Multi fuel stove

More house news and wood burning stoves

So another thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about on the house front is having a fire.  At the moment we have rather an ugly ten year old gas fire.  It’s not pretty, it smells a bit funny and it’s a long way from the crackling log fire that I dream about.  The question is, what to do with it? Our first plan was just to rip it out, give us a bit more room in the lounge and be done with it, but then we started looking at fireplaces and stoves and it seems we do have some options.

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‘Er, Mum? The exam’s not today…’

God this week has been mental.  This one came with the added stress of it being Sam’s first A level exam week. Sunday was a bit frantic as he had to work (HOW do these kids do it?  Studying and revising, learning to drive, holding down a part-time job AND attempting a decent social life too?) and didn’t feel that he’d got much revision in.  The Dude was knackered after an all-nighter at a friend’s house the night before, so we’d all hit the sack pretty early.

The highlights of my week included:

Ninja attempting to eat my toe through the 13 tog duvet. Pretty painful, but a very effective alarm clock:

The foot bitey thing

Being traumatised on the school run
  (Sam’s now insured on my car at vast expense and regularly TERRIFIES me by driving me to school):

‘Sweetheart, you need to come in a bit towards the kerb – you’re kind of in the middle of the road’


Call from Sam: ‘erm, we got the date wrong on the calendar.  The exam is tomorrow’.  I guess all I can take from this is that 1) our calendar system is wildly inefficient and 2) thank goodness we got it wrong that way round and hadn’t missed it completely.  Honestly, how we all function I’ll never know.

Call from school: did you know that if you type a rude word into a school computer it’s automatically screenshotted and a copy taken to send to parents?  No?  Neither did The Dude.  The word was ‘dildo’ if you’re interested.  The explanation?  ‘I was trying out find and replace, so I set it to find every time in my coursework that it said ‘to’ and replace it with ‘dildo’. Ohhhh.  That’s okay then.

Getting home and unloading the shopping: placing the wine in the garage fridge  (a really nice bottle of rosé that has been recommended to me – Petit Rimauresq if you must know – and that I was looking forward to sharing with the Hubby) when I realised (or more accurately smelt) that I had forgotten about the mouldy cucumber that had been languishing there since Sam’s 18th and that had leaked all into the bottom of the fridge.  As I turned to fetch a cloth I lost grip of the wine, tried to break its fall with my knee, then watched helplessly as it smashed all over the floor.  I didn’t know whether to cry over my spilt wine or my bruised knee.  Finding no carpet cleaner and, hey, as it’s only a scrappy bit in the garage, I mopped it with a bucketful of hot water to which I’d added a Bold Liquitab.  There was swearing.

Another call from school: this time involving the illicit shredding of a school tie in the house office shredder.  Innocent faces all round.

And so it goes on really…  next will be better right?  RIGHT?




Sad news

Last week was strange and sad.

It started relatively well, but then on Wednesday, we received news that Charlie’s martial arts school was closed for the week. Charlie was disappointed: he’s mad into kickboxing and as many of you know is very proud to have received his yellow belt quite recently.

Friday, the school emailed to tell us that the reason they’d closed was because of the death of Charlie’s Sensei, or teacher, a lovely young man named Henry.  Henry was only in his early twenties.  He was a huge role model to Charlie, who often jabbered on about how cool Henry was and how he was hoping to emulate him by achieving his black belt by the time he was 21.  Without thinking, I rang Charlie, who was out with friends, and told him the bad news.  With hindsight, I should have done it in person. He was devastated.

We’re not sure what happened, but it’s a tragedy.  This young man had a huge impact on the life of my son. Kickboxing is very strict about etiquette, manners and respect.  It’s changed him in lots of ways, not just physically – he’s calmer and more confident too.

As a parent, I think we’re sometimes a bit full of our own self importance, and often forget the enormous effect other people can have on the lives of our children.  I’m so grateful to Henry for being such a fabulous role model, and frankly to everyone at the Martial Arts School for the care, attention and effort they put in with other people’s children.

Charlie will go on kickboxing, but I’m not sure it will ever be quite the same.  Rest in peace, Henry.

A level results. ‘A kick up the arse propels you forward’

So AS level results day yesterday.  For those of who haven’t reached this milestone yet, AS is the first year of A levels, A2 being the second year.  To be honest, our Mad Professor, Sam, knew that he’d not done brilliantly.  After breezing through his GCSEs, the workload was a bit of a shock, and the first term he knows he really didn’t do enough.  The school insist that they take three subjects, and he was struggling with the huge workload, struggling understanding the physics, and obviously missing the first hour of his biology exam didn’t exactly help, even with a B in his first module.  He ended up just scraping through in two of them with an E and failing the physics.  Ungraded.  After all that hard work and revision…

The school have told him that he can’t retake. They’ve told him he can come back and do three completely different subjects at AS level, just not the ones he’s just done.  I don’t understand.  Its something to do with funding.

After initially being devastated, he’s a bit more philosophical now.  He’s got his Royal Navy fitness test next but, bar a disaster in that, is looking forward to a career in the Navy.  BUT he needs at least two A levels for what he wants to do, so if the school really won’t have him back to do the same subjects, he’ll have to pick three new ones, or he’ll have to go on to a sixth form college and repeat his A levels there, away from his friends and the teachers that he likes so much…

Ah well.  As his Grandad said to me this morning: ‘a kick up the arse propels you forward’.

Wise words.

Swimming against the tide: parenting teens and other house-related waffle

Recently it seems that everything’s been ‘up in the air’.  I’m not good with change, and I don’t handle chaos very well either.  I like calm, with the occasional nice thing to look forward to (and cake. Lots of cake).  So these have been quite difficult times.

As it turns out, after the sheer panic of being told that we’ve got to move, and several weeks of fruitless searching for something suitable, a bit of lateral thinking (and, admittedly, some begging) has meant that we can stay.  I’m heaving a huge sigh of relief and doing a bit of nesting at the same time, resettling myself into this house, which I love (though, it seems it took the threat of leaving to make me realise): cleaning up, clearing out, and wandering round my little garden in the long-awaited sunshine, grass tickling my toes, smelling the roses and tending the tomatoes.  But that’s for another post.

Family-wise we’re battling on.  I think one of the hardest things about parenting teens is letting go.  And during the letting go process, there are the inevitable crises and mistakes that need to be handled.  I’m not good with that either.  I’m a worrier – a ‘worst case scenario’ kind of girl.

When they were little it was about whether they had their bike helmet on tight enough, and whether they’d fall off the wall they were climbing (with Charlie, he inevitably did).  Now it’s about whether they’re strong enough to follow the right path, pick the right friends and be sensible enough to make the right decisions.  I have to learn that I can’t do this for them, but hope that I’ve given them the right tools along the way.  We’ve provided a ‘get out of jail free’ card, which means that they can ring, anytime, anywhere, no questions asked, if they feel things are getting out of control.  This has made me feel better.  The waiting up until 1am never gets easier, though.  Having friends really helps – sometimes just hearing someone say ‘don’t worry’ or ‘we went through that too’ is everything you need to hear.  And now the holidays have started, I’m grabbing my ‘taxi’ hat and preparing myself for six weeks of duty, along with the inevitable six weeks of trade offs and bargaining ‘yes you can go, but you can’t stay late’… ‘I’ll take you but I can’t pick you up too’ type conversations.

My lovely friend Lulu recently wrote a post about her own domestic situation, and about how she’s learning to embrace the chaos and stop beating herself up about not being perfect.  I think I need to do this a bit more too.

So I’m counting my blessings – something I often write about but forget to do – baking biscuits, giving big, huge hugs, putting up whacky new curtains and – for once – enjoying the sunshine.

So that’s me, then.  How are you?


Random things I have learned this week about rural living

1. The joy of taking the laptop into the kitchen to work in a sunny spot can sometimes be hampered by extreme cockadoodledooing in the garden.

2. Cockadoodledooing is not conducive to any form of concentration.

3. Concentration can then be further hampered when a straying dog decides to attack a sheep in the field right outside your back garden.

4. Running out into the back garden in your pyjamas (the ones with the pink lollipops all over them) and shouting obscenities in a manic fashion whilst windmilling your arms will scare dogs away from attacking sheep.

5. The sight of a grown woman with mad, Russell Brand hair and lollipop pyjamas running towards them screeching like a banshee would probably scare anyone, to be fair.

6. Trying to walk over to the sheep to see if it’s alright will also scare the sheep away.

7. Phoning your friend in hysterics and jabbering incoherently about dogs and sheep and screeching in lollipop pyjamas and stuff in a ranty way is a very good test of friendship (thank you, Poppy’s Mum, you passed with flying colours).

Where was I? Oh yes….

8. Opening the patio door and shouting ‘WILL YOU SHUT UP!’ has absolutely no effect on the aforementioned cockerel or the amount/volume of his cockadoodledooing (but does give your nearest neighbour a good laugh).

9. Bursting into tears when trying to recount the dog/sheep incident to your children is a very good test of the teen/parent bond. Being patted on the head and told you’re a ‘bit of a knobber’ is A Good Thing.

10. This rural/self sufficiency lark is not as easy as I thought.

In which our hero nearly brains herself and receives no sympathy

So I’m bragging, yes, but my courgettes are huge (not a euphemism).  They have taken over the entire greenhouse, with leaves so enormous you could seriously float down a river on one (yes, of course they would hold my weight – I am, after all, sylph-like in stature).  The chickens have taken to making little impromptu nests under their leaves in the evening, they provide so much shade (and yes, I might have a small bindweed problem – I’m trying to ignore it):

Tuesday evening, then, out in my garden, pootling and pottering, tying stakes and watering, I was being careful to avoid treading on the giant leaves (should I later wish to do a little languid river floating), and didn’t notice the edge of the greenhouse window.

Next thing I know there was an enormous bang, several bursts of silvery stars and a fading from green to black.  I staggered backwards, nearly crushing my precious courgette/triffids, and touched my hand gingerly to my forehead.


Now as a complete and committed hysteric, my first move was obviously to utter a bloody curdling shriek and burst into tears.  The important stuff out the way, I then rushed to the house, stemming the blood with my palm and envisaging a huge, open wound, stitches, hospitals and maybe even plastic surgery.

Staggering into the lounge, then, where my three men, plus Irish house guest were watching TV, I relayed my terrible story and showed them the head wound of epic proportions.

Reader, there was sniggering.

Yes, one of the sniggerers did go and get me a piece of wet toilet roll to dab at my bloody forehead, but seriously.  There was barely-stifled tittering, which soon turned into not-so-stifled belly laughs.  I was not a little confused and not a happy bunny.

Why?  Why would they laugh when I was so obviously injured? I could have DIED.

#1, smothering his guffaws, gently led me to the bathroom and pointed me in the direction of the mirror, where it turned out that, rather than the enormous, gaping forehead I was expecting, there was actually a small and perfectly formed red dot in the middle of my forehead.

‘Mum’, he said, before they all collapsed with laughter again, ‘you look like a Hindu’.

Teenagers should come with a warning label: do not expect sympathy of ANY kind.


Wisteria and chickens

Wow it’s been beautiful, hasn’t it?  We’re really starting to feel at home in this house now (well I am, the kids were settled pretty much straight away).  Here at English Towers II our little garden is actually a bit of a revelation, what with the gorgeous Wisteria that’s emerging, draping itself over the wrought iron arch that leads to the vegetable patch and the greenhouse:

As you can see, I’m still working on that vegetable patch, hence the weeds, but I’ve planted some peas:

…and a little herb border:

…and underneath all those weeds and nettles, I was delighted to find old strawberry plants and raspberries already there, both of which are happily flowering.  This, it seems, is the benefit of inheriting a garden off an older person – it may be slightly overgrown, but there are treasures just waiting to be discovered:

…like this beautiful old lilac tree which leans, like the Wisteria over the ancient brick garage:

What’s the old saying? You plant Magnolia for your children and Wisteria for your grandchildren?  I have no idea how old this beauty is, but walking under its blooms to potter in the little greenhouse has become one of my nightly pleasures.  And then, after plenty of swearing, I put together the chicken ark (the more eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that at this stage I had forgotten to slide the little door into place and had to take the whole bloody thing apart again):

and yesterday we picked up our chickens, a beautiful, lavender coloured Bluebelle and a white Sussex Star (and look at the Wisteria now, just a couple of days after the first shot):

My only concern is that they haven’t been introduced to the Ninja Cat of Death yet, but seeing as she’s still quite small, I’m hoping they’ll keep her in her place.  Still, as with all things in my life, it has the potential to go horribly wrong.  I’ll keep you informed…

Minnie the moocher

 Minnie (c)

Y’know, when we started this whole chicken thing, waaaaay back when the wondrous Hugh was starting his Chicken Out campaign, lots of people said to us how they have their own little personalities and you get quite attached to them.  At the time we just laughed and thought ‘yeh, right, isn’t it funny how people always want to give dumb animals a personality’.  But, dearest reader, it’s really true.  Take Minnie the crap Rhode Island Red (they’re supposed to be dark red, but she’s a kind of pale ginger), for example.  Her perpetual escapology drove me mental at first.  Whatever kind of fencing I put up, however much I clipped her wings (they were practically stumps at one stage) I couldn’t keep her contained, but now I’m actually quite happy that she just wanders around.  I love looking out of the window when I’m at the kitchen sink and seeing her bimbling round the garden with her best mate Chilli the Black Rock:

Minnie and Chilli (c)

She’s also completely and utterly in love with Hubby, which we all find absolutely hysterical.  I think it started when she first followed him as he mowed the lawn and uncovered all sorts of tasty goodies.  Now, within two seconds of the garage door clanging, you’ll see Hubby pushing the lawn mower round the garden, followed by a hopelessly infatuated Minnie in hot pursuit, doing that ridiculously comical ‘Lee Evans’ fast walk that chickens do so well.  He had to take a strimmer to the garden heart today, and ended up having to put her inside the coop lest he gave her an unintentional haircut (see, he loves her really – he only swears at her when he thinks anybody’s listening):


I’m pretty convinced that she actually sees herself as a human, following me back into the kitchen after I’ve hung out the washing, and pootling happily around, pecking at crumbs on the floor whilst keeping up a perpetual little burble of contented clucking. 

'Erm hello, you appear to have accidentally locked me out!...'

This evening she spent the entire time perched on the handlebar of #2’s bike.  Eventually it got so dark that we had to gently lift her off and pop her into the coop.

Maybe some stabilisers would help...?

Tomorrow I’ll have a chat with her and remind her she’s a chicken.  After we’ve had our Cheerios together, obviously.

In which Evil Stealth Chicken has her wings clipped

I keel you

So chicken news, then.  It’s all going very well, actually.  Stig the cockerel went back to the chicken breeder.  We were going to keep him, but he kept practice-bonking poor Minnie and she was getting quite flustered by it all (not to mention the questions this brought up at the dinner table: ‘does Minnie like it when Stig keeps doing that, Mummy?’).  I’ve been promised another girl at some point, but the two we’ve got seem quite happy.  Yesterday was sunny and warm and I spent a happy afternoon digging up the last of the spuds while my small feathery helper carefully inspected each freshly turned spadeful for any tasty morsels, and provided a bit of gentle clucking for some light background music.  Minnie, the little Rhode Island Red is the friendliest chicken ever.  Pop outside to hang out some washing and she bustles over, clucking and cooing, ready to take any tasty titbit gently from your fingers (she’s particularly partial to a marrowfat pea, incidentally).

Beautiful, enormous Chilli on the other hand has been re-labelled Evil Stealth Chicken.  I do tend to let them out if I’m in the garden, but otherwise they’re confined to their quite generous fenced enclosure, which we move around the garden to give them fresh grass.  But oh no, that’s not good enough for ESC.  As soon as they’re out of the coop in the morning, she flaps over the fence and skulks away shiftily to the far corners of the garden, where she lurks, only stopping briefly to peck viciously at poor Minnie should she dare wander too close.  She also keeps buggering off over the hedge to D’s garden and I’ve had several ‘oy!  your bloody chicken’s in my garden again’ shouts over the fence.  He doesn’t really mind, but still, it’s not cricket.

I turned, then, to Irish Times journalist, author, self-sufficiency expert and all-round chicken guru, Michael Kelly, for advice:

“Wing clipping is the most common method of controlling the flight of home-farm chickens”, says Michael, ” it involves using a sharp pair of scissors to cut off the first ten flight feathers on one wing.  This causes a bird to lack the balance needed for flight and in theory discourages them from trying – it is also temporary because it lasts only until new feathers grow during the next molt (may be a few months in young birds or up to a year for older ones).”

But does it hurt?  And is it mean to curtail their freedom in this way?

“Clipping their wings doesn’t hurt the bird at all and it isn’t noticeable when they are walking around since the primary flying feathers are hidden underneath when the wings are folded…  If you feel bad about clipping wings (and you will), give yourself a stern talking to – the reason you keep hens in the first place if you are a home farmer, is so that they will provide eggs.  If you can’t find the eggs because they are laying in a ditch or in the neighbour’s garden then you are wasting your time.  Also, it’s your responsibility to keep your flock safe – if they are able to leave the garden at will, you are putting them at harms way. “

Okay, so I was sold.  The next problem, of course, was getting it done:

Here’s how to do it – you will need an attractive assistant to help you (to hold the hen and keep it calm). “

Check: one small child grabbed from in front of the XBox360

“Once you have spent three hours running around after your hen to catch it, spread one of the wings out to display all the feathers.”

Check: It only took us an hour an a half of Benny Hill-type running, swearing, clucking and flapping, and we finally managed to nab her in the bushes (ooer).  Next?

“The feathers you want to cut are the primary flight feathers which are the longest ones towards the front of the wing.  You can leave the first one (the one closest to the scissors in the pic) if you want as it is visible when they tuck their wing in to the body).  Cut the other nine at the level shown in the pic – for most chickens this means cutting about 6cm, to bring them in line with the rest of the wing.  Keep apologising to the hen in the process for the inconvenience you are causing.  Voila – your work is done.  You will need to carry this out again in about a years time after they have moulted. “

Diagram courtesy of

The result: one extremely cross chicken (check out the chicken death glare in the pic at the top) who seems to have had her stealth escape attempts thwarted.   Watch this space. 

Clipped wing

Oh, and one more thing.  Apparently some people think that clipping means a hen is less likely to be able to escape a fox.

” Believe me”, says Michael, “a hen wouldn’t escape a fox if it had ten sets of wings and a jetpack…..”

Oh right.  Mind you, I wouldn’t fancy even a foxes chances against Chilli.  She’s evil. 

Chilli chicken not enjoying a hug

Everything in the garden is…

…well, frankly, a bit pooey.

Let me explain.  We woke up this morning to much commotion.  There was howling and yowling and even the odd woof (very unusual – Bert’s usually completely non-woofish).  Anyhoo, disgressing.  So a very excited Bert was telling us something crucially important, and we needed to get downstairs right away.  Something wasn’t quite right in the garden. 

Gerrof my land!

Look!’ he was shouting in Greyhoundese (he’s fluent y’know), ‘something’s in the garden! I want out!’ And then: ‘oy! gerrof my land!':

So I joined in too.  ‘Oy!’  I shouted, ‘gerrof my bloody sofa!’.  So then I looked.  And yes, I could see why he was slightly annoyed:

Sheep: annoying

Not only did we have furry invaders, but they were making themselves comfy:

Lying down.  The cheek.

So I grabbed the phone and rang Bridget the Farmer.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: ‘Bridge!  Wake up!  Your sheep are in our field!’

Bridge: ‘Er… wha?  It’s 7am…’

Me: ‘Yes but your sheep are all in our garden and I don’t know what to do!’

Bridge (groggy): ‘Sheep you say?  Oh…’

Me: ‘Yes sheep!  I need something doing – they’d better not find my veg garden, and I can’t take Bert out there and he needs to…well, y’know… go.’

Bridge: ‘There’s one problem’

Me: ‘What?’

Bridge: ‘I don’t have any sheep’

Me: ‘What? Er…oh.  Sorry’

Ah.  Muchas grovelling and apologies later, I hung up.  By that time, Hubby had gone to work, chasing them all down the drive when they turned and went up D-next-door’s drive, and later, pootled off down the boat road, where, presumably, they found their way home.  They left behind piles of droppings of epic proportions and a very disgruntled hound, who’s still huffing and puffing about it even now.

And yes, Linda, I did happen to take a video, although it’s incredibly boring:

I was glad, though, because my garden’s looking really nice, and I was worried they’d eat my beautiful Hebes:


…and #2’s lovely poppies:


Country life eh?  It’s all go…

The Friday photo: clucking chickens, fresh bread, golden yolks…

This is not just any egg...

I suppose I’m a bit odd (well if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that already) in that most of the best moments in my life seem inextricably linked to food.  My very happy childhood full of roast dinners, Christmas Snowballs, rice pudding and jammy dodgers, warm strawberries straight off my Grandad’s garden and plums off the tree (‘oy gerrof them you kids!’).  Then it was puréed baby food (#2 liked banana and courgette – he won’t believe it now), making cupcakes with the boys as toddlers, a pea and prawn risotto when Hubby and I got a rare New Year’s Eve together while Grandma babysat… holiday food… Christmas food… family food… every lovely memory seems to be accompanied by the warm scent of baking, the zing of lemon or the fizz of champagne bubbles up the nose.

The other day was no different.  We met fellow blogger Maxi Cane and his other half, the adorable Jelly Monster to arrange collection of Maxi’s Ma’s unwanted chicken coop, which he’d kindly agreed to give us.  A friend was picking it up, but I needed to meet them anyways, just to say hi and to make payment in the form of chocolate brownies, carrots and spring onions, all freshly picked.  Now if you know Maxi’s blog you’ll know he’s a bit naughty, but in real life he was sweet and funny, and the lovely Jelly – wow.  You know those people who are just so sexy they practically crackle with it?  She’s curvy and gorgeous with the prettiest face – not a single man walked past without sneaking a look, I swear.

Anyhoo, so we got the coop and later on, David, our garden chappy, dropped off its occupants (in a sack!  Only in Ireland).  The first disappointment (well, the second – the first was the sack) was that the coop was condemned as unsatisfactory – no separate nesting box, no perch and too small, so much to Hubby’s disgust, we had to go out and buy a new one.

€180 lighter (it’s a hell of a pad, it’s got an upstairs with removable poo trays, a perch, a separate nestbox…you name it), but very excited nontheless, we got to check out our new arrivals:

Minnie Dean

We got a bossy little ginger madam who was quickly adopted by #2 and given the name Minnie Dean (named after a serial killer - don’t ask) and a taller, darker red one – adopted by #1 and called Chilli – bit feisty this one – she gave #1 the slip as she was being transferred and sparked a ridiculous 15 minute family chicken chase round the garden (cue the Benny Hill music) where we all hurled ourselves at her, unsuccessfully, shouted at each other, got zapped by the electric fence (#1) and basically made fools of ourselves until she was rugby tackled by Hubby and taken, squawking loudly in protest, to join the others.  Here’s Chilli (top) and Minnie in their new pad (that hangy thing is an apple, by the way):

Chilli and Minnie Dean

And as a freebie, we got a cute little black and white cockerel, who got nicknamed The Stig.


Trouble is, Minnie and Chilli don’t like Stig and keep attacking him, so there’s a possibility that if they don’t settle, Stig will have to go back.  The chicken man is coming over later to check on stuff. 

Anyhoo, they’re obviously settling in well, because the next morning we got – an egg!  And then this morning another one!  Well, there was nothing for it, this called for fresh brown bread and a perfectly fried egg.  And so, our first ever chickens will be inextricably linked in my mind to the smell of freshly baked brown bread dipped in a golden, runny yolk:

Fried egg

I am a happy, happy chicken owner and no mistake.

Six unimportant things…

So this is a good one.  I got tagged by Jane at Foodzilla over in Michigan (I know!  I’m feeling all international and cosmopolitan now) to tell her six unimportant things that I love.  Actually, this is more difficult than it seems as every time I thought of something it occurred to me that it really was quite important after all.  Still, I managed, so here goes:

1.  My doggit.  Yeh, okay, so he’s just a dog.  Most Irish people think we’re mental for a) having a ‘working’ dog as a pet and b) having him living in the house!  But he’s the softest, silliest, and most adoring fella you could ask for.  He’s immaculately clean in the house (even after a marathon 8 hour shopping trip to the north – bladder of an elephant, that one), incredibly gentle and sweet natured and he just loves us all to bits (slightly annoying having a lanky, furry lesion attached to your leg at all times but hey).  Okay so retired greyhounds are ten a penny, but still, we love him.


2.  My garden hearts: Hubby’s a man of few words, but he does occasionally surprise me with a nice little gesture when he’s mowing one of the lawns.  I love looking out of a window and finding this:


Sometimes it’s not all about words.

3.  Great ingredients.  I love using  real butter, free-range eggs and lovely fresh, Irish produce.  There’s a great fruit & veg wholesaler local to us and I’ll often be found there picking up tons of great quality fresh stuff (they do local duck eggs too) and planning menus in my head.  The great butcher at Sheelin has a little white-board up where he writes ‘this week’s lambs came from…’ and the name of the local producer.  His meat is amazing.  Unimportant, but it makes me happy.

4.  Forward planning.  I’m a bit obsessive about stuff, and nothing makes me happier than having something to look forward to.  Obviously our forthcoming wedding blessing is occupying a lot of my time at the moment, and a swift search of English Towers will see me ensconsed with my notebook and a couple of magazines, daydreaming and planning about table flowers, menus, dresses… you name it.

5.  My garden.  I’m a novice gardener and kill as many things as I nurture, but I’m really enjoying learning all about it and our dinner yesterday featured home-grown new potatoes and baby carrots, which I served up with a certain amount of pride.

Fennel, chives and thyme

6.  Our little community.  It’s only when I hear people talk about ‘school runs’ and Tesco delivery that I realise quite how rural we really are.  There is no school gate ‘Mommy mafia’ at the little school here, as the children that aren’t within walking distance are all picked up and dropped off by bus, such is the huge rural catchment.  Tesco probably hasn’t even heard of us, let alone decided to deliver here to the arse end of nowhere, and shopping is a half-day challenge.  Still, bimbling down the boat road with Bert yesterday, the scent of the honeysuckle so heavy you feel it could pick you up and float you away, and stopping and chatting to the lovely lady with the new baby, I couldn’t have been happier. 

Small things, but often they mean just as much as the heavy stuff.  I’m off to visit the folks for a while (and have a speedboat trip booked in London!  Thanks Ma!), but while I’m gone, how about you, then?  Six unimportant things that you love…

The Friday photo: Un-wabbit welated gardening update

Okay, so the rabbits haven’t eaten everything, although I’m really disappointed that they ate the tiny shoots of the plants that my Ma and I planted (what were they Ma?  Dahlias and something?) as I really fancy having a few more flowers in the garden.  One teeny new shoot has just peeked out again (see the little bed by the patio, left of top pic) so I’ve covered it in a cloche to see if it will reappear.

Still, the carrots are recovering well after their surprise early haircut.  Here’s the raised bed, where you can see at the back that the fennel is enormous (and very cuddly – everyone stops to give it a hug) again, as are the chives and thyme, also at the back next to the remaining potatoes, and that my weird green pointy cauliflower things are doing well (netted area, far left).  Next along, inside the fleecy area are some cabbages, then two rows of carrots, and to the front you can just see the two strawberry plants peeking over the fleece:

:June garden left

Here’s the middle.  A bit of overlap as you can see the carrots in the fleecy bit first, but then there’s two rows of spring onions, another row of cabbages, then a fleece area containing the purple sprouting broccoli – my monster rhubarb is at the back there:

June garden middle

And to the right of the bed is the weird, bushy area where #2 ripped open a random bag of blue flower seeds and they went everywhere, next to some more chives and a few marigolds and red salvias planted for colour.  As you can see, the remaining potatoes not stricken by the dreaded Blackleg (arrrr) are still thriving, thank goodness.  Oh and that purple thing in the front is a flower with purple spikes but I can’t remember the name:

June garden right

Not a bad effort eh?  In fact, I might go so far as to say English Towers: 1, Rabbits: 0.


Shiver me timbers, it be the dreaded Blackleg… arrr…

Ahoy ye land lubbers.  So tragic events be unfoldin’ here at Ye Olde English Towers.  The potatoes they be dyin’ and there’s nowt that can be done about it.  They be stricken’ with the dreaded Black Leg.  Argghhhh

Okay, I can’t keep up the pirate speak.  But basically my poor potato plants have started going yellow and wilting and an emergency call to the garden oracle, otherwise known as my Disreputable Dad, uncovered the tragic news that my poor tatties are suffering from Potato Blackleg, a bacterial disease that makes the potato stems rot, killing the foliage and ruining the crop:


Sadly, there’s no cure but to dig the buggers up.  Apparently I bought infected seed potatoes (Damn you, Woodies!), but happily, not all have succumbed quite yet, and the ones that have died have been caught early enough to save most of the little babies beneath.  Gutted.  First wascally wabbits and now this.  I’m just not cut out for the country life.  I should have a high-rise apartment in Kensington or something, dahling.

So for the purposes of today’s post we  be talkin’ like a pirate, yarrrrr.  In fact, I designate today ‘English Mum’s Talk Like a Pirate Day’ (with apologies to the real Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is sometime in September), which means any comments shall be strictly of the pirate variety (and yes Moon that means you have to join in) else you’ll be walkin’ the plank, so ye will, ye lily-livered scallywags.  Yarrrr.

The Saturday photo: Why have a dog and bark yourself?

So oopsy, was so busy ranting about the Evil Octopus Woman I completely forgot the Friday photo.  I did have one in mind, which became even more relevant when I took a quiet wander round the English Estate this morning and discovered not only a new rabbit hole from the field into the garden, but a tunnel.  A TUNNEL!  In my raised vegetable bed.  The cheeky furry little bastards have dug a tunnel through the potatoes (the hole is in the middle and all the yuck they threw out is covering my spade):

Rabbit tunnel 1

… and under the rhubarb:

Rabbit tunnel 2

I mean, what’s that supposed to be?  They do realise it’s a raised bed and they can’t actually dig anywhere do they?  Or is it just that they’re sneakily trying to reach the carrots on the other side with a covert underground access-point?

And, to add insult to injury, where – you might ask – was my rabbit-chasing, ex-coursing greyhound during all these rabbit digging shenanigans?

I'm just snatching 40 winks...


Sunbathing, salsa and the garden luge. With cackling.

So it’s bank hols here in the Republic and yesterday dawned the most beautiful, hot sunny day.  There’s nothing quite like a sunny day in Ireland.  Not only is it very unusual and therefore all the more welcome, but the whole greenness of the place gives it an almost luminous, lime green glow.   The kids started off mucking about spraying each other with water guns, then hubby disappeared to the shop and came back with industrial strength rolls of bin bags to create the garden waterslide from hell.  Here’s Hubby, #1, #2 and Little C (Lou was far too dainty for hurling herself downhill on a bit of plastic) having fun.  Apologies for the hideous cackling, but what you couldn’t see, just out of shot, was that they all crashed into the side of the garage at the end of the trip (oh and check Hubby’s ‘argh!  incoming!’).  Oh and sorry about shooting directly into the sun.  I don’t think I’ll be entering it at Cannes this year.  Enjoy though.


We had lamb-burgers for lunch, made with minced lamb, breadcrumbs, crushed garlic, cumin, mustard seed, salt and pepper, with a lovely salsa that hubby made out of the lovely frondy fennel in the garden, plus chilli, pineapple, tomato, greek basil and spring onion.  Summer on a plate:


 Bert enjoyed the bank holiday too.  Hubby has mowed another beautiful heart in one of the front lawns for me which is now full of wild flowers:


and happens to make a rather nice sunbathing spot too:

Bert sunbathing

Mind you, when you have a comfy child to lean on, you can sunbathe just about anywhere:

Bert sunbathe 2

We rounded the day off with hotdogs and a bonfire, with a bit of guitar playing and a sing song.  Ah, I hope the summer lasts.

The Friday photo: summer holidays, sports days, goggies and wabbits

Pesky wabbit

So it was #2’s sports day yesterday. As usual, The Lovelies swept the board, with Big Lovely winning every heat in his age group (the short race across the field and the one that’s twice round the field – we don’t exactly measure metres) and the finals as well, Middle Lovely doing the same, and even teeny Little Lovely is well on the way to upholding the Lovely tradition with a very respectable third place in the tiddlers’ race (resplendent in velour joggers and pink hoodie, no less).  D-next-door and Hubby all of a sudden remembered urgent appointments just before the Dads’ race and had to rush off, but Mr Lovely was forced into it by his offspring, and, true to form, won it by a country mile, and I came…er…hrmph in the Mum’s race. What? Didn’t catch that? Oh – I was somewhere in the middle.

Bert was an honorary sports day guest (special four-legged dispensation was given by the headmaster) and basked in not only the beautiful un-Irish sunshine, but in the masses of cuddles, wet kisses, half-nelson type hugs and friendly ear ruffles. 

One tiny little girl (whose Mam assured me she loves dogs) eyed him suspiciously, dummy firmly in place:

TLG: ‘Zat a goggie?’

Me: ‘Yup, he’s a doggie’

TLG (narrows eyes and looks suspiciously like a homicide detective): ‘You shure?’

Me: ‘Yes, I’m positive. He’s a very rubbish greyhound, but he’s definitely a greyhound’

TLG: ‘Oh’ – removes dummy, inspects it and pops it back in – ‘he’s vewy big to be a goggie tho…’

Me: ‘Er..oh, is he?. Sorry about that’.

TLG (lying lengthwise across a sunbathing Bert and giving him a full, smacking kiss on the ear): ‘herro goggie’

In other news, the evil squadron of House Martins has returned to terrorise English Towers – luckily the weather’s usually so bad that I never get to hang out washing, otherwise I’ll be dive bombed into submission again.  In worse news, they’ve decided to build a nest on the gable of the garage as well so we’ve got two families of the little buggers attacking us every time we go outside (sorry for the bad photography, but I feared for my life):

Evil House Martin

There’s bad news generally in the garden, because although the potatoes are sprouting nicely, everything else is being ravaged by the pesky wabbits.  Yesterday, I came down in the morning to find one sitting smack in the middle of the lawn, grooming itself after feasting on my delicious carrot tops.  I would have let Bert out, but let’s face it, he’d probably have run in the opposite direction, got himself lost and had to sit down for a rest in front of an oncoming tractor, so I decided against it.  I did, however, erect some quite spectacular rabbit-defences:
The raised bed
(You’re impressed, aren’t you?  I can tell).  Luckily, they don’t seem to like anything herby like the fennel or thyme, or anything oniony like the chives or spring onions:
Fennel, chives and thyme
…and haven’t yet discovered my rather crap collection of baby lettuce seedlings in a grow-bag by the back door:
Baby lettuces
Or my parsley and tomato plant combo that I’m rather proud of:
Flat leaf parsley and tomato
Ooh, and my review of Bellinter House is up on! 
Double Ooh, and we’re in The Times! (thank you Laura).
And lastly, can you believe that #1 has now done his exams and broken up for the summer holidays?  Three whole months off!  I might have to run away to sea.  So that’s me up to date, then.  Any craic with you lot?

Bulbs, shoots, antlers and lazy buggers

Ah, springtime.  I love it.  Not least because my birthday really sets the whole thing off, but also because of all the little things: waking up to sunshine (however weak, watery and Cavan-like), new shoots in the garden (and memories of how my back ached after a very mucky winter’s day spent digging holes in the lawn and planting bulbs):


…and if this tulip survives after being regularly stomped on by Bert it’ll be a miracle:


And then there are the sheep, who greet us first thing in the morning with a chorus of ‘bleurggghhh’, which always makes me smile.  Yesterday, one of them had got stuck in the brambles and given himself a rather fetching pair of antlers:

Antler sheep

…but there are always some of us that would much prefer to stay indoors:


C’est la vie, eh?

In which Bert is bored and we put the whole greenhouse thing behind us

So forst tings forst, den (sorry), I suppose I should wish everyone a happy St Patrick’s Day.  I’m not feeling particularly festive seeing as I had to drop Hubs into Dublin at 5.30am this morning (I got to Dublin in 65 minutes – a record… what? of course I wasn’t speeding).  So staying on things green, I finally decided after the great flying greenhouse debacle, that I should force myself back in to the garden.  And although I accept I’m not exactly green fingered (I like to think of myself as ‘chocolate fingered’, in fact), and indeed that I did allow my greenhouse to fly away, you really can’t knock me for trying.  And so today was a ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again’ type of day.  I think we just have to accept that our particular little corner of Cavan is too windy for a greenhouse (at least any type we can afford), and so we’re having to pick our plants a little carefully.  Let’s face it, we’re never going to grow anything gorgeous and delicate, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to feed ourselves.  I’ve planted three shrubs that I got from the garden centre (nope, can’t remember the name, but they’re just sort of green and shrubby), that will hopefully grow up and shield the kitchen garden from the worst of the weather, and then there’s the fennel (already sprouting):


and parsley, which last year grew very large and acted as a decent windbreak, so hopefully with my sensible choices and wind resistance, something should eventually sprout.  In other sprouty-type news, the rhubarb is definitely forcing itself into life (see what I did there?) underneath the terracotta pot, although the frost broke it in two, but both the chives:


…and my b-e -a-yootiful Japanese Maple are showing signs of life:


and my potatoes are chitted (steady):

Chitted potatoes

and in the ground as we speak:


Sharpe’s Express are a ‘first early’ variety, ready to harvest in about June/July – they’re an ‘heirloom’ potato, much loved by Percy Thrower, doncherknow.

So here’s the state of play so far (go on, you’re impressed that I actually have a plan, aren’t you?  I can tell):

Garden design

Bert was seriously not impressed to have to stand (what, you want me to sit on this grass?  Purleease) and watch me digging and planting.  We even got an offcut of carpet out for the pampered sod to sit on, but no, it wasn’t to be.  Yes, so he used to live in a shed and chase rabbits for a living, but he’s, like, totally moved on with his life, and doesn’t think one’s past should be held against one.  He’s now an indoor dog and stood staring at me with that ‘will ye come on, woman, let’s move this along’  look that only a greyhound missing his sofa can muster:


You're actually expecting me to sit on a bit of old carpet?  Tsk.

I hope something grows.  I know you can hardly bear the suspense, so I’ll keep you informed.

I’ve had better weekends

‘Berluddy hell’, said Hubby yesterday morning, ‘it looks like the wind could reach 100mph this afternoon’

‘Shit’, said I, ‘I’d better go kiss my greenhouse goodbye’.

Oh, how we laughed.  Then later there was an enormous crash, and we kind of stopped laughing.   Here’s the view from #2’s bedroom window. 


Hubby was in the shower, cleaning our new foster dog (see below), so I called D next door in a panic: ‘quick!  can you come round and help me?  The greenhouse is on the move and it’s heading towards the cars!’.  Bless him, he donned his waterproofs and whizzed round.  Well, between us we managed to manhandle it off the oil tank, but it nearly took off with us hanging on, so in the end D held it down while I drove the front wheels of the car over it.  That stopped it.  Seriously, the wind was so strong it was nearly knocking D clean off his feet.  Amazing.

I spent about an hour and a half picking up broken glass this morning and I’m nowhere near finished.  Some of the shards are like little needles and they break as soon as you touch them.  I just think we’ll have to resign ourselves to not letting Bert walk down that side of the garden.  Ever.  All Hubby’s hard work, too.  And I was planning so many exciting things this year – sweet little baby plum tomatoes… Thrifty’s home-grown hot little chillis… peas straight out of the pod…  I could cry.


Okay, so it was held down with bits of concrete slab, and buried about two inches down in the soil.  I know we should have used stakes or something, but we thought it was well bedded in and to be honest, a wind strong enough to lift whole, full wheelie bins and hurl them about the garden as if they were cardboard boxes is not going to be stopped by a few stakes.  Ah well, back to the drawing board, then. 

In other news, we have a new little foster greyhound: a little black girl that Irene, the ISPCA lady down the road got returned to her because it ate all the new owner’s chickens (I mean, duh, greyhound?  chickens?  Have a word with yourself, pal).  She doesn’t have a name and is currently being called ‘Zero’ as in size zero because she’s so bloody skinny.  She’s very cute and well behaved, though.  Bert’s not overly impressed but doesn’t mind as long as she stays off his sofa.


God, but I’m pissed off though.  Bloody Cavan.  Bloody weather.

Rockin’ Robin


Here’s my Robin.  As you can see, my photography hasn’t improved, but I wanted to show you just how incredibly fat he is.  He gets all our bacon scraps (well, he did, before Irish bacon became rarer than hens’ teeth), stale bread, cheese, you name it.  We’ve all completely fallen in love with him.  He appears first think in the morning when Bert and I take our misty, sparkly morning walk, and yesterday even followed me into the garage.

I might have to cut down his snacks, though.  I’m worried he might actually explode.  And that wouldn’t be very festive.

Green tomato, apple and apricot chutney

So just as we all reach the depths of financial despair and can’t afford to feed ourselves, here at English Towers we’ll be okay as our self sufficiency knows no bounds.  Okay, so it wouldn’t be particularly pleasant to live on underripe tomatoes, parsley, carrots and erm… two courgettes, but hey, at least I’m trying.  Anyhoo, I finally gave up hope of any of the tomatoes going red in the greenhouse, picked them all and dug up the plants.  This left me with two huge bowls of green tomatoes.  Here’s the result of my chutney experiments, which left my kitchen looking like somebody had spontaneously combusted in there, but is pleasantly sweet, satisfyingly sour and has a kick like a seriously unhappy mule:

1.4kg green tomatoes (I know, but I had a lot of tomato plants)

450g bramley apples (3 or 4 apples)

1 large red onion

450ml malt vinegar

225g demerara sugar (use a bit more if you like a more jammy result)

125g dried apricots

100g sultanas

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp chilli flakes

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp crushed black pepper

Can I just say that if you don’t have a really sharp knife, don’t even think about making this chutney.  Chopping a mountain of green tomatoes with a blunt knife will only lead to rude words and missing fingers.  You have been warned.  So dice up all your tomatoes, peel and dice the apple and onion and chop the apricots.  Add them, along with all the rest of the ingredients, to a very large saucepan. 

Bring it all to the boil, then reduce and let it bubble away (hence the kitchen redecoration) stirring occasionally for about two hours or until there’s no excess liquid on the top.

Try and be slightly less Frank Spencer-like in your jar filling than I was – actually getting some of the chutney IN the jars would be preferable, I could really do with a funnel.  Oh and remember you need to wash them thoroughly and sterilise them first – a hot dishwasher cycle or 15 minutes in a cool oven should do it.  Shove the lid on and keep in a cool, dark cupboard to enjoy at Christmas with your coca cola baked ham and your Wexford cheddar… Savage, as #1 would say.

Gardening news, steaks, potato wedges and rhubarb crumble

So I’ve had ups and downs with my first year of vegetable patch ownership.  For example, the sweet peas went completely mental but didn’t give me a single bloody flower, the pumpkins, coriander and basil all died (too cold? we didn’t really have any sunshine) and the cucumber covered the whole plot in huge leaves and spidery tentrils, but no cucumbers (well how was I to know it was a climber).  On the upside, there are two or three courgettes ready to go, the dwarf french beans have given us a sizeable crop; the fennel, parsley, mint and thyme are all huge and the carrots are surviving .  In the greenhouse, the tomatoes have been fruiting like wild things, but all the fruit is green and the weather is definitely on the turn here (our morning walk was both rainy AND cold – Bert was not impressed).  The aubergine has a tiny fruit but again it might all be too late.

The rhubarb absolutely excelled itself, growing to triffid-like proportions while I scoured local garden centres for one of those terracotta things to ‘force it’.  My kitchen gardening guru, Mr Titchmarsh, says that by the end of summer, the rhubarb will be too tough to eat, but ours has been amazing.  Sunday, then, saw us tucking into the biggest, juiciest steaks ever, complete with home grown french beans, garlic-roasted butternut squash and some very pleasant home made potato wedges  (four or five medium sized potatoes, cut in half, then into four wedges lengthways, blanched in boiling salted water for ten minutes, then tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and baked in a 200 degree oven until golden brown and crispy), followed by a huge rhubarb crumble with cream.


For the crumble, then:

Four or five big fat stems of rhubarb

Big splosh of apple juice or water (say 100ml?)

Sugar for sprinkling

6 oz plain flour

Generous teaspoon ground ginger

4 oz butter

4 oz sugar

1 oz porridge oats

Handful of sliced almonds

So preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  I’ve been poaching my rhubarb first as I’ve been freezing some of it, so weigh out your ingredients, then, and wash the rhubarb, chopping into inch-long chunks.  Pop them in a saucepan with your splosh of apple juice and a generous amount of sugar (to taste, but remember it’s sour!).  Let the rhubarb poach gently with a lid on until it’s just tender but not mushy.  Mine took about ten minutes. 

Meanwhile, rub your butter and flour together (not too fine – a lumpy texture is better), then stir in your ginger, sugar and porridge oats.  Spoon the rhubarb into an oven-proof dish, cover it with the crumble mixture and finally, sprinkle over the sliced almonds.  All you’re doing is cooking the top so it should only take about 15 minutes to come out all golden and bubbling. 

There you have it, then: good, fresh food, quickly prepared and happily scoffed.  I had the leftovers with yoghurt for breakfast then next day too.  Mr Atkins wouldn’t like it but hey, them’s the breaks.

The Friday Photo: gardening highs and lows

Firstly, the highs. The greenhouse with tomatoes far left, dwarf french beans to the right of them and aubergines at the back:


My outdoor tomatoes have real babies on them!:


My herb garden with, back row left to right, sweet peas, chamomile, flat leaf parsley, the triffid that is my fennel plant, then front frow: chives, mint, more chives and at the bottom you can just see the basil, rosemary and thyme.  Oh and that’s a little bay tree to the left:


And finally, the pumpkins.  Oh dear: