Thursday, 28 February 2013

Lions and Lambs

It's been a quiet sort of month.
A heads-down, getting into the rhythm of things type of month. And largely unsociable.
Some ups and downs - like my poor Mrs Smith - but a good month nevertheless.
A month of measured days and new beginnings.  

When we first came to Ireland, someone described March as 'coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb'. It wasn't an expression I'd heard before, but it described that deeply petulant month perfectly.
Twenty years later the climate has adjusted to a different set of rules, or perhaps no rules at all, and now it seems that February has taken on the mantle of March - and this year it did indeed come in roaring.

We didn't have the snow that much of Ireland and most of Britain had, we just had hail and gales and rain, rain, rain. Everywhere squelched and water poured off every inch of the land. But for the last two weeks it has been as dry as a bone. Oh blessed relief.
We've had thick white frosts some mornings, and often an easterly wind like a knife, but I have spent hours of every day gardening with great satisfaction, protected from the north and the east alike by my ten foot, 200 year-old walls

TeenQueenSuperModel likes gardening. In fact, she tells me it's her most favourite thing of all.
Except for racing in the orchard. And breakfast. And walks. And cuddles. And snoozing on the fluffy bed by the fire.

Snoozing after a hard day's work

But apart from those, gardening is what Tiggers like best.
Model Dog also likes gardening, but then she likes doing whatever I'm doing.
It's rather a case of 'Wherever I go, there's always Pooh, there's always Pooh and me,' and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'd be lost without my Model Dog.

So, a-gardening we have gone.
The herbaceous border is practically done. As are my back and general muscle-system, but nothing's free, after all - and the pleasure it gives me to see the bed looking spick and span far outweighs the minor inconvenience of hardly being able to straighten up.
Now I can re-plant the things that have been heeled in here and there around the garden, mulch it as soon as the rain returns (which it will, it will), and then stand back and watch it all burgeon.
I will keep you posted.

Unfortunately, TeenQueen's gardening means that the lawn adjacent to my flower bed (although 'lawn' is perhaps a rather a high-falutin' name for that particular patch of grass)  looks like a graveyard. Or perhaps a charnel house.
It is littered with bones. Mostly just the remains of bones, and there ain't many remains.
While I dig, the dogs lie on the grass and munch their way through any and every marrow bone that Paul, our lovely butcher, can throw their way.
Model Dog used to be happy just lying on the grass, but since the advent of the TeenQueen - with her sharp young teeth and adolescent attention span - it is necessary to keep her constantly amused so that she doesn't get into mischief.
Bones are definitely what Tiggers like best. She demolishes them with indecent haste, and prances with excitement when she sees the gardening bucket come out.

But it hasn't been all gardening this month.
I've been writing again - getting back into my book; and enjoying the last days of winter sunshine in the woods; and the crisp blue days by the sea; and helping a friend; and doing a bit of crochet here and there; and knitting my patchwork squares; and loving the lighter mornings, the longer evenings, the end of the snowdrops and crocuses, and the start of the daffodils, primroses and violets.

It's that moment of the year when the winter is behind you and the joys of spring and summer are all to come - all still to come.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


The CrochetQueen, having taught me the basics of her wondrous craft last week, afterwards sent me a link on facebook.
And then, at the market yesterday, I had coffee with a GrandeDame of the art, and we sat happily stitching together while she further instructed me. She too sent me away with a link in my ear.
I'm not at all sure that either of them have done me a favour.

For one thing, I have burnt my knitting needles.
Who wants to knit when there is crochet out there waiting to be knotted?

You see what I mean?

I am not an owl by nature, but long after the In-Charge had carried his bad back off to bed last night, I sat up perusing the crochet-idyll of cyberspace. I stayed up until the candles guttered in their sockets and my screen flickered with the effort of staying awake.

But oh joy, oh rapture, oh itchy fingers!
Here are some of the treasures I found.
I hope no one minds me sharing them with you. Who knows, it might inspire you all to go out there and buy a hook!

Totally thrilling

Much too good to eat

Right up my street

If I had these, I'd leave all my clothes in a heap on the floor so I could see the hangers

How pretty is that?

BUNTING! I knew bunting was just WAITING to be made

Bored with making cupcakes? Iam. Maybe I'll give these a try instead. The more you eat, the thinner you get

A touch of Morocco

And some of you may remember this beauty on my blog last year.
I wanted it very badly indeed.
(I still do.)

Well, for all you mad cyclists out there - how about this instead?

Or compromise. Have a rickshaw (probably safer on city streets than a bicycle, and there's room for the shopping too).

Small wonder I lay awake in the small hours wondering if I can spare the time to sleep at all?

Do you think, if I'd learned to crochet at a young age, my life might have taken a different course?

Well, be that as it may, I am well and truly hooked now, at any rate.

The photos on this post have come from:
For the Love of Crochet
Comunidade De Arte E Artesanato
Colorful Arts And Crafts

Or if you prefer pure art, have a look at Prudence Mapstone's website

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Caught Napping

I love winter, but by now, it always seems to have gone on for an incredibly long time.
It's been wet, cold, windy and miserable for as long as I can remember.
And I can't wait for Spring - probably the most eagerly anticipated season of the year.

But the same thing happens to me every year.
Suddenly one day I realise that Spring has been and gone and done it's thing while I was - well, what was I doing?
Waiting, I suppose.

How unappreciative is that?

Viburnum Bodantense flowers all winter, bless its cotton socks

It's not that things pass me by. I always notice.
The snowdrops start first, often before New Year even and then, too early for their own good, the first tiny, fragile little violets peep out. The viburnum Bodantense continues in full throttle, despite having been flowering since October, and then the blue, blue flowers of the delicate anemone blanda appear. And - suddenly - wham, bam, everywhere you look, weeds are popping out of the ground like jack-in-the-boxes - or should that be jacks-in-the-box?

The orchard blossoms

I think, deep down, I am waiting for bugles and trumpets and a massive fanfare. For an Official Announcement on the Today Programme, a banner across the sky proclaiming: 'Let it be known - Spring has arrived!'

So brief, so beautiful

Instead of which, with horror, I suddenly realise that we are into the Pheasant's Eyes - the very last of the narcissus to flower; that the camassia are over; the tulips are blown; the leaves are opening on the first of the big trees and that the brief, wondrous moment when I thought I was in control of the garden has flown for another twelvemonths.

So this year, bearing Jeanette Winterson's words in mind - 'the time is now and the place is here and there are no second chances at a single moment.' (quoted just a week ago in my post, A Heartbeat), I am determined not to let it happen again.

It helps that I have been out gardening like a fiend. I have been trying to tame my herbaceous border which has run rather wild this last year or two.

Not a pretty sight

Hugo, our lovely Frenchman, got me going by (effortlessly) digging up the thugs for me, and helping me replant them in the new, whimsically named Moon Garden, where, as far as I'm concerned, they can fight it out between themselves.
Now I am gradually working my way along the bed, clearing it, dividing plants, removing weeds, and generally improving everything's living conditions.
A slow but rewarding process.
And even though it's still only February, a week of sunshine has brought everything on so fast that I am only just in time - another week and some plants wouldn't appreciate being uprooted at all.

Getting there - slowly

Model Dog and the TeenQueen have been a big help.
Model Dog is an old hand, but gardening is new to SuperModel.
She has taken to it in a big way.
Lying on the grass, soaking up the rays and reducing vast marrow bones to matchsticks is just what Tiggers like best.

So, Spring - HELLO!
Nice to see you!
Please make yourself at home, and hang around, who don't you?
Have a cuppa - in fact, have two. Or a glass of wine. Let's make a celebratory cake! There's really nothing else I'd rather do than keep you company.

The spring is sprung, the grass is riz,
I wonder where the boydie is?
They say the boyd is on the wing -
But that's absoyd!
The wing is on the boyd!

And if you don't believe me, measure the height of your lawn tonight and then measure it again in the morning!

A bouquet of loveliness

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Picture it in Your Own Words - Kiss

This week's Photo Challenge is Kiss

This is a photo that was taken several years ago, but because we miss Top Dog so much, I am going to post it here.
It's a picture I love.
I hope you like it too.

And this is another favourite.
It is a very old photo, of my mother and her twin when they were toddlers.
Isn't it lovely?

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A Heartbeat

Two days ago a close friend of ours had a car crash.
It was a serious accident, and as another friend, a New Yorker, said when she phoned me five minutes after it happened, his car was 'totalled'.
She would know. As lucky chance would have it, she and her partner - also friends of the victim - were in the car in front of the accident, so they witnessed it all and were able to rush to his aid and call the Gards.
Thank heavens no one else was in the car and no other car was involved, and apart from being understandably shaken and in shock, our friend seemed unscathed. The car had, as it were, taken the strain.

His wife was away on business, and the New Yorker was, literally, on her way to New York, so I hastened to the scene and being of a bossy disposition,  insisted on taking him to be checked over in A&E, or the ER as Americans would call it.
While I was sitting waiting for him, I couldn't help but reflect on the day.

Like the Curate's egg, it had been good only in parts.
It was, for one thing, Valentine's Day, but as the In-Charge was in Berlin and the first man I set eyes on during the day was a car park attendant, it had brought forth neither roses, champagne, nor fondly inscribed cards.

In fact my morning had been disastrous.
Knowing that I was going to Sligo's One Billion Rising to help the new PRO of Beltra Country Market - she who has so recently and competently taken over where I left off - I set out to walk the dogs before leaving home.

We got as far as the courtyard gate and the two dogs sat down obediently, waiting. I had their leashes in my hand, as I am very cautious - the TeenQueen has not proven herself trustworthy yet where the hens are concerned.  Only last week we had an Unfortunate Incident, when she pulled Marie Walewska out of the nesting box leaving her injured and nervous. Happily, my adolescent's reputation is taking longer to mend than my little white hen.

But then it happened.
I turned, for a moment only, to close the gate and in that second a distant hen must have scuttled across the drive, busy about its private morning routine, but it was enough to trigger the TeenQueen's inborn hunter instincts.
I didn't even know she had gone until it was too late, and although I yelled, called, ran, fell over, skinned both knees and hurt my wrist - it was to no avail.
Eventually, shaken and filled with dread, I caught up with her on the far side of the house.
Of all the hens, she had my beautiful, special Golden Princess in her mouth and it was snowing golden feathers.

It says much for Model Dog that through all the commotion and noise, she never left my side, or even considered joining in the chase, but seemed instead distressed by the whole sorry sequence of events.
And it was she who found poor Mrs Smith for me after we had grabbed the TeenQueen and locked her inside.
I searched and searched, dog-less, fearful that even the sight of a hound would send my traumatised hens into spin mode, but unable to find the poor little hen and in despair, I brought Model Dog out, and she found her straight away, tucked behind a bush that I had passed several times. She was almost invisible, camouflaged amongst the dead leaves. Model Dog didn't touch her, she just stood and stared until she'd given me the message.
We nursed the little Princess, cleaned and anointed her wounds and did everything we could. I was even hopeful when she seemed a bit.more like her old self yesterday, but this morning she is dead and the In-Charge's first job on arriving home has been to dig another grave in the orchard.
I am very sad.
And I blame myself - 

It has brought back all the thoughts I had sitting in A&E the other day.

I remembered Jeanette Winterson's words in her book The Passion: 'It is hard to remember that this day will never come again. That the time is now and the place is here and that there are no second chances at a single moment.'

On the face of it, it doesn't seem hard to remember that. But at the infinitesimal level, it is almost impossible to act upon it.

It seems to me that we measure life by major events, good or bad. And they take up acres of space in our heads, or our hearts, or our memories. But in reality few events are large.
It is the consequences that are large, but most of the key things in our lives hinge on a mere moment.
A momentary loss of control, a decision, an impulse, a flash of anger. Even a hand reached out, a hug, the light kindling in someone's eyes - or not kindling, when it should have done.
It is the tiny, momentary things that make or break the sequence, that knot the thread so that evermore it catches, catches....

It is sobering to reflect that we are never more than a heartbeat away from irrevocable change.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Sighs of Happiness

Oh joy and rapture!
My friend, the CrochetQueen came round today and taught me how to perform her wondrous and beautiful art.
How patient she is! What a fantastic teacher.
Lo and behold the puzzling complexity of knots that seem to grow tighter and - woefully - less numerous with each passing row are, it transpires, neither puzzling nor complex.

They are logical and and do what they say on the tin.
Even to a non-mathematical brain like mine.

I have just finished knitting a patchwork blanket.

The blanket before completion.
It is a cornucopia of colour, a feast of textures, a joy to behold - even if you do need sunglasses.
(And although it will probably take me as long to finish off the loose ends on the back as it took to knit the entire throw, how happy a dog will be when it is eventually bestowed.)

But now a whole new world has opened up before me.

Who would have thought I could learn to crochet entire squares in a single day.
I am hugely impressed - not with my own efforts, but with the skill of my teacher.
And if you are wondering, it is totally simple.
Grab a needle and all you have to remember is this:
'Roundabout, In, Out,
Tiptoe through the Tulips,
Through the Dusky Bluebells,
One for the Road - and Two for the Corner!'

Honesty compels me to add that there are one or two little, small, insignificant other things, but truly, it's like falling off a log.

How you would love to see the fruits of my labours, but alas, you cannot.

The In-Charge has gone off the with the only camera we possess.
You will have to abide your souls in patience. Like the CrochetQueen did with me today.
But don't worry, I will share the thrill with you as soon as possible!

Meanwhile, I've another square to finish.
Now, what colours will this one be...?

So much choice. So little restraint.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Year of the French

While I was in Suffolk at Christmas, I received an email from one of the gorgeous French boys who wwoofed with us last May. He asked if he could come back and spend ten days with us, to 'talk, talk, talk English', as he's in the middle of his finals at college. He's an engineer.

We loved having them to stay last year. Not only were they fantastically hard workers, they were also utterly charming, great company and marvellous cooks. And it did  my heart good to have two drop-dead gorgeous boys around the house again! Especially as they made me laugh all the time.

When they left I told them that they were welcome to return whenever they wanted.
I am so glad Hugo took  me at my word.

The return of the Frenchman

He's gone back to France again now, but we had a really lovely time with him.
He brought - bless him - champagne and wine and delicious Pralines de Lyon, which he used to concoct a tart so divine that I could happily tuck into it on a regular basis.
(Fortunately for my health and waistline, you can't buy Pralines de Lyon in Sligo.)

Whenever I was in the kitchen, he would come in and say 'What can I do to help you?'
How well trained is that? What a dream of a man!
I told them both back in May that their mothers really deserved to be proud of them, and nothing has changed. I hope Hugo's mother is preening herself even now.
I am not the most willing of cooks, but it was fun being in the kitchen with Hugo, and I shall be making his cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup for many years to come. We even made marmalade with a bagful of Seville oranges that my friend DodoWoman found surplus to requirements. It took us all day, but it was well worth it. The results are dark and delicious,the way we like marmalade in this house. I hope Hugo's enjoying the pots he took back to France.
And just in case we weren't getting the most out of our joint culinary experience, we spent an evening watching that marvellous film, 'Julie & Julia'. 

Dark and delicious

He went running every day, he did stuff on his computer, he came shopping with me and he even came to the Market and made St Bridgid's Crosses to mark the beginning of February.
But he did loads of jobs for me too, bless his cotton socks.

DodoWoman's photo of Hugo with his perfect St Bridgid's Cross

When they were here last year, the boys built some fantastic steps for us. It is not an exaggeration to say that I think of them both every morning of life as I take the dogs for a pre-breakfast run around the orchard.
The steps had been Job No 4582 on our never ending list, and would not have been built to this day without the French lads. We'd still be clambering up a pile of wobbly concrete blocks.

The hens use the steps all day long. Even the stray bullock who wandered in yesterday afternoon used the steps!

They moved a vast pile of stone and built a shed for the In-Charge to keep the mower in. He thinks of them every time he tucks it into bed.

And they also weeded and dug and sorted out all kinds of stuff in the garden.
Hugo did the same for me this time too. He chopped wood and brought it in to dry, he cleaned out the hen house, he translated some French documents for me and we spent several days - rain, wind or shine - doing all sorts of garden chores, including digging up, splitting and replanting not only a vast rhubarb crown, but all the horticultural thugs in my herbaceous border - jobs I would never have managed on my own.

And, just as on his last visit, there was a new dog in the house.
Model Dog arrived in the middle of their stay last May, and this time SuperModel had barely settled in before Hugo's visit. She barked at him constantly to start with, but after a day or two, and lots of walks in the woods, and on the headland and our favourite beach - she realised that actually, it's ok.
He's just part of the family.

Sweetie time: 'Please, Hugo dearest'

Model Dog knew that all along, because she remembered him from last time.

Thanks Hugo.
It was really lovely to see you.
And please come back whenever you want to!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

.Keep Calm & Eat Cake

Using the picture of my waste paper bin on my blog last week brought to mind a post I wrote way back when. I thought I'd re-post it, especially as, since then we have also had the excellent BBC TV series 'War Time Farm', which was probably my favourite programme last autumn when it was screened. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favour and order the DVD - it was marvellous.

As you can see, I think the slogan so apposite, I have added a mug to the collection too.
I use it regularly.

When I bought the bin, there were several slogans to choose from.  I would have preferred 'Keep calm and eat cake', or even better 'Keep calm and have a glass of wine', but sadly neither of those were on offer.

So, as you know, I got this one.

How thrilling is that?

I could have had 'Waste not, want not'. In fact that was the one I picked up first, but when it came to it, I just couldn't do it.

Daft really.

If you are my age, then your parents were either war-youngsters, or actually took an active role in WWII.
If you are a bit younger, then maybe your grandparents lived through the war.
If you are younger still, then you won't have a clue what I'm on about.
But the rest of us know that anyone who lived through the war can't throw away so much as a length of string or a candle stump.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking thrift - even thrift that to the uninitiated smacks of parsimony..
But where thrift is concerned, initiation does help.
Unless you've lived through the war - any war, probably - I don't suppose you can ever understand what chronic shortage really means. I certainly don't.
It's hard to imagine, after the surfeits of our own times, that in Britain, people were allowed just 1 egg, 2oz (not quite 60g) butter and 2oz cheese per person per week - less if it wasn't available. And meat, sugar, flour, jam etc etc etc were all rationed too.

And it wasn't just for the six years of the war - rationing didn't end until 1954!
War Time Farm was a real eye-opener on how people actually managed to 'carry on' - and it was interesting to see how much hard work went into ensuring that bread was never rationed in Britain, although for many countries in Europe, bread was hard - sometimes impossible - to come by.

Watching what did - or, more likely, didn't go into meals make me wonder why I spend a good deal of time scratching my head wondering what to make for dinner.
I just can't imagine trying to feed a family in those days.
And it wasn't only food. Clothes were rationed too. Try telling the average girl today that her clothes are going to be rationed from now on. Seriously rationed. No more Saturday afternoons in the mall.
It was during the war that shorter skirts for women and short trousers for boys were introduced. Boys had to wear shorts until the age of 12. It saved a lot of material.

Not everything was rationed. Some things were simply unobtainable.

So you can't exactly blame the older generation for hanging on to stuff - understandably, waste not, want not was their credo.

I was lucky enough to grow up in an era and environment of plenty, but old habits don't die, so I was brought up with the concept of 'reduce, recycle and reuse' long before the ad men turned it into a slogan to save the world.

It's a great concept. It's even a great slogan and I wholeheartedly support it.
But I don't hang on to every bit of string and candle stump.
Instead I live with a virtual wagging finger, with a shadow of disapproval falling over me every time I chuck a plastic bag, dump a perfectly good paper carrier, scrunch tin foil, scrumple up gift wrap or ditch the fag-end of a bar of soap.

But the greatest sin of all is to throw food away.

I may not be squeaky clean on the tin foil and plastic bag front, but I really baulk at binning food.

Apparently (in the British Isles anyway), - if everyone threw one in three of their carrier bags away as they left the supermarket each week, that is how much of their purchase - on average - they are going to waste.


You don't need to be a war-baby to be utterly appalled by that.
What happened to 'left-overs'?
What happened to 'Ort Pie' - something delicious constructed from whatever happened to be left in the fridge?
(Well, OK, an attempt at something delicious!)
In the name of culinary inventiveness or, failing that, pure unadulterated impecuniosity, it's got to be worth a try.

Nothing - well, practically nothing - well, very little is ever thrown away in our house.
(How's that for self-righteousness?)
Before I fall off my own pedestal, I'd better come clean. I am based at home, so if something is left over from supper, it can be made into lunch the next day.
For another, I have a battery of  back-up options. There is a strict protocol governing anything rejected by humans. First refusal = dogs. Second refusal = cats. Third refusal = hens, and if all else fails, final refusal = the bird table. I have to say, not much makes it that far down the line. Occasionally I by-pass the line and make an outright donation to the hens or the bird-table. Bread, for example, that has turned silently to the texture of old plasterboard. Ends of cheese that have transformed into translucent plastic. (How does cheese do that?)

Second refusal = cats

And then - while I'm still in the confessional - there's the fungus-y stuff. The container in the back of the fridge that you pull out and look at and think - that needs eating. Um - maybe not tonight though...
So you put it back. And back. Until eventually it feels so unloved it grows its own comfort blanket.

There are some things that have to be thrown away.

Speaking of comfort blankets and disposal, I had an interesting experience a while ago. I was away for a week, helping my brother move house. Lovingly - rather virtuously, I thought - I made a large casserole to keep the troops going for a few days in my absence. I left it on top of the oven.. About a week after I got home, I rooted in the cupboard for the casserole dish and fished it out. Gosh, I thought to myself, this iron pot is even heavier than I thought it was.
When I opened it, there was the stew. Or rather, there were the mountains of the moon, comprising several species of fungus hitherto unknown to science.
Don't even ask...(But yes, by some miracle, we are still co-habiting. Acceptance is just one of the many marvels of the human psyche.)

But for all our sins and oversights, there is very little that gets thrown away (or buried in a deep hole, far from the prying noses of rats and foxes).
Something of the make-do and mend of my childhood has lingered in there somewhere.
Probably just as well, with all of us the world over, teetering on the edge of serious shortages of money and food and resources. I can't see anyone in the first world taking very well to rationing though.
Hopefully it won't come to that. But maybe the shadow of it still hangs over us. Like some sort of genetic imprint.
I guess that's why 'Waste not, want not' was just a step too far. A truth too close to the bone.

I'd rather stay calm and eat cake. And look what I found on my trip to Enniskillen last weekend!

But if there isn't any cake, I'll opt for staying calm and carrying on.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

There and Back Again

Yesterday I took a day off.
Leaving the In-Charge and the dogs to looks after each other, I went to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.
It was lovely.

Our dentist is in Enniskillen, but even that hasn't managed to put me off the pretty little town.
I wasn't visiting the dentist yesterday - just doing odds and ends and taking time out.

I got up early and set out as it was getting light. Stupidly I forgot to take the camera with me, a shame as it turned into the most beautiful day, starting with a pink dawn in a washed, cyan sky still littered with bright stars and half a moon. The mountains, Benwisken, Benbulben, King's Mountains and Knocknarea were a clear cut half circle against the horizon in front of me - a welcome change, as only two days ago, on that same road, they had all been surgically removed by lowering skies and mist.

Here is Knocknarea at dawn on another day. The cairn on the top is affectionately known as Maeve's Lump. It is the fabled site of the ancient Queen of Connacht's grave.

Knocknarea at dawn

As I drove along the road on the hip of the mountains above Glencar Lake, I realised what a mistake it had been to forget the camera. The early sun was warm on the trees that clothe the hillside opposite, and golden on the still, calm lake below. It was quite beautiful, as were the rocks of Hamilton's Leap above me.
They are called Hamilton's Leap because some dastardly Captain or Colonel or some-such, after setting fire to Sligo Town, led his troop in a triumphant charge northwards, but racing through the darkness they came to an ill-fated but well deserved end as they plunged to their deaths over the sheer, cliff-like rocks.
Or that's the story, anyway.

Hamilton's Leap?

To be strictly honest, I'm not exactly sure which specific bit is Hamilton's Leap, but the heights above Glencar on the Sligo side of the valley lend themselves admirably to the tale.

Benbulben lies opposite Hamilton's Leap, separated by Glencar Lake on the valley floor

In Enniskillen - filled with sunshine and happy people about their Saturday business - I  meandered lazily from one end of the town to the other, starting off by selecting and engraving dog-tags at the wonderful do-it-yourself machine in the pet shop. One for our new canine friend Millie, and one each for Model Dog and the TeenQueenSuperModel who both lost theirs on the same day, although both deny any knowledge of what happened. Job done, I carried on - trawling through the numerous charity shops for interesting second-hand books to add to my bed-side pile; buying some cut-price wool for my knitting basket, bumping into two friends from Sligo; snapping up rose food and slug pellets at a third of the price I'd pay south of the border, and stocking up on cartons of long-life goats milk for the cats and custard tarts and crumpets for the In-Charge - all items unavailable at home.

I also succumbed to these.

Remember them?
I haven't seen any for an age.

Unfortunately I ate rather a lot of them on the two-hour drive home, which just goes to show: nostalgia is fattening.

Later on we went to our friend DodoWoman for a DoDelightful supper party, taking with us Millie's Mother, of Talentui fame. It was DoDelicious and a lovely way to end a happy day.

Friday, 1 February 2013


Today is Imbolg. 
A friend I met by chance on the headland this morning told me that literally the word means 'in the belly'.
As in fecund, I presume.
But of course Imbolg's meaning is much greater than that.
It is St Brigid's Day - it is the First Day of Spring, and was - so another friend told me - a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brighid long before it had saintly overtones.
Is it not ever thus?

Not being Irish, or a Gaelic speaker, or even Catholic- and meaning no disrespect whatsoever to any of those - to my Philistine ears, it is a curiously unromantic name for a very beautiful day.

I much prefer the name Candlemas, which is the Christian Festival widely celebrated tomorrow.
One of the common names by which the snowdrop was known in England was the Candlemas Lily, or Candlemas Bells, and I often think that is a quaint and pleasing description. They are also called Fair Maids of February, another fitting name.

Candlemas Bells

Candlemas was a day for celebrating light - it is when candles were brought to be blessed, and many European countries mark it in some way, or used to do so. In France they make crepes, but then, in France, any excuse is good enough for making crepes, and who can blame them?
In Spain they have a feast.

To me, it doesn't really matter whether Imbolg or Candlemas came first, or whether one is merely the 'sanitisation' of the other by the Christian church, or even if the two are completely unrelated.
As far as I'm concerned, the day has more to do with being in touch with the world around us. Marking the first, beautiful flowers of spring; rejoicing in the two extra minutes of light that each day brings, which suddenly, in early February, really make a difference; relishing the growing warmth of the sunshine, the deepening blue of the sky, the extra eggs appearing in my hen-house. Giving thanks that the longest, and darkest stretch of the winter is behind and the year, ripe with potential, is opening up ahead of us.

Snowdrops bringing their own sunshine to my windowsill

According to folklore, Candlemas is when the badger pokes his head out to see whether he feels like waking up yet (a tradition which seems to have been encompassed by Groundhog day in America).
It could become known as Badger's Day.
Although, in view of the imminent - and, according to much scientific opinion, pointless - destruction of so many of our badgers, the day might come to signify something mind-bogglingly appalling - a badger equivalent of the St Valentine's Day Massacre.

Perhaps we should leave it as it is, and keep on picking our snowdrops and, on this side of the water at least, making rush crosses.

My gorgeous French visitor put everyone to shame   Photo courtesy Beltra Country Market

Last Saturday, at Beltra Country Market a friend showed anyone who was interested how to make St Brigid crosses. It was a terrific morning, and I - like many others - now have one hanging on my door. In years gone by the boys used to make them at school and I would take down last year's and hang up the two new ones, but it has been many moons since I've seen one, and I've never made one before.
No one seems to know which of the Irish Bridgets first started making the crosses, but apparently they are traditionally put on the door to protect the house and all who dwell therein from fire and evil.
And to instill hope for the year to come.

Consider it instilled.

As the rushes dry, the ties have to be tightened.