Sunday, 30 September 2012

Blue Moon

Sickle Moon

Wonder Brother is getting married again.
He went public with this Momentous News at his 50th Birthday Weekend (it was a Capital Letter sort of occasion) and although no one was exactly blown away with surprise, we were all blown away with happiness at his happiness.
He looked positively runny all weekend, as we would say in our house.

It was a great party.
Although - hideous thought - I nearly missed it.
He had, with great forethought and much consideration, rung to talk through possible dates for the marking of his half century, and we'd agreed a weekend that I'd be able to get to the UK.
But a few nights later I woke in a schwett (as they say here), remembering that we had already accepted another, equally important invitation for the same weekend this side of the water.
Ye gods and little fishes, where were my wits?
No doubt nestling somewhere with my lost NavBar.
As dawn broke, I sent him a text with trembling fingers. His reply was - well, curt.
I had no one to blame but myself - I should have kept my calendar up to date. But isn't it typical? Yummy invitations are like buses. You can loiter palely for months on end and then, when they come - if they come - they all come at once.

It took me another few days to clock that actually his do was on the Saturday, our other invite was for the Sunday night, and for once the dread Ryanair played a blinder by flying in and out of our local airports at the right times for me to be at both events.
Joy of joys!
I packed a bag and headed to pastures new in Cheshire. My parents and siblings all packed bags and did likewise - from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of England, from Scotland to the West Country, we all converged on the newest outpost of the empire. 

Waxing Moon

It is hard to describe just how lovely the weekend was. Not simply for the Event, but for the people that went with it.

Perhaps it's only as you get older that blood really does thicken up a bit, but increasingly I find that time spent with my family is very precious. Looking back over the years, family get-togethers have been occasional markers, rather than the norm - we've been splattered hither, thither and yon most of my life.

It's made me think, once again, about locality. Even in this day and age, lots of families are still on each other's doorsteps.
Is having your family on hand a luxury or a pain, I wonder? I've never had the chance to find out, but I suspect that, despite all, it is probably a luxury.

Families love each other and hate each other, they embrace and bicker and argue. They slam doors but usually - eventually - open their arms and hearts wide. And many drop in and out of each other's lives almost daily. But not having grown up with that, I've neither looked for it, nor missed it, until now. Living in rural Ireland has highlighted the gaps I never knew I had.
Here, I am surrounded by collective families who have deep, subliminal connections with the places where they live. It is impossible not to sense the roots, the tensile bonds of kinship that link so many people together, the layers of history, relationship and intimacy that underpin communities, the invisible maps which they know instinctively but which I know nothing of. The warp and weft of blood with locality.
The intricacies of it all are something I will never unravel or understand because there is no imprint within me that recognises the pattern.
It is why, no matter how long I live here, I will never belong as my neighbours do. I will always be a 'blow-in', just as I would be if I came from Dublin, or Donegal. I may have a home here, but I don't have a homeplace. People use that expression often - 'my homeplace'. The soil from which they sprang.

The thing is, I don't have a homeplace anywhere else either, or yards of relatives to people it. No entrenchment. Does that make me a kind of locus-orphan? I don't know. For me, belonging is moveable and  lodges in the soul rather than the soil. It is about the people I carry in my heart, and those who carry me in theirs. That is my homeplace.
So, strange as it may sound, my first visit to Cheshire was like going home.

Wonder Brother and his fair Betrothed had planned the weekend to perfection. No easy task when catering for the interests of an age-group ranging from 14-91, but our packed schedule flowed smoothly from one event to the next without anyone being aware of a cunning plan underlying the whole.

Full Moon

Yet, sitting out under the stars in their charming town garden, I realised that it wouldn't have mattered if we'd done nothing and been nowhere. Watching everyone laughing and joking over laden plates and glasses of wine, it struck me that it's all about the ease with which you pick up the threads. No matter where you all live, or how different your lifestyles, your opinions or your priorities; once together, the blood recognises its own and mingles seamlessly, the heart remembers the echoes the mind has long forgotten. Those are the things that mark out our nearest and dearest from all the rest. Those relationships are future-proofed, time lapses and locus notwithstanding.

I watched the young ones who'd managed to be there - the under 30s - catching up, swapping news, so full of their lives, and I remembered with blinding clarity and some nostalgia the place they are now at. At that age how radiant and full of promise the world is. Everything is an adventure, every dawn a new beginning, and time, if you ever think about it at all, is just a remote bank vault, bulging with funds. Happy as I am, it is an unalterable truth that living wears some of the shine off that polish, and eats quietly through that largesse.

But it is good, and right and proper that my nephews and nieces are still millionaires in that regard, that they too will have these spendthrift days to look back on. And family get-togethers that replenish the collective memory.

And it is beyond good that my brother and his lovely Betrothed have both come full circle - through the tarnished years back to a point where energy and happiness are raw and vibrant again. When life is for living and each dawn an adventure. Maybe, as he puts down tentative roots alongside hers, he will learn what it is to have a homeplace. But it hardly matters. He has found the homeplace of her heart, and she his, and I am so glad for them. Glad that they have found it, and known it for what it is, and seized it with both hands.

The chance of love, with the happiness it brings, the belonging it bestows, isn't like buses, chugging along at stolid intervals.
It is more like a blue moon, rare and special.
And oftentimes not even acknowledged or recognised.

Blue Moon. We had one last month, and the next one falls on July 31, 2015

Thursday, 27 September 2012


The last two summers have been so inclement that, by comparison with yesteryear, we have had almost no vegetables.
There was a time when anyone coming to the door in September would have had a bag of runner beans stuffed into their arms, whether they wanted them or not.
I don't know about you, but the idea of a polytunnel just doesn't float my boat.
I know they are wonderful, I know you can grow orchids in them, I know everybody has one.
But I just can't see myself thinking: 'I can't wait to get out into the tunnel!'
However - who knows? A few years ago I'd never have thought I'd don specs in order to focus on the end of my nose.
Needs must when the devil drives.

And if things continue the way they are going, it may be my only hope of surfeiting on runner beans again, because sadly, runner beans - my favourite vegetable - are a bit of a rarity in our house these days.

How nice then, going out to forage in the garden on a damp, chill evening, to come back with this little haul for supper.

I cooked the beans and made a salad with the rest.

Yum yum.
Thank you, garden.

We'll hold on a bit longer before we succumb to tunnelopia.

Monday, 24 September 2012


I have recently had problems accessing my blog, due to the disappearance of my Navbar.
Has anyone else suffered this loss? Is therapy available?
Life is fraught with difficulties and trip-hazards, but mercifully Wonder-Brother has come to the rescue once again.Thank you, dear Brother and may a thousand blessings shower through the leaks in your roof.
However, even Wonder Brother could not locate my missing tool, so if anyone finds a partially-used Navbar in their man-drawer, please post it back to me, the tooter the suiter.


But Navbars aside, all has not been well in the hen's paddock.

As you may know, Napoleon died two weeks ago.
It was a very sad day and the place is oddly silent. Considering how small he was, it is surprising that he took up so much room. I miss him. I miss him crowing all day, and answering to his name, his nodding head and his funny little ways.

Napoleon and Mrs Smith (aka Dolly)

I am not alone.
Mrs Smith took to her bed (which is, let's face it, an age old tradition with dowagers) on the afternoon of his death, and has remained there ever since, despite all attempts to coax her out. She even got quite cross and started biting me every time I put my hand in to lift her out.

I am ashamed to say that I hadn't thought how badly she might be affected by his going.
I suppose I presumed she would just muddle in with the other hens and carry on. I hadn't realised how much she would grieve.
I am quite shocked at how insensitive I was. I'm normally very tuned in to my animals.

Someone once told me that when an animal dies, you should leave it in its bed for awhile, for all your other animals to see, so that they understand what has happened. Since then, I have always done this, and it's true, they do all come and look and sniff and sit for awhile (or run away in some cases), but they do seem to understand. They usually attend the subsequent burial too.

I think it stops them searching for their erstwhile companion, wondering why they have disappeared and why they never return, although it didn't stop Under-Dog grieving when his mother died. For weeks he stood out in the yard looking haunted and distressed. But generally it seems to help.

A sad little Golden Princess

To my shame, I was so upset at losing Napoleon, I forgot all about Mrs Smith that horrible morning, and I didn't accord her that courtesy. He was ill, we took him away and she just never saw him again. That was it.
Perhaps she has been waiting all this time for him to come home. They were a couple after all, they spent all their time together. They had their own separate pen - Claridges.
Her obvious unhappiness has made me feel very guilty.

People tend to be slightly dismissive of animals, and mutter things about anthropomorphism.
How arrogant the human race is. As if emotions could only possibly belong to walking, talking, gum-chewing homosapiens. We have the exclusive ability to feel, the divine right to any sentiment that's going.
Perhaps it's because animals don't actually speak our language and can't put us right.
I have lived with animals all my life, and some of them have had a greater depth of feelings than many people I have known - and, even without human speech - a better way of communicating them.

Their emotions are straightforward - like a child's - but real nonetheless.

These last few days, I have been carrying Mrs Smith out to the orchard - a world she has never seen before - and putting her with the other hens. As we walk she is tense and anxious and constantly looking around, despite all my reassurances.
Is she searching for Napoleon or just seeing new vistas? Who knows.
I have also been apologising to her, something I feel is necessary, whether she understands it or not.
She certainly understands all about bereavement.

Hopefully Mrs Smith will soon join the daily race to the orchard

Sunday, 23 September 2012


in the interests of returning the blog to its former glory, this is an undercover post to test the operational functioning of Writing from the Edge

More soon ...

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Oh, September...

Having spent all morning pondering blue moons, I was planning to go out and do some gardening this afternoon, but much to Model Dog's disgust, a sullen rain set in after lunch, so we have ventured nowhere.
A shame, as the list of gardening jobs is growing exponentially with the passing days.

I am not very fond of autumn.
There - I've said it, and will now run and hide behind the cupboards in case you all pelt me with rotten apples.
Most people love autumn, but I am not one of them. I hate the coming of September, which the In-Charge always takes personally, as he is a Virgo - his birthday was just last week.
If I lived in France it would be different.

I am as one with Joseph Addison who wrote in The Spectator on 31 May 1712:
'Could I transport myself with a wish from one country to another, I should choose to pass my winter in Spain, my Spring in Italy, my summer in England and my autumn in France.'

Autumn in France is glorious and beautiful. As I'm sure it is in countless other places. Italy has many fans (including my friend DodoWoman), and everyone knows Connecticut is famous for its 'Fall'.
But autumn in this neck of the woods is wild and mean. The leaves get blown away before they have had time to turn - even the Virginia Creeper is green one day, red the next and gone on the third.
And on top of that is is damp, cold and full of spiders who suddenly think they can move into any part of my house they fancy.
They cannot.
I have nothing against spiders outside. They can have the woodshed, the henhouse, the turfshed, the garden shed - any wretched shed they want, but they cannot have my house - especially my bedroom and bathroom!.
Ditto mice.

The more you pick, the more you get

Right, now that that's sorted and I have, so to speak, put my cards on the table, there is something that I love about this time of year.

One of my favourite flowers

The sweet peas always reach their peak now, and flower in a frenzy of scent and colour as if they too are marking off the days, measuring each moment of sunshine before some bitter wind wreaks havoc amongst their delicate tendrils and fragile beauty.
They are a total joy, and bunches of them have gone far and wide, as always.
The last breath of summer..

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Les Français sont complètement fous!

I have just been down to the sea with the dogs.
It's a beautiful September morning of cloudless skies and surfer-seas.
Even the tearing gale has abated, and for another day at least, the house still nestles under an ever-reddening blanket. Another gale and the leaves will disappear.
The coast road and verge were littered with surfboards and people pulling wetsuits on or off. As I came round one corner, there was even a bare bum mooning at me as someone struggled to pull his feet free.

But it's so cold it feels like December. The dogs even declined a dip at the headland, but then they hadn't brought their wetsuits. Instead they played in the rough grass while I watched the crisp sets of breakers streaming in, and the breeze ruffling out of the North threatened to slice us into very small dice.
What is going on?

Last night I picked some beans for supper.
I had a jacket on and the hood firmly pulled up. The dogs stood waiting by the gate with their backs to me, letting it be known that coming outside had not been their idea in the first place.
I felt sorry for the bean plants as we hurried back to the warm kitchen, and don't hold out much hope for the flowers and baby beans still trying to grow.
I hold out even less hope for the third brood of swallows eagerly trying their wings in the turf shed. Any day now, the skies will be empty, the roof ridges silent of their hauntingly lilting song and - like last year - we'll be left with straggling youngsters who aren't quite sure what happens next.
The In-Charge says they catch up, that by the time they reach the south coast the adults will be there, waiting.
The triumph of hope over reality, possibly, but let's go with it.

As I headed homewards this morning, I passed a friend walking her dog Maximus. She said her husband had gone in amidst the surfers for a swim.
'He doesn't even wear a wetsuit,' she said, her expression conveying the craziness of surfers in general and swimmers in particular.
I've heard of mad dogs and Englishmen, but he is French and surely ought to know better!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Comings and Goings

I feel like a stranger on my own blog page, I have been gone so long.
I'm sorry about that - it's been a busy summer one way and another, and I've hardly been online at all.
I've also been on holiday in England for the last couple of weeks, visiting friends and family, but I'm back now.

I went on my own while the In-Charge nobly stayed at home, managing everything.
When I got back, Model Dog was so pleased to see me, she pee'd on the spot.
Top Dog looked suitably appalled at her lapse from manners and said: 'I told you she'd come back - eventually!'  He sounded a little out of patience, and I could tell that he hasn't had much sleep in my absence. Probably every hour of the night he was woken by a huge sigh and another moan: 'She's gone! Lost and gone forever!'
At least he's sleeping now, trying to catch up.

Pixie, who seems to have lost yet more of her precious 25% vision, was also overjoyed at my return, hesitating and then racing across the yard when she heard my voice. And when I went out to the hen's field and called Napoleon's name, his head whipped round and he hobbled eagerly towards me.
But he obviously wasn't very well.
The In-Charge confirmed that he'd been off-colour for a few days and my heart sank.
In my experience, once a hen or cockerel has been unwell for more than a day, there is only one outcome.

Sadly I was right - but how I wish I wasn't.

Napoleon and his first wife, Josephine

We buried the little Emperor in the orchard this morning, close to his Empress, amidst tears and sorrow.
How much I will miss him - as I still miss her.
They were 'my babies'.
He was adorable, he was feisty, he was ludicrous!
He was gorgeous, he was - in every sense - a feather-head, and he was utterly hopeless.
But he was a devoted husband, a total pet and quite the most glamorous bird I have ever been owned by.
He was also the only member of my extensive poultry family who ever answered to his name.

He was a character.

I'll never forget him, or the times I've had with him.
The night when for some reason - I forget what - he wasn't in his pen and we went looking for him.
A hopeless mission, looking for any chicken after dark, but even more hopeless to be looking for a small, black cockerel.
I found him though. Quite by chance.
Ranging down one side of the orchard, where the 200 year old wall borders the road beyond, I suddenly saw his unmistakeable profile outlined in the orange glow of the distant streettlight. He had nestled down amidst the uneven 'cow and calf' stones on top of the wall for the night and I wasn't at all sure that he was thrilled to see me!

A winter silhouette that I shall miss

He was thrilled the day I saved him from the bullocks though.
He was standing on top of the gate into his paddock and in trying to make him fly down into the paddock, I somehow panicked him and he flew onto the wall instead, and then over and away into the field beyond.
It was, needless to say, peopled with large bullocks who didn't take long to register the appearance of an interesting diversion from the tedium of their afternoon. Unfortunately Napoleon's large, cockaded hat meant he could hardly see anything at all, and the noise and hazy vision of charging bullocks sent him instantly into super-panic mode.
The bullocks found that even more entertaining.
It was winter, nearly dusk and the In-Charge was in Dublin - 3 hours drive away.
Is it not ever thus?

Balefully I watched as Napoleon zig-zagged across the field, more and more terrified as the bullocks threw themselves wholeheartedly into the chase.
You see, I am also terrified of bullocks.
I searched for a large stick and ran to the only entrance into the glebe pastures - a door in our garden wall. Quaking with fear, I peered out, but all I could see were the wretched animals standing in a ring on the far side of the field, staring down silently at something in the midst of them.
'It's too late,' I thought. 'They've killed him.'
The light was starting to fade, and in desperation I phoned the In-Charge who, quite reasonably, said: 'What can I do, my darling? But if you do go into the field, take a big stick.'

I grabbed another large stick and set off, before I bottled out completely. The bullocks, needless to say, were even more delighted to see a second diversion late on a winter's afternoon. They charged forward eagerly and, without giving myself time to think, I dived in, roaring and waving both sticks.
'Yeah?' I yelled. 'Come on then! Come and get it!'

It is always best, I have discovered, not to dwell on the moments when one has made a complete twit of oneself. Suffice it to say that the herd was obviously not used to being shrieked at by a banshee. I didn't even have to hit them - they fell back bemused, and ran behind me across the field - still hopeful of some sport no doubt. 

When I got to the far side, Napoleon wasn't a lifeless rag, trodden into the mud, as I expected. He had somehow crept behind a narrow stump in the hedgerow, just out of their reach. All the same, he looked pretty dead.
I didn't stop to investigate. I just leant down, grabbed him, put him firmly under one arm and turning towards the melee, brandished my sticks again.

Back in the kitchen, I was shaking, the dogs who had been firmly shut inside the garden were excited and on edge, and the cats were goggle-eyed, but Napoleon just sat up in my lap, shook himself and then started a rather belated bravado-strut.
I pushed him firmly back down again and got out my nail scissors.
In future he needed to see what he was up against.
I gave him a good haircut - not exactly a No 1 - but I never let his cockade grow over his eyes again.

Napoleon and his beloved Empress

Remembering that makes me smile. His 'I'm good for another round!' attitude.
He deserved the name Napoleon for more than just his hat. He was always 'good for another round' with Wellington - hurling Gallic insults at him morning, noon and night - as long as there was a strong, secure gate between them, of course. Otherwise it was 'Run away! Run away!'

Perhaps it was saving him from the bullocks that made me love him.
Or maybe it was the time that he disappeared and I eventually found him in the churchyard - behind our eight foot wall. How did he get there? I couldn't get over the wall - I had to walk the long way round, pick him up and carry him home.
Certainly, by the time I discovered him wandering about in the road one afternoon (where was he going?), I was already well and truly hooked. On that occasion I had to screech for the In-Charge, as I tried to catch him, stop the cars and prevent him from panicking or being run over, all at once.
His brief time in our lives was certainly eventful.

Our wwoofers all loved him, and the garden visitors hailed him with delight and took endless photos.
For such a small creature he had a huge character. And a very loyal heart. He missed Josephine so much when she died, that he took to following me around like a small dog. Eventually I found the little Empress Marie Louise for him, and they became the ultimate couple. They spent most of their time in our courtyard, just hanging out together, until she died in March and after that I didn't bring him into the courtyard again because he would just start looking for her, even after Mrs Smith came.

Napoleon and the Golden Princess, aka Mrs Smith

She will miss him, Mrs Smith.
I hope she will gradually be taken under Wellington's wing.

I will miss him too. And sadly, I can't fit under Wellington's wing, so I will have to find my own comfort.
Fortunately the Model Dog is glued to my side.
Animals don't always understand about comings and goings, but thank heavens they do understand about comfort.

'Here will I rest, here lie, because my heart desires it'