Tag Archives: Childhood

Blue Nun, Black Tower, and Pixie’s Pee

15 Feb

Over the weekend I was reading Graham Norton’s memoir “The Life and Loves of a He Devil”.

It was startling to realise that Graham and I had similar upbringings, even though we’re different sexes and were raised on opposite sides of the world.

The thing that made me laugh the most was his comment that in Ireland during his childhood there appeared to be only three wines available: Blue Nun, Black Tower and Mateus Rose.

Those wines are pretty much central to celebrations during my childhood too.  My dad had a burning dislike of Mateus Rose.  He always referred to it as Pixie’s Pee.  The one occasion I took a surreptitious sip from my mother’s glass, I immediately agreed with him and came to the conclusion that the pixie in question needed to see a urologist urgently.  I’ve never attempted to drink it again.  Just the sight of a bottle gives me tremulous shudders of disgust.

Blue Nun was another I felt had a picture of the factory on the bottle!  It was the most appalling wine I had ever tasted when I was young.  I was strongly convinced that they’d put vinegar in a wine bottle by accident.  Blue Nun is probably the reason that I am not overly fond of dry white wines these days.

Black Tower was a different proposition.  I loved the vaguely medieval styled label on the bottle and the wine was sweet enough to appeal to my palate without being cloying.  A romantic through and through I would sip away daydreaming that I was actually drinking the popular medieval sweet wine rhenish.  No idea if Black Tower is a literal descendant, but it was certainly a romantic one in my book.  It’s also the reason that I have no time for wine snobs.  Just because something is expensive, doesn’t mean it tastes good, in my book.  Black Tower is the only white wine I view fondly.  Mention Black Tower to a wine connoisseur and watch them have a hissy fit of epic proportions.

In New Zealand there was a fourth wine making a quartet of cheap and cheerful wines.  This was a sparkling red known as Cold Duck.  My father, the evil bugger that he was, solemnly informed me that Cold Duck was made from the distilled, fermented blood of frozen ducks!  It was a wine that most bottle shops turned a blind eye to underage individuals purchasing.  They knew that there was no way kids could get drunk on it.  It wasn’t in the system long enough for the alcohol to take effect.  Two glasses and you’d be heaving up the whole horrible fizzy mess.

Graham’s book made me feel more than a little nostalgic.  I wonder if the local bottle shop has Black Tower?

A Skirt Full of Hedgehogs

8 Apr

Autumn evenings tend to make me nostalgic.  Last night I was thinking about my childhood in New Zealand, and the family of hedgehogs that lived under our house.

There were six of them.  The two largest ones, whom I assumed were the parents, I dubbed Henry and Henrietta.  I was such an original child!  Their offspring I named Prickles, Tickles, Bounce and Smudge.  Late summer through to the end of Autumn they would come out from under the house to feed and play in the last light of day.

My father encouraged them.  They ate the insects that attacked his vegetable garden. We also gave them little treats of bread soaked in milk, and canned cat food.  Something that would no doubt give wildlife experts conniption fits today.

I was totally fascinated by the hedgehogs.    Watching them lumber along like so many tiny spiked tanks was such a joy.

Hedgehogs are gorgeous animals.  Intelligent, playful and affectionate.  Once they realized that I wouldn’t try to hurt them, I had an abundance of animal playmates.

My fondest memories are of Henry and Henrietta wombling off to the vegie patch, leaving the little ones to climb all over me as if I was a specially designed hedgehog obstacle course.

Bounce got his/her name from the habit of trying to jump up rather than climb.  He never managed it.  Hedgehogs can’t jump, but they can bounce when they fail.  Hence the name. Though his personality was bouncy as well.

Smudge had a little wisp of brown fur over his snout which looked like a spot of dirt.  I was forever stroking that little spot.  He’d make little happy grunting noises. 

Prickles was the least friendly. He would skitter up for a brief pat then go nosing off after his parents. The Mycroft of hedgehogs.

Tickles was, well, ticklish.  Did you know that if you tickle a hedgehog’s tummy they make a noise somewhere between a grunt and a giggle?  They also screw up their eyes in bliss.

I lost count of the number of busy bodies who told my parents I shouldn’t be allowed to touch the hedgehogs.  She’ll get fleas/ringworm/assorted other parasites.  Nope.  Not once did I catch anything from my beloved hedgehogs.  Maybe the fact I was always stringent in washing my hands after handling them.  I did the same with any animal I touched.  And, less frequently, some people I had to touch!

My mother’s only real complaint was having to wash little muddy paw prints off my skirts.  Not that I think she really minded.  When I think back I can see her standing in the back doorway, a small smile on her face as I sat on the grass with my skirt full of hedgehogs.

Part of the reason I think this all came to mind was my seeing a piece of Sherlock fan art yesterday of Sherlock holding a hedgehog that was licking his nose.

For the uninitiated, a section of the Sherlock fandom compares Sherlock to an Otter and John to a Hedgehog.  Don’t ask, because I have no bloody idea why.  

Just something about one cute little picture made me think of Prickles, Tickles, Bounce and Smudge who gave me so much love so many years ago.

I wish Australia had hedgehogs.  I miss them.

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