Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sainsbury Pea Purchase


It will be another month before the homegrown peas will be ready for picking. A notion for peas and mint sauce did therefore necessitate the purchase of a bag of garden peas from, "Sainsbugs." This did rather go against the grain as I do try to be more or less self sufficient as regards vegetables, dipping into the freezer to use frozen surpluses whenever the garden is in low production mode.


The pods in the selected bag looked to be well filled, albeit the pods were not particularly long. Still I told myself it is quite early for British grown peas. The price demanded for this bag of produce proved to be £2.00! Unfortunately Sainsbury's packaging does not provide weights in proper units. They insist on using the cross channel gramme. My purchase contained five hundred of these foreign units. It transpires that my purchase actually weighed 17.64 oz. So just over a pound.


Unfortunately I have to report that the pods were not filled with tight rows of perky peas. The peas were quite small and unfortunately many of the pods were, if not actually blind, tending to the spectrum of mangetout. The bag produced four and a half ounces of small to tiny peas.


The lessons learnt are continue growing my own and freeze more peas.


Friday, 28 June 2013

Tiffin at Ballymaclary House


I decided to indulge in a taste of tiffin at Ballymaclary House at Magilligan today. It has recently reopened as a bijou b & b as well as purveying morning coffee, light lunches and afternoon teas. A conservatory has been added to the original house and this addition now provides the entry to the establishment as well as providing space for some sixteen covers. Existing rooms provide further accommodation. It is a pity that this addition to the building has not been designed and executed in a more sympathetic manner. Why aren't the windows fifteen paned? Why is the render not the same colour as that of the original house? Presumably this architectural faux pas is the responsibility of the owners and or the architects and or the planners.


What then of the comestibles? Well I only consumed a latte and a scone so I can't provide very extensive views. The former was of a commendable size and temperature. The latter was somewhat crumbly and the consistency of the butter curls tended to that of concrete. My wallet was denuded to the tune of £3.70.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Potato Update

British Queens - 26th June 2013
The recent mild weather has certainly brought on the early potatoes apace and thankfully there is no evidence of leaf blight to mar their growth. I would hope that I will be able to start digging them by the middle of July, so about one hundred days from planting. The haulms on the main crop potatoes are almost as tall as those on the early potatoes despite having been planted some four weeks later.
Maris Piper and King Edward

Rampant Runner Beans

It is just over a month since I planted out my runner bean plants, (25th May). In that period they have twined their way skywards over six feet. An average, daily growth rate of over two inches. It will not be too long before I have to pinch out the growing tips. It may be tempting to let the tendrils continue growing, but I know from experience that the extra top weigh is likely to cause the bean wigwams to keel over, most particularly in the wind.

They are just about to start flowering with the flower buds beginning to show red. When the flowers on this variety, (St. George), are fully out they will show red and white. A welcome dash of colour to the variations of green which tend to make up the palette for the vegetable patch.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

BBC Annoys.

The European Team Championships were held in Gateshead this weekend. Two afternoons of international athletics and the entire competition was being televised on BBC 2. I really enjoyed yesterday's performances and was looking forward to this afternoon's coverage. The programme listings told me that I should point the remote control in the direction of the television at 2.30pm and that the action would continue until 6.30.


The wind was gusting outside and throwing the rain at the windows so I was more than happy to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon watching my favourite sport. Stretched out on the settee I pointed and clicked. But I wasn't seeing Gateshead International Stadium. I wasn't seeing the familiar oval with straight sides. This was not athletics. I grabbed the television listings. Yes there it was, BBC2 - live athletics, 2.30pm. Then the awful truth dawned on me. The BBC had done it again. This was another of those annoying, "Regional Variations." The small print at the bottom of the page confirmed the situation. I was only going to be allowed to watch the athletics from 3.50pm.


The BBC had in its infinite wisdom decided that I was not to be allowed to watch the entire programme. ITV are just as guilty of this dictatorial behaviour. Why can't the national channels be just that,- national? I am not against the notion of regional programmes, but there should be either designated slots in the national programme when all parts of the UK deviate from the national programme, or alternatively and preferably there should be a regional BBC station, where each of the regions broadcast their parochial offerings.

Friday, 21 June 2013

On the Riverbank


The midges were hovering in large, dark swarms over the river. Occasionally a hungry fish broke its surface, the ripples echoing across the glassy waters. Silence prevailed save for the occasional blackbird. I had Castleroe Wood to myself. That was what I had hoped for. That was what I had.


I ambled upstream along the riverbank, looking idly at the empty moorings on the opposite bank. Finding a bench overlooking the river I sat down to read a few pages of the book I had brought along with me, a rather weighty tome dealing with pre-1914 Europe. I managed to concentrate my way through ten pages before my concentration began to wane. A pleasant day. The healing solicitude of silent solitude.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Orange Blossom Time


Quite a late flowering of this deciduous azalea, but not surprising I suppose bearing in mind the late spring. I must try a few heal cuttings of this particular specimen. It definitely brings a splurge of colour to the flower bed.

I must remember to dead head the daffodils and deal with the weeding!


Prehen House and the German Connection

I purchased a copy of the booklet concerning Prehen House which has been published recently. It is by no means a weighty intellectual tome, but it does what it is meant to do very well. It is something which a visitor to the house will buy and I think retain. The photographs are clearly not just snaps and they have not been diminished by the use of inferior paper. Obviously the potted history of the house and its owners includes reference to "Half Hanged McNaghten," but the story of the confiscation of the house and estate after the outbreak of the 1914-18 war is also well told. When Lieut-Col. George Knox died in 1910 he left his estate to his German born grandson, Baron George Carl Otto Louis Von Scheffler-Knox , (the Kaiser had permitted the addition of Knox to his name).

I never met the Baron, although I do remember his funeral in 1966 when his ashes were interred in the Knox family vault in Londonderry's City Cemetery. I did however meet his widow, Baroness Kathryn Von Scheffler-Knox and his son Johann Ludwig Prehen Von Scheffler-Knox. Both of them were very typically Germanic and both of them walked with sticks, she because of age related infirmity, he because of leg wounds sustained on the Russian front. It must have been in the early 1980's that the Baroness passed away. Johann died in 2011, the last of his line.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Sound bite Obhama

So Barack Obhama has been in Northern Ireland. Didn't we know it! Belfast had to come to almost a standstill to facilitate him and the Beast.

We were told that he would be addressing a specially invited audience of school children at the Waterfront Hall. It certainly seemed to be specially invited. Perhaps, "carefully," should be substituted for, 'specially." I wonder whether the school children were selected on the basis that they would whoop this saviour of the western world? He assured his audience that America would provide the , "wind at their back," Hot air methinks. I don't believe that he walked across the River Lagan before proceeding to Enniskillen and the G8 Summit but then again I haven't interrogated his acolytes.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Three Copies of Framley Parsonage

I do enjoy Trollope's novels, but that doesn't explain why I have ended up with three copies of, "Framley Parsonage. A totally satisfactory explanation evades me for the moment. I suppose that one of the duplicates may have been included in a boxed set of, "classics," but what of the other? Maybe a £1 price tag was just too attractive, or maybe I had a very early, "senior moment," and I forgot that this book was already contained within my personal library.


How did I discover that I was the proud possessor of a superfluity of Trollope? Well I had invested in one of these app things. This one goes by the name of Book Crawler and it allows you to scan details of your books and CDs onto your tablet thingy. It really is quite surprising what these pieces of computer tech can now do. I remember when the sliderule was the zenith of tech chic!


Anyhow this app thing turns your tablet into a scanner which reads the bar code on the back of your book. If your book is a pre barcode edition then you can still enter details manually. You end up with a record of all of your books. My computer record told me that I had three copies of this particular novel. It also informed me that I had two copies of Martin Chuzzlewit! Another senior moment! Zut alors!


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sowing Between the Showers

Space is beginning to run out in the vegetable patch. It is at this time of year that you tell yourself it would be a good idea to bring more ground under cultivation. It would be nice to have a couple of extra rows of peas and broad beans, but that would just mean more to put in the freezer. Even with current production levels I know that it will be difficult to close the freezer lid by the end of October. You also have to think of the additional weeding! Well maybe next year.


In between today's showers I did use up a little more of the still veg free ground by sowing a row of fennel and a row of Chinese broccoli. The latter is described on the packet as a "fast growing eat all plant." I think that this is a reference to one being able to consume the entire plant, stalk and all, rather than it being an omnivore! Last year my fennel plants did not swell up as they should. I must remember to give them more water this year.


A Walk up England.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. - Rachel Joyce. - Doubleday
Harold Fry is recently retired. He and his wife Maureen live in the same house they had purchased as a young married couple. Neither of them is happy. Both of them are tormented by their memories and experiences. They reside together, but they do not live together. Although the book contains early hints of the main reason for their unhappiness, it is several chapters in before we realise fully that their only son, David, to whom Maureen is always talking, is dead. He had committed suicide.

The book commences with Harold receiving a note from Queenie Hennessy, an old workmate, telling him that she is in a hospice in Berwick-Upon-Tweed and that she is dying. Prompted by the words of a girl assistant in a garage he decides that he will walk the 627 miles to Queenie. He will give her a reason to cling to life.

There are certainly allegorical aspects to this novel. The quotation from, "The Pilgrim's Progress," immediately before the first chapter and the very title of the book are highly suggestive of how the author wants us to interpret her work. Harold's pilgrimage allows him to confront his son's death and the shrivelled relationship with his wife. It is also what prompts Maureen to be jolted out of her mourning and appreciate her husband's good qualities and her own faults.

At times the writing is rather sentimental and, although the book ends with Harold and Maureen laughing together I wouldn't say that it is a happy or inspiring read. Being told of someone else's regrets, disappointments, failures and despair, even if that someone is fictional, does little to raise ones spirits.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Annuals for Ancients

I was at a garden nursery recently. Something struck me as I watched the other customers as they queued up with their purchases, anxious to be parted from their onecers.

There was a very distinct difference in the purchases between the forty somethings and the seventy somethings. The former were purchasing perennials and young trees, The latter were purchasing packets of mustard and cress and trays of bedding plants. I don't imagine that this was a conscious decision by the blue rinse, (increasingly blond), brigade and their down trodden acolytes, but it is strangely apposite. Maybe there is some subliminal message telling us that there is no point buying plants for posterity if we won't see it.

I think that I am at the indeterminate in betweenie stage. I can still visualise a future which is over the hill and out of sight as yet, but I do know that the future is shortening.

Monday, 10 June 2013

We'll gather lilacs in the spring again - or early summer

I purchased my copy of the Daily Telegraph on Saturday morning as usual. Also as usual it was Sunday before I had worked my way through the various sections. The gardening pages contained an article on lilacs, lauding their scent and their value to the flower arranger, though pointing out the need to remove foliage, sear the stem ends in boiling water, and then resting the stems in cold water in a cool and dark spot prior to arranging. All a bit of a palather me thinks.! It might just be easier to enjoy the tightly set flowers on the tree or bush.

I think that the specimen which adorns the flower bed surrounding the yard may need some enthusiastic pruning once flowering has finished, it looks fine from a distance but if I did wish to indulge in this much vaunted searing lark I might need to have recourse to a ladder or long handed loppers.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Summertime and the Livin is Easy

Deciduous Azalea

It was tempting to remain prone on the ancient deckchair, eyes barely open and viewing that wispy floater scud across my left eye as I became increasingly comfortable and increasingly woozy in the early summer sun. Temptation won. Warm windless days aren't so plentiful in the Northern Ireland summer that you can ignore them and expect tomorrow to be a reflection of today.

The discordant cackle of a magpie notched me closer to full consciousness. A sip of cool wine helped reverse me back to a comforting doze. A large bumblebee hovered in and out of view. A brace of swallows dive bombed the sleepy cat, coming out of the sun like two flying aces. The cat slept on. So did I.
Double Flowering Poppy

Deciduous Azalea

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Tesco Expands in Northern Ireland

Another new Tesco store is to open its doors to the shoppers of Northern Ireland today. This time it is Newry that will have the dubious honour of being the recipient of Tesco floor space. I don't think that there were food shortages in Newry. I hadn't heard that people were having to queue for food. Despite there being no practical need for what the BBC describe as a sixty three thousand square feet out of town store Tesco have been permitted to take another step on their march to domination of the UK food retail market.


Tesco says that it will be employing some three hundred workers at the store, (full time and part time) and contributing £600,000 in rates. I don't doubt these figures, but rather conveniently Philip Clarke's minions don't give the nett figures. They don't tell the public how many small and medium sized businesses within the catchment area of this new store will close down over the next two or three years as a consequence of Tesco's presence. They don't highlight to the planners the number of people who will loose their jobs because of this new store. They don't remind us all of the percentage and amount of their profit that will not benefit the local economy.


It is with sorrow that we see the passing of the local high street. Perhaps its body will be cremated and the ashes put in an urn which will have pride of place in the Tesco boardroom. Unlike Ivo Bligh the high street doesn't have successors to prise those ashes back,

Exam Weather


I used never to enjoy the month of June. It wasn't that I remember it as a month of bad weather, quite the reverse in fact. What took the shine off the sixth month of the year for me was the prospect of exams. It wasn't just the exams themselves, it was also the hours of revision. I felt guilty if I took a few hours away from my solitary crammer to work in the garden or to go to an athletics meet.


if the weather was good and memory tells me it was, then this exam month became even more intolerable. I remember pulling the curtains in my bedroom so that I wouldn't see the sunlight. More than thirty years since I sat my last exam I can now enjoy exam weather free of guilt and free of anxiety, or at least free of exam anxiety.


Yesterday's weather was certainly vintage exam weather. Perhaps not as fine a vintage as we tasted in 1975 or 1976, but still a much needed improvement on what passed for spring.


Monday, 3 June 2013

Anyone for Strawberries ?


Still three weeks to Wimbleton, but I have been able to pull the first strawberries. Hardly a glut, but enough to provide a garnish for a bowl of artery furring cream!


I have to concede that these strawberries have had the benefit of life in an unheated greenhouse. For a few years now I have been growing some strawberry plants under the staging. I don't know what variety the strawberry plants are, but in addition to the standard plants there are also a few alpine strawberries. It is always July before the latter start cropping.


I am only using a third of the available space under the staging for the strawberry crop so I think that I will grow on some of the runners this year and hopefully increase the crop in the years to come.


Bigus Figus!

It is now two years since the fig tree was purchased from Viscount Dunluce and moved from the rarefied climes of Glenarm Castle. To call it a tree is perhaps pushing credulity a mite too far. It is still under three feet in height!


I think that I will keep it in the greenhouse for another couple of years before planting it out in a sheltered spot with a warming wall behind it. This year's figs are beginning to swell and I would expect that they should be ready for picking in early July. Not a huge crop, but a definite improvement on last year. Although one needs to restrict root growth to encourage fruiting the existing pot is definitely too small. It is beginning to split! I think that I will move the plant into a nine inch pot. That should be of sufficient size until the tree is planted outside in its pit.


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Garvagh Museum


Garvagh Museum is one of those small museums which is run by volunteers on a proverbial shoestring. The building in which it is housed is little more than a large agricultural shed. Well actually that is what it is. It reminds me of that structure in Tullamore which was and perhaps still is styled the Irish National Indoor Athletics Arena.


Whilst the local historians of the Garvagh area may not have the most salubrious of buildings to house their collection there is no doubting their enthusiasm. I had read that a new exhibition was to be opened at the Museum on 31st May so I thought that I would drive along and give it a, "once over." I have to concede that the prospect of ,"light refreshments." was probably the tipping factor for my outing.


The title given to the exhibition was, "The Plantation of Ulster in a Century of Turbulence." Whilst I found some of the exhibits quite interesting, particularly those relating to the Penal Laws, I think that the items on display should have been displayed in chronological order so that visitors could pass exhibits with the benefit of previous exhibits and their captions. History is after all a series of consequences. Events are explained in the context of what has gone before. This is where this exhibition falls down.