November 2010

I love a this little blog.  It is the trials and tribulations of a crofter, the Musings of a Stonehead.  It is worth remembering just how hard life crofting in the harsh enviromment can be.  Real work.  Last year they had only four months snow free.  In rest of the UK snow is not part of normal life and so our slick wheels of life clog up and jam.  This crofter along with many many more people simply have to get on with it all in order to survive.

image from musings of a stonehead

image from musings of a stonehead

It is minus something silly here at the cottage. Everything around us that can freeze has frozen. This means that it is officially the end of barbecue season. Every weekend we eat as much fish as we can get and we love the barbecued flavour. This means that in rain, gale and in winter darkness we find ourselves with head torches on and, ridiculously, barbecuing. This was all knocked on the head on Friday night when the lovely Sharon came in from the garden and incredulously demanded to know at what temperature butane freezes. From then a discussion began were we debated the chemistry of gas cylinders. The use of the word ‘freeze’ is wrong as the ‘gas’ is actually a liquid below zero (ish) and at those temperatures it is reluctant to become a gas and cook fish. That is why we do not use butane (yellow cylinder) for our kitchen cooker and use propane (red cylinder) instead. The geekyness of it all gave way to the practical; we must grill and winter is truly here.

Later that night I was doing part of my nightly routine. I was standing, in the dark, in the living room holding the little man for a snorey cuddle while his lovely mother prepared herself for his supper. The two of us stared out at the countryside (just me actually, he just snored at the countryside) and we spent a few moments absorbing the beauty of it all, the frozen landscape, the whiteness. Then two quick blue flashes flickered on the horizon. For a few seconds I waited for the crack as I was convinced it was fireworks. But then it came from a place on the horizon where I was sure there was no houses. Then there was no noise. It was late and so I did not give it much thought. I just mentally filled it as strange.

Over the weekend I forgot about it until a friend told me that he saw two bright blue flashes that he could not explain and wondered if I had any ideas. His blue flashes happened at the same time as mine but his were much brighter and were from a different direction on the horizon, again with no sound. We put our heads together and with the help of two physics colleagues we have our explanation:


No; lightning. We triangulated our observations and came to the conclusion that it was lightning in the Mourne Mountains. The directions lined up and the brightness also matched. But the most remarkable things were the colour and the fact that I observed it at all. If I had not been looking in that direction I would not have seen it. I estimate myself to be nearly fifty miles away. The current high pressure system means cold weather but crystal clear air. The colour was probably a result of the weather too. The flashes would have bounced off the sides of mountains and hills that area all highly reflective and iced white. For me the science does not detract from the strangeness of it all and the snorey beauty of the moment.

Today we planned to go somewhere. We planned to pick one of the forests on the horizon and walk in it. When the time came to decide we ended up going nowhere. We did not stay still, instead we ignored the far off forests and walked the roads around our home instead. We walked by the snowberries and wind stripped hedges. We stopped by the river and burn and stood in silence. We spotted a dipper in the village river, busy finding food and dipping about in the gravel. We discovered a craft fair and bought a candle that smells of the season. On the way home we made mental notes of the holly trees and planned outings with buckets and scissors in the coming weeks. Then the little man began to stir from within his snug little harness. He raised his head from his little bear suit and made noises that we have learned to mean that he will soon be awake and demanding that all must pamper his needs. We were feeling a little hungry ourselves. Some of the forests far off were still undiscovered but our home was now a little bit more familiar and it was the best of winter days.

cat’s pawprint in snow by hedgeman

An early morning walk revealed some obsessive compulsive behaviour in our cats.  The snow tracks of their nocturnal wanderings showed their preference for the straight edges of things and a desire to frequently turn only 90 degrees.  The snow also gave me an opportunity to look for any fox tracks around the chicken coop.  I am glad to say that only the cat tracks were visible as their tracks momentarily used the coop as part of their geometric games.  Although a large bird had pottered and stood momentarily on the top of the coop.  The size of the tracks makes me think it was probably a rook.  Would a sparrow hawk have such big feet?  Would an owl choose such a perch?  Most likely an early morning rook.

Later that morning I stood by the window and sipped Saturday caturday coffee while watching the feathers flutter and fight around the bird feeders.  I was glad to see a new Robin join the ranks as the last one had become cat food.  Then I suddenly saw something that made me gasp.  There in the snow in the yard were the prints of a bird the size of which I had never seen in a garden.  I was perplexed.  What kind of bird could possibly make those prints?  A Raven?  A Heron?  With unhidden enthusiasm I shared the mystery with the lovely Sharon.  Without even giving me a moments thought she reminded me that I had let the chickens out earlier.  She took the wind from my sails and I spoke no more.  Scunderred.

The moon is wanning now.  In its fullness it was called the dark moon as the night has taken over all our lives at the moment.  It, itself, was far from dark and in its last moments of fullness it displayed a spectacular optical phenomenon in the form of a moon halo.

My compact camera really does not do it justice.  RJCobain does a much better job with the same moon on the same night. Orion can be seen in the bottom right corner of the picture.  It was said long ago that the moon halo was a sign of rain and that if you count the stars inside the halo that will tell you the days of rain to come.  It was also said that if you rub half a potato on a wort and then bury the potato, the wort will go away.  On a similar note, although not an old story, a friend of mine once had a headache.  He sat for the evening with a cat on his head and his headache went away.  Clearly cats on heads cure headaches.

stay cheerful in the coming dark and cold

It really is winter now.  I can tell because I leave the house in darkness and rush home from work to find darkness.  Some thoughts add a nice edge to this melancholy.  Thoughts of the now like the fact that the lovely Sharon was visited today by a truly culchie guest.  A pheasant (not a peasant)  joined her in the garden today and wandered around in the  with the chickens.  This is a sign that we truly are in the country.  I shall have to order my Barbour jacket soon.  Although, I think I might hold off for a bit as I hear that country wear such as hunters,  Barbour and quilted jackets have become the in thing in cities. I won’t bow to conformity.

Another thing to think of is times past.  For some reason I am reminded of our holidays this year.  We ventured to the ring of Beara and enjoyed the sunshine rain.  When we were there I wondered why it had that name and imagined it as the last place in Ireland for bears ( a silly thought of mine) But I now find out that it might have its meaning in the beara or beira or Cailleach.  This was an old hag of Ireland.  She has connections with the weather that arrives in winter and she is connected with rivers, lakes, wells, marshes, the sea and storms; with rocks, mountains, boulders, megalithic temples and standing stones; and with cattle, swine, goats, sheep, wolves, bird, fish, trees, and plants.  She seems to have all bases covered.  It was believed that on becoming 100 years old she must return to the sea and be reborn.

unknown source

This is all old stories, but another old story we discovered on beara was far more interesting; That of the old way of buttering eggs.  The host of our BandB had discovered this method of preserving eggs and wanted a brave test subject to try it.  The idea is that the egg is picked just after being layed to ensure that it has minimal chance for bacteria to pass into the pores.  With the egg still warm, salted butter is rubbed all over the egg.  A egg prepared in such a way can last for as much as nine months.

At breakfast the host and I sat with an egg each (eggs which were well past their useful dates) and nervously tasted a scrambled egg each (she calimed that she never wanted to try it on her own).  It definitely had a different texture, being grainier than the normal egg texture.  However, the flavour was not much different.  The lovely Sharon passed the tasting offer as she had the little man sleeping and knitting himself together inside her belly.  Later that day we came back and the host and I laughed.  The lack of vomiting and stomach cramps went unsaid and we carried on as normal, as all brave faces do.

rooks and starlings

The murmuration of starlings can be seen these nights.  One of these can be seen on the human work migration out of Belfast as we all pass the Lagan.  The murmuration swims and pulses through the evening sky as they get ready to roost for the night. Some of these starlings come from the surrounding countryside but apparently most of them migrate from lands far off.

a murmurqation of starlings by ad551

They are amazing mimics of other birds voices and sometimes human speech.  The strangest fact* I could dig up about starlings was an old battle between the starlings and rooks.  On the evening of 2nd November 1930 starlings (estimated to be 10,000) battled with rooks at Fermony, Co Cork.  They battled for hours and rebattled each night until the 9th of November when the physically larger rooks had their numbers reinforced to around 2,000.  Apparently such battles are recorded in the folklore of Ireland, Gaelic Scotland and Eastern Europe but nowhere else.

*From Birds of Ireland by Glynn Anderson

I was in work today for most of the day.  So, this is caturday……………

grumpy cat by bashed

It was a packed day at school today.  Some staff days have a relaxed feel that means things can be tidied up and sorted and some staff days have an energy of motion and are compressed with floods of information that needs to be shared, distilled and mulled over.  Today was the latter.  But it just finished in time for me to catch the sunset on the way home.

As if to demonstrate the mechanics of the solar system the full moon was set to exact polar opposite to the sun.  The laws of motion were Newton’s and then Einstein’s but they have been studied since mankind had the sense to stare at them and think “hang on a minute?”.  Since then we have used them as our calendar for times to hunt, gather and plant our crops.  I don’t think they will replace my htc android but it is enough for me to stop the car half way up the drive, get out and stand and stare.

We have just got the wood pile stocked up for the winter.  We are both originally city folk who moved to the rural edges only a decade ago.  Now we find ourselves further into the wilds of culchie land where everything is week good or wild good?  We are not really sure which it is or if it is good or bad. We just laugh and say that  it is.  This, of course, we say with an accent that betrays no culchie in our blood.   I feel the urge to tell them that my mother’s mother has her roots in this part of the world, actually deeper into culchieness, but I hold back for fear of akwardness and over keen-ness.  So, we have stocked ourselves with firewood for the winter as this seems to be the done thing in such parts. The pile is 7 logs deep and 6 feet high.  Think of how many cosy nights with the feet up that is.  Bliss. Bliss that I believe is week good.


A few weeks ago we were asked to clean our bits and pieces out of the staff room in preparation for a big clean.  This was also an opportunity to make some minor cosmetic changes so the staff were asked what they would like.  I pondered this a bit and then posed as the staff committee (falsely) and sent out an email to all the staff putting forward two suggested new staff room layouts to vote on.

option one

option two

I need not say that the responses were very interesting and a little entertaining.  Most people opted for both!

The real staff committee originally made a point of saying no to any suggestions of a pool table or a dart board (we are proffessionals).  I was careful to leave these out in order to add to the authenticity of my deception.  It does remind me of another school I know of who do have a pool table!  And there is a teacher I know who, when she first started teaching, was asked if she would like to join the pool competition.  She replied that she could not as she could not swim.  I am not mentioning names.

morning venus by arenamontanus

The air was frigid this morning and frost coated everything.  The sky was clear air and venus was hanging in it.  Venus is not a thing that lingers in the morning, it is a fleeting visitor for the strange hours when badgers, foxes and owls have finished their night work.  The sun soon came to burn away the ice.  Then the night and stars came only hours later and it was all night again.  This is the winter and we are to live in darkness now.  More and more darkness will slip into us and we will need the festivities to lift our souls.  We will need the fires, the berry packed cakes, the laughter and the presence of friends and family.

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it, blame yourself for you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Wow!  This post by Keith Brownrigg just goes to prove that if you get out and experience the great outdoors then you are more likely to see some amazing things.

I am quite jealous of the view of a cloud inversion at dawn from the summit of slieve binnean. The clouds appear to be pouring themselves over  the col of Donard and Commedagh (Kivitar?).

We all need to get out more

I have one more to add to my list; the list of amazing sounds.  The list goes something along the lines of:


  • The sound of a raven tearing through the air just feet from your head.
  • The sound of deep frozen snow crunching underfoot in an empty valley.
  • The sound of a storm outside when you are sitting by the fire.
  • The sound of a duck landing on still water.
  • The sound of the lovely Sharon’s pathetic attempt at snoring.
  • The sound of trees in the wind during a forest bivvy.
  • The sound of falling snow.


And the new one to the list…..

  • The early morning sound of a, seven week old, little man finding his own voice.


The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

Rainer Maria Rilke


more fall leaves… by life is good


If you want to see something a little different then pop down to extravision and ask them for Ondine.

It is not the usual mainstream film, it is a lovely little story that is a delight to watch. It’s a sort of fairy tale, sort of.

The film itself is very well put together, very moody with its overcast irish landscape and its ‘right, so’ charachter.

For the music alone (beautiful and well timed) it is worth the watch.  This is the film for lighting the fire and filling a glass of wine  on a Friday night.

Just watching James May’s mad lab and I was initially impressed until five minutes in when it moved from a three pin plug to a kitchen to an unexploded world war two bomb.  And I rolled my eyes at the insanity of it all …………. ……… …………….. …………………… until I remembered that, not so long ago, I did indeed stumble upon an unexploded world war two bomb.  See here.

It was not German though, it was American.  At the moment I discovered it I had no stethoscope, salt, scissors, 6mm plastic tubing, a hand operated pump, a bicycle pump, a hand drill, a 4mm drill bit and a small self tapping needle; so I went to the police instead

picture – stormy night by Christina Welsh

Night (This night, agitated by the growing storm)

This night, agitated by the growing storm,
how it has suddenly expanded its dimensions–,
that ordinarily would have gone unnoticed,
like a cloth folded, and hidden in the folds of time.

Where the stars give resistance it does not stop there,
neither does it begin within the forest’s depths,
nor show upon the surface of my face
nor with your appearance.

The lamps keep swaying, fully unaware:
is our light lying?
Is night the only reality
that has endured through thousands of years?

Rainer Maria Rilke

I have just been out for a walk.  The stars are out and are filling most of the sky, but the clouds are there too and constantly shifting.  Taurus was up there being chased by the hunter.  The swan was up there to making its giant winter migration.  The spaces between the stars was inky black and the moon was in hiding, a new moon, latent.  But the new moon has an effect we might feel soon, as a costal swell.


The barometer says Rain/Change,  it could not be more true.  A deep low is forming out on the sea and it is winding itself up and ready to create havoc on us.  Forecasters tell us it will begin to tear in on sunday night.  If you get out and stand outside for a while you might sense it.  Maybe it’s because the gentle wind is blowing from a direction it does not normally come from.  Or maybe it’s because the air feels not cold, but damp.  Or maybe it is something deeper, but it is there, over the horizon, there be dragons.

tomorrow night

The winter is upon us and the time is right for haunting moody music to be played while out and about driving through the falling leaves and golden trees.  Here is one that was with us today….

Tongue That Canot Lie

I was born with a tongue that cannot lie
and how it grieves me
Each fleeting thought behind my eye
just up and leaves me
Into the wild, like a bastard child
born under a briar
Oh to be a liar

I’ve been courted by saints and by sinners
who all know the things that a tongue can tell
Whose discrete invitations for sweet revelations
Were such an enticement to sell
But the street price of secrets seduced
and reduced me to trading without any care
Oh to be a liar.

So in conscience I chose to avoid those consumed
by ambitions of earthly dominion
But even this act, the omission of fact
Just delighted The Lords of Opinion
And in retreat from it all I did fall for a man
Who swore that my words were a blessing

But for each of the beautiful daughters we bore
I betrayed all the joy in my heart
Each harmless invention or childlike convention
I brutally shattered apart
Some say love is saying the way that it is
But believe me it just isn’t so
For the joy of surprises, the tooth-fairy wonder
And Halloween guises were all torn asunder

And the lovely mistruths that I so longed to utter
Dissolved in the blink of a tear just like butter
Oh to be a liar.
For a tongue that can’t lie shall cause the meek to cry
cruel words to cut them through
And a tongue that can’t lie
Shall cause the righteous few to silence all that is true
Oh to be a liar.

Now I wander these earthly lands from pole to pole
And from shore to lonely shore
Seeking concealment in corners but somehow
the world still descends on my door
Afflicted, addicted I pray for a potion
To take all my vision away
Oh to be a liar.

So tear out this tongue and stitch up these
barbarous eyes with which I see
And grant me the right
To spare you the cold callous cut of reality
Won’t you take all this knowing
and leave me with nothing, no nothing at all
Let me speak what I will and reserve all the rest
and I’ll walk through the world
Neither blighted nor blessed
For my sole modest wish now before my demise
Is to savour the sweetness and kindness of lies
Oh to be a liar.

For a tongue that can’t lie.

Karine Palwort

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