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A bit too much going on

When we moved here and “retired” – at least from full time paid employment – we expected to have more free time.  There are quiet days but more often times when there’s a bit too much going on.  Take this last fortnight.  A roller coaster of events and emotions have swept us up and left us a bit drained.  The underlying emotion was sadness as we said goodbye to a close relative.  As Jacqui has not yet had an answer on whether we could travel we couldn’t attend the funeral, a source of great sadness.  It does highlight one solitary good thing to come from Covid however.  The live streaming of these family ceremonies has become much more common place and we were able to watch and say goodbye, even from another country.

The start of the “rockery”
The way we were

The weather has been very busy – definitely a bit too much going on there.  Cloud, drizzle and then bright sunlight swept over us, seemingly at random.  In the brighter intervals Jacqui hurried out and began the transformation of the wall that has replaced the pump house.  A dash into town helped us get the first of the bedding plants and she filled the blocks and planted. I tackled some of the more determined growth around the walls.  The end result looks very promising with a mix of flowers including some Pinks, my father’s favourite.  He showed me how to remove the side shoots and root them to make new plants so we should have an impressive display in a few years.

We were lulled into a false sense of security by the relative absence of flies this summer.  They are still about but in far fewer numbers.  We attribute this to the removal of the Leylandii trees (fly tenements, all of them) and the new rules banning slurry splash-plates.  The latter, in particular, has made life much better here.  Unfortunately the tiny biting flies seem unaffected and as soon as we started working outside we were bitten.  All over.  The cry in the evening was “How the hell did they get in there?”  I leave the rest to your imagination.  So its back to the “Naff Off” bracelets, one of which Jacqui has looped around the back of her cap to keep the little horrors off her neck.

The garden and surroundings are full of life now.  It appears the birds have decided we are fairly harmless and ignore us much of the time.  In fact I was filling the bird feeders and a goldfinch flew close enough to brush my face.  He then sat on the top of the feeding frame and shouted at me, presumably to hurry up.  He was down at the food before I was three steps away. 

Pine Marten scat!

Something has been pulling egg shells from our compost bin and Fergus suggested it was a Pine Marten.  He found Pine Marten scat on one of the walls and the paw prints on the bin match too.  Pine Martens can be fierce and territorial so I’m careful about the dogs at night. However they also kill rats, so “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.  I also spotted a little shrew scuttling across the gravel drive much to my delight.  Less welcome was the sight of a tiny field mouse inside the back porch.  It shot out of a corner and disappeared under the shelves and I hope it left through the open door.  Certainly the dogs showed no interest in it and Charlie has caught a mouse before.  We love the variety of wildlife but mice constitute a bit too much going on.

We had several medical visits this fortnight as well including another trip to the dentist at Roscrea.  After the frustrating and futile visits to the Limerick Cardiac clinics Jacqui was transferred to the local hospital for follow-up care.  A long-awaited appointment to see them proved to be more constructive than all the other clinics put together, with the exception of the nurse-led Limerick venue.  In fact the nurses have been wonderful throughout.  This time we got some answers, the young Doctor listened and explained issues clearly and will push for a place on the rehabilitation programme they run.  Overall we felt a lot better about the situation, especially as she can dispense with some of the medication next month.  There is some hope she may get better, despite the occasional days clouded by exhaustion and nausea. 

Now, I know I promised a picture of me using the mower but it refused to start once again.  I’ll give it another once-over but if it is not reliable then we will trade it in for spares. Hopefully we can do a part exchange.  The little bit of cutting we managed was so easy and so quick. We really would benefit from having a mower to help the ongoing fight against Ireland’s prolific green.

The guest room
Plenty of reading material!

Most of the rest of our time has been taken up by preparing for our first visitor.  The spare room has been storage since we arrived, though we have been putting up shelves, assembling the bed and sorting.   We were pushed into top gear by this imminent arrival, helped by Ikea who sent the fixings for a cupboard.  Something else lost by the idiot movers.  I’ve done some of the work I failed to do before the move. Filing important stuff, ordering books on shelves and spending a lot of time going, “What was I thinking?” Then I found once I got over the initial block it was strangely liberating.

So there we are – a sad, liberating and very busy few weeks with a bit too much going on.

Thank you for reading and I hope you all have a good few weeks.

I will be back in two weeks and you can hear the back issues on https://southsidebroadcasting.podbean.com/category/tipperary-tales/

Another lovely Irish tradition

I know we say it every week but – what a few days we have had. Despite our planning and clever sequencing things never go smoothly but we are lucky – very lucky – in our friends and workmen. Despite the weather and the constraints of equipment hire and labour they really came through last week. We needed it finished so we could have another energy inspection. This will hopefully raise the BER rating on the house following the solar installation and other improvements. The final push for the water system was relaying the pipes so we could get rid of the butt-ugly pump house. This has an added bonus in letting more light onto the solar panels but made a straightforward demolition impossible. Fergus was, understandably, nervous about dropping debris onto the panels and instead opted for a drill and hammer job. This was a lot more work but had several benefits.

The old pump house

Fergus at work
New ramp and wall

Firstly scarcely a speck of dust landed on the solar array. Secondly a lot of the blocks were salvageable. Fergus bulldozed a ramp for us and lined it with some of the broken blocks. Jacqui, who can visualise far better than I can, has plans to fill the gaps with compost and plant flowers – winter pansies, chrysanthemums, whatever she can, along the new “wall”. Next summer we may plant honeysuckle along the back of the Majestic too. The reusable blocks will make a decent footing for the polytunnel greenhouse next spring. Very little goes to waste, something Fergus approves of heartily. It’s one of the lovely Irish traditions we have encountered.

Some of the delay was getting Fergus and the digger in at the same time as Tom the pump man. Having finally identified the water line it made sense to have him dig it out in about ten minutes. Tom and his lad said it would have taken them roughly half a day. Once he got access though Tom performed marvels, re-routing the pipes. He cut out the long loop, running them through the wall of the Majestic and joining it all up again with a minimum of disruption.

It was very interesting watching the meeting between Tom and Fergus. With such a low population everyone tends to be related in some way. There is a verbal “dance” as both parties look to establish a connection. They begin with the surname and move out through occupations, places they have lived and marriages. Finally they land on an aunt who married the son of a distant great uncle and the connection is made. As I have Irish ancestors, albeit from another county, somewhere back I’ll be related to them both too. That is another lovely Irish tradition we have encountered.

In the middle of this another Tom, Fergus’s lad, was building a wood store and splitting logs out in the wood. And then Colin, the mower man appeared. I know we say it every week but I’m sure they come in groups hoping for safety in numbers! Colin soon got the mower running and gave it a quick service. It still needs a few parts but he’s waiting for these to be delivered. In the meantime we can actually cut the grass! We’ve been using the strimmer but it is pitiful, what I can manage. And the batteries run out too fast as it is rough land still and very overgrown. The mower is a bit clunky, the levers are very stiff and we couldn’t get the grass box on properly so the cuttings went over the “lawn” but it is such fun. Now to try it on the wood!

Guardian Bells for the mopeds

Early on in the week we finally headed off to Limerick in search of the final bits we need for the mopeds. Inconsequential things like crash helmets and tax disc holders. We settled on a place called “Sprocket and Hubs” in Adare. They advertised a specialist section of clothing for women so it seemed a good bet. I have to say they were wonderful. The mopeds were much admired (photos on the phone – it’s a bit far for those little machines) and they were so helpful. We came away with everything we needed including a couple of Guardian Bells. These are attached to the keys or the bike and promise a guardian angel to watch over the rider. Another lovely Irish tradition.

These are REAL fans!
The four Limerick lads

I guess most of you don’t follow the hurling but last week was the all-Ireland Senior final between Limerick and Kilkenny. Limerick won and the county was celebrating, none more so than in Adare, I suspect. There were flags everywhere, even on the churches. Some were huge, covering an entire bar with a space cut out for the door. You get a sense of how small the population is when you see a sign congratulating four local players from a place that small. We liked it very much though it was extremely busy, even on a Tuesday morning. We may go back to look around when the hurling hysteria is passed and the tourist season ends.

So we reach the end of another very busy fortnight. On Saturday evening we always have a special meal, cooked at home and eaten together in the kitchen-diner. Sometimes we play music – Jacqui has put together some splendid play lists and is terrific at finding new performers and new songs. Sometimes we sit and talk, happy to relax and enjoy one another’s company.

For us it is a new and lovely Irish tradition.

Take care and thank you for reading.

I am currently recording these blogs for podcasts, two at a time so if you would like to hear them they are freely available on https://southsidebroadcasting.podbean.com/category/tipperary-tales/

What the heck was I thinking?

Those of you who have followed this adventure from the start will know the move, over 18 months ago, was close to being a disaster. This is especially true for “my” side of it as the decisions I had to make and the sheer volume of stuff I had overwhelmed me. I ended up taking 4 of the largest boxes, cramming them full and writing “TBS” on the sides. “To Be Sorted”. Well some has been but a lot hasn’t. Instead it is stacked in the back room, the guestroom. Now I have to face it all and sort, recycle, gift and abandon all over again. As I began to pick through the crates I found myself muttering, “What the heck was I thinking?”

What the heck was I thinking?

I am making progress, albeit slowly, and Jacqui has performed a minor miracle on the bed. We had 2 nice pine beds with us for spare rooms. One of them arrived with no mattress and is broken. The other has lost its fixings – the second bed the idiot movers did this to. Somehow Jacqui managed to adapt the metal bolts from one to build the other, adding corner braces for extra support. It is now up, very strong and ready to welcome our first guest next month. I was wondering if we needed to buy a new one. Hah, what the heck was I thinking?

This last week has been very busy. As Jacqui was a bit ill (not Covid) I drove the car down to town for its annual service. This is no big deal for some people but it was a familiar journey taken in reverse. As a dyspraxic I can rarely remember the way anywhere (unlike Jacqui who can navigate by the sun like a homing pigeon). I rely on a spoken/chanted series of visual clues.
“Up the bumpy road and stop, then left round the bend by the Swiss style house. Slow, slow, mad tractors all around. Slide past the pink cottage and look for the swans…” Taking the road in reverse meant my “road map” was useless and most of the landmarks invisible until I was past them. But I did it and I’m inordinately proud of myself.

The next day we headed off to Roscrea, to the dentist. I have had two very loose teeth at the back for more than 3 years, due to Covid restrictions. My appointment to have them removed in England was cancelled. So were the next 2. I developed an abscess the day before the actual move and the dentist was eager to pull them then, late in the afternoon. That was hopeless – I couldn’t have done anything for the move or been able to think the next day. I took some antibiotics and left.

Ireland has a shortage of dentists and I have been trying to join the practise of choice for 18 months. When we arrived we were locked down, then they closed for all but existing patients, then they moved. Finally I broke a tooth last week and they offered me an appointment. I am needle phobic and have had a lot of problems with my teeth so I was shaking when I got there. Now, I have had very gentle dentists before. I have had very skillful dentists before. This is the first time I’ve had one who is both.

I was expecting her to remove the broken tooth but instead she suggested the 2 at the top were more urgent. Somehow I found myself agreeing – what the heck was I thinking, I wondered as the top injections loomed. Jacqui was really startled when I appeared and told her, but it was as painless as 2 extractions can possibly be.

And so it begins

Then a big parcel arrived from Ikea. I’ve been using a hanging rail for my clothes since we moved and we decided it was time to tidy up the room. How hard could it be? I opened the instruction book and was faced with pages of obscure line drawings – what the heck??? Well, it took several days, a plethora of tools and some creative swearing but we managed it. The hardest part was lifting it up from the floor and manoeuvring it into position. They are heavy things, wardrobes. And fitting the sliding doors. They are beasts!

So there we are. We are still pushing on. The house is slowly getting tidier as we sort things and find proper places for them. Jacqui has sorted many of the tools and put them away in the grooming room. She also labelled everything so we know where to put them when we finish. “Measuring things” in one box, “Cutting things” in another and screwdrivers and Allen keys in “Lefty loosey, righty tighty”. We may add another box for “MLB”. That’s “Making life better”. It works for us and no-one else needs to rummage in our tool boxes anyway.

The Tool Tower

So there we are, still fighting the weeds but indoors bringing some semblance of order from chaos. It’s been a busy few weeks and we’ve had a weekend off to revel in nostalgia. We’ve sat watching the Tour de France roll over the border through parts of Switzerland we know very well. We have driven many of the roads they used and caught glimpses of familiar places we loved. A bittersweet pleasure but a pleasure none the less.

Back in two weeks, hope you all keep well and thank you for reading.

Making good use of our time

As we wait for jobs to be completed we have been making good use of our time. We hoped to get the grass cut using the mower but, alas, it refused to start. After calling the mechanics (“Will be up to you, soonish”) we picked away at the grass and weeds. Jacqui wielded the strimmer and I cut back some of the ever growing thistles and nettles. I have also been weeding the wild flower bed, removing the corn and we have been rewarded with a growing number of poppies. Definitely a good use of our time.

Poppies in the “corn field”

As the nearest large(ish) town is about 15 miles away we tend to do several things on one trip. Shopping, of course, and trips to the recycling centre. Sometimes we combine the bank, the fishmonger and the doctor – though not necessarily in that order. This week we finally got around to joining the library, taking a set of my books as a gift.

I have to say how impressed I am with the public library system in Ireland. The staff were extremely welcoming, joining was a doddle as I had my Irish driving license with me and the range of services astounded me. First off I can borrow up to twelve books for three weeks. There are no fines for late returns though they do send increasingly sad texts as a reminder. Then I learned I could use any library in the Republic with my card. Away on holiday somewhere? No problem. Just borrow some books and if you’ve not finished you can return them to any library on your return home. Wow.

The other services are equally impressive. I can request any book from any library from the catalogue and collect it from the branch of your choice. I sometimes used the inter-library loan scheme in the UK but with little success. The wait was often very long and frequently the books never arrived. Here it is a truly joined-up service and now my books are available to every reader in Ireland!

That’s not all. I can remote borrow both e-books and audio books on my ticket using a pin number. I can also download and read newspapers from across the world and (if I ever wanted to) magazines. And it is all free! There were young people inside the new, light building, reading, taking notes and using the computers. There are special holiday groups covering story reading, writing and even Lego figures inspired by favourite books. There’s a volunteer group who visit housebound residents and deliver books or read to them. That is really what a library service should be.

Owls watching the playground

Just around the corner from the library is a Primary school and driving past we spotted a beautiful wooden carving of two owls looking down into the playground. A lot of trees are lost in the high winds and rather than just chopping them down these have been transformed. As we drive around, exploring the little roads that radiate out from the town, we have seen some lovely things.

Tended with love
Always makes us smile

On the way home from shopping we have encountered a very old man who has planted the verges and hedgerows around his house. The result is beautiful – flowers, bushes and contrasting hedges run on both sides of the road. Whenever we see him we stop and exchange greetings. The first time we told him how much we liked his work. “Them’s kind words”” he said. Well, that is kind work he does, and certainly time well spent. As we drove past this week I thought of my father, a passionate and highly skilled gardener. I could see him doing something like that.

We are fighting a seemingly endless fight against the “sticky Willy” to the south and bindweed to the north of the house. Sticky Willy has crept (or blown) into Betsy’s Corner and we had to put scaffolding boards across the back to reach the overgrown parts at the back. They will suffocate some of the bigger plants, though we may lose a few bulbs too. Still, it is looking a lot better now. I need to keep on top of the problem as left for even a few days it is back again. A small amount of time spent on that can save a lot of weeding.

So we are moving forward despite the inevitable delays in getting stuff finished. We now have Irish number plates for the bikes though not crash helmets. Those necessitate a trip to Limerick, alas. We have all the meters and most of the infrastructure for the pump system safe in the Majestic and the meters are ticking away merrily. The guest room upstairs is finally taking shape and we still have time to read, to draw and to write. Our days are full but we feel more rested now after the last few frantic years. Above all we have more choices.

We are making good use of our time!

It’s flaming June – flaming awful

Yes, it’s heading for summer but here in mid Ireland flaming June is, quite frankly, flaming awful. I know Ireland has a reputation for bad weather but this year it’s been all over the place. January, for example, was very nice. Sunny, mild and promising the earliest of early springs, we were ready to enjoy it. Colin, our redoubtable postman, soon crushed our enthusiasm. A warm January always meant a cold and stormy few months to follow, he said gloomily. He was right, but even he didn’t predict this flaming awful June.

Storm Alex and a “Jacob’s Ladder”

A lot of it is down to Storm Alex that sent high winds and cold showers across to us for a couple of days before the storm itself hit. Since then we’ve had ten days of storm force winds, icy rain and sudden, short, bursts of tantalising sun. We’ve still got the heating on morning and evening and actually lit the fire a couple of nights. Here’s hoping it turns into flaming June soon.

Our solitary Iris
Poppies in a tiny corn field

Everything is growing, of course, and we have been waiting for our wild flower bed to burst into life. It did, putting forth what we hoped was the first of our 60 Irises. Alas, we got one. One beautiful but solitary flower in a sea of unidentified leaves. A few more flowers have poked their heads out in the last few days including some lovely poppies but they appear to be surrounded by some sort of wheat or corn. I suspect this is due to the bird feeder. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea putting the bed just underneath it. Still, we may be growing some of our own bird seed for next year.

We have had some problems with deliveries despite the nice new road (although that only reaches half way along. The rest is still a farm track). After waiting in all day for a courier we received a message saying they called but there was no one home. We spent several minutes stamping around the house, muttering and cursing. Apparently the parcel, due by 8.52am, was back at the other end of the county by 9.22, which is total nonsense. Jacqui sent a furious and scathing reply as all deliverymen use the Eircode and satnavs, generally with no problem. Without it we are almost impossible to find.

When we calmed down we decided it was a good thing nobody could hear us. They might send the men in white coats to take us away as mentally deranged. Though they probably wouldn’t be able to find us unless we sent them the Eircode. We had a lot of fun imagining the phone call.
‘Can we have your Eircode please?’
‘Er, no.’
‘Ah come on – we can’t find you without it.’
‘Absolutely no!’
‘Don’t be difficult now. We’re paid by results and we’re below our quota for this month.’
‘Goodbye.’

One good thing about the flaming awful June should be I have no excuses for not getting on with my writing but this has become a dispiriting exercise recently. My publisher has been very ill and in a small firm this makes progress extremely slow. I signed the contract for “A Long Shadow” (Alex Hastings 5) fourteen months ago but there has be no progress at all since then. There is an eighteen-month deadline on “exploitation of rights” but I don’t want to evoke it yet. So I’m stuck unable to write book six as I don’t know what will happen to book five – or the others. There’s no publicity and book four isn’t linked to the series on Amazon. This is despite requesting it and the relisting of the e-book over a year ago. It is rather depressing as I feel all my work is just fading away.

After a long talk Jacqui and I came up with a new strategy. Some of you may know I have Irish relatives, the Cooneys from around Cork. They include a cousin, Jem, who is a bit of a writer and a dog lover. We have swapped stories and shared experiences and together come up with an idea for a new book, maybe several books. As I am already published and have more experience I am doing a lot of the writing and editing but we will publish under his name, “with” me. I know there is sometimes resistance to writers swapping genres from some readers and I do hope to return to Alex Hastings soon. This arrangement allows Jem’s stories to get out there. And there is a bit of a mystery/crime element to the books, especially if we get to do the second one.

So there we are, still toddling along. I’ve pulled my shoulder again and can’t use the strimmer. You can almost hear the nettles sniggering with delight. Little do they know I have acquired a weed burner and as soon as the wind dies down I’m out there to settle their hash! I don’t think I should try it in this weather. I’d probably burn down the wood. That would really make it a flaming awful June.

It’s wonderful what a plan comes together

Isn’t it wonderful when a plan comes together? Well, almost comes together anyway. And it is always rather unexpected. I am reminded of my (many, many) Open University days. Looking into the future with at least six years of study ahead could be extremely dispiriting, however engaging the current course might be. The only way to keep moving forward was to focus on this year. Ignore the long trek, just enjoy (or occasionally tolerate) the present. This has proved to be a valuable lesson as a number of our projects are jusy about finished at last.

The grooming room in the back porch has thwarted us for several reasons, most recently due to the lack of a plumber. We have a lovely space with cupboards and work tops. We’ve even moved the freezer in there so have access to cupboards in other areas. The main feature however, the sink, remains determinedly unfinished. We tried to source the waste pipe over the last eight weeks, to no avail. It is a particular brand with a “weir” overflow and none of the pipes would work. We moved through two types (plans A and B) to something we looked up on YouTube (plan C). This almost fitted – but not quite. On to plan D for desperation.

Oh poop!

We got a fitting with no overflow outlet and Jacqui sealed off the weir at the base. The sink is deep and only for washing small dogs, and we had the same arrangement in Saltburn. In 25 years we never needed to use the overflow so unless dementia strikes we are confident it will work. Then, after dry-fitting the pipes, we found the back outlet was about two inches too high. Aaargh! So our friend has agreed to come back on Monday, shorten the pipe and maybe, just maybe that plan will finally come together.

There’s still no movement yet on the final stage of the water pump and system. That plan is constantly floated every week but no-one comes. We are going to have one last push next week before trying something else. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath).

Dog, hunter and fly-tipper proof

We do have a rather splendid fence however. This is the most recent of the plans and the ever-reliable Fergus and the lovely fence man Bill did it all in a couple of days. We now have a secure boundary with stock quality wire to keep out stray dogs, random hunters and fly tippers. Fergus made and fitted two “mammal gates”, lining them up with the main little tracks across the wood. This means the wildlife that lives, crosses or hunts across the land will still have access. When we’ve saved up a bit we will do the same up on the top area.

The road before…
and after. Good job!

The most unexpected plan to come together was the appearance of the road men. Our lane has been in a terrible condition, broken down and torn up by years of neglect and farm traffic. For two days we had loud – occasionally very loud – machinery up and down. The roller was so loud outside it felt as if it shook the walls – no mean feat as they are over a foot thick. It certainly shook everything inside them and on them. Doors, windows, gutters, roof tiles and the occasional startled blackbird all rang in unison as it ground along. The end result is excellent but (this is Ireland) not without a couple of surprises.

Most impressive parking I’ve ever seen

At the end of the first day I looked out of my window to see the tarmac machine reversing onto our front drive. I ran downstairs to see what was happening and was told they’d been informed they could store the vehicles overnight as the property was empty. I pointed out there was a car by the front door, there were lights on and three dogs were shouting through the windows at them. Did it look empty?

They were very nice and a bit apologetic and after some negotiation we let them use the drive overnight. I have to say their parking was jaw-droppingly impressive. Then was they casually mentioned they began work at seven in the morning, something three dogs confirmed the next day. Oh well, the road is very good now though – the second surprise – it’s six inches higher so we can’t open our small front gate.

We both had Covid boosters last week and they provoked a bit of a reaction. I ran one of those interesting temperatures – over 38.5, which makes everything ache and shake. It’s better than the real thing though so no regrets. Jacqui is finally getting some energy back and is now tackling some of the long laid plans with great enthusiasm. She’s almost finished a stand for a new bird feeder sent by my lovely sister. We have drained the bath in the garden and got it up on blocks and yesterday we finally wrestled the old taps off. In the end it took a pipe wrench, a Stanley knife, a wire brush, a 12” adjustable spanner, a heat gun and two determined women. Now we are going to paint the outside green, get some gravel and compost and we will finally have our herb garden.

Yes, it’s wonderful when a plan comes together. Now on with the next lot.

Surprises – some good and some not so good

Whilst not wanting to seen too mawkish, I have to agree with Forrest Gump who famously declared, “Life is like a box of Chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get”. And so it was this last fortnight. Considering we live a very quiet life deep in the countryside life throws a lot of surprises at us. Some are good, some are not so good. Last week, for example, we faced up to the hospital appointment we were both secretly dreading. A jolly trip to Limerick to see an endocrinologist.

Scream SocksMunch, not the film!

Now, we’ve not had a good relationship with endocrinologists, with the sole exception of a wonderful consultant at James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough. I have been somewhat harsh in my description of them in the past. Jacqui’s experience in Limerick did not help as they kept her waiting for seven hours, didn’t show and accused her of “not bothering to wait”. You can tell what we were expecting by our choice of socks! It was a surprise – and a good one – to encounter our first female endocrinologist. There was another wait of course but it was worth it.

Rhianna listened to us, answered questions and had some good and helpful suggestions. Prime amongst them was to try another version of a drug that Jacqui had struggled with twice before. This version has fewer side effects apparently and if successful can be very, very beneficial. Jacqui agreed to try it and we are a week in now. I cannot stress how much I admire her determination. I’’ not sure I’d be that brave to be honest. The first few days weren’t too bad – a good surprise. Then it went a bit downhill. I say “a bit”. A bit like the run into a ski-jump. The second dose is due today and we are hoping for a good surprise this time.

It’s been quiet on the workmen front with no sign of the pump man, the electrician or our original plumber. Monday’s another public holiday so next week may be quiet also. Fergus did come with his mini-digger and cleared the fence line ready for Bill however. He’s done a sterling job, levelling and redistributing the land and some of the mulch. The worst of the fly-tipped rubble has been buried and he rousted out a nest of rats too. Soon it should be secure along the road, though there will be little mammal gates sited at the tracks across the wood. These should allow wild animals access but keep out strange dogs – and humans.

With Jacqui somewhat incapacitated I’ve been doing most of the shopping. Earlier this week I ran into the nearest town to get a few things, going to the local Spar and the only supermarket near us. I was looking for cake as Jacqui’s not been up to baking. Now, the Irish make splendid cakes. A bit sweet and occasionally overloaded with icing but mainly very acceptable. Lent is over and cakes of all ilks are back in the shops, but so is that Irish “delicacy” Brack. This is a dark brown fruit loaf with the texture of sawdust. It sucks the moisture out of the air when unwrapped. Everyone else seems to love it. In one shop there were six different brands. Everyone in the family makes Brack. Mam’s Brack, Auntie’s Brack, Granny’s Brack, Sister’s friend’s gardener’s hamster’s Brack… Okay, I made up the last one but really….

As Jacqui says, it’s like punishing yourself for having a cake.

Surprisingly easy actually
Working my way up to this one

We’ve had some quiet days and I’ve got some decent writing done. As the weather has turned cold and grey again after some lovely days and glorious sunsets we’ve been indoors. I’ve been roaring through another puzzle, a Breughel painting this time. It looks very complex but is actually one of the easier jigsaws. I think I’m just putting off the moment I have to face what may be my nemesis, a Jackson Pollock. It is a pleasant distraction from much of the daytime TV that can be dire. It was so bad one day the highlight was an animated canary singing a song entitled “Poxy Chores”. This is an advert from the Gas Board to encourage people to test their carbon monoxide alarms but the words have offended some people. Really.

If you’re curious you can find it on Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzdaRFXkv2g. Thank you, Gas Board, for livening up our days!

So, like a box of chocolates, some surprises both good and not so good. I wonder what life will throw at us next week?
Thank you for reading. If you want to listen to any episodes they are all available on Southside Broadcasting’s podcast site. Go to “Southside Broadcasting podbean”, scroll down on the left to “Tipperary Tales” and there I am. This is the 50th episode (of 12) – I wonder how many more I can write? Hopefully there will be enough good surprises to report and maybe even some writing news soon.

Happy May Day everyone.

Two steps forwards, one step back

This has been another mixed few weeks for us. We do feel we are making progress finally in some directions. It is very much two steps forwards, one step back. Spring is its usual manic self and everything is bursting into life. The wood looks so much healthier now despite the many damaged ash trees. The backwards step? Well, the brambles, bindweed and ivy are also rearing their nasty little heads and need taming as soon as possible. We need to get the sit-on mower working but are waiting for the fence to be put up as we hope Fergus will give us a quick driving lesson.

Betsy’s Corner this April

The little garden at the end of the Majestic is going from strength to strength and now looks rather lovely. As well as the pansies and aubrieta there are bee bombs waiting to flower later in the year and it should be a source of almost year-round pleasure, for us and the people passing by. It gives us hope we can bring this land back to life as when we moved in it was an old stonewalled trough full of rubble and rats. Definitely two steps forwards.

Despite our best efforts we still have not got the solar system finalised. The panels are working and delivering electricity to the pump for much of the day, especially when it is sunny. On the other hand the old controller continues to roar away full blast using a stupid amount of power and wiping out much of the gains. We are still travelling hopefully but as this is another holiday weekend it is likely we will have to wait another week or so before it is finally fixed. Then we can have flow meters fitted and have some proper idea of usage and costs. A step back for the moment I think.

I have been writing a bit more recently and the next Alex Hastings book is well underway. This is book six by the way. Book five is awaiting publication and as it’s still not had a final edit I’m now writing blind. The great thing about a series is the freedom to build longer stories and develop characters over a long period. The downside is each book builds on the one before and until the manuscript is finally cleared there’s a danger something I use in book six may be lost or altered in the final edit. Two forwards, one back again.

There are a lot of small gains in the house however. I now have a usable table as Jacqui cut almost six inches off the legs and fitted levellers. I’m writing this in comfort at my “desk for a Hobbit” rather than wobbling around on the cushion. With a viable timer for the heating we have managed to cut our gas usage by over 50%, a good thing as the price is very high and delivery, supposedly five working days, is now at twenty and rising. And our lovely joiner moved the heater in the back porch so we could put the new freezer in there. This means I can get at the cupboards in the utility room, hopefully getting the last of the unpacking done. Definitely steps forward.

Saltburn Bank and the East Cleveland Klondike
Grey Easter sky

After some lovely sunny days it is grey and cold here for Easter. We’ve used 99.9% of the logs so if we need a fire we will have to scratch around for fuel. The wood from the trees needs another six months to dry properly. Now it’s back to gleaning the dead branches brought down by the storm. This is definitely a day for staying in and settling down to indoor pursuits so I’ll get out another jigsaw. I finished my latest challenge a couple of days ago. This was a picture of the Cleveland Klondike, a one day cycle race around East Cleveland. It included four trips up the bank as Saltburn, a climb with three hairpin bends and a gradient of 1:4. It was a great spectacle and this image brought back lovely memories of a place where we were very happy for many years.

Triffids attacked by slugs!

Last night we had a little celebration as we remembered we’d first met thirty-nine years ago. We made dinner and shared a bottle of Prosecco, recalling some of the steps on our journey together. We decided I should make the starter – salad and some smoked meat. Jacqui suggested I make little florets by winding the meat round a (suitably washed) finger and twisting the end. Well, I have two observations on this. Don’t expect a dyspraxic to get this right. And don’t try it with Mortadella. The result was not so much a bunch of flowers, more a herd of Triffids being chased by giant slugs. Still, it tasted just fine and a good evening was had by all. And who knew Lidl sold Quails eggs? Jacqui’s special treat!

So that’s us this cold and grey Easter Sunday. All good wishes to you all and thank you for reading.

Spring is on the march here

Spring is on the march here in Tipperary (excuse the pun, please) and everything is waking up, flying, walking and growing – oh how it can grow here. There’s been a warm few weeks (February) followed by several very wet weeks. Now it is sunny during the day though devilish cold at night. This has obviously encouraged nature to flourish, nest and breed – a lot of it in our wood. We’ve been hearing wood pigeons cooing away for a month now. Coming from the north east of England this was a sign summer was almost here but we are a good way further south and everything is much earlier.

Easy Access to our wood
Quite cluttered inside!

The birds are gathering in large numbers, many of them nesting in what now must resemble a tenement at the back of the wood. The large, mature trees wear a coat of ivy that has woven itself into a thick hedge and Fergus, our tree man reports many nests in there already. Whilst not as indiscriminate as some nations there is a long-standing tradition of hunting in Ireland. We are in an area designated a sanctuary but often hear shots at night, never mind the dip-stick who came back twice to shoot more shells over the poor geese. The work on the wood has thinned it out considerably and there is some sign of illicit entry and woodcutting. As the boundaries are now less than secure we will have to install a fence along the road.

With material costs rising to ridiculous heights this is going to be very expensive but I think it is a necessary investment. Like everything else it needs several different people to do different jobs. First the land needs to be cleared and levelled – a job for a mini-digger. There’s been some fly-tipping of rubble and concrete too so they’ll have to dig a pit and bury it all. Then the man with the posts comes in and sets them and the rails, all 91 metres of them. Then Fergus comes back to put up the wire and make it secure.

Who’s been jumping on my bin then?

We have always said we share our home with a lot of other creatures and we don’t want to cut off their access, just keep out occasional intruders and dogs. Fergus will be constructing small mammal doors in the fence, situated next to the little tracks running from the boundary, to make sure they can still get in and out. We hope this will be done in the next few weeks – fingers crossed! Mind you, something has its own way in. I found muddy paw prints on the lid of the compost bin. It could be a pine marten or perhaps a feral cat. I’m not keen on pine martens – vicious little beasts – but they do hunt rats. So the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

There was a bit of a problem with the water last week (no surprise there). It was getting very hard again and when I checked the water softener I found it unplugged. This could be a disaster for our appliances, not to mention our lovely new boiler. I ran another test on the water and found it was an eye-watering 410 ppm. 180, you may recall, is considered exceptionally hard. I couldn’t get the softener to work for several days and it looked as if some of our much-needed fence money would go on a new one. Then I remembered my father’s ultimate remedy – jiggle the wires and give it a kick. Thanks Dad!

Spring in Betsy’s Garden

As well as all the birds singing around us we have flowers springing up all over. The daffodils have pretty much been and gone already but some later bulbs are now coming through. We are hoping for irises but may have to wait a year for them. The little garden we planted for Betsy, a beloved friend’s dog, has sprung into life. Much to my surprise the chrysanthemums we put in last summer have survived and are flourishing. They’ve always died on me before. The aubrieta has spread and we will be adding more of them, and the little pansies are already flowering. In the lane we have daisies, dandelions, primrose and the first gorse blooms. Lots of yellow this early on!

So here we are, our second spring in the house and feeling well enough to enjoy it. I realised yesterday it is a year since my first “Tipperary” blog. Now there are 48 episodes – not bad as I only intended to write 12. Jacqui rolled her eyes and pointed out I’m a typical dyslexic over achiever – 48 episodes, not to mention 5 books in a trilogy. And we had 4 of our 2 dogs until recently. Though I can blame the dogs partly on Jacqui… And wouldn’t be without them.

After the bleakness of winter when everything is grey and mud coloured it is lovely to see spring is on the march here again.

A bit of a rough week overall

It’s been a bit of a rough few weeks here overall. Some of it was good with progress on several fronts but, as with life in general, some was not so encouraging. We finally got the hospital appointments for Jacqui, after changes to times, changes to dates and cancellations. The first, last Monday, was for an ECHO (Echocardiogram) and this was good news. Her heart is fine, not damaged and working well. We were quite relieved by this as we’ve been working hard to make sure she is strong enough for surgery if necessary.

Wednesday was supposed to be the appointment with the cardiology professor but again it promised much and delivered nothing. We got a registrar again – thankfully a different one from last time. We probably wouldn’t have stayed otherwise. It was one of the staff who had worked so valiantly when she had the “episode” in hospital so that looked hopeful but alas he reverted to type. It is almost impossible to actually talk to most doctors let alone have a proper conversation. There are some exceptions of course and we are so fortunate to have one as our GP. He is ace! Just the sort you want. Generally however they sit behind a desk delivering “the message” with all the grace and empathy of a machine gun. The message in this case was “You’re stable so go home and keep taking the tablets”. No further intervention unless there’s an emergency.

The Bird Sanctuary
Two of a number of shells

That left us rather down, understandably. We are looking at different options and considering what we can do to improve matters. Short of our own attempts at surgery on the kitchen table of course. It made for a rather subdued St Patrick’s Day for us, enlivened only by a local dip-stick driving a digger down the road and firing about 10 shots into the bird sanctuary just over the road. I suspect he was a bit inebriated – it was 3.30 and his face was bright red. He also left evidence – the shotgun shells, probably complete with fingerprints – scattered in the hedge. Not the actions of a thoughtful person I would say. Life is certainly different here. We did get some interesting green-iced cakes for the 17th so didn’t ignore it completely, even though they look a bit like “Fungus the Bogey Man” treats.

A bit battered but still serviceable.

On the plus side we have got a rather battered but serviceable tractor type mower. With my floppy arms and Jacqui’s health we will struggle to keep the grass and brambles down again, especially in the wood. If we can’t keep up then all the gains from the last year will be lost so now I need to learn to drive a mini tractor. I have done it once before, when working at Brean Sands holiday park, but that was 35 years ago. Still, we will start in the wood and I’ve downloaded the manual so what could possibly go wrong?

The solar system is switched out now but like most things here it’s not finished yet. Tom, the pump man, was supposed to be here to move the pressure vessel/pump and pipes on the same day. Through no fault of his own he couldn’t get here so will have to come another day. We do have water but it is not properly set up yet. And now the solar panel man who is the electrician for the system says he’s completed his job and won’t be coming back. We have a lot of almost finished jobs all around the house, many of them stopping us from completing the unpacking and actually using some rooms.

There seem to be far more “specialists” in Ireland. Plumbers won’t work outdoors, that’s for drain men who won’t touch anything vaguely indoors. Builders don’t plaster or paint – or lay floors. There are indoors and outdoor electricians. With the shortage of labour at the moment this means everything takes weeks to arrange, in tiny steps.

The silent bird deterrent

On the plus side I think we have solved the problem of the bird bashing at the window. We cut some pieces from a couple of plastic bottles and attached them to the fence and got a rather extravagant windmill. It’s supposed to stick in the garden but Jacqui mounted it on an old piece of scaffolding board. The bird returned, made one half-hearted lunge for the glass, hovered like a hummingbird for a few seconds and flew away in disgust. Thank you Lesley for your excellent advice!

To cap off the rough few weeks however, the rats are on the march again. I spotted one gobbling up the contents of the bird table and chased it off on Thursday. On examination I saw several new holes at the base of the wall, below the lawn level. Recalling my previous attempts, I applied expanding foam with some caution. This type is horribly sticky and I got a small amount on my fingers where it began to act like super glue. Water, washing up liquid and various soaps were all useless. I finally resorted to a pan scourer, removing several layers of skin along with the smears of foam. Should have read the label and worn gloves!

The “Impossible” Puzzle!

So there we are. A bit of a rough few weeks but we still move on – and spring is definitely peeking round the corner. And I have finished the “impossible” jigsaw.