryman website. It was taken by my sister and they never gave her a bit of credit for it. However, I will. Thanks, Tricia - it's a wonderful shot. One of your best.

Now, as I said, I knew a great deal about the film before I watched it. I had heard about the proposed adventure before the documentary was thought of. I fretted along with the rest of our family as the rowers made the long crossing from Rosslare to the Welsh Coast. Did I forget to say that one of those Kerrymen was my brother-in-law, Brendan?

The journey was made over three years, each stage lasting around six weeks and beginning in May. The first stage took the crew as far as Brittany. The second year they rowed around the coast of France until they got to the Bay of Biscay, at which point they took to the canals and rivers to avoid those treacherous seas. And we were glad to hear it after what had nearly happened the previous year as that tiny boat was crossing the English Channel. I shan't tell you. See the film.

Just as the crew were preparing for the third and last stage of the voyage Brendan got a permanent job offer that was just right for him and he was very conflicted. But he took the advice of a fellow crew member and accepted the post. Brendan's place on the boat was taken by this guy. He brought a lot more to the journey than just his strong back and arms.

Anyway, enough spoilers. Over the three years, I followed the journey on Facebook, heard bits from my sisters, watched the promo, was delighted at the finish, enjoyed the photographs, went to the event at the Ulster Museum to hear the five crewmen talk about their adventures, heard what happened afterwards, sympathised with Tricia and Brendan snowed in for days trying to get to the Glasgow Film Festival in a blizzard, babysat our Joe's dog when he went to see Camino Voyage at the Galway Festival.

And yet, knowing as much as I already did the film was so fresh, so engaging, so beautifully photographed. Sometimes thrilling, often funny, always inspiring and in places very, very sad. Laughter and tears.

Our Brendan re-joined the crew for the last leg of the journey and was there in the cathedral at the end along with his wife and daughter. I felt so proud of them all.

The film should go on general release in October of this year. If it comes to a movie house near you go and see it. You won't regret it.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunflower Field

Our environmentalist friend Rachael called round yesterday and had a look around my garden. She was absolutely delighted with the number of pollinators we had. Said it was the most she'd seen anywhere this year. I am pleased with our Don't Mow, Let It Grow trial, not to mention the Don't Weed, Let It Seed campaign. We are rather lucky though as we have enough space around here to have a little bit of flowerbed and grass and still have loads of nettle patches, self-seeding herbs and general weeds to keep the insects happy and if the insects are happy the birds are happy and so it goes on.

While she was here Rachael told me about a farmer in Portglenone who has sowed an entire field in sunflowers with a wide strip of wildflowers surrounding it. He has cut paths through it and welcomed visitors. So, of course, we had to go and see it.

A venture like this is quite a departure for a Northern Irish farmer. As I said to Bert,

It's like something you'd see in Norfolk.

Today they were accepting donations for a local community project and we were happy to hand over a few quid. Sure what else would you be spending it on?

They hope to sell some of the blooms for cut flowers later in the month but Rachael informs me that the most of the sunflowers will feed the birds.

We visited later in the day and there were still a lot of pollinators around but earlier in the day there were masses of them doing their thing.

In this part of the field, the sunflowers were still coming on. Where they were in full flower they were as tall as Bert. He's six foot.

I felt quite inspired by it and hope that maybe we can do something to encourage wildflowers. Maybe we won't plant sunflowers but I am hoping to transform our unmown front garden by cutting and lifting in September and seeing what comes from the existing seedbed. Maybe we'll even persuade the Common Blue butterfly to breed in our garden and to enchant us as they did in Paddy's Field in childhood summers long, long ago.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Just A Quick One

Today Martha and I went to Ballymoney on the train. Not a lot of people know this but Ballymoney has the best sweet shop and the best thrift store in County Antrim. Martha spent a great deal of time in both establishments.

While we were thrifting and candy shopping Evie and Aunt Hannah were communing with nature at Waterfoot and Bert was watching Painted Lady butterflies in Springhill. I had already spotted a Small Copper this morning.

The butterfly population is really increasing around here. A few years back all we seemed to see were the Cabbage White types and the Speckled Woods and now we have great numbers of Peacocks and plenty of Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells, I'm already thinking of starting a managed weed garden. More ragwort is needed for a start. The next door farmer's crop is too many field lengths away. I wonder what the Common Blue needs? Where can I get bird's foot trefoil seeds. How do I make a heath?

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Flying Today

Today I played Girl of the Limberlost but with a camera rather than a net and, happily, no moth or butterfly or moth died to pay for my college education.

The results were patchy. The only butterfly happy to stay still for a moment or two was the lovely Peacock Inachis io. According to my Collins Complete Irish Wildlife these are common in Ireland but not in the North. This information must be out of date as they were very plentiful in our garden today.

Peacock feeding on hyssop

A pair of Peacocks on marjoram

Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell Nymphalis articae on buddleia

Red Admiral on hydrangea

The whites confuse me some. I think this may be the Large White Pieris brassicae feeding on hyssop.

This one sunbathing on hydrangea is probably the Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria. We see them for most of the summer especially in the unmown part of the garden.

And this is why we like to leave a good part of our place wild and unshorn, for the immense pleasure of seeing butterflies, moths and other flying insects. I only wish there were more of them.


After completing my post I popped over to Ganching's place to find that she has been posting pictures of flying creatures too. Jersey Tigers! I'm jealous.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

A Visit to Seamus Heaney HomePlace

Martha, Evie and I went today to the Seamus Heaney HomePlace at Bellaghy. The girls enjoyed the Exhibition much more than I expected them to. They were especially taken with the interactive features.

In this part of the exhibition, visitors can watch and listen to a variety of people including actors, musicians, writers, Presidents, neighbours and local schoolchildren speak of their connection to Heaney and read from his work. In the photograph above my grandchildren are listening to President Bill Clinton speak of his friendship with Seamus Heaney. The section of poetry that President Clinton chose to read was from The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes.

History says, Don’t hope On this side of the grave,’
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea- change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles.
And cures and healing wells.

That gave me such hope in these trying and difficult times as did the pleasure that Martha and Evie took from today's experience.

Evie must have listened to at least ten poems on the interactive listening devices. She said her favourite poem was the one about the kite. (A Kite For Michael And Christopher) At six years of age, I don't think she can have an understanding of the complexity of the poem but listening to Heaney's beautiful voice I'm sure she recognised some of the compassion and beauty that the poem contains. The last verse is one of my own favourite pieces, the line 'You were born fit for it' I find especially reassuring.

Before the kite plunges down into the wood
and this line goes useless
take in your two hands, boys, and feel
the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.
You were born fit for it.
Stand in here in front of me
and take the strain.

As always, Martha the artist took great pleasure in the children's creative zone.

And Evie, when she tried on this hat in the dressing up corner...

...immediately put me under arrest.