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.