Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sanitise My Ox

Or... O Miss Anxiety, or Animosity Sex.

That's three birthday anagrams for Vancouver Brother.


Ganching blogged Birthday Season this Monday past. I got a bit of a jolt when I read it as I had completely forgotten that Sunday was our late mother's birthday. She would have been 93 years old and I'd always expected that she would achieve ninety years because she seemed so strong - until she wasn't.

Birthdays I Did Remember

Granda Mick. He shared the date with Matty and it still slipped my mind.


I remembered that it was Mick's late mother's birthday on the 29th. The day after Mick and yet I still didn't make the connection.


Ava's birthday was very much on my mind. She would be eight years old on the 30th. I had a card ready and I needed to post it. I went into town to do it as I don't trust our country postboxes.

Ava (photograph by Naoise)

In town, I met a frail lady trying to push a shopping trolley back to the stand. I offered to take it for her as I was going past it anyway. She was pleased and told me that her legs were wearing out and that she would be ninety on her next birthday! I said that's amazing and thought to myself, Matty would be older than that, I wonder what age she'd be now? And still didn't remember it was her birthday.

On the way home I thought about Vancouver Brother's significant birthday and felt a bit cross with myself that I hadn't managed to send a card. Then I forgot to post Ava's card anyway and had to put it in the country postbox.

So that was Sunday - full of birthdays, Mick, Gladys, Ava and Vancouver Brother and never a thought was given to Matty's special day.

The birthdays keep coming. Harriet, Vancouver brother's daughter has her anniversary tomorrow, She's a wee bit older than in the photograph above but still every bit as lovely today as she was then.

And last, but not least - Matty with Jess

Thursday, July 25, 2019


Garden tiger, 23/7/19

On Monday afternoon I tripped and fell. There were a lot of people around but it was Hannah who came to my aid. There was a bamboo cane lying on a garden path and the tip of it caught in my Birkenstock causing me to completely lose my balance and down I went on the rough flagged path. I used my hands to save myself and it was the hands that bore the brunt. An abrasion on the left wrist, another on the right and worst of all a badly torn thumbnail. I was very lucky. But the nail. Afterwards, I thought, if ever I was really injured, in A&E say, with fractures, internal injuries and a torn nail, it would be the nail that would annoy me most.

Poplar Hawk Moth, 22/7/19

Bert spotted me on my hands and knees, among the sidalcea and the geraniums with Hannah attending me and do you know what he thought? He thought I was looking at a moth!

Elephant Hawk Moth 24/7/19

It's true that since Rachael loaned us her moth trap I have been a bit obsessed with lepidopterology, so much so that I arranged a special sleepover for Martha and Evie so they could share the excitement. That was last night. This morning we all gathered round to examine the night's catch.

Martha's specimen box proved to be a great boon for looking at and photographing the elephant hawk moth...

...which, like all the other specimens briefly captured, was returned to the wild and will be flying again tonight.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


This pertains to a conversation I had earlier today about gratitude, giving thanks and fostering positivity. I'm grateful for this conversation, especially on a day like today when the UK has had foisted upon it, a leader who seems far from being fit for purpose.

Gratitude number two is twofold. I'm glad of a friend like Rachael who encourages me to enjoy the natural world, who loaned her moth trap and gave me the chance to look closely at the world of moths. It will be ages before I learn the names of the many varieties of native moths but I know at least five more today than I knew on Friday. That's a start. Checking the moth trap this morning I discovered this one, a poplar hawk moth. I'd seen pictures before but in real life, it's a lovely creature to behold. After the release, the moth found a resting spot on our monkey puzzle and was introduced in turn to Hannah, Richard and Brendan.

Thanks to the magic of digital photography my poplar hawk moth pictures were shared with Facebook friends and the wider online world. That is another gratitude, today's ease of recording images. Beats the olden days when film processing was expensive and took ages and the photographs were far too often a disappointment.

And every day I am glad that Bert is in my life. Today he said he was 95% happy. It must have been the full 100% yesterday.

My last gratitude is still to come. As I was telling Dave this morning I have, for the longest time, on the point of turning out my bedside light and getting ready to fall asleep, given thanks for my own comfortable bed, my own safe home. This comes from years of working in residential care homes and hostels and sleeping over in situations that were all too often unsafe and unpleasant. Now I get to sleep in my own bed almost every single night. What could be finer?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Moth Trap

My friend Rachael, she who encouraged and helped us to start making a proper natural meadow, came over this afternoon. She had a look at the patch, admired the yellow rattle, the eyebright, the yellow and red bartsia. She produced a vintage bill hook, sourced at a car boot sale, and proceeded to slash at tufts of too-rich grass that was threatening to swamp our little meadow patch. The energy! We were advised to collect the seed of oxeye daisy, self-heal, birdsfoot trefoil and red clover all growing nearby to add to the meadow mix. There was some talk of a goat to graze the rich grass but I rather baulked at that. I do not trust goats. It is not so long ago that we tried to help some folk whose goat had escaped on to our road. To this day I don't know if they ever found it again.

Apart from the slashing and consulting, Rachael had something else for us. A moth trap, on loan for a while. We are very excited. We'll set it up tonight and see what happens.

Maybe we'll collect one of these,

Drinker moth sitting on an egg box, collected by Rachael the previous night.

Or one of these,

Burnished brass moth 

Friday, July 19, 2019

What Happened... the title of one of the books I am currently reading. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Moderately interesting. No pictures. Picked up in a charity shop for a quid.

Bert and I went first thing this morning to Whiteabbey Hospital where he was to receive the follow up on the biopsy on the warty lump on the side of his face, I waited outside and finished reading Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah. I forget where and when I sourced it. Probably a charity shop. It was an interesting read if only because it gave a first-hand account of life in China and Hong Kong from 1937 to the 1990s. That has left just thirteen books on my reading pile.

Next, I opened The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. It too is a memoir too, set in America, and also about a dysfunctional family which is really the only kind of real-life family worth reading about. I barely managed a paragraph before Bert returned with the happy news that the warty lump is nothing to worry about. He is to rub cream on it.

Other charity shop finds currently being read are,

The Lake House by Kate Morton. Bit meh.
Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson. Barely begun and I'm finding it hard to get into. But it's Kate Atkinson so it will probably be good.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. As above.
Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks. This has been on the go since March. Slow-going. But Bert finished it and so must I. This is the point of reading many books at once so that they are not thrown aside unread when a more tantalising read comes along.
Picador Book of Blues & Jazz, edited by James Campbell. I'll probably still be reading this in October even though I promised to give it to the guy who works in the library after I've finished. Which is very much a Coals to Newcastle situation.

Library books on the go are,

Ordinary People, Diana Evans. Early days yet.
How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb. This one is very, very good.

Bought from internet booksellers,

Five Children and It by E. Nesbitt. Why not? I enjoyed it as a teenager. I was book deprived as a young child so read a lot of children's literature when I was older.
Pastoral by Andre Alexis because I so loved Fifteen Dogs. Fifteen Dogs broke Bert's heart. He was all sniffy and broken-voiced when he closed it for the final time.

Given to me by Hannah,

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume. Barely begun. Hannah said if you enjoyed Fifteen Dogs you might like this.
The Beautiful and the Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald. First time reading it. Not liking it much. But I will persevere.

So, what else, apart from reading has happened?

Gracie went home to her real family and I missed her.
I visited my Aunt Clare.
My grandson James had his fourth birthday and his little sister Emily has started to walk.
Jazzer and I had a day out in Belfast without going near the actual city centre.
Martha and Evie returned from their Connemara holiday taller and browner.
It rained all week.
And overnight my hair went from looking perfectly OK to looking like a badger's! Must be time to visit Rhonda again.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Miss Gracie

Today was lovely and I spent a good deal of it working in the garden. This, despite a night of interrupted sleep. Miss Gracie, who has been staying with us while her real family holiday in the West of Ireland, did not eat one bite yesterday. Which was worrying. Then she needed up three times during the night. First, at around one am to boke. Then at three am to pee. Then just before five to... eat? She did seem hungry. So I cooked her some chicken and she deigned to eat a morsel or two.

I love Miss Gracie. She is the oldest dog in our immediate family but I'll be happy when her real people come back because I have a feeling she is taking a hand out of me. And I think she'll be glad too to see the wanderers return.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Uncle John

Sitting this morning in a chapel only a few miles from where I live yet I've never been in it before. I got there early. They were bringing the remains from Randalstown to Portglenone for the service then afterwards back to Randalstown for the burial. The chapel was packed, standing room only. There were at least six priests on the altar, maybe more. That's a lot. My Uncle John was very well known, a big family, six children, eighteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A dynasty. Through his own efforts and those of his children and grandchildren he was connected to  a lot of GAA clubs, he played for Roger Casement's in Portglenone, met my Aunt Clare at a match at Kickham's in Creggan and after their subsequent marriage and settling in Randalstown he became a well-respected supporter of Tír na nÓg, where many of his grandchildren played. Then there were the Derry clubs he supported for all of his three daughters had crossed the River Bann to marry Derry men and their children played for a rival county. Not that Uncle John cared where they played as long as they played hard and well.

But, oh, he was a good and tolerant man too. He still had a lot of time for those who didn't play football, camogie or hurling. John was supportive and kind to me when life was hard and problematic. He never judged, he always cared. It was for this reason that I asked him to be godfather to my eldest child, who I raised, for the first five years of her life, as a single parent. 

Now, as I've said, John was A GAA man to his core. An Irishman, a Gael, a Catholic. That's who he was. But there was not an iota of bigotry or sectarianism in the man. Reared in an area that was predominantly Protestant and Presbyterian he respected well and was in turn very well thought of by his neighbours. As it turned out I have come to live in a place only a couple of miles from where John's family lived and when I'd tell folk that I was connected to him I could feel myself rising in their estimation.

So, there you go, the end of an era. Another good man departed this earth. He'll not be forgotten. Kindness is never forgotten. Thank you, Uncle John. 

John on the London Eye sitting between two sisters. On his right his wife, Clare and on his left our mother, Martha.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

A Sackable Offence

I knew this woman once who worked in a woman’s hostel. Occasionally asylum seekers, those with children, came to stay in the hostel. There was one young woman in particular that she always remembered. This young woman was a Romanian gipsy and she had a son around one year old. Her name was Andronica.

The other women in the hostel did not take to Andronica at all. They picked on her, they complained against her, they said she was cruel to her little boy. The woman I knew never saw any evidence of this so-called cruelty but, nevertheless, it was reported to Andronica’s social worker and staff were asked to monitor the situation.

Andronica had barely a word of English and this too made life very difficult for her. The woman I knew tried to communicate with her, even bought a Romanian phrasebook but it was hard going. The social worker told the hostel staff that Andronica had extended family in Dublin and that coming to Belfast had been a big mistake on her part.

Weeks passed. Andronica phoned her family in Dublin almost every night. The telephone was just outside the office door and the woman I knew could overhear her desperate phone calls.

One afternoon Andronica’s social worker called. The news was not good. Andronica’s case had been decided and she was to be deported back to Romania in a matter of days. Andronica was not to be informed in case she scarpered. The woman I knew felt really bad about this. Andronica had got herself and her son to Ireland to join her family but because she had flown to Northern Ireland instead of Dublin she was unable to get to them. Later that evening she called her family. The woman came out of the office and asked Andronica if she could speak to the person on the line. She was handed the phone. The woman asked who she was speaking to and was told that it was Andronica’s brother. She told him that his sister and nephew were to be deported. She told him that they should make arrangements to meet her in Dundalk. Then she handed the phone back to Andronica.

When Andronica hung up the woman I knew invited her into the office. She showed Andronica a map of Ireland and indicated where she was staying now and pointed to where she needed to go. To Dundalk. A border town. Halfway to Dublin.

The woman I knew went off duty the next day and was away for several days. On her return to work she was informed that Andronica and her son had left the hostel without informing staff or social services. Some of her fellow residents were able to let staff know that she had called a taxi which had taken her and her little boy to Dundalk.