Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Quidditch and Other Questions

Bert's first utterance this morning was one of his random questions.

Do you know what Quidditch is?

Of course.

Is it a sport?

Yea, sort of. It's semi-fantastical, played at Hogwarts. From Harry Potter. Why do you ask?

They were talking about it on some TV show last night.

My Bert. He's only interested in what he's interested in. Some cultural references just pass him by.

Meanwhile - Miss Martha is going to have a Room Of Her Own. Which, incidentally, means so is Miss Evie, but because Martha is Moving Out that is a big deal. I was pleased that I guessed what her room will be called - The Cupboard Under The Stairs - for Martha is a Harry Potter fan too. Apparently, there is also a Harry Potter-themed password before entry to Martha's room will be granted. I didn't guess that which is probably just as well as who wants one's granny barging into one's room uninvited?

That photograph of Lily was taken this morning. Both pigs were allowed in the orchard this morning and after they got bored gorging on windfalls Lily stripped a pinus of whatever it was that covered it during the summer. Maybe bindweed, so hopefully, that's not very poisonous for hogs.

Meanwhile - it's New Year's Eve and we are Nellybert, Hannah, The Banjos and Sarah and five dogs. The evening is still young. Unlike me. I remember reading 1984 when I was sixteen and thinking that was the scary, scary future.

Anyways, if you are still here, have a Happy New Year. Someone's bound to have one. Hope it's you.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Viewing, Walking and Ranting

Lulu and Nelly on Waterfoot Beach

Nellybert entertained Vancouver Brother for a few days over the holiday. All the cooking on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was my own effort and turned out very well. After lunch, we watched a TV programme about a steam train travelling on the Highland Railway from Fort William to Mallaig. It was relaxing, no narrative, just the choo-choo, clacking sound of the train and the gentle snoring of Eamon and Bert.

Brother Joe* had recommended The Two Popes so I watched it on Netflix with Leitrim Sister and Bert and enjoyed it. That night, before I went to sleep, I found myself yearning for that certainty of belief. Maybe that's what is needed to make my life better. I opened my arms and my heart and asked for guidance. Then I dreamed that I lived under a harsh, totalitarian regime. Guidance? Or a glimpse of the future that awaits us under The World King?

Between all the eating, drinking and lying around it was definitely time for a nice walk. Leitrim Sister, Lulu the Jack Russell Terrier and I headed off to Waterfoot beach. It was lovely, Lulu made lots of new friends, some of whom were giants.

There was just one thing that spoiled it. There were at least five children who had been given quad bikes for Christmas (Bad Santa) and they were churning around, driving like crazy on the beach and, worse than that, riding over the dunes while their foolish parents looked on indulgently. Waterfoot beach is a conservation area. I might need to pen a letter of complaint to the World King, who (I'm told) is a keen conservationist. Failing that, a letter to Moyle District Council might suffice. Ach! Who am I kidding? As long as there are stupid, irresponsible parents, there will be wrecking children. And while I'm on this rant, come May, keep your wee shites off the bluebells!

* Brother Joe is not a monk.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

All Those Boys At Christmas


I cooked a turkey, baked ham and assembled a trifle.


We had turkey, chips and pickled peppers for supper.

Bert and Brendan. 

I love Christmas Eve. For it's too late to change anything. Christmas is going to happen. It's going to be OK.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Nature Watch

I said, in my previous post, that I do not intend to let Mr Johnson's recent electoral success depress me too much. It seems if the family WhatsApp group is anything to go by, that my siblings have the same idea. We really are a left-leaning lot. In this family, if one wants to be rebellious, the only options are to vote conservative or never vote at all.

It's nature that lifts our spirits. In WhatsApp Land Leitrim Sister was cheered to see a small herd of Fallow Deer in the boggy field behind her house. Ganching can watch woodpeckers, jays, green parakeets and foxes in her London garden. Miss Kerry Niece got a good close look at a fox and London Sister managed a squirrel. In Cully, Nellybert spotted a tiny little goldcrest feeding on insects on our house walls.

And joy! There was a goldcrest back again today, I got even closer and grabbed a far better shot.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Noli Timere

Yesterday's election did not bring me the result that I'd hoped for. I didn't even want that much, just a reality check for the DUP and a hung parliament in Westminster. I got the first, but not the second. Mr Johnson got his majority and all who voted for him will get their Brexit Done. Enjoy, peeps - it is going to be quite a ride.

I'm not going to get depressed about it, not yet anyway. Maybe things will be OK and, hey! Christmas is coming. I'm not even that much of a Christmas fan but this year I'm going to make the most of it.

Now, I'd like to share with the several people that come to Nelly's Garden some of my thoughts about the political system in this place where I live.

Firstly, it makes me very cross when people say things like,

Politicians! They're all the same. Just out for themselves.

I disagree. Of course, there are some, maybe too many, who might give this impression but I believe that most people who go into politics do so for the right reasons, those reasons being a desire to serve their community, and to make society a better place, for the many, not the few.

Another thing that bothers me is folk that don't vote. I know some and they are mostly very good people and part of me understands their disillusionment with the political process but, for fuck's sake, just vote! It won't kill you.

Living in Northern Ireland and having experienced the abandonment of FPTP voting for proportional representation has me believing that the UK is long overdue electoral reform. It would lead to much fairer representation for everyone. Parties such as the Greens are extremely underrepresented despite receiving a significant amount of votes nationwide. Obviously, this would not be an attractive proposition for the leading parties but I think it would make for a more balanced government, where everyone's voice had a better chance of being heard.

Now, I'm an oldie but this made me think. It was a while ago, back in the days of Theresa May and 'Brexit Means Brexit'. I was listening to a phone-in on Radio 4 and a  woman called on behalf of her parents who were so disappointed that their vote to leave the EU had not yet been implemented. The two old souls were so disillusioned that they were considering leaving the Conservative Party. The phone-in host enquired as to the age of the woman's parents. She replied ninety-two and ninety-four. I was amazed. Call me ageist all you wish but why were people in what is likely the last decade of their lives doing concerning themselves about a process that they will never see completed? This is why young people need to use their vote. Because of these old Tories who are certain to use theirs and they don't give one damn what life is going to be like for the generations coming behind them. Not one damn.

How Martha spent election day, making and playing with slime. She's ten. In eight years time, I hope she'll be out there taking her place in the world, changing it for the better.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Old Dairy

London is not like Northern Ireland, you wouldn't even know there was a General Election coming up. No posters anywhere, except for a few in people's windows, and all of those were supporting Labour. Somehow, I managed to avoid meeting any obvious Tories while I was there.

You'll be wondering if I went only to Islington North and stayed put but that is not what happened for I travelled widely around the capital beginning in Tottenham Hale, passing through Finsbury Park on the way to Muswell Hill. People sleep rough under the bridge at Finsbury Park which is a sobering sight. From Finsbury Park to Muswell Hill we passed the Old Dairy in Crouch Hill, which in the eighties was opposite flats where all four of my sisters used to live. The building has been gentrified and is now a restaurant.

Deirdre and Bert in Crouch Hill, the Old Dairy, sometime in the 1980s

The Old Dairy dates from the early 1890s. This recent photo is from Google Maps.

I decided this time that I wouldn't visit galleries or museums. Rather, I would walk lots and just soak up the atmosphere and history of the city. History is everywhere.

I remember Matty was very taken by the dairy. I think it tickled her that a building associated with farming was located in the heart of a huge city. But city folks like milk too and back in the 19th century it just wasn't possible for everyone to have their own cow. London contained a good number of dairies and herds of milking cows were to be found throughout the city. The Friern Manor Dairy Company which owned the building in Crouch Hill was one of many. Their cows were grazed and milked in Peckham, the milk distributed from churns and ladled into the customer's own jug.

London Sister, who once lived in Crouch Hill with Ganching, Kerry Sister and Leitrim Sister, is still not that far from an old dairy. In 1915 Manor Farm Dairy sold milk and poultry from this building in Muswell Hill.

One hundred years later, yet another of life's basic essentials was being sold from the same building.

I definitely preferred the original entrance.


Thursday, December 05, 2019

In Which Bert Is A Great Big Tease


Evie told me that Bert calls her pink booster seat a 'wedding chair'.

I said,

Why does he say that?

He says I'm too big for it. He says I'll still be sitting on it when I go to my wedding.

Well, that's not very nice of him. What did you say?

I told him I'm not even going to have a wedding. It costs too much money. I'm just going to live with somebody.


A sad day for hens. One died of natural causes and four by a fox. Needless to say, all roosters survived. Bert saw the arrogant brute this morning and considered shooting him but decided not to. We were letting the hens out to wander the yard every afternoon so our fault.


We took Martha and Evie for dinner at the Pizza Parlour. It has changed hands and moved premises but the pizzas are still as good as ever. Bert ordered a large anchovy and olive and was almost beaten by it. I said, "Why don't you take a little break, then go back to it?" He said, "Yeah. That's what Italians do." I said, "And while they're taking their break they slip out of the restaurant and whack someone." He said, "While everyone else in the restaurant laughs loudly at silly jokes and no-one hears a thing."

Full disclosure, we just watched The Irishman, then GoodFellas, Bert for the fourth time, me for the first. I'd only ever caught the scene where Christopher from The Sopranos got his foot shot at by Joe Pesci, so sorry Italian-Americans for the lazy stereotyping, blame Martin Scorsese.


Whilst uploading the Pizza Parlour photos from my phone I came across one on the family WhatsApp page, shared by my brother, a photograph of his beautiful first grandchild who died in September. There will have to be a new kind of Christmas in Ava's family, one where there will always be someone very special missing. It's going to be hard.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Maria Goretti and Other Saints

I may have mentioned before that Bert uses me instead of Google so when he recently asked,

Who is Padre Pio?

I wasn't that surprised for Padre Pio is not talked much of among Presbyterians. My brief summary of the life and times of the holy man complete he went on to enquire,

So, who was Maria Goretti then? And Dominic Savio?

I replied,

What is it that you're reading there? The Sacred Heart Messenger? Catholic Herald?

He held the volume up.

I'll have to add that to my to-read stack.

Anyway, to get back to Bert's early morning question time. I told him.

Actually, I do know quite a bit about Saint Maria Goretti, for we had her holiness rammed down our throats at home and at the convent. She was a great example to be held up for she died for her purity. I remember asking Mammy about what the fellow who killed her wanted to do to her and she wouldn't tell me! So, we're expected to die for our purity when we don't even know what purity is. 

As to Dominic Savio, I don't know. But he must be a quare holy fellow because I have a cousin who has Savio for his middle name.

Which cousin?

The really tall one.

I googled Dominic Savio and it turned out he was this goody-goody, celebrated for his piety. He was studying to be a priest, got pleurisy and died aged fourteen. I told this to Bert, who said,

Fourteen? That's a bit young to be made a saint. What's all that about?

I don't know. Ask the Pope. Anyway, fourteen isn't that young. Maria Goretti was twelve. 

Later I found myself thinking about Maria Goretti or, to be accurate, a namesake. I did know a girl of that name, a dark-haired girl around my own age. We would have been about fourteen at the time. This Goretti must have had a ship-wrecked Spanish sailor in her ancestry for she was exotic, she was sensuous, and she had the hairiest legs I'd ever seen on a girl. She was also an accomplished Irish dancer. That is when I first noticed the hairiness. We walked home from school together once. Just once, for she was a bit of a loner, held herself apart. On that walk, we passed quite a few men and I was aware that she was having an effect on them. They all looked at her, some of them yearningly. To tell the truth they might not have been fully-fledged men but to me, then, any fellow over seventeen was a man. So, while the men yearned after my companion she walked aloof paying no attention. I think I must have had a crush on her myself.

Of course, all this was projection on my part for who knows what was going on with Goretti. For some reason, I've held on to that memory for over fifty years, the sensuous young girl named after the Italian virgin martyr.

One thing about the trio Bert asked about, Padre Pio, Dominic Savio, Maria Goretti - they were all Italian. The Catholic church never looked too far afield when they sought saints to inspire their flock. I don't know about Padre Pio (mystic) or Dominic Savio (prig) but poor Maria Goretti was the victim of a murderous rapist and instead of recognising that fact, our elders used her experience to keep us girls in line. So, what happened to her murderer? According to Wikipedia, Serenelli, 20 years old at the time of Maria Goretti's death, went to prison for 27 years. He repented and on his release sought the forgiveness of the Goretti family and joined a monastery.

This morning, Bert's question was,

How many men's names begin with 'N'. I can only think of five.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday

Bargains Galore (Not)

Bert took a trip to Ballymoney today to Pollocks (horticultural supplies), his mission to acquire big black pots in which to plant trees. When he got back I asked him if there were any Black Friday bargains on offer. His answer, "No". It seems that pots and planters and bags of compost have a price and that price will not be lowered under any circumstance. I guess that Killyless Stores (farm supplies) will have had no exciting reductions on pig meal or Dunlop wellingtons, nor Hayes Garage, a price drop on diesel or potato bread. When it comes to essentials the price is the price.

Black Friday

The over-hyped nonsense that is Black Friday has only been around for six years or so. It's an American import that makes no sense at all as we don't celebrate Thanksgiving so are not on holiday the day after. Anyway, we're thinking about Christmas and there's an election coming up.

Election Posters

And speaking of the election, a recent visit to Larne to see cousins was greatly marred by posters of Sammy Wilson leering from every lamp post. At least he was covered up.

Thinking About Christmas

Very much on my mind this evening, especially the bottle of Baileys I'd stashed in the cupboard to be enjoyed nearer the time. Seems I'm not very good at delaying gratification.

Dunlop Wellingtons From Killyless Stores

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Queen

Bert and I have been watching (and enjoying) The Crown on Netflix. Olivia Colman is terrific in the role of the middle-aged monarch. It’s a fiction loosely based on fact yet it does have its surreal moments, the Duke of Edinburgh attempting to fly a plane to the moon, the Duke of Edinburgh baring his soul to a group of C of E priests, one of whom a dead ringer for Freddie Garrity of Dreamers fame. But one thing has struck me, inspired me – the Queen’s wardrobe. Not her evening gowns or her colour co-ordinated out in public costumes – what I want is her day clothes, the outfits she wears whilst hanging around the palaces, the plain dresses, the well-cut wool skirts, the silky high-necked blouses, the cardigans, the pearls, the court shoes, and the always present handbag. If I had those clothes I’d feel so smart, so ever-ready, and so royal.

Still thinking about it this morning when I realised it wasn’t the Queen’s style I wanted to channel – it was my Aunt Sadie. Sadie, unlike those other scruffbags I mentioned in the Old Shoes post, was always smart and tidy and her hair always 'done'. The addition of an apron or nylon overall helped to keep her clothes clean as she cooked, cleaned and looked after her family for, unlike the Royals, she managed her own house.

Today I am wearing some really scruffy jeans, a Fatface stripey top, a burnt orange M&S jumper worn back to front and an old pair of Superdry boots. I have not combed my hair. 

The Superdry boots, despite their name, do not cut it in the soggy wood and are quite unsuitable for splashing in muddy puddles, something I still enjoy despite having graduated from primary school many decades ago. I used to wear dark purple Hunters but have now settled on sensible Dunlops from the local farm supplies shop. The Hunters are still around, purloined by Hannah, whose slim pins are more suited to them than my sturdy calves.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Every Picture Tells A Story

I like carparks with more than one exit, especially if they are small. Obviously, the person who parked this car agrees, for what space could be more convenient than right bang in the middle of one of the exits? Ideal for a quick getaway. Convenient for one driver only.

Most mornings I am rudely awakened by a big cold nose pushing into my face. And whimpering. It's not Bert, just Judy the Senior Dog wanting to go outside for a pee. It always feels too early for me but sometimes it's worth it when I get to see the gorgeous morning sky. And I say, thanks Judester. You're a doll.

We always have a birthday cake on the Monday nearest to someone's birthday. Entranced by the glow of the candles, father and daughters are completely unaware of the cameras trained upon them. Yeah, right! For they are all perfectly accustomed to cameras. Especially Dave...

who is in there somewhere. Sort of like a very dark Where's Wally.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Other People's Jobs

In the early 1970s, Matty worked in the dispatch department of an electronics factory. I was at home with my baby girl. When she got home she'd tell me all about the goings-on in the lives of the team she worked with. At first, I found these stories tedious but listened to Mum anyway, just to be a kind daughter. Then, as time went on, these tales from the factory floor began to engross me and sometimes I found myself waiting impatiently for Matty to come home so I could hear the next instalment. She'd be taking off her coat and I'd be saying,

How did wee Una get on at the fertility clinic? Did the doctors give her any hope at all?


So! Did Davy gamble his pay again this week? He did! Poor Josie, she'll never be able to afford that holiday.

Since then I've always been interested in other people's jobs, which always seemed more engrossing that one's own paid employment.

For instance, this Thursday, we had someone round who works behind the scenes at big events, concerts, festivals and the like. he mentioned that he'd been working the Cher show at the SSE Arena.

Over 70 and you should have seen her go. Amazing! All those costume changes. I saw her coming offstage and she was totally wrecked. They had to carry her off.

A conversation ensued then about just how so many venerable old rock stars are still giving it welly.

Our friend had also been around after a Rod Stewart show and saw Rod completely wrapped in a space blanket and tottering away, supported by assistants. All that was visible the spiky tips of his famous barnet.

Then, last night the Master Electrical Engineer called with his fix for the moth trap. He stopped for coffee and a chat and eventually the talk came round to work. We'd been discussing the unwanted critters that sometimes find their way into our homes. In my case it was slugs. Yes! They are back! It's been four years but this time there have only been five infant sluglets. In our friend's case it is mice but he's dealing with it. I thought perhaps some sort of cunning electrical gadget that dispatches them to mouse heaven as painlessly as possible but he's using old-fashioned spring traps.

The work connection? A while back our friend worked for a big multinational telecommunications manufacturer. And they had a special room where they kept exotic creatures, spiders, beetles, lizards and snakes, that sort of thing. Sounds strange? I thought so. But, because the company was global there were crates coming in from all over the world and sometimes those crates were carrying passengers.

Looking for a four-leafed clover. (Even tho' it's not clover)

This woman had a mouse jump from her pantry cupboard on to her head this week. She handled it well. Yet once, when she spotted a ladybird on the dashboard of my vehicle, she panicked and shrieked and I had to pull up, rescue the ladybird and remove it to a place of safety.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Thinking About Christmas

If there was one thing my Granny Mac got right it was passing on to her children, her love for gardening and the natural world.

If there was one thing that Matty got right it was encouraging us to appreciate nature, particularly wildflowers and hedge birds.

And I encouraged mine, as they encourage theirs.

And then there is this,  Zoe's Etsy Shop.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Old Shoes

They are in a bit of a state, are they not? I remember the day I bought them. Miss Martha was with me and helped me choose them. She wanted me to buy something fancier, light-coloured. I explained,

No Martha, the shoes have to be black because I've nothing suitable to wear to a funeral. These are to be my Funeral Shoes.

They were never off my feet for the best part of two years because they were so damn comfortable. But a time came when even the most diligent polishing did not help. They became house shoes. And by 'house' I mean outside the house, the yard.

Why don't I just throw them out? I asked myself this the other day and very nearly did. Then I didn't. Why?

I got to thinking about Pearlie who spent the best part of her life in old worn-out garments, sliping around in a pair of old deck shoes she inherited from Bert. Pearlie who had lots of nice outfits hanging in her wardrobe that she'd never, ever wear. I'm not as bad as that.

Then there was my paternal grandmother who disdained fine clothes. She'd wear the same outer clothes for months. I don't like to think of her inner garments. When she worked she wore an apron fashioned from a hessian sack. Her Sunday best was a man's grey gaberdine overcoat. I'm not as bad as that.

But I'm bad. When I'm home I wear Gap jeans and fleeces and old shoes. I wash my hair, towel it dry and don't even look in the mirror. I rarely look in mirrors these days. When I was younger I liked the person I saw there, these days I hardly know her. But I do look down from time to time and see the old shoes. Should I throw them out? Maybe tomorrow.

Three and a half years ago I wore those shoes to Sheena's funeral. She was a lady who was always well turned out. In her younger days dressed exclusively in black and white and often made and adapted her own outfits. I miss her still.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Ins And Outs

My life consists of letting hens out, closing hens in, same with pigs and in the house, it is endless with dogs and cats, in, out, in, out all day long. Then come bedtime, if a cat is outside, he or she will stand gazing at Roy through the glass doors while he barks to alert me that I must come down and open the door. Same goes if a cat wants out, Roy starts woofing so that I know to rise from my bed and let the brute out.

Morning comes, very early morning, maybe half five, and Judy wakes me with the cold nose against my cheek. She wants to go out. How do people without pets put in their time?

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong

I don't have far to travel to enjoy the autumn colour as these trees, mostly beech, are at the bottom of our lane.

Last week was a free week. The girls were on a mid-term break vacation to the Dingle peninsula so no Monday supper and no Thursday baby-sitting. I have a new regular Tuesday appointment and that was postponed due to vacation time for the other party, so free all week, lots of time to myself.

I spent it weeding, planting and mulching in the polytunnel for my section had got really out of hand. There were dandelions, creeping buttercup and nettles starting to appear. There were far too many strawberry runners and a nest of self-seeded sweet william that was beginning to take over. Over a period of five days I worked on it, lots of hoeing, digging out and raking. Garlic cloves were sown, new strawberries and broad beans planted and fresh compost added to the soil. It was so neat, so brown, so weed-free and I was really pleased with all my efforts, until - one night, about halfway through this clearance, I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep for feeling guilty about where all the beetles and bugs, spiders and frogs were going to live. The tunnel wrens appeared to have lost interest in my plot and the resident robin had moved out. It was all far too tidy.

But it won't last. The weeds will return, so will the bugs and beetles and in no time robins and wrens will be back. And, if those broad beans ever come to anything, Rusty and Lily will be crashing about in there too.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Sequence Of Events

I bought a sourdough loaf on Saturday morning and told the man who baked it all about my sourdough starter which will be celebrating its 3rd birthday this coming March. The man said that the secret to keeping a starter lively is filtered water. Something to tell Les. Tell the truth, his bread wasn’t as good as Les’ or mine but I needn’t talk as I haven't baked a loaf in the best part of a year even though I have worked through several kilos of strong flour just keeping the starter going.

An egg for poaching

On Sunday I made poached eggs and sourdough toast. The bread was the devil to cut and a bit of it got stuck in the toaster and went on fire. I removed toaster and bread outdoors to shake out the burning crumbs and accidentally dropped the toaster on the ground. And hoped I hadn’t broken it.

Today, Monday I went into town to order floor coverings for Hannah’s rooms. As always it turned out not a simple errand and the carpet man will have to come out to measure up which saddened Bert as he wanted to fit cupboards and skirting boards and now he’ll have to hold his horses.

Whilst in town I visited Lidl to buy a few bits and pieces and as always bought more than I had bags to carry it in. In the queue, I noticed one of the Lidl staff behind me with a couple of items for her break. I suggested she go ahead of me as break time is precious. She was very gracious and left me feeling good. It’s nice to be nice and lovely to be thanked.

I had a bit of time to spare so called at one of Ballymena’s many Christian charity shops to see what was on offer. It was quiet and the lady in charge commented on the coldness of the weather. I made the appropriate responses. She said,

It’s a change to speak to someone who understands me.

I found this an odd remark and asked her what she meant.

She said,

Well, you know, speaking to someone who isn’t - ‘foreign’.

This sort of thing happens to me a lot. People, mostly women around my age, say something vaguely xenophobic and seem to invite me to agree with them. I must have the appearance of a racist.

I said,

Well, you must agree that the people who come here from other countries are very supportive of our local charity shops.

And she said,

Yes, they are. But they’re always trying to get things for less than the price.

I said,

You just need to say that the price is the price.

Then added,

And, as you know, God loves everybody, no matter where they come from.

(Left unsaid) Even those of us who were not born and reared in Harryville.

I paid the asking price, no quibbling

Back home, I made poached eggs and sourdough toast. With some difficulty as the toaster was broken. I had to hold the lever down which defeats the purpose of a toaster.

After breakfast I changed into old shoes and yesterdays jeans intending to do a bit of grubbing about in the polytunnel.

And then changed back into today’s jeans and Dune boots when Bert asked me to accompany him on a sanitary ware buying expedition. We bought a wash hand basin and toilet and then went to Tesco to buy a new toaster. This job done I returned to the van to find that Bert was unable to start it. Some sort of flat battery issue. Guess what? Neither of us had our phone. Yet Tesco isn't a bad place to be phoneless and broken down for along came Young Rainey’s even younger and more beautiful wife who gave me a lift home where there were lots of phones and numbers of people (Carlo) prepared to drive into town and get Bert on the road again.

Young Rainey’s lovely wife said,

You’re not blogging so much these days.

I said,

I know. But I’ll do one for you this evening.

And this is it. Thank you again, Sarah.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

In Praise Of The Master Electrical Engineer

Rachael loaned me a moth trap which is mine for an indefinite period, the only condition being that I must use it, record and report my findings.

I am notoriously afraid of new technology. I am the person who buys a new printer and keeps it unopened in the box for three months or more, before finding the courage to unpack it and try it out. This has happened more than once during my lifetime. A new phone? It will be weeks before I figure out all the amazing stuff it can do. Skype? A lovely idea but it frightens me. What's App calls? The stuff of nightmares. Eventually, I get there. When the stars are correctly aligned, when I can gather the necessary pluck. And so it was with the moth trap. I've had it for nearly two weeks and the only moth I've trapped was a little green and bronze one in the van yesterday. It has been photographed and has yet to be identified. Not even sure if it was a moth.

Rachael, not knowing the extent of my craven cowardice, did not help when she said,

Be careful how you move it, it's a bit delicate, hard to put together again if it falls apart - and the battery is a bit flaky. Might need a really good charge and then perhaps, another one.

Way to put off a technophobe.

I don't actually understand batteries, I know it is something to do with electricity which I also don't understand. Despite this, I decided today to charge the hell out of that flaky battery and get that moth trap on the road. So I did and when I connected the possibly charged battery to the unit that lit the fluorescent light nothing happened. Was it the charger? The battery? The bulb? How was I supposed to know? I hit Google.

The charger retailed at around £150. The battery? How much might that be? How did it all work anyway? I didn't mind spending some money. But how much? And on what?

Then in walked a Master Electrical Engineer. He didn't even get to sit down. Come here, said I. Showed him the moth trap, All he said was,

Can I have a star screwdriver and your reading glasses?

And then,

You should have said. I could have brought my *magical special instrument that solves all electrical mysteries*.

It was amazing. With the aid of my star screwdriver and my reading glasses he took everything apart, showed me how it all worked, told me about the light sensor and transformers which I didn't even know existed and offered several solutions to my problem which will involve no spending on my part. This man couldn't tell a moth from a midge yet he was ablaze with ideas as to how to actually activate a camera to take pictures of moths as they entered the trap.

I really must introduce him to Rachael.

I wish there was a decent photograph of that greeny bronzey flying creature I trapped in the van but all my pictures were terrible. Instead, I offer a snap of the garlic I sorted for seed and that I planted yesterday.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Just Another Saturday

It was quite the day today as far as the Brexit negotiations went. Earlier this week I thought I might sit glued to the Westminster channel for most of the day but, in the end, I decided not to. Our elected representatives would do whatever they thought they ought whether I was paying attention or not.

Instead, I went out to the polytunnel, dismantled my bean poles, fed the remainder of the broads, runners and French to Clover the cow and her friends, chopped up the sunflowers, dug up nettles and creeping buttercups, hoed, mulched, watered and wheeled many barrow loads to the compost heap.

Then I came in to check Guardian Online to see what those rascally parliamentarians had been up to.

And read,

MPs have inflicted a humiliating defeat...

Another one! It's been one humiliating defeat after another since our present PM took over. He must be getting tired of humiliating defeats, just as that other blond across the pond gets tired of winning.

Then I checked out who voted for what and quelle surprise! My elected MP had voted for the first time ever just as I might have urged him to. What a turn up. I'm still not voting for him next time. He'll still get in.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Lost Lives Again

This was the most beautiful day in balmy Belfast. And I spent the first part of the day in my favourite part of the city, the Botanic Gardens taking in a quick scoot to the museum and a longer one to the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine.

Paper sculptures inspired by Michelle Clapton's costume designs for Game of Thrones, created by Billy Butchkavitz. Currently at the Ulster Museum.

A selection of beautiful blooms seen today in the Botanic Gardens in the Palm House and Tropical Ravine.

But my main reason for today's trip to the city was to see the film Lost Lives at the Queen's Film Theatre which premiered in London yesterday. The book Lost Lives is a memorial to all who died as a result of more than three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. My own copy is much read and referred to and has often been wept over. I wanted to see this film.

It was harrowing and beautiful, telling the stories of some of the people who died, beginning with Patrick Rooney in 1969. He was nine years old and the first of many children who were killed during the troubles.

I'd never heard of the Orr brothers, Malcolm and Peter, 19 and 20 years old. They were murdered in 1972, shot in the head and dumped on a roadside near the airport. No one knows who killed them except that they were two Protestant boys who had Catholic girlfriends. The grief of their parents as their coffins were removed from their home was terrible to see. There was so much grief portrayed in the film.

And it made me so angry to think that there are people right now who are utterly unconcerned about Ireland, about what we have come through, about our fragile peace.

The filmmakers were definite that every single death recorded in the Lost Lives book should be included. And so at the end, all the names were listed. Beginning in 1969 with 21 deaths, peaking in the first half of the 1970s (my father's brothers Sean and Brendan were murdered in 1974) then gradually declining through the 1980s, 1990s onwards. Yet one of the heart-wrenching names to see was one solitary death in 2019.

I had to compose myself as I left the theatre. And it felt strange to be out in the sunshine again in Belfast, with people going about their business, just like any other city, on any fine afternoon. My edition of Lost Lives records 3697 deaths between 1969 and 2001 and 45% of those occurred in Belfast.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Braid And The Broo

London Sister was with us this weekend. When Ava died she and her husband were in Brittany so she was unable to attend the funeral. So, this weekend, she came over to spend time with our brother and to see his family. She also spent some time with me and my family.

On Saturday we met for lunch in Middletown which is a great place to visit. It’s also where Sir Ian McKellen goes for coffee when he is in Ballymena. We were LS, Nelly, Zoe, Martha and Evie. After that, it was another look at the Fiddle and the Fife exhibition at The Braid.

This is Leslie Craig from Cullybackey, a very accomplished accordionist and composer. He stated that his first experience of playing in a session with other musicians was at Byrne's pub on the Antrim line.

Sheena and Paddy her father (to her right) were my neighbours from home. She was full of love and a true celeb

The photo and words are by Leitrim Sister who visited the Braid a few weeks ago with myself and Ganching.

The Tannaghmore connection continued. This Lambeg drum belonged to the Tannaghmore Ancient Order of Hibernians. If it's our Tannaghmore then it must be really ancient as I've never heard of a lodge in the townland.

While we were absorbing our local musical history Miss Evie was engrossed in another traditional pastime. Playing with conkers.

On the way home, we passed this building.

The Crown Buildings on George Street which formerly contained the office of the Unemployment Bureau known locally as the 'broo'. Long queues would form outside and while they waited, people carved graffiti into the soft Bann brickwork. It's still there, not that anyone would notice it unless they took a closer look. Which we did.


History isn't just in museums. It's everywhere.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Reasons To Be Thankful, One, Two, Three


  • Met someone new with whom I think I might get on well.
  • Swisser visited and I made her a delicious vegetarian meal which we all enjoyed.
  • Really got into my Margaret Atwood book, The Stone Mattress.


  • A pleasant day. I worked in the garden and found a spot for half of my salvia patens 'Blue Angel' that I'd grown from seed.
  • I booked a ticket for a matinee at the Queen's Film Theatre next week.
  • Rusty wandered into the house which, for some reason, I found amusing. The dogs chased him out. Pigs not allowed. 


  • I enjoyed seeing the leaves begin to turn and made plans to go walking in the woods soon. With my camera of course.
  • I lit the first fire of the season in my private, secret sitting room.
  • Talked to Hannah, who scolded on the state of the world, then told me a true story about kindness which cheered us both.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Evie And Nelly Go Shopping

Yesterday, Evie and I went to Belfast to visit shops such as Claire’s Accessories, Smiggle, Flying Tiger and Sostrene Grene. We took the train. Our purses were bulging with money and Evie was carrying a big shopping bag.

We had lunch in Patisserie Valerie which was delicious. Evie had two courses from the children’s menu and I had a salad.

We started in Claire’s. My logic was that we would get the worst shop out of the way. I limited her to 30 minutes browsing time. That might seem harsh, but thirty minutes in Claire’s is a long time for someone my age.

But I was so wrong about Claire’s Accessories being the worst shop. That award must go to Smiggle, which is dreadful. I have never before seen such a load of exorbitantly priced plastic tat. Apparently, the name Smiggle comes from combining the words ‘smile’ and ‘giggle’. Doesn’t that just make you want to vomit?

Yet, despite the horridness of some of the shops that Evie wished to visit, it was lovely to see her enjoy her day. I didn’t say, did I, that the thirty minutes spent in Claire’s was choosing earrings for her sister who, having reached the age of ten, was allowed to have her ears pierced?

Claire’s – Evie bought Martha earrings and I bought Evie a glittery hairband.

Smiggle – Evie purchased a drinking bottle that ‘squirts water into your mouth’. Surely they all do that? I won’t say what it cost because you might faint.

Flying Tiger – I bought reading glasses. Evie examined almost everything and bought nothing.

Paperchase – Evie played for a long time with a glittery blue dolphin but bought nothing.

HMV – I bought Evie a CD. One of those ones that has scores of songs on it. George Ezra being the track she was keenest on. She has been wanting this particular CD for a long time and I had promised I’d buy it for her when we went to Belfast.

Seasalt – Evie came in on sufferance. I bought a dress and some chocolate. Evie got a complimentary cupcake because it was Seasalt’s Belfast birthday.

Sostrene Grene – a packet of fruity sweets and a free DIY catalogue for Zoe,

WH Smith at the train station – the Irish News and the Beano.

All in all, a rather good day. We’ll do it again next year.