February 2011

I would have loved to have painted the little man’s room like this, but I don’t have the skill.  ***sigh***

by how blue met red

The sky was perfect today.  The air was still and crisp cold as a line of clouds hung lonely in the sky.  When I got home I had a limited amount of time to fashion a very basic table from ancient bits of wood I found lying in the woodshed.  It is held together by a few screws and no structural cross struts at all.  It is crude but it is enough to hold up the recycling bins and give the cats a cosy sheltered spot underneath them.  This means that the greenhouse bench has been freed from its recycling duties and is now ready for trays of seeds in the, now gutted and cleaned, greenhouse.

When my time pottering in the garage was up I returned to the cottage and picked up the little man for some quality father and son time as the lovely Sharon taught her piano lessons.  For a while he was in his carrier attached to my chest.  Wrapped up and donned with his woolly ‘toot’ hat (it says toot on it and has a little car as well) we ventured into the garden to see what spring was doing with itself.  We stood under the bare trees and looked up through the branches.  We looked into some of the bird boxes and wondered if anything was cosy inside.  We looked at the buds starting to untwist and unfurl from the blackcurrant bushes.  We stood and looked at the greenhouse, empty of plants but filled with anticipation.  Then when we felt we had relaxed into the evening he suddenly became quite distressed.  For the next half hour he was inconsolable and only calmed down for a moment after the littlest of burps.  When he eventually felt better, tiredness began to creep up on him.  He tried his best to smile and be happy but he could not beat the fatigue.

Bath time cheered him up, as it always seems to.  Then after super he did not fall to sleep gently, but instead fell into a deep slumber as if switched into night-time mode.  Rainer Maria Rilke says; “Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.”

A lovely thought that is a romantic one until that child has stomach pains, this is when the child only knows cuddles and tears.

The lovely Sharon lost her composure a couple of days ago.  She sat down and calculated our electricity bill, she was inconsolable for hours.  Moving into a different house gives rise to unknown quantities.  Will the new house be breezy?  Will it hold in the heat or leak it out from every undetectable hole?  It turned out that we used more oil to heat the cottage than we used in our old house, but we were pleasantly surprised that we did not use as much oil as we thought we would in ‘the coldest December in Ireland since records began’.

The electricity if a different matter entirely.  The truth is that we picked up a tumble drier just before the little man arrived into the world.  The fact that he arrived in the winter and that he needs a ridiculous amount of clean clothes every day means that the dryer has been on daily.

The lovely Sharon wanted to know what we could do to reduce our electrical wattage.  I made two suggestions which I thought were sensible.  The first was that as the warmer weather was on its way, we could use the clothes line more often.  She was a step ahead of me here and had already started down this path.  The other suggestion was that the power consumption was related to her being on extended holiday maternity leave and that her kettle habit was happening more than it would when she was at work.  When pushed for clarification, I pointed out that she does boil a full kettle then leave it for a few minutes then boil it again, then leave it and boil it again, before making a cup of tea.  This observation did not sit well with her and apparently I should refrain from taking to her until I have something more constructive to say.

This morning, with our electrical consumption fresh in my mind, I dusted off a solar panel from the old house.  I calculate that if I was to connect it to the mains somehow, we would reduce our electricity bill by 0.00001%.  Instead I connected it to an old computer fan and it now serves as air circulation in the greenhouse.  It used to be part of a greenhouse heat sink that warmed the under floor stones during the day.  However, in this greenhouse it cannot have such a geeky job as I have no time for it.

Another accounting problem came to the forefront of our minds today; eggs.  Having 28 eggs a week means that we end up giving a lot of them away to friends and family.  This is part of the enjoyment of having the chickens but we should have been more mean.  With family coming for dinner tomorrow we need the eggs for desserts, pastries and our own weekend traditional pancakes.  We are refusing to buy extra in the shops.  Every egg is a precious item at the moment with a predestined job before it has even been layed.

This evening I spent some time with the power-hose.  We have been spending a lot of time together lately; stripping off the winter dirt from the yard, patio, lane, driveway and, tonight, the greenhouse.  Nearly an entire compost bin was filled with the desiccated contends of the greenhouse and it should now be ready to start some things growing if we can get round to it.

After cleaning the greenhouse I had to make a cheesecake.  I recently discovered that one of my form class is winning prizes for her sticky toffee pudding.  Maybe I want to build her confidence while uniting and bonding with my form class, or maybe I want to put her in her place.  Either way, tomorrow is the ‘Battle of the Desserts’.  She will bring in her apparently prize winning pudding and I will grace my form classes’ presence with the fabled chocolate cheesecake.  May the best cheesecake win!

It had to be made this evening, that itself was not a problem.  The problem was that I had also started a bread mix as soon as I walked in the door as the current loaf is down to its last.  This all sounds very busy but the truth is that I enjoy making these things.  I enjoy the process and playing about with the mixes. I enjoy the taste of the final product, not because it is home made, it is because I made it.  It is pride.  However, I must admit that it sometimes goes quite wrong.  I never usually share the wrong products, it is much too embarrassing.

The Cheesecake:

First a big pile of chocolate digestive biscuits (150g) are smashed to within an inch of their lives before it is mixed with a big blob of melted butter (100g).  This gooey mix is placed in a cake tin which has been smeared with butter.

Two tubs of mascarpone cheese are mixed with a Goldilocks amount of honey.  If you use too much honey you will be able to tell when the final cheesecake tastes too sweet.  If you use too little honey you will be able to tell when the final cheesecake tastes not sweet enough.

Then an egg is mixed in.  Then another egg.  Then an egg yolk.  Then another egg yolk.  Then a teaspoon of vanilla essence is mixed in.

Meanwhile, two massive bars of very dark chocolate should be melted.

Once the chocolate is melted it can be mixed with the cheesecake mix and then poured over the chocolate biscuit base.

The tin foil is used so that boiling water can be poured around the cake without mixing with it.  This helps with even cooking and prevents burning around the edges.  The whole thing can then be placed in a 160 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Fresh baked bread.

This takes a little more timing than the cheesecake.  I start by mixing 500g of strong white flour with 600ml of water and 10g of yeast (or a 7g packet is fine too).  I usually leave this for a few hours.  This step is not essential and can be skipped, but I find it adds more flavour.

Then I add another 500g of strong white flour and 10g of salt (don’t forget the salt!) and also a few generous squirts of olive oil.

This is then mixed well and kneaded.

Kneading involves really working your hands into the dough for about 7minutes.  Arms and hands do get sore.

Then I put cling film over the bowl and leave the dough in the hot press for 2 hours so it can have a good think about itself.

After 2 hours the dough has usually increased in size a bit.

The dough is gently removed and divided in two.  In this process it will deflate and reduce back down.  The two ‘loaves’ are placed on an oven tray and covered with a damp tea towel.  This allows them to expand some more.  I usually put the oven on to its maximum temperature at this stage.

After about half an hour I put them in the oven.  I usually have a tray at the bottom of the oven with a bit of boiling water in it too. They go into the oven (with a few slices with sharp knife) for about 20 minutes.

The lovely Sharon and I cannot resist having a slice with butter when it is ready.  Even if it is bed time when it is ready and we are stuffed from a big dinner, we will still guiltily have a slice or two.

The lovely Sharon would also like to contribute a recipe for today.  She should include her chilli con carne but apparently it is a secret.  Instead she would like to share her recipe for hungry boy milk.  270ml of freshly boiled water is placed into a sterilised bottle.  Then 9 level spoons of ‘hungry milk’ powder is added.  Mix and allow to cool to a luke warm temperature before serving.  It must be good as I have seen a certain person I shall not mention look frantically for said milk and then cry uncontrollably until the milk is served.

Tonight I closed the gates.  This is a nightly ritual here at the cottage and is a ritual that I have not been allowed to partake in, in quite a while.  The lovely Sharon insists that she closes the gates.  She actually does not insist but merely sulks if I suggest that I could close them.  What closing the gates actually means is a dander around the cottage, a chat with the cats and some scratching under the chin is administered as they are assured, in comforting whispers, that there will be plenty of birds and mice to try and catch tomorrow.  Then the dander continues down the lane and finally the gates are leisurely closed.  Wellies, woolly hat and a thick buffalo ensure that this is enjoyable in all weathers.  Apparently the lovely Sharon needs the fresh air as her day is a busy one spent frantically chatting to all sorts of people in coffee shops and such things.  As opposed to my day where I get to enjoy massive amounts of fresh air and the outdoor world walking from the school car park to the school building, and I get to do this twice!

I can’t really complain at all (but it is fun) as I walk around the cottage every night anyway.  I have to feed and water the chickens and sometimes move the coop to a fresh patch of grass.  But tonight I got to close the gates as well as the lovely Sharon had her fill of fresh air today.  Today she went for a jog around a park.  She did this while pushing the little man around in his pram.  While reasonably acceptable in London and New York, it is quite a strange thing to do here in Northern Ireland.  Especially when it is a busy park and a small park.  Forty minutes of jogging meant that she had to do many laps and meet the same people over and over again.  She says that with most of them the ice was broken after the third or forth lap.  From then on she seemed to get to meet the whole park in short bursts of conversation.  There was even some drama in the form of the little man’s pram losing a wheel mid jog.  Those of you who know the lovely Sharon will not be surprised.  There is a logical explanation; a wheel must always be removed to fit the pram into a car that can only be classified as ridiculously tiny.  When the wheel was not refitted properly it simply careered off mid jog and the drama unfolded.  A couple ran frantically to assist and the lovely Sharon simply re-fitted the wheel then jogged on in a very girly way.

As I finished the closing of the gates tonight I caught the slate at the back door and I made a fresh mental notes of the things that are needing attention.  It seems that when I wrote it I left the most important chore to the last.

Tonight the little man, the lovely Sharon and I, all sat down together for tickles.  He already smiles nearly all the time and he has laughed for a while now, but tonight he was laughing out loud and uncontrollable with all that he could find in him.  This was all after we had a visit from our own parents.  And tonight I am thinking of being parents and our own parents.

The lovely Sharon’s parents are often frustrated when they impart wisdom to her that they have already told her when she was younger. They sigh and she has only a vague memory of it.  So, what is the point of sharing wisdom, and experiences, to our children (I mean in the general sense of children as I have only one) before they can appreciate it?

There is a point, and I was reminded of it tonight as I watched A History of Ancient Britain.  I was watching episode two and it took me from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic.  These two styles of living clashed as the hunters tried to make their mark on the land when the farmers were beginning to creep in.  They built massive standing stones row upon row.  These are intimidating and awe inspiring structures at Carnac in the north of France.  I always feel drawn to old standing stones, we even drove past one today and I got the lovely Sharon to slow down a little for me to press my face to the window and stare.  As the presenter of the TV program walked through the stones I had a little echo of thought; I have been there, I have walked through the stones at Carnac.  Many years ago my parents took my sister and I to France on holiday and Carnac was just one of many halcyon days. I have a vague recollection of the stones but another memory of that day overrides the stones.  A memory of beautiful chocolate covered crepes. And so I remember the fickle stomach driven emotions and not the awe inspiring venue.  Until now, years later I appreciate it more. I have stood there and felt the stones on my hands.  It may take years, but it all sinks in given enough time.

The lovely Sharon and I feel a little clueless at times.  We are trying our best to get the garden in shape for the spring which seems to be building with both sap and speed.  Some of the fruit bushes are beginning to bud  and we suspect they should be pruned.   We have a little experience with raspberries but have no experience with blackcurrants or gooseberries.  When I say we have some raspberry experience, what I mean is that we are still relatively clueless about those as well.  When we moved into the cottage in the early autumn we devoured the last of the raspberries that had been un-harvested.  Then all was bare until a month latter when the bushes surged with a new crop.  Apparently there are summer raspberries and autumn raspberries.  We poured over the books and found out that they should be pruned in very slightly different ways.  The autumn ones should be chopped to the ground as if killed and the summer ones should have a similar treatment but a few healthy stalks should be left and only shortened slightly at the top.  For this we attempted to rekindle the old gathering instinct that should be deep in us all.  We walked the garden and tried to remember the harvesting.  Where was the late bounty that we used to pour into our porridge?  One bush I remembered well as it was near the clothes line and it had left an imprint on my mind and the white sheets that I had just washed.

Are these thistles? Are they edible?

Our knowledge is woeful.  Even when we read the books on the gooseberries we pruned with caution.  The blackcurrants looked too healthy to tamper with and I am sure we will regret this.  We just have to put it down to our inexperience.  This inexperience ‘opportunity to learn’ has already cost us a complete harvest of Jerusalem artichokes and cardoons.  The artichokes we had never seen before.  We were convinced in the end but half forgot about them until it was probably too late.  We believe they will come back with vigour and we will harvest them next year.  As for the cardoons; identification was difficult as there is little in the way of references to them.  None of our friends have ever seen them and they are scary looking things. Again, they will grow back but on this particular vegetable we remain a little wary and not totally convinced.

Near the end of the summer the cardoons nearly out grew the greenhouse.

It is caturday and the moon has just turned and is waning.  It was the storm moon and last night we could feel one of those storms.  Usually our bedroom window is open at night, but ever since the little man arrived, with his surface area to volume ratio, we have it closed.  It traps the heat in but traps our connection with the wind and rain. We are insulated by double glazing and we miss the whistling wind.  However, last night’s gusts and rain were strong enough to be heard as they battered the cottage.

Either side of this brief little storm the weather is warm.  It may not actually be warm in the proper sense but combined with the lengthening days it is fooling us into thinking spring is here.  We feel the urge to plant the seeds in the soil and start the beans, the peas, carrots, chard and tomatoes.  This is the lie of the Irish spring.  It will be long and we may still see harsh cold.  The snow will more than likely fall again.  Maybe not as epic as the winter but enough to dash all our premature dreams of crops.  The moon of winds is still to come, then the moon of planting.  Then we can let the seeds fall.

Now would have been a good day to sort out the compost bins.  One is full of dark rich soil that I don’t know the age of.  Two stand empty and shiny, and one is full of foul smelling waste from the girls.  Maybe it should be fowl smelling.  I should have, but did not, work this into the soil.  The only venture into the garden this morning was to fill the bird feeders at dawn.  This was for purely selfish reasons as I wanted to watch them in the brief moments caught in-between making pancakes.  It amazes me how many birds we have here.  When we moved in I could not believe how many there were.  In our old house the wind tore down the hill and rolled into the back of the house.  There was little cover for the birds and they were random and rare visitors.  Here at the cottage they pour out of every tree, hedge and shrub.  I honestly expected the population to crash when our two cats took up residence.  The numbers have not dropped a bit (maybe one or two) and the geek in me thinks it is due to there being so many of them.  More eyes means more chances to spot the fat black cat or the needy one creep up.  However, there may be another explanation that may not be so geeky.  This morning I watched the needy one stalk along a path in the garden.  She was sneaking up on the birds.  The birds seemed to ignore her and I felt like shouting, “Run birds, Run!”  I need not have worried.  Maybe the birds know the cats too well.  They did not panic or fly away (or run).  Even the birds hopping on the ground ignored the needy one and simply carried on bouncing about.  The needy one took three more stealth stalking paces then…..rolled over and began cleaning herself.  I had to laugh out loud.  Our cats are a bit strange.

There is a clock in every classroom and it usually hangs on the wall in the same location.  At the back of my science lab it is a little different.  At the start of the year, out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of pupils and I by now know the look of realisation.  Some of the pupils hate it and others love it.

It is all a bit of fun and a novelty.  However, on two occasions I have seen something a little more interesting and unusual.  Numerous times I have seen a pupil try and catch out a friend who has never seen it, by asking innocently, “what time is it?”  And on two of these occasions I have seen the unsuspecting pupil read the time without even thinking about it or realising that something was not quite right. On both of these occasions the pupil read the time correctly and then had to have it pointed out to them that they had in fact read it backwards.  This highlights something that I have seen many times as a teacher; we do not all think in the same way even though we are taught in the same way.  For reading the time there is a system to follow.  For most of us we have a set of patterns imprinted on our minds….half past…..a quarter to…..five minutes past.  But for some they follow the circular number line then follow round to the minute hand, then finally translate it into quarters and halves.  And I believe that for a very small few it does not even matter if the hands and number line are clockwise or anti-clockwise.

It is also a talking point for questions about time.  This always leads to questions about time travel and we all try to bend our heads around the fact that you can travel forward in time faster than other people but not backwards.  I tell them that if you move fast enough then time will slow down for you but the rest of the world will carry on moving through time at their normal rate.  Some don’t believe me so I like to give them real world examples.  I tell them that the clocks on satellites all run at different speeds due to them all moving at different speeds in space.  I then tell them that scientists have invented a little box computer that can actually listen to the clocks on these satellites and listens to their constantly wrong internal clocks.  This little box then realises that slow clocks must be moving faster than not so slow clocks and it uses this to do a bit of nifty maths and then uses this information to tell you to…..”turn RIGHT in one hundred meters then carry on for HALF A MILE on the A1”.

The moon is close to full and the sky is clear tonight. The fattening moon hung in the cool blue sky this evening as grandparents left after a day of hard graft. At the weekend the little man’s dada grandparents came to stay at the cottage for the weekend. They were put to work babysitting and hedge trimming and left a little tired and weary. Today the mama grandparents came and worked equally as hard. Granny scolded me for not cleaning the lane after my father had trimmed the hedges. I did try hard but is was not up to standard. She took the dribbling and bubble blowing little man in the pram and filled bags and bags with the detritus of the hedgerows. Grandfather helped me put down the little man’s floor for his new bedroom.

There are two camps of opinion about bedroom floors. One group of people insist that carpet is the only option. It is warm underfoot, dampens sound and adds a little insulation. The other opinion is that wood (or laminate) is cleaner, is easier to keep clean and adds more natural light to a room. It is into this latter category that we fall firmly. However, it seems that the previous two sets of occupants in the cottage came from different camps. Yesterday the lovely Sharon and I purchased some new wood laminate floor and proceeded to rip up the old carpet in the room to find below it; a wood laminate floor. The lovely Sharon and I scratched our head at this quite a bit. Should we use it and take back the boxes? In the end there were too many holes from the carpet tack strips, and too many chips and marks. So the old floor was ripped up a second time and we laid the new floor today.

Last night was the second night of my beekeeping course. It was an interesting night that began with a test on our homework. The first thing I learnt was that if you can ask two different beekeepers for a definitive answer to a specific question, you will get three definite answers. The class chuckled a little in slight embarrassment as the teacher and last week’s teacher argued (in jest we hope) at one of the homework questions.

We got to know each other a bit better than last week. It seems that about a third of the people in the class already have bees. One lady has had them for thirty years but has found that in the last five years disease has reduced her to one colony. She is on the course to learn about the diseases that never used to bother the bees before.

The thing that stands out in my mind about the class was more details about the life of the queen. It is a misconception that the queen rules, in fact it is the workers that dictate the operation of the hive through some unknown super organism means. In the class I learnt more of the details and recent research in this area and it often seems to raise more questions than answers; which is the best of science!

a national hive and colony by amethystdragon

The lovely Sharon had sent me on the course insisting that I enquire after the bees themselves. She wants to know the exact details of the how and when we will get them. I was under the vague impression that all would be revealed in time, but secretly I worry. If I was in England, Scotland or Wales; then the main sources of mail order bees would be all booked up for the year. All order books are full. So, I enquired about getting the bees from the teacher. He was quite evasive at first, beekeepers are sometimes painted as an elusive closed group, but in the end he supplied me with a name and a number. The association delivering the course originally intended to offer to supply bees to the beginners, but last year was bad to the bees and disease has removed this option. This morning I telephoned my precious name and number and spoke to an old bee keeper somewhere in the Roe Valley. He wants me to ring him in a couple of months and assures me that he will get me set up with a colony. The lovely Sharon was pleased with this until I told her they were black bees. These are the closest we can get to the, now extinct, indigenous Irish wild bee. This appeals to my romanticism about beekeeping but they are a little more, shall we say, ‘excitable’ than some of the breeds about. The lovely Sharon is not so romantic when it comes to the stinging.

The most humorous part of the evening was not the arguing of beekeepers. It was not even the bit about the mating of queen and drone when a popping can be heard as the male’s penis breaks into two before he falls to the earth and dies. The most humorous moment for me was when we were talking about the queen laying eggs and how this is affected by daylight duration. Clutching for an analogy the teacher asked how many of the class have chickens. It shocked me when three quarters of the class shot up their hands, including me. Is it stereotypical progression from chicken to bees? Scarier questions could have been asked….How many of the class like jazz? Or Olives?…..and it is really not funny, but…….How many of the class listen to Radio 4?

We are exhausted. For two days we locked ourselves off from the world. We watched no TV, we did not interact with the internet and we had only a vague idea of what day it should be. The little man’s grandparents came to stay at the cottage and help out; they had no idea what they had let themselves in for. The lovely Sharon and I took this visit as an opportunity and we took advantage of it. I threw myself into getting some necessary jobs done around the place and the lovely Sharon threw herself into painting the little man’s new bedroom.

Granny was the babysitter for the weekend as the mother was covered in speckled green paint and the father was covered in sawdust and mud. Bampa (Grandfather) was not wasted; on day one he was put to work trimming the hedges. I set up a 10 meter extension cable attached to another 25 meter reel. Soon he was back looking for more and I gave him another 25 meter reel. An hour later he was back but he knew I was exhausted of cable, so he rummaged through my boxes in the garage and fashioned together an extra 20 meters with a daisy chain of various electrical detritus.

That evening I washed the caked mud from myself (power hosing debris) and the lovely Sharon and I headed out for a valentine’s meal to ‘unwind’. In truth we felt that we both were like two rusty old springs. We dined and enjoyed a nice meal. We chatted and laughed and missed our little man.

Today we woke up and threw ourselves into the day again. Stuffed with fresh pancakes, the lovely Sharon coated herself in paint speckled clothes and once again picked up the brushes. I joined my father, who was now weary of hedges, and we both tried to bend our heads around the electrical system of the garage and the woodshed. We had established that a flood light out the front had a break in the wiring and so we replaced the cabling. We then established that the original cabling was quite fine and that we had been using two dead bulbs to check the flood, even thought the two bulbs stood up well to visual inspection. We then used the old ‘faulty’ wiring to set up a new fluorescent tube that gives us the option of switching on one tube when entering the garage or the original ten fluorescent tubes (NIE will be disappointed). Then we wanted to fit a new fluorescent tube to a dark corner of the woodshed. It is in this corner that I have set up a potting table and put up shelves to store all the gardening gubbins. We found the cable that we believed to be the lightning circuit and diligently installed the light. Then we reconnected the power to find that we had found the mains ring circuit and not the lights. We now had a permanent light that could never be switched off. At this point many would ring the professionals. Not us, we scratched our heads and grabbed a coil of cable and a pair of pliers. An hour later we had it all figured out and the lighting is now behaving as it should (I think).

Tonight we re-introduced ourselves to the little man and his grandmother reluctantly went home. Tonight we found out that piglet was completely surrounded by water. As the little man snoozed I told him about his lovely new bedroom that his mummy had worked so hard to get ready and he seemed happy with the thought. I hope he approves.

bee hive by cocteauboy

The first night of the bee keeping course taught me several things.  The first was that I really should read my emails properly.  I stood in the agricultural college with no idea which classroom, or even which building I should be in.  Checking my email revealed an unread attachment that I later discovered was a drawing of where I should bee (sorry).  The attachment was a ridiculously uncompressed 4.1Mb, a silly amount to even attempt to siphon through a mobile phone connection.  I had to ring a friend on the course and wait for him to find me in the rainy car park and then be escorted into class.

I was scolded a little for being late, I felt like the rebel pupil.  This feeling surged within me when the teacher assured the class that there is no such thing as a stupid question.  It took all that was in me to stop my arm from thrusting up and bolting out; “Is there such a thing as a stupid question?”  I am glad that I held back as the class was worth it.  The teacher for the night was what would be classed as old school.  He had a few power point slides at the beginning but quickly reverted to talking and reading notes.  He said that he was not au fait with this new PowerPoint.  At this point my friend, also a teacher, leaned over and whispered that he could just about remember when PowerPoint was ‘new’.  We giggled.

This is all painting a rather bad picture of the teacher, but quite the opposite was true.  This was a man dripping with stories and he seemed to have the gravity of wisdom around him.  He filled all the gaps in the notes we were covering with interesting things that just flowed from him.  It got to the point were the notes got in the way and I felt that they were things that punctured what we all wanted to listen to; the teacher.

At the end of the night students gathered around to ask questions, I just loitered at the back of the crowd and listened.  I felt like I wanted to just sit and listen to his answers but I was not wise enough to know the questions.  If he told me the questions and answers I would be happy to sit and listen.

The temperature has dropped just a little below zero here tonight.  The surfaces of things have a slight frosty tacky-ness as the mercury creeps down.  The stars are out and dancing and the moon has sneaked back into our vision and conciousness if we care to look for it.  As I went out for the chores it was just tucking itself away for the night by edging towards the horizon.

My compact camera does a terrible job at capturing it.  The levitating banana does not seem so mesmerising in a  picture.

The Hunter, and his obediently following dog, are bold features of the sky at this time of year.  Sirius, the dog star, is the bright star in the bottom left.  It is the brightest star in the night sky, not the pole star that many wrongly believe to be the brightest.

Cassiopia is another feature of the sky.  It is not a winter visitor, but it is a constant guide to finding the milky way.  It is a big W and if it is dark enough and you stand for a while and stare; you might just begin to see the splash of billions of stars that arc in the sky right through the middle of cassiopia.

The moon has gone to bed now.  I will take its example and hide myself away for the night ready to spin around the earth again tomorrow.

It all happened so fast that I hardly new it was happening until it was all over.  Today was a normal day, but tonight was a momentous night.  We had shared laughter together, we had shared tears.  We had spent long hours together on the road that is life and we had turned the volume up to eleven and sang our hearts out.  She had carried my son safely and carefully inside her but as I watched her drive off tonight I knew it was all over and I would probably never see her again.

Selling a car can be an emotional thing.  The lovely Sharon and I have always been a little attached to our cars and have even given a few of them names; Rover, Beep Beep, Mic, Minty and Purple to name but a few.  It is all very much a case of unnecessary anthropomorphic tendencies that we are both a little embarrassed to admit.  However, cars have their own characteristics that seem to grow into characters in our minds.  Thinking back, we remember Rover with fondness and think of his hilarious antics.  Having problems getting him started for an MOT test is one of them.  When we did get him going we had to keep our foot on the accelerator to stop him conking out during the test.  And he passed.  Rover was the underdog that always seemed to triumph.

My little car, that is no longer mine, was nameless.  We may be older and therefore our anthropomorphic-ness might be fading, but I suspect the presence of the little man may rejuvenate our Disney view of our cars.  Nameless had been with us for a while.  She was purchased on holiday, hundreds of miles from home and in a hurry, when our older car had its timing belt snap, cutting its life cruelly short. Nameless had taken us places in sun, rain and thick snow.  She had travelled to two different countries and was a very reliable sort of character.  Up until tonight, to me she had just been a car for the last couple of weeks.  I saw her and my eyes saw a car but in my mind was wooden floors for the bedrooms and possibly a tow bar for Miles (the latest car).  But, as I sat in her while the new owners were putting the money together I suddenly felt a wave of emotion.  It was unexpected and strangely comforting.  I will miss her even if she will not miss me.

We three were in the garden.  We cleared the vegetable patch a little.  When I say ‘we three’ really I mean that the lovely Sharon did most of the clearing while I occasionally popped out of the woodshed to deliver encouragement.  And the little man sat in his pram and dribbled while occasionally delivering encouraging squeaks and giggles.  It was not even the three of us, it was five. The cats were constantly nearby and Tillie sat below the pram and seemed to constantly be meowing at the little man.  Not threatening meows or even fearful meows, just contented little mewwws that felt like she was trying to connect with him.

I found all the leaks in the woodshed.  I hack-sawed foot long sections out and patched them with lengths of, now expensive, copper pipe.  On one section I fitted a plastic valve that was supposedly for plastic and copper pipe.  I should have followed my instinct which was to suspect the worst of a fitting that could only be hand tightened with no option for a spanner.  When I had all the water pressure back up to full and I was fitting the lagging; my hand momentarily touched the plastic valve which exploded near instantaneously.  I never paused to look at the water spraying everywhere, as I leaped away and ran for the stopcock in the garage.  The hacksaw was drawn once again and the plastic valve was condemned to the dark corners of the toolbox.

The garden is a massive undertaking that we can only work at a little at a time.  The running water is required before I even think about setting up the watering system for the greenhouse.  The vegetable patches need cleared so we can begin to think about what we will fill it with.  There were many surprises though; the smell of the onions and garlic and scallions.  Along with the discovery of un-harvested carrots and parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes.  Just as we decided to finish for the day we spotted something different under the trees.  At the bases of the naked branches were the first of the spring flowers to tell us that the sun and warmth will return; delicate snowdrops.  And when we spotted one bunch we began to spot them all and we were perplexed that we did not see them before.

just hanging around by immagina

This caturday is hoped to be a day just hanging around the cottage.  It will be a day of pottering.  The art of pottering is something I feel I need a little more practice with.  I have consulted experts and old hands; they say I must set out to do the things that need done then find other slightly less important things.  Then, I need to forget the original important things to be done as they are sure to be discovered another day.    It is said that all this must be carried out with a lot of long breaks for tea.  I think they meant coffee and I put down their mistake to years of pottering clouding their minds.  On the long stare, the absent gaze at the garden and fields that seems to focus on infinity,  they tell me that it cannot be practised.  I am assured that it will simply arrive one day like all important things that are discovered by chance while pottering.

The lovely Sharon’s parents visit every week. This week they visited during a February storm which was strong enough to turn over the iron coffee table and chairs in the garden. They had stood tall and proud all winter, through high winds and under thick snow. But today they turned over in strong westerlys that had her parents cowling inside and tutting at the ferocity of the weather. But the lovely Sharon did not understand. She, and I, feel the urge to be out in all weathers, we love it. We love the cold and even the rain. We love the wind and we love the onslaught of the summer sun. The lovely Sharon has been on her hands and knees with a full rucksack as she, literally, crawled down from the summit of Slieve Commedagh in 70mph winds before she settled down in the valley to a wild camp on the bend of a river. She has slept in a thin tent beside a mountain lochan which was frozen solid under a clear winter sky. So, we feel that we are strange people. We see the forces of nature around us and we feel no urge to hide.

At night we sit in a room that is heated by the wonders of plumbing to a minimum temperature of 16 degrees. For us it feels tropical but necessary for the little man. We fuss over the thermometer as typical over protective parents do. We worry that our own desires for an arctic bedroom do not fall into line with the little man’s frighteningly small surface to volume ratio. So, we sweat under our duvet and most nights I imagine our bed to be outside and under the stars and wind and rain. This deception sends me into a slumber as I dream of sleeping on the earth and on the turning world.

As a teacher I occasionally have to deal with bullying and neglect. It is saddening in both cases but I never thought my own assumptions would blind me to the fact that I myself was the source of the problem.

For a while now I have observed one of the girls not mixing socially with the other three. She seems not to outwardly mind this ostracisation but as we teachers know; they are only trying to be brave. I saw the bullying at eating time, and I saw it in the times in-between. Then one day the eggs laid became three instead of four. I suspected that low emotions were the route cause. I shrugged my shoulders and reminded myself that they were chickens and not teenagers and so I should not concern myself. For a few brief moments I remembered the limestone chips I should be throwing out for them but dropped this thought as the other three eggs were strong and healthy. I shrugged my shoulders again.

After nearly five days of the egg famine from the one hen I though I might have to step in with an application of Vaseline. I did not relish this, but needs must. Then in a last-ditch attempt at avoiding the horrid, I threw out some limestone chips. The hens went mental. The next day the grass was in shreds at the chalky carnage and an extra pale egg was produced. The next day another pasty looking egg arrived. Then the next day the egg looked normal and the production line was back in full swing. I no longer shrugged but instead hung my head in shame.

A day at work can be measured by the tension in the neck. Today was such a day. It was a day of running about and fiddling about with the computer to squeeze out the reports. Such a complicated system of data bases produces mistakes that must  be ironed out and sometimes the process needs to be stopped and repeated and stopped and repeated.

The antidote for this day was an evening in the dark heart of culchieland at an AGM. Chairs were elected, things were proposed and seconded. A question was asked and the constitution was consulted and another meeting was proposed to answer the question. The annual accounts were spread forth to the masses and calmly read in detail. This all calmed my mind, I could do nothing but listen and enjoy. After the meeting and the raffle, when I won a book of recipes, we all had sandwiches and tea. They could sell these meetings as therapy like yoga. I am not trying to be funny, I genuinely needed to just sit and listen and not be ‘doing’. Although I don’t think they serve coffee at yoga.