Monday, April 27, 2020

In Her Own Words

My mother at around eight years old. That would have been in the early 1930s. She looks feisty.

It is her anniversary today, and she's dead nine years now. She would have despised lockdown. No callers, no runs out in the car. I'm glad she missed it.

Matty would have been pleased to know that we were all thinking of her today. And as staying at home and baking is the new going out I am happy to be able to share (courtesy of Kerry Sister) our mother's recipe for boiled cake.

And this is Mum's recipe for wheaten bread which comes (I think) via Ganching.

I haven't got a recipe but I do have this piece of writing. I am certain that if Matty had ever got to grips with social media she would have had her own blog.


I was born on a farm near Cullybackey and when I was seven weeks old I was taken from my mother. A girl called Mary lifted me and put me in a cardboard box. She was taking me to her Dad as a present for his birthday now that he was retired. We arrived at Drumkeeran Road and Mary took me into the house and sat me down on the floor. The first thing I did was a piddle for I was very scared.

The big man looked at me and said,

You are not exactly the kind of a dog that I would’ve wanted but now you are here Matty and I will look after you.”

Mary went back home knowing her Dad was pleased with his birthday present.

Matty made me a good place to sleep in the wash house and that place was called “bed”. When the big man shouted “bed” I ran and jumped into it. That was the first word I learned and next was my name “Jess”. I was happy enough with that name because before I was just called “pup”.

My favourite thing was a hand brush and I gave it some abuse and before long when I had finished chewing it you would not have known what it was. I think Matty had to buy a new one and keep it hidden from me.

A lot of things were not allowed in this house like jumping up on armchairs or sofas but I got lying on a mat in front of the fire and it was very cosy.

The big man Seamus, who is Matty's husband, thinks I am a very clever dog but then collies are well known for being clever. When I was put outside to go to the toilet I would let them know I wanted to come in. I would go round to the front window and tap it very hard with my paw and they would open the door and let me in.

My first winter I saw snow for the first time and I was scared for I lost my sense of direction. I was glad to get back into the house for my paws were frozen.

One morning the big man and Matty went off shopping and left me alone. I slept for a while but when I woke I got bored and lonely. Now if I could open that back door I could go and look for them for I missed them. I jumped and banged against the door but it did not open but what I did do was push the bar across and the door was now locked from the inside. When they came back they could not get in. Matty had to come in through a window and get the door unlocked. I made them feel so welcome they forgot to be cross with me.

Sometimes Mary would bring her dog with her when she came to visit. To me that dog was an intruder and I showed it no friendship. I was also scared the big man and Matty might like it better than me.

One morning when I went outside and looked into the field beside us it was full of woolly animals that I had never seen before so I went to investigate. They started running up and down and I ran after them. I was enjoying the fun until Matty came out and shouted at me to come in. I knew she was cross. She went on and on about me chasing sheep until my head was aching. It did not happen again and for weeks after that if someone mentioned the word “sheep” I hid behind the sofa. It was a sad affair and me supposed to be a sheepdog!

Sometimes when the big man had some work to do in the fields he would take me with him and I would lie with my head between my paws watching what he was doing or sometimes I passed the time hunting for rabbits. We would both come home tired.

There is a very noisy road near us but I am not allowed to go there. One day I took off up the road and the next thing I heard Matty shouting and she brought me back. Her friend Agnes, had rung to tell her what I was doing and that put an end to my adventure. I will maybe try again sometime.

If Mattie and the big man were going away for a few days they took me to Mary and Bert’s to stay. I would follow Mary about and she was very good to me but I avoided the other dogs as much as possible. When the big man and Matty came back to collect me I got so excited I was barking and whining at the same time and I jumped up on them. They would bring me home and everything would be back to normal.

One night I was put out for my usual turn before bedtime and I thought I would go to that noisy road where I am not allowed to go and I had an accident. I was told later I was hit by a car. When I came round I was lying in the ditch with a very sore leg and feeling very frightened. I limped back down to the house, crept in the back door and got into my bed a very sorry dog. The big man and Matty took me to the dog doctor who stitched up my leg and then put some kind of plaster onto it. The people who work in that place were very good to me and told me I was lovely. I was that pleased I was all over them!

I don’t think I will ever want to go back to that noisy road again. Matty was right when she warned me against it.

Matty would take me for walks around these roads that have a lot of traffic and I would have to wear a lead. I missed the freedom of doing my own thing and running where I pleased.

I liked when some of the family came to stay and I got so excited when I saw them for I knew they belonged to the big man and Matty, even if they had not been home for some time I still knew them.

Some of the younger people who called would be a bit rough with me treating me like a toy. They maybe pulled at my tail or my ears. Many a time I was tempted to give them a sharp nip. Children should be taught by their parents to show kindness to all animals for we are not all vicious.

I have lived eleven years with the big man and Matty and I have always been loved and cared for but of late I get tired very easily.

Matty tells the rest of the story.

Early one winter evening Jess lay down at the front door and breathed her last. We were very sorry that Jess had died and we tried not to cry about her for she had gone so peacefully. She had given us so much happiness and she had lived a very happy life with us. No other dog could replace her. She was the greatest, our dog Jess.

I wrote this poem about Jess when she was here with us.

When the children had grown and flown the nest
And we thought it was time to be having a rest
But the days were long and the callers were few
So we decided that what we would do
We would get a little pup just a few weeks old
That would keep us company so we were told
Now this wee pup is fully grown
And many's the bad thing she has done
But we do not love her any the less
For she is the greatest, our dog Jess
She gives us all her love and devotion
But for good behaviour, she hasn’t a notion

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Natural World

The natural world is a great source of interest and comfort during the lockdown. Bert is growing vegetables and making compost, Hannah is studying the populations of birds and rodents that live in the wilderness outside her rooms and I am walking for at least an hour every day and taking an interest in everything around me. Like the huge plantation of hogweed growing at the top of our road.

In a matter of weeks that will be a jungle. I plan to document the progress.

Inspired by young naturalist Dara McAnulty I rose early to record the morning birdsong. Sadly, my efforts were marred by two noisy birds ruining everything, the two roosters, Fudge and The Other One. I don't mind the crowing of cockerels but it's not very musical. Next time I shall go to the woods.

I have the loan of Rachael's moth trap which is exciting. It was very cold last night so not very many, just nine moths and one very cross wasp. Most of the moths were Hebrew Character. This I know because of my photos and this excellent book.

Hebrew Character

I also collected a Common Quaker and an Early Grey and two unidentified. Hoping for more tomorrow morning.

But, by far, the most exciting encounter with the natural world was this evening. Hannah heard a thud on her window, checked it out and there was a sparrowhawk plucking and eating a wild dove. She called us over to see and it was an amazing sight, if not a little gruesome.

...nature, red in tooth and claw

I'd often seen those piles of feathers in the woods, evidence of a sparrowhawk kill, and now to see how it happens. Hannah said that after a while the sparrowhawk flew off with the remains of the dove, most likely to share with its nestlings.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

When Ziggy Met Judy

First of all the title of this post and the photographs contained therein have absolutely nothing to do with its content.

I read today that the police in Northern Ireland have been instructed that they may not issue fines to people in breach of lockdown regulations without seeking the approval of a senior officer.

There has been some concern that the PSNI have been overly zealous in handing out fines and of course, the rumour mill is in full swing. I heard that a person from Ballymena was fined 60 quid for going to Asda for groceries rather than a local supermarket. I'm inclined to believe that might have been a tale. Then there was a news story (or was it Twitter?) that reported a woman and her autistic child ordered out of their front garden and into their house. Who knows - but it seems harsh.

And only this morning Swisser, who lives on the coast, said that tourists and holiday-homers were buying up all the supplies in the local shop to such an extent that the shop owner phoned the police who attended the scene of the crime and ordered all the strangers out. Nice story. No doubt the cops informed the visitors,

This is a local shop for local people 

Another tale from today. People who live in the idyllic coastal village of Helen's Bay are being inundated by visitors from the city coming to walk on the beach. Some locals have shown their disapproval by smearing dog shit on their vehicles. Or so I've been told. I was also given the impression that these disapproving Helen's Bay residents have taken to writing Go Home on the outsider cars. In canine faeces. I'm torn. I don't want to believe this. Or do I?

What have you been up to darling and what is that brown stuff on your protective vinyl glove?
Just dog shit dear. I've been using my pointer finger to write, on a stranger's car, fuck off back to Belfast.
Oh. Do make sure you give your hands a good thorough wash. Supper's nearly ready.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Rage Against The Machine

I've noticed these past few days that while traffic has decreased (a lot) on our little B road, there is an increase in what is known around these parts as 'boy racing'. It must be hard on young bucks, no excitement in their lives, not allowed to go anywhere for fear of the PSNI flagging them down to ask, Is Your Journey Really Necessary? So, out for a quick burn around the country roads for a wee spurt of adrenalin.

Why not?

Because you are all annoying wee fucks in your souped-up cars.


One of you killed a wren.

Your deluded ma wouldn't agree with me but I believe that wren had more to give the world than you.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Reasonably Happy

This evening, in the polytunnel, a glass of wine to hand, three books on the go, three kinds of nasturtium to sow and two sorts of chilli seedlings to pot on and I felt happy enough.

Almost as if I wasn't living through a global pandemic.

But know what's really annoying me right now? Television advertising that is riding on the back of stayingathome and beinglockeddown. Hey, peeps! This is all a bit shite, you can't go out, God knows how long it's all going to go on and hopefully we wontdie because we'reallinthistogether and theresnoflour or tinnedtomatoes and isnttheNHSwonderful? And carerstoo, letsclap and sellthemabadge. But..... buy our frozen chips, our pasta sauce, our toiletries and all will be well. For we really do care about you.

I have made up my mind to avoid all companies and institutions that are providing soothing, family orientated advertisements. Call me cynical all you like but I don't think they really give one fuck about us.

On a lighter note, I've told Martha and Evie that when all this has passed we'll be having a two-night sleepover. Their mother?

Two nights! You can have them for a fortnight! 

Can't wait.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Lord's Work

The worst thing I read online today was that Mr Trump has decided to suspend funding from WHO.
The attempt to shift blame for (Trump’s) disastrous failure to protect his country, despite repeated warnings from the international body and others, could not be more naked or repugnant. (Guardian Editorial)
So, if anyone reading this is displeased that I agree with the Guardian’s view, and that I see the current (and unworthy) President of the United States as repugnant then feel free to stop reading, following or friending me and I’ll be happy to reciprocate.
Then the best thing I saw on the internet today was this bit of class drumming and weather forecasting by Owain Wyn Evans. According to an evangelical friend of ours Mr Trump is doing God’s work because he disapproves of gays.
And if God exists I’ll bet she thinks that Owain Wyn Evans is doing the Lord’s work here. As does Sarah Tanat Jones.

Sunday, April 12, 2020


Bert and I never go anywhere on Bank Holidays because we don't like crowded places. So this particular stay-at-home Easter is not that unusual for us. Yet I find myself yearning for outings, the beach, Belfast, Leitrim. It's all very well choosing to stay home but when one must stay home that is a very different thing.

I was supposed to bake a chocolate cake today but couldn't be bothered. We'd only have eaten it anyway. Instead, I'll hold off until Tuesday and share it with Zoe's lot. Zoe still comes once a week to work on her vegetable garden. She doesn't come into the house and we keep our distance from each other. Then I prepare something for her to take home and cook.

We had fish pie for supper, which I took a bit of trouble over and it was good. I still haven't got into this thing of taking pictures of food. Another little project that has fallen by the wayside is wearing all my clothes. These days I just put on comfortable jeans and jumpers and hiking boots or trainers. I am taking a lot of walks. A road one then a woods and fields one.

This little cottage is about 15 minutes away from where I live. It has been empty for many years and is derelict but I think it looks lovely with its lemony yellow door.

Nowadays everyone is out walking. I've spoken to more neighbours this past fortnight than the entire time I've lived on this road.

I prefer the woods for I don't have to say hello to so many people. I don't have to say hello to anyone unless it is to one of the animal skulls that we place on branches. This one is either a fox or a badger. It's been around for a year or more.

This one is new and also unidentified. Just remembered that I've got the jawbone and incisors in my pocket. I must remember to set them out to show Martha and Evie when I see them again.

Holly likes to go walking in the woods too. I say hello to her.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Little Things

The ceiling in my bedroom has cracked and is likely to fall down someday soon. I don't care. I will move into another room and the ceiling will get replastered and I will have the room repainted. I'm thinking of yellow or green. But I will have to consult with Marty for he is the boss of colour schemes at Nellybert's. He is also painter in chief. All this will have to wait until the lockdown is over.

I am not sure if the weight of ivy on this wall will pull it down, or whether it holds it up. This one sere leaf caught my eye while I was out there today.

Walking in the wood is the highlight of my day. I've still to catch sight of Foxy. Bert and Hannah see him often. I'm still waiting. I came upon his path today, well-trodden. There will be cubs somewhere in the wood.

I bought this primula on my last trip to a supermarket which seems like an age ago. Next year, when it flowers again I will remember this strange time. Today is the first day I have acknowledged feeling a wee bit scared of what is in front of us. It is at night when I sleep and dream that my fears manifest.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Loving Lockdown

It's only been a couple of weeks so maybe the joys of lockdown will wear off given time. But, be prepared, there are going to be a lot of extra bambinos come Autumn. Obviously, this does not apply to the likes of Nellybert, The Banjos or The Wees but it seems that forced togetherness is actually making some couples extra appreciative of each other's company. Take me and Bert, we're getting on famously and have resurrected little pet names we like to call each other. It's actually the same pet name. Nothing as commonplace as 'babe' or 'hun', for Nellybert like to address each other as 'dick'.

All three of us took walks in the wood today. Hannah and Ziggy went first. When Hannah goes to the wood she sees jays and foxes and woodcocks. When Bert goes he looks at the trees and plants even more trees. When I go, I look for evidence of what is being killed and devoured. I pick up bones and take photographs of fresh kills, mostly wood pigeons and magpies, the occasional pile of rabbit fur and, my favourite, owl pellets.

I'm building up quite the collection of owl pellets. When Martha and Evie can visit again they will dissect and unpack the contents. I'm looking forward to that.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Bit Fed Up

The Wood

Hannah has informed Nellybert that we no longer have to do food shopping. She will do it for us. It's a relief. We were in Lidls last week and it was an unnerving experience, too many people in the shop, and no social distancing possible. We were glad to get out of there.

London Sister phoned yesterday to talk plants among other things. She is working hard in her garden and is keen to start sowing but only has rocket and sunflower seeds and the local garden centres are all closed. I sent her some of my spare seed and stuck three first-class stamps on the envelope which is probably an overpayment but I didn't want to go to the post office. I'm not even sure she'll get them as I'm not sure about the postal service anymore. Maybe I'm just in a pessimistic mood these few days.

I really miss having a good supply of potting compost and those silly impulse plant buys I'm always making. And I miss not being able to buy bakers yeast. Who cares about toilet paper? I want yeast. I haven't been able to get any for over three weeks now.

Still. All small stuff. I could make my own potting compost if I wanted to and I've got the sourdough and soda bread options for baking.

Since this began I've been taking two walks a day. One government-sanctioned exercise period on our road where the traffic has eased quite a bit. There is a marked decrease in the number of fast-food wrappers that usually adorn our verges but around the same amount of empty energy drink cans and cigarette packets and now, far too many discarded disposable gloves. They are disgusting pigs, the people who throw their filthy crap out of car windows.

My other walk is at home so nobody's business but mine. We're lucky to have the wood and we all walk in it at some point during the day.

Bert just got me to watch a little short on iPlayer. It's called The Farm and the episode is entitled Dog. It really cheered me up, especially as we'd previously watched an episode of The Last Kingdom which was the opposite of cheerful with eye-gouging, torture and death in childbed. I might have to put Uhtred Ragnarson on hold for a while.