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 busy time when nothing much happened

This has been a strange few weeks with a feeling nothing much has happened.  Actually I think stuff has happened but it has been cold and very wet.  This has kept us inside for a lot though it has been a busy time, doing the same stuff each day.  It has been the most grey and dismal month, quite unlike previous summers but I have seen pictures of other places much worse off.  Our previous home, in Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast, was flooded yesterday along with areas inland and parts of England are suffering very bad conditions due to storms.  When we came to Ireland we knew there were often bad storms due to its location facing the Atlantic but we’ve been quite sheltered this time. 

The rain is clearing again now and I actually managed to jump on the mower and give the grass a quick trim yesterday.  We are still leaving most of the wood “wild” and will do the necessary clearing and tidying in sections.  This means there will always be some mature growth for animal and bird homes.  We do need to keep on at the bindweed, brambles and thistles however.  These will run rampant, taking advantage of the clearer land and choking everything to death if allowed.

To facilitate this we have added one more tool to our armoury.  The reciprocal saw is very good for smaller branches and occasional saplings but not anything much bigger.  After some serious thought Jacqui sourced a battery operated chainsaw, lighter and a bit smaller than most models.  When it arrived it was, of course, in bits.  There was much grinding of teeth as we hunted through the box to find the instructions.  These were in the form of rather small drawings and after some struggles we got some way through.  The crucial part was fitting the chain to the saw and here we found ourselves stumped (excuse the pun).  Rather than accepting defeat we lugged it all up to our saviours in Lawlows where they offered excellent advice and support.  

We’ve not had the chance to try it out yet, with all the bad weather, so I’ve focussed on getting rid of more stuff.  This has involved a lot of shredding.  My last-minute panic packing involved much throwing folders and large envelopes into boxes.  Now is the time to sort through and dispose of most of it.  This does involve checking everything – tax records from 2007? No, out they go.  Photograph of my parents?  Keep that and put it safe in an album.  It is slow work and occasionally sad as fading memories resurface but I will be much happier (and tidier) when it is all done. 

Jacqui has a bit of energy at the moment and has devoted a lot of it to getting more done in the Majestic.  She began by making another little table, this time for the bench at the front.  Then she started on the shelves.  We still have a large number of battens from the roof which are sturdy and fairly uniform but a bit rough.  They make excellent shelves for a workshop, supplemented by metal brackets, and soon we hope to begin clearing the centre of the room.  We will then be searching for that other mythical beast, an electrician, to install decent lights and sockets once the workbenches are up.  

Despite having flashes of energy Jacqui is under orders to take things easy at the moment – another reason we won’t be using the chainsaw for a few weeks.  We had her six monthly check-up with the cardiologist which was, sadly, not awfully informative.  It was also a bit disturbing to see he thought she had a stent in her stomach – or at least on the wrong side of her heart.  He offered no relief from the medication, confused two of the tablets suggesting they were both the same and wandered off again muttering about talking to her GP and resting more.  This was such a contrast to our last visit and we were left confused and dispirited.

There is much better news on the canine front however.  Cynthia’s results came back and the lump, whilst alarming in size and the speed it appeared, is harmless.  She had her stitches out and is healing up very well.  She spent the first few days using her tail as a back leg comb-over but has given that up.  Now she trots around happily though her back leg is still almost bald.  From behind she looks as if she’s joined the Masons!

We ventured into town on Friday, partly to get rid of all the shredding and excess recycling and partly to visit the little market.  We had hoped to get some more of the excellent raspberry jam beloved of Jacqui and our visitors.  Sadly there was none and we when we talked to the lovely lady who makes it we learned her husband is very ill.  We know them both and sent our very best wishes for them.  Sometimes life is very hard and all you can do is offer support if needed and kind words.  Her husband was one of the first people to welcome us to our new home and we are hoping, as she is, for a miracle for him.  

We both bought flowers in the market, bunches of beautiful sweet peas.  They have a lovely scent and the colours are glorious.  Jacqui is still crocheting, with an additional seventeen (!) balls of wool from the “Creative Needle” shop in Roscrea.  Well, if I have to be driven to the dentist one of us might as well enjoy it.  She’s making small, brightly coloured items with quirky fairground flourishes.  In amongst the flowers, look for my coffee pot ‘cosy’ and a cover for the sugar bowl.

We have several visitors this month – so exciting!  So I’m off to tidy and get ready.  Thank you for reading, keep safe and let’s hope the weather brightens up a bit for us all.

Life can be like a row of dominoes

Just when you think things are settling down a bit something comes along to mess it up.  And sometimes the first thing knocks up against something else – something more – and everything falls over.  Just like a row of dominoes, one problem becomes a heap on the floor!  Our main problem came about because of two long-standing issues.  The electricity is much better now but the regular power cuts have caused havoc with our equipment.  The last one, almost 24 hours, led to the fridge/freezer defrosting again.  Already a bit dodgy due to age and a fluctuating electricity supply, down it went.  That’s our first domino.

We set to and emptied the fridge whilst waiting for the new one to be delivered.  This led to the second domino.  A lot of the frozen stuff was frosted and inedible, but we still have no regular bin service.  As we don’t want any more rats, discarding it in piles in the wood to eventually decompose into compost was not an option.  We contacted the splendid Derek Madden who agreed to take it away to the commercial dump for us.  There was too much for the bin he provides so we bought another – rats again.  Anything in a plastic sack, however “heavy duty”, would not last overnight. We were coming to the end of the hot spell and the collection was not a pleasant job so a big “Thank You” to him.

There’s a very strong recycling policy in Ireland and for a mere 10 Euros the old one could be taken away.  This proved to be a bargain for us but a bit of a nightmare for the poor van drivers.  The weather turned very nasty and kept on raining making the grass soft and treacherous.  Whilst our back door just met the minimum size it was a very tight fit and the whole thing weighed 122 kg.  They managed to get it into the kitchen and then had to get the old monster out.  In the end they managed but when they left we found the back door wouldn’t close properly.  The hinges are bent and the whole thing is out of alignment.  Jacqui managed to move it enough to close and the inner door locks but now we are hunting a door repair service.

The next domino was the drain, the grease trap, to be exact.  This is a regular headache but we have been very careful about putting any fat or food scraps down the sink.  It still blocked up and started to overflow, just as we needed to do an industrial scale wash up of tubs, containers and bottles.  On examination there was remarkable little grease but the whole thing was clogged with grit from the roof.  We’ve had the guttering rerouted but the storms washed a lot of debris in when the roof was being replaced.  John, the ever-reliable drain man came round and cleared it out but highlighted another problem.  Dominoes again!

All the water from the roof goes into the septic tank and the volume will damage the percolation system.  We need a proper soak-away dug and a pipe set from the guttering.  Hopefully he can do this before winter.

We were a bit tired and drained (excuse the pun) with all this but then we had one final domino.  Whilst brushing her we discovered a lump on the back leg of Cynthia, one of our dogs.  This was removed a few days ago and we are trying not to fret as we await the histology report.  Cynthia is being very good and hardly chewing at the stitches at all but it means one of us has to be with her at all times, just in case.  Knowing their ability to dead-leg passers by with the hard collars, Jacqui found a soft blow up one.  She has now worn it for a total of 15 seconds.  This is 5 seconds the first time and 10 the second. I’ll let you know how she is as soon as we have the report.

The final piece of excitement came just after midnight last week.  I ventured out into the hall heading for the bathroom and was dive bombed by what I thought was a bird.  Then I realised it was a bat!  My, they can move fast and make such a noise.  It raced up and down the hall as I dived for the back doors hoping it would somehow fly outside.  It then landed on the fly curtain and I was really worried it would get tangled up but finally it shot out into the darkness.  I’ve never been that close to a bat before and they are strange, hideous and beautiful all at one.  I can see why many people hate them but I was both scared and captivated by this nocturnal visitor. 

It’s not been all bad though.  Jacqui had her first meeting with the local band and is hard at work on the pieces she needs to practise.  And we now have one of those rare specimens – a plumber.  Joseph had been round and looked at the jobs, saying he’s be back when he was next up this way. He rang unexpectedly and asked if he could come on the day we had Cynthia at the vet.  We agreed, of course, and now we have a shower that doesn’t veer between scalding hot and icy cold.  We also have an outside tap in the garden at last.  Jacqui’s chipped tooth is fixed and I’m past the worst of my root canal treatment.  We are resting and feeling lucky we got through all this!

So, thank you for reading.  I hope it’s not too hot wherever you are.  We’ve had rain in various guises for about ten days now but – hey, welcome to Ireland! And here’s to keeping our row of dominoes upright next week.

A bit of a roller coaster

These last few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster here in rural Tipperary.  The weather has been up, down and downright ludicrous, of course.  This is Ireland and it’s to be expected.  June was blazing hot at times until the sudden arrival of something approaching a tropical storm.  Then the days darkened, the temperature dropped and the rain kept falling.  I was desperate to get the grass trimmed and the paths smoothed a bit.  Each morning it began bright and sunny, the wind blew and just as it looked dry enough – boom! came the rain again. This pattern was repeated throughout the days, a roller coaster of dashed hopes.

Despite this there were some really enjoyable interludes, high points in this bumpy ride.  Last week a couple of friends from nearby finally dropped by for morning coffee.  It was so nice to sit in the warm, sunny back room, just talking.  Later we took a walk around so they could see the changes we’ve made over the last few years.  They were particularly impressed by the wood and the plans we have for new trees to replace the dead and dying ash saplings.  They brought us some beautiful flowers from their garden too.

It was another friend’s birthday on Saturday and we set off down the hill at 5pm to join the celebrations.  This was the largest gathering we’ve been to so far, with tables, little tents and a gazebo in the garden.  Helen, our host is looking after her sister’s donkeys and we were able to meet them in the paddock next door.  Helen is a member of the Nenagh Brass Band and they came along to give a performance for us all.  It was a great evening and slightly nostalgic for us.  There are many brass bands in the north-east of England and they were always a feature of life.  Christmas weekends, markets, festival days – there was always a band or two.  Jacqui is thinking about joining them but has to get a chipped front tooth fixed first.

Silage season is in full swing here as the farmers rush to get the grass cut and safely stored in between showers.  Sometimes they have to work quite late into the night as a loss at this time can mean too little food during the winter for the cows.  The field behind us has been left to grow on its own since February and I’ve been doing regular water tests to check levels of potentially harmful chemicals.  The nitrate level bordered on dangerous back in February and we’ve been using bottled drinking water since then.  Last month the level finally dropped to almost zero.  I’m still testing, especially after cutting and any more slurry.  This is now outside the 25 metre mark and so far this seems to have worked, for which we are very grateful.

With the work in the wood slowed for a few weeks we’ve seen a bit more on the trail cameras.  One is currently set up in our back garden and we get a large number of birds picking through the grass in the mornings.  A couple of nights ago I was delighted to see Mabel, the feral cat appear.  I’m fairly sure she clocked the camera – shot 2 looks like her giving it a nudge.  Out in the wood we get a variety of birds and some bats hurtling past.  Then last week the Pine Marten reappeared.  I’ve put the video on though I don’t know if it will play.  Please let me know as I’m still wrestling with the constant “updates” and automatic changes on the site.

The down side of this fortnight’s roller coaster for me was yet another trip to the dentist.  After several delays and a forced cancellation it was finally time for the dreaded root canal.  This is an hour-long appointment which leaves you with stiff jaws, a headache and painful back and shoulders.  As our dentist is almost an hour’s drive away I wouldn’t be able to do this without Jacqui’s help.  The journey there, stressful enough on its own, was made more interesting by some road works.  A diversion at the start of a narrow bridge sent us almost 5 miles round the countryside.  Then we were deposited back on the other side, 100 yards from where we started.  And she still got us there on time!

She insists she is not an angel.  She rewarded herself with a decent coffee and outstanding ice cream in a café next to the castle.  Good for her, I say.

The sunset last night was glorious, both stormy grey and red and soft blue and orange.  It was the perfect summing up for this roller coaster fortnight.

Here’s to a warmer few days and some restful times for us all.

Thank you for reading, have a good few weeks and I hope to see you back here soon.

Driving on – literally at the moment

This has been a very busy and rather tiring fortnight.  We had planned to keep most of the first week free as we had booked a mini-digger but things didn’t quite work out as planned.  The digger arrived along with a very patient and helpful man who showed us the basics.  It was called a “mini” digger  as it only weighed three tons but it was much bigger than we expected.  We needed a ladder to get into the cab, for a start.  Then the fun began.  There’s all those different levers that go in so many directions.  Buttons on the floor, red switches and a locking lever are needed to fix the bucket.  And it did lurch around as we tried moving it, initially as I forgot the blade on the front.  This steadies the whole thing for lifting but drags across the floor when driving on.

We spent the whole first day trying to get the buckets changed until we gave in and called the shop.  The lovely Michael came out after work and showed me again.  I’d forgotten about the final locking on bit so all my hard work was wasted time and again.  Still, I had plenty of practise and was getting more accurate when manoeuvring the arm.  We marked out where we were going to work and locked it up for the night.

Alas, the next day I was back at the dentist, who is about an hour’s drive away.  I’ve had a long-running problem with a back tooth and was waiting for a long appointment to fix it.  Then we had to cancel that as it clashed with the NCT inspection for the car, the Irish MOT.  There’s a problem with this at the moment as appointments can be up to six months delayed and no-one has notified most drivers.  We need the car as there’s no public transport or local taxi so opted for an emergency appointment.  Yes, we had to take it or be breaking the law but it clashed with my dental surgery.  In the interim the teeth flared up again and after three courses of antibiotics the only solution was “direct intervention”.  This is dentist jargon for sticking a scalpel into the gums.

I wasn’t up to driving the digger the rest of the day but Jacqui took over and made a start.  We had three aims for the week.  Hopefully we would be familiar enough with the controls to be competent (and safe).  Then we wanted to mark out and start to level part of the path we plan around the wood.  This will allow us to reach more trees and clear some of the more feral weeds.  Finally we needed to dig out the stumps from the saplings we lost to ash die-back so we can mow in the summer and keep it clear.  We intend to leave a lot of the ground at least semi-wild so there’s cover and flowers for the animals, birds and insects that live there. 

Despite the fact it was horribly, hammering hot we kept driving on, strimming the undergrowth in layers as the grass and weeds shot up to shoulder height in the humid conditions.  We had been told it would be easier to knock the three remaining dead saplings down and Jacqui gave it a good go.  When the first one fell it left a huge hole right in the middle of the planned path.  We had to cut the sapling into metre long pieces to move it before Jacqui managed to lift the root ball out and away.  Then we resorted to digging the stumps out after that and then spent the last day trying to level the ground a bit. 

We are now pretty tired after all that.  It was a lot of fun but surprisingly hard work, especially as I had difficulty remembering which lever moved which bit.  Still, we survived with no injuries and are looking forward to the next time.

The digger may be gone again but we are still driving on.  As the soil dries out we can break up the earth and fill the worst of the lumps and holes.  The weather changed in the middle of our endeavours with rain followed by a massive thunderstorm on Saturday evening.  This knocked out everything.  We had no power and, as the batteries for the solar system and the storage tank were drained overnight by the other user we had no water either.  The wifi went, of course, as did the phone signal for some time.  It was almost 24 hours before the electricity was restored and a dark and gloomy day it was too.  Jacqui planned ahead, of course, and we had a couple of power banks to keep the phones and tablets going.  The next day we arranged a shipping order of batteries for the storm lanterns.

The weather has been erratic this last week though there have been some wonderful sunsets to enjoy.  I have been back in the wood and done a bit more clearing. As I was cutting back some bindweed (and muttering to myself) I realised the tiny oak that was barely a twig last year had leaves!  Lots of leaves, in fact.  It is leaning on a small ash sprout which I carefully cut back.  I hope that with some TLC this last little oak will grow and add to the run of eight we uncovered earlier.  The track needs to work, of course, but we have plans.  Next time we may source a smaller digger for the back.  Or perhaps we will go for a skid-steer to scrape and level the paths.  Either way, we will keep driving on.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back in a fortnight.

Enjoy the weather and keep safe!

It always rains in Ireland

There is a popular misconception that it always rains in Ireland.  Certainly there are some months of the year when this seems to be true.  Days of overcast skies, drizzle or the occasional torrential downpour and endless mud can dampen the spirit.  However it may rain most days in Ireland but not everywhere.  An occasional shower in a hot spell can be most welcome, as it was last week.  In summer it rains far less and it can get hot – very hot.

The arrival of high temperatures and day-long sunshine following all the rain had an amazing effect on all the plants.  From little seedlings and scrubby undergrowth everything burst forth with astonishing speed and enthusiasm.  Jacqui had planted some bedding plants in tubs by the fence and sown radishes and rocket in the small trough.  In ten days the Mimulus was flowing over the sides in a waterfall of colour.   Jacqui has been re-purposing some of the old roof battens and made a little table for the back.  Now we can sit out in the evening sun with drinks (and smudge pots to deter the insects).

A quick examination of the trough revealed half a dozen fat and happy snails (over the wall with them!) and the first long and crunchy radishes.  The rocket, picked fresh in the evening, is delicious and we’ve enough to make pesto as well as salads.  It’s a small start, along with the herb and lettuce bath tub, but we are slowly expanding what we do and are now making plans for the poly-tunnel greenhouse and, in the winter, the first fruit trees and canes.  We are also harvesting the wild-sown sycamore seedlings to grow on and plant as a hedge.

The field behind us was cut and the silage gathered at the start of the hot spell leaving it to go golden in the sun.  Within minutes a huge flock of rooks descended and began picking over the earth.  They were constantly flying in and out again for several days until finally they moved on to something better.  Then the blackbirds arrived to finish off the job.  I hope they found and enjoyed the snails on the wall.

We’ve been very busy these last few weeks and surprisingly sociable.  Recently we were invited to join a Zoom quiz group.  Some members are local, others are in the UK but it was nice to get to know more people.  Then last week several UK members visited and we all met up at John Ryan’s pub in Carney.  As it was a quiz night we used their wi-fi and joined in as usual despite the occasional interruption from the pool table next door.  The following Saturday we all met up and had a lovely evening meal in a friend’s garden.

An interesting aside.  I spotted a car loitering outside the house the next day and went to see if they were lost.  A couple from Paris were looking for “the house of Shane MacGowan”, and I was able to direct them as it is next door to where we had dined.  It felt rather good, being able to direct someone.  And I’m sure Shane wouldn’t have minded as he was away that weekend.

Earlier that week we had visitors with our friends from England arriving after a few busy and fun-filled days on the “Wild Atlantic Way”.  Rather than struggle with Dublin Airport and motorway they opted for Shannon.  This is smaller, less crowded and actually several hours closer to us.  It was a lovely visit, as usual, and Helen did wonders on our driveway.  The gravel topping breaks out into a weed-filled carpet in the summer, including nettles, thistles and rows of tiny sycamore seedlings.  Helen worked her way down it, weeding and pulling the weeds out, tap-roots and all.  We are hoping to find some red creeping thyme to plant in their place.  Not only will it spread and give a carpet of colour but it will smell gorgeous when we drive over it.  We have called it the “Helen Tap-Root Eradication Project”.

On top of this sterling work, they brought us a present.  There are many things that are as good or better in Ireland but some cannot be matched.  Jacqui has been looking for some decent marmalade for several years now.  It’s either too sweet, too runny or has no shred at all to speak of.  We have tried a dozen different types, all of which are going into orange or marmalade cakes.  Then our friends arrived with a jar of the real thing – Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade.  Thank you Helen and Adrian!

To top off our social week two new friends, Lorainne and Nicola came round for coffee, tea and cake.  The dogs were delighted with all these visitors – especially for them, of course – and have been watching from the windows hoping for some more.  We are settling back a bit and dealing with the usual little problems.  As rain is finally forecast we had to fix the downspout into the water barrel.  The join was cracked and it kept falling off so finally we drilled and screwed it into the gutter.  It’s only a temporary repair and I think we will need to replace the whole run soon as it’s an old and discontinued type.  Well, it’s a relatively easy job and much cheaper than some recent projects!

It’s clouding over now though still warm and a bit humid.  The rain will be welcome, for us and the farmers who are already complaining they’ve no grass for their cows.  I hope it’s not too heavy as next week we have hired a digger for a bit.  We aim to clear the path around the wood and dig out the small stumps from the dead ash saplings.  Once it is level we can get the mower out and keep the paths clear.  Then we can work out way round, clearing the bindweed and brambles from the trees.  We need a smaller machine for the back garden but are looking for that and will finish the clearing later in the summer.  I’m so looking forward to driving a digger!

Well, that’s us for the last few weeks.  Thank you for reading and I hope to see you all next time.

Keep well and enjoy the weather.  And yes, it does always rain in Ireland – eventually.

Mainly about writing this time

Something a bit different this week – a blog mainly about writing.  In theory the last few years should have been good for writing.  It’s been quiet and we are fairly isolated so there’s time and space to focus.  Well, space anyway.  Anyone who has read some of these posts will know we’ve been pretty busy.  There’s the house needing work, the wood, the rampant garden and all the necessary adjustments around such a drastic move.  I’ve been thinking about the writing and we’ve been talking round writing too.  I’ve even actually done some but there are some big issues arising from the whole business.

I never did expect to make a fortune writing.  It’s a nice idea but really, it doesn’t happen to us ordinary writers.  Like most fiction authors my dream was much more prosaic.  Not even a living wage really, just enough of an income to know my books reached a decent sized audience.  This may have happened at one time or another but I’ve little evidence of it.  It’s impossible to check the numbers with any accuracy, even on Kindle.  The publisher is supposed to gather the numbers of physical books and I know these weren’t done fully.  One year I officially sold a dozen books, even though I personally signed over 30 in one afternoon at a single festival! 

Most people are amazed to discover how low royalties actually are.  On an average paperback, the amount is calculated on the net price – after discounts etc are given to distributors and shops.  This can be as low as 20% of the price paid by the reader, from which the author gets maybe 10%.  This is 2% of the cover price (2p in the £1) – not a lot for over a year’s work.  Even this is paid over a year after it is earned and often withheld against other costs or even not paid at all if it is below the publisher’s minimum payment.

The other source of income is the PLR – Public Lending Right.  This is a small (less than 1% of the book’s price) payment paid per loan from libraries.  Now, this is a very welcome idea but has two flaws.  Firstly loans are only counted from a limited number of (mainly large) libraries.  This is despite the widespread use of computer systems that automatically capture all loans.  Secondly only official libraries can submit figures.  With the closure of so many council libraries, the new community libraries are a welcome stop-gap but – they deprive all authors of even the pennies in income.

All of this is not helped by the awful state of the publishing industry at present.  Rather than making reading more popular (and more productive for us all), COVID has forced many small and medium publishers, shops and writers out of business.  As the victim of one publisher who borrowed against the business and lost it all I know of a number of writers who have just given up completely.  The winners seem to be sure-fire sellers especially celebrity authors, some of whom can actually write a novel but others who use a ghost writer and sell their name.  The market is currently saturated at present, especially with “celebrity” biographies, with little money left to explore and support new writing.

COVID has also had a big impact on book distribution and hence availability for many writers.  With several of the main companies closing down post-pandemic, the remainder often will not handle small press or self published books.  Special orders have to go through a bigger shop that may not deal with that press, or not at all.  Many books are picked up from a local shop or a kiosk at the station or airport – or they used to be.  Now there’s little chance of this, and no chance for a local author just starting out, because of the distribution monopolies.

Soon only those rich enough to live on their own means or better-off retired people will be able to afford to write and what a dreadful loss this will be.  All the young, poor, disadvantaged, minority voices gone, lost for a generation.

All of this seems inherently gloomy for which I apologise.  I’ve been struggling with it (and other aspects like agents –NOOO! And publicity – Yeah, right) for some time.  With a lot of encouragement and help from Jacqui I’ve ventured out into self-publishing for “Puppy Brain” and will probably do the same for the fifth Alex Hastings book.  This leaves the thorny problems of costs and especially publicity to be handled.  The latter, especially, is not anything I thought about when I began all this.  Like most aspiring authors, it was mainly about writing.  A whole part of my brain is still focussed mainly on writing but the other issues keep forcing their way in which is rather distracting.  It’s hard sometimes to work on a story and wonder if anyone will ever see it.  Despite this I finished “Puppy Brain” and hopefully will live happily ever after.

I leave you with a recent experience a friend from Teesside posted on Twitter.  Will Nett is a clever, funny and thoughtful writer as well as a thoroughly nice man.  Three days ago he posted this:

“I got stopped by a fan and asked for a photo earlier. I used to be   someone…..REPEAT….I USED to be someone!”

Hope you enjoy the sunshine now summer’s arriving at last.

Thank you for reading and I hope to have some country tales for next time. 

Not everything new is a good thing

My apologies for the brevity of this episode, but there are very good reasons for it.  I am currently struggling with “the new”.  Specifically, the new Google that has imposed itself on the website I use.  It has been sending little messages for several months now about “sun setting” some elements.  I should move to the new platform as soon as possible.  Google did offer to set up a basic blog site automatically when their timer ran down.  Good, I thought. Go ahead, please. 

So I opened the page today to find a huge digital countdown across it.  Six weeks to go, ticking down in seconds.  That’s enough to spike your blood pressure!  I clicked on it, hoping it would go away but – no.  I stared at it for a few minutes as the seconds rolled over.  I swear it was mocking me.  Finally, reluctantly, I clicked on the “easy set-up” button.  That was definitely mocking me – it lied.

I spent nearly four hours opening multiple web pages, reading strange and barely comprehensible sentences and instructions that directed me to previous pages, new forms and then demands for my bank details.  These, by the way, were just in case I ran over the “generous free space offered”.  No chance of that as I couldn’t enter a single word before hacking through the thicket of acronyms, URLs and hot links.  I’m not an IT idiot – I began on the net in 1986 and have repaired and upgraded machines for years.  This, however, is deeply confusing and really rather horrible, not to sat f#*%ing hostile.

After managing to complete four of the ten stages, including installing new plug-ins (why??) and extra links (leaving out 90% as I don’t do most social media) I finally got something like a recognisable blog screen.  So here I am, writing a short update and hoping it will post.  I will use the next two weeks to crack this infernal system and give a proper update then, I hope.

In the meantime I find myself muttering, as I do when my programs offer an update.  In my 37 years of experience I have rarely found an update improves anything.  It just makes everything slower, more complex and less biddable. In many cases “update” actually means “bloatware”.  So I leave you to lapse into full Luddite mode : Not everything new is a good thing!

Thank you and I hope to be back soon.