Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another Visit to The Home Place

My two younger sisters and my niece are up visiting from Kerry and Leitrim respectively and yesterday we went to the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy. I've had the pleasure of accompanying seven close family members over five visits and can report that there has been an 85% high approval rate.

Kerry Sister runs an AirB&B on the Dingle Peninsula and she said she will be recommending the centre to any of her guests who are planning to visit Up North.

My take is that even if Seamus Heaney is not one of your favourite poets you will still get a feel for the sort of place that made him. It is one of the best places to visit in Ireland.

And, as well as The Home Place being fascinating, moving and so worth it, the people who staff the centre are a delight and the coffee shop serves delicious food. Just go there and see for yourself. I'll be back soon myself and hope to be bringing two more family members with me. Martha and Evie will definitely love it.

I have not been paid for writing this blog post.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Incey Wincey...Aaargh!

My mother was a bit of a hypochondriac, overly concerned with her health and I have always tried not to be but, as a body grows older it gets harder and harder. My hypochondria, such as it is, manifests itself in the middle of the night if, for some reason, I find myself unable to sleep. Or, even worse, I am wakened by some inexplicable discomfort. Like this morning, when I started from sleep because of a sore and itchy left hand. At first I thought I'd slept on my paw, it was stiff and slightly swollen and worst of all itchy beyond belief. I scratched and scratched which only brought a moment's relief. Anxiety kicked in. It must be an allergic reaction. What did I do? What did I eat? I scratched some more then remembered I had some antihistamines left over. Anything to relieve this damnable itching.

Within half an hour the itching had eased but my hand was still stiff and sore. Still, I managed to fall asleep and did not wake again until nearly ten o'clock. My hand was still swollen but the itch was gone. I felt down, firstly because I had slept too late and secondly because my body was a wreck and I was going to end up allergic to everything. What had I ate? There was the blackcurrant wine but I'd had it a few nights ago and no reaction.  Oh yes, pine nuts. I'd added pine nuts to a rather bland salad and as the packet was still sitting out I'd had a few more spoonfuls after supper. I'm trying to ease off on sugar (afraid of diabetes) and when I do that I always turn to nuts. No more pine nuts, no more pesto. God, this was getting depressing. I might even be allergic to dairy or wine and where was it going to end? Living out the rest of my days eating a dreary diet of milkless porridge, green vegetables and whatever first class protein my stupid immune system permitted me.

I plodded on with my day. Sowed some seeds to cheer myself up. Peter called in. I was recounting the story of being woken up, hand on fire, batting of my husband's puerile jokes about the duvet in flames when Bert said,

Probably something just bit you.

And then I remembered, the last time my hand felt like that was about ten years ago when a spider I was rescuing from a sink bit me on the finger. Knowing what it probably was made me feel a lot better because I can still eat pesto and drink blackberry wine. Unfortunately for the spider clan I might be less careful when cleaning and vacuuming for I'm always watching out that I don't hurt my eight-legged friends. But from now on I'm going to look the other way and hoover the fuck out of them. Imagine it, a decent wee woman sleeping away and Incey-Wincey lowering himself on to her pillow and the good wee person accidentally brushes him with the back of her hand and next thing allergic reaction. And if that doesn't deserve a good run of Hettying  I don't know what would.

Actually, I probably will still be nice to spiders. Getting bit once every ten years isn't too awful. And I can still drink blackberry wine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


I had an argument with Clint this afternoon and I didn't even know it was an argument until he stormed off in a state of high dudgeon. My conclusion was that this meant the argument had been won by me.

The conversation started, as it so often does, on farming.

Bert drew my attention to a compliment that Clint had received from another farmer on his success with calf-rearing. I too, was complimentary.

We then went on to discuss Bert's imminent retirement from the cattle trade. Clint posited that Bert's experience in livestock was 'a disaster'. I took exception to that as he had managed to keep all cattle alive that were meant to be kept alive so it was hardly disastrous. Clint countered with Bert's failure to get cows in calf. I suggested that this was a disappointment rather than a disaster. Anyway, there was a little more in this vein and then the talk turned to the weather.

Everyone was in agreement that the weather was a real disaster. Clint said that the last good day we had was the Twelfth of July and I said that there had been the odd good day here and there but he insisted that Orangeman's Day was the last decent day we'd had. I expect he hoped that this might enrage me as I am a Shinner but I let it go. Instead I mentioned that I'd read a report in the Guardian that studies indicated that the Gulf Stream is now at its weakest since around 400AD. "And how would they know that," says Clint. I said, "Science."

Bert interjected by saying it hardly mattered what the weather was going to be like as Trump and Putin are going to blow the world apart. I think I have mentioned before that Bert leans toward a very simplistic and pessimistic world view. That led to a discussion about Trump which is a subject Clint and I usually avoid, him being an admirer as well as a card-carrying Brexiteer.  I said that if Trump's blustery tweets did turn out to be more effective than old-fashioned diplomacy then I for one would not be unhappy. Clint took this as a capitulation, that I had changed my tune on Trump. I took an opportunity never before open to me to ask him why he had supported Trump even before he'd taken office. He trotted out the usual. Breath of fresh air. Successful businessman. I took him to task on that one. He countered with one of the richest men in America, funded his own campaign... I picked him up on this,  for Trump only self-funded to a point... and the next thing Clint's storming off - which is where we came in.

And I've been feeling edgy ever since.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Botanic Gardens, Belfast

Clear blue sky in the Botanic Gardens. 

Miniature daffodils in Botanic Gardens, The McClay Library in background.

Glorious magnolia beside Peter Froggatt Centre.

Solanum Capsicastrum 

There were a lot of visitors in the Palm House today. I overheard a North American man ask one of the staff what the orange-berried plants were. He was informed ' Soranum, a relative of the pepper family'.

I took the opportunity of letting the visitor know (out of earshot of the person who had misinformed him) that it was 'Solanum'. With that information he can figure out for himself that the plant he was admiring is actually a member of the tomato and potato family. I love being a pedant.

Monday, April 02, 2018

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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Wrong Jelly and Other Stories

The girls are here for a sleepover and earlier today Bert took them grocery shopping. We needed some special ingredients for a sweet making session and for pizzas. He came back in a rage,

That Fullans is the worst shop in the world! They had nothing we wanted, No pepperoni, no anchovies, no mozzarella, no dislocated (sic) coconut! I'm never going in there again and all the staff do is stand about the aisles gossiping to each other!

But he proved himself a hero. Went to another shop, the trusty old O'Neill's, and got everything on the list except he bought packet jelly instead of ready made in a plastic tub. Jelly wasn't on the list but Martha convinced him that it was an essential. That's all very well but if the grandfather then fails to make the jelly and if at bedtime all a child wants is some jelly then Houston We Have A Problem.

So Martha and I jumped in the van and drove to Cully and bought the right kind of jelly. She was wearing a striped onesie and I forgot my partial denture but, who cares, we were on a mission. On the way back we went the long way and listened to Keltic Storm's version of  Mairi's Wedding three times. I love that me and the girls are so uncool we are actually cool and I'm sad that sometime in the near future they'll be letting me know that saying cool is no longer cool or even a thing.

This is the recipe book we are using for the sweets. It belonged to their mother when she was only a little bit older than they are now although this wasn't the cover of Zoe's book. If it had been I believe it would have been thrown out long ago. Both Margaret Powell and her pupil look terrifying. The early seventies can still send shivers.

Sleepovers mean bedtime stories. Tonight we had Madeline, a great favourite of the girls and of mine. The books are a pleasure to read, short and bitter-sweet. Tonight's story was about the time Madeline had her appendix out and how all the other girls were so envious of  the attention she received.

After that it was stories from real life.

Who do you want the story to be about?
What age do you want me to be? Forty?
No! A wee child.
OK. I'll tell you about my first day at school.

So I did. And I told them about Malachy's first day at school and how kind Mrs Magee was and how mean Miss O'Neill was and about the time George didn't do his homework and stood up and read an essay he was supposed to have written at home and stood there looking at two blank pages and told the story out of his head and how I admired his nerve and then Martin told Cassie on him and George got the ruler and how I lost respect for Martin for ever and ever. I explained how Mrs Magee was always Mrs because we respected her but how Cassie was called Cassie behind her back because we did not respect her because she was mean and cruel.

After that I tried to think up some stories about their Mum when she was a naughty little girl but I couldn't think of any because she was a rather good child. There is only one and as Martha said,

Don't tell us about the time that she cut out pictures from a book and glued them on the wall and said the dog did it. We've heard that one a million times!

They were freshly painted walls, though.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Last Picture I Posted On Flickr #1

First of all, I don't know for sure who the photographer was. The subjects are my mother, my brother and my brother's daughter and the occasion was London Sister's summer wedding in North London, twelve years ago. You wouldn't think it to look at the photographs but Matty was feeling poorly that day. It turned out she had shingles which was affecting her face. She was very stoic about it and did not succumb to complaint until she was back home.

That was Matty all over, a bit of a hypochondriac at times, she whinged about the little things, a hack on her thumb, a touch of cramp, but she could be remarkably brave about the big things. I'll never forget the day she received her terminal cancer diagnosis. The house was full, lots of us around, everyone shocked and filled with faint dread and yet, there was Matty apparently enjoying all the attention.

I sat down beside her on the sofa and squeezed her arm,

How are you doing Mammy?

She turned to me with a very open expression on her face and said,

Och, sure I always wondered how I would die!

Not the answer I was expecting at all.

People often say after someone dies from cancer that they 'lost a battle, bravely fought'. Well, Matty didn't fight at all, she just got on with it. She was brave, though.