What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Sleeping through the Performance

To say I’m devastated would be an understatement.  Last night, while I lay sleeping, the light show of the decade took place in the heavens above our own little coop. And I slept though it.

Those of you who follow my blog will know of my long standing desire to see the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. I even blogged about it in my post “Northern Lights” several years ago. They don’t often appear in their glory above our damp little island, but last night they put on the show of a lifetime.  Greens, purples, Reds, light columns, the full works. The first thing I knew about it was when I looked at everyone else’s Facebook posts and photos this morning. 

I’m so disappointed. But enjoying all the stunning photos nevertheless.  I feel like I didn’t get an invitation to a party that I wasn’t even aware was happening in my own home. Gutted.

In other news however Mr G and I got up close with a true star last week when the wonderful Adele started her 104 date world tour here in our city! We stood with all the young folks right at the very front and were rewarded with being so very close and witnessing her superb voice and wonderful soulful songs in person. 

So instead of the Northern Lights tonight ladies and gentlemen I give you my photos of Adele…. 


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Boogaloo and Graham

Whoever said never work with animals or children clearly was missing out on a lot of fun. This week a short film from Belfast, home of the Gillybirds,  was nominated for an Academy award, having already won a BAFTA award (British Academy of Television and Film Awards). The Oscar was awarded to “the Phone Call”.

Set in the 1970’s – the period of my childhood, in my strife torn city, the years of violence known as the Troubles are a slight presence in the background, but this is a story about families, the facts of life and two urban chickens called, you guessed it, Boogaloo and Graham given to the boys by their father. It’s a genuine “chick flick”. The boys quickly fall in love with their unusual pets though their mother isn’t so impressed with the “smelly birds”.

The boys carry the hens around on their shoulders like they were parrots.  I’ve never tried this. Given the sharp claws and strong grip of a hen’s foot I hope the boys had extra padding under their shirts. Well done boys! From experience of trying to take still photos with hens I know how uncooperative those feathered girls can be. Well done to the patient director Michael Lennox too.

This is a short comedic film, though the subject matter is not for younger viewers. You can find out more about the film here.

This interview is with a Local farmer who was the “hen handler” on set of the 14 minute movie. 

And I’ve got the names for my next two hens already chosen! 

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Spotted on Paul Hollywood’s tour blog!

Every night Paul or one of his minions takes a photo of the audience. It has just been posted on his blog, and lo and behold, there we are, me and CC in all our glory.

We are sitting upstairs in the second row of the balcony. I’ve got a green scarf on, and CC wearing a turquoise scarf is in the spotlight!
See if you can find us!

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Writing 101- Our house in the Middle of the Street

Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

I still live in the city I grew up in. Although it is not the same city at all. I grew up in Belfast right through “the Troubles”. Hotels, shops, businesses, homes, colleges could be there one day and a heap of bomb blasted rubble the next. Boarded up windows with wet paint declaring “business as usual”. Our school bags were searched and searched again for weapons, incendiary devices. A city with no night life and a fearful, watchful day time.Barricades. Burnt out buses. Bomb scares. High jackings. Balaclavas.
But to us this was normal. And it was not like that on our doorstep in the suburbs, though occasionally our windows would shake with an explosion and the air would ring with the sound of sirens.
At twelve I lived in a smallish red brick semi detached house in the middle of a quiet street with my parents and two brothers. I had no memory of living anywhere else. It was home. I had a cat and a rabbit. We had a lilac tree in the garden to climb and swing from, a path to skateboard down with a perilous step at the end should we fail to stop in time. A flat roofed kitchen which we could access via the bathroom window when we were feeling daring. That wasn’t very often. We had friends across the road, next door, down the street. We played British Bulldogs, Hide and Seek, kerb ball, Thunder and Lightening. Games that required no batteries, no screens, just fresh air and fun.
I was eagerly looking forward to having a new bedroom up in the attic. This was accessed by a Slingsby ladder which you could pull up behind you. It felt like living in a tree house. When granny came to stay I was allowed to sleep up under the eaves. Nestled in blankets and resting on caravan cushions. Like a mouse. Hidden away. Reading by torchlight. Listening to a well worn cassette tape of “Jesus Christ Superstar” until the sound went wonky as the batteries ran down. Up above my sleeping family it was as close to heaven as I had ever been.
A year later we moved away.


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Northern Lights!

It has long been an ambition of mine to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, with my own two eyes.
The aftermath of a large solar storm last week is just reaching our small blue and green planet, giving rise to the promise of some spectacular aurora activity, visible even to us here in the north of Ireland.
And for once, these past few nights the sky has been relatively clear of clouds.
I’ve been checking Twitter for updates from all the weather and astronomical authorities, and running upstairs to hang out the attic window looking north with hope in my heart for a sighting.
This is Early September, I naively thought the aurora were only seen in winter time. It’s so exciting!
Tonight Mr G indulged me by driving out of the city, away from the light pollution and up into the dark hills above us. Down a narrow country road we drove, no street lights, no nearby houses, just blackness. We turned off the headlight and got out of the car. It was very, very dark. Gillyboy number 2 came with us and helpfully found north on his iPhone compass, so we all peeled our eyes hoping for a glimpse of green flares, or a red glow, or anything at all. Until we realised that the compass was affected by the magnetic catch on his phone case and we were looking the wrong way.
As our eyes grew accustomed to the blackness, shapes in the field next to us became apparent. We counted one, then two, then four ponies. Then as hill fog rolled creepily towards us, there was the sound of galloping hooves. I almost expected to see the headless horseman hurtling over the hill top. It was just another curious horse, wondering what three townies were doing out in the dark, and looking for a handful of verge grass.
After about ten minutes fruitless sky watching, and remembering Mr G is more than a little allergic to horses, we headed home.
(GB2 pointed out there were quite a few parked cars along the dark country roads. Im not sure the occupants were that interested in catching the Northern Lights, we drove quickly on….)
But the night is young. I’m getting very fit running up the stairs to peek at the horizon every so often. You just never know.
In the meantime here is a photo taken about 70 miles from our coop door last night which was published in our local paper.the Belfast Telegraph Sensational!


If you live anywhere within the green ring on this image, I hope you managed to catch some of the light show!

I long to see something like this. It’s from the Visit Finland website. Wow.


If you can’t beat them…..


Mr G and I have been out to cheer on the cycling teams who whizzzed past at such great speed. There is good cheer and plenty of pink, and more than enough MAMILs (Middle aged men in Lycra) and even the rain stopped.
So when I saw the fabulous pink bike I just had to join in! Pity it was chained to the University railings!
These pictures can’t convey just how fast these guys were going, or how close some people were standing on the route just to try and take photos!




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In the Pink for Giro d’Italia

It’s all very exciting here in our little city. The world famous Giro d’Italia cycling race begins here, this very day, and we have all got pink fever.
Just as the Tour de France has yellow shirts, the Giro has pink ones. This is because the Italian newspaper that supported it -La gazetta della sport- is printed on pink paper.
Our city has certainly embraced pink on public buildings, trees, shop fronts, clothes, hair. With strong winds the pink cherry blossoms are airborne covering the streets with pink blossom confetti. It’s all very pretty. Later on today Gillyboy number four and I hope to catch a fleeting glimpse of the pink Lycra clad cyclists as they whizz by on the route about 2 miles from our home.
It’s wonderful to have good and positive coverage of our city and our country after so many years of being known for bloodshed and violence. It’s just a pity the weather is so blustery and showery.
Even the Gillybirds are entering into the spirit of the race, though pink eggs appear to be too much of a challenge.



This is our City Hall looking well in pink, and our famous landmark cranes, normally yellow, but welcoming the cyclists with a lovely pink hue.

Photos from the Belfast Telegraph
Except for the hen on the bike, which is pinched from a local restaurant, The Potted Hen!

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Art for the Birds


Perhaps when our Gillybird went missing she was hoping to fly over our city’s latest piece of art, which is so big it is best viewed from high above ground.
The Belfast Festival at Queen’s in Northern Ireland opened in a big way this year with an 11-acre portrait of a young girl titled “Wish.” The land art piece constructed out of natural materials with satellite technology is the creation of acclaimed Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada. The artist explained his inspiration to BBC News, “The little girl was a little girl that I met walking through the streets of Belfast, and the idea that came to me was, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to take a picture of this little girl making a wish and then see what happens with that idea.’ If everybody jumps on to sort of make that very pure and simple look, into something very profound and large.”
Rodriguez-Gerada, the festival’s very first artist in residence, worked alongside other artists, construction workers, volunteers and community groups to build the large-scale piece that the Belfast Telegraph called the United Kingdom & Ireland’s largest land art portrait. The project 18-months in the making had an impressive materials list of 30,000 wooden pegs, over 2,200 tons of sand, more than 2,200 tons of soil along with grass, stone and string. They plowed the field in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast and after a month of production, the image of a 6-year-old anonymous girl could be seen. Volunteer Amy Wagner said, “When you’re down there you know it’s supposed to make sense but you can’t make much sense of it. So whenever you come up and you actually see the progress you’ve made for the day or the week um, it’s phenomenal.” Tours will allow visitors to view the work from above in the surrounding tall buildings and also see the work up close at ground level. The Belfast Festival runs through October 27, but Wish will be in place (weather permitting) until December 2013.
I haven’t been down to see it yet, but am flying out of Belfast this week so hope to get a proper bird’s eye view of this very beautiful and very unusual piece of art.

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Most days the Gillybirds have an opportunity to free range around the garden in the autumn sunshine which they love, and which I get a great deal of pleasure from observing them. One drawback is the noise the dogs make trying to get outside to join in the fun. Early this week however I forgot that they were roaming free and got stuck into some household chores. When I eventually remembered about an hour later I went outside armed with a handful of tempting corn, making the chucking noises that the girls know heralds the arrival of Mrs G and her treats. Two immediately came scuttling out of their hidey holes towards me. One didn ‘t. They usually travel around the garden as a pack, scratching under bushes, dust rolling along hedges, jumping in and out of flower pots and scattering soil everywhere. So immediately I was a little worried that they were not all together.
I secured the other two safely in the coop then started searching all the usual favoured spots, then the borders, then the yard, round the front of the house, and noticed the front gates were both open. In a bit of a flap I looked up and down the street for a flurry of rusty feathers. Not easy when there are so many piles of autumn leaves on the ground. I should say that Naughty Lucas the puppy is a bit of an expert at escaping from our garden which we have tried to secure as best we can.
After around half an hour our feathered escapee returned, chucking contentedly, none the worse for wear. I think she found a small gap and hopped through to a garden behind ours, checked it out, and then hopped back through. Relief! I was in such a tizz I didn’t even check which hen it was who had gone AWOL.
My hen was not the only creature to break free this week in our city.
A search is continuing for two missing monkeys who escaped from Belfast Zoo on Monday.
This report on missing Macaque monkeys has made national news –
The two are part of a group of six lion-tailed macaques who made the great escape from their enclosure, wrong-footing their keepers who remain in hot pursuit.
One of the escapees was brought down in a “rugby tackle” by a keeper that, a member of the public suggested, would make him a shoe-in for the Ireland rugby team. Four of the animals have since been caught but the elusive duo are still at large.

A statement from zoo manager Mark Challis said: “Six lion-tailed macaques escaped from Belfast Zoo on Monday.”Four of the macaques have since been returned to their enclosure, where they have rejoined the rest of the group.
“The other two animals have been sighted onsite or in close proximity to the zoo. We have been monitoring their movements over the past few days and we have a number of traps and staff located in the areas where they are frequently being spotted. We are confident that all of the macaques will soon be found and returned to their enclosure. If anyone sees the lion-tailed macaques we would ask them to contact the zoo immediately. Although they pose no danger to the public, we would ask that you do not attempt to approach or catch the them”.
(From Sky News Bulletin)
If I hear a suspicious rustling in the trees or bushes I know who to look out for!

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Even the Canary Had a Ticket

It may come as a surprise to learn that when Titanic sank beneath the cold North Atlantic waters on April 15, 1912, a pack of dogs were seen racing up and down the slanted deck.
As the luxury liner set off from Southampton to New York, along with passengers and crew there were at least 6 dogs, Jenny the Ship’s cat and her week old kittens, many rats, 4 roosters and hens, 30 cockerels and a yellow canary. Each animal required its own ticket, Elizabeth Ramel Nye paid 25 cents for the voyage as far as Cherbourg with her pet yellow canary.
The dogs were meant to be kept in kennels on F deck, and were given daily exercise on the appropriately named poop deck by a steward or bell boy. The first class passengers however appeared to have kept their dogs with them in their cabins, while the crew turned a blind eye to this behaviour. An impromptu dog show had been planned for the morning of April 15th, but by then most of the dogs and their owners had perished.

Among the dog passengers recorded were – a King Charles Spaniel and an elderly Airedale Terrier, owned by William Carter, Chow-Chow, a chow chow owned by Harry Anderson, a champion French Bulldog called Gamin de Pycombe, owned by Robert W. Daniel, who had bought him in England for the very high price of £150 (£12,575 in 2012 prices), Kitty, another Airedale Terrier, owned by millionaire John Jacob Astor, a Pomeranian owned by Margaret Bechstein Hays, which she kept (probably surreptitiously) in her cabin, a dog owned by Elizabeth Rothschild, also kept in her cabin, a Pekingese called Sun Yat Sen, owned by Henry Sleeper Harper and his wife Myra, Frou-Frou, a Toy dog owned by Helen Bishop. The dog was allowed to stay in her cabin as the stewards considered it “too pretty” to put among the bigger dogs in the kennels. There may have been other dogs on board, but their names, like those of their owners, perished with them.
As the ship was sinking, three dogs were put into lifeboats along with their owners. Mrs Hayes Pomeranian, Mrs Harper’s Pekingese and Elizabeth Rothschild’s dog all survived the sinking.
Helen Bishop who herself survived told of how Frou-Frou tried to stop her leaving her cabin to go to the life boat by sinking his teeth into her dress and tearing a seam. “The loss of my little dog hurt me very much” she recalled, “I will never forget how he dragged on my clothes. I will never forget how he so wanted to accompany me”.
It is thought that as the ship was going down someone let the dogs out of their kennels, which would account for the sighting of dogs running along the decks, probably as afraid and bewildered as the many passengers and crew still on board. Yet as the ship sank, so many of the third class passengers were still locked behind gates, installed to prevent the feared transmission of the lower classes germs to the other passengers.
A few days after the sinking a recovery ship found the body of a woman still clutching a large shaggy dog. Robert W Daniel’s expensive pedigree bulldog was last seen swimming away from the stricken vessel. Mr Daniels received $750 compensation for the loss of his dog, William Carter $300 for his two dogs.
Ella Holmes White of New York was bringing the 4 hens and roosters back to American to strengthen her poultry stock. A first class passenger, Mrs White and her maid were in Lifeboat 8 as the ship sank, taking her hens with it. She received $201.87 in compensation.
Another irony here- surviving passengers did not receive a refund for their journey, nor did families of victims, only the wealthy who sued the White Star Line Shipping Company for compensation. In fact, relatives of crew members who died were actually charged money- the White Star Line wanted them to pay for parts of the uniforms that were ruined when people died wearing them.
Poultry livestock would have been brought onboard by immigrant passengers in Steerage, for whom their favourite egg-laying hens would be the only luxury they could take to the New World. The temperature of the icy Atlantic was -2°C, and any living thing in the water soon drowned or died of hypothermia or cardiac arrest.
As you can imagine a ship this size carried a considerable amount of food including 40,000 eggs ready to be cooked for breakfast or made into fancy desserts. Along the debris field at the bottom of the ocean a frying pan rusts away.
Today the youngest Gillyboy and I had an outing to the Titanic Exhibiton in our own city. Thankfully unlike so many people, dogs and hens, we survived our experience.