Friday, 29 June 2012

Midsummer Bonfires and Beaches

Last Saturday, the 23rd June, was Bonfire Night.

It still seems strange to have a bonfire on practically the longest day of the year, but after living in Ireland for so long, I've grown to love it - although I have to say, I miss the fireworks!
It is St John's Eve, the 23rd June, but before the Catholic Church hijacked it, of course Bonfire Night was really about celebrating the summer solstice.

Perhaps some people still say prayers over their crops, or take ashes from the fire to spread on their land as a blessing. People may still eat 'Goody' - a dish made with bread and milk, sugar and spice; but these days,  Midsummer is mostly about family get-togethers, having a bit of a knees-up and lots of food and drink.

Of course, bonfires are illegal in Ireland, but as a country, we don't let a little thing like that stand in our way.
On Bonfire Night, the plumes of smoke arise like signals in every direction. And just as in England in November, you would have seen the bonfire sites being stacked with old timber and pallets and goodness knows what, for days in advance.
We don't need old pallets for our bonfire. It's the one chance - well, there is always Hallowe'en of course - to burn a mountain of garden waste that has accumulated like the Tower of Babel for six months or more.

Other bonfires, other years

What about composting, I hear you cry!

Well - composting is all well and good, but for one thing, the heaps don't get hot enough for long enough to do the trick.. Woody prunings (of which we have bushel loads) never breal down imto compost, and, well - this is the north west of Ireland for goodness sake! - in this climate it takes about a squillion years, and more manpower than we can muster, to turn all our waste vegetation into fine, dark tilth.

There was one year when I thought we really had cracked it at long last.
Joyfully I spread my crumbly, black gold over the vegetable beds, and stood back in proud admiration.
Three weeks later I had a fine, healthy, infant lawn.

However, this year we didn't have a bonfire.
It rained - really rained, as you may have read on my last post - right through to Sunday morning.
It did it again last night, and the night before.
We measure rain very scientifically in this household.
It's how full the dog bowls are. Model Dog has an old frying pan for her bowl (handle removed), and this morning it was full to the brim. Again.
Mind you - I think we are lucky - my great friend, DodoWoman (like CatWoman, but less extinct) had to

rush to Belfast today to rescue her tenant from her flooded property. I don't think she had to go in with a rowing boat, but it was all pretty dire nonetheless. And Cork - scene of ghastly floods in 2009 - has been washed out again, poor city.
So having no bonfire is a small price to pay really.
It just means the Tower of Babel still stands!

Our favourite beach

But all is not woe.
Despite the teeming night and soft morming, this afternoon has been a real summer's afternoon.
Sunshine and clouds and the warm breath of the south kissing midsummer softly goodbye.
It was a pleasure to be outside.

We went to our favourite beach and rambled along it for two hours. There was no one else there.
I gathered shells as we drifted along, and the In-Charge found a tangled lump of washed-up rope which he happily sat and unravelled.
The dogs swan and rolled in the sand and were too lazy to chase the seagulls.

The beach yields trophies

Eventually we got to the rocks at the far end.
'Have you, by any chance,' I asked the In-Charge, 'got a picnic hamper in your jacket pocket?'

I was quite ready to sit there for another hour, drinking tea and eating cake before moving seamlessly onto a bottle of white wine, chilled nicely in one of the rock pools.
Sadly the answer was no, but it didn't really matter.
Just being there was enough.
We both felt as unravelled and liberated as the In-Charge's skein of rope.

What a sky!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Nippy Dipping in the Briney

My alarm went at 5am on Sunday morning.
A tad early for me, especially as I then discovered that the weather forecast had lied, and it was raining.
However, while I may not have leapt exactly, I got up, drank last night's glass of water (I could have just stood outside with my mouth open), loaded the car and set off, munching a flapjack in lieu of breakfast.

It was not the inspiring drive I had envisaged. I'd imagined driving into the dawn, the sea pearlescent in the early morning sun, the day new-minted, the air effervescent with anticipation.
Instead I couldn't even see the coast, the sky lowered and I had to play slalom on the soaking roads to avoid the baby rabbits.

When I arrived at the designated beach, it was to see an array of vehicles and a mini-army of faithfuls struggling to put up tents in the rain. The Beltra Country Market tent was already up, but various others were in sodden heaps on the ground.
Oh joy!

Some of the trusty Beltra Team

Today was the annual Dip in the Nip - the fourth of its kind - to raise money for cancer projects, research and charities around the country; and we were all delighted that the Market's local beach was playing host to the dippers in the north west.
We had an hour and a half to get ready for the kick-off.
And the rain obviously intended to be there for it too.

Everyone pitched in (well, we were putting up tents!) and gradually the wet car park changed from cluttered, crowded chaos to cheerful, co-operative camaraderie and suddenly, hey presto, despite the wet - we had a tent full of craft from Beltra Market, a tent for some ladies selling cookery books, a kitchen tent for Eithne from Source in Sligo who was supplying most of the breakfast, and a cheery gazebo!
Time for another flapjack in the rain...

The dippy dippers started to arrive around 8am and the Zumba dancers set up their music on the beach. (At this point I should say there were some male dippers, who had a private end of the beach, but it was primarily a female event.) There was a lot chat and laughter, and it was immediately obvious that pink was the new black - pink was hot: a plethora of pink boas and even pinker wigs, lots of polka-dot dressing gowns, some pretty amazing, half glimpsed body art, and even bunny ears, fairy wings and pink Indian headdresses. And lots of umbrellas!

I think it was at this point I realised that the weather was SO keen to join it, it couldn't wait for the actual Dip  - it just had to soak everyone as soon as possible.

The Registration Office keeping dry

Planting the prayer trees

The first intrepid dippers lead the way down the beach

Waiting for everyone to arrive

Alex and Frantiska lead the Zumba dancing

Registration complete and the prayer trees planted, people started to make their way to the cheery red gazebos on the beach for a spot of warm-up Zumba dancing with Alex and Frantiska. Then the Queen of the Dippers, Maire herself, got everyone to line up on the sand, turn round to face the ocean and started the exhilarating, terrifying, inexorable count down.
10 - 9 - 8 - and suddenly with screams and yells and shouts and laughter, countless dressing gowns and towels hit the sand and a mass of naked women dashed for the ocean, arms waving, wigs bobbing, hair streaming, warm flesh braced for the chilly plunge.
It was a rare and wonderful sight to behold, and I felt privileged to witness it.
Even the rain stopped to watch.


More flapjacks, anyone?

Later we dished out hot sausages in baps, cups of steaming tea and more Beltra Market flapjacks, and anyone who wanted to wrote a message to leave on one of the prayer trees. I left several there myself, including one for my grandmother who I never knew - she died of cancer when my mother was a child, and another for my mother-in-law of whom I was very fond, who also died too young.
I paused, as many people did, to think of friends fighting the disease, and read some of the other messages that had been left.
They were touching, sad and heartfelt.
But the morning, while full of inward thoughts and emotions, wasn't sad.

Leaving messages on the prayer trees

Watching everyone standing around the tents in the sudden sunshine, I was struck by what a wonderful atmosphere there was. So much positive energy, so much laughter and friendship. Each and every person was there in memory of someone lost, in support of someone suffering, in thankfulness for recovery, in protest against a disease we struggle to control, and to raise money to conquer it. But they were also there in fellowship and unity - a sisterhood of like-minded women seeking to bring something positive out of loss and pain.
What a marvellous thing the human spirit is.
Indomitable when we stand buff together - in the buff or otherwise.

All quiet on the western front

For more information and the official photos (mine were taken for Beltra Country Market) see Dip in the Nip's Facebook page or Dip in the Nip's website.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Head in the Sand

Pushy,  pretending she's a statue


Pushy, Senior Cat and Custodian of the Vegetable Garden, took me to look at the peas the other day.

We agreed that, all things considered, it wasn't a pretty sight.

These aren't any ordinary peas. These are peas that germinated in a silver spoon.
They were organically raised in a tunnel by green fingers, and tended with nothing but love and devotion.
I bought them at the market at the beginning of May and then had them in the courtyard for weeks, in order to break it gently that life in my garden was not going to consist of cotton-wool and polythene-warmed air.
I told them that, instead, if they climbed high enough they might even get to see the sea!
They didn't seem too fazed by the courtyard, but when I planted them out, they had a hissy fit and said things like: 'We want to go home!' and 'Who wants to see the sea anyway?'

Pushy had grave concerns about the peas

I don't really blame them, in all honesty.
I did a Soil Temperature Test last week. (I stuck my finger in the ground.)
It was pretty parky for mid-June, despite the weeks of unprecedented sunshine, despite it having been warm enough to eat more lunches and suppers in the courtyard in the last month than we have done in years.

No 2 son, who is a very good gardener, and who helped me create the vegetable garden in 2003, had cold comfort (haha!) to offer when I confided in  him on Sunday.
'Well,' he said. 'If 30+% of the Gulf Stream has already disappeared, you'd better start getting used to it. You're heading for another mini ice-age.' He then launched into various depressing explanations of exactly what is happening, or rather not happening in the Atlantic, and around Greenland and Iceland and various far flung and - I have to say - cold-sounding places.

It wasn't exactly news to me. Of course I know these things.
It's not as if I have my head in the sand or anything!
But this is my garden! A bit close to home, if you don't mind.
And surely in my garden, it's all just a blip. Next year, we will suddenly - amazingly - wonderfully - return to the summers of memory.
The summers that lasted forever, full of the sound of bees, summers when peas and beans rampaged up the wires and then went into industrial fast-food production mode, until you were so sick of long, green pod-shaped things that you stuffed a bagful into everyone's arms as they came to the door.
Those were the days.

Later, sitting in the garden, enjoying a glass of wine in the evening sunshine, the In-Charge looked at the pathetic array of pea pods on offer so far.
'Oh good,' he said happily. 'Peas!'

Oh good!

I thought it kinder not to disabuse him. The In-Charge does much, extremely valuable work in the garden, but he isn't on the Vegetable Garden Executive Management Team, neither was he present on the official Stock Control Round that had counted 17 pods plus a thespian one that couldn't decide whether 'to pea or not to pea'.
I don't think he has done a Soil Temperature Test either.

To pea or not to pea

'Nothing like fresh peas,' he warmed to his theme. 'We can have pea soup and all sorts.'
I was momentarily diverted from the Pea Crisis.
Novel croutons! I wouldn't have thought peas would go with All Sorts, but then I am not as fond of licorice as the In-Charge. Perhaps licorice is the new honey. Maybe we will create a mind-blowing culinary combo. They will call us the couple who invented the perfect pea partnership. It will turn out to be like that Wensleydale cheese with apricots, which I always thought was revolting until - by complete chance - I tasted it with celery and realised that the groove in celery sticks is there solely to accommodate Wensleydale with apricots.

'The beans aren't doing very well,' he commented, cutting my thoughts mid-flow.

Pushy showed me the beans as well

So I've just been out and planted a load more bean seeds. Peas too.
17 pods ain't going to make much soup.
But this new lot are bound to grow.

Wishful thinking? Maybe my head is stuck in the sand.
But life surely wouldn't be worth living if there wasn't hope.

The Custodian of the Vegetable Garden on duty

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Best of Days

I have just been gardening in the sunshine, cutting back the over-exuberant but lovely purple geranium phaeum which is now at its last prayers. In a week or two the massive gaps will be filled with fresh new leaf, but for the time being the bed looks as if it has been savaged by giant moths. Fortunately Sarah Bernhardt is there to distract my eye from the ravaged sections.

My Sarah Bernhardt paeony is determined to win 'The Most Beautiful Plant in the Garden' Award. She might well do it.

Model Dog helped.
She is a very patient gardener.
Top Dog only helped because there was nothing else to do, and the In-Charge had been thoughtless enough to go out without him. Under Dog snoozed in his bed in the kitchen.He doesn't really like gardening anymore.

Sunday is quite my favourite day.
It stems from when the boys were young, I think, and we would have them home from school and the day started with a long lazy brunch.

The best moment of the week..
I wrote a poem about it long ago

Morning Prayer

Later I will remember breakfast on winter Sundays:
the taste of the day, the way the low sun splashes
diamonds around the blue kitchen. Fire deep-rooted
in the belly of the stove, contentment creaking the
dog’s baskets, cats heaped in the chair like cushions,
and - best of days - my three most well-loved faces.
Softly the radio bares its soul, spills out the Omnibus,
someone’s choice of tunes and favourite book, word
games and goons… Warm as winter sunshine, they hook
the small spaces we leave, but we do not care. Too many
smells weave through the air: bacon frying, thick scarlet
moons of tomatoes and fat gold eggs lying spluttering
beside; the scent of coffee vying for place.  We are
greedy and satisfied.  And passing to and fro, filling
as slabs of hot toast buttery with marmalade, tingling
on tongues dark with oranges, are the exchanges of
the week, the hide and seek of words, the small
inconsequential chatter bright as the litter of stars on
the table top. Blissful to be unaware, drifting amidst the
clutter of blue glass and snowdrops, plates and paintings
and paperwork piled in corners, that little will ever
compare with these blessed ways, these best of days.

Dear boys. I suppose Sunday is the day of the week I miss them most, but today started, as all the best Sundays do, with a long chat with No 2 son in New Zealand, and hopefully it will end, as all the best Sundays do, with a chat with No 1 son in England.
Today there will also be a call to wish my Papa a Happy Father's Day.

I wish I could send him a bunch of roses from my garden.
They fill me with delight.

The Pink Jug

Even though the recent rain has tried to batter them into submission, they are undefeated.
Some of them are resting between outbursts, and some haven't even started to flower yet.
But I picked two lovely bunches today. The Pink Jug and the Purple Posy.

The Purple Posy

I can see why little posies of flowers were called nosegays.
When I bury my face in these roses, I almost pass out.with the scent.

Which bunch would you prefer?
Let me know so that I can rush it to you, the tooter-the-sweeter, as the In-Charge always says.

If the Jug or the Posy seem a little too much, you can always opt for the heart-breaker.

The Heartbreaker

Unless Sarah Bernhardt has already captured your heart?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Made in Heaven

It's been a bit of a mixed week.
Is it not ever thus?

For two days (over my birthday, inevitably) it rained as if the sky's heart was broken.

The scaffolding they erected to do some repairs to the bridge in the village nearly washed away. It turned into quite a spectator sport.

Apart from that, it has blazed with sunshine, although - lest we get carried away like the scaffolding - there has been the odd breeze snaking out of the north to keep us under control. Mostly though, it has been lovely, hot sunshine.

All good so far.

But then there was the Incident with my computer.
Let us not go into the gory details - you really don't want to know - suffice it to say every single - SINGLE - document of mine has gone. Probably forever. The computer is now in hospital, in the Recovery ward.
It's a bit like being burgled. I won't know what's missing until I come to need it.
The recovery process is also rather like the aftermath of a burglary.
Imagine finding the entire contents of a large filing cabinet hurled out onto the floor and swished about a good bit in some noxious substance. Half a page identifiable here, a paragraph there, maybe even a whole something or other amidst the mess, if you are lucky. But hard to know what any of it is...

I don't care much about the letters to the Passport Office, or articles that have long since been published in some magazine or newspaper, or the egg labels for the market. I can even - at a pinch - forgo the file of things I wanted to keep.
And I don't mind about most of my own work, because I have that backed up.
But I mind incredibly about the work of the last three weeks that for various reasons (all pathetic)  was NOT backed up.
How could I not have backed it up?
Does one learn NOTHING in this life?
There will be a prize for anyone in the Recovery Ward who manages to salvage some of those recent documents.

Enough of that!

I was just getting over the horrible shock of the Computer Incident when No 1 son's departure day arrived, after just over a week at home. Always a bad moment. Heaven to say hello - hideous to say goodbye.

At least I had other things to take my mind off his absence.
(No - not the computer! I am trying not to think about that.)
Last week someone from RTE rang. I have known her for a long time, and spoke to her last summer to try and beguile the TV station into coming to film the market for Irish Nationwide (arguably the most watched programme on Irish telly). I had told her too about Secret Gardens of Sligo of which I am also PRO. She was ringing to say they had decided to do a piece about SGS and could they film my garden, amongst others.

The vegetable garden with Model Dog supervising.

So the minute the In-Charge left for the airport with No 1 son, I rushed outside with an assortment of trowels and dogs and weeded frenetically until dusk. It was certainly outdoor weather - hot and wonderful - and as the fab French wwoofers had done such a great job, not an insuperable task, but even so, I could hardly stagger out of bed on Monday morning, and parts of me ache still!

The filming all went smoothly, and as we were still basking under azure skies, sunnily. Sadly it is a bit early in the summer for lots of things - most of the vegetables are only about an inch high - but that's the way it goes, and the flower garden, although battered by the recent rain, doesn't look too bad.

More of a potager than a vegetable garden

Today I have picked the first of our strawberries. Top Dog volunteered to help. He is very partial to strawberries, and sometimes picks his own, but knowing it is deeply impolite to do so, he usually refrains. Model Dog hadn't heard of strawberries before. She is very suspicious of food she doesn't recognise. She sucks and then spits out any pretend food we give her, and for the first week or two everything except dog biscuits came into this distasteful category. Now it is limited to carrots, bananas, broccoli and other obviously inedible substances like onions. 'Tiggers don't like those', she tells me.
Tiggers do like strawberries.
Now there's a surprise!
She very kindly offered to eat the ones that were a bit overripe or which the slugs or birds had got to first. Top Dog reminded her gently that he has first dibs, but they came to a most amicable agreement. Under Dog had one or two and then returned to the cool of the kitchen.

Quickly, quickly - let's make a crumble

I also picked some rhubarb.
If - by some massive oversight - you have never tasted rhubarb and strawberries together, lose no more time.
It is a marriage made in heaven.

As the In-Charge's computer is also going into hospital, I may not be back for some time - it depends on whether my own daily companion can be made to see reason.
In the meantime, please lend me your moral support by visiting Writing From The Edge's Facebook page, and clicking LIKE!

Picture it in Your Own Words - Friendship

This week's photo challenge is 'Friendship'.

Here are my entries:
All animals - surprise, surprise!

I think the last photo should really be called 'Cupboard Love', not friendship!

As I'm having problems with  my computer, and the In-Charge's computer is also going into hospital, I may not be back for some time! In the meantime, please lend me your moral support by visiting Writing From The Edge's Facebook page, and clicking LIKE!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

High Days and Birthday Cakes

Today is my birthday.
7th June.
Lazy days of summer, of wine and roses. Of light evenings and balmy breezes.
Of blue skies filled with swallows, birdsong and butterflies.

A walk on the beach, I thought, with my nearest and dearest - that's what I'd like to do.

Alas, today it has poured with rain all day. It is like a green November.
The In-Charge informed me this morning that we were expecting a month's worth of rain - 4 inches, they said - in two days.
'When did we ever have only 4 inches of rain in June?' he asked acidly.

4 inches or 14, it is trying very hard to fulfil their expectations.

And to think, this time yesterday we were sitting in the sunshine, enjoying a drink.

On the upside, No 1 son is here, which is the best birthday treat of all.
And Wonder-Brother paid a flying visit (literally), so we had a lovely evening over a long, late supper with Robin, a close friend of everyone concerned.

Long laxy birthday suppers

Today started with delectable fizzly fizz in tall pretty glasses - with or without orange juice as preferred.
And also with the largest and most delicious birthday cake ever known to man!
So large, we thought we'd better crack into it for breakfast!

The cake was made by an extremely talented young man of my acquaintance - a twelve year-old chef who will be responsible, in later life, for much over-indulgence by many people, if he carries on as he's begun.

The largest birthday cake in the world. Please drop in for a slice - white chocolate and lemon feature scrumptiously in the ingredients.

Cake and fizz go very well together for breakfast.
They are even good at lunchtime and probably unbeatable for tea.

I expect they will make a yummy pud later on too!

'Happy Birthday Cake!' as my nephew used to say.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Fond Farewells!

My fab French Wwoofers have gone south. They are spending June in Cork before heading to New York.
We bade them a fond farewell on Saturday morning as they packed their lives away into the marvellous Renault 4 and headed off in the sunshine on the next leg of their Irish adventure.
It has been wonderful having them to stay - they were charming, funny, easygoing, good company and worked their socks off.

Model Dog assumed they were part of the family.

The dogs loved them.
Model Dog, who came in the middle of their stay, assumed they were part of the family and was a little non-plussed when they left. (She says she hopes she won't be expected to leave suddenly as well. Because she isn't going to.)
The cats thought they were a bit of All Right.
Even Pushy forgave them for the Clothes-Peg-on-the-Tail-Incident which we don't mention anymore.
(After all, contrition is contrition!)
The hens thought they had died and gone to heaven - who else hand-feeds them corn all day?
(Wellington, alas, refused to sign the entente cordiale. He did not deign to be hand-fed.)

Hand-fed chickens. Is that a new category - like Free Range, only better?

Not only did they build much-longed-for steps up into the orchard; they cleaned the hen house until you could have eaten off the floor (possibly not wise, but you could have done!); they moved a pile of wood and stacked the wood shed; they put up the new fence; they trimmed hedges and weeded; planted the vegetable garden and generally got the whole place ship-shape and Bristol-fashion in time for the onslaught of visitors; they moved I don't know how many tons of stone and also built a wall to enclose a little shed for the mower to live in (also much-longed for, but little anticipated.)
The In-Charge came and went amidst the man-jobs and I - as Head Gardener - came and went amidst the gardening jobs.
They were fab and a joy to have around.

The longed-for but little anticipated  mower-shed emerges!

And in between, they went fishing, they ran the coast road every day (ye gods, EVERY DAY!); they went fishing; they visited Donegal and the Giant's Causeway in one direction and Downpatrick Head and Achill Island in the other; they went fishing; they came to the Market and accompanied me to Enniskillen; they went fishing; they sweetly drove me to a garden party and politely ate cakes and sandwiches while eliciting much interest and many compliments; they went to Sligo with In-Charge, and helped him get the boat out of winter mothballs and spent a day fishing on the Moy Estuary. And to cap it all, they made apple tarts to die for and gorgeous vinaigrette.

I wish they could have met more people of their own age while they were here, but they watched loads of movies and went to the pub, the In Charge helped them fix various bits on their car while I cooked their food, washed their clothes and drove them nuts asking millions of question about all aspects of their lives. On their last night No 1 son had returned to the fold, and took them down to the sea where all his friends were congregating for an evening sitting by a fire, watching the sun go down, drinking beer and generally welcoming the summer. They came home with the dawn.

Pudding and a beer

I hope they enjoy Cork.
And New York.
I hope they have a wonderful time taking the Renault 4 on the Morocco Rally next year.

I hope they come back and visit us someday - any day.
They will always be welcome - and their girlfriends, wives, children, grannies...
(And I will be sure to have apples, butter and flour, and olive oil, garlic and vinegar ready in the pantry.)

Vive la gorgeous France!

Picture It In Your Own Words - Today!

This week's photo challenge is TODAY!

Someone kindly suggested I should post this picture on The Sunday Post's Challenge too.
So I have!

A photo that has been taken this very day.

I happened to get up at 5am - sometime after dawn, but so beautiful was the sight that met my eyes, I ran downstairs for the camera before going back to bed.
(When I was young I wouldn't have gone back to bed - I'd have gone for a walk to relish the morning! Oh to be young!)
Now that we are in June, the sun is rising practically in the north!
And setting practically in the north too!
There is still light in the sky at midnight, and it is getting light again around 3am.
Isn't it wonderful.

The sun rises

Later on in the morning I found one of the cats napping in her own private oven.
Sometimes one of the hens gets there first, but not today.

Pushy in her private oven

She must bake in there!