Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Holiday 2014 Part 1: Breezy Ballyronan

Family Portrait by Hannah
I've just returned from a short break in Northern Ireland.  A couple of days for me and teenager in the Lisburn area visiting my sister and her family: the big boy cousins on holiday from university who sleep til lunchtime and then emerge to eat huge bowls of Shreddies on the sofa while skyping or messaging distant friends.  Shreddies are often the only food in the house since this sister is no domestic goddess and rarely shops for food or eats anything more than M&S pre-packed salads. We had a good time though - twin boy nephews aged 5 and their big sister, the portrait artist, were also over from England and the small boys enjoyed torturing the big boy cousins and the cats, Jensen and Rossi.  Their dad and I shopped and cooked spag bol. for everyone while sister was at work. So we ate that and then we played Monopoly, one of our favourite board games when we were children, though this time she didn't rob the bank as she used to.  I was very disappointed as this was a souped up version of the game and instead of building hotels in Pall Mall you had to build things like piers on 'Vista Beach'.  We played in pairs and sister and I did well at first but eventually went bankrupt because of the devious and ruthless actions of the biggest boy cousin: I predict future business success.

All three sisters then went back to Dad's house in Ballyronan which is now empty apart from the spiders. Cobwebs in your face as you open the door for no one has been here since my last visit at the beginning of June.  It was sad at first, but soon the children had created chaos and it felt more like home.  We didn't go far - it was freezing in NI.  We put the heating on and I'd had to purchase a furry hoodie as I hadn't brought enough clothes in my Easyjet permitted hand luggage. So we caught up with extended family - cousins my age visited and we had the old photos out reminiscing.  We pulled weeds in the yard and examined the state of the garden.  The greenhouse is choked with weeds and there are lots of broken panes of glass.  No tomatoes this year - the twins were disappointed.   There were lots of plums though, slightly underripe, but very good in the crumble I made after Sunday's roast dinner.

Our only outing was to the marina down the road with the younger children and my daughter to feed the ducks and play in the playground.  There was a weather warning in place, and it was more like winter so brother-in law was a bit chilly in his shorts.  Good fun for the children as a flock of Canadian geese had taken up residence and the children enjoyed chasing and being chased by them.  Only my teenager showed any fear, even when one of the boys had his finger nipped by a particularly greedy goose.

On my trip I made a rather shocking discovery.  It seems that some people I actually know read this blog. Although I now have had over 10,000 page views according to Blogger stats, I assumed that most were people who came across the blog by accident when looking for something else, not bothering to read.  My all time top post is about Michael Kors handbags, for example.  I suppose if I put Ballyronan in the title, then I'm bound to attract local readers. It's not that I mind people reading really, but I am a little concerned that I may have offended someone with my half-formed views on events in NI etc.  So please forgive me, reader, if that is you.  And if you are an ex-Rainey pupil of my era, yes, I was that slightly mousy one you didn't really talk to much.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Year in Books: July reads and August plans

We are well into August and I still haven't written my Year in Books post.  I love this project started by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees as it has been a good way to find other bloggers who enjoy reading as well as many books to add to my wish list.

This month I read three books, not a lot considering I've not been at work since mid-July.   My chosen book was 'The Goldfinch' but I just didn't get to it.    I did read 'Perfect' by Rachel Joyce which was, like Harold Fry her previous bestseller, a little slow in the middle and perhaps too long but well worth it for the ending.  It has two narrative voices, one in the present and one from a child's perspective in the 1970s.  The period detail was really good as was the portrayal of the narrator's mother.  Like several other books I have read recently, such as 'The Shock of the Fall', it explores mental illness: the central character suffers from OCD.  Although it was sad, it wasn't depressing and I loved the ending.

I also read 'The Wide Sargasso Sea' by Jean Rhys.  This is one of these classic books I've been meaning to get round to for years.  I knew of the connection to 'Jane Eyre' and its status as a kind of feminist response to JE.  So I was expecting something different.  The story of Antoinette before she became Rochester's mad wife Bertha was powerful and evocative.  Rhys drew on her own experience of growing up in Dominica and it's the description of the island and the beauty that has stayed with me.  Again the narration is shared between characters - from Bertha to Rochester and on one occasion to Grace Poole who cares for Bertha in England.  I think I was expecting more reference to 'Jane Eyre' and more focus on Rochester.  Actually I felt a little sorry for him at times and don't think he is portrayed as a total villain.  I'm not that keen on him in 'Jane Eyre' anyway.  Jane herself doesn't appear in the novel, unless I missed something.  A pity as I'd have liked to hear Bertha's opinion of her as she is annoyingly prissy in my view.

I also read 'Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe' by Frannie Flagg, my bookclub read.  It took me a while to get my head round the huge number of characters and narrators but in the end I enjoyed it.   Others have recommended the film which was very popular when it first came out - quite a while ago.

In August I am eventually going away on holiday and have set aside 'The Goldfinch' until then. I have purchased a hardback copy with a birthday voucher and it is as heavy as a brick.  Good job we we are travelling by car and ferry.  I also have to reread 'Far from the Madding Crowd', my own 'O' Level text many years ago, as I am teaching it to an 'A' level group next term.  Don't mind really - I enjoy Hardy as the plots are always strong and at least this one has a happy ending.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Flying the Flags - culture and identity in Northern Ireland

So Northern Ireland, my home nation, has eventually won some gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Two young boxers were doing the rounds of the post-games chat shows last night clearly delighted with their success, as was the Scottish postie boxer who also won gold and amused everyone with his enthusiastic rendition of 'Flower of Scotland', the chosen anthem for his country, during the medal ceremony.  The two boxers from Northern Ireland may have felt  less enthusiastic when their medal were being awarded.   The radar that all those who grew up in NI acquire tells me that these young men are probably Catholic (the names give it away) and might not have much loyalty to the 'hand of Ulster' flag used to represent Northern Ireland in the games, nor for Northern Ireland's chosen 'anthem' 'The Londonderry Air' or 'Danny Boy' as it is better known.  In fact, Paddy Barnes was heard to say 'that's not my anthem' when it was being played. But he later defused the row by making a comment on Twitter.  He said he 'won the medal for everyone, Catholic and Protestant alike, I don't care what your religion is!  Some clowns out there.'  Good for him.

People in mainland Britain cannot believe what a fuss is made about flying flags in Northern Ireland.  There were violent protests last year about the council's decision to limit the number of days the union flag would be flown over city hall.  Thankfully this has died down, but Paddy Barnes is right. There are still 'clowns' around and a sickening new twist is that some of the loyalist extremists seem to be supporting Israel's horrendous bombing of Gaza. Read more about this here.

In Ballyronan, where I grew up, it became a kind of sport at one stage for the young men in the village to erect either a tricolour (what we called the Irish flag) or a union jack and take down the one erected by the opposition. These days no one bothers.  Most people are ready to live in peace with each other and get on with their lives. My brother in law who lives in NI showed me this clip from a show called 'The Blame Game' which sums up the attitude of most sane people to the flag issue.

Last week I had to complete and sign a form related to our farm in Ballyronan. It had to be returned to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.  I noticed that the address on the form said Derry/Londonderry.  This use of the / alternative is new to me and is I suppose another official attempt at reconciliation since the name of NI's second city is another contentious issue.  When I was young, I always talked of Derry and used Co Derry when writing my address.  It was only later that someone told me that Protestants like me said Londonderry.  Really?

My own cultural identity is a bit mixed.   I don't feel any real connection to what is 'traditional' Irish culture - the language, the dance, the music and I can't even spell ceilidh without looking it up.  Nor do I see parades like the Twelfth, which I blogged about here,  as my cultural heritage: it's time to move on from all that. I never know what to put on those Ethnic Diversity forms you have to fill in at work sometimes.  Am I White Irish or White British?  Sometimes I tick both.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Liebster Award Part 2

    So here I am again with the answers to Christina's questions and some questions and nominations of my own.

    What or who inspired you to start your blog?
    I read an article in a magazine about fashion blogger Beth Gooderham who writes Style Guile.  I checked out her blog and thought I'd start my own similar one.  I soon gave up writing about fashion, though I still enjoy reading her blog.

    Do you have any pet hates?
    Jeremy Kyle and the way he exploits unfortunate people for the entertainment of viewers.

    What magazine subscriptions do you have?
    None.  I used to have 'Woman and Home' but got fed up because it kept repeating the same things. Magazines are just advertising in disguise.

    Do you avoid walking under ladders or do you have any other superstitions?
    I'm not at all superstitious but not walking under ladders is just common sense, I reckon.

    Describe the art on your living room wall.
    There is a large canvas over the mantlepiece called 'Beauty in Breakdown' by a young artist called Joe Simpson, showing a couple embracing in a night-time city centre street scene.  People have said it looks like Leeds.  We also have a poster for a Magritte exhibition we went to at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1992 (!) which also, by coincidence, shows a man and woman kissing but their faces are obscured by cloths over their heads.  I'm not sure what these choices say about us...

    What was the last concert you went to?
    The last concert I went to was Eddy Reader which I blogged about here.  I really enjoyed it.

    If you could invite one well known person for dinner, who would it be and why?
    If Seamus Heaney were still alive, I would invite him because I love his poetry and he is also from the same area as me in Northern Ireland so we could share memories.

    What are you wearing just now?
    Pyjamas, a spotty dressing gown, bronze sequinned Fitflops with chipped silver nailpolish on toes.

    What type of holiday do you enjoy most?
    I like 'gite' holidays in France most.  I don't like hotel holidays as I like to get up and potter before everyone else and we enjoy having our own space.  Ideally it would be on the coast and in a little town with good restaurants and boulangerie within walking distance.  And not too hot - can't cope with high temperatures at all.

    What is the naughtiest thing you have done as a child?
    I was sickeningly well behaved until I was about 14 and it was my younger sister who was the naughty one so I can't really think of one incident.  As a teenager I was a total nightmare, disappearing with unsuitable boys etc.

    Do you, or did you ever have a role model?  Who and why?
    My role model as a teenager was my cousin who was two years older than me.  I was always in awe of her as she went off to study in England at 18 and then got a job at the EU in Brussels.  She is still there.  It was because of her that I too decided to go to university in England rather than remain in Northern Ireland like most of my school friends.

    I'd like to nominate the following 4 bloggers.  Others who I might nominate have already participated so I can't make 11:

    Isabelle at Notes from Delft.  Isabelle is a fairly new blogger and writes beautifully about family life in the Netherlands.  Like me she is an English teacher.

    Mairead at As I Roved Out.  This a  really stylish blog with stunning photographs of Ireland.  Mairead doesn't post often but it's worth the wait.

    Gillian at Hookin' a Yarn.  A blogger from Northern Ireland who posts lovely pictures of things she makes and grows.

    Anne at ganching.  Another Northern Irish blogger. This is my favourite blog.  Anne writes in a very entertaining way about her life in London.

    My questions
    1. When do you write your blog posts and how long does it take you?
    2. Which television programme/s do you watch regularly?
    3. Describe the last meal you cooked.
    4. What is your favourite item of clothing?
    5. Your all time favourite book and why you have chosen it?
    6. Describe your usual sleep pattern - i.e time to bed up, how many hours, any middle of the night wake ups etc.
    7. Which line from a poem/book/play or famous speech appeals to you most?
    8. The city/town you have enjoyed visiting most?
    9. What is the last film you went to the cinema to watch?
    10. My current favourite nail polish colour is silver.  If you paint your nails, what colour do you usually choose?
    11. If you could award your own Oscar or Bafta to an actor/ tv performer, who would you choose and why?

    I was going to illustrate this post with a picture of my feet in Fitflops but it looked too revolting so I've added the Magritte instead.

    Sunday, 27 July 2014

    Liebster Blog Award Part One: 11 random facts about me

    Christina at  A Colourful Life has nominated me for a Liebster award.  Thank you Christina and thanks for your kind words about my blog.  Christina's life is certainly colourful and her energy levels astound me - she has four children and still manages to read loads; design and knit her own colourful socks;  make tricky things like Rose Petal Jelly and write regular blog posts.  Check her out if you haven't done so.

    So I'm returning the the autobiographical nature of my previous blog post to provide you with 11 random facts about me, which is the first task of the Liebster award.

    1. I have regularly written a journal/diary since 1992 and now have 22 of them stored in a bag in the spare room.  It is heavy - I am quite literally weighed down by my past.

    2. Yesterday I walked 13422 steps.  I know this because of the new activity monitor superfit husband bought me for my birthday.  If you do not hit your activity goal, it issues commands like 'walk' or 'up'. This is why I was doing circuits of the garden at 10.30 last night.

    3. My favourite flower is the Stargazer Lily.  I love the colour, the scent and the name.  These are flowering in my garden at present.

    4. I like eating in good restaurants.  Before we had our daughter and had two full time salaries, we used to go to Michelin two star and even three stars places.  These days we seek out  more modest establishments which often serve food which is just as good quality without the pretentious service.

    5. I have taught in 9 different schools in different parts of England: several large comprehensives (some in leafy suburbs; others in less affluent areas);  a girls' grammar and two small independent schools. Although the schools are very different, the children aren't, though some clearly have better opportunities than others.

    6. I love cheese - my favourite is Bleu D'Auvergne, sold here as St Agur.

    7. My favourite chocolate is Lindt Orange Intense which I try to limit to one square a day when I have it, but rest of family usually get there first.

    8. All my predictions and objections to owning a dog have proved to be true: he smells; leaves hair everywhere; I do most of the walking.  I wouldn't be without him now.

    9. I tend to run about 5 minutes late for everything.  A bad habit which I try to eliminate.

    10. Despite many years of teaching, I am still unable to write in a straight line on a blackboard/whiteboard.

    11. This poem makes me cry:

    'Futility' by Wilfred Owen
    Move him into the sun -
    Gently its touch awoke him once,
    At home, whispering of fields unsown.
    Always it woke him, even in France,
    Until this morning and this snow.
    If anything might rouse him now
    The kind old sun will know.
    Think how it wakes the seeds, -
    Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
    Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
    Full-nerved - still warm - too hard to stir?
    Was it for this the clay grew tall?
    - O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
    To break earth's sleep at all?

    Ness Garden's poppy field tribute to fallen soldiers in WW1

    Wednesday, 23 July 2014

    56 Up and 55 Down

    Last night I caught the end of  Michael Apted's fascinating documentary '56 Up'.  I have always been particularly drawn to this programme because the children originally chosen were just a couple of years older than me.  So I've decided to join in.  On Friday I celebrated my 55th birthday - I am now old enough to cash in my pension - how did that happen?  Apted films his subjects every 7 years so I'm going to do the same in photographs, but go backwards in 7 year blocks. Indulge me, readers, if you are still here.

    55 in 2014.  Chester.  Mother of teenager, part-time English teacher, still married to Paul. Missing my father who died in November last year.

    48, 2007. This photo of me and Kate aged 8 was taken on holiday to Venice.  We'd moved to Chester in 2001- Paul's job again - and I'd spent a bit of time as a full-time mum before returning to part-time teaching. Here I am enjoying life again after a bout of serious illness in 2006.  Loved being a mother, but missing my own mother who died in 2004.

    41 (Well actually still 40 here), 2000.  Diss, Norfolk.  Evening of the Millennium.  A happy time - the baby we'd hoped for eventually arrived.

    34, 1993.  Actually I think this photo might be 1994.  We'd moved again my then to East Anglia with Paul's job. I'm with my mother at UEA Norwich receiving my MA in Education.  Career success - I was about to start a new job as Head of English at Stowmarket High School. But not a happy time - longing for a baby but no success.  

    27, 2006.  Saltersland Presbyterian Church and then Moyola Lodge, Castledawson.  I got married to Paul who was from Liverpool and the friend of my sister's boyfriend.   I had been teaching English, a bit of French and some Drama since 1984, after a short spell of working for travel companies in London which I hated. Office work not for me.  Started to teach in London then moved to Luton where we could afford to buy a house.  It cost £25,000 and had one bedroom.  We sold it a couple of years later for twice this and moved to Burnley in 1988.

    20, 1979 Photo taken in Paris on Bastille night.  I was spending six months there as part of my joint degree course in English and French at Salford University.  I had a great time but didn't learn much French as I spent all my time with English friends, also in Paris.  Sadly I've lost touch with these two. Those purple dungarees were my favourite item of clothing at the time.  Oh dear!  

    14, 1972 Ballyronan. With sisters Diane and Pamela.  Actually it can't be 1972 as Pamela looks about 3 so it's more like 1974.  But it's the closest I could get.  Note the 'bell bottom' trousers as we called them.  I was studying for my 'O' Levels at the Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt.  But I was more interested in hanging around the marina in Ballyronan with my cousin Lorna looking for boys.

    7, 1965 On holiday in Portrush.  I'm on the right with my sisters Diane and Sylvia, the one sticking her tongue out.  This photo clearly illustrates our family roles: I was the good girl (look at how I am crossing my arms); she was the naughty one.

    That's taken me all morning: dog unwalked, bathroom not cleaned, garden unmowed.  Would anyone like to join in my 55 down project?  If I was clever with technology I could set up a linky thing.  But I'm not, so I'll leave it to you.

    Saturday, 19 July 2014

    Summer Holiday Sloth

    After two weeks of frenetic end of term activity, the summer holidays have now started.  Last year year we went on holiday immediately and had quite a busy summer visiting relatives and also doing a bit of redecorating at home.  This year we don't have so many plans and to be honest I don't mind.  It's relaxing to potter about in pjs all morning and achieve nothing more in the day than making something nice to eat for tea.

    I'm enjoying spending time with my daughter, aware that the long slow summers with her will come to an end in a few years time.  We are less likely to clash when the pressure of school isn't there and she can sleep as much as she wants.  I'm not booking her into any of those activities she used to do like Stagecoach drama. She's not so keen and is happy to entertain herself.  Unfortunately this usually means watching rubbish TV. (The latest dreadful programme is something called 'I Wanna Marry Harry' - fake prince, gullible American girls competing for him.)  She also spends a lot of time watching a girl from Brighton called Zooella on You Tube. She 'internet famous' according to Kate because she makes video logs of her life which loads of teenagers watch. Should I be restricting this and insisting that she takes more exercise and does improving reading like Jane Eyre?  No, I'm no tiger mum - I'm going to let her take the summer at her own pace.  It's her last chance because GCSEs begin for her in September so she'll be on the exam hamster wheel for the next however many years.  Let it go...

    Our sloth contrasts with husband's very busy life.  One of the reasons we haven't gone away is that he has just returned from a trip to Italy.  With his nephew, he drove 2,000 miles across Europe and back to compete in the Maratona, a challenging cycle event in the Dolomites.  They did it but it was tough with lots of climbing and they struggled to cope with the altitude.  And now he's back at work, up early every day for his long commute while I'm still in bed.

    Yesterday was my birthday and I had a lovely day.  It started with a morning walk in Delamere Forest with husband, who'd taken the day off, and the dog.  Then a relaxing couple of hours at the hairdresser's eliminating my grey roots.  Kate and her friend who slept over on Thursday evening had made me a Lemon Layer Cake and in the afternoon a few friends called for tea and cake.  Moved on by 5pm to the bottle of champagne husband had brought back from his trip - he'd stopped off en route to Italy at a vineyard in Reims.  Then out to our favourite local restaurant where I had aubergine parmigana which was delicious.

    My present from my husband was a Polar Loop activity monitor.  So next week will be able to measure just how idle I am.