Friday, May 28, 2021

The Disappearance of Helen

 Bert and I were at loggerheads yesterday because I suggested it would be a good day to spray some of the nettles in the orchard. I hadn't mentioned this to him for ages yet he went off on one. Apparently, I should open my eyes for he’d already done it. I was raging at him. The usual passive-aggressive non-communication. He is pass-agg, I’m just agg. Called him a dick and gave off an unfriendly air.

After a few hours in gardening mode, I dressed properly and went to town where I bought cleaning stuff, including an ostrich feather duster. There was still time left before collecting the schoolies which I spent in charity shops. In Habitat for Humanity, I found two small Goebel vases, featuring Rosina Wachtmeister cats. They had a wintry theme but who cares, cat ornaments are for life, not just for Christmas. One of them had a note stuck to the bottom which read,

Bought on holiday Austria Zell am See, 17-24/6/06.

See! June! That person knew that Goebel cats by Rosina Wachtmeister aren’t just for Christmas.

At the Harryville shop, I bought two gardening books, 50 pence each and a box of magnetic scrabble tiles for sticking on the fridge. I thought that Martha and Evie might have fun with them. One pound.

I was still too early for the pickup so read my Hilary Mantel but it was so deliciously warm in the van I almost slept. Pretty much the first thing the girls said to me on arrival was, Can we get ice cream? I was happy to agree, I wanted some too, so off to Costcutters.

The girls did enjoy playing with the magnetic scrabble tiles and decided to put their names on the fridge door. Evie suggested that Martha put ‘Arthur’ as this is what her cousin James calls her. Martha protested and I don’t know for sure what she said to Evie but she received a kick for it and was most upset. Somehow it all blew over and they thought it would be funny to put different names so rather than Martha and Evie we had ‘Arthur’ and ‘Steve’ and Bert got ‘Fart’.

Meanwhile Ziggy had decided that the feather duster was his mortal enemy. I waggled it at him and he lunged and plucked one of its feathers and took his prize upstairs to worry. It was found under my bed in a very sorry state.

I told Evie that buying cleaning equipment makes me feel virtuous as if I’ve already cleaned the house. Then it occurred to me that because most of the stuff I bought comes with a recommendation from Mrs Hinch, the cashier must have thought I was a dick. Even though, for all she knew, I might have been buying it for someone else who actually was a dick.

Later on, we had a call from Clint. Apparently, there were a lot of hens wandering the road in front of the primary school. Anything to do with us? I checked and all my hens were home. Except for Helen. I spent an hour looking for her but no joy. And to think that only a few hours earlier Evie and I had been in the run hand-feeding her RJ Kerr soda bread.

Perhaps she'd turn up in the morning. Perhaps she choked on the soda and died. Perhaps Foxy…?

But she did not turn up in the morning.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

New Arrivals

Hannah's part of the yard is a Tanglewood of native trees, a few damsons and a large Chilean lantern tree (Crinodendron hookerianum). Obviously, birds love it and Hannah will usually see new arrivals before I do. Her bullfinches called with me today, for the first time this year and the spotted flycatchers were 'spotted' yesterday. It looks like the flycatchers won't be nesting in their usual spot above the front door. The roses got a hard pruning last autumn when we had the outside painting done. They're eyeing another site in the eaves of the long shed and hunting insects from the vantage point of my washing line. I may have mentioned before (many times) that we don't cut the grass at the front of the house anymore. 

A bullfinch in the sumach tree. The sumach is just coming into leaf and I feel slightly sad that in a few weeks time I will not have such a good view of the birds.

The spotted flycatcher on my washing line. I will not mind if it shits on my laundry.

The bullfinch and flycatcher are not the only new arrivals around here as there are lots of young birds around. Starlings, robins, wrens, jackdaws, thrushes, blackbirds, greenfinches and goldfinches and all the common tits. The sheds, trees and hedges are full of breeding birds. The swallows have arrived so they'll be making a start and I am hoping for long-eared owls again. Zoe and the girls camped in the woods last night and this morning she watched tree creepers feeding their young as she lay in her sleeping bag.

A young robin.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Another Rainy Day

Another bloody rainy day. I like a bit of rain now and again, as all gardeners do, but this is all a bit too much. It's windy as well. I brought some house plants to my local charity shop today as I have decided to concentrate on large plants and offload many of my smaller specimens. The plants donated were all self-propagated, an aloe vera, a tiny dracaena, a pink pelargonium and a spindly begonia. The wind blew the blossoms off the pelargonium as I was walking to the shop.

Of course, I bought stuff when I got in there. A glass citrus juicer and a James Wong gardening book.  Cost me one pound coin only. I needed the juicer as my old one was damaged and I wanted the James Wong as I enjoy his columns in the Guardian and Observer. His take on growing ones own is interesting. Why grow fruit and veg which is easily accessible and cheap at the greengrocer's? 

James Wong will be going to bed with me tonight as will Maggie O'Farrell and Tana French. Might be a bit crowded as Holly de Cat will be there too.

Fred enjoying a spot of birdwatching.

A young and rather soggy siskin.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Things Bees Know


I had a good weekend, busy and productive. Planted tomatoes and lettuce in the tunnel. Weeded like a demon. Prepared ground for new plantings, potted up my bay tree and planted another sumach. Did a lot of birdwatching. There are a lot of juveniles around. Ate a ton of chocolate, made carrot and coriander soup and scones and baked two cakes. Gave away a lot of eggs.

And speaking of eggs, we gave half a dozen to MM and he gave us 30 empty egg boxes and a jar of chilli jam. Even better, we gave another six eggs to EC and he gave us a nuke of honey bees.

And speaking of honey bees (and other pollinators) I found out from DR on Twitter that the reason the centres of some of those forget-me-nots are white, rather than yellow is because another pollinating insect has scoffed all the pollen. Bees know this, so they only go for the ones with the yellow centres. How did I get to the age of eleventy-bus-pass without this knowledge? 

Friday, May 14, 2021

A Lucky Escape


I set the trap out last night, the first time this year. The catch was paltry, three moths, none remarkable.

For fear of rain I had it in the open doorway of the shepherd’s hut. A fat grey squirrel ran off as I went out to switch off the light. Perhaps squirrels eat moths? I am always fearful of finding a blue tit inside the trap for, apparently, this is not unknown. No tit in the trap but feathers on the sunroom floor. I am in the habit of leaving a door open when it gets light so dogs and cats can access the outdoors and not be bothering me as I lie in bed, drinking coffee and finishing Shuggie Bain. I think a bird came indoors and would have been an easy catch for Fred. And to think he had the cheek to miaow for his breakfast.


Some hours later Bert heard a floofing noise behind the sofa. He pulled it out and up flew a great tit. Caught it and released it to the garden. The poor thing was exhausted and sat perched on the witch hazel long enough for me to capture a few shots. The tit, maybe a juvenile, had outwitted the cat and lives to fly another day. This made me happy.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Deadheading and Other Matters.


The tulip was almost past its best and since that picture was taken (a week ago) I chopped off its head. 

How did I get to be this many years old and not know that spring bulbs, especially narcissi, should have their blooms cut off when they begin to fade. This is to prevent them from making seed. Gardener's Question Time educated me on this point several weeks ago and now I know why my daffodils don't do as well in their second and third years. I don't know if it applies to tulips but I decapitated them as well. Just in case.

I am expecting amazing results in Spring 2022. If I live that long.

Martha took this picture of me feeding Helen, my favourite hen. Judy and Ziggy are terribly jealous of her. Martha thinks I should change Helen's name to Henlen. She came up with a plan to photograph and name all the hens. I am to start a Word document as a record. We armed ourselves with a camera each and headed into the run. Oh, she was full of ideas. Martha loves naming animals.

I urged caution. Perhaps best not to name them all at once. If we rush into it I'd only get mixed up. So far we have,

Helen or Henlen, so-called because she is blind in one eye. For I was taken with the story of Helen Keller when I was a girl.

Jacqueline - a very posh hen we got from Clint.

Sugar - named by Martha after she hatched from an egg laid by her mother Flour, a bantam long since dead. There was another hatchling she named Fudge but he sleeps with the foxes now.

The other 'rooster' who might actually be a hen or gender fluid, Martha named Artemis. Martha reads a lot.

And a pale hen is to be called Peach.

The other six chickens are to be named another day.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Matty's Tales

Matty told me she was chatting the other night to this old guy Davy about wee still. Davy was telling her that when he was young he was visiting friends in the Glens of Antrim and the young fellows of the family took him to meet the local poteen maker. When they called at his house they found the poteen maker taking the first run of the still. He drew off a cup to taste it, but before he drank, he threw poteen on the ground to his left and right. Davy couldn’t understand why he’d done this and asked his friends the reason. Everybody laughed at him for his ignorance. The still-maker told him that the first cup drew off the spirit must be given to the fairies. Failing to do this would bring the worst of luck.

Then Matty told me this story from her childhood. A neighbour of hers from Creggan, a very superstitious woman, was going on a journey to Belfast. Before setting out she sprinkled oatmeal on her head. This was supposed to protect her from the fairies. Matty said that this was the stupidest thing she had ever heard in her life. “What did she think was going to happen? Did she think the fairies were going to come down from the Cave Hill and carry her off?

She asked me if I believed in fairies and I told her that I wouldn’t rule them out. The fairies I’d believe in would not be the Victorian, gossamer-winged sort though. They would be much more likely to be malicious little creatures with a look of Gollum about them.

(I wrote this blog post 15 years ago, changed a few words here and there and added the photograph of myself and Mammy sitting in her kitchen. I don't remember who took the photograph. I'd guess either Kerry Sister or Zoe.)

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Fagin & O'Farrell

Both these novels were set in Edinburgh, where both authors now live although O'Farrell was, according to Wikipedia, born in Coleraine only a mile or twenty down the road from here. 

Luckenbooth was a brilliant read, and not at all what I expected. Highly recommended for those who like a bit of horror laced with magic realism.

I was slightly disappointed by The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. There was something dislikeable about every character with the exception of Esme and even she did not seem fully realised. 

The next book up was another Maggie O'Farrell on loan from Zoe. I've barely begun it.

The too-read pile has got higher still. Charity shops are open again and I visited the Oxfam shop on Wellington Street. It has the best book donations in town. I bought a Matt Haig, a David Sedaris, an Anita Shreve and an Alice Walker. And when I got home the postman had delivered a Muriel Spark. I have resigned myself to dying before I've read everything I want to read. 

Wintry day today, sharp showers and hailstones. Bert says it is to freeze tonight. Please let my peach tree be kept safe from the frost. Those baby peaches are very tender.

Peaches are not the only babies around here. We have lots of little robins hopping about, exploring their surroundings. Please, please let my baby robins be kept safe from the cats.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Snark and Sup


Today supposedly marks 100 years since the creation of the Northern Irish state. Our council planted several trees in commemoration. Hopefully not placed too near a bonfire site or they’ll not see the next 100 days, never mind years.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing that the council next door planted an entire wood. They always like to go one better.

The anniversary means little to me, coming as I do from the nationalist side of the road. However, it did offer an opportunity to say to Richard and later to Dave,

Happy anniversary, Protestant.

They both took it in good part.


Winter Cress

This time last week I did not know what that plant was. It just sprang up in the yard, growing through stones. This week, thanks to a plant identification page on Facebook, I know it is winter cress and that it is an edible. I included it in tonight's salad. 

Monday night is Gardener's Supper although the only gardener was Zoe. The girls were riding bikes round the yard, Dave was fixing up the camp and Bert was at the neighbour's assisting with a difficult calving. A two vet delivery, I'm told. Bert held the cow's tail.

The Camp

Maya and I fixed dinner. It was a Chorizo and potato stew and a chocolate sponge. Both served with sour cream. 

Maya, photo by Martha

Saturday, May 01, 2021

How I Pass The Time


We humans are not the only ones who have been locked up inside our homes because of a highly infectious virus. Outbreaks of Avian flu have required Helen and the other hens to stay indoors too. Now chicken restrictions have been lifted and they are now free to wander as long as they don't leave the yard.  

So I brought Helen over for a visit. Since she lost sight in her left eye she is the one that everybody hates and is not allowed to perch with the other girls. So I spoil her, make sure she gets (more than) her fair share of the treats. When I go into the run she runs over and allows me to pick her up and stroke her. 

Now that our own lockdown has eased I am considering a trip to Belfast. I've had two jabs of Pfizer and should be OK on the train with my mask and sanitiser to hand. I might do it this week.

We celebrated the easing yesterday with a backyard pizza party with friends. Sorry Italian people but this was the best pizza I've ever had. It was my once a week evening for wine so a great evening all round. The only thing was - ten o'clock came round and I was ready for bed. Looks like late night socialising is over forever.