Sunday, 28 July 2013

Birthday Blues in Ballyronan

I've been in Northern Ireland this week visiting Dad.  Took the camera and snapped away as usual for the record.  And could now put together another 'happy' post with what I gathered.  But...
that wouldn't be a true reflection of my week because the reality was not that happy at all.

This week Dad had his 81st birthday.  A year ago on his 80th we had a big celebration.  All his 5 daughters and 11 grandchildren ages 3-20 gathered in Ballyronan, a rare occurence since we are scattered widely around Britain and beyond.  It was wonderful - the extended family got together in a local hotel.  A friend who was was in a band provided the entertainment.  Clever crafty sister created a cake reflecting Dad's love of crosswords and included all the grandchildren's names; I wrote a poem about his life; Kate and her cousins did a dance.  Unfortunately this year's birthday wasn't so happy.

Dad has always remained optimistic in the most difficult of situations. And there have been a few of these.  But this week he was as low as I have ever seen him.  His legs have let him down: one arthitic hip and an infection in the other leg have left him almost immobile, struggling to shuffle between the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen with the aid of a zimmer frame.  He's in a lot of pain with his leg. And he can't even do his crossword properly anymore as he has cataracts growing on his eyes so can't see the clues. He conceded defeat after a recent fall and the infection and has finally agreed to have some help beyond that provided by kind friends, neighbours and members of our extended family.  So carers now come and help him wash and dress each morning.

It breaks my heart to see him like this.  It seems no time since he was hoisting bales of straw for the cattle on his shoulder and whistling as he went about his work on the farm.  And barely a year ago if we arrived on a Sunday, he'd have cooked a full roast dinner.  And a trifle for pudding. 

The carers I saw last week were without exception kind and compassionate.  It's not always the same one but the lady I saw a few times was lovely - chatting away to him as she worked about her family as he told her about us.  Yet it's all so undignified.  She called him 'pet'.  He hates feeling this useless and is frustrated and unhappy about his situation.  He's hoping that the hip replacement that he's on the list for will improve his mobility.

It wasn't all bad.  He has a mobility scooter which helps him get out of the house.  So we went up and had a look at his garden which is tended by another cousin.  Leeks and beetroot doing well.  So were the scallions (or spring onions to you English people).  Plenty of tomatoes in the greenhouse, but none ripe yet, but he was cross as his lettuces had been eaten by rabbits.  And a blackcurrant bush heavily laden with ripe fruit, unlike my barren bush at home.  I picked some and made a pie.   And we took a trip to the marina, Dad, me, my sister and Kate.  We walked to the 'lighthouse' and through the woods.  He bought us Mr Whippy ice creams.

View of Ballyronan Marina from Dad's house

I'm not much use. I'm not comfortable doing the physical care and too far away to help with everyday stuff.  So I tried to help by cooking him proper meals with local new potatoes.  Put some in the freezer. For his birthday I made a rhubarb tart the way mummy used to do it.  Memories of better times.

My Rhubarb Tart
He's lucky I suppose to live in a community where people still look out for the elderly who live alone.  I suspect I won't be so lucky when it's my turn. Found myself checking out my pension this week after another birthday brings me closer to the age where I can claim it.  Like dad I'm wondering where the time's gone.

Monday, 22 July 2013

52 Weeks of Happy 7/52: birthday, butterflies and brambles.

A few simple happy moments from the last week.  Joining again with Jen from little birdie.

1. Cake - my attempt at Orange and Lemon Cupcakes. Or fairy cakes really as they weren't huge over-frosted things.

2. My birthday on Thursday and a few friends plus kids for Pimms, cake, chocolate covered cherries and strawberries.  You can just spot yet another joke 'Doris' card which I can add to my collection. 

3.  Loads of butterflies on my Saturday morning dog walk.  Little brown and orange ones.  I just managed to capture this one on my phone.  Looked it up and they are called Gatekeepers.  Apparently attracted to bramble, which explains why they were there - see below.  

4. Promise of lots of blackberry picking this year!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

TV chefs: Rick Stein, Raymond Blanc and eating out at home

At Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow
In our house TV chefs fall into two categories: those to be admired and those to despise.  Rick Stein and Raymond Blanc are in the first group but we switch channels when Delia or Jamie Oliver appear.  Actually that's not quite true: I've watched Jamie's 30 minute Meals when my personal chef is out of the house, but I do feel Jamie spends more time assembling expensive ingredients than cooking.  It was refreshing therefore to watch a repeat of Raymond Blanc's latest series this morning ('How to Cook Well' I think it's called) and see him give instructions on how to poach an egg properly and then making clever little cling film parcels of salmon and dill and poaching them.

One upon a time, pre-child when we had two full-time salaries coming in, we visited Raymond Blanc's 'Manoir au Quatre Saisons' restaurant, though we didn't stay in the rooms but in a more modest establishment down the road a bit.  It was a fabulous meal - we had the 'Menu Gourmand' - though I can't remember the details.  Was it worth the £177.40 it cost?  In 1996? (Kept the bill in a scrapbook)  Maybe for the memories, the experience, but not the food itself, no matter how delicious it was.

So last week in Padstow we thought we'd visit the restaurant of another food hero, Rick Stein.  I suppose it's because of Rick Stein that we went to Padstow in the first place.  Like many others, I loved his original programme based there.  We watched the series; bought the book; envied the lifestyle and admired his dog Chalky.  Padstow has no doubt benefitted from his influence but I'm not sure he's that popular there now.  It seems he's divorced now and has moved to Australia with his new family.  Yet Padstow is full of Stein's establishments- hotel and bistro, cafe, fish and chip shop, deli, patisserie, gift shop: he's certainly done very well as a TV chef.   He's back in Padstow next week to do signings of his latest book on Indian cooking and is doing the rounds - on Woman's Hour the other day.

We booked in at lunchtime as it's cheaper then and had the £38.50 menu.  With a fruit cocktail for Kate and a bottle of wine it cost around £160 for the three of us.

I liked my starter best  - lobster and fennel risotto with lemon oil.  Didn't take a picture of it as it looked a bit like porridge.  I love lobster but was disappointed to have only a few minute pieces.  But it was absolutely delicious.  Below is Kate's starter of sardines which she liked too.  My main course of cod in a butter sauce with samphire was also perfectly cooked and the puddings tasted as good as they look.  Worth it?  Maybe.  But then the Salt and Pepper Squid I had in the 'Old Ship' down the road was just as good.  And cost less.  And they welcome dogs.

Kate's Berry Pavlova

My Key Lime Pie
I'm just as happy eating at home.  Last night we ate outside with a friend who was visiting and had Goat's Cheese and Red Onion Tart, followed by Chicken Caesar Salad all lovingly prepared by my superstar chef husband.  Absolutely lovely and a match for the TV chef restaurants.  My contribution was growing the Little Gem lettuce which formed the basis of the salad.  And doing the washing up.  The only downside of eating out at home.

Friday, 19 July 2013


Free Google image this time.  Camera playing up and won't upload my pictures

4.30 am and I'm in the garden.  Too hot to sleep and have a bit of a headache - too much birthday Pimms yesterday. Garden wonderfully cool; trees silhouettes in early morning light; cockerel crowing in the distance.  And bats!  Swooping silently, half invisible, there and then not there.  I love watching bats on warm summer evenings.  And mornings.   Anyway D. H. Lawrence says it better than me so here's an early morning poem.  Or a bit of one.  Though unlike me and most people I suppose,  Lawrence doesn't like bats.

From 'Bats'

Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.

A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where the light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.


Dark air life loping
Yet missing the pure loop
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Doris's Day: (Or week really) In Padstow

Inspired by the many lovely photos on blogs I've been reading, we choose Cornwall for our summer holiday this year, renting a cottage in Padstow last week.  The sun shone; our cottage was clean and comfortable and Padstow not too busy it being a couple of weeks before most schools are off.  Term ended really early for us this summer so we took advantage of the slightly lower prices and headed off right away.  Back now and ignoring ironing and messy house to reflect on our holiday and record some memories.

What did we do with our week? Surfing on the beach at Newquay? Fishing trip? Nah... a whole lot of this....

Yes - eating;  (crisps are usually a banned food at home), drinking wine; and reading.  I read Kate Atkinson's 'Life after Life' on my Kindle.  Admired it; didn't love it.  Kate hiding behind second in the 'Noughts and Crosses' series - hates having her photo taken. The more active member of the family explored the area on his bike (lots of steep hills) and when he wasn't doing that watched the Tour de France on the TV.

We weren't entirely sedentary.  We took the dog for evening walks on the coastal path.  He doesn't like the heat much but did have a great time in Padstow as there were lots of other dogs to bark at and sniff.

Suspect my outfit here is accessorised by a doggy poo bag... lovely.  Can't believe he took a photo of me with it.

The beaches were deserted in the evenings and very beautiful.   

Friday, 12 July 2013

Doris's Day: on teaching and a trip to Shakespeare's Globe

Last week I took a party of kids from school to London for the day to tour Shakespeare's Globe theatre.  It was a great day out for everyone including my daughter, though to be honest she was more interested in the section of the day that involved shopping.  I loved the Globe: the smell of the wood and the thatch, the way it's open to the elements, how the wood has weathered, the simplicity of the stage set for a production of 'Macbeth' later in the afternoon.  Unfortunately we weren't seeing it - decided that the year 7s we'd brought wouldn't cope with a full length production.  But our guide was wonderful  - full of interesting anecdotes and facts about the theatre and speeches from the plays. He was an actor earning a bit extra from doing tours I suppose.

We also went on a riverboat trip to see some of the sights - a few of the kids had never been to London.  Fantastic views of the Shard, Tower bridge, HMS Belfast, Big Ben and of course the Globe itself.   The highlight of the day for many of the kids was Trafalgar Square where they joined other tourists to climb on the plinth of Nelson's Column and in some cases onto the backs of lions. It was a lovely day which even the staff enjoyed as the students were almost without exception polite, cooperative and appreciative all day.  Ok they were a little loud on the train on the way back, but other passengers were tolerant.

So one of those days when I love my job.   It's not like this all the time of course: this time last year for reasons too complex to outline here, I was ready to resign.   And then a few days ago I checked Facebook to find a message from a pupil I taught nearly 30 years ago in 1985 at the beginning of my career.  A lovely surprise - she said I was one of her favourite teachers and helped cultivate her interest in the English language and writing.  I think I remember her too.  Makes it all seem worthwhile if I am remembered like this.

Writing this in sunny Cornwall with dodgy wi fi signal on the iPad so not many posts this week.  And can't even upload pics so an imageless post.  Never mind - will get back to more regular logging now that hols are here.