Saturday, July 31

Family Trees

When we moved to the Potters House nearly 30 years ago, the back  field was a wild unkempt area, with a few mature trees around the edges. Nini was ten and Ben was nine and the field was all theirs as we had no time then to start sorting it out and tidying it up . What joy for two kids! Well, a Tarzan swing was set  up on the tallest of the sycamores. You know the type that I mean...a sturdy rope slung over a high branch, and then brought right down to the ground a distance away and pinned down with some sort of tent peg. A couple of handles on either side of the rope, climb the tree, hands firmly into the handles and with a forest yell slide down...very fast! It was inevitable that there would be little accidents, and as mum I just kept hoping that it wouldn't be too much. Well with Ben it was the little bones in his foot. Probably a hard landing.  And what can a doctor do about that I was informed, so he just hobbled and looked for sympathy. None from his sister, not much from mum and dad. Too much going on elsewhere. The next to go was Nini and hers was a bit like something out of the Keystone Cops. She climbed another thinner tree and showing off, swung out to be admired. Unfortunately the branch she was holding was dead and down she went. This time it was an elbow that was damaged, though it was quite a while before I was informed as she held the arm close to her side! A greenstick fracture, very painful, I had one myself as a child. The bone is cracked or chipped but there is no break.

So you might wonder, whether this week while all the family were together at the Potters House,  if the grand children would be allowed to climb, now that they are of "climbing age"? Well of course they are! There is a Stag's Horn tree that I have been cultivating for just such a time as this. It's branches start low to the ground and then spread out in a wonderful fashion ideal for climbing. I've even had a go myself and got to the second level!
A neighbour called this week asking if it would be possible to trim the eucalyptus tree on their boundary with  the back field. We had already planned to do it this year and of course this gave Alan the ideal excuse to go climb a tree. Tree duly trimmed and delighted  lovely neighbour ...and happy husband.
So you see it IS the family tree AND  family trees. Now I'm thinking of calling the five grand daughters, " The Fabulous Five", as opposed to " The Famous Five". Especially as I read this week that  many of the old fashioned words are to be removed from those books, and 21st century ones replace them. [ I went out especially to a second hand bookshop to snaffle up some of the original " Fives" ! ]

So far no broken bones and I'm thankful.

Thursday, July 29

The Story of Ballyferris. Caravans etc.

                                                                  The Caravans
They were a motley bunch of holiday homes.  Not at all like a modern camping site. There were commercial vans with internal toilets and separate bedrooms.
But as well as these were the wonderfully inventive alternative constructions,  and in those days...these seemed to me...the most exciting.
Two in particular really captured my imagination. The first, based in the left hand corner on the seaward side of the field, was a double decker bus. Downstairs, the living room with the kitchen area, and upstairs the bedrooms. What fun it must have been for this family to climb the stairs at night and look out on the other vans from their lofty height.
 The second, not actually a caravan, but rather a nissen hut left near the entrance to the field and used for coastal defences during the second world war.These were littered everywhere around that area.... after all the war had only ended around eight years before the period I am writing about. We got to know the family who stayed there very well, and even went to see them up in Belfast, in their home.
When I look at some of the magazine articles nowadays, and how they emote rather romantically over recycling, and then think how inventive these people were, well, it makes me smile. They had divided up the space  inside, by using old hospital screens. I remember these as ornate and heavy, the type that any interior designer would give their eye teeth for today. So there was a living area in the middle with sleeping areas on the edge, and a  kitchen at the far end.The couple who inhabited this extravaganza shared it with their daughter, and we became beach companions roaming far and wide.....often to the point of forgetting to return to our families at mealtimes.
 Much to the distress of my poor mother, with a toddler daughter, unable to go out searching for me.

I think that our caravan was based on the commercial Eccles shape. It was rounded on the roof with a skylight in the middle. The two ends sloped slightly, and each had a window in it. The door was to the left of the front side with a window to the right of that. The back had another two quite a lot of light which made inside feel like outside - inside! To the left of the door was a long bench with one mattress to sit on and another behind to lean against. At night this pulled out to make a double bed for mum and dad. Underneath was the storage space for the bedding. Great creamy woollen blankets and crisp white sheets with eiderdowns for extra cold Easter or autumn nights. No duvets then, this was the fifties. Along the back wall was a tiny “toy” sink with a lid which covered it, cleverly cut out of the wooden cupboard, constructed by dad to house that and the calor gas cooking rings. Even now, when I strike a match for my own cooker or  light a candle, the smell takes me back to those years and the wonder of it all.
Opposite this unit was a tall cupboard used for coats and boots. But the thing that made that great, was the bulge at the bottom covering one of the wheels and this somehow made the fact that we were balanced on two wheels all the more real. When we were small enough we used to climb inside and hide perched on top of this spot. Maybe that could be part of the reason why I love the beginning of the Narnia story, though I feel that perhaps playing hide and seek in a small caravan takes even more imagination!
At the far end on either side were another two bench seats, once again covered by mattresses and hiding storage for bedding underneath.  In between them attached to a small drawer and cupboard unit by an ingenious “Dougie” device, was a dining table, balanced on one end leg. This was either up for a meal, stored above the wardrobe or cleverly slotted on two rails attached either side of the short benches. So at night all three children had to go to bed at the same time , which was inordinately unfair on Ian who was four years older than myself and eleven years older than Rosie. Still that’s the penalty for a life of freedom. But I'm sure that it was the main reason for my brother’s later lack of enthusiasm for all that Ballyferris held dear for me.
Above both the end cupboard and the bench by the door, were two glass lamps protecting the delicate gas mantles that gave us our light in the evening. And as soon as dusk fell they were lit. This was always a tricky task. Holding a match too near to the mantle might mean piercing a hole in the fine gauze. Not holding it close enough could mean a build up of gas which regularly caused minor explosions. What excitement. The gentle hissing sound of the lamps had a wonderfully soperific effect on us all and combined with the sea air it meant that sleep came easily to both over excited children and tired parents.
All of the woodwork was of light coloured plywood, which dad had lovingly and carefully french varnished. And the upholstery and curtains were made by mum of heavy,brown, modern furnishing material. Above the sink and cooker unit were two wall cupboards. One held the dry and tinned goods and the other crockery. Brown and yellow checked plates and saucers with yellow cups, very fifties, very smart. Outside the caravan was a meat safe placed to the north, no fridge or freezer facility as yet. At the back we stored the calor gas cylinder and a drain-away for the water from the sink. The collecting of water is another story altogether. Underneath the van , a motley collection of deck chairs, buckets and spades and swimming gear waited for those days when the sun shone and the sea called out to us!
So there it is the wonder of it all, small, compact... and another place altogether.

Now as I’ve written there were other less unusual vans sited around the edge of the field, all commercially built, after all The Caravan Club was started in 1907, all of more than 100 years ago. However in the field to the right of the lane a caravan arrived, some years later, which I’ll mention briefly now but will go on to write about in much more detail in later parts of this story. This belonged to the P...... family and was again a home build. But this was like no other . It was made from a workman’s hut, the type that used to be trailed behind a steam engine. High on metal wheels, it was a wooden box par exellence. And what a family, also exotic... without exception!

A poem for Thursday

We go to Spain every June and stay in the hills up above Marbella in a beautiful apartment belonging to family. We look out over the valley to the "Pueblo" Mijas. There is a bull ring there. I've  never been to a fight, but we once had a look around it and saw the bull-fighters' outfits hanging in the dressing room. They were amazingly created and embroidered with colour and beads and gold worked through it all. I thought I understood perhaps a little more about how the Spanish see this ancient sport. It's full of custom and tradition and theatre. But I could never bear to go to see an animal killed for sport. I'm not a vegetarian and never will be. Does that make me a hypocrite. That's not  a question as I don't need an answer.  But is the influence in Spain that of the outsiders who now flock to have a share in that stunning land of sun and mountain?  Or have the Spanish themselves thought ,"enough is enough"?

Anyway on a lighter note, is this haiku or not ? I need the poetry community to put me right!

bullfighting will go
underground the spanish know -

 how to dig big holes 

Monday, July 26

The Poetry Bus

I'm hoping to join The Poetry Bus...if they will let me on board. I've not been on it yet and have no idea where it will take me, but I've never been disappointed with any journeys that I've taken on other poetry transport, so I can't imagine that this will be any less exciting! Here goes...lets hope that it stops for me.

I believe that the subject this week is Confusion. So I'm already this year up to scratch!


Hilary, Hilarious I think!
Three times
Ethics, morals, growing up
Passing it on.

Kites fly M40
You and me boy
You and me.

It's not definitive and I'm on line
Who's line?
Big sister, little sister, sister-in-the-middle
One brother, son and heir
                    Sun and air.

Counting up, counting down
County Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Belfast Town
Out of your safety zone.

Perhaps she's strong
Can cope with less comfort?
It's the locusts and little foxes to blame
They steal and destroy.
Watch out for the grapes of wrath.

I'm on line - the blood line
And I'm not alone.

Sing blackbird
        Sing No.1

Painted kites hover in the cold air with tails spread,
      Thinly spread, not enough to go round.
              Who knows where the end is?

Twenty five miles from Birmingham.

Crows wait to snatch up the carrion.
Think on.
Clean up your game Wiseman
Wise man?
All will be well, foolish heart.

Growing up in rarified air,
Growing old in terrified air.
                  [ Blackbird fly away].

" These are the tracks of our years"
Then I'll take the one less travelled.

"On the 13th level I can see everything".

Hemmed in, knitted together.
" My old man"..has no piece of City Hall paper,
Now he's gone
                     Put on the pan!

He was a singer in the bathroom
                     Sneak in and watch.

Never signed for little green
No flowers, no birthday clothes, much sorrow.
A mean old daddy all wind and snow
                                 snow and wind.

"Blue" [pale blue].
Lots of laughs
                    and lullabies

The news looks bad....
Ballyferris I'm coming home.
Just let me be a fantasist
And take me as I am.
Is faith enough for this crazy blackbird?
Does the evening star shine for everyone?

Keep to your line!
The blood line.
Babies cry and come up the Lagan in a bubble.
Jingle the money in your pocket.

You're in my blood like Holy Wine.
[She had a mouth like your's, blood red.]

Joni, you still sing my life.
Hiding today in that dark cafe
On a road less travelled - now unravelled.

James you still sing my life.
Travelling in the eye of the storm
With nowhere to go.

No more innocently walking in the sand, picking up shells
                                                     and   soft edged glass.

Time spent out of time.


Fishy tale

We had a very productive weekend up at the lovely Morecambe Bay. There has been a gathering of artisans and artists coming to live in the road where we stay, and that is quite a big change over the eight years that we have been blessed enough to go there. A young journalist and his wife who is an art photographer, a commercial photographer and now a fisherman. And I mean fisherman. We were asked would we like some sea bass, and nearly snapped the  hand off !  We sent some courgettes across the road, brought up from the "monsoon" garden at home!  [ at the moment it's just a Donegal mist, what we laughingly call a soft day, in Ireland.]  So when Alan went over for the fish he got more that he bargained fact two seabass and a beautiful red mullet. Paid for the sea bass and the mullet came as a freebie. How good is that. On an aside, we do the same with a neighbour who comes to pottery classes and keeps hens. She gets her ceramics fired and we get the best fresh eggs.

Two sea bass

and a lovely red mullet.

We ate the mullet and the flesh was as fresh as the morning milk on the doorstep. We took the advice of the blessed Rick Stein, and did nothing fancy to it. Served it with roasted courgette and peas from Alan's garden.

I can't resist this little N.E. rhyme.

Dance to your daddy
My little laddie
Dance to you daddy 
My little son.

You shall have a fishy 
In a little dishy
You shall have a fishy 
When the boat comes home.

The sea bass are waiting in the freezer for a fabulous meal with family
Good life.