Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Good, The Bad & The Downright 'Orrible

I feel a bit of a part-timer, these days. It seems as if I'm no sooner here than I'm gone again, what with one thing and another.
A bit discombobulating, Life In Transit. I should write a book - I could call it something like There and Back Again - an homage to dear old Bilbo Baggins.

I've been in sunny, blossom-filled Suffolk visiting my folks again, and now I'm back in a, miraculously, sunny Sligo where my own patch, anyway, is also blossom-filled. June is in full swing. There can be no doubt - the Summer Umbrella is up in the courtyard - so you can tell, it truly is the season of wine and roses.

As it happened, this trip, I was away for my birthday, which was celebrated in the bosom of my family. My papa took us all out for lunch, and then my sister and I spent the afternoon happily rummaging through a couple of Suffolk's many antique/salvage/vintage/junk yards. Perfect.

I bought this pretty plate to hang on my kitchen wall.

On the way home, I met my charming boy at the airport. He'd just flown in from Brisbane, via Kuala Lumpur and Colombo and we did the last leg to the west of Ireland together.
It's weird, isn't it, when you are looking for someone in a crowded place. Either every person you look at somehow resembles the face you are hoping to see, or else the whole place becomes a blur.
Stansted was a blur, but that might have been due to my bus-induced headache.
It didn't matter - he found me and enveloped me in a 4-year-overdue hug that was wonderful, if slightly oxygen-less.
Have both my boys grown? I thought they'd stopped growing years ago. They are like cranes. They go up forever.
Perhaps that's why this boy loves climbing - his head is already in the clouds anyway.
I have generally been called tall, but I don't feel tall around them anymore.
Perhaps I have more in common with dear old Bilbo than I thought - he was vertically-challenged too, wasn't he?
Or perhaps I have shrunk.

It was very good to see him, and it was very good to arrive home to evening sunshine and sit in the warm, bee-buzzy potager drinking a celebratory glass to salute his return, my beloved Model Dog rolling upside down on my feet, waving her legs and tail in the air, grinning with delight.

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Just as good to hear him exclaiming over the changes the passing years (and my labours) have wrought in the garden, as we wandered around in the long, light, pre-solstice evening.

'The strawberries are coming along,' the In-Charge said. 'Some of the smaller ones are ready.'
We opened our hands and he placed a few beef-tomatoes in them.
Oh Barney McCreavy - what strawberries!
Fat and fulsome, juicy and gigantic.
And - typically - I've only got 4 empty jars on the shelf in the pantry.
Why didn't I think before recycling?

Climber-boy and I stopped in amazement when we reached the herbaceous border. I don't think either of us have ever seen such huge delphiniums. The girth of them - they are obese, like the paeonies.
Obese and utterly 'tivine' as my other son used to say when he was little. Utterly tivine.

And the bees! The garden is buzzing. Hundreds of our own bumble bees (of all sizes and colours) and lots of our new native Irish black bees to be seen and heard everywhere.
The In-Charge had seen a dark mass of bees on the outside of the hive just a few days ago and rang the Bee-Boss. 'I think they're planning to de-camp,' he said. But when the Boss turned up, he said no, they were just too hot in this sultry weather, and were outside cooling down.
He removed a chunk of honeycomb and added another storey, so now we have high-rise bees - and a foretaste of our very own honey!

Lots of good things to come home to.

But alas, not all good. Bambina's sister, for no good reason that we can think of, upped and died on the day of our return.
The In-Charge had put her into the quarantine cage, because she was sitting in the orchard 'looking a bit gleckit' - but to no avail. I am all the more glad of Bambina's ten little chicks.
Not so little any more. They are definitely entering the spotty, gawky teenage years. I've removed all mirrors from their pen, so that they don't get too depressed. And we won't show them the photos when they're all grown up and over it.

So much for the Good and the Bad .
And the Downright 'Orrible?
I've got all-consuming, uber-ghastly, life-diminishing, headache-grinding, sinus-punishing, sleep-destroying, med-defying, all-orifice-streaming, in-snot-drowning, push-me-under-and-hold-me-down-forever hayfever.
It just isn't fair.
I've been chewing on the honeycomb frantically. Some say it will make a difference.
I've been chugging down the echinacea - a friend told me it worked for them.
The anti-histamines ain't doin' nothin'.
Any other remedies I should try?
I'm willing to try anything - beheading starts to sound appealing...

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Glorious Lives

The trouble with hens is that they die, often suddenly and unexpectedly.
We have, occasionally, had hens grow so old that I don't think they'd have recognised an egg if you'd thrust it under their beaks. The original Wilhelmina was once such. But more often than not, they are creatures that lead short - and in my orchard, glorious - lives.

We have lost two hens in the last month or so.
The first one just disappeared. With no corpse to mourn over, I suspected M. Renard, but our red-pelted neighbour always leaves a telltale pool of dismal feathers, and they were not to be seen. Definitely a point on the plus side.
However, there was no Bambina.

I was rather sad about Bambina. She wasn't my darling in the way that Napoleon, or the little Empress or Mrs Smith, the Golden Princess were - but even so.

We searched high and low and then went back to the beginning and searched again, but I didn't lie awake at night agonising over her vanishment. It was a shame, though, because she was actually Napoleon's granddaughter, given to us by our friend Colin, who'd had some of our eggs to hatch way back when.

Before I'd had time to get used to losing one little bird, Mrs Scissorhands fell ill.
When hens get that hunchy, huddled look, you kind of know it isn't likely to end well. I have tried various remedies, but rarely with success.
Once, years ago, I asked our vet - visiting a sick ewe - if he'd take a look at a 'hunchy' hen. An expression of sheer panic flitted through his eyes and he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. 
'The average vet wouldn't know a great deal about poultry now,' he eventually managed. 'Generally...' He gave up at that point and ran one finger significantly across his throat.
I got the drift. 
I did take the Little Empress to (a different) vet when she became so poorly, but even though the vet knew what was wrong, there was nothing she could do.
So alas, it came as no surprise when Mrs Scissorhands - she of the most unfeminine spurs - died a day or two later, despite me hand-feeding her and coaxing her to get better.

Two hens in a couple of weeks. Not good.

But then, about a fortnight later, on my way back from the market a text came blipping into my phone.
I pulled over. It was the In-Charge.
'Hen and 10 chicks in turf shed', it said. (He doesn't waste words, the In-Charge.)
Oh joy of joys! Over the moon and back again.
What a clever girl - I've no idea how many times we searched that shed, and I don't know if she even came out to eat or drink in all that time, let alone how she managed to incubate 10 eggs - she's only a little half-pint.

Bambina is only a little half-pint

So what does that make these two?

Napoleon would be very proud - his grandchildren! One or two of them might even be chips off the old block.
We'll have to see.

Who does this remind me of?
A distinct top knot. Will it develop into a tricorne, I wonder?

But ten baby chicks aren't the only new kids on the block.
Two little beehives arrived last week, courtesy of our friend, the Artist-Extraordinaire. His wife, the Shiatsu-Queen was telling me that he wanted to split his hives, and I rushed in.
'Please, please, please,' I said. 'If you think they'd settle here.'
'Settle?' She laughed. 'They'd be moving to bee-heaven.'

The little bee hives arrive

They are, I think he said, Irish black bees, and they are sharing the hen's paddock, where the morning sun will wake them up, warming up their hives; but the whole property (and beyond) is, of course, theirs to share with the bumble bees that live here.
We haven't spotted them around the garden yet, but they're probably still getting their bearings and rearing a new queen, or whatever it is they do in a new location, but I can't wait for them to come over the wall into the flower garden like the cavalry.

Maybe we'll even get back to the days of yore, long ago when the boys were about eight.
'Listen, mummy,' my curly-haired son said as we sat on the bench together. 'That's the sound of summer.'
I listened.
Behind us, the fuchsia hedge sounded like a helicopter about to take off. It was, literally, humming with honey bees.
'That's the sound of happiness,' he added.
I couldn't have summed it up better myself. The sound of happiness. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.
But that was long ago, and the hedge has been silent for far too long.

In a few weeks, my curly-haired son will be back from a long sojourn in the far-flung antipodes.
I hope he will be greeted by the sound of happiness.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Effing Visitors

Time flies.
Time lingers.
Time is elusive.
But mostly it just stalks you, and gobbles you up when you're not looking.
I have been gobbled.

The trouble is, it also leaves you gagged. It's like bumping into someone you haven't seen for ages, and the silence draws out between you, stickily, rooting you to the spot with an inane smile but nothing to say.
Where do you begin? The intervening days, weeks, months don't lend themselves to broad sweeps of the brush, yet the minutiae seems irrelevant, trivial.
'How've you been?' you ask lamely.
'Fine - great! Well - you know...busy...'

I haven't intended to be away from these pages. In an ideal world, I would sit down on Wednesdays and Sundays and fill in the gaps - dash off a few lines summing up my week, my life, my plans for world domination; stir in some photos and hopefully a pinch of spice and try to get it to the boil before life embroiled me again.
But then, in an ideal world, my house would be spotless, I'd live somewhere warm and dry and my bank manager would call me 'Sir'.
For some unknown reason, nothing ever works like that.
Why is that, d'you think?

Fantasies aside, I'm not really sure where the last few months have gone.

What was Henri doing in the cherry tree? Posing

I went to England for while, and when I got home it was blossom time - which suits the posers in my household to a T. But have you ever noticed that the clock moves at very high speed during April and May? The days, which allegedly are getting longer, in fact get shorter than ever. There is never time for anything, and the weeks whizz past with unseemly haste and no decorum.

Goldilocks on the terrace

Model Dog sashaying past the tulips

I don't think the In-Charge really noticed the blossom at all. He has been working like a demon, practically walling himself into his college studio. His Grad Show was last week, he is taking part in another Exhibition which opens this weekend - Sligo Emerging Artists, and has just submitted some work to a third.

He's there, at the moment, hanging - not himself, hopefully - but lots of pictures: drawings and paintings. I saw a good few of them for the first time this morning, and will be very disappointed if I don't see them on the wall later in the week.

It's not that I don't trust him, but quite frankly, I wish I was there, hanging them myself. He is all too likely to dismiss his own work and put it to one side. Left to his own devices, he wouldn't even have taken most of them to the gallery this morning.
In my experience of the In-Charge, taking them is no guarantee of hanging them.

The best and loveliest thing that has happened this year was way back in April. I'd just returned from a visit to the UK, and on the Saturday morning set off for the market, as is my wont.
'Will you be gone all morning?' the In-Charge asked.
What kind of question is that?
When did I ever return mid-morning on market day?
When I did get back, there was an unknown British car in the yard and my heart sank. I was tired, and unexpected visitors were not what I wanted, especially as the house resembled a bomb-site.
I sat in the car for several minutes, watching the hens and gathering strength. It would probably be someone who'd grown up here, or stayed with us when we were a B&B. We get visitors like that quite often, which is lovely in general - but just not that particular morning.
The In-Charge appeared. 'We've got effing visitors,' he said tersely, confirming my worst fears. 'You'd better come in.'
It took several more minutes to get myself sufficiently motivated, but I finally pinned a smile in place and went inside.

There have not been many occasions in life that have rendered me totally speechless, but this was one of them.
My son - my darling, gorgeous, and not-been-seen-for-over-a-year son, the very same, was sitting at the kitchen table, along with his adorable ex-girlfriend and her own little boy .
A surprise visit, cooked up between them and the In-Charge (the rat).
And not a bed made, nor a cake baked, nor a single barrow of rubble cleared from the bomb-site.

But what bliss.
He's been in Miami and the French West Indies since October, and was working constantly before that, so it's been a long time. Too long, but here he was, for his birthday weekend.

The sun shone, the sky was blue and we went to the beach, picnicked, ate cake and drank champagne. All the things you should do.
Total heaven. And the best bit of all was seeing them back together again and meeting her dote of a son.
The best 'effing visitors' in the world.