Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Tree Sparrows

Seeing as this blog is useful as an aide-memoire I really should be at it more often. So, let me tell you all about the highlight of my day. I got to see the pair of tree sparrows that have been hanging around Hannah's back yard.

Tree sparrows have been in decline over the years mostly due to changes in farming practices. Yet, for some reason, populations in Northern Ireland do better than anywhere else in the British Isles. I hope the pair we spotted will breed here. The place they have chosen to visit should suit them well - among old and overgrown trees where humans rarely step, plenty of seed plants growing nearby and old walls in which to build nests. And the added bonus of Hannah's seed feeders.

Too much tidiness is a bad thing. Wildlife doesn't like it. I will never forget the story a friend related about his next-door neighbour power hosing swallow's nests out of his eaves. Because the swallows 'made a mess'. Pure ignorance.  Actually, it's too kind to call it ignorance. It was an evil action.

Tomorrow I will take a cleaning cloth and vinegar to Hannah's window on the wood. All the better to watch and photograph the birds.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Books and Graves


It did not take me long to finish Deborah Orr's memoir. It was honestly and brilliantly written, no holds barred. It's sad that she did not live to see it published. You know, apart from newspaper pieces, I've never actually read Will Self, even though it was he who first gave me the idea of reading multiple books simultaneously. Self claimed to be reading 50 books at a time. Twelve is plenty for me.

I haven't yet opened Redemption Falls but I am looking forward to it.

On Zoe's advice, I am working on a map of animal graves as we buried our 17th dog last Friday. That was Tess, who belonged to some young friends of ours. Tess was a rescue dog (dumped by the roadside) and had been with her family for thirteen years. She had a good life with them.

If it wasn't for this blog I wouldn't be able to remember the dog burials. Currently, they are as follows,

Polly, Molly, Danny, Penny, Chip, Jock, Rosie, Peppy, Paddy, Charlie, Bonnie, Holly, Maeve, Frank, Roy, Gracie and Tess.

Polly, Molly, Danny, Rosie, Paddy, Charlie, Bonnie and Roy belonged to us.

Penny was Pearlie's dog.

Chip (Danny's mother) and Maeve belonged to a friend.

Jock and Holly belonged to the Wee Manny family. 

Peppy belonged to another good friend.

Frank was a regular visitor here. He belonged to the Banjos.

Gracie was the much-beloved dog belonging to Zoe and her family.

And Tess was part of the Wee Manny family, next generation.

In case anyone may be thinking that we are very unfortunate with our canine companions, let it be known that these interments took place over a period of 23 years.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

On Reading

 I would love a day out in Belfast. I'd get off the train at Botanic and head towards the Ulster Museum where I'd spend an hour or so. Then I'd visit the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine where I'd take lots of photographs. After that (lunch would be fitted in somewhere) I'd stroll down towards the station calling into all the charity shops, vintage stores and second-hand bookshops where I'd buy at least three books. Not too many as books are heavy and there would be one in my bag already that I'd read on the train journey. And on the way home I'd probably be the only person in the carriage reading as everyone else, even my fellow oldsters, will be stuck in laptops and smartphones. When I was at university some years ago, long before the ubiquity of mobile devices, every solitary traveller would be reading, even if it was only a magazine. I used to try and catch glimpses of other people's books and judge them. Of course I did. 

The majority of the books on my shelves are second hand, some were even bought in the old Smithfield Market more than half a century ago. That is where I sourced most of my Steinbeck novels. Many of those paperbacks were ancient when I bought them and are crumbling to dust now. I cannot bear to part with them unless I can replace them with another copy in better condition. A few I bought new in Palmer's Newsagents in Antrim. I also bought a few books of poetry there from The Penguin Modern Poetry range. All those poets are dead of old age* now but they were pretty modern then. Can you imagine being able to go into an ordinary newsagent nowadays to buy American classic literature and volumes of poetry?

Since lockdown, I've been buying my second-hand books online and it's like this. Ganching or Mikey or somebody else will blog or tweet about a book and I'll think to myself, Barbara Pym? I've never read her. And minutes later I've ordered a Pym from eBay.  

There was a copy of Star of the Sea on the shelves for years which I'd never got round to reading. Then I heard an excerpt from it on Radio 4 Book of the Week. I decided I needed to read it but it had disappeared. I must have given it away. On to eBay and bought it again. Bert read it before I got round to it and we both enjoyed it. He'd already tackled Redemption Falls but said Star of the Sea was far better. 

Motherwell replaced the O'Connor in the reading basket. I'm already well into it will probably finish it by the end of the week. 

I'm only a few pages into The Devil's Chimney which Bert has just finished. He liked it but said he is not sure what was going on. Hopefully, I'll be able to explain it to him when I'm done with it. The Devil's Chimney was a Botanic Avenue buy. The Muriel Spark came from god-knows-where. I'd not read Spark since my early twenties and only remember The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means (which I must re-read). There was something about a shared Schiaparelli dress that was (I think) emerald green.  Perhaps it wasn't. Anyway - A Far Cry From Kensington was very enjoyable and I'm off now to my favourite bookseller on eBay for another Spark.

*Lawrence Ferlinghetti died only as recently as January 2021.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Solace and Sorrow

Is there anyone who hasn't turned to the natural world for comfort during this awful pandemic? Even though the frigging virus is also a part of that same natural world. 

I was feeling really flat yesterday and forced myself to go do some polytunnel pottering to cheer myself up when I heard the pheasant squawk. 

Must go fetch the camera and see if I can capture it. Will be a change from my millions of pictures of finches and collared doves. But when I got back the pheasant had turned into...

...a hare! The first one I've ever spotted around here. I took a few quick shots then fetched Bert. He just managed to see it before it disappeared into the wood. He said it has been decades since there have been hares in these fields. 

It really cheered me up to have seen it and I spent a contented half-hour sowing nasturtiums and beans. 

No more sightings or squawks from the pheasant so I decided to take a dander towards the wood, camera at the ready. No pheasants here, just a quick glimpse of a red fox disappearing into the trees. No photograph to prove I saw it. No time. Now I was even more delighted. Until I considered that, although Fox is a beautiful animal, it will be hungry and pheasants and hares may need to take care.  

It is only a small sorrow that the fox might eat the foolish pheasant. It would be a rare thing if it killed an adult hare but foxes will kill and eat entire leveret populations. 

Bert and I were discussing this when he remarked,

Y'know, I haven't seen any buzzards around for a while. I wonder if some sheep farmer is poisoning them?

Last week we'd found a dead buzzard at the edge of the wood which Bert thought might have been poisoned.

My mood plunged. What if someone was systematically poisoning the buzzards? I felt hatred towards that someone. And couldn't stop dwelling on it. The country is full of sheep at the moment and some sheep farmers believe that buzzards kill newborn lambs. They don't, although are known to feed on dead or stillborn lambs. 

So there we are. Nature isn't all primroses and songbirds. It's horror and death and bastard farmers flailing hedges, cutting down trees and poisoning birds of prey.


I did eventually see that stupid pheasant. But not today. When I told Hannah about the fox she said,

Oh good! There will soon be some interesting bones in the wood.

I called her a ghoul.

Hannah's shrine of bones

The buzzard's feet

Red dot: dead buzzard
White dot: Hannah's bone shrine
Blue dot: Where the hare sat
Orange dot: The fox


Friday, April 09, 2021

Niggles and Twinges

One of my sisters was of the opinion that our late mother, famously hypochondriac, experienced most of her mental angst through her body. I fear this is becoming true for me too. For instance, I have had a recurring pain, more of a niggle really, on the left side of my head. This will be a brain tumour. A twinge in my left nipple, this must be cancer. Only this afternoon I found myself very weary and went for a lie-down. I had an ache in my upper left arm. I felt my pulse and it was racing which must be a sign of a heart attack. I counted the beats of my heart in 60 seconds. Seventy bpm. Googled this and found it to be normal.

All this hypochomdria distresses me. It's not the fear of a terminal illness but the dampening of pleasure in everyday living.  And I know what is causing it. Too much time on my hands and stress about Covid, lockdown and the return of unrest (riots) to our towns and cities. I almost miss Trump as the focus of my anxieties. This is all getting a bit too close to home.

Well, perhaps they'll cool their heels tonight. Out of respect for their Queen's bereavement.

In the meantime, I have birds to watch.

And these two to cheer me up.

Saturday, April 03, 2021


 On Tuesday morning Bert asked me if I'd like to go with him on a plant delivery to Broughshane. I thought about it for a moment or two then said I would. The chance of an outing is rare enough these days. For those who aren't familiar with this corner of North Antrim, Broughshane is a village famous for its floral displays. I was told by a former resident that those who don't keep their garden nice are not well-accepted in the community. Which may, or may not be true. 

Bert was bringing James McNeill a good selection of climbers, camellias, an acer and a magnolia stellata in bloom. I remarked to him as we were bringing them in that they'd not sit long. While we were in there I spotted some gorgeous lithodora 'Heavenly Blue' and thought I'd quite like three of them for planting in a big pot. Yet for some reason, didn't buy them.

That afternoon we got a call from Broughshane. Plants all sold can we have the same again? So next day we were back and I was intent on my lithodora. I was disappointed to see the plant stands almost empty and no Heavenly Blue. I enquired and was told another delivery was due. 

Next day was Thursday and we were having Martha and Evie all day. I picked them up in the morning and drove straight to Broughshane. Still no lithodora. We bought lots of sweets, the ingredients for an Ulster Fry and a new kettle. I reserved three lithodora 'Heavenly Blues'. When we got home Bert said McNeills were calling. They needed another delivery.

So, on Friday I made the fourth trip of the week to Broughshane. No lithodoras. As we were leaving I was accosted by a woman wanting all the gen on the magnolia. I told her as much as I knew. I believe she thought I worked there and I was beginning to feel that way myself. On the way home I decided that if I'd missed out on the lithodora I was going to have Bert's last magnolia stellata. And so it was. 

All my own work. I did all the weeding, digging over and planting myself and went to bed last night tired and happy.

I still haven't given up on the lithodora. This is one I had a few years back. It didn't survive.