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.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

How Did That Come About?

Bert's DNA results arrived and gave me quite a shock. He was unperturbed, said it was,

A lot of oul nonsense.

But I've been racking my brains to work out how he has more than a third Scandinavian ethnicity. He doesn't even like Abba.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Thanks For All The Eels

One useful thing about being a long-term blogger and user of social media is that there is a record of all the important life events. Like, just how long is it since we've had eels for dinner? Well, Bonnie was alive then and she's been gone for ages. How long?  June, 2013. More than five years now. But how long since she stole the eels? November, 2007. Nearly eleven years ago. That's the last time eels were served in this house. Until tonight.

Richard and I hatched the plot. Bert had been watching a show about Lough Neagh and remembered how much he loved eels. But where to get them? We live a short distance from the biggest freshwater lake in the British Isles and it's full of eels, a delicacy exported worldwide.  Who sells them? Back in the day this one and that one could get them for you, even further back in the day, my parents got them from Uncle Paddy who lived on the shores of Lough Neagh and fished eels and pollan for a living. Nowadays, as Richard found out, they're sold directly from the Lough Neagh Fisherman's Co-operative Society.

It was to be a surprise and surprised Bert was when Richard presented him with two packs of the finest Lough Neagh Eels. His squeals of delight could be heard in the village. He cooked them just like Matty did, coated in seasoned flour, slowly in a heavy bottomed frying pan for an hour and more. Delicious, served with RJ Kerr's finest and freshest soda bread,

As I said to Richard on Facebook,

....thanks for all the eels.

Did we sing The Eely Song?

Of course we did.

Friday, October 19, 2018

In Which I Risk Being Sued Or, At The Very Least, Having My Windies Broke

Bert and I went out for breakfast this morning to a 'caff' in an industrial estate. Whilst waiting for the food I perused the local rag which I rarely buy for it is overpriced and full of shite. I was interested to read about a public meeting of 'concerned residents' concerned about the influx of Roma gypsies into the town. There is so much concern in Ballymena about the Roma people that they have a dedicated Facebook group which has five of my FB friends on it. There hasn't been as much 'concern' in Ballymena about a group of incomers since - well, since the last lot of incomers, the folk from Eastern Europe who came over here to do the jobs that Ballymena people preferred not to take or were unable to do. A lot of those folk have returned home as standards of living in their own countries have risen just as ours stagnates. And, of course, the Brexit factor means that 'foreign nationals' don't feel particularly welcome in North Antrim.

I have a sense of how they must feel. A majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the Brexit referendum but not in North Antrim where I live. North Antrim, a place of great beauty and charm (the landscape) is also a right-wing, intolerant and sectarian hole. A place where the local Westminster representative, like his father before him a right-wing, intolerant bigot, can line his pockets with all the lovely free money and perks that power can offer the corrupt politician. At least the Da had some sense of decency when it came to graft. Or maybe he, being smarter than the son, just didn't get found out?

None of this 'concerned resident' stuff is new. In the early 1980s, a number of Vietnamese refugees were settled in Ballymena. Some of the families were housed in the estate where we lived and we got to know one person, a girl of about seven called Quyen. She spoke very good English (the rest of her family didn't) and she seemed mature beyond her years. The refugees were hard working people and many started small businesses, such as chip vans. But the locals didn't like them. Ridiculous rumours abounded. They were thieves, they stole people's pets and trapped wild animals to sell as food. The locals moved against them, a pigeon shed was burned down, vehicles were vandalised. Poor Quyen was bullied and scapegoated at the local school. Local parents even went to the headteacher to complain about her.

The Vietnamese people got out of Ballymena as soon as they could. They went to live in English cities and I hope they made a good life for themselves away from the backwater that was (and is) Northern Ireland. Our loss.

I don't know any of the Roma gypsies. When I'm in town I notice that they prefer to move around in groups and that they avoid eye contact. I expect that feels safer. My sister tells me that another group of people who avoid eye contact are Travellers. They are another people despised by 'concerned residents'.

There was one funny thing on that Concerned Residents page. One woman referred to herself as indigenous to Northern Ireland. Typically, she didn't manage to spell the word properly but I got the gist. It's my belief that very few of the Concerned Residents of Ballymena are indigenous to Ireland. I can't even claim that for myself with Scottish ancestors who probably originated from Eastern Europe.*

*Hopefully, there is not too much Welsh as they voted to leave Europe, the fools. And perhaps those rumours are true, that Great-Grandfather Steen who became a Catholic and whose people came from Scotland may actually have descended from a Jewish ancestor?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Walk In The Woods And Other Stuff

Despite this strange lethargy I am currently experiencing I must, I really must write my daily blog.

The day began with a walk, the Cullybackey riverside path with Laura. It was too foggy to appreciate the autumnal colours but we both hoped that the dankness might mean we had the walk to ourselves for we were out with a veritable pack of furry critters and not a lead on any of them.

We admired this fallen tree. There are so many old trees growing on the banks of the river that every blustery bit of weather brings at least one down. Laura cast a very hungry eye on this one. She has a passion for firewood, just like her Da and her Uncle Bert.

At this point, we'd not seen a soul until around the corner came a friendly runner. He bade us hello and seemed unperturbed by the pack.

On the home run, we met a pair of young parents toting infants. Fathers were stoic and brave, mothers looked as if they expected our dogs to eat their children. Our dogs ignored them because they had found one of Stanley's balls and balls are far more fun than boring babies.

But we were rumbled. At the end of our walk who should we meet but Denise, Stanley and friends just heading out on their morning walk. Stanley did not seem to recognise his ball and Judy attempted to nick his new one. Denise soon put a stop to that piece of cheek.

Back to the house for coffee and pancakes where Laura and Bert seemed strangely reluctant to discuss the latest developments in the Brexit situation. Instead, they were enrapt watching YouTube videos of knives being forged. Sometimes I wonder...

The remainder of the day?

Pleasantly sunny.

Martha and Evie. Homework. Trampoline. They jumped, I watched from inside.

Garlic sorting, trimming, planting, storing. I've more to do.

I'm still very tired, coming down with some kind of virus infection.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Autumn Days

Next year's plot for growing garlic was chosen a few months ago and has been languishing under cardboard ever since. The cardboard came off yesterday and the soil underneath looked packed and dusty. It needed something. There was a little mound of leaf mould composting under the beech trees which would be ideal for conditioning the soil and pleasing the worms.

That's what a builder's bag full to the brim of autumn leaves turns into. Half a barrow load of crumbly soil conditioner.

It deserved a close-up. Ignore the intact beech leaves, they are this year's drop. The good stuff is the chocolate coloured mulch in my hand.

And that is the 2019 garlic bed, hoed, mulched and watered.

And this is the garlic from which I'll choose my cloves for planting. The biggest ones are best for decent sized plants. Guess what? I don't know what variety they are -  Les will tell me.

Speaking of Les, he kindly gave me the run of his blackberry canes as he's too busy making chilli jam to have time for blackberry jam. I've frozen a big bowl of them for future desserts. They are far too delicious for wine-making. Zoe gave me an enormous beetroot for the pigs and I may well get a gallon of wine out of that and the pigs will still get to eat it after it's been boiled.

I love Autumn, especially when the weather is fine and mild.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In Need Of Cheer

October flowering California poppy, Eschscholzia californica 

One pinch of seeds, one seed tray, perhaps two dozen plantlets, dotted here and there in the flower beds and they just keep giving and giving. Pretty generous with the seed pods too. I've seed left over from this year so shall compare how bought seed does with collected. But only if I remember to label them correctly.

Things like this are very cheering on a day when the only good news is the pregnancy of a television star and a ginger prince. A day when a bigoted right-wing party from Northern Ireland can hold a government to ransom although I actually don't care that much about that, except I think that when Sammy Wilson's utterances seem to matter a fuck then the United Kingdom is DOOMED. Surely he only exists to mock Sinn Fein and be mocked by Sacha Baron Cohen?

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Challenge

 Chilean guava plant or Ugni molinae 

Favourite fruit of Queen Victoria

We have two small Chilean guava bushes, a gift from Les, and they are currently fruiting. The berries are small, slightly bigger than a blackcurrant, and they are delicious. They taste good as they ripen but when they are fully ripe the flavour is sublime. So far, we keep ours in pots in the polytunnel.

Berries weren't the only thing I ate today. It was family supper day again and the family were late because it was also the day when parents get to hear how their children are getting on at school. Apparently, Martha has a reading age comparable to a 14-year-old. I told her that this was great and that when she is sixty her reading age will be the same as mine is now.

Her fine command of the English language must be the reason why she corrected me on my grammar Thursday last. I asked her if she'd ever heard of the proverb,

Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

Which she hadn't and I chose not to tell her what it meant as I like to keep an air of mystery about myself. What I did tell her was of my very good results in English examinations at all levels and that using incorrect grammar was my personal choice. Obviously, her father had to check hers as she was still learning. But, to console her, I said that she would most likely be very good at English as it is a family trait on all sides. And it looks like I was right. Again.

But I digress from food. Martha started with Bert's pea and ham soup, Evie declined this course. It was still several hours before supper was served so both girls had a couple of pieces of Haribo* then went outside to bounce it off on the trampoline.

I made macaroni cheese and a steamed toasted coconut pudding. The girls tired of the trampoline and went searching for Bert to play with them. They roared and shouted for a while then came in saying he couldn't be found. I said,

He's probably hiding from you.

He was, so for badness I let them call him on my phone. He answered, expecting it to be me.

Bert! Where are you? We looked everywhere for you.
I'm in the woods.
Right! We're coming to get you!

And off they went to drag him back to play with them.

I may have mentioned before that Martha can be a harsh critic of my cooking. Cakes like biscuits, pizzas a bit dodgy. Today was different. The macaroni cheese was delicious and creamy and what kind of cheese did I use? I never mentioned the two big dollops of English mustard and the half glass of white currant wine. Just ordinary cheddar cheese, Martha. Pudding was also received well.

That's two weeks in a row you've made a delicious meal Granny. Last week's meatballs and spaghetti and this creamy, delicious macaroni cheese. If you can just do delicious meals for the next two weeks that'll be a whole month of good cooking!

Oh Lord! The pressure. Evie said she'll give me fifty pence of her pocket money as a prize if I manage it. Guess I'll have to give it my best shot.

Now, I've a confession to make. I write these posts and publish them with only slight editing. Then, the next day I read over them and change words here and there and fix spelling and grammar where needed. Just saying, because those early readers who see posts before I go back to them might wonder how I got those good marks in English examinations of which** I boasted to Martha.

*Haribo - ever since I got the pension I've been buying it wholesale.
**'of which' - I'm not sure about that. I might change it tomorrow.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Things Bert And I Have Argued About

Crabbit - Ireland and Scotland, from 'crabbed' meaning bad-tempered.

Some time ago there was a regular column in The Guardian called Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About. The writer was Mil Millington, (I just googled that) and it was always an enjoyable read. Of course, Bert and I never argue but we used to - quite a bit. Actually, that's a lie. We still do argue but it's different now. Different because I don't take myself as seriously as I used to.

Yesterday's argument arose because he stood too close to me while I was making dinner. This is what happened.

I was making risotto from one of my new Jamie books. It was the 30-minute meal book. I might not know much about risotto but I know it's not a dish to hurry. Jamie was pretty optimistic with his 30-minute timing especially as I was expected to do a salad and a dessert in the allotted time frame. Ridic! I just did risotto and it took forty minutes.

The risotto was supposed to be mushroom but I didn't have mushrooms so I was planning to use smoked mackerel and bits of things from the garden, mostly peas and fresh herbs, flat leaf parsley, rosemary, marjoram, some lemony thing that I couldn't identify and my own garlic. The base was onion and celery both shop-bought. I also used a big glass of my own white currant wine to start it off and all was going well. Especially as I was drinking a big glass of my own white currant wine as I chopped and stirred. Bet you Jamie doesn't do that. Too many kids around for him to be drunk in charge of a high sided frying pan. When it comes to cooking and drinking I tend to favour the Keith Floyd way of doing things.

Then Bert came in from outside. He wandered over to the cooker to see how things were going which was OK with me. But then he didn't go away! Instead, he starts struggling out of his boiler suit and removing his heavy boots whilst standing six inches from me. He always tries to take his boiler suit off first and he's half caught up in it, standing on one leg, trying to unlace his boots and tottering! Tottering six inches from me and my high sided frying pan and my gas cooker! I was raging and I'm afraid I shouted at him. Something along the lines of,

Size of this kitchen, size of this house! Why stand on TOP of me whilst I'm COOKING! Wriggling out of that STUPID boiler suit *unmentionable adjective*, *unspeakable noun*.

Then he retorts, something along the lines of,

Crabbit *unutterable noun*!

Then he cleared off out of my way and said that thing again. Under his breath but I heard. And did not care because my personal space was not being intruded upon. I also did not care because I am a crabbit *unutterable noun*.

The risotto turned out very well. Delicious, in fact. I can hardly believe I've never made one before. Did I mention the Roquefort cheese I added before serving? The argument was over, finito. Mostly that's the way it is these days. Bit of a reaction to an annoyance, some might even say over-reaction, then let it go. It's almost always me who starts it.

A photograph taken a long time ago. That corner is now part of a fifteen-acre wood and that was our very first dog, Danny. We argued a lot more then than we do now.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Very Short Post

Dr Leitrim Sister has left the building but, while she was here, we spent quality time together and ate a lot of cake.

She is with our youngest brother tonight as he is the main reason for her visit. He a great worry for his family right now and can use a bit of sibling support.

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's An Ill Wind

Storm Callum came in the night, knocked over my hen feed bin, scattered the recycling bins (I had failed to return them to their proper place) but, best of all, made the fallen beech from the last storm, fall some more so now it safe again. Bert's rib is almost mended so, as soon as weather and family affairs permit - it's a wooding we will go...

...for Winter is Coming and so is Dr Leitrim Sister and that will be all from me today.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Jamie Ya Bollix

Started clearing out my scullery cupboards yesterday using the recommended decluttering method, which is 5 boxes designated as follows,

  1. Bin
  2. Recycle
  3. Donate
  4. Mend
  5. Restore to Proper Place

By far the fullest box was Restore to Proper Place and the emptiest, containing one piece of cardboard, was Recycle. This tells me that I am very good at recycling and very bad at restoring items to the proper place.

I'd hoped to have a really full donation box as the cupboards I was decluttering are the ones where I keep my fancy vintage china. It wasn't easy to part with it. I managed to donate a couple of vases, two bowls and an outsized mug belonging to Hannah. The rest I kept, including three butter dishes with lids in various styles from hand-painted to Pyrex. I toyed with donating the Old Foley but after checking eBay prices realised that it could fetch a sum between £2.50 to £33 so thought better of it.

Today is the day I pick up the girls from school so I packed my box of bits and pieces for delivery to the nearest charity shop. Whilst there I bought four cookery books (50p each) and Evie chose a mug for herself (20p). The cookery books were in very good condition, three Jamies and a Nigella. Evie and I browsed them in the schoolyard whilst we awaited Martha's release. I was especially taken by Jamie's 15 Minute Meals. What a challenge! I can make poached egg and toast in 15 minutes but Jamie can do marvels. Apparently, the secret is having the right equipment and a very well-stocked pantry. He's a helpful soul is Jamie and he provided a list of all the essential store cupboard ingredients a person should have to hand. Just one hundred and twenty-six items. This included 13 types of dried pasta, 11 kinds of nuts and 13 ready-made sauces. Nine kinds of tinned food must be available and as no one is going to have just one tin of anything I'd say that would bring the necessary items to over 150. Either I get rid of all that crockery or a new pantry is needed.

But - Jamie says that there is no point in serving up all this delicious, nutritious food if it's dished up on random, everyday plates and bowls. He advises using painted boards or vintage crockery from flea markets. Doesn't have to be expensive y'see. Now the painted board thing. Not happening in this house. I'd serve the chow on them just the one time and later on that evening Bert would have them in the wood-burning stove. Looks like the vintage crockery is staying and, as I've probably already got around half of Jamie's recommended pantry list, all I need is to shop for the 75 items I haven't got and a two-tier bamboo steamer for all the dim sum I'll be making. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Fine Autumn Day

Such a lovely day today. Blue skies, temperatures in the low twenties, dry, a brisk, warm breeze. Washing out early, line-dried with no need for airing.

I made an apple sponge with peasgood nonsuch apples and it was lovely. I spent a few hours raking leaves which is a task that I find very pleasurable.

Bert and Hannah took Judy and Ziggy to the vet to have anal glands dealt with so happy dogs too.

Verbena bonariensis still in full bloom.

Just the beginning. Mostly beech. Lots of lovely leafmould in two years time.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Pig Dream

I dreamed I stole a little pig that wore clothes. Not on his nether regions of course as that would be impractical, just a little jacket and a scarf. Bit Beatrix Pottery.

Anyway, I felt very guilty that I'd stolen this pig and decided to return him to his owner Mrs Hanna, the farmer's wife who in real life always baked cakes using Stork. Coincidentally Mrs Hanna was also the mother of a teacher at Cullybackey High who was there in Bert's time and was violent and slightly insane. Or so they said.

The Hannas were a very nice and respectable Protestant family who lived next door to us in Cannonstown. I have some very good memories of them and some not so good.

I remember Mrs Hanna being very kind. And George, her husband was the first person who showed me the stars above and told me about the constellations. I've gazed skywards ever since.

Their youngest son Alan would invite me over to watch children's programmes on their black and white television for at that time we did not have a TV. The only programme I can remember seeing was Captain Pugwash. Those were good memories.

Then there was the time I took their grandson Samuel Alexander for a walk. I'm not sure where but it wouldn't have been too far away. But it must have been very muddy because Samuel Alexander got his bright white socks and his shiny black shoes completely filthy. George was very cross with me. I was devastated as he'd never been cross before. I realise now that he was probably going to get into trouble with his son and daughter-in-law.

Mrs Hanna had a fruit garden full of currant bushes and gooseberries which she used for jam-making. She used to give my sister and me ripe gooseberries and I thought they were delicious. Once the family had planned a day to Portrush and I, ever wicked, said to my sister that we should go to Mrs Hanna's garden and pick gooseberries. We did and ate the fruit off the bushes. The next day we had upset stomachs and Mammy mentioned this to Mrs Hanna. She said,

That will be all those gooseberries they ate yesterday.

I was mortified. It turned out that only the men of the family had gone to Portrush. Mrs Hanna watched from her kitchen window as Jean and I stole her fruit.

I was very, very young when I first encountered the future teacher. Maybe three or four and despite his chosen career path I don't think he had a lot of time for children. I was annoying, kept knocking the front door and he came out and chased me down the path. I thought it must be a game and called him a bugger, a word I was trying out for the very first time. Where I heard it, I don't know, as my parents did not swear. Well, maybe Daddy did, among other men but not in front of children. Mrs Hanna told my mother and she brought me home and smacked me around the legs, very hard. I was heartbroken as I didn't feel as if I'd done anything wrong. But I had. I had embarrassed her in front of her respectable neighbours.

The very worst memory was the day they killed the pigs. I don't even know why I was there. The most horrific part was how they screamed when they were being brought to the killing place. I cannot bear to write the details of what happened next but it is imprinted in my memory and will be forever.

I was seven when we left Cannonstown for the Murphystown Road. It was only a few field lengths away but I never saw much of Mrs Hanna after that. Her oldest son, the very handsome Josie, used to do contract work for local farmers and would be around our place occasionally. I had a big crush on him when I was about thirteen. They are all gone now, every one of them.

In my dream, when I took the stolen piglet back to Mrs Hanna, she listened to my apology in her quiet and familiar way then she said,

You can keep it. I don't really want it. It's far too much bother.

Monday, October 08, 2018

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

This evening, around the supper table, I made my confession. We were eating a rather nice cake at the time, one from a Mary Berry cookbook, published in 1988 - her favourite recipes no less! But those were the days when Mary Berry was just a jobbing food writer, not the huge celebrity she is today. I expect, back then, butter might have been a bit of a luxury item in the Berry household.

Now, the Nellyberts can afford butter, more especially since one of them (moi) became eligible for the state pension. The problem in the Nellybert household is that Nelly's cakes just won't rise. Martha even asked, a few months back,

Granny, why is your cake like a biscuit?

So, when I found Mary Berry's Favourite Recipes, I knew there would be a method for making a cake that would work for me. I found a likely one and followed it to the letter, right down to the margarine. I chose Stork, a margarine so good that seven out of ten people can't tell it from butter.* Back when I was a child only posh people baked with Stork. My mother, with her seven children, could only afford Echo margarine but, despite this, her baking pleased her children very much indeed. Mrs Hanna from next door always used Stork. I'm sure Aunt Sadie used it too. All the well-doing farmer's wives baked with Stork, never Echo.

That cake mixture creamed like a dream, rose like a cloud, tasted delicious. Twice I've given it to the family with no complaints. This evening was the third time. A plain cake, spread with Lorraine's delectable plum jam, sprinkled liberally with desiccated coconut and served with Bert's famous thin custard. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Then I confessed. They started to gag. (Slight exaggeration). The firstborn googled Stork margarine ingredients even though she never uses phones at mealtimes. Obviously, this was an emergency. Turns out that Stork margarine has three kinds of vegetable oil, one of which is palm oil. It has carotene for, without colouring, margarine would just look pale and very unappetising. And it has emulsifiers, a word that always makes me feel like gagging. Oh well. Looks like it's back to butter. I'll let my loyal reader know how I get on.

*1970s advertising campaign

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Quiet Sunday

I woke up this morning to four extra people in the house and two extra dogs. It was raining heavily and I still hadn't finished trampling down the wildflower meadow area that Rachael and I started yesterday so I put on wellies and a waterproof, fed the hens and started trampling down. A roller would have been good but we don't have a roller.

Eventually, the house cleared. I watered in the polytunnel and made a third and last batch of chilli jam for this year. The first batch was from Lorraine's chillis, the second from Les' donation and the third a mixture with a few green tomatoes thrown in. I don't think my own chillis are ever going to come on.

When I went to check my email I found that my DNA results from MyHeritage had come through. I am 93.2% Celt and 6.8% East European. A peasant through and through. The East European has to have come from a great-great-grandparent and the only one that I know of whose forebears might have come from East Europe (via Scotland) is a Steen, from Sallagh in Carncastle. I've been told by a local genealogist that my father's grandfather John Steen was the son of Jacob Steen from Carncastle. Bert's results are still to come. Perhaps they will be more exciting but I suspect he's a peasant too.

Sallagh Braes

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Planting A Meadow

Rachael brought the wildflower seed. Together we prepared the ground although she did much more work than me. Well, she is twenty years younger so that's OK. And I had photographs to take. There has to be a record of these events.

Meanwhile, two of my granddaughters and Rachael's twins played dress up on the trampoline.

Sowing the seed. Fingers crossed!

The remainder of the day included a record number of visitors and a visit to my brother at the home place.

A lot of those visitors and some new ones are still around and it sounds like they are having a party. I might join them.

Friday, October 05, 2018

One Day At A Time

When I decided to write up the blog every day in October I had no idea how significant this October was going to be. But, like all months, it will just have to be lived one day at a time.

And this day was a beauty. Blue skies, dry, and a mild, mild air.

I took these pictures.

I was hoping for free seed from these beauties. But they're mouldering on the plants. Guess I'll just have to invest in a packet for next year if I want these beautiful, dark sunflowers. Some of them are close to black. Free seed I did collect today from helenium, nasturtiums (four kinds), verbascum, Californian poppies and sidalcea. The Californian poppy was particularly generous. Too late for sowing, all will have to wait until spring. I already have lots of sweet william, aquilegia, foxglove and verbascum growing from seed collected earlier in the season.

Despite his aching ribs, Bert started to repair his drystone wall.

Brendan, my brother-in-law, helped Bert build the wall around ten years ago. Bert recalled him saying, use every stone, for every stone has a place. He followed that rule today.

We have Martha and Evie staying with us this evening.