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.