Sunday, May 31, 2020

Another Sunday

 I have been getting up ridiculously early these past few mornings to deal with my light trap. On the advice of MothsIreland I'm rising at sparrow's first fart to male sure that the birdies aren't eating my moths for breakfast. Sparrow's first fart is earlier than 4am.

After turning out the light, and safeguarding the trap by stuffing a tea towel into the opening I return to my cosy bed. The first picture is a Beautiful Golden Y which is only distinguishable from a Plain Golden Y by extra goldiness and glitteriness. I had it verified on the aforementioned MothsIreland group on Facebook.

These are two moths found in the trap this morning. I have yet to name them but know that they are male and female. I placed them in an identification pot and put them in the fridge to show Bert but they had separated out before he got up and were released into the wild whereupon they went their different ways. Guess it was just a one night stand.

I realised that I'm becoming obsessed with moths when Norfolk daughter posted some photographs from a woodland walk she took with her children, my actual grandchildren, and I found myself enthusing about her picture of the cinnabar moth on a bracken frond before I liked and commented on my actual adorable grandchildren.

A kerfuffle in the sunroom. This one, a juvenile jackdaw, flew into the room and couldn't find a way out. Is very handsome. Only seconds after this picture, the bird was off and away.

Bert and I spent the afternoon dismantling the greenhouse. It has been in that spot for slightly over forty years but it is time for a move. The place where it stands is earmarked for something new.

Two skinny blokes in faded jeans. 

We were glad when H turned up. After the glass was removed and stashed safely Bert and H and Hannah and Nelly took a corner each and moved the frame to its new spot. 

Moth trap out for the night. I'll miss the greenhouse for checking the catch but...

Watch This Space!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Is Sobriety Next?

If this lockdown was happening in the drear, cold months I don't know if I could bear it. If I didn't have Bert, the dogs and my moth trap I don't know if I could bear it. Today is Bert's birthday. I made him this cake.

Perfect ginger cake

Felicity's perfect ginger cake
 Felicity's perfect ginger cake. Photograph: Felicity Cloake

100g butter, plus extra to grease
100g dark muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour
4 tsp ground ginger
175g golden syrup
3 tbsp ginger wine
2 free-range eggs, beaten
Walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
150g candied ginger, finely chopped
75g icing sugar
1 piece of stem ginger, to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 23cm loaf tin. Cream together the butter and sugar with a pinch of salt until fluffy. Sift together the flour and ground ginger.
2. Pour in the golden syrup (the easiest way to handle the syrup is with a lightly greased spoon and a silicone spatula) and 1 tbsp wine and mix to combine.
3. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, then gradually mix in the flour. Finally, stir through the fresh and candied ginger and spoon into the prepared tin. Level the top and bake for about 50–60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
4. Allow to cool in the tin. When it's completely cool, make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and remaining ginger wine and drizzle over the top of the cake. Slice the stem ginger thinly and arrange down the centre of the cake.

This is, without doubt, the most delicious ginger cake I've ever made. Tonight's was the third attempt and there were adaptations, as there must be, during the lockdown. I used dried ginger, and fresh ginger but did not have candied ginger. Instead, I used ginger in syrup from Sainsburys. Hannah, who shops for us in these trying times, does not bake and does not 'get' baking ingredients and this ginger in syrup was a substitution but it is delicious, much nicer than candied. The recipe also calls for ginger wine, I substituted cider which fizzed the batter a little but it worked.
There was cake on Tuesday too as we always celebrate birthdays on the day the girls come out. This year photographs were outside and socially distanced. You can tell by the expression on Martha and Evie's faces that they weren't entirely happy with that.

This cake was coconut and lemon. Check the candles if you want to know how old Bert is. The blog title (an anagram) also tells that tale.

Another delightful distraction is mothing. Rachael is my mentor in this and when I mentioned that I had found a Green Silver-lines in my trap a few mornings ago I was not prepared for her reaction. Apparently, it is quite the find. 

There is nothing so fine as coming across a beautiful moth in the early morning. Quite sets one up for the day. And swanking about it on all the moth and butterfly groups on Facebook and Twitter feels so much better than angsting about the donkeys* that lead us. 

*Apologies to actual donkeys.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Foxes, Moths and Bluebells

My legs hurt, and have been sore now for sixteen days. Most nights I wake up with cramp, sometimes very painful. Because of this, I am taking shorter walks, usually 30-40 minutes in the woods every evening. Holly de Cat likes this walk too as do the dogs. A few evenings ago we saw Foxy there, handsome, fast and red as fire with a white-tipped tail. I've noticed too, a few patches of bluebells here and there. Maybe in years to come, they will spread and it will become a bluebell wood. I'll not see it but am glad to have seen the possibility of it.

I realised today that having one's own woods and bluebells puts us on a par with the likes of Mr Cummings although I suspect his family's woods covers more ground and has many more bluebells. Ours is far from the road and it would be unlikely that anyone would ever spot us breaking lockdown there.

Disappointing catch in the light trap this morning. Eight White Ermines and nothing else so I was pleased when Bert called me to ask what the moth on the sunroom door was. He held some white paper behind it and I got this photograph. It's not very good but a picture helps with identification. It might be a Common Pug. I'm not sure. The trap is in a different part of the garden tonight so maybe I'll see something interesting tomorrow. It sure gets me out of bed in the morning, checking, taking pictures and recording. Even with my stiff crampy legs and even before I make coffee.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Oatus Interruptus

Finished Porridge Bread

I'm right in the middle of preparing porridge bread when the phone rings. The person on the other end has a drawly, disinterested Southern English accent.

Hellooo, Mrs Moser? 
This is Dylan. I'm calling about your washing machine insurance.
What about it?
It's due to expire.
Is it?
Yes. How's your machine going?
Brilliant. No problems.
That's goood. Now, as I said, the insurance is about to run out and we can...
Who do you work for?
Ah! UK Appliances...
I hope you don't mind me saying but this sounds like a scam.
It is a scam. You can hang up now.

So I do. And I don't even have washing machine insurance. Next time I'm going to play the scatty old lady, not able to find my purse etc. for my credit card details, then when I've wasted a good ten minutes of his time I'm going to shout into the phone, YOU CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Diary Of a Young Naturalist

Brimstone moths aren't that uncommon, yet I'm always pleased to see one turn up in the light trap. When it comes to the natural world, yellow is my favourite colour, closely followed by blue.

So it is only to be expected that the cover design of naturalist Dara McAnulty's first book appealed to me greatly.  Dara is from Northern Ireland, he is sixteen years old, he is autistic and he is passionate about the natural world. He started blogging about four years ago and I discovered his blog about a year in. It was inspiring and will give this young man a lot of credit for re-awakening my own interest in nature. I'm expecting his book in the post tomorrow and am excited to read it. Thank you, Dara.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

I Wish There Could Be More Hugs


Bert and I went on an exciting road trip yesterday. Garden Centres are open again and everyone wants Bert's excellent clematis. We had a quick drop off in Antrim then it was off to Portglenone via Randalstown. Bert once worked for a fellow who went via Randalstown no matter where he was going and, as far as I know, he didn't even have a special friend who lived in there. Bert hadn't planned to go that way and was actually going to return to Cullybackey! He didn't know that Randalstown is the gateway to the rest of the world but I persuaded him that it would be exciting. It takes very little to please us in these days of lockdown.

We went via the Largy Road and as we came closer to Portglenone started to see knots of people standing at gateways. What's going on? The only thing we could think of was a funeral. Funerals are different now. Services are private and only a very small number of people can attend the graveside. There can be no wake. But, as we got closer to the village the crowds grew larger. There must have been a hundred or more people gathered outside the old chapel across from the forest. Social distancing was non-existent.

Being nosy, I looked up Funeral Times on my phone. The man whose funeral had just taken place was a member of a large and well-connected family. He was a retired school teacher, had a brother a priest, played Gaelic at Uni and was well thought of in his community. There were a lot of people at his funeral but if it hadn't been for coronavirus there would have been hundreds more. I hope they will all be OK.


Zoe tells me that Evie has given up on personal grooming and rarely washes her face or combs her hair. She still brushes her teeth (I hope). I saw her today at a 2-metre distance and she looked pretty fine to me. I would have loved to give her a cuddle and sniff her shiny brown hair.

She went for a walk in the fields with Bert. It's easy to keep a distance there. They were looking for the pigs. Bert said they tramped around for at least 45 minutes but no sign of Rusty and Lily. It was only on the way back that he remembered that he hadn't actually let them out and that they were still snoring in the shed. Poor pigs. They must have been peckish. I gave Rusty one of the naans I'd made for last night's supper. Waste of flour really - they weren't very good. Rusty did not agree. He thought they were so delicious that he followed me and tried to come into the house looking for more. Evie was appalled.

James and Emily

Katy shared a video of James and Emily playing in the garden. Emily is so jolly and never seems to stop laughing. I got a pang about that. They are all supposed to be coming to visit in August but how can we be sure that it will still happen? Everything is up in the air. Plans mean nothing. We live for the moment. As Emily does.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Walk In The Woods

I only intended to take a short walk this evening because I'd been busy, weeding the garden, dealing with scutch grass, baking, checking the hens every hour because those fuckers aren't doing their job. One solitary egg today, not enough for the amount of corn, layer's pellets and leftover porridge youse are getting, not to mention all those shot brassicas I'm hauling into you. Then there was sorting and shelving the non-fiction. Today I did horticulture and Irish, then I made dinner, then I opened a bottle of compensatory lockdown, had one glass and went for a walk in the woods.

Bert said,

Do you ever check out those new trees I planted?

I said,

No. Not for ages.

Bert, Hannah and I all go to different places in the woods. I hack around Dave's Camp, Bert moseys around the deciduous end and Hannah favours the witchy, swampy bit.

I went to Bert's newly planted trees, tramped through the witchy, swampy part and was heading to Dave's Camp when I realised I'd lost my phone. Backtracked - no phone. I went home, borrowed Bert's phone, went back to the woods. Of course, in my distracted mood, I tripped on a tree root, fell over, narrowly missed a nettle patch and said out loud,

Of course, that was going to happen!

When a body is in one's sixty-seventh year, a body does not spring up from such a fall. Instead, a body takes stock of where it is, where the nettles are and how it is going to shift itself to a standing position. Afterwards, it might think to itself, what would Madonna have done in such a circumstance?  One decides that Madonna would not have arisen from the ground with any more dignity than Nelly, and would certainly have cursed far more than Nelly did. Madonna is not used to nettles, nor would she appreciate them as a food source for so many moths and butterflies as Nelly does.

I was ten minutes from home and it was time to employ Bert's phone. It is a simple gadget and as I am accustomed to a smartphone I find it decidedly un-user-friendly. At least I am number one in his contacts list which makes things easier. This wasn't always the case. It irritated me that the Aarons, Alans and Arthurs came before me so I changed my handle on his phone from Mary (my real name) to A Wife. I ring A Wife and I hear a little tinkle in the distance. I walk towards it, the tinkle is louder, and there is my phone hiding in a patch of dead branches. If I could I'd have taken a photo of the wee darling but Bert's phone takes shite photographs.

You know, losing my phone was worth it for the pleasure of finding it again. I went home, met Bert on the way who was wandering out to help me look for it, went indoors, poured a glass of wine, set up the moth trap, put the porridge loaf in the oven and watched an episode of Normal People which is a whole other story.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Bluebells And Other Matters

No Portglenone bluebells for me this year, instead of the blue carpeted forest, just this tiny little patch of bluebells a field length from our house.


The field across the road

We had a small loss this week. A pair of robins had a nest in the polytunnel, built inside a flowerpot that lay on its side on a potting bench. Bert had arranged other pots around it so that it would be difficult for cats to get near. If we were quiet and still we'd see the robins carry food to the hatchlings. I hadn't looked but Bert had peeked and reported two young ones. A couple of days ago the parents stopped coming and when Bert checked the nest was empty. The other pots hadn't been moved so it might have been raided by a rat. The robins will have to try again.

I didn't watch Mr Johnson's broadcast to the nation last night but reading online reports this morning it seems not to have gone down too well. Apparently, we are to trust in good, solid British common sense. Speaking for myself, I'd prefer some good, solid leadership.

Saturday, May 09, 2020


This handsome beetle is a cockchafer, no friend to gardeners, especially those who like a nice smooth lawn. Discovered in the moth trap this morning, it rested for most of the day and after climbing to the top of a wild strawberry launching pad flew off with a loud drone. Sadly I did not capture that but will know for the next time.

Notice that the birdsong is not yet drowned by the noise of the traffic on the B96 but it's getting there. Every day there seem to be more cars out and about. Their journeys cannot all be essential.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

A Return To The Dead Rat Tour (For Ben)

I'm cheating tonight whilst staying on the rat theme. A post from two years ago.

Steeped In Folklore

There is a particular kind of child that I am very fond of and that is a child who has a morbid interest in dead and disgusting things. I was that sort of a child myself.

Years ago, when Ben was only a lad, we found a milk churn in the shed that had housed peanuts for wild birds. A few had been left moldering at the bottom of the container and a rat had climbed in and eaten its fill and then found that it was trapped. This happened more than once. By the time Bert realised what had happened and it was the sweet stench of dead animals that alerted him, there were at least five rats in there and only one was still alive. And what were we going to do with it. I said that the surviving rat had suffered enough and we should let it run free. So Bert upended the barrel on a piece of waste ground and Ratty shot out like a bullet zig-zagging to a place of safety.

The remaining contents of the churn consisted of mouldy peanuts mixed with a mummified rat, a couple of cannibalised rats and an out an out stinking rat. Ben was fascinated. It was a Bank Holiday and we were having people round and, as each group arrived, Ben wondered if they would be interested in seeing what had come out of the peanut barrel - we called it Ben’s Dead Rat Tour. I was slightly surprised at the number of folk who actually took him up on his offer.

I was reminded of this on Good Friday. The previous day Martha and I were exploring and I took her to see the calf’s placenta that Bert had hung on a tree not far from where the Dead Rat Tour had taken place a decade earlier. Like the gory little beast she is, she was delighted with it. She asked me why Bert had hung it in a tree and thanks to a conversation with Bert and some internet research I’d carried out I was able to tell her. In all the years that calves have been born here I hadn’t realised that Bert hung the afterbirth in a tree. Why? Because his father did it. Why did his father do that? For mine didn’t. Because it was lucky.

Apparently Johnny had a particular thorn tree he used but that’s gone now so Bert threw it over another tree. It was hanging fairly high so the dogs couldn’t reach it and Ziggy really wanted to. For it was his persistent barking at the afterbirth that drew my attention to it.

It seems that Johnny's habit of disposing of the cow's cleaning is an ancient tradition that is carried out all over the world. In Germany, the country folk hung the afterbirth on an apple tree to ensure that the cow would give birth again the following year. In Yorkshire a mare’s placenta was hung on a thorn tree to help the foal to thrive. Looking further, in South East Asia, Africa and North America human placentas were also placed on trees to bring good fortune.

Searching for an image I found on Flickr a photograph of a Tree Hung With Cow Placenta To Encourage Bovine Fertility And Milk Production, Kanadukathan Chettinad, India. I wish I’d got my shot of Tree Hung With Cow Placenta Because That’s What Da Did, Cullybackey, Ireland but I was tardy and a fox made off with the tasty treat.

I missed out on the rat photographs too. Sure, I took them but they don’t seem to have survived the occasional computer crash.

Martha and Evie had friends over on Friday and, following in Ben’s footsteps, she gave them a tour. First the new calf, called April and doing well and look, there is the afterbirth hanging on a tree! Shall we get closer and poke it with a stick?

The day of the Dead Rat Tour barbecue. Ben is taking his tour to the right of that shed in the background. Sadly there is no photograph of the placenta but it looked rather like a red and cream satin ballgown all tattered and torn.

Monday, May 04, 2020

A Rat In The House

Warning! Graphic Content Which Some Readers Might Find Upsetting.

When Hannah had a mouse problem she did not want to use conventional mouse traps that injure or kill the little varmints. A humane mouse trap was researched, purchased, baited with bread and raisins and placed under the kitchen sink.

Over a period of two weeks she trapped over thirty mice and, as each little prisoner was taken outside and tenderly released, it became apparent that they were coming straight back in again. That bait was so tempting especially as she was now offering up Ziggy’s doggy treats. Over time we noted that the mice were looking exceptionally well-nourished and sleek.

It was around then that our cats Holly and Fred rediscovered the joys of hunting. They were even eating the mice, leaving nothing behind but tails and intestines.

By the time we came upon this scene, there was nothing to be done to save the mouse

Then - they upped their game. Nellybert were pottering around the kitchen when we heard a high-pitched squeal. Big Fat Fred had brought in a baby rat with intent to murder. Bert wasn't having it. He shouted at Fred who dropped the ratling and ran off.

Close the doors! We’ll catch it and drive it outside!

We didn’t catch it but we drove it – to the safe haven underneath the kitchen units. I thought Bert had fitted them tightly but it seemed not tightly enough to prevent a baby rat slipping under to safety. (Everything is always Bert’s fault).

So. There is a rat living in our house. I am appalled.

I say,

A rat in the house! You know, if this had happened to my mother she’d have been straight on the Ballymena bus, into the Housing Executive to demand a new house. And in those days she’d have got one!

Bert goes quiet. I decide not to make a big thing of it and go outside to water my seedlings. At the back of my mind, I am thinking – there is a rat living in my house.

When I go back inside I find that Bert has a plan, a good plan. The rat is only a baby. It will fit into Hannah’s humane trap. So it is sorted, and already baited with one of Ziggy’s yummy dog treats.

Several hours later I check the trap. And there is the ratling, scoffing on doggy snacks and somewhat perturbed to find itself without an escape route. I take it outside and release it. I expect it to head for the wilderness behind the shed but makes a poor decision, doubles back and scampers into the shed.

Bert was all concern when I told him.

There’s no escape route from that shed, nowhere to hide.

So out I go again to rescue ratling and find it cowering in a corner. A bit of a chase and off it goes. Rats are fast, even baby ones but it did have a good energy boost from that dog treat. It runs to the top of the shed, into the tractor house and behind a pile of compost bags. To safety.

Wrong. Holly de Cat pounces and again, foolishly, I manage to chase her away. She cannot have been that interested for she follows me, strolling carelessly, into the house. The ratling is safe, for now, and gets to live another day although the cats might get it in the end. If not, it begins a dynasty of very lucky rats.

Soon afterwards I received a series of ads on social media. How on earth do they know?

Friday, May 01, 2020

Sorting the Books

It has come to this. Over the past few days, I have been reshelving my books in alphabetical order. So, when Zoe enquired if I had a copy of Normal People, I was able to tell her that I had and that it would be a cinch to locate it as I had just completed the 'R's.

I'm on the 'T's now. S took up a lot of shelf space as did M. The downstairs bookcase accommodated A-N and it looks like the Billy bookcase in the bedroom will hold O-S. I will have to steal Bert's bookcase, install it in a spare bedroom and hope that it will do V-Z. There are no 'U's but a good few 'W's.

My books reflect my years.

I own more volumes by Murdoch, Steinbeck, Atwood and Lessing that any other author. In the second league would be Tyler, Trapido, Faulks, Lodge and Munro.

Whilst engaged in this task I thought of books that I used to own and no longer have. P.G. Wodehouse, G.R.R. Martin, lots of Stephen King, C.S. Lewis (adult), a nice old copy of Titus Groan, illustrated. The only ones I regret are the Wodehouse.

There are two shelves of children's fiction, again showing my age, E. Nesbit, Joan Aiken, Alan Garner, Arthur Ransome, John Rowe Townsend. Then there are the other books, the non-fiction, the reference books. They will go in the main bookshelves where five shelves have been left empty. I don't think they'll all fit. A cull might be necessary.


I was wrong about U. I have two Updikes.