Tuesday, 29 July 2014


I've been feeling rather sorry for myself.
I think I got bitten by a horsefly. There are gazillions of them around this summer, so that's what probably homed in on my ankle. Whatever it was, it's been so swollen and red and hot and sore that I have been laid up, foot propped up on 25 cushions, for a couple of days.
Well, it felt like 25 cushions.  In fact it felt as it my foot was strung up to the ceiling.
I've stopped now - the resultant backache was threatening to be worse than the ankle!

Miserable creatures. And poor horses, if that's what they generally bite.

There are gazillions of wasps too, this year.
A few years ago I bought a 'waspinator', and very pleased I was with myself, too.
I'd never heard of one before.


We 'inflated' it with a few plastic bags and hung it in the courtyard.
Result: no wasps.
Not a single one bothered us that summer. Or the next, or even the one after that, which was last year.

But right now, we are wasp-central.
What is that all about? And, I bought a new waspinator this year, as the camouflage-y markings on the old one had washed away (wasped away), so I splashed out. It is identical to the old one, except for the presence of camouflage-y markings, of course.
I didn't throw the old one away, they are both hanging out there.
Maybe that's my mistake. Instead of frightening the allegedly territorial wasps away, two nests in fairly close proximity are sending out a different message: 'Wasp Commune, All Welcome!'

It's either that or the bees. Perhaps our new high rise bees have ousted the wasps from their usual nesting sites.

High-rise bees

Whatever it is, I'd like it to stop. I loathe and detest wasps, especially when they hold massive get-togethers in my kitchen and around the table where we eat outside.
The In-Charge got stung on the inside of his arm while he was mending the gutters.
And he's been bitten by a horsefly too, on his shin.

The poor cats are in misery as well.
It's that time of the year when the mites in the grass spring to life, sharpen their gnashers and turn into little piranhas.
Hobbes is OK. Nothing seems to disturb his equilibrium, but poor Pushy and Pixie can''t stop scratching and tearing at themselves. They have great, raw patches all over them.
I keep them in as much as I possibly can, but I don't know if it makes any difference.
My sister's cat was prescribed anti-histamines, which made all the difference to her, but when I tried the same pills on Pushy, she reacted strangely to them, so I stopped giving them to her. And trying to get a pill down Pixie's throat twice a day is a purgatory worse, quite frankly, than the initial itch, so I have given that up as a bad job.

So much for summer.
Not such fun when it's all pests!

Pretty little Pushy, in happier times - ie, not summer

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Who Wants to be a Millinaire?

While I was at Claregalway Garden Festival with my friend, the New Yorker, we did - eventually - feel that we ought to see what was on offer inside the buildings around the old Tower House.
You can't just think about plants. Well, we can, but on this occasion, we didn't.
And if we hadn't gone in, we'd never have found the hat ladies.

I love hats. I always wore hats to weddings, when we were young and went to lots of weddings, and these days, I generally garden in a hat. (Not my wedding hats, obviously.)
And not these hats. They would have to be reserved strictly for garden visiting, or garden partying, not garden weeding.

They were a treat to behold.
And vastly elegant.

So beautiful

Every single hat had a sense of occasion about it, the sort of hats that just make you feel absolutely at your best, the moment you put it on.
I instantly wanted a glass of champagne in one hand, and someone thrilling to talk to.
Luckily, I had the New Yorker with me.
She is very thrilling.

Hats with a sense of occasion

We stopped and chatted to the milliners for quite a while.
What an amazing, creative, talented and sparky duo! And what craftsmanship.

Beautiful, and beautifully made

You know the old saying: 'If you want to get ahead, get a hat!' Well they've certainly got the hats, so watch out Philip Treacy, is all I can say. (And interestingly, he comes from Co Galway as well.)
These ladies are going places, so if you want to be able to say: 'I wore one of their hats long before the Duchess of Cambridge discovered them...' then get on the blower.

Confectionery for the head

I don't see how you could possibly regret it.
Weddings - Garden Parties - Leopardstown - the Curragh - Your kid's graduation - knock 'em dead with one of these smackers while you can still afford them!

Affordable glamour

The New Yorker bought two. One is for a wedding later in the summer, but knowing her, she'll probably wear them out and about in the Big Apple - quite possibly with an old pair of jeans.
I mean, look how good they are on top or plaits, for goodness sake!
She'll look fantastic.
She'll probably bump into Sarah Jessica Parker as she strolls nonchalantly through Greenwich Village.
Parker will drool and catch her arm.
'Where did you get that hat?' she'll hiss.
'My hat?' the New Yorker will say vaguely. 'Which one am I wearing today?'

She'll look fantastic

She'll innocently put her hand up to her head.

'Oh this one! Of course! I have this little Irish designer - no, not Philip...he's so passé this year, don't you think?'
I can picture the whole scene now.

So folks, you know what they say about she who snoozes...

Crevation Design, the hat ladies call themselves.
I have to say, the name doesn't grab me. It doesn't have the necessary sense of occasion. And it seems a waste not to have a bit of pazzazz.
Now, Majella Dalton - that's a name with pazzazz. That's a name to conjure with.
Watch out for it in Hello, ladies!

Majella Dalton
Millinery Designer
+353(0)86 834 7049

Monday, 21 July 2014

Flower Power

I took a day off a couple of weeks ago.
A real, proper, in-the-car-and-out-of-here day off.
Being something of a a rare event, I expect my demeanour was that of a kid going to the seaside.

Last year I heard about a 'Garden Festival' in Claregalway, and as my gorgeous young French friend, Chloe, was visiting, we decided to go and see what it was all about.
We had a fab day.

My gorgeous friend, Chloe

It wasn't quite what I'd expected - there weren't show gardens to look at, or anything like that, but we enjoyed the whole expedition thoroughly and came back with lots of delicious additions for the garden.
So this year I made sure to put in on my calendar, and took my friend, the New Yorker, with me.

The restored tower house in Claregalway

Claregalway is a couple of hours drive south, and not somewhere that I'd been to before last year. The festival is held in the field attached to the restored tower house, and although it is mostly about plants and gardeny stuff, there are other things to see and do, too.

In the courtyard beneath the tower they have a band - several bands in fact, over the course of the day, so there's all kinds of music as you mooch around the grounds.

You can sit and have a coffee and listen to the music.
And when you've got your strength back, you can head back into the mêlée.

Last year, there were people re-enacting battles, with someone telling you the interesting and gory bits while you watched.

The gory bits

There was a jester last year who had stepped straight out of the past to cause mischief and botheration. You could tell by the look on his face that he'd done it before - professionally. He was particularly keen on paddling people's backsides when they weren't looking. I could do with one of those sticks.

This year there were two live hobby-horses also causing mischief and botheration and neighing fit to bring the ISPCA out. There was also a poor little chicken called Free Range who laid an egg for me.

 She got very shy when I chatted to her.

Last year it was so hot that the seats in front of the bandstand were full most of the time, but eventually Chloe and I found a gap and collapsed for a breather while we enjoyed the band. We watched small children become entranced with the music, others be overtaken by its rhythm, and were thrilled when one couple got up and just danced. It was perfect.

No one danced this year, but the New Yorker and I sat and ate some cheese and charcuterie and wondered if anyone queueing for the loo had noticed who was peering down at them from above.

I fell in love with a heron last July, but sadly he is now living beside another pond, not mine.
Seeing him now makes me wish all over again that he was in my potager.

But I did buy some ingenious little cane toppers which look a gas in the garden and make canes a joy rather than an eyesore. (No pun intended, but I have poked my eye with a cane before now, so..).

I hurried back to buy another quota this year, and was delighted to find the potter, Baurnafea Ceramics, there once again. Even more delighted when the lovely New Yorker bought me a present from his stand - how kind is that!


Cane toppers and ceramic orbs for the flower bed - quite episcopalian

We had a delicious lunch, sat and listened to the band, paid many visits to the plant crèche and viewed all that was on offer inside as well as out.
It was a fabulous day, and by the time we left there was barely room in the car for us.

Definitely one for next summer's calendar.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Scarlet and the Black

We just aren't keeping up - that's all there is to it.
First of all it was the strawberries.
A row by row pick yielded what can only be called a glut (not to mention so many personalities that we had to stop and introduce ourselves as we went along).
First name terms notwithstanding, the jam pan came out immediately, and - of course - the actual strawberry bed went straight out of my head.

We're on quite familiar name terms with our strawberries

It's not surprising that I forgot about the garden end of things. Jam-making is a time-consuming enterprise.
Pleasant, but there isn't a whole heap of day left over by the time you're done.
I don't know about you, but it's not the actual jam-making as much as the cleaning up afterwards that's the biggest challenge.
It's probably just me. Everything is hunky dory until I've filled the first pot, but then things go a bit pear-shaped, and by the last pot there seems to be as much jam on the baking tray as there is in the jars. (That's why I have my jars on a baking tray.)

It's the same with nail-painting, which is why no one who knows me will ever recall seeing me with painted nails.
Nail one: painstaking care. Ten minutes on the clock. Not a drop spilled, or splashed or over the edge.
Nail two: Reasonable care. Two and a half minutes on the clock. Large splurge of nail polish up side of nail.
Nail three: Exasperated. 30 seconds on the clock. Nail polish on top of finger and down both sides of nail.
Nail four: I think you're getting my drift here...

But I'm digressing, as usual.
Jam cools to an unbelievably sticky mess with incredible osmotic and reproductive properties. Have you ever noticed that? Perhaps jam is actually a type of fungus - turn your back and it just starts appearing everywhere.
So heaving the old jam-pan, the wooden spoons, the pouring-out jug et al into the back sink and filling them with water is such a relief that it's done immediately, but that is about it. I've had enough by then.
Two weeks on and the jars are still sitting on the tray on the kitchen counter. The lids are on all right, but there's not a label in sight, and I've almost managed to forget that they exist. I have discovered that - the jars being all conveniently the same size and height - they make a sort of conveniently higher surface for putting things on close to the cooker, which is very useful.

We have so far eaten two of the jars, given one away and sold another one at the market, so balance is going to become an issue before too long, at which point the In-Charge will rap out a demand that they be re-located immediately.

In the meantime, we have just been so busy. Strawberries and jam are yesterday's news. Since then we've had to toil and titivate, trying to render the garden fit for the open weekend.  Heaven forfend that our box hedges might not be keeping up with the latest trend in footballer's hair cuts.

The In-Look for Summer 2014

And that's just the garden. There have been a million other jobs, not to mention the roof. The In-Charge has almost taken up residence on the roof (but let's not forget there are real boy's toys involved). Down at ground level there's been less exalted work and meetings and poor Wellington, and who knows what.

The In-Charge lives on the roof these days

And as you can see, I'm getting a whole heap of help from some of the other residents in this place.

Hobbes. Exhausted

The Models. Wiped out

Even so, I had ticked the strawberries off with a nice, fat, self-satisfied, licked finger.
So it came as something of a surprise to glimpse flashes of scarlet as I passed the strawberry bed a few days ago. The on-going-ness of production had somehow slipped my mind.
'I thought we'd done that', was my knee-jerk reaction, but of course, that was a ten days ago.
Time has moved on.

Climber-boy went out with a bowl.
He came back awhile later for a larger bowl.
Shortly afterwards he reappeared and got the big cake storage box - the Christmas-cake sized one.

'But we used all the jars,' I wailed when he finally staggered in, hidden behind a red mountain.

'There's loads of raspberries too,' he said. 'But luckily I can't get at them.'
I must have looked slightly puzzled.
'There's too many blackcurrants in the way,' he explained.

We now have strawberry compote for breakfast and pudding every day.
With raspberries shaken over the top. 

Strawberry compote - delicious with yoghurt. Delicious with raspberries. Delicious with blackcurrants?

But it doesn't end there.
I've ten pounds of blackcurrants in the fridge, looking at me reproachfully every time I reach for the milk.

Oh joy

We used the Bob Flowerdew method of harvesting for the currants: you cut the branch, retreat to a sunny place, sit and string while chatting in comfort. We only managed to pick the front branches overhanging the paths, but even so, the blackbirds were outraged at our theft. They have eaten so many, they can't actually get off the ground, so they were outraged from ground-level.

In the kitchen, I have rowed up the sugar, lemons, wooden spoon and the spotless jam pan.
But after surveying the hastily convened and sadly inadequate splinter of jars (the official collective), I have now issued a diktat: the rest of the blackcurrants are to be made over to the blackbirds, on a strict  PYO basis.
It is quite a generous gesture, but a necessary one.
Not just for my own sanity and space on the kitchen counter.
Having witnessed the extreme effort required for the even the fittest blackbird to get off the ground, let alone the young, inexperienced novice flyers, I feel it is necessary to keep them supplied with food in situ, until they learn to handle their expanded undercarriages in flight.

Well that's my excuse anyway.
And meanwhile, I'd better find another, larger, baking tray.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The King is Dead, Long Live the King!

I'm feeling very sad today.
Wellington is dead.
He had an eye infection, which we've been treating for the last two weeks with oral antibiotics and ointment, and I thought he seemed much brighter. But last night when I carried him in to the kitchen for his dose, he felt a bit limp. I wondered if he was all right, but I put it down to the lateness of the hour. I'd been out at a meeting, so we didn't get to treat him until nearly midnight, when he would have been well and truly asleep anyway.

Wellington, the King of the Castle

Poor Wellington. He was dead in his bed this morning.
It's the way they go, generally, birds. In the wee, small hours of the night, but I've never got used to finding someone dead in the hen house. Especially not Wellington.

He weighed over nine and a half pounds. I couldn't believe it.
We knew he was a big boy, but I was amazed when I found out how heavy he actually was. We had to weigh him for the medication - our friend the Cement-Sculptor staggered onto the scales holding him firmly in both hands.
Nearly ten pounds. That's four and a half bags of sugar. It's a lot of bird.

We buried him in the orchard this morning.
ModelDog sat very close to my legs and leaned down to peer into his grave.
She doesn't like graves.
SuperModel disliked the whole sorry process so much that she boycotted the funeral - well, almost.
She compromised and lay under the neighbouring apple tree, watching us and yawning self consciously. It was obvious she didn't want to be there.
I wrapped him in a tea towel that had a map of Jersey on it - it seemed appropriate, as he was a Jersey Giant, although he'd never been to the Channel Islands, map or no map.
Perhaps he'll go now. Make his way to his ancestral fields that look to France one way and England the other. I'm sure he'll like it there.

He was a big boy, and looked all spit and polish

I put a bunch of Felicite and Perpetue roses in his grave too, and a sprig of rosemary. I always put rosemary in anyone's grave flowers. 'There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.'
Because I'll always remember.
I nearly picked some fennel too, but not pansies, or columbine. And not rue.
The French boys dug up all my rue and threw it away, so there is no more rue.
Just plenty of rueing.

The French boys dug up all the rue

The In-Charge and I stood in the orchard, trying to remember when we got him, Wellington.
I remember the night well enough. I met a friend up at the lay by in the next village, and he opened up the back of his Landrover and took this huge, black cockerel out of a cage and handed him to me, and in return I gave him a bag of layers pellets.
'There you go,' he said. 'Just wait til your ladies get a sight of him, they won't know themselves!'
He was right. They followed him everywhere, he was a beauty.
A great, gentle giant.

Wellington keeping Napoleon in his place back in the day

As we stood paying our respects, a rather frenetic figure hurried across the grass not far from us.
He paused at regular intervals to crow as loudly as possible.
Heinz von Bitzen.

'The King is dead. Long live the King!' the In-Charge commented dryly

But it will take a while before he assumes the crown in my head.
And none of the hens paid the slightest heed either.
Despite Napoleon, his Imperial grandfather, he just doesn't have the presence.
Perhaps he'll grow into it.

Heinz von Bitzen

Monday, 14 July 2014

Confessions of a Hopeless Addict

I have to tell you, dear Reader, that I am a woman of several vices, most of which I have kept hidden from this page.
I did plead guilty to one, some time ago, in Secret Vices,  but there is more.

I am an addict.
A plural addict - there are quite a few habits I just can't kick, but yesterday one of them rose up to confront me as I was preparing to entertain 30+ people to tea in the garden.

I am a mug-aholic, as those who know me well will testify. We have lots and lots.
If I ever buy a mug, the In-Charge says: 'Oh good, we needed one of those.'
My response at times like that is immediate and brisk. 'Be grateful it isn't shoes,' I always say.
But, like most men, he doesn't get the joy of small, pleasing things.
Mugs, after all, are not boys' toys.

It started long, long ago, so my collection has been building for years.
In fact I can fairly and squarely blame my mother. She gave me a set of four mugs as a present in the distant moons of the past.
That was all it took to get me hooked.

The RNLI's wonderful Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter mugs

The other side of each mug is the same but different

You can see why. They are totally fab, but sadly the intervening years have taken their toll and they are all now ex-mugs, used for other things. I have tried to find replacements on eBay, but possibly in a somewhat desultory fashion, as my search yielded nothing. But even in their sad state, I still love everything about them.

Looking back, I expect the seed had already been sown, as by then I had acquired two mugs that I still have, although no longer use, as I wouldn't like them to get broken. They are both butterfly mugs, and they sit in the Butler's Pantry, in honoured retirement. (I'm still looking for the Butler, by the way. The whimsical term was wished upon my lovely old pantry by the In-Charge and #1 Son, way back when.)

My two original butterfly mugs

These days, I am very picky about my mugs. They are mostly - but not exclusively - bone china, and if I don't love them, they're gone. I know I'm a bit odd, but it never ceases to amaze me that people just open the cupboard, grab, pour and drink without even looking at the mug they're using! It takes me longer to choose my mug than it does to boil the kettle.
But mostly my pickyness is about seasonality.

Some of the Christmas seclection

Every now and again, I see someone drinking a cup of tea out of a Christmassy mug - in June.
How can they do such a thing?
Does the drink not congeal in their mouths, the milk not turn sour, the taste sicken?
It leaves me astounded.

The boy's Christmas mugs from long ago

My FAVOURITE Christmas mug, that Henri broke - also irreplaceable on eBay

WonderBrother has a mug with Garfield on it. Garfield. I ask you.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against ginger cats - think of Hobbes - but Garfield on a mug isn't even aesthetically pleasing.
Perhaps we are not, after all, blood-relations, my brother and I.

I am sure my mother's present was the beginning of my seasonality. In our house the mugs are changed with a regularity that leaves other household tasks dumb with outrage. We have spring, summer, autumn, Christmas and winter - naturally. And every now and again, a mug just appears for a month and then is gone again.

Some mugs are only out for a month

Yesterday, with rather a large party visiting the garden at tea time, the Butler's Pantry was forced to disgorge some receptacles that were not - strictly speaking - due for an airing. Mercifully, push didn't come to shove, as they say. I wasn't forced to use my February crocuses, or - heaven forbid - any autumn designs.

Autumn mugs

As it was, I was able to rummage out enough to seasonally 'mug' everyone. Any more people and I'd have had to say that, sadly, tea wasn't available.

Summer mugs

More summer mugs - well, a few spring ones too I suppose

Either that, or I could have called the non-players into use.
There are other mugs on the premises. Ones that are used for Bovril, or soup, ones that I don't mind the In-Charge using. (He is guilty of leaving mugs outdoors, in odd places. I find them, weeks later, filled with rain.) Also, it must be remembered that he drinks coffee morning, noon and night and coffee is very hard on mugs, so I tend to point him towards the beakers that will take the strain.

Mugs that can take the strain

Coffee stains china and gets into places that it won't come out of. Plus, quite apart from his other mug-unworthiness, the In-Charge has been guilty of breakages. He broke my favourite summer mug - the #1 Son mug - and committed the cardinal sin of not telling me, so I had to find out by spending a futile morning searching for the missing vessel - to no avail.
Luckily for our marriage, I was able to buy a replacement.
I hardly need add that his use of the replacement is verboten.

#1 Son mug on the left - it makes me think of him. The other one was a gift from him, so is also verboten

My mother can't have realised what she was starting, all those years ago.
I was brought up to love things, and look after them, but not to be acquisitive.
As with many aspects of every upbringing, that proved to be a miserable failure.
I adore things and am happy to acquire.
I love colour, craft, pattern, texture, textiles, art, pictures, images - the whole merry shebang.
I suppose to the wartime generation, acquiring things you didn't actually need was considered extravagant, but that was then. To me things are the produce of mankind, the wonders he dreams up in the fabulous tangle of his mind; the constant evoking of the wonders that surround him in nature.
I suppose art comes from the need to find within ourselves some meaningful way of either expressing or exorcising everything we experience in the world we are brought into, it is our constant struggle to turn it into something tangible and meaningful.

I create lots of things, but I don't create mugs, so I don't suppose my addiction will ever end.

Each one is beautiful, and someone's design, using shape, colour, pattern and form.
That is wonderful in itself.
So why not have your tea out of something uplifting? You never know, it might do you more good than the drink itself.
I know I will.

Favourite dog mugs

My special mug, decorated by #1 Son in the style of a fashion designer he likes, Paul Smith