The unexpected and EPIC trip to Dublin

Sometimes I sit down to write this blog and I find I’m struggling to find anything interesting to say. Not so this week – I think I’ve got too much to write. It was looking like a fairly normal week when my friend Jon Moore, a specialist make up expert in films, tv and theatre, contacted me to ask if I’d like to meet him in Dublin. He was working on the Brian Butterfield tour and offered to add me to the guest list. I’d never been to Dublin and Jacqui would have to stay behind to look after the dogs – holding the fort we call it. Worried I would bottle out if I hesitated I found trains, somewhere to stay that left a bit in my bank account and accepted. I was off to Dublin!

Our nearest station is Nenagh and they do run trains to Dublin but only one a day, at an ungodly hour, is direct. All the others go into Limerick, change for Limerick Junction then change again for Dublin. As Nenagh’s station is, to be frank, a total wasteland I had to scurry around Limerick Colbert Station to print off my ticket. Thanks to a very helpful conductor I managed it and got the connection to Limerick Junction. This is one of the coldest and bleakest stations I’ve ever experienced. There’s no shelter bar the roof and mean little squalls blow across the platforms as passengers huddle behind the pillars. Swifts were flying through it shouting loudly, presumably mocking our travel choices.

The Dublin train was a welcome sight. The last leg was much more comfortable with a reserved seat and – the height of luxury – a trolley service. Though this had 27 types of fizzy drink, many sorts of crisps and mountains of chocolate but no sandwiches to speak of. On Jacqui’s suggestion I’d made my own so I curled up in my corner and munched happily. There was even a trickle of heat from the vents at the side of the carriage.

After more than three years in the rural midlands, Dublin was a bit of a shock at first. One crucial difference to the UK is there is nothing resembling an A to Z of the city. It has many buses, a tram network and they are almost unusable for a stranger as all stops refer to unknown streets. I knew the address of my B&B so hailed one of the many, many taxis hovering around. The B&B was very nice – a bit old and worn, like me now, but welcoming and beautifully clean. David, at the desk, was typically welcoming and they had a tourist map available for all guests. I hoped this, combined with Google maps, would help me find my way around. How wrong I was.

RTE1 had just run three programmes on O’Connell Street, which was very close to my B&B, so I had a vague idea of where to go. In the centre of the street is the Spire – 120 metres high, shiny steel and visible from a long way away. It became my lifeline as I struggled to navigate the city. I made it to the Forbidden Planet bookshop fairly easily. I’d arranged to meet Jon there as Peter Serafinowicz, the star of the “Brian Butterfield” show, was signing books. Although it is 30 years since we last met we recognized one another at once and it was as if we’d never had such a gap. I got my book signed and the selfie taken. Peter Serafinowicz was lovely and I can heartily recommend the book, “There’s no business like…business”.

Cities – and especially Dublin – are for younger, fitter people than I am now. I went back to my B&B for a little rest, then wandered down the side streets to get some dinner. The side streets were a mistake, I was immediately horribly lost and I resorted to Google to guide me to the venue. This was an even bigger mistake as the stupid AI sent me to the wrong place – almost 3 km down the quayside and into another maze-like district that was not on my map. After a futile search I limped to a taxi stand where a driver took me along the quay to the area I needed – then wove through another maze and dropped me off back at the wrong theatre again.

I was almost in tears – I’d missed the start of the show, I was so stiff from the endless cobbles and hills I could hardly walk and I didn’t dare risk another taxi. Some lovely people outside a pub directed me to a bus that would take me back and after a short ride I finally arrived at the venue. Here the theatre staff were all kindness itself, taking me up to the bar, seating me on a sofa and getting me a drink. I chose a large orange squash with ice – I know how to party.

I caught the second half of the show, which was wonderful. Jon, despite being so busy, came out to see me again and we said our good-byes, promising to get together sooner next time. I am lucky to have had such clever, talented and thoughtful students over my years at the Art College. I hope some of them read this and know I think of them often, generally in a positive way.

The next day I was horribly stiff and sore but I had really wanted to go to EPIC, the Irish Emigration museum. Voted one of the top 5 museums in the world, it certainly lives up to its reputation. Despite struggling to walk without staggering I went in and – well, this has already been quite a long episode so I will save the EPIC for next time. Watch this space – it won’t disappoint.
Neither did Dublin.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back in two weeks.


Very little has happened and it’s very tiring

This last few weeks have been very tiring though it seems very little has happened. We had a few lovely sunny days when the countryside was glorious and the birds shouted their appreciation. The dogs demanded the back door be kept open so they could wander in and out at will. Jacqui had a good run at the new area for the greenhouse polytunnel and the raised bed. I managed two good mowings, the first of which was by hand on the top in the orchard. The grass was only sown in March but is already strong and flourishing. One more cut with the lighter mower and I hope to be able to use the sit on machine. Much easier on the shoulders.

Half cut orchard
Tiny little Victoria plums

Everything is bedding in nicely and I was amazed to see tiny plums emerging on the Victoria Plum tree. We didn’t expect anything but a smattering of blossom this first year but several other trees and the raspberry canes are looking good too. It was so hot for a couple of days we had to water the trees in the wood and orchard. As the wood trees are in deep holes cut through the stony layers they are especially vulnerable before they get properly rooted. I am being vigilant and watching for any sign of wilting out there.

The rain came back with a vengeance last week so work outside was suspended. Jacqui had ordered the untreated timber for the raised bed and it was delivered just as the heavens opened again. We are very grateful for the new lean-to as the timber came in 16-foot lengths. We have been able to keep it under cover ready for cutting and setting in the next weeks. This should give us a bed of decent height for – ooh, asparagus! We had an allotment in Bridgwater about 35 years ago and were almost ready to harvest our first asparagus when we had to move. We’ve been waiting a long, long time for another try. The base of the bed is now ready with layers of cardboard and a thick bed of straw, which was abandoned and scattered around us. No gifts refused!

Cynthia being nursed

Much of the last 10 days have been taken up with nursing one of our dogs. Cynthia, the middle dog – daughter and mother – had a very nasty tummy on and off for some time. Tests showed no cause, nor did an ultrasound. Then Jacqui woke early one morning to find her frozen, staring and almost catatonic. A trip to the emergency vet (our own practice but on 24 hr call) helped her a little. Then we had another ultrasound later in the week. Louise, our regular vet, diagnosed a bad neck/back strain and we came away with 3 types of painkillers, antibiotics for the stomach and Valium to keep her calm if necessary.

The poisoned dinner

She refused to even touch the powdered pills in her food, preferring to starve rather than be poisoned. She actually picked through the bowl, lifting out bits of scrambled egg and dropping them on the floor neatly. We resorted to a syringe of mixed liquid painkiller and pills whilst wrapping her neck in a towel to limit mobility that could make her neck worse. She’s recovering now and shows much more of her old self. The bad stomach remains a mystery however. As the land is still waterlogged but a huge amount of slurry spreading is still going on, we were worried about water pollution. The samples came back negative for e-coli but I’m exploring more testing options. We didn’t need the Valium for her though I was tempted to have a couple myself on occasions. Jacqui says I’d have to fight her for them but I know where they are!

We were very lucky to get our plumber back after such a busy season for him. The rain has caused a lot of problems and he’s been overloaded with work but found a couple of days for us. Now we have an updated bathroom with a toilet that doesn’t wobble around and a new heated towel rail that’s not hanging off the wall. We also have a new kitchen tap that runs at a constant temperature and doesn’t turn off at a whim. Luxury.

All excited – last year

This has been the season for the Tour of Italy – the Giro. I love the cycling and it is a good space to crack on and get a lot of the ironing done as I watch on the TV. This year however I’ve almost lost interest. There’s been little real competition for the win as one rider has mopped up almost a third of the stages. It comes to something when the sprint stages are the most interesting. I hope the Tour de France is better but as this “unbelievable” (quoted from the commentators) superman will be riding I rather doubt it.

Even the snails hide from the rain

Well, looking back, I guess quite a lot has happened so it’s not surprising we are so tired. I thought retirement was supposed to be a chance to rest and enjoy different things. We are certainly doing different things and learning new things. There’s always something that needs our attention or is ready for the next stage. I guess that’s really just life and we are lucky to spend it here. The trees, the land, the birds and wildlife are a daily delight.

Hoping for fine weather for all and a happy bank holiday for my UK readers.
Thank you for reading. See you in a couple of weeks.

And the rain it rains every day

Yes, it’s still raining, every day, here in Ireland. I see from the news it’s raining every day in the UK too. I’ve seen some bad years for inclement weather over the years (quite a lot of years – it astounds me just how many) but nothing like this. Some people have blamed El Nino which is a regular occurrence, but much more pronounced over the past year. There are worrying signs of climate change as the Earth’s temperature continues to rise. And a good friend reported a comment by a local farmer in England. According to him, there were two full moons in July 2023. Whenever this happens it will rain for the next twelve months. Well, we are almost there now.

Apart from being really rather gloomy this has had quite an impact on everyday life in our little corner of Ireland. Our house is at the top of a hill but just below the brow. This is good as we have some shelter from the worst of the storm winds. Generally they come in from the south west, off the Atlantic and whistle down the road but go over the top of the house. It is not so good however when there is very heavy rain. The field out to the south drops down to our boundary and there can be a lot of run-off. This flows over our land and works its way into the Majestic.

When Donal cleared the land for the small orchard he made an earth barrier along the boundary and this has reduced the amount of water considerably. Thank you Donal! And thank you for the wonderful work you’ve done on what was overgrown wasteland. One good thing about the rain, especially as there are now some brighter spells, is that the trees are already growing. They all have leaves or buds and a couple have a dusting of blossom, despite the high winds. The newly sown grass has sprung up in the last week and the whole area is transformed. It makes us smile every time we look at it and neighbours walking or driving past have also commented favourably.

One of the best ways to help dry out waterlogged land is by tree planting. It’s rather long term but more of a permanent solution so we are already planning the next round for the wood. Just like the orchard, the new trees are already starting to grow and one of the flowering cherries has some sparse but lovely blossom. Next year we hope there will be a real show of colour to herald the coming of spring.

Much to our surprise, the road menders arrived a few weeks ago and did a very decent job of repairing the four major holes on the road. We can now actually drive along there without risking our tyres, though the downside is they dumped the damaged tarmac in the pond opposite and threw some over our side boundary. There has been a massive increase in road damage over the winter – the local paper led with the headline “Thousands of potholes on our roads”,and it’s not much of an exaggeration. Sometimes it’s like being in a particularly difficult video game, with one of us driving and the other acting as a spotter. A trip to the shops now sounds like, “Hole left…bad bit right…mind the middle…holes left, about four…” It makes journeys interesting if a bit tiring.

Not content with all the progress with the trees, we have a mini-mini digger coming next week. This is only one ton but is small enough to drive (very carefully) round the side to get at the patch next to the back wall. Some time ago we bought a polytunnel greenhouse and we hope to clear the brambles and bushes from this area, set it up and use some of the remaining blocks to build a raised bed just outside the door. We will probably be reliant on raised beds for a lot of plants as the ground is extremely stony. We were shocked when Donal, digging in the wood area, reported hitting rock just a spade depth down. In the end he used a digger, made deep, wide holes filled with earth and planted the trees that way.

The lack of any soil deeper than about eight inches would explain why so many young trees were dying when we arrived. Yes, there’s considerable ash die back but the poor things didn’t stand much of a chance with no space to put down roots. We puzzled over the size and depth of the rock, which comprises tightly packed stones of various sizes. Then we had a chat with a neighbour from just up the hill. She is also having problems finding anywhere to plant as the stones and rocks are only six inches below her soil line. Apparently a lot of this hill was used as a quarry a long time ago and much of this could be abandoned spoil. Well, we have wonderful soil in the top area as years of leaf mould, scrub die back and the fallen trees have rotted down to form rich, deep earth for planting.

The rain has played havoc with our wood store as the high winds brought the tarps down months ago and we have been trying to pull them over and weigh them down ever since. It’s not all bad however. Quite a lot of the wlogs have shed their bark which will make a wonderful mulch. Maybe in a few years we will have lovely rich soil in the wood too. We are hoping Bill, the excellent fence man, will come to repair it and construct a lean-to shelter ready for next winter, when once more, the rain will rain every day.

Thank you for reading. Here’s to a decent spring and – let us whisper it – even some summer this year.

Is it spring yet? Oh, I hope so!

Like most of you, we’ve found this last winter a bit wearing. It’s not been too cold here – nothing like last year when the whole water system froze solid for a week. But it has been stormy, costing us five trees damaged or down in the wood. This is apart from the one damaged by a neighbour whilst taking a heavy hand to his own trees. And it has been wet! Rain, followed by more rain. Then fog and fine drizzle (“mizzle” in north-east parlance), with some heavy rain interspersed with showers. As a result we are surrounded by a sea of mud. Except for the overflowing pond of course. How we are longing for spring!

We’ve been watching this anxiously for several reasons. Firstly the damage to local infrastructure, especially the roads, is considerable. Most roads, small rural winding ones and supposedly main highways, are pitted with holes. The ground is saturated and the water runs off the surrounding land with nowhere to go except across the surface. Our little road, nicely resurfaced just over a year ago, is virtually impassable at one end now.

The loss of trees and undergrowth allowed water to sweep away a lot of the top layer and the heavy farm machinery has ripped large and deep holes in places. There are several areas where only a tractor can pass safely as the damage stretches over most of the road. Apparently it took over twenty years to get this half of the road repaired (the other half was not done but is in better shape now). I have little hope we will get any help with this given the desperate state of many other areas. We have one way in and out and drive very, very carefully at the moment.

Our other concern was getting some more trees planted in time. Apparently its okay to plant up to the end of March but once spring comes new saplings will struggle. With everything waterlogged we were not sure we’d be able to benefit from the clearing done in a dry few days last month. Still, you have to take a leap of faith sometimes so when Fergus our lovely tree man introduced us to Donal, a nurseryman, we decided to forge ahead. It took a bit of driving around to find the nursery but it was certainly worth it and we selected seven trees and some raspberry canes to start our new orchard. We were not willing to spray weed killer over the land, standard practise it seems. Instead Donal will return and rotavate round the trees before sowing “domestic” grass. Then it’s down to us to keep it trimmed.

March 1st is the official start of spring and the weather decided to celebrate this fact by giving us our first snow for a year. We were a bit worried about the baby trees but they’ve been raised outside and are just fine. We celebrated the arrival of spring by lighting the fire in the snug and staying in. I had a beautiful jigsaw for Christmas, the “Rainbow of Birds”, which kept me happily amused for several weeks.

I had some great news last week. The Northern Tibetan Spaniel Club are running a stand at Crufts this year and Scot Lemon asked if he could sell my book, “Puppy Brain”. Of course I said “Yes please!” I can’t sign them, obviously, but each copy comes with a signed picture (two of the dogs, not me) and a bookmark. If you are around on Thursday do drop in. There are some great items on sale and Scot is a fountain of knowledge for this lovely if tricky breed.

Finally I have a request to make. For a number of years I have worked with the remarkable Alex Lewczuk on a number of broadcasts both in Teesside and for Siren FM in Lincoln. The university hold the FM license and have decided to cancel it, effectively closing a valued educational resource and a popular community radio station. If you can would you add your name to the petition to save Siren Radio? It costs nothing and would be very much appreciated.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you all again in a couple of weeks.
Keep warm, drive safely and here’s to spring!

To the wood, to the wood!

Despite the continuing atrocious weather a lot of these last few weeks have been spent outdoors. Firstly, we needed to do something about the wood pile. It’s a blessing in these cold winter months but it needs careful handling. Originally almost ten feet high and about six feet deep, we’ve burrowed into it for the past few years. Finally the big blue tarp slid off and the rain – oh so much rain – got in. A lot of the wood was soaked and a surprising amount began to sprout a range of fungi. As our stove is in urgent need of a service, this made lighting the fire increasingly difficult.

After several failed experiments we finally managed to haul the cover back up onto a large area and fastened it over the side wall. Not perfect but an improvement. We are hoping to get a proper lean-to built in the spring ready for the fresh wood from the fallen trees. In the meantime we play “wood Jenga” several times a week, using a rake to dislodge logs without bringing the whole lot down on us. Well, it adds some excitement to the winter days.

I’ve come to the conclusion woodmen are like buses. You wait a year for one and then three come along all at once. The redoubtable Fergus arrived last month to make the road margins and back of the wood safe, producing a huge pile of timber to be split and stored in the autumn. He also gave some good advice about tree nurseries and the planting we have in mind, but this depends on clearing more of the land. As usual, finding someone to do the job has been difficult, especially as a lot of it is close to being waterlogged. Well, let’s be honest, much of it is waterlogged. There’s also the problem of access to the bit at the rear with no easy way to get a digger up there.

I decided to try John, the man who cleared some of the wood for us in the first year. He also set up the impressive stone “monument” in the wood. Well, he’s down there now, clearing the centre ready for a new planting of colourful trees in the next few weeks. He also carved out and gravelled a ramp to the back so now a mini (1.5 ton!) digger and the mower can travel up safely. He’s coming back in the summer to work on our pond, something that is now much more urgent following all the rain.

After the brutal “trimming” of the land over the road there was nothing to stop the opposite pond overflowing and it has flooded across the road. A lot of excess water is now trapped and turning stagnant on our border and our little pond is flowing back over part of our wood. This has serious consequences for the infrastructure as, much to our surprise, the cable layers for the broadband network turned up to lay the fibre connections. This is a national roll-out and we were told it would be soon – in 2025.

Alas, it is not possible to lay the cables due to the water and so they left again. The very helpful Alan Mead suggested they would maybe put up poles in the future. We are still without a landline and rely on our patchy mobile signals which is not very reassuring in the case of emergencies. We must wait and see.

Fergus also managed to put us in touch with Donal who will clear the back and plant a small orchard of mixed fruit trees for us. We will be going to the nursery later this week to talk to an expert and select our trees, which Donal will collect for us. There was apparently an orchard there before but it was gone by the time we moved in. Now the land has lain fallow for some years and should be ready for replanting. There has been some water ingress in the Majestic again, flowing down the slope from the neighbouring fields. Donal will use the excess soil to build a ramp across the back which should reduce, if not remove, this problem.

We are not expecting to get much of the fruit from our trees, especially in the early years. I expect the birds will have quite a lot, though we are putting in a crab apple just for them. The trees will also encourage and feed bees and if we add a nut tree we may even get some squirrels.

So the wood is much lighter now and when we add the new trees will look a lot less bare. Happily there’s some expert advice on hand to make sure we raise happy, healthy trees with space to grow and flourish. I know we will probably not be around to see it all in its glory but others will enjoy them. And the wildlife in the wood will always have a good amount of food, undergrowth and shelter through the years as we will leave a fair proportion of it semi-wild. It’s a very small area but every tree matters and we are determined to make it a vibrant and living space.

Thank you for reading. Here’s to the end of winter and a brighter spring for us all.

I hope to see you in two weeks time.

Memories are made of fish (and other things)

This last week we passed four years since the UK officially exited the EU and like many people our lives were never going to be the same again. Unlike a lot of people, we took a rather more drastic turn, leaving our home of almost forty years behind us. There have been a lot of changes in our lives. The seemingly endless struggle with the infrastructure, for example. The weather, which is generally milder but certainly wetter than England. Many things are more expensive in Ireland though lots, especially the food, are of a better quality than in the UK. On the plus side we have space, off-road parking and an abundance of birds plants and wildlife.

So where does the fish come in? We were surprised to find the fish over here is simply stupendous. We have a “local” fishmonger who can produce a full side of salmon caught only a few days ago. All his produce is excellent and caught off the West Coast. It also comes with a generous handful of samphire grass, added gratis by Mr Daly who also has (amongst others) excellent cod, mussels and mackerel and makes very good fish cakes. Last week we indulged in some sea bass, a fish we know well from our travels in the past, and it brought back memories of the last time we were in Greece. As we don’t fly, the journey was part of the holiday and we set off on the tiny local train from Saltburn, heading for the Ionian Islands, at stupid-o’clock in the morning. The excellent rail service got us to Lausanne for the night and then on to Ancona where we were catching the ferry to Patras.

Italian trains are very fast and very comfortable – if you travel first class. This is not something we do normally but earlier experiences led us to this extravagance. Second class carriages are crowded and even reserving (and paying for) a seat means nothing to many passengers. I swear the corridors are awash with nuns, all dragging babies and children with them – orphan “bambinis” – and the refusal to give up your place leads to much pushing and angry muttering from those around. The nuns try but rarely succeed in their attempts to infiltrate first class and it is possible to sit quietly and admire the scenery. Every hour or so a steward comes round and places something on the table – a bottle of water, some biscuits, a newspaper, in Italian of course.

We caught our ferry the next day after a riotous evening in Ancona that would fill another blog on its own. We finally arrived on Kefalonia, at the wrong end of the island for our accommodation. There were no taxis. We were saved from a very long and hot walk by the fabulous Batistatou Sisters. I know they sound like a dodgy singing group but they have a car rental business on the dock and dug up a Fiat 650 convertible for us. We called her Penelope and despite her size she coped admirably with the roads and hills of the island. She even took us to Zakynthos on the local ferry so we could visit old friends there.

There was a lot about parts of Kefalonia we didn’t like, especially our first room in Skala. I cannot recommend Skala in any way at all. It was overhyped, dirty, crowded and noisy yet managed to have nothing to do. On returning from Zakynthos we moved up the coast to the Green Bay Bungalows (not bungalows but much nicer then Skala!) and explored the top end of the island. Here we had lunch one day, seated on a walkway across the water. Shoals of fish flitted through the water below us including sea bass. The freshest, most beautiful sea bass I’ve ever tasted.

Our sea bass came from a company in Galway, discovered by Jacqui and now a mainstay in our shopping. Every Tuesday their web site, “Eat more Fish” lists what’s available for delivery on Thursday or Friday. Along with sea bass and bream we’ve had monkfish, cod, line-caught squid, oysters, smoked roe, kippers and even lobsters for a special occasion. Everything is packed in ice and driven to the door, still frozen. There are some problems with deliveries up here but this is one company that has never let us down. We always have a selection of fish in the freezer and it is always stunningly good.

The sea bass evoked happy memories of our Greek trip and also visits to Bern in Switzerland. Here we sat by the Aare river at the “Schwellenmatteli” and watched them pull our lunch out – fresh perch from the glacial waters. We have done some epic journeys over the years and are fortunate to have those memories to share. We’re probably not up to the 1,000 kilometre drives any more, nor the rigours of some of the places we’ve stayed (Mme Cockroach anyone? The beds that tried to eat us at the Golden Lion?) Despite this the knowledge and the images stay with us, and the food still evokes many smiles.

This year we plan to explore a bit more of our new home, starting with the area of Cork where my Irish ancestors came from. Jacqui has found a place by the sea that will accept our three dogs and we are really looking forward to it. It’s a chance to see something new, maybe meet new people and rest a bit too. So here’s to fish – and happy memories.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back in a couple of weeks.

Well, some upgrades are good, if annoying

In this networked and computer driven society one of the most annoying thing is the compulsory upgrade. After years of using IT, way back to the dial-up days, I have always been of the opinion that if something needs constant upgrading it doesn’t work properly anyway. This rather rough rule of thumb applies to many things in life, I’ve found. Upgrade your car to something bigger and more flashy! Get a new phone too. It’s a new season so don’t wear old clothes, upgrade your whole wardrobe. Well, new and upgraded often doesn’t mean better, just more complicated (and expensive). Especially where computers are concerned.

I’ve been nursing several older desktop PCs that run Windows 7 for a number of years. Now the last one is finally about to die, hence the lack of a blog last week. Part of my problem is software. As I am dyslexic and dyspraxic it takes me a long time to master a program. I am still using Word 97 for my books (I can hear you laughing from here) and newer Windows systems run much newer versions. I find them so confusing I can barely string a sentence together. They have too many menus, everything is muddled up and the functions I rely on are hidden away – or “improved” to the point they are not of any use any more. I was wondering if I’d be able to write anything ever again. Then help came from an unexpected quarter.

After several weeks of delays I finally went back to the opticians to collect my new glasses. A friendly assistant recognized me (“You’re the writer lady!”) and we had a chat about computers. I am still wary of the many “repair and refurbish” shops around town after the total destruction of Jacqui’s desktop and the wiping of my hard drives by another “expert”. James offered a personal recommendation and on Saturday we set off to find Vassilly’s shop. He was everything we’d been promised – helpful, attentive and, with a minimum of mansplaining, I left the shop with a refurbished laptop. It has the dreaded Windows 10, of course, but I have disabled the worst features (Cortana, I’m talking about you). I also have a book coming that will help me wrestle it into submission. I shall keep you posted.

Clean water at last!
One upgrade that is not at all bad in the water system. We finally were booked in and a technician arrived a couple of weeks ago to install and make good the whole lot. We now have a new softener, UV light filter, a carbon trap, two particle filters and a reverse osmosis system. The shed now looks a bit like the bridge of the starship “Enterprise” at night with the array of lights, all water or solar based. The reverse osmosis system is annoying but vital as it removes the excess nitrates. It fits – just – under the sink and dispenses drinking water from a tiny new tap. It also takes up the whole of the cupboard so we are now looking for more storage space. Not a bad upgrade but definitely annoying, especially as it cost a great deal.

Enter the Wildlife
As winter approaches the rampant undergrowth is dying back again and we are getting more sightings on the trail cameras. Mabel, the little tuxedo cat, is convinced she owns the wood and the garden though I notice she is absent when possible rivals appear. A second cat, a tabby this time, has been enjoying the facilities too. We have no objections to this as it will keep away any rats. We did have a rat caught on camera last week so, hey, the more cats the better I think. After the reckless destruction of the trees and habitat across the road we were very worried for our pine marten. It was a happy moment when I saw him in the wood again looking healthy and suitably predatory.

There’s a lot of wildlife around at present, some a bit closer to home than we’d like. I was woken by some loud scrabbling in the skirting boards a few weeks ago, a rather alarming event. Investigation tracked the source to the boiler cupboard where some field mice obviously hoped to make a warm home for the winter. I will not use poisons in the house or grounds as they are a danger to all animals and birds so I have several highly effective traps. So far we’ve caught one live mouse I released without injury onto the verges outside. Since then we’ve had at least one dead mouse a day too. As they’re not poisoned I put them into the wood for larger animals. I don’t like killing anything but we can’t have mice running round the house and at least they help feed others. We are checking around the back for mice-sized holes to make sure there’s not a second wave.

Annoying Cynthia
Our soakaway continues to be a good upgrade if still rather annoying. It’s messy around the edges and we will probably get bricks or tiles in the spring to neaten it up. One of the dogs, Cynthia, objects to the gravel, picking her way across it like a duchess in a cesspit. This is despite the nice, smooth paving slabs laid across it to make a bridge for her sensitive little paws. The other two don’t care and trot over it happily to reach the grass. And it does do its job with no more flooding now Robbie has fixed the gutters so well.

Well, I will be spending the next week or so taming my new tech and working in the wood to get it smoothed out and more ordered. It has been very wet and quite stormy here though it’s not as cold as the North East coast. We are sheltered from the worst of the winds a lot of the time too and there’s been little flooding near us. I think we’ve been rather lucky, looking at the damage done in other parts of the country and the UK.

So, thank you for your patience and I will be back in a couple of weeks when we should be mouse free.
By the way, if anyone’s looking for a little Christmas present, let me just say “Puppy Brain” is currently on sale at Amazon, half price. And with my new, hopefully reliable, upgraded tech I will be venturing into second book territory very soon.

Thank you for reading and keep safe.

It’s a bit slow going at the moment

Well, it looks as if autumn is here despite the almost total lack of summer this year.  We had some fine days though these seemed to coincide with doctor or other unmovable appointments, of course.  Still, we are making some progress though it seems a bit slow going at the moment.  Some of this is the weather – can’t do much outside in the pouring rain.  Some is down to lack of workmen.  There are a number of specialist jobs still outstanding and we can’t always find anyone able or willing to do them.  Sometimes it’s just the system – and people not listening when we say just get on with it!

Our big problem at the moment is the well water.  The excesses of the “summer” mean the water table is high – only 6 feet deep according to professional measurements.  The same day I was merrily writing the last episode there was a lavish application of what smelt like pig slurry in the nearby fields.  Two hours later the heavens opened and it poured for several days.  The next morning our water was yellow.  We took samples and rushed them to the lab and began to use only bottled water for drinking and cooking.  The first results confirmed our cautious approach showing a high level of e-coli. 

We are still waiting for the chemical analysis but are trying to get a full system installed.  Like everything else, it’s a bit slow going at present.  Regardless of the recent analysis we want every possible precaution in place.  After all, we have already had high nitrates in the water and the limescale is off the charts.  Living in a rural area, readings change from one day to the next.  We want to safeguard our water, and do it now.  This however is proving difficult. 

The company we want to use won’t come out or discuss options until all the analysis is in.  It’s a bit like trying to get past our previous doctor’s receptionist.  She won’t (or can’t) answer the questions we have and won’t put us through to someone who can.  First we have to jump through her particular hoops.  We don’t care what the report says, we want everything so this never happens again.  Not so much a bit slow going, more a total impasse.  Meanwhile we are struggling on with bottled water. 

The strange weather patterns seem to have disrupted some of the wildlife.  The geese, for example, are either totally absent or arriving in much larger numbers.  We had a plague of flies in the hot spell and then nothing for several weeks.  Clearing off a windowsill out the back I discovered a strange insect dead in one of the jugs.  It was a fair size, about 3 centimetres, with wings, a hard casing and serrated underside.  Anyone know what it might be?

Jacqui has been working on the Majestic, to make it a usable workshop and also to make room for the new water system when it finally arrives.  It’s been a lot slower than we hoped, for health reasons as well as problems finding reliable workmen for the heavy stuff.  This week she finished the first movable workbench and we can start clearing the centre.  There will be a lot of space with the shelves she’s put up using the roof battens as recycled material and it will be ready for wiring soon. Exciting times!

She also unpacked the metal shelf unit she’d ordered – but this isn’t what she ordered at all.  Alas, it arrived months ago so we are stuck with it.  The frame is flimsy aluminium and it falls apart when stood up so she’s bending the fittings to lock them in.  The instructions are just pictures and so badly illustrated they make little sense.  I hate the picture leaflets – I can’t understand them at all, probably as I’m dyspraxic.  These are so useless they don’t even list the number of parts and the only written section is about using cut-proof gloves.  This, I feel, demonstrates their manufacturing values – rough edges included in the price.

We have a sort of routine now.  Even if we are working in different places we meet for coffee in the middle of the day.  We’ve taken to choosing a TV series and having one episode a day and have gone through a number of favourites, old and new.  Just recently the ever helpful sky box suggested “Schitts Creek” so we tried one episode out of curiosity.  It is a delight!  For once the sky box got it right and we are enjoying it more as the series goes on.  I saw the adverts when it was first broadcast and thought, “Ugh, you’re joking!”  Well, I was totally wrong.

One trip into town this week was to the optician for me.  My glasses get a hard time and I knew I probably needed a new prescription.  I was right and now I should wear glasses when driving, which I was expecting and do anyway.  The visit was very enjoyable, much to my surprise, and my eyes are healthy.  I did the hearing test too whilst waiting for all the forms to be filled in.  It seems my hearing is also very good, especially considering my age.  I can hear almost up to bats squeaking and I put that down to rarely going to live music unless it features an orchestra.  After once trying a rock concert I had to leave after half an hour.  I was a wimp when young but I’m feeling the benefit now.

One of the assistants recognised me as “the writer lady” and asked about some books.  Several others joined in and I handed out bookmarks and talked a bit about the books, both Alex Hastings and Puppy Brain.  It was nice to talk about writing and to find people were still interested in the books.  We also got a message from a friend from the UK.  She sent a screenshot of “The Moth Man” on holiday.  She wanted to know if there were any more and immediately went on line to get a copy of “Smoke and Adders”.  That was a lovely moment.

So, it’s a bit slow going at the moment but we are still moving on.  It rains a lot but the spectacular skies are wonderful this time of year.  And just occasionally there’s a rainbow.

Thank you for reading, take care and I hope to see you again in a few weeks.

Love our home but hate the infrastructure

Pondering over the last month or so over last night’s dinner we both agreed we love our home.  When we were first considering the move we had a short list of what we would like.  A very short list actually.  We wanted off road parking, one of the growing problems in Saltburn.  In fact it had become a bit of a nightmare with the flood of visitors, not just at weekends but every day.  The other thing we really wanted was a bit of garden, mainly for the dogs.  We had a little yard, less than 12 feet square, so whatever the weather we were out with them, several times a day.  Combine the parking problem with the rising crowds and it was not always a nice place to be, for us or the dogs.  So, a very short list, and we got both our wishes.

Being a good distance from the nearest town we have no problem with other cars (though there are occasional tractors driving very fast).  The front is gravelled and big enough for several cars, work vans and even, on one memorable occasion, a road stripping machine.  We have a decent sized garden too though it’s been dug up and churned over a bit recently.  Jacqui has it in hand however and is already planning how to make it a comfortable and restful space.  We also have rather more land than we bargained for, with the back area and, of course, the wood.  Both are somewhat challenging as they’ve been fallow (read overgrown) for some years.  Still with the help of friends and occasional mechanical intervention we are moving on.  A lot of work is needed to consolidate what’s been achieved but the more we do the easier it becomes.

One aspect of our almost-idyllic rural life is, however, the almost complete lack of infrastructure.  A sizable chunk of the back garden is taken up by the gas tank (no mains here) and solar panels.  We will hopefully be adding more later on as the mains is still extremely unreliable.  We got the wiring fixed so the fuses didn’t blow several times a day after a mere 8 months.  Then earlier this year we were granted our own transponder box so the lights no longer dim if you put on the kettle.  Alas, there are still sudden power cuts, sometimes for several minutes, sometimes for almost a day. 

The latest set of outages is the reason this blog is late (for which I apologise).  On Tuesday the power went on and off every few seconds for at least a minute.  We’ve taken to unplugging the computers, having already lost 3 to sudden cuts, but this lot toasted the wifi extenders and seems to have removed all settings from the router.  I’m not sure about the dongles either.  We are now waiting for over 120 euros worth of replacement equipment, paid for by us of course.  We’ve also invested in a lorry load of surge protectors, both plug boards and single plugs.  We are just grateful the new fridge/freezer wasn’t damaged this time!

To finish this moan about the infrastructure, we are still struggling with the soak-away systems.  One seems to be blocked completely and when it rains the water from the gutter bubbles over onto the path.  It also sets up a loud burping sound in the bathroom sink and other drains, which is a bit alarming.  We have several things we can try but otherwise it is back to John Gleeson to set it right before winter.

Despite this we do love our home.  It is quiet, private and we’re getting it the way we want now.  We’ve room to work, room to sit around the table and eat and a lovely snug for relaxing.  The dogs are very settled here too.  As one visitor said, “You seem much more chilled now.  Even the dogs seem more relaxed”. We are, I hope, putting the worst of the last few years behind us and looking more to the future.  Jacqui is developing new skills, seemingly every week.  Whether building the Majestic into a workshop or crocheting a wide range of objects, she’s going for it. 

And I’m writing again after the awful year just gone.  The collapse of Impress, my publishers, was a real blow.  It was made worse by the fight over copyright and the imminent threats to pulp the books.  Thanks to support from the other Impress writers we wrested our rights back.  Thanks to wonderful friends Helen and Noel my books were saved.  And thanks to Jacqui’s quiet but persistent support I finished my first new story last week.  I’ve returned to the Levels, to look at some of the characters in more detail.  First up is Iris, wife of Derek Johns and mother to Newt.  How did such a smart, capable woman come to marry the despicable Derek?  Well, “Iris’s Story” has the answer.  I intend it to be followed shortly by similar tales for the redoubtable Ada Mallory and the slightly mysterious Tom Monarch.

I’m looking at e-books for these at first, maybe all 3 in one as they are short (8,000 word) stories.  What do you think?

So, provided we can stop our infrastructure exploding in the future we will keep on doing, making and loving our little Irish home.

Thank you for your patience, thank you for reading and I hope to be back on time next fortnight!

I’m just up and plodding again, if not running but cannot add pictures this time.

It’s been one heck of an August

Firstly I offer you my deep and profound apologies for the late posting.  It’s just that we’ve had one heck of an August so far.  August has always been a bit of a problematic month for us in Ireland.  Regular readers may recall the plague of flies, repeated each year.  The heat and dust from building triggered Jacqui’s two heart attacks the first year we were here.  The weather is decidedly odd also, either blazingly hot or almost unrelenting rain.  This year it’s the latter.  Workmen either vanish without a word or turn up suddenly and unexpectedly.  We’re always glad to see them but may have problems fitting them around existing arrangements.  The one thing you don’t want to do is send them away – they may never come back!

Well, this year we had flies, workmen and visitors as well as the dreary weather.  Apart from the flies we were delighted to see them all, I have to say.  The first arrival was Noel, our friend from the north-east of England who runs the tiny charity “Lighthouse Family Matters”.  Do look it up – it is a wonderful example of micro-charity.  He’s off to Kenya again soon but wanted to see us and a bit more of his native land before he went.  He went travelling in his camper van for a few days in the middle, then came back and did a magnificent stint in the back garden.  In one day he cleared a path around the land so we can get at the weeds and tree branches.  He also brought over the first boxes of my books so ably rescued by Helen in the spring.  Thank you Helen!  And thank you Noel – you are a star!   

John, our drain man, arranged for Jim and his son Dan to do our soak-away two days after Noel left.  This meant the garden, that we’ve put a lot of work into, would have to be dug up and the grass was all crushed.  We’re not wildly house-proud but we were expecting my sister for her first visit and it didn’t make the best initial impression, alas. As an added bonus Cynthia, one of the dogs, decided she hates the gravel.  She refuses to walk on it to get to the remaining grass and it is beneath her dignity to wee on the concrete. My sister Rosemary and Jacqui put some flat paving stones down for her but she now refuses to use them either.  Difficult dogs!  Lovely, clever but very difficult sometimes.

Jim has finished the job we began on the path into the wood and it is now flat and clear.  When the grass grows back I can use the mower to keep it clear.  With all the rain and odd sunny intervals, the ground is already recovering and green shoots are reappearing.  We are planning the next stage of our land recovery, hopefully hiring a mini-mini digger for the back.  Jim’s machine came from a local man and I recognised him from just after our arrival.  I’d locked the digger in our garden for safety and challenged him when he came to collect it.  He was quite baffled by this until I pointed out I’d never met him and he could just be a chancer.  After rummaging around in his cab he produced a crumpled business card, I rang our builder to check the name and everyone was happy.

My sister’s visit was a delight.  It’s been at least three years since we’ve seen each other and I know she’s not much of a country girl so it was quite brave of her to make the journey.  She flew into Shannon Airport and we drove down to pick her up.  I’m not a fan of flying.  In fact I’ve not flown since 1985, when I was on a plane and all the engines stalled.  Shannon seems to be quite a nice airport however.  Small, efficient and not too expensive either.  It even has a WH Smith – my, they go where water wouldn’t.  

We had a leisurely few days together with trips into our nearest town and an excellent lunch on the shores of Lough Derg.  She was captivated by the decorated windows, most of them in pharmacies. It’s the middle of August – let’s do “Back to School!” Rosemary sent me some bee-bombs for my birthday and Jim had banked the earth up from the soak-away at the side of the wood.  An energetic morning of raking and stone removal left the top step ready for planting and we set the first seeds away together.  When it flowers it should be a beautiful sight and good for bees and butterflies.

On the way back from delivering Rosemary for her return flight we decided to have a very rare treat.  Maybe twice a year we have a burger and the nearest place is halfway down the motorway to Limerick.  I leapt to my feet clutching the money in my hot little hand as Jacqui went to park the car .  The service station was strangely empty with most franchises shuttered.  When I reached the counter ready for my order I was greeted by nervous looking child server who informed me they had “no beef”.  No beef at all – not a burger in the place.  What??  How the heck did that ever happen?  Like all the other people standing around looking very glum, I settled for chicken.  It was okay but nothing more.  Damn this heck of an August!

This year August has been less fly-ridden, possibly as the trees close to the house have gone.  Those insects left have, however, been more vicious than previously.  Whilst Jacqui is thankfully less attractive to them, they have had a good go at me.  I’ve over a dozen new bites by the end of each day and they are long lasting and very itchy.  Strangely, this morning I ventured out into the back room where they hide and nest overnight to find it empty.  They’ve gone, hopefully for another year, and good riddance too. 

The weather has been grim, we are very tired now and it has been a heck of an August.  On the plus side we’ve seen some of the most beautiful skies from the house.  Noel said our kitchen window was like the best TV in the world.  He loved the light around the house and wood, and we do too.  Here are a couple of “screen shots” from our kitchen to show what we mean.

I will be back in two weeks, hopefully after a calmer end to a heck of an August.  Hoping you are all well and the autumn is gentler for us all.

Thank you for reading.

A few weeks of preparation and planning

After the last few settled days we have found ourselves in the midst of a whirlwind of preparation and planning. As is often the case, we have been expecting some of it but some is new and rather unwelcome. There was some nice weather to begin with so we got out the mower and spent a happy hour or so whizzing around the wood, garden and orchard. It’s still the total mad growing season so we have to be vigilant and keep the undergrowth at bay. This requires some preparation – checking the weather forecast, being ready early in the morning and having a spare can of petrol to hand to keep the mower topped up. Still, the results are immediate and very gratifying.

Jacqui’s driving license needed renewing and we realized she needed both medical and eye sight forms completed. This needs some planning as both required a trip to town, about 40 kilometers round trip. We were able to book both on the same afternoon and with a bit of cunning planning I added a shopping trip whilst she was having her eyes tested. This triumph of organization fell flat when we got the news she needs some urgent medical intervention for her eyes. She’s fine to drive at the moment but the failure of the hospital in Limerick to follow on with her injections is having a bad impact now.

After some serious thought we decided we would try one more time to get this put right. We have another Limerick trip next week (oh joy) so will haunt the eye department until we see the specialist. This needs quite a lot of preparation as we will be away most of the day and the dogs can’t be left inside and alone all that time. Enter our lovely friend Catherine who has promised to sit with them for part of the time. So, off we will go to arm wrestle some sense and help out of the hospital. Wish us luck!

Some of the preparation involved getting ready for our good friends Helen and Adrian this week. They are walking along the Wild Atlantic Way every time they visit Ireland and then come to us for a bit of R&R. Actually I’m not sure how much R&R Helen gets as she spends a good amount of time weeding the drive and clearing areas of the orchard or wood when she is here. We love to see them both and are very impressed and grateful for all her endeavors but it’s supposed to be a bit of a holiday for her! Seriously, thank you Helen.

A chunk of my time was spent getting ready for the North Tipperary Show on (Irish) August bank holiday. This has taken a lot of preparation, as I don’t want to be just a wobbly table in the corner especially if it rains. The show is a very eclectic mix of agriculture, dogs, craft and cookery competitions, art and music. It is, for this area, large and crowded so I want to stand out and be noticed. Jacqui suggested I should have some sort of small tent and found a rather lovely pop up gazebo that was delivered last week. As it was raining we practiced putting it up indoors, with Helen’s help and were very impressed. It was a bit large though, even for our kitchen-diner.
I also decided to go a bit professional and spent several days designing a roller banner. This involved a lot of photographs and struggling with the website but finally we had a finished design that looked good. This is also rather large – so tall I have to lay it on the floor to fix it and then lift it up. The result is very striking though not exactly as I planned. Whilst I ordered a rather nice soft purple it arrived a bright fuchsia pink. So much for careful preparation and planning! Well, I don’t think anyone can miss it anyway. The final result will be revealed next time.

11.30pm Slurry

It is now getting cloudy and wet again and once more we have (very) late night farm wagons on the road. I wonder why it is necessary to slurry the fields at midnight? Maybe a lack of planning and preparation…

Swift nest
Bull Finch on the fence

We have more birds around again including a swift’s nest in the new lean-to. They didn’t waste any time, arriving, building and moving in within a few weeks of completion. I spotted the nest when in the wood section and two very startled birds flew past me and out into the wood. I was concerned I’d driven them away but last time I was out I saw a large pile of droppings under the nest. I’ve never been so happy to see bird mess in my life.


We’ve also had a bullfinch on the garden fence eating the grass seeds. The next day there were four of them, a family I think as two were small and the other adult was male. On the down side, the birds (unidentified species) stripped the young raspberries one night. I must find some deterrent for next year. However one of the apple trees, “Katy”, has started to produce a crazy amount of fruit. Bear in mind the trees were planted just four months ago!

So, next week has far too many medical appointments and I will continue my preparation for the show, which is on the 5th August. I’ve lots of books to pack up, sets of crime novels to sort and a range of different bookmarks to arrange. I might have another go at the gazebo too, just to make sure. If you are around do pop over and say hello – it would be lovely to meet you.

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


Wildlife rescue, new friends and a different way of life

Last time I wrote about Pip and Squeak, the two tiny bats we found in our bathroom. Well, despite our best efforts we found another a few days later. We called him Wilfred. (I suspect you need to be British and over 60 to understand this by the way). Well, Wilfred was also rescued, placed in the pile of twigs and covered with a box to recover and he also flew away that evening.

I was considering getting us “Bat Rescue” t-shirts when Charlie, our youngest dog started clawing at some planks in the garden. Chasing him off, I saw the tail of a mouse jammed into a crack. When I moved the wood away I saw not a mouse but a little vole. It was actually shaking from fear but recovered enough to turn and dash for the safety of a wooden flower tub, not needing any more help from us. Charlie was furious, even more so when the next night he chased the smallest frog I’ve ever seen. It was the size of a fingernail, a lovely brown and cream colour and after I intervened it hopped into the drain and escaped too. Maybe I should get “Wildlife Rescue” shirts instead.

We took a trip to Cloughjordan last week to visit the Courtyard Nursery. Run by Sean, this is a lovely place and Sean is very helpful and knowledgeable. We met up with Lorraine and Andy, new friends who arrived about 18 months ago, and enjoyed an excellent talk in the courtyard along with refreshments from the little coffee bar. We left with a honeysuckle plant for Betsy’s Garden, some glorious yellow and red pot plants and a pocket full of advice. Andy has set up a maintenance business for garden machinery and just a few days later we had to call him for help.

Jacqui had been doing an excellent job mowing the orchard when the mower died on us. We realized it was probably out of petrol so I collected the spare fuel but – we couldn’t get the cap off the tank. It’s always a bit of a struggle but this time it defied all our efforts, including the mole grips. We managed to move the mover into the trees at the side and called Andy for advice. Although it was Sunday they both came over and Andy managed to open the tank. We’d run it down to nothing and in the (remarkable) few hot days the last few drops had evaporated causing a vacuum in the pipe. I cannot say how grateful we were for their help and promise this will never happen again!

After all the excitement of last month I find myself rather tired. Very tired actually. There is a lot to do around the place and sometimes it is hard to remember everything or work out how to do some things. Most of us grow up with the routine of our parents around us and the running of a house becomes familiar. We learn what needs to be done by watching and often by joining in as we grow older. When we move away and set up our own home we carry much of this knowledge with us along with the routines, impressed into our subconscious, and transfer them into our own lives. This is partly why hoarders often have hoarding parents – or react so strongly against the clutter they own virtually nothing.
Moving to a new country, many things are different. Do not make the mistake of thinking Ireland is just England with a funny accent. It isn’t. It is very different in the social, political and economic sense. Some things remain the same – the washing still needs to be done, hoovering is still necessary and the dogs certainly need to be fed. However, the food for the dogs now requires a 40 kilometre round trip to the shops. All the shopping, apart from a few staples, need planning and a trip to the main town. We are now getting better at combining tasks – trip to the recycling centre, pick up pills at the vet, pop into the bank and then shop. It’s taken a while but we have cut our trips down from many days to once a week most months.

There are some new jobs we never had to even consider before moving here. Watering the new saplings in the wood and orchard? Mowing the orchard and the paths around the wood? Even cutting grass is new as we had a tiny (concrete) yard rather than a garden. The water softener needs salt every week and the solar system and water meters are logged every evening. After a storm we need to check no trees have come down, especially over the road. And there is the dreaded grease trap that needs regular cleaning. We have a second sink for anything remotely oily as it bypasses the system but still the trap builds up. There’s the composting to keep up with and the wildlife – more wildlife, most of it very welcome.

Jacqui is of the opinion that now, as we are more settled, all the stress and effort we put in for the move and the time afterwards, has finally caught up with us. We are more comfortable in the house, we’ve made good progress with much of the land and we understand life here better. There’s a new rhythm developing and many things are more predictable, or at least easier to deal with. Time to kick back a little maybe. Time to stop and relax a bit more. This is a very lovely place so now we can take a bit more time to enjoy it.

But in the meantime I will be getting ready for my first public appearance as a writer in Ireland. I will be signing books at the North Tipperary Agricultural Show in Nenagh Showground on Monday 5th August. More on that to follow but if you are attending do come over and say hello!

An EPIC Adventure part 2 – and a batty return

I broke off the last episode part way through my trip to Dublin. Compared to our quiet life here in Tipperary it seemed a very eventful couple of days, too much for the one blog. So, picking up from the second morning, I was stiff and sore from my route marching the day before but determined to see the EPIC museum. I’d heard a lot about it, including the fact it had been placed in the world’s top 5 museums. Focussing on the numerous waves of emigration from Ireland, it has a personal link to some of my history too. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

One thing Dublin has in abundance is taxis. Not surprising as the buses and trams, whilst numerous, are very hard for a visitor to navigate. I bid the B&B a fond farewell and hailed a taxi from right outside. A quick run through slightly more familiar streets (EPIC is quite close to my overnight accommodation) and I walked through the doors into a huge glass atrium. I was a bit shocked at the cost – 21 Euros for an oldie – but I have to say it was worth every cent. The atrium stretched the length of the building and there are shops, cafes and different facilities all along both sides. Families and individuals were already settled at the tables or on the couches, reading or talking, some enjoying the excellent choice of food. I put my bag in a locker, admired the life-size model of a clover-covered pig on a table inside and cast around for the actual museum.

After wandering up and down for a few minutes I swallowed my pride and went back to the ticket office by the entrance. They were perfectly polite and gestured towards a stone staircase heading down. The whole thing is underground. Housed in the vaults below the old port building, the main exhibition has twenty different rooms, each devoted to a single topic. It is difficult to describe the impact of this amazing environment. It uses a lot of film and photography and links the general to the specific through short narratives from actual people. The sound and the film quality is excellent, almost (but not quite) overwhelming in some rooms.

As an artistic display it is stunning with huge models, costumes, paintings and artifacts brought together to tell a story. It is the story however that is so powerful. I think it is something you need to experience to understand it. I was partly expecting a fair amount of self-pity and anger, which would actually be justified given the history of this country. In fact it was quite the opposite. This is not a narrative of victims but of strong, resourceful people. It was enlightening and occasionally sad but ultimately hugely uplifting and inspiring. The journey through the underground barrel vaults can be marked off on a “passport”, issued at the entrance, something I did rather obsessively.

As well as being educational (who knew in 1770 all the Bordeaux wine merchants were Irish?), there are some nice interactive pieces. Selfies at the “convict for transportation” board are very popular especially as you can choose your own crime! The last room is a huge electronic wall of names where the emigrants are listed. I added my Great Grandfather to the hundreds of thousands already remembered.

With the help of a nice ticket inspector I was able to get a tram back to the station in good time, saving my poor swollen knees. The journey showed both the best of the city and some of the darker side also. The people are friendly and helpful. The murals and street art is fabulous (and occasionally subversive) and much of the architecture is splendid. But also there are a large number of rough sleepers, often with just a sleeping bag. Residents scarcely notice them, walking round the bodies without a glance. Small blue tents are reappearing on the riverbanks, soon to be moved on by the Garda. Fast food bicycles are everywhere, often ridden by young men who are almost gaunt as they take terrible risks to meet impossible deadlines. I came away with so much to think about.

As a footnote, a couple of nights ago Jacqui thought she spotted a large spider-like creature in the shower at night. Or maybe it was a small bat. At 3am you really don’t want to investigate too closely, just in case it’s a bat-spider or something equally scary. In the morning I couldn’t find anything so had a shower, but then spotted a lump of dirt moving in one corner, hidden behind a spray bottle. It was a baby bat, smaller than the top of my thumb, soaked through but still just conscious. I was mortified but Jacqui had done some reading about bats in the night.

June is the month when baby bats get lost and confused and can fly into houses. We looked around and spotted another resting above the bathroom door. Following the article’s advice we moved both bats wrapped in a soft rag and placed them outside in a pile of twigs. They were up high away from the dogs and covered with a box to keep out the light. At dusk we removed the box and resisted the urge to poke around the twigs for several hours. There were some signs of movement though so we were hopeful. They both survived and flew away when it got dark and that felt really good. We named them Pip and Squeak and it made a fine ending to a busy and very different couple of weeks.

Thank you for reading. If you are ever in Dublin do go to EPIC – it is an amazing experience.

Have a good few weeks and I hope you will join me soon.

The good, the bad and the ugly this week

I was not sure I could manage a blog this week. It’s been a very full and stressful time recently. However, I realized this would be blog 100 – not bad for a series of 12 as originally planned. I often sit down and wonder what the heck I’m going to write about but this time we have a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. This is just a way of saying “life”, I think, though sometimes (like now) some really bad bits appear. Have no fear though – spoiler here – it’s working out and getting better, so read on without any worries.

It has been a very busy start to the year so we are already a bit tired. All of the improvements around the house are heartwarming and welcome but they come with additional work. The spring growth spurt is finally here and we risk losing some of our hard won progress unless we can keep it under control. This involves a lot of weed cutting, mowing and tree branch clipping. Also we have had an unexpected dry and hot spell so the new trees in the wood and orchard need watering. Now that was not something we expected in Ireland! My shoulders are still weak and painful and Jacqui is still a bit unsteady and in a lot of pain from her joints so we are trying to pace ourselves, hoping to keep up and even make a little progress.

The warm weather has led to a number of unwelcome visitors in the house. Not our neighbors, no – the inevitable insects and some rather large spiders. I’m fairly tolerant of the latter, provided they are not too large and catch some of the flies. This latest intruder failed on both counts and I’m ridiculously proud of myself for catching and releasing her outside. The warmer weather has been very welcome however and unexpectedly a few of the bulbs appeared. I’d given up hope of them surviving the long, wet winter and spring but suddenly we have irises at the back. The primroses are also flourishing now including one that’s appeared in the middle of the drive. We drive around them very carefully.

The worst part of our recent weeks however has been the sickness in Cynthia, one of our dogs. She’s had bouts of a bad stomach for a few weeks but took a major turn for the worst just before the May holiday (of course). We nursed her carefully through until the vet was open again but she was getting worse. As we’d also had some stomach issues we were concerned about the water again so a sample has gone off to check for ecoli.

Despite all our new systems, if there is a lot of effluent in the water the UV light can’t work properly and there’s been a great deal of slurrying recently. In fact, there have been tractors, trailers and slurry tanks along the road some nights as late as 2am. This is one of the bad – no, ugly parts of life as water is so important and there’s no other source but bottles out here. If it is polluted again we will need to take more advice and further precautions.

Some good news however – Cynthia is recovering well though in typical Tibetan form she is not co-operating with us. We have a range of medicines for her, some pills we grind to powder and some liquid to mix into food. This, apparently, is all poison. Although she is hungry (we are cutting off the biscuit supply) she will pick through her food and spit out onto the floor anything remotely tainted. Now we are faced with the ugly option of using a syringe to get some good “poison” into her.

A fitting end to a rather difficult few weeks I think. But we have our trees, we have brighter weather and Cynthia is much, much better so it’s all good in the end.

Thank you for reading and I hope the rest of May is good for you all.

The mini digger and very boggy ground – it’s April alright

Well, it’s April still, just, and the weather is a bit better at last. It has finally shifted from relentless rain to “changeable”. There were even a few wonderful days of bright, warm sun – a most welcome development. The expected spring growth spurt has been delayed this year, which is certainly a blessing. The last couple of years we’ve looked over the garden and the wood where things were just starting to emerge. Then a week later the grass, brambles, bindweed, thistles et al were up over our knees. Terrifying and very, very dispiriting.

Well, this year we were more prepared. The orchard is growing a carpet of soft green grass, mixed with some determined intruders. We are equally determined and were planning to use the lighter electric mower on it but then we had a bit of an incident with the mini digger. We’ve been hoping to try this out for some time and finally managed to book it for a week. A very dinky thing, it weighs just (!) a ton and is very small. It rolled up the new ramp into the top of the orchard and we prepared to shift some of the feral buttercups. Alas, within a few minutes it began to sink into the ground. After some nifty maneuvering we got it out again but the top of the land was badly churned up and we had to abandon that job.

Later we tried to change the bucket as we hoped to get it around a very tight corner to clear a space for the polytunnel greenhouse. I’ve always found this very difficult and after a number of attempts the damn thing coughed, jerked violently and stopped. Unwilling to be dissed by a tiny digger we let it settle and tried again, with the same result. A quick consultation with youtube and we had to drive to the nearest garage (4 kilometres), buy a new can and get some diesel. It started but kept jerking and cutting out. It got so bad it was like trying to ride a bucking bronco so we waited for the next day and rang the Hire Company. They sent out a mechanic who got it running and we were able to maneuver round the corner and start some digging. Three scoops later it coughed and died. Overall a bit of a bust.

After that we decided the land was still too soft, even for the flymower, so we are heading to the hardware store to get a pair of long handled shears. That should see to the determined intruders until we can start some regular mowing. It being April, we were watching the new planting and every tree, in the orchard or wood, is now putting out leaves. A number of them have also sprung into life and have sprays of blossom. Irish trees seem particularly hardy. I remember my father cursing the wind in Essex as it stripped the flowers from the apple trees. Here we’ve had some very high wings but the trees cling to their blossom despite the storms.

It has been a rather busy month. In fact we are close to the end of April and we’ve almost finished the jobs we need to enlist men for. As we didn’t manage to get the corner cleared and neither of us can cope with the heavy digging or move the blocks by hand we have called on Donal for help. We’ve been looking at ways to make life easier, especially over winter, and one big issue is the woodpile. We finally got Bill, the amazing fence man out. He spent a couple of days putting up a lean-to in the corner of the wood so now the tarps are off and the remaining wood is drying nicely. It will be so much easier, not having to drag the covers around and sort through for dryish logs, often in hail or snow. We won’t have damp logs drying inside either, which will reduce condensation and danger of mould. Bill even moved a couple of chunks of wood round our primroses to protect them for machinery and boots.

It is finally April proper as yesterday I saw the first swifts flying madly over the wood. They are a beautiful sight and catch so many midges too, an added bonus. We have birds nesting in our hedge and up by the orchard as well as in the Juniper tree outside the kitchen window. I was outside calling the dogs last week and could hear them rustling and tweeting softly. The next night a small group of bats did a quick fly past, about half a dozen. Remembering the bat that flew into the house last year I hurriedly closed all the doors. It is nice to see all the life around us though the downside is the birds and bats do keep setting off the security lights!

We are doing okay here and are looking forward to a quieter summer and autumn as so much of the work is already done. We are just waiting for the long anticipated visit from the plumber, a species slightly more rare than the unicorn over here. With some fine weather we can relax a bit, sit outside and enjoy the garden and indulge in a bit of gardening. And use the mower on our new grass of course.

Thank you for reading. I hope we all get some decent weather and a summer to remember for the right reasons!

Happy Easter but no news from Tipperary

Happy Easter to you all from a cold and rainy Tipperary. This is a bit of a non-news blog as I don’t have much in the way of news from Tipperary. A lot of things are in progress but I’ve decided I need a week off so I’m sending you all good wishes but no news yet.

Thank you and I hope to see you next week when I may have some news from Tipperary!

Happy St Patrick’s Day to you all!

Well, today is St Patrick’s Day, a day of parades, celebration and general cheer in Ireland, and many other countries. Evidence of the imminent party was clear around the country with flags flying, banners out and a host of events advertised. It is our fourth St Patrick’s here in Ireland and each one has been different. The first was under lockdown and the most festive we got was the consumption of a range of cakes, most of them layered in green icing. The next year was marked by the repeated firing of a shotgun just over the road as a local farmer roared around in a digger. A rather odd way to celebrate, we thought. Last year was quite a warm day and passed off peacefully. We wait to see what today brings, especially after the success of the Irish rugby team yesterday.

We’ve been out and about these last few weeks, the first time since we arrived. For our first trip we went to Cork. My Irish ancestors came from a small village in Co. Cork and I was curious to explore the area. Jacqui found a very nice looking holiday let that was willing to take all three dogs, once the host saw how small and cute looking they were. It was a bit of a journey as Cork, in common with much of rural Ireland, doesn’t seem to believe in signposts. Hooray for Google maps and eircodes – they saved the day.

The Bird House was everything Shelley, our host, had promised and more. It is warm, welcoming and decently equipped, with comfortable beds and a huge sofa the dogs loved. We set to and covered said sofa with the throws we’d packed and made ourselves at home. The (very big) TV had Netflix, a novelty for us, and there were books to read and a pool table and bar on the ground floor.

The weather was not quite as welcoming however and turned very windy and stormy overnight. As the forecast was more of the same for the next few days we decided to try a trip to Ballinhassig without delay, to see if I could find any trace of long-lost family. The route took us over the striking bridge to Kinsale, a town lauded as a beautiful place and gourmet heaven. We didn’t tarry however and probably the rain and wind didn’t show it at its best. As far as gourmet heaven went, we found a Lidl up the hill and picked up some supplies. Not quite gourmet but the food quality was extremely good, as it generally is with supermarket chains having contracts with local producers.

Ballinhassig itself is tiny. Like much of Ireland, the name refers to the village, the two parishes, church and civil, and a chunk of land around too. For a novice without detailed information this is extremely confusing. We stopped at the Gala Supermarket and An Post where a very kind woman put us in touch with Mary, the parish secretary. She had some very useful tips for us and after another Google map we were ready to set off. The few records I’d been able to find refer to my great grandfather’s baptism and this was apparently at the church in Goggin’s Hill. It was locked but we walked around the outside. The graveyard, always a good source of information, was relatively modern Mary said. Any relatives were probably in Ballinaboy, which was several miles away. That’s a trip for next time. We did find a famine memorial on the wall surrounding the church. My great grandfather would have been about eight or nine when he lived through that – a sobering thought.

Jacqui had a look around the Gala Supermarket before we left and discovered local cakes being delivered, still a bit warm from the oven. They were from “Louise’s Kitchen” and they are absolutely heavenly. It was getting cold and raining quite heavily but I wanted some pictures of the famous Fairy Garden, a playground across the road. I dropped into The Kabin, a café and coffee shop opposite and got Jacqui a coffee to keep her warm in the car whilst I ran around the little park. The coffee was as good as the cakes and the food I saw being served looked excellent too. The Kabin has a small library around the side walls as Ballinhassig is too small to have a branch of its own. I left a copy of “Puppy Brain” as a thank you for all the kindness shown by this little community.

The weather deteriorated further the next day and we stayed in, rested and indulged in some more Netflix. Despite the unseasonable storm we had a very happy stay and can recommend The Bird House to any visitor. Shelley is a lovely host and her two children loved the dogs, visiting a couple of times. We had booked this through Air BnB, our first encounter with this company and I sincerely hope it’s our last. The whole business was confusing and obstructive and they almost cancelled our stay despite the fact we’d paid in full and just wanted the address. No address without downloading the app apparently. Jacqui worked her way around this, thank goodness, and we saw we could use another site next time. Shelley was a marvelous host, it’s a lovely place and not well served by Air BnB at all in my opinion.

Now we are back, recovering from the journey and looking forward to spring and all that brings. Our mower is away being serviced but on its return we will start work on the land again. We can now walk right round the wood without breaking an ankle and are hoping to select our new trees for the cleared land next week. The trees in the orchard are starting to show signs of life with tiny buds on the branches. And last week I opened the back door to find a young frog on the step. Yes, it’s St Patrick’s Day and spring is finally on the way.

Thank you for reading, a happy St Patrick’s to you wherever you are, and I hope to see you again in a couple of weeks.