Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Floods...and Noah

I've just returned from a few days in Northern Ireland and managed to travel without too much disruption apart from a hour and half delay caused by the plane's steering breaking down just as we were taxi-ing away from the terminal.  That'll teach us not to choose Fly(may)be.  We (daughter Kate and I, abandoning family-phobic husband and dog) spent a few days with NI sister in Dromore looking out over the mist-covered Mourne mountains which you can see from her house and rarely venturing outside.  But in the midst of all the wind and rain there was one morning of calm winter sunshine on Sunday and sister, brother-in-law and I went for a very pleasant walk around the lake in Hillsborough and then to the pub for a hot port, a popular drink in NI which you can rarely get in English pubs. Meanwhile the turkey was cooking nicely - there were 10 of us for dinner that day as youngest sister and her family were there too.  I was in charge of stuffing following my dad's recipe for sausagemeat stuffing and basic parsley-based one.  I just about matched Granda's standard, according to nephew Callum.  Kate and I enjoyed this meal much more than Christmas day when we had an overpriced four course meal in a rather posh restaurant which was a bit too formal for her and full of older people. Then there was more present opening and board game playing.  'Taboo', which I bought for older nieces and nephews, was good fun.

All the footage of the floods in the news recently reminded me of the time we were flooded in Ballyronan 30 years ago.  It was the summer of 1985 and I'd brought the boyfriend who is now my husband to visit the family for the first time.  We were in bed (in separate rooms of course) and I couldn't sleep because of the noise of thunderstorm and the rain which had been lashing down for hours. We'd been flooded before - the sheugh (NI for open drain) was prone to overflowing. So I went downstairs to check and stepped into three inches of water at the bottom of the stairs.  I woke the rest of the household and we spent the next few hours with brushes sweeping the water out ot the front door.  It had collected in the backyard, which is enclosed by outbuildings and a high wall, and had reached up to the windowsill, coming in through the back kitchen door, down the step and then out the front of the house.  So we kept sweeping for the next few hours, while my father went outside with a hammer and chisel and attempted to make a hole in the wall to release some of the water.  Meanwhile my mother stayed in bed, weeping and unable to face the prospect of the mess she'd be clearing up. Another worry was that my youngest sister's new kitten was missing.

All was well in the end: our efforts meant the water never got too deep so most of the furniture could be dried out and there was only one carpet to replace.  My enduring memory is of the layer of slimy mud which covered everything.  And the kitten was found safe and well, on top of one of the old cupboards in the outhouse. We helped clear up and the rain stopped: the next day was glorious and I took Paul to visit the Giant's Causeway.

Miffy the kitten with a very young Paul in 1985.

Me at the Giant's Causeway, the day after the flood

With all the rain in NI in the last week I was concerned that the house would flood again, even though the drains have now been fixed.  It's not empty any more - my cousin's daughter, her husband and new baby are living there.  We visited Ballyronan on Monday and went down to the lough, where the water was very high and had flooded the playground. It seems there was one day that water had been running down the lane like a river, but not, so far, into the house. It is good to see the house being lived in and it was cosy with the Rayburn going again.  And lovely to see the new baby, the first little boy in the house since my dad was born - we were all girls.  And his name is...Noah. Let's hope this little Noah doesn't have a flood to deal with.

Ballyronan Marina, December 28th 2015

Thursday, 24 December 2015

So here it is..Merry Christmas

Card designed by niece Hannah

Merry Christmas readers, if any of you are still out there after my long absence.  No excuses really - just got out of the blogging habit.  But resolving to return more regularly in the new year, writing at least a weekly post.  And now, for the record, what I've been doing while not blogging.

more this year as I'm covering my colleague's maternity leave. Most of November disappeared in a blur of marking and preparation. I'm doing more A level English Lit. and I've been teaching poems from the Forward Anthology 'Poems of the Decade' 2002-2011. This has been a challenge but an enjoyable one.  I'll share some of my favourites on here soon.

a visit from Alfrink college in Holland which I've blogged about before.  My lovely friend Anette and four students stayed three days last week with me and other families, telling students at our school about their annual Model United Nations conference.  They impressed everyone at school with their ability to discuss complex global issues in near flawless English. They enjoyed the experience too: I cooked them a welcome meal and introduced them to Christmas pudding and mince pies, and they enjoyed exploring the Christmas market and shops in Chester, which is currently all twinkly with lights.  Their favourite shop? Waterstones book shop, Really good role models for our students,

Catching up with family and going to the theatre...
Brighton sister and brother in law came to stay overnight a couple of weeks ago and we had a night out in Liverpool, Husband and brother in law on a nostalgic trip to see Deaf School, a band they loved when they were in sixth form, many years ago.  Sister and I weren't keen on this and searched for an alternative, choosing a play at the Everyman, 'The Haunting of Hill House'.  Really excellent production. Scary though - highly recommended if you are in the area.

Then another visit to the theatre on Sunday with Manchester sister, daughter Kate and my niece, who celebrated her 10th birthday last week.  For her birthday we bought tickets for Hetty Feather at The Lowry.  This is an adaptation of a Jacqueline Wilson novel, one of my daughter's favourites when she was at that stage.  It was brilliant, Inventive staging, versatile actors - at one point they became convincing circus horses, humour, music, acrobatics and serious issues dealt with in a way which is appropriate for the audience.  Saying that, my niece found some scenes a little upsetting so it's probably not suitable for younger children. My daughter loved it and was very glad to have the excuse of taking her cousin so she could go herself without looking uncool.

And now, suddenly, it's Christmas Eve.  We're at home on the day and then more family visiting as we're travelling to Northern Ireland on Boxing Day.

Two more cards from nephews,  Dominic and Nathan. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015


Planned this weekend to write a catch up blog post - the usual kind of thing about what I've been doing, reading etc. Can't bring myself to do it after waking up yesterday to the news of the horrific terrorist attack in Paris.  All my petty concerns about workload and the messy kitchen brought into perspective.

When we were in New York at half term, we went to the 9/11 memorial. The names of all the people killed are etched on the memorial: ordinary people who went to work that morning and never came home. I wonder what Ann Walsh McGovern, one of the victims whose name I noticed, would be doing now, if those who carried out the attack had remembered their humanity.  What was going through the terrorists' heads as the plane approached the tower?  Any regrets, thoughts of family or twinges of conscience?  Or do they really believe they will be rewarded in the afterlife for their carnage?

What happened in Paris is Europe's 9/11.  A normal Friday night in the city. Young people enjoying a concert. Or at the football. Others enjoying a meal in a restaurant, as we did on our visit to the city in September. Shot in cold blood. Indiscriminately. Randomly.  Families and future plans shattered in an instant. And for what?  What do the terrorists and those who control them want?  How can we stop these things happening?

I grew up with terrorism.  Many people in Northern Ireland and in England lost their lives; many of them were innocent civilians. The violence on both sides was unacceptable.  But at least there was a 'reason' (not quite the word, but you know what I mean) behind it and leaders you could talk to and attempt to negotiate with.  Through peace talks, the violence in Northern has ended.

How can world leaders respond to this attack?  More air strikes?  That's hardly going to solve the problem when there seems to be an unending supply of young men prepared to blow themselves up to combat the evils of the west. Like young people who go out to enjoy themselves on a Friday night.

There'll be a memorial in Paris, just like the one in New York.  We'll visit it and feel sad and sorry for those who have lost their lives.  And secretly, and guiltily, glad it wasn't us, as it so easily could have been.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Time and Times Square

It's half term and eventually I've found time to write a blog post.  Life has been pretty busy as I'm doing more hours at school because my colleague is on maternity leave. I'm doing more A level teaching and that takes a lot of preparation. Don't mind really as I'm quite enjoying the teaching but some things neglected - housework mostly and, unfortunately, the blog.

But now it's half term and I'm in NewYork, staying not far from Times Square.  We're here: me, my sister and daughter Kate to celebrate her 16th birthday which was on Tuesday.  I'm writing this on the iPad and she's still dozing beside me and getting grumpy as I'm waking her up.  Outside I can hear the sound of the city, sirens and horns and the general non-stop buzz of the place. Times Square itself is incredible - a bit overwhelming actually with all the skyscrapers and crowds and flashing billboards.  I'm m happier when we escape the crowds and go to the park.  On Tuesday, it rained and Central Park was quiet so we enjoyed a damp walk round there.  And today we're going to walk The High Line which is an disused overhead freight train line now converted into a garden. And then do some more shopping....which is what the birthday girl likes best. No photos now as haven't uploaded but will try to find time to do this when we get back.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Harvest Moon

Just briefly checking in here with these pictures taken last night of the moon.  I didn@t see the eclipse or whatever it was but we spotted a beautiful full moon rising as we ate dinner last night and I had a go at capturing it.  Not much time for blogging at present nor for reading others so apologies if I am not commenting or posting so much.

Monday, 14 September 2015

End of the Summer Outings

Just a final round up, for the record, of our outings at the end of the summer holidays which, on this wet Monday evening, a week or so later already seem far away. On the day before the children went back to school Kate and I went to Manchester with the small cousins on a damp afternoon and first explored the newly revamped library in St Peter's Square.  I love this circular building and was impressed with how it has been modernised without losing its character. There's a new staircase and glass lift within the old building, yet the central big room with the glass dome is untouched and just as it was when I studied there years ago. We didn't stay too long as we had a few stern glances from disapproving library users when the children discovered the buttons which automatically opened the shelving areas. Then we dodged the rain and the puddles and went to Manchester Art Gallery, where after a brief wander around the exhibits, the children created this work of art.  

And then last weekend we flew to Paris to meet husband and his grown up nephew who had cycled there all the way from London, arriving at the Eiffel Tower on the Saturday afternoon.  I'm running out of time to write this post so I'll let the pictures mostly speak for themselves.  We stayed in a bland marble tower block hotel but had a good view from our 23rd floor room and we weren't far from the Eiffel Tower which was twinkling with sparkly lights when we arrived on the Friday evening.

On Saturday we first went here, then walked down Boulevard St Germain to have a croque madame at Les Deux Magots, shopping en route at H&M which wasn't exactly designer French clothing

We caught a bus to Opera for more shopping and then back to meet the weary, but triumphant
cyclists by the Eiffel Tower. On Sunday, nephew Carl and I climbed the steps to the second floor of the tower, a good way of avoiding the queue, and then took the lift right to the top.  Glad we did, even if husband and daughter got a bit grumpy waiting, as the views were spectacular.

Then we had lunch by the Gard du Nord here and there was just time for a quick walk to the Sacre Coeur, my favourite place in Paris, before catching the Eurostar home.  It was a bit of a shock to get up for work the next day after that.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Summer Chores and another Summer Outing: Pee-bles

Last day of August and the last week of school holidays.  Time and the pace of life seem too have speeded up in the past few weeks after the long lazy days at the end of July.  Things shift after the exam results days, and my mind turns back to work and also to the chores on my summer list.  So I've been decluttering and painting.  The understairs cupboard is now tidy and piles of unwanted clothes and books have been given to Barnardo's.  Yesterday I even painted the shed, so I'm feeling quite pleased with myself,  Today I'm having a rest from all this physical activity and catching up with the blog and some reading for school.  But I thought I'd share the results of one summer project - our new seating area in the kitchen.  We tend to hang out in here with the dog watching tele rather than the lounge and, until now, it had a range of random, unmatched furniture.  I'm very pleased with my coffee table from John Lewis which has storage for remotes, ipads, glasses, notebooks and other assorted clutter.  I also like the grey squares cushions which came from that emporium of good taste - Primark.. 

I want also to record another of our summer outings earlier this month to Peebles in Scotland where my husband had signed up for another cycle event, the Tour of the Borders.  We stayed right in the town centre in the Tontine hotel, which dates from 1808 and was built by French prisoners from the Napoleonic War.  Downstairs, it was quite grand with a big, formal dining room complete with chandeliers.  It was also busy, full of other cyclists as well as tourists.  We had the dog with us which is probably why we were in a rather poky room right at the top of the building, well away from other guests.  He was well behaved with one exception: one afternoon, before we could stop him, he pee-d on the peonies just outside the front door! 

We arrived on the Saturday afternoon before the race and explored the town which is quite touristy with lots of little craft shops, ice cream parlours and cafes.  It has quite a few independent shops, including a couple of good shoe shops and is free from the usual high street stores.  Behind the hotel and the main street is a park and the river where registration for the cycle event was taking place.

On Sunday morning I got up early with my husband to see him set off, while my daughter slept in. Or tried to.  Outside the hotel, groups of cyclists were starting the race encouraged by loud thumpy music and an enthusiastic commentator. So we got up and had breakfast in the Adam room which overlooks the river.  I had the full works breakfast with haggis - very nice indeed.

Unfortunately my husband didn't enjoy the ride as it was stopped for an hour because of an accident: someone came off on a steep hill and had to be rescued by air ambulance.  He was ok in the end and apologised to the other riders who had to wait around getting cold at the top of the hill until he was taken to hospital.  Just glad it wasn't my husband who arrived back around lunchtime safe but grumpy, having had to do the shorter version of the ride because of the delay.

We spent the rest of the day lazily exploring the town walking by the river, eating cake in a cafe in the afternoon and then later on pizza in a very good Italian restaurant just by the bridge.  Cooked breakfast, cake and pizza all in one day - that's why I'm having to cut back now!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Summer Outings: Lincoln Cathedral and Castle

A couple of weeks ago we had another summer outing, staying with some friends in Lincoln.  They live in the town centre close to the cathedral and the castle.  Lincoln Cathedral is huge, much more impressive than our own in Chester, and visible on top of the hill from miles away as you approach the city.  The castle has been restored recently and now has a new visitor centre and vault to display the cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta which, as you probably know, is 800 years old this year.

The first thing you see as you enter the castle grounds is this building, which, in my ignorance, I thought was part of the castle.  It isn't - it's a Georgian building which houses the County Court.

We decided to do the Medieval Wall Walk rather than the full tour and there were information boards all the way round which was enough history - none of us are keen on guided tours.

As well as the courthouse, the castle grounds house a Victorian prison, on the left in the picture above, where prisoners used to be kept in total solitary confinement.  There's a small graveyard behind the prison, with gravestones inscribed only with initials, presumably belonging to deceased prisoners. I thought this was sad.

At the courthouse, 21st century justice was in full flow - there was a security firm's van parked at the back entrance and, at the front, a close-cropped, thick-set man in a suit on his mobile phone.  I wondered aloud whether this might be the defendant and got told off by my daughter for stereotyping. 

The view from the walls over the cathedral, the city and the surrounding countryside is superb for most of the way round.  But in one section it is obscured by thick perspex, which my friend tells me, is because some local residents objected to visitors looking down on their houses and gardens.  His partner, who lives just outside the castle walls, didn't object and, in fact, has designed her garden so it looks good when viewed from the castle walls.  If you look closely at the picture below you can see her, my husband and our dog among the lush greenery.

We climbed the steps to the top of the tower on the keep and here the view of the cathedral and the surrounding countryside was unobscured and spectacular.

Outside the walls, we found one of the Lincoln Barons, a trail of statues which has been designed for children visiting the town.  A few years ago in Chester we had a similar trail with Rhino statues instead - it seems to be a bit of a tourism trend. Someone obviously thought this baron was finding this summer a little chilly and gave him this furry scarf.

And, back in the garden, I spotted some teenage invaders trying to scale the castle walls - they aren't visible but just behind the trees here.  

I think this a great place to live - close to a historic town centre with and everything is within walking distance. Another enjoyable summer outing.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Summer Outings: Daytrip to London

Back in July when my sister from New Zealand was visiting and staying with Brighton sister we all met up in London for the day.  I meant to blog about this at the time and didn't get round to it, but better late than never.  As her children are at the age when they are finding out about cities like London, she wanted to do the traditional tourist sights.  And actually, even though I lived in London for a few years in the 80s, I hadn't seen some of these either.  First of all we went to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.  Now I do have a video clip of this which I tried to add but apparently it's too big and my attempts to cut it failed but you can see it on You tube anyway.  There was a lot of standing around in hordes of people before watching the bands parade by.  'Avocado,' said the policeman on crowd control duty.  At least that's what it sounded like to my daughter, used to Northern accents.  I explained that he was simply encouraging us to move in to leave the pavement clear and to .... have a cuddle. I remarked to my sister that crowd control outside BP must be a pretty boring job and the policeman who overheard me agreed! 

After that we walked down Birdcage Walk to Westminster Abbey along the edge of St James' Park where running under the sprinkler provided more entertainment for the six year old than Buckingham Palace. Big Ben chimed midday as we arrived in the square.   Some of us were getting weary as you can see from the picture so we continued our sightseeing by river boat.

It was quite a hot day so sun cream was needed.

We travelled under Tower Bridge and all the way to Greenwich where we climbed the hill to the Observatory and had a look at the Meridian Line.  This was of passing interest to the now rather tired children as the 12 hour time difference means that they are up and getting ready for school in NZ when we ring on a Sunday evening.  

We caught the boat back and got off at the Tower of London.  Then we travelled by London bus, catching a number 15 and getting seats at the front of the top deck.  This was great as we travelled through past St Paul's and Fleet Street and parts of the city I'd not seen before.  We got off on The Strand and finished the day in Covent Garden watching the street entertainers.  

It was sad saying goodbye for another couple of years but we'd enjoyed our family day out in London.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Two little birdies....

This little robin flew in through the kitchen window yesterday morning.  He panicked a bit when our dog tried to catch him but then settled down quite happily on the window sill.  Eventually I gently persuaded him to leave.

And I snapped this colourful rain forest bird at Chester Zoo on Monday. I can't remember what it's called but I think it's from Brazil.  More on this visit later - I'm making rather slow progress recording my summer outings.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Summer Outings: Cholmondeley Castle Gardens

Apart from our family reunion in Northern Ireland in July, we're not having a summer holiday this year but instead are having a few weekends away and days out.  So I've decided to record these in a series of blog posts entitled Summer Outings.  I'm starting with what was actually just a Sunday afternoon visit to Cholmondeley Castle Gardens, half an hour or so away from.  I love visiting gardens but the rest of the family have to be persuaded and this time I got my way.  Cholmondeley Castle also accepts dogs on leads, unlike most of the National Trust properties around here, a reason why we don't often go. 

That afternoon there was a horse jumping event going on in the surrounding parklands so our visit was accompanied by the loudspeaker commentary on the show.   It was a lovely sunny afternoon for once and we enjoyed our walk around the gardens.  Husband has a new camera and took more pictures than me so I'm using these.  Only the one of the rose garden is mine. You cannot visit the castle itself as the family still live there but there is a little cafe in the grounds so we stopped there for a cup of tea.

At home my own garden is looking rather tatty.  Although it's not been a good summer in the north west, cloudy cool and dampish for much of the time, it's actually been quite dry. So the lawn is parched, and the hydrangeas, which usually add colour at this time of year, are disappointing. I was actually quite pleased to see yesterday's downpour, especially since it's fine again today. I have had one success.  I bought a patio buddleia hoping to attract more butterflies to my garden and, although the plant is nothing special to look at with yellowing leaves at its base, it does seem to be working.  Camera luckily nearby when this peacock visited, but I also saw a comma and numerous whites.

Look out for more summer outing posts soon.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Year in Books: August

Joining in again with The Year in Books hosted by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees.  I missed the July link up and am only now reporting on my June book 'Bellman and Black'.  I didn't read very much at the end of June and July but I'm catching up now it's the school holidays.

I enjoyed 'Bellman and Black' by Diane Setterfield, though I'm not sure it was a ghost story as it claims to be.  It's a portrayal of a successful Victorian industrialist: how he is 'haunted' by the elusive Mr Black who seems to be associated with the rook that William Bellman shot with a catapult as a child.  The shadow of the rook pervades the novel: there are chapters devoted to descriptions of the bird and the folklore associated with it.  There's also a great deal of description of Bellman's success in his business; he is a kind of upmarket undertaker, providing coffins and the trappings of mourning for wealthy clients.   This contrasts with the tragedy of his personal life - I won't reveal any more plot details in case you are tempted.  I was particularly interested in the character of his daughter, Dora, and was a little disappointed that her storyline wasn't developed more.  Penny at The Homemade Heart has written an excellent review of the book.  She described it as a psychological study of Bellman and that is, I suppose, why we don't hear more about Dora.  The focus is on how his mind works, how he makes a success of his working life at the expense of personal happiness, perhaps because he is unable to deal with strong feelings. So, overall, good, but doesn't compare with my all time favourite period ghost story, Susan Hill's 'The Woman in Black', which is properly scary.

I've also been reading a couple of texts by Irish writers in preparation for a coursework unit I'm going to be teaching to an A Level class in September.  I've read 'Amongst Women' by John McGahern and also the play 'Dancing at Lughnasa' by Brian Friel.  By coincidence, both texts feature on a group of sisters living in a village in Ireland so particularly appeal to me.  I am already familiar with 'Dancing at Lughnasa', having seen an excellent production of it at the Theatre Clwyd in Mold a few years ago.  It was one of the most enjoyable evenings at the theatre I have ever had.  The play explores the relationships between the sisters and how things are changing for them and the country.  Reading it wasn't quite the same as a live production but I do have a DVD of the film to watch this week.

For my August book I'm reading another novel by an Irish writer, 'The History of the Rain' by Niall Williams, which was nominated for the Booker prize. NZ sister recommended it and for me that's a better reason to choose it rather than a Booker nomination.  I'm also dipping into another book which kind of links to 'Bellman and Black' as it features Victorian business men. It's Jacqueline Yallop's 'Dreamstreets: A Journey through Britain's Village Utopias'.   It has a chapter on Port Sunlight, which is near here, and how it was created by William Hesketh Lever for his workforce to live in, We visited Port Sunlight last week and went to the museum as my daughter has to complete a piece of history coursework about Lever and Port Sunlight.  So I'll be encouraging her to read this book too.