Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Cutting Capers

 I have just phoned Daughter 1.

The conversation went something like this.

NM: Well, how are things?

D1: Grand. We're just waiting for her to come out of surgery. Should be about twenty minutes.

My thoughts: What surgery? Am I supposed to know about this? Did Daughter 1 tell me her dog was going to the vets for an operation and I've forgotten? I'm always forgetting what people tell me. Sometimes I just don't listen enough. I try to cover up my foolishness.

NM: So, this was a planned surgery? 

D1: Not exactly, but they did say she should come in fasting, just in case.

NM: Look, I know this is going to sound stupid but I'm not sure what you're talking about. Is it Maya?

D1: It's Martha. She had an appointment at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children this morning. They decided to set her fracture under anaesthetic.

NM: Oh! 

Maya is perfectly fine

Explanation. Martha fractured her right pinky finger before Christmas whilst doing headstands. She is very into gymnastics and what her great-grandmother Martha would have called 'cutting capers'. It has been in a splint since then and did not keep her back in the slightest. I had been informed about today's appointment and did forget about it.


Update: she's fine. She was the only patient in her department today and got lots of attention and then they kicked her out as soon as they possibly could. She'll be back to cutting capers, and playing the clarinet and piano as soon as she can. Well done, NHS. We're really lucky to have you.

Her Mother

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Doing Christmas

I didn't make such a great fist of Christmas this year, no Christmas cake, no tree, no fairy lights, no three desserts. No shops.

The no shops shopping was the good part. I did Christmas present shopping online and it was OK except for around five of my gifts not arriving on time. And that was despite being ordered weeks in advance. It's a hard thing to admit but Amazon, no matter how wrong the company seems, is at least reliable. Note to self - more forward planning for 2021.

When it came down to it I missed not having a tree. 

Bert volunteered to be with his elderly Aunt on Christmas Day so I spent a good part of that day on my own. There was a family Zoom call planned for the morning which featured Martha and Evie, James and Emily showing us all their presents. I missed half of it due to connection problems and lack of forward planning and had a jolly good cry about it. Then of course, I had to cry about how sad Christmas is when we think of all the people (and dogs) that aren't with us any more then had to give myself a shake remembering that I have family members missing a child who, had she lived, would still be young enough to believe in Father Christmas. 

Boxing Day was better. Lockdown began but we did have Martha and Evie and their parents around. More Christmas food and then a round of Blind Man's Buff, Chinese Whispers and Charades. Is it just me, or are  Blind Man's Buff and Chinese Whispers maybe not terribly PC? If not, I've yet to receive the memo and anyway now that we are (apparently) no longer sophisticated Europeans these things don't matter. Who knows. Anyway - it was great fun and we laughed a lot which was heartening.

Bert spent today with Aunt Lizzie, I footered about doing little bits and pieces which included graping silage to cattle, a first for me. It is great to still be having new experiences in one's late sixties. I also watched the first episode of Bridgerton and cracked open a bottle of Malbec while it was still light outside.

Next year (if I'm spared) I'm Really Doing Christmas, fruit cake, plastic Santas, tinsel and everything. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Lockdown Christmas Eve

 I had my long-awaited knee X-ray yesterday. The appointment was at 2pm and, as I always like to be early, I presented myself at five minutes before the hour and was seen immediately and back in the van ten minutes later. The downside of these speedy appointments is that we wait much longer to get them and longer again for the results.

Yesterday's other noteworthy event was my first sighting of the Jupiter-Mercury Christmas conjunction. The big night was last Monday but it was too cloudy to see anything. The two planets are drawing apart but we were able to see it in our own yard and I was glad that I had the opportunity. We earth-dwellers do set a lot of store by these heavenly events even though the planets are always there and the conjunction is simply an optical illusion. Still, it was magical.

Thinking of it I was reminded of my obsession with the Hale-Bopp comet in the late 1990s. Bert’s father Johnny was fascinated with it too and probably first saw it from this yard in 1996. By the time the comet was at its most spectacular Johnny was dying. Earth’s view of Hale-Bopp peaked in April 1997, Johnny died less than two months later. When I think of Hale-Bopp now I feel sorry that he didn't get to see it in its full splendour. The point of my story - take every opportunity to gaze at the heavens.

Pearlie and Johnny

So today, it’s Christmas Eve again and this is my sixty-eighth Christmas. As always, things to do. I’ve wrapped all the presents available to me for half of my order from Berlin has yet to arrive. I spent most of the morning making stuffing for our one-legged turkey. Then at half-ten stopped everything to listen to Miss Evie and a multitude of musicians aged from four to eighty take part in a Christmas recording of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas organised by the BenedettiFoundation.

Evie is one of the cellists (white jumper) roughly in the middle of the screenshot. Only a close relative would bother to seek her out as the picture is so teeny, but she was there, she took part and I am very proud of her.

Tomorrow will be a quiet Christmas, just Bert, Hannah and myself and Bert will be spending a good part of the day with his elderly aunt in Kells. I expect I’ll have a few hours on my own. It will be different and I’m even looking forward to it a little bit. Especially the family Zoom call at 9pm. My one-legged turkey should be starting to sizzle nicely by then.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Lockdown Christmas Dec 18

One of the more interesting things about social media is how it gives one an insight into how other people are coping in the run-up to Christmas. There are pictures of decorated trees on Instagram, family WhatsApp photos of adorable five-year-olds in nativity plays, videos of folk in their reindeer antlers and hideous Christmas jumpers and exciting blogs about London flat dwellers having been delivered fourteen-foot trees when they'd only ordered a four foot bush.

This year is a Christmas like no other with most of the world coping with a pandemic and some of our governments coping rather badly. And here, in the British Isles everyone intelligent one of us, no matter what size our island, has the added concern of what is going to happen after Brexit. 

Still. Christmas. I'd promised myself that this year I would not add to my anxieties by leaving everything to the last minute and that I would shop online. It was all going rather well. Except for one order, something Christmassy ordered from a company advertising on Facebook. There was nothing to indicate that the items were coming from Berlin and it was two weeks before I heard a peep. A few more anxious days followed then joy, I got a notification that my parcel had arrived at Princess Royal DC. I had no idea what or where Princess Royal DC was but I suspected it might be a boat. Turns out it is a distribution centre in London. Six days later my parcel is still there and it contains items meant for nine different family members.

This place is massive. It is also 17 mins by postman's van from London Sister and just under an hour from Ganching.

Now Bert has taken to watching the news and bounces in to tell me snippets he thinks might be of interest, like,

Stanley McConaghy* was on the news again, tonight!


Looks like BT42 (our postcode) is the most coviddy** hole in Northern Ireland!


You're never going to get that parcel before Christmas. Just seen a report of the distribution centres in London. Mountains of parcels. They can't cope.

*A dog.

**Stricken with coronavirus

Monday, December 14, 2020

I'm Not Good With Old People

I'm not good with old people... which is strange, as I am myself old people. Nevertheless, there have been elders in my life that I have really cared about.

Let me list some of them,


Susan was our next-door neighbour when I was a young woman. She got me, I got her. I could talk to her about (nearly) anything. Young girls must have their secrets. She validated me. She was an honorary granny.


Paddy was Susan's husband. He was prone to falling asleep in his chair while Susan and I chatted and put the world to rights. For some reason, he always woke up abruptly if the conversation ever touched on racy subjects. Susan was not afraid to talk about sex and because I had become a fallen woman she considered me someone she could speak to on such matters. God love both of us, we were each as unworldly as each other, she in her 70s, me in my very early 20s.


It was a long, long time before Pearlie and I saw eye-to-eye and to some extent, we were always at odds. The problem was, we were both in love with the same man and, in her heart, she never believed I was worthy of her son.  


James wasn't even old. Maybe mid-forties, but he seemed old to a teenager. Looking back I think he might have loved me a little but he never, ever made me feel uncomfortable. He loaned me an old fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder and lots of recordings of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Howlin' Wolf, Lighnin' Hopkins and many other blues artists of that time. There was no text, just music. I had it for ages so I owe James a lot. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

On Writing

 Since lockdown, I've been making more online impulse buys, sometimes even whilst having a glass of wine. And instead of looking forward to what postie brings I rather dread it. Oh dear Lord, what have I bought now!

Today it was this book, Joanne Harris - Ten Things About Writing. I found it on the Guardian website and thought it might help with the blogger's block I am occasionally afflicted with. It got great reviews. Even Neil Gaiman had nice things to say. And Matt Haig too, who always says nice things.

I'm not sure if it is exactly what I was looking for as it seems to be about serious writing and there is even a chapter about agents. Maybe I should have waited for inspiration from Miss Martha, who has embarked on a writing career and is the process of self-publishing her first book. It seems she started the book yesterday and is already more than halfway through. I was allowed to read it today.

Her main character is called Enola which gave me a little concern as I will always associate that name with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Evie: Granny, do you know what Enola is backwards.

Me: Alone. Martha, do you know what else the name Enola is associated it. You might not have heard of it. It was the name of a plane, the Enola Gay that dropped...

Martha: Yes! It dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. I read about that in a Michael Morpurgo book.

Of course, she did. I am so glad that my all grandchildren love books. When I have WhatsApp calls with James and Emily in Norfolk they are always showing me their favourite books. If you want your kids to be smart, all you have to do is read to them, every night. 

Martha has her book all planned out with an introduction and chapter headings and six chapters completed. Her best friend is lined up to do the illustrations. Here is a taster.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Lockdown Christmas Dec 5


Christmas progress has been slow. Since my last posting my only tick-off the list has been wrapping and posting the Kerry presents, the purchase of three rolls of Christmas wrapping paper and ordering another half-dozen bottles of red wine. Does it count that I remembered A Lidl Christmas pudding at the back of the larder? From 2019 but I'm sure it will be fine.

Other than that it has been an uneventful week. Cold and dank weather too, which has played on my sore knees. I did get the appointment for the X-Ray which will be the day before Christmas Eve. There was a time when I'd have considered this timing to be inconvenient, there being so much to do in the days before Christmas. But not this year. This year the run up to the holiday will be quiet. There will be no visiting and no shopping. It will be wonderful.

Bert and I had this conversation this morning,

Bert, I read on Twitter that Trump has raised millions of dollars since losing the election.

How'd he do that?

Asking his supporters to help fund the campaign to challenge the results.

Millions of dollars you say?

Supposedly. Think of it this way. If every single person who voted for him sent ten dollars, he'd have over740 million dollars.

Then how much would he get if all the people who voted for him and whose votes weren't counted sent him ten dollars?

Probably around zero dollars.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Lockdown Christmas Dec 1

Full disclosure. I've already bought most of my Christmas presents and some have even been delivered thanks (or no thanks) to Amazon who signed me up to Prime without my knowledge. I cancelled it after the presents were delivered and I think that cost me an extra £7. As the presents were heavily discounted I'm not too worried about that.

Also, I've already had the Christmas beverages delivered, although I might have taken a teeny dip into that. It's the stress y'know. A friend of ours had the same delivery around the same time and the delivery man joshed him about the amount. Our friend explained,

It's for a Christmas party.

(This was before parties were verboten.)

The delivery man joked,

Ha! I'll be back again before Christmas.

And he was. The very next day.

But back to Day 1, or the day before Day 1. I had an amazing day yesterday. My knees (after the usual morning stiffness) were easy and I felt full of energy. Bert and I cleaned the hen house and considering that two weeks ago I was considering giving up chicken keeping due to being unable to care for them properly, this was very cheering. I actually managed more than 10,000 steps for the first time in three weeks.

I paid for that today. Very low energy. Finished reading Carol Shields Unless and watched Steve McQueen's Mangrove Nine and mainly lolled around. I did tend to my chickens and, as a treat, let them run around the yard where they scattered in all directions. When I counted them in tonight three were missing. It was a foggy, foxy sort of day. Hopefully, the three that are gone were oldies. My two favourites are still there and, of course, the two roosters.

My sole contribution to Christmas prep was fetching the festive wrapping paper from the attic.

And posting this picture. Holly de Cat when she was a little'un. It's my most 'borrowed' photograph on the internet.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Pearlie Me

My mother-in-law Pearlie had some rare ideas at which Nellybert used to scoff. These notions came word-of-mouth and I dread to think what she would have gotten hold of if she had ever been subjected to social media. There was the collecting plastic bottle-tops craze. She had heard that if she managed to collect enough of these, somebody, somewhere, who was desperately in need of a wheelchair would receive one. Then there was the time she asked Bert to get her WD-40 as she had heard that this lubricant, if worked into the joints would ease the pain and stiffness of arthritis. How we laughed. Well. We’re not laughing now. Not now, when both of us are tortured with our knees.

 A good few years ago Bert was invited to take part in a trial being carried out by one of Swisser’s PhD students. He filled in a long questionnaire and duly received a full-body scan. Afterwards, when the results came in, Swisser informed us that her student had reported that Bert had the bone density typical of an 80-year-old woman with osteoarthritis. How we hooted at Swisser and her tall tales. Well, we’re not hooting now. Bert has his knees and I have mine. He’s been harpling about for awhile now and my own come and go. A careful reading of this blog would date the first mention of the Nelly knees to 2004 which I’d quite forgotten. I’d have said it was seven and a half years ago when Rusty inadvertently caused me to twist my left knee in a food-related incident. In fact, when my GP recently asked me how long my knees had been troubling me,

 I replied, 

Seven and a half years ago, when the pig knocked me down.

I might as well have said,

I am a crazy person and there is no need to take me seriously.

My GP is quite capable but does have an imaginary friend called Jesus and is totally bereft of humour.

But, to return to Pearlie and her ‘notions’. Listening to her back then I was quite certain I would never have notions for I was a rational human being. I think back on those days and laugh at myself. This recent knee thing began exactly two days after I had my first ever flu jab. ‘Rational me’ would say that this was a coincidence. ‘Pearlie me’ is certain that the pain in my aching joints, was an obvious reaction to the flu jab. ‘Rational me’ listened to every word of advice uttered by the GP and spent several long weeks applying his gel, and swallowing his tablets and not feeling one small bit better for it. Then ‘Pearlie me’ recalled words of advice given months before by a neighbour who swore that Battle’s Udder Cream (for cows) had worked wonders on his sore back. Apparently, huge numbers of dairy farmers had noticed that the application of this cream had eased the pain of their arthritic hands as well as alleviating daily wear and tear on their milker’s mammaries. I pondered this but it was not until my own brother told me that he had tried it on a friend’s advice and found it helpful that I sent my spouse up to Killyless Stores to get me a tub of it. Conversation as follows,

Killyless Stores: Is it for a cow you’re wanting it? 

Bert: No. It’s for my wife.

Killyless Stores: We do have rubs for pains, that are meant for people.

Bert: No. She has that. She wants the Udder Cream.

I had it in the house for ages and didn’t use it. Carried on with the GP recommended treatments. Had sleepless nights waking up with cramps, ups and downs, and this went on for weeks. Last night, before going to bed I applied the cow cream to both limbs, took two paracodal and had an unbroken night’s sleep. Woke up this morning, refreshed, my knees hugely improved and needed no pain relief this entire day. Probably just a coincidence. But, I’ll be using it again tonight, just in case.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Bicycle Built For Three. Not



My sore left knee wasn't too bad today but in order to rest it, I planned a family meal that would be simple to prepare and easy to serve. Spaghetti Bolognese, followed by Pear and Ginger Crumble. This must have been a good year for pears because we have had two separate gifts of bags of delicious pears. The second lot, the ones I used on Tuesday did not look like much but they tasted great. There's a story about how they came to be. Our friend Ron bought the tree in Lidl a few years back. He carried it around in the boot of his car for the best part of a year then decided he ought to dispose of it. The pear tree, a mere stick, was propped up at the back of his flat for an entire winter, its root ball wrapped in hessian. He kept meaning to take it to the council dump. Spring came and his wife informed him that the tree was budding blossom. He decided to give it a chance and planted it out. The first year there was hardly a pear to be seen but since then it has cropped well, so much so, that he's giving them to everyone and it is even getting scrumped by well-dressed Englishwomen in silk scarfs and pashminas.

The other thing that happened on Tuesday was I decided to pop down to the village to buy some Ben and Jerrys to go with the crumble. I haven't been driving but reckoned I could manage it. And then as I was climbing into our van something went in my right knee and afterwards, I could barely walk. It's only starting to ease now. Bert and the girls did the ice cream run and I was glad that dinner was all prepared except for the pasta. Zoe sorted that.

Watched The Crown.


I spent most of the day lying on the sofa, reading and resting. Called Kerry Sister to wish her well on her upcoming major surgery.

Watched The Crown.


Bert collected Martha and Evie from school. I can walk now but would rather not drive.

Watched The Crown.


Kerry Sister's big operation. That's what Matty and her sisters would have called it. From five onwards my phone was never out of sight or hearing. The update came from my niece. It had gone well.

Watched The Crown


My knee was feeling much better. I even got a few non-essential chores completed. But it is boring not being able to go out, even if it is only to the local shop.

Katy sent us all this picture of Miss Emily in her Ireland supporter's outfit. Very cheering to see even though the game did not go Ireland's way. It was a win-win situation for Emily as she is half English, or is it a quarter English and a quarter Welsh? 

Finished Watching The Crown.


Long and tedious day. Clint came round and was tedious about Brexit. Still thinks it is going to be great. Doesn't like Biden. Says he is a Republican. What he means by that is that he fears 46 would support a United Ireland. Personally, I think the new President will have enough to be getting on with in his own country to be troubling himself about us.

Heard that Kerry Sister is taking little walks and hopes to be home in a few days. She has only one episode of The Crown left to watch. As I have none there is only one thing left to do and that is to update Nelly's Garden.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Fooling Around

It must be all of two months now since Bert got the new phone and Martha showed us both all the cool things he could do with it, like the panoramic view function. The girls preferred to take crazy disjointed photographs like this one.

And this one.

When it was my turn I took this shot of the front of the house. It was taken in the second week in September and there are a lot of incomplete projects in it. They are still mostly unfinished.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

What Do Old People Talk About?

I have been tending the Garden that is Nelly's for sixteen years now and must be well past the halfway point. If this blog could be kept going another sixteen I'll be in my 84th year. Can't see it. What do old people talk about anyway? 

Yesterday I was looking through old posts using the search word 'knee' and found that that I have had intermittent knee pain for at least seven and a half years and that it all began with Rusty. The following from Nelly's Archive.

It was last September when Rusty first knocked me off my feet and he has went and gone and did it again. I was carrying a gigantic bucket of goodies down to their paddock and while I was looking for a sweet, clean place to dump it out, Rusty all impatience, barrelled through my legs and lifted me off my feet. Yes folks, for a split second or so I was sitting atop his broad back and he just kept barrelling on and I knew for certain I was for landing on my arse. Wish I'd followed through on that one for all I'd have got would have been a soft if muddy landing. But I thought it best to try to stay on my feet and that was my downfall. People, when trying to extol the virtues of the smaller pig, say, "They'll only grow to knee height." That is all very well but they forget to mention that the 'small' pig will likely grow to around two foot wide. I know that when Rusty dove between my legs I ended up standing on tippy-toes with my legs well extended and it was when I tried to keep my balance that I twisted my knee.

Oh! The agony. At first I couldn't even put my foot on the ground. As I stood there one-legged, crying with pain and frustration I really had no idea how I was going to make it back to the house. After a few minutes I found I could weight bear but it was no fun and I made my way slowly and uncertainly to the house. Bert was, as usual, totally unsympathetic although he did help me off with my wellies which were very filthy indeed. (May, 2013)

I spent many months limping on that twisted knee but it did get better eventually. Nelly's Archive has this to say on Christmas Eve, 2013.

It's been another busy day. Lots of friends calling round and lots of baking and cooking. I felt a bit like Nigella except her kitchen is nicer than mine and obvs she has access to better drugs. All I had was some paracetamol for my sore knee.

And regarding that sore knee - I was striding through Cully yesterday when it occurred to me that my knee hadn't troubled me for well over a week. Within moments it had started to throb. I wonder if it had been sore the whole time but I'd forgotten about it? The mind is a very curious thing. (Dec, 2013)

I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories but when both my knees started to hurt just two days after receiving my first ever flu jab, I couldn’t help but wonder if my aching joints were caused by the jab. I’d not been doing anything unusually strenuous and had not hurt myself and now, both knees were equally sore. The aching and discomfort came and went. After a week I started taking ibuprofen during the day and paracetamol to help me sleep at night. I was careful not to overdo it. There were good days and not so good. Then it was not so good and bad. Today, after limping out to feed the chickens and put the bins out I put my left foot on the back doorstep and was unable to go any further. The pain in my leg was horrible. I managed to drag myself into the house. For hours I could not weight bear and of course I phoned my GP and had a telephone consultation. He thinks it is something called a Baker cyst which may have ruptured. I have a cream to pick up tomorrow and I'm already taking the medication he would have prescribed. (Brownie points for self-funding on that.) Appointment on Friday and I'm to rest a lot.

So, to answer my own question, this is what old people talk about. Hurtings and sorenesses. What the doctor said. And crumbling away.

I had this conversation with Matty eleven years ago when, compared to my ancient mammy, I still considered myself relatively young. The title says it all. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Mostly Up

What a week this has been. It was a heartbreaking one for Zoe and family that their little dog Miss Gracie had to be put to sleep. It was a wrench as she'd part of their family for fifteen years. But she got a special place in our garden. It was only fitting when we think of the numerous funerals that Martha and Evie carried out for all sorts of creatures from shrews to unborn chickens. This burial was far more real and painful.

Dave's picture

Evie's ninth birthday was on Tuesday and everyone put their sadness for the loss of Gracie on hold so that Evie could enjoy her day, the special birthday that will be her last in single numbers. I made supper and, though I say it myself, it was a big success meaning that everyone enjoyed it and had second helpings.

We did not discuss the election taking place in the USA although Evie had previously said that she wanted America to have a new President. And speaking of presidents I am pleased to say that throughout the Trump years I never (except once, when only Bert heard me) put the President word before the Trump word. And it felt like swearing in church.

Then I spent the rest of the week paying an unhealthy amount of attention to the news coming from across the Atlantic. It was worrying at first. No landslide for President-Elect Biden. Eventually, by Saturday all came good and Biden was called. I realised that I actually know far more about the American political system than I do about Ireland's and there's me hoping to become an Irish citizen with voting rights before I die.

Today is Remembrance Sunday. Is it only me or does this day seem to come round really quickly, even oftener than Christmas? I noted that the PM had made some effort and combed his hair and that Andrew of York was banished from the ceremony. All's as it should be.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Neat Eyed Division

 Another day, another birthday party.

Evie's. What age? solve the anagram in the title, or easier still, count the candles. She has a special birthday wish but we won't know for a little while if it will come true.

It was a real privilege to give you your birthday supper Miss Evie.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Dog Years

Ten years ago Miss Martha and Miss Gracie attended Bark In The Park in the Ecos Centre. Here they are discussing Bonnie's chances of winning Best Rescue Dog. Bonnie's there in the background with Ben Reed

Ten years isn't that long a time for a human bean. Miss Martha is looking at her last year in primary school. Ben Reed is learning to drive. Bonnie is long gone and Miss Gracie will be leaving us soon. Dog years just don't last long enough.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


 All was going well with the Radio 3 all through the night plan. The weird noises in my ears were bearable and I listened to some unfamiliar sounds and had good second thoughts about some familiar ones. For instance, the Carpenters - I'd no interest in them back in the 70s when they were all over the charts. They were too soft, too middle-of-the-road for my liking. But - Karen Carpenter covering John Lennon's Ticket To Ryde? Sublime. Even Lennon himself said the Carpenters did it better. I listened to a lot of Hannah Peel (no relation to John, as far as I know) and she played some interesting tracks, many the night I drifted off...

Then last night. I awakened at some early hour to a screeching soprano. Dear God! It was worse than tinnitus. I got up to turn the volume down and took note of what was playing, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier - Les Voyages de l'Amour. For research at a later date..

So I'm researching it right now, playing on YouTube as I type this. It's not as jarring as it was last night but it won't be going on my top ten operatic favourites any time soon.  

Sabine Devieilhe & Marianne Crebassa

Had it been these two lovely women that woke me from my slumbers, I would have found it a great deal more soothing. I did get back to sleep eventually and wakened at a reasonable hour from a horrible dream of an unmet essay deadline.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


 I've only recently become aware of a sort of rushing, hissing sound in my ears. It's always there, but it's low-level. During the day I don't notice it. It's at night, when I'm in bed that I hear it most and it has started to make me feel stressed. For at night it's SO LOUD.

That's one problem. Another problem is - what sort of image can I use to illustrate a blog post about tinnitus? Well. The noise in my head is not the only thing that is causing me anxiety. What about Covid-19? That's a huge pisser. Always there at the back of my mind, impacting everything. My nephew tested positive. He's OK, thanks be. My brother had a much-longed-for holiday cancelled for the umpteenth time. One sister has tinnitus far worse than me and she had an appointment with a specialist postponed indefinitely. A very close family member had her wedding cancelled at the last minute. And, most difficult of all, another of my sisters is currently undergoing treatment for cancer and as well as that anxiety, she and her family have to be extremely careful about shielding.

Anyway, here's my chosen image. A snippet from First Dog on the Moon which encapsulates another one of my current anxieties.

I did a bit of research on tinnitus and knowing that there is no point in seeking help from my GP as it is hardly that big a deal in the circumstances, I decided to find my own cure. Distraction. I take my radio to bed and tune it to Radio 3, turn the volume down and drift off to sleep. If I wake up (and I usually do) I don't think about the stupid noise in my head, I just listen to the radio. They play some weird stuff at night. Baritones singing Auld Lang Syne in Russian, tinkly things, obscure operas. This particular night after I'd wakened, peed and returned to bed there was a very shrieky soprano singing so I thought I'd change channels. Radio 4 had someone expounding the necessity for a Trump second term, so I moved to Classic FM hoping for a similar soporific effect. Head on pillow. What's this? A childish voice prates,

Grandad had two strokes, now he has vascular dementia...

Leap from bed. Back to Radio 3. Who wants to hear stuff like that in the middle of the night?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

I Discover The Murdocks

 In the year 1910, the village of Cullybackey boasted three blacksmiths. These days blacksmiths are thinner on the ground and, as far as I know, they tend to concentrate on shoeing horses. Am I wrong about this, Corinne Robb?

The painted backdrop suggests spacious country houses

My family tree searching (snooping) has thrown up one blacksmith. His name was Patrick Murdock and he was Bert's great-great-grandfather. I don't know where he plied his trade but it seems he lived in Dreen which is only a step or two down the road. The thing about Bert's family is that they didn't stay put. If they weren't heading off to Australia or Canada they were flitting back and forth from Scotland. Mostly they avoided England which was very sensible of them. When I first met Bert I thought him short of blood relations but my research (snooping) has proved me wrong. 

I happened to mention to him the other day,

Y'know there are more people on my side of the family got murdered than on yours.


But on your side there seem to be more criminals.


Your lot aren't very religious. We've got a good scattering of priests and nuns and a really big family of Independent Fundamentalist Baptists in Iowa.

Will you be visiting the Iowa crowd?

Wise up! Although I'm sure they'd make me welcome.

Nice lacquered cabinet in that picture. Photographer's own I should think.

Perhaps the worst thing I discovered so far is that one of his (same name) Scottish second cousins married a woman from Florida who is a fervent Trumpatorian. She's got the hat and everything. I haven't discovered one of those on our side. Yet.

There is always a chair with barley twist spindles.

I've still to establish who the mutton-chopped man and the serious child are. The lovely woman in the first picture is Bert's maternal grandmother. And I'm still working on the Murdocks and haven't got any further than 1911. They're leaving blacksmithing behind so I may be losing interest in them. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Worry Guts

Some of the photographs in this post will have little to do with its subject matter. They are merely there to pad it out and make it look pretty.

I'm worried that I'm getting too fat. This will never trouble Lily

When I have worries I bury them under an obsession. My current obsession is researching Bert's family tree. Tonight I am obsessed with his first cousins, once removed, that emigrated to Queensland. Bert is under the impression that these cousins are very far out relations because, in his family, emigration to Queensland changed first cousins once removed to fourth cousins, removed 9581 miles away.

My main worry is Covid 19. And because of that, I got my very first flu jab today which is not as stupid as it sounds because now, if I get flu-like symptoms, I'll know straight away that it is the White House Virus. The flu jab experience was interesting. It took place in a church hall and was well organised. Lots of masking up, social distancing, temperature taking and fellow boomers. I'm interested in other oldsters. Like to see how they are getting on. I listened hard when they were telling the assistant their dates of birth. You're ten years older than moi? I like the cut of your jib. Doing well. Not too tottery. We'd been asked to wear short sleeves. one dear hadn't got the memo and was encased in the tightest, white jumper in the world. She had to heft it off and expose her sensible white underpinnings. Out of decency, I averted my gaze but not before noting that she seemed to be wearing a liberty bodice. No doubt inherited from her own grandmother.

Must be time for another random photograph.

The third one along is Bert's father Johnny. The other two were keen gardeners who used to frequent our nursery. The one hiding behind the standard fuchsia was very keen on fuchsia. The guy in the middle was a rose man. The day that Johnny died he was in our yard first thing wanting to buy more rose bushes. I told him we weren't open for business, that Bert's father had died. He still wanted roses. I remember thinking him very callous. That photograph was taken three years before Johnny died, twenty-six years ago. They will all be gone now. The man behind the fuchsia was a sweetheart. That's all I remember. Not his name, just how I felt about him.

Twenty-six years later I can understand the rose man better. Death was unfamiliar to me, I wasn't used to it.

I have worries closer to home. They must be kept in a box with a tight lid and several bricks piled on top. Johnny, the third guy along, told me once that there is no point in worrying, it didn't make anything any better. I should keep that in mind.

This picture grounds me. What is all this worrying shit? Just grow your hair, tie it in a man-bun, wear a blue boiler suit, pile your two oldest grandchildren on to a rickety bike, and speed race around the house while they squeal with glee. 

And leave the worrying to other people. People like me. Now back to Queensland. 

Friday, October 09, 2020


Some people just love to dance. I am not one of them. Two left feet, self-conscious, ungainly. I envy the dancers. Given another life to live I would have put more effort into it and danced like no-one was watching.


Sunday, October 04, 2020


 Why are you so belligerent?

Said Bert,  speaking to me, his wife.

Belligerent? I think not. Belligerence is defined as hostile and aggressive, while I am only impatient and assertive. I have lost patience with stupid and am not afraid to say so.

And I am starting to realise that my husband is somewhat less feminist than I have previously given him credit for. 

But to lighten my mood here is a lovely picture of some flowers. I think they may be centaurea, rudbeckia and something else I cannot remember.

It's not Bert that is stupid, it's just that he is perfectly OK with some other people being stupid.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

One Gets To Wondering

 ...or, what's it all about?

Martha just wants to do dangerous tricks on Bert's old bicycle. By the way, she informed me that I have a bicycle. I'd forgotten.

Dangerous tricks accomplished, Martha felt it was time she learned to drive Bert's ancient Ford. 

 Bert probably learned on that same tractor himself. You'd hardly know it, but it was in for a recent refurb. There were great plans mooted but Bert settled for a few engine improvements and some new mudguards. All the better to sit on when the latest child learns to drive it. Uncle Joe said, and I quote,

Yes, learn on the wee Ford and when Bert buys a new Fendt she will be up to speed.

It will never happen. Mudguards are as far as Bert goes.

Meanwhile, Evie looks forward to her ninth birthday on the 3rd of November. She only wants one present, or should I say, president.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Look Back In Bemusement

 I have been toodling around with genealogy for more than twenty years now and often I'll leave it alone for years on end. Now that I have more free time I'm finding myself becoming obsessed. I'm at it at least once a year, and often for weeks on end. It doesn't help that my oldest daughter, at least one sister and several cousins are equally interested because that only encourages me.

Which is why I haven't blogged for over a week.  

The oldest daughter tempted me to try a free month on Ancestry and I really did think that would be enough. Instead, I found myself buying an extra month so I could get stuck into all those Australian, Canadian, and American kinfolks. It has been both frustrating and fascinating.

I spent several evenings digesting 1950s newspapers centred around the Trangie area in New South Wales searching for news of Bert's Robinson kinfolk. They led not particularly exciting lives holidaying in each other's homesteads all of which were extensively reported in the local paper. Also considered newsworthy were purchases of new Ford cars or the shooting of wild boars that had been worrying sheep. They all lived between Trangie and Dubbo and a trip to Sydney was a big highlight. Bert has relatives (supposedly) in Dubbo to this day as do I although I'm not sure if they know each other. Bert's lot moved from the North Antrim hills to become farmers and my lot travelled from Belfast to make their livings any way they could. I tracked, through Facebook, a descendant of those early Robinson farmers and he'd made the news and not in a good way. Living on a property, dry as a bone, where no crops have been raised in nearly a decade and trucking in grape by-products from the wine-growing areas to feed his cattle. It seems that my relatives in keeping clear of farming have had far better outcomes in life. 

One thing I have learned is that sites like Ancestry, like so much on the internet, cannot be trusted. Take those Dubbo relatives. About thirty years ago Bert's lot got word that a couple of young folk from Dubbo were in Ireland to seek their ancestral roots. It turned out that most of their Irish relatives were very elderly and because Bert was still on the young side we were encouraged to meet up. At that time in our lives, Nellybert were very sociable and keen on partying and the brother and sister from Dubbo were invited to a social gathering at which the young lady was very well-behaved and her brother anything but.

We met a few times and the final get-together was to be in Belfast. That never happened because although we were all in the city we couldn't make it to the agreed meeting spot in the Crown Bar as the Europa Hotel, which is opposite that pub took another hit that day. 

Back to the present day and with all the internet and Ancestry at my disposal I decided to find out how those far-out Dubbo cousins were connected to Bert. I found out that their dad had died recently and conveniently, he was in possession of an unusual forename so it was easier to trace his ancestry. I was very excited for Robinson is a common surname. But, what's this! Mr Unusual Forename, married to a Miss Robinson completely by-passed Bert's ancestor Joseph Robinson who had emigrated from Carnbuck to Trangie in his eighties and instead our so-called imposter cousins from Dubbo are descended from Mr George Robinson, convict of Manchester, England. 

Or maybe Ancestry UK got it wrong again. Like I said, frustrating.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Sunflowers and Ava

It's summer's last kick (really early autumn) and it's sunflower time again. As ever, I sowed too many and successes were few.

This one was a 12-footer growing in the polytunnel where it collapsed on to Zoe's sweetcorn patch. Too fresh and lovely to throw on the compost heap and far too heavy to arrange conventionally. 

These dark orange sunflowers are my favourites,,,

...while small tortoiseshells seem to prefer a traditional sunflower.

Sunflowers were a big favourite of Ava's too and because she died in the first weeks of September they will ever be associated with her memory. Exactly one year ago today since she was laid to rest in her hometown Antrim. 


Ava Grace Byrne 2011-2019