Friday, August 30, 2019

The Sunflower Field

For the second year running, a Portglenone couple, Damian and Karen McAllister, have sown out a field near their home in sunflowers and wildflowers and opened it to the public. This year Damian has added another small meadow sown in plants attractive to pollinators. 
And it's not just bees and butterflies come to the field. Evenings bring flocks of birds to feed on the seeds and insects. It is a wonderful sight.
I visited yesterday on a dull day and still found the place packed with visitors, many of them families with young children. It was delightful to see those children enjoying nature, asking their parents questions about insects and flowers. Who knows what passions the Sunflower Field will have sparked in those young minds. Last year the McAllisters raised close to £10,000 for their local church, this year they are raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. It's only £2 to visit, half-price for children up to 18, free for under-fives. This year, I expect they'll make even more. Macmillan is a charity that is dear to me as the support we received when Matty was sick was so welcome. And right now Macmillan nurses are helping to look after our little great-niece Ava.
Last year Ava was well enough to visit the Sunflower Field with her Aunt Naoise. But not this year as she is too ill. 

Ava,  Sunflower Girl, by Naoise

Sunflowers, by Zoe 

 Evie, by Zoe

Emily & Katy, by Zoe

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Before Brexit

I am trying to remember what troubled me about world affairs before Brexit.

The Cuban missile crisis was a bummer. I was in primary school at the time yet, despite my extreme youth, was deeply affected by it. It must have been all those terrified grownups that unnerved me.

Then there was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And Robert Kennedy. And Martin Luther King Jr. Those were a tough few years. I was starting to understand that despite the sixties call for peace and love the world could be a hateful place. I didn't know the half of it.

Next along - The Troubles. That was a long, drawn-out nightmare. And the thing is, most of the time life went on as usual. Ordinary things kept happening while extraordinary events became the new normal. Loyalist strikes, tit-for-tat killings, the crump of car bombs on a summer evening, terrible atrocities thought about for a while then forgotten when the next one happened along. Sometimes I tuned out, to the extent that even decades later, I'd read about some horror and realise that I didn't remember anything about it.

Outside Ireland, there was the Cold War which I didn't understand except that there was always the threat of nuclear war. Then there was (not in order) the Falklands War, the Gulf Wars, famines in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Sudan, Greenham Common, global warming and Aids.

Then came a time that things looked brighter. The Good Friday Agreement brought some sort of peace and normality to Northern Ireland and it seemed we could hope for better times. Of course, wars, atrocities and injustices continued elsewhere but they could be kept at a safe distance.

Until Omagh plunged Northern Ireland right back into the nightmare. For months afterwards, I could recite the name of every single victim.

Where's the hope in all this? I started writing this blog to remember other world events that worried and tormented me before Brexit. I was looking for a sense of proportion and instead, saddened myself even more. It all seems a bit hopeless at the moment.

Tomorrow, if I am not too consumed with fatigue, I should write about The Sunflower Field, a positive and helpful endeavour in a sad and sorry world.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Family Life

This has been a family-orientated week. On Monday, I prepared for the visit of the Norfolk Crowd by making an enormous cauldron of Bolognese sauce. Apparently, my only grandson likes to eat it with pasta at least five times a week. My plan was to serve it to the Haribo Contingent later that evening. I did and they seemed to enjoy it. I mentioned to Zoe that it was to be given to the Norfolk Lot in lasagna form on Tuesday and she couldn't help but wonder how I planned to serve it to the Norfolkians on Wednesday.  Cheeky monkey!

Zoe collected the Norfolk People on Tuesday morning and it was a delight to see how excited young James was. He remembered all the dogs' names and was chuffed that Judy jumped into the car to greet him before he had disentangled himself from the child seat. All the adults enjoyed the lasagna.

Wednesday was an At Home day. We had cheese and onion pie for dinner which was served late due to Young Norfolkians being completely out of their routine and unable to settle.

On Thursday the whole crowd of them left for a trip to Belfast. I have not yet mentioned that the Norfolkian grands were also part of the party. They are actually from Leek. Staffordshire but that's another story, one that may never be told. We had Indian food from the Khayber in Galgorm and, yet again, Miss Emily refused to settle. Rather than delay dinner to a ridiculously late hour the little madam was permitted to join us and sat at the table munching poppadoms and looking gleeful. Speaking as a granny, I was delighted with her, but her mother rather less so.

Friday was party day. The bouncy castle had been delivered the previous evening and all I had to do was clear the kitchen so that we could totally mess it up again. The party was a great success. Thirteen children, aged from 9 weeks to 9 years, nine parents, four grandparents and a much-loved aunt. Dave barbecued for everyone and the kids played on the bouncy castle, trampolined, chilled in the tree-house, explored the woods, utilised the toy-room*, visited the hens and pigs and had rides on the ninky-nonk**.

There was cake, lots of cake.

And on Saturday, Katy, Mark, James and Emily went home. But not before another session on the bouncy castle.  I'm already planning the next party. Who needs to have a birthday to have cake and bouncy castles? Not us.

Yet family isn't just about the fun times. Although, hopefully, we'll all have lots of those. Today my younger brother took me to visit his son's family. Joe's little granddaughter is gravely ill, and her parents doing the most amazing job of looking after her. Their courage, and that little girl's  spirit would humble anyone. And they've had fun, they've had adventures too in this last year of their daughter's illness.

Last word - let's cherish all the people we love. Even when we're not related to them.

* My private, secret sitting room, given over for one week only to trains and train tracks, Lego, farm animals, blocks, and many other toys.

** A metal trolley usually employed for moving plant trays. Holds four children comfortably, five being a bit of a squeeze,

Monday, August 19, 2019

Really Rather Very Good

First of all, I must check tonight's weather forecast - because I am back in possession of Rachael's moth trap. She and her family are on a Cretan adventure, and I am here in Cully with my book on moths and a promise of English grandchildren.

The weather forecast says breeziness and light showers forecast for Cully tonight. I'm doing it, it's been far too long!

The Field Guide to the Moths etc. is not the only brand new book I've recently bought.

 This one I bought on Olin's recommendation. It came today and, so far, I've learned that one's writing will be much improved if the following words are excised,

* very
* rather
* really
* quite
* in fact

So I thought I'd check my last seven blog posts for these words. These amounted to just over 2000 words. There were 8 instances of 'very', 3 'rathers', just one 'really' and not a single  'quite' or 'in fact'.

Quite pleasing in fact.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Anxious August

As an experiment, I am writing this on my phone. I get bloggers block when I sit at my desk, and find myself checking views on Flickr and the news instead of good, sensible blogging. 

 It has been a weird old week. I decided to cut out mid-week drinking. It was getting to be a habit and then I found myself having sleep issues and disturbing dreams.

This is a strange time in our lives.

A photograph would lighten this post but it's happening on a phone and I haven't figured that out. I'll fix it tomorrow.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Slime Time

On this day last week, I was primed for slime. Martha wanted to know if I had PVA glue. I had, somewhere. And food colouring, and shaving phone and glitter. And borax. Borax? I didn't even know what borax was. I did Domestic Science at school. Only the swotty girls did actual Science.

I allowed myself to be persuaded and agreed that we would, on Thursday, purchase the missing ingredients and we would make slime.

So, we bought more PVA glue, and shaving foam (unfair to use up Bert's supplies) but nowhere could borax be found. I still didn't know what it was. Three shops we tried then Martha said that Mummy had some in her laundry room so off to Mummy's house we trotted.

Back to Nellybert's and I printed off a quick recipe from the internet and we got started. I was nervous that they would go mad with the supplies, that it would all be a disaster and that more than a fiver's worth of slime ingredients would be wasted. And the house would be trashed. None of these things happened and some passable slime was produced.

It was a short session as I was expecting visitors and the girls took their finished slime outside and bounced around on the trampoline for the rest of the day.

On Friday I was having my cousin Kate over and before meeting her went to Tesco to buy lunch ingredients and yet more slime supplies. Clear PVA glue. Martha's suggestion. And more food colourings. I forgot the silver glitter.

On Saturday I experimented with making slime myself. Peter and Heather came over and I showed Heather how it was done. She was rather sceptical at first but was soon hooked. I did manage to drag myself away from it and did a bit of work in the polytunnel.

No sliming on Sunday as I wanted to keep the supplies for the children. Worked in the polytunnel, tied up garlic, weeded and so on, then in the evening scrubbed up and went with my brother Joe to a show in the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Kevin Toolis, presenting The Wonders of the Wake. It was very good.

Today, Monday, made a discovery. The pigs like Haribo snakes. Who'd a guessed it? Shopped, cooked, then Martha walks through the door at two o'clock and asked me a one-word question.


The photographs tell the tale.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Martha Mary

I'm always being told at family gatherings (usually funerals) that I am the very image of my mother. My standard reply is that I am not nearly as nice as she was. This is true, as Matty was a very lovely person indeed and greatly loved by very many people.

Judging by these two pictures, the first taken in the late 1920s and the second in the mid-1950s, I wasn't as pretty as her either although we are rather alike. Her's was the soft and sweet beauty of County Tyrone. Mine the sternness of North Antrim with a hint of the Scot and Eastern Europe. Our brows and eyes were inherited from Martha Donnelly of Randalstown. Matty's great-grandchild, Miss Martha H from Leek, Dublin, Randalstown, Gortin, Feystown, and God-knows-where else has that very same brow. And what did we all keep behind that brow? Something great, something amazing. A fine brain, keen intelligence, kindliness, wit, humour. And, last but not least, a modest demeanour.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Bits and Pieces

This photograph has received over 9000 views on Flickr. My PB.


Early supper for The Haribos as Zoe, Dave and I were going to see Ian McKellen at the Braid Theatre in Ballymena. Ballymena? I wondered that myself but apparently the esteemed actor's great-great-grandfather hailed from the town and Sir Ian wanted to see the place. The performance was amazing, one of the best things I've ever seen. I'd tried to get tickets when it was first announced but they sold out immediately. A few spare tickets came up at the last minute and we were lucky enough to get them. My ticket was an early birthday present from Zoe and definitely one of the best birthday presents I've ever received.


It was Ava's eighth birthday. Other things happened, not much. The most notable happening was a phone call from Vancouver Brother. I was antsy about a trip I was planning for the following day and in the end, decided not to go.


I'd been planning a day trip to Dublin and cancelled on myself. Instead, stayed home and cleaned out the chicken house which gave me great satisfaction.


Had a day out with Martha and Evie. Portglenone playground, nature walk in Big Gortgole Wood, delicious ice cream at the Kandy Shop in Randalstown, Randalstown playground, rather boring shopping at Lidl in Antrim then back home via the A26 with a singalong to George Ezra.

Granny omitted to say, Smile Please!

A very productive day at home with lots of jobs started and a few completed. One of the uncompleted jobs was lifting the remainder of the garlic. I finished that today. Jazzer came around and we lit an outside fire and spent a pleasant evening outside.


Mooched around with Jazzer most of the day. Checked out her amazing yard transformation. A real family affair. On Saturday evening we went to the Seamus Heaney HomePlace to see the Camino Voyage. My third viewing. We were Zoe, Martha, Joe, Sinead and Ganching. Other family members attending were John and Marie, Brian and Margaret Anne, Edmund and Marie W. Martha asked,

How many cousins do you have Granny?

And I answered,


I mean to work that out sometime.

When the film was over Marie W showed me this photograph on her phone then shared it to mine. Sometimes modern technology is just wonderful.

This little girl looks like Marie's granddaughter, like our cousins in Randalstown, like my niece in Kerry, our sister in Leitrim, my daughter in Norfolk, a cousin in New Zealand, first cousins once removed in Larne and me.

It is, of course, a photograph of our darling Matty which must have been taken 90 years ago. Thank you, Marie, for the sharing of it.


I finished lifting the garlic, made chicken curry for supper and went for a solitary walk in Big Gortgole Wood where I had a little cry.

Red Admiral on knapweed, Big Gortgole Wood