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It’s been one of those weeks this week.

It’s been one of those weeks this week.  You know the sort.  Stupid little things don’t work.  Bigger things start to really bug you.  It’s cloudy and showery outside and grey all around.  The sort of week where you want to revert to childhood, swing on a chair and kick the table until your mother yells at you.  That sort of week.

Some of it is uncertainty, especially not knowing what will happen with Jacqui.  Are we heading for more stents, intensive physio or open heart surgery?  No-one will commit to anything, understandably but the sense of not knowing and therefore not being able to choose the best route for a good outcome is not helping, nor healthy.  I think she is calmer about it than I am at the moment to be honest.  I tend to be more set in my ways and find some semblance of routine is the only way I can function even adequately.  Uncertainty, changes to arrangements and things not happening that are supposed to happen really throw me.  I know it’s a feature of my dyspraxia but that doesn’t always help.

We’ve reached an impasse in the house too.  Like a row of dominoes all lined up ready to go we have half a dozen unfinished jobs. And they all rely on one being done first.  If the grooming room floor’s laid we can move the white goods in and use the space to clear away.  Then the sink can be put in and the dogs can finally have a decent bath.  Just to amuse you, the largest is too big for the existing sink.  I’m hoping to wash him this week in the shower (now with lovely glass panels – thank you Aidan).  This will involve putting on my swimming costume and getting in with him, wrestling the little beast as he tries to escape a decent lathering.  Well, that vision is in your heads for the week now!

One of the brightest parts of the week was another trip up to see Jan, the goat farmer at the top of the lake.  He has a herd of about 200 goats, mainly Toggenburgs, Saanens and crosses off the two.  They tend to live in large sheds, open at the front with soft beds of straw. They even have a radio playing for company when there’s no-one else around.  Jan was a bit anxious we might think they should be out, roaming the fields as free-range goats, but there are two things you need to remember where these animals are concerned. 

Firstly goats are total wimps.  At the first sign of rain (or even a cold breeze) they are shivering and complaining, heading for shelter.  Secondly they are very sociable.  They like companionship and form close groups, curling up together to share warmth and sharing food.  Jan’s goats are some of the happiest and healthiest I have ever seen.  And the milk is lovely – mild, not too high in fat, rich in protein and adored by the dogs.  When the factory (which uses his milk amongst others) resumes full production we may keep going up every two weeks. 

So next week – we may get the floor done.  Or part of it anyway.  We have a few things being delivered including a freezer to go on said floor. No actual delivery dates scheduled so far though.  We may or may not have someone coming to look at the hedges and trees. We hope they are willing to do some trimming and lopping.  Hopefully we may have the solar power man coming to check the site and make arrangements for the new panels.  And we may even get the bins emptied.  It’s been five weeks now, with three missed collections, a lot of promises and no sign of the wagon.  Don’t hold your breath – except when hurrying past the bins.

A grey day – and the bins are full!

The only fixed point in our calendar is another trip to Limerick on Friday to a clinic for Jacqui where we may get some idea of progress.  Knowing our luck all the others will decide Friday is the perfect day to come and see us. 

And it will be another one of those weeks.

The long, slow road back to “Normal”

After the past overly stressful (and very unwelcome) excitement of the last month we are on the road back to “normal”.  Whatever that might be in these strange times.  We are both still very tired as recent events have taken most of our energy but life does not stand still.  In fact here in Ireland it tends to take advantage if it can.  Whilst we’ve maintained the little bit of progress in the wood, especially around the oak trees, the open spaces have exploded again.  We had a week of showers followed by a couple of mild, sunny days.  The back plot, so smooth and ready for weed mats and planting suddenly grew thistles as tall as I am.  I know that’s not all that tall but there were hundreds of them – literally. 

Overgrown Again!

Jacqui has a long list of instructions from the hospital, chief of which is “Rest!”  Followed by no hoovering, no lifting anything heavy (over about a kilo) and not even making the bed.  This is understandably irritating for someone so active – she had big plans for the land and the house, now on hold again.  It also means we have to rely on my plodding efforts to tame the newly grown wilderness.  It was vital we got it cleared as we hope to have the solar panels installed soon.  That is so not happening in that jungle! I did not falter but jumped straight in and booked a digger and Davey, our lovely builder. 

Once the land was cleared once more I began the task of setting out weed mats over some of it.  This is hard work but strangely satisfying, raking out the worst roots, clipping back brambles and removing stones.  I’m not going to get it all done but hopefully winter will put paid to a lot of the opportunist plants.  I’ve left most of the brambles with berries as the birds will need those and as I was digging away I heard them in the surrounding trees.  It sounded as if they were passing comment, waiting for me to go so they could come down and hunt for insects and grubs.  I hope my work met with their approval.  Someone suggested we put in sprouting potatoes as these will deter (or kill) weeds.  Any thoughts?

There’s not much news from the UK in Ireland, to be honest but I occasionally look at the BBC website.  There’s quite a debate about shortages – are there any, and if so where?  Well, we have had a disruption to our normal service recently.  The dogs have always had goat’s milk in the morning from a local supermarket. It comes from an Irish firm over here.  There’s been none the last three weeks, much to our dismay.  We wondered if the supply chain problems were starting over here.  Then a shop assistant explained there had been a fire at the factory.  It would take a couple of weeks and then everything would return to normal. 

Jacqui got on the phone and located a farmer about 15 kilometres away who was happy to sell milk “over the gate”.  This was a chance for her to have a little run out , her first since leaving hospital.  I was still driving of course. The farmer was lovely, the goats were so beautiful and the dogs love that milk.  They actually queue at the bowl in the morning, each drinking a third before stepping aside.  I’ve never seen that behaviour in dogs before though I keep a close eye on them, just in case.  We are heading out there tomorrow for more milk and I’ll see if I can have a picture of the goats .

At the Institute

On our long, slow road to normal we are being very careful and limiting trips out as far as possible.  This week I began to suggest a possible outing for Friday.  I got as far as “If you take it very easy on Wednesday and Thursday would you like to..” “Yes!” she said.  I hadn’t said where but she knew it was the little Institute market in town.  This is a real gem.  It is run mainly by women and is a bit like the Women’s Institute coupled with an allotment society.  We got there a bit earlier this time but already half the tables were empty.  Even so we got vegetables (including the freshest carrots with their tops), another divine Orange Madeira cake, jam, small pies and flowers, of course.   

It’s the little things that make life so enjoyable and this felt like another small step back to normal for us.

Autumn comes early in Ireland – and an update

Having come from the North East of England we are used to relatively short summers but autumn seems to come early in Ireland.  After the blazing, uncomfortably hot days in the middle of summer it turned cooler.  This was most welcome, to be honest.  We were not properly set up for extreme weather and spent most of our efforts on keeping out the cold.  The lack of opening windows in some rooms coupled with the swarms of flies made for some very uncomfortable days.  We are removing the Leylandii trees soon as they seem to be the favoured home for many of the swarms.  We will also need to look at changing at least one of the windows in the kitchen/diner.  It is gloriously warm and sunny most days, just a bit too hot in summer.

Little Traitors!

I spotted the first signs of autumn weeks ago when I let the dogs out into the garden.  The wires and posts behind the house were lined up with birds all chattering merrily and pointing eastwards.  Their numbers increased steadily for days, swifts on one line, starlings on another (no-one wants to mix with the starlings it seems).  Then just as suddenly they were gone, the little traitors.  The bird feeder was very quiet for a week or so before new birds began to arrive.  Looking back, the emigrating birds had eaten a ridiculous amount over two weeks.  I was refilling the feeders and fat balls every day so I hope they all get there safely.

Still, at least they know where they are going for the winter which is more than can be said for the geese over the back.  Every evening a flock of about 40 birds fly over the house, calling and swooping low.  Then the next morning they are back, all the way from the lake about 6 kilometres away.  Apparently they arrived about ten years ago and lost the leader who knew the way.  After flapping around lost for several weeks they settled into this routine and have been here ever since, spending the days in the field and small pond across the road from us.

Death Row – all marked for cutting, alas

One of the sad things I’ve had to do this week is make some decisions about the wood.  As the leaves turn brown and fall I cannot put off deciding which trees are dead or dying.  Leave it any longer and they’ll all be bare so it was out with a spray can yesterday.  There is one double row of trees, mainly ash, that are all either dead or badly diseased.  Some never came into leaf.  Others put out a few sprouts but have black spots and splitting bark.  I struggled through the deep undergrowth, marking these with pink spots.  A whole slice of the wood will need to be removed, burned and replaced.  Our very own “Death Row”.  I hate to cut any of them but it is better to have 75 healthy trees then 150 crowded, sickly specimens.

I guess an explanation is in order over last week’s missing episode.  Jacqui had a couple of breathless episodes during the week but we thought she’d just overdone things.  It was a busy time despite our efforts with four days of builders and several runs into town.  On Saturday we went in to get our ‘flu jabs and our doctor decided she should go back to A&E to be checked over, just in case.  Back to Limerick – oh joy.  And on a Saturday too.  Believe me, A&E on a Saturday is not the place you want to be.  We were a bit more prepared having gone back home to pack a bag in case she was admitted and she was – at 2.30 on Sunday morning. 

I finally left as darkness fell and drove home, not knowing what was happening.  Our wonderful friend Sharon had gone up to the house to let out the dogs and check they were alright but I couldn’t leave them any longer.  Driving in rural Ireland at night is an experience, for sure.  It is completely dark as there is no lighting outside the towns and no houses for miles.  There are also no lines on the roads let alone cats eyes – the roads are too narrow for two cars to pass anyway.  I was so tired and stressed I missed the turning onto our track and had a horrible moment of panic.  Was I lost?  Had I any idea how to get home? 

I did get back, of course.  Driving around the lanes in daylight I’d mused on the number of houses with traffic cones beside the walls, or white rocks or brightly coloured barrels.  Now I know why.  Next time I’m out I’m nicking a cone from somewhere – or white washing a couple of decent sized rocks.

I got Jacqui back on Wednesday after sterling work from the hospital.  She will need to take things very easy for a while but we hope she is now properly on the mend.  I was in a bit of a state last weekend, wondering what was going to happen and unsure what I could write.  I am just so happy I can offer this positive outcome.  Now we will settle down, enjoy a calmer few weeks and look to a better end to our first year in Ireland.  It has been quite an adventure.

Every day is a school day (in Ireland)

“Every day is a school day” is something I hear a lot in Ireland.  It startled me the first time but I think it shows how open many people here are to hearing new things.  Many adults I have known don’t like to acknowledge they don’t know something.  Perhaps they feel it is demeaning or the person talking to them is showing off.  Actually I love to learn new things.  As a writer every snippet of information, every new sight can be the basis of a story.  A wider experience means I can weave a richer background, hopefully catching a reader’s interest and making the story more real.  But maybe that’s just me.

It is easy to view Ireland (and Scotland, and Wales) as England but with a funny accent.  I learned nothing of the other nations in the Union (and out of it) at school.  We touched on the wars with Scotland, on a “Robert Bruce and the Spider” level.  Wales was referred to in relation to the Investiture in 1969.  Ireland was barely mentioned at all.  Of course, there is a huge amount to learn about a new country from the rules of the road to its rich and fascinating history. 

On a mundane level there are all the slight differences in a common language.  In England the universal positive response is “okay” or “yeah” or (in the north) “aye”.  Here it is “perfect”, whether paying in a shop or giving details over the phone.  I’ve even caught myself using it recently.  Someone recently described a group of people as “fierce”.  I was alarmed until he added, “So I get along with them all, except the last 1% I have trouble with”.  I surmise from this that “fierce” is a compliment, at least in this part of Ireland.

The history pops up in the most unexpected and ordinary places.  Driving into town I noticed a black sign on a cottage window.  When I stopped one time I read it was marking a “Stirabout window” which was a new idea for me.  It sounds quite altruistic, feeding the local population during the famine.  Stirabout, I discovered, was a sort of oat porridge and the regular fare in workhouses.  Not much of a step up from gruel, though if you’re starving it would have been welcome.

Bindweed, NOT Japanese Knotweed!

Sometimes we unwittingly teach others stuff we know, about the pictures in the house for example.  Sometimes they teach us, about farm rules and local legend.  Occasionally we learn something together.  Davey, our builder, had a digger in over the weekend and used the extra time to run through a bit more of the wood.  We finally reached the back boundary in one place – delight!  Then despair as he looked at the overgrowing creepers and said they looked like Japanese Knotweed.   This was a horrifying prospect – it is everywhere and growing at a staggering rate.  We flew to the internet and our wild flower books and after an anxious half hour decided it is bindweed.  That’s bad but can be controlled – with work.  We all compared notes and went off with a bit more knowledge for the future.

On the house front, we are a bit wrung out but the bathroom now has a proper shower cubicle – no more Titanic mornings for us.  And the electricity is finally stable.  The wiring was – eccentric – but Derrick and Davey did another heroic,  late evening.  After seven hours with no power (or water as the pump went off) Derrick found the problem and rewired the entire fuse board.  No more Apollo 13 moments for us, we hope.  Now we just have to get the solar panels in and we can hunker down for winter.

Market Dahlias

Jacqui is doing well, resting and avoiding most of the building stress.  Though she is driving me crazy by thinking up 17,000 things she can do sitting down, which doesn’t count of course. We went out for the first time on Friday and visited the local Institute’s weekly market.  It was lovely and we came back with dahlias, fresh carrots and an orange Madeira cake to die for. 

Turing Tumble, re-programming my brain

So that’s us.  A bit shorter this week as no electricity means no wifi – or computer.  I passed the long, powerless days with my Christmas present – the first chance I’ve had to play with it.  It’s a “Turing Tumble”, a kit that teaches you to make and program a computer powered by small marbles.  It is fascinating, mentally challenging and great fun.

Yes, even when we are resting every day is a school day.

Apollo 13, Titanic and other disasters.

You may wonder what the films “Apollo 13” and “Titanic” have in common with our life here.  Well, both are referenced on a daily basis as we wrestle the house into order.  It has been a very busy and eventful year so far, perhaps too busy on reflection.  We began with a list of things we needed and wanted done but circumstances rather threw our clever sequencing out of the windows.  There is a huge rush of building work as Ireland moves out of lock down and both skilled workmen and materials are in short supply.  Prices have gone up and most people are working multiple jobs simultaneously.  It is challenging, for us and them.

Because of this the two most important things for us are still being sorted, though hopefully will be resolved in the next few weeks.  “Apollo 13” is the most urgent.  The electrics are very odd in this house.  Several electricians had a look, did a few things and vanished.  They are not even answering the phone, which does ring alarm bells.  Why “Apollo 13” you ask?  Well, sometimes the sockets all trip off when, for example, one of us turns on the kettle.  Or a computer.  Or the hot water – yes, really.  Remember the scene from the film where Gary Sinise, playing Ken Mattingly tries over and over again to fire up the capsule simulator and it repeatedly overloads and crashes?  So we have taken to calling “Apollo 13” before switching on anything, especially if one of us is working on a computer.

Basically the main fuse board is wired up almost at random which is why the lights dim if the microwave is on.  There’s no proper neutral loop and some stuff doesn’t seem to be earthed.  This is scary stuff and we are very lucky our builder found a brave, talented and properly qualified man who will rip it out and replace the whole lot with something safe and legal. Derrick, we salute you!

Now, the main bathroom is another interesting DIY project.  Any arrangement where the door hits the toilet when opened is not too well thought out.  The main problem for us though is the shower.  Now, the issue is highlighted in the name – a wet room.  Just a bit too wet, especially as the tiles are not non-slip and quite lethal when damp.  In fact the shower tended to flood the whole floor especially before we took out the bath as the water bounced off the sides and headed for the hallway. 

Many mornings one or other of us has slid across to the door, grabbed the frame and sung that irritating earworm of a song from “Titanic”.  Occasionally, on particularly grey, wet mornings, I hear strains of the Volga Boat Song drifting out on the shower.  The bath, by the way, is now in the garden and will make a wonderful herb trough next year.

Waiting to be repurposed

We are calling a halt to a lot of the work now as Jacqui needs to rest and regain her strength.  Our plumber, the lovely Aidan, is coming in the next few weeks to fit the shower screens that will contain this flood over the winter.  We hope to add a new basin and other fittings next year.  He has even found a proper shower chair if we need one over the next few months. 

Some Jacqui related news.  She is home and doing well.  We have to go back to the hospital in a month for tests and may have to stay overnight but at least this time we will be prepared!  Our main aim now is to avoid surgery if possible. She is being very good and trying not to fret over how sleepy she is or how slowly she has to move at present.  This will improve as she gets used to the medication and recovers from what was a huge shock to the system.  Everyone has been so kind, with neighbours (within 3 kilometres!) checking in, offering help and bringing wonderful flowers.  Our workmen decided jobs have to be finished and gone over and above what we could possibly ask.  And all of you, with your lovely comments and the good wishes you have sent.  Thank you all.

This has been an eye-opening part of our journey.  I realized I could not continue to avoid driving in Ireland, I had to just get on with it.  I thought I would be nervous, out in the countryside on my own.  But I wasn’t.  The house and this place continue to delight us despite recent events.  Things are different certainly.  There is very little radio reception but we have glorious birdsong.  We don’t have a shop within walking distance but we have a garden and a wood.  There is no street lighting but at night we can see the Milky Way.

We have kind, good friends both here and in other countries.

We are fine.

An apology for the lateness – but I do have a note

First an apology for the lateness of this episode – but I do have a note to excuse this tardiness.  This last week has been interesting – a bit more interesting than we wanted, to be honest.  For the past month Jacqui has had recurring attacks of breathlessness that we had attributed to asthma.  Late-onset asthma is a family trait and the house has been full of dust from building work so the idea seemed reasonable.  However on Sunday last she had a very nasty attack and I almost called an ambulance.  Then we went to see the doctor and he took one look at her and ordered us to the Regional Hospital – in Limerick, 40 miles away.

We had been rolling down the roads, happy that our car insurance problem was finally at an end.  Thank goodness it was or we would have been in deep trouble!  Public transport is a bit patchy round here (and non-existent this far out).  The few cab drivers in the area had shut up shop due to Covid and the waiting times for a cab in the local town can be hours long.  We got to A&E at noon and after four hours and several tests they whisked her upstairs.

Now, I was in a strange and very busy town and in shock.  I was also frantic to get back as we had not expected this and the dogs had been alone for almost six hours.  And I’d never driven in Ireland.  I was going to take it slowly, getting used to quiet roads first.  Dyspraxics find it very hard to automate anything physical and driving unfamiliar roads with slightly different rules in a huge strain.  Then a lovely, kind and helpful taxi driver arrived.  He drove me the whole way home and came to collect me the next morning, round trips of over 100 miles.  At least I could take some clean clothes, a toothbrush and some things to keep her occupied.

It’s just as well Jacqui was in the hospital that night as she had what they refer to rather delicately as an “episode”.  I found out about it when I rang to see if she could come home and encountered a bit more Irish candor than I wanted.  The staff were, by the way, overwhelmingly well trained, efficient, kind and helpful – we cannot thank them enough, but this was not a conversation I expected.

            “Oh now, Jacqui.  Well she’s having a bad day of it.  Whatever could go wrong has, you know.  Oh, it’s terrible for her.  She’s not well at all.”  Right. 

Looking back I can actually chuckle about that encounter.  Jacqui’s abiding recollection is the clear organisation and teamwork which made her feel in very safe hands.

I drove the car back that morning following clear directions from Kieran, the wonderful taxi driver.  He gave simple instructions on the easiest route, pointed out landmarks and said, “Don’t worry about anyone else.  They want to pass you, that’s their problem.  You just drive as you feel comfortable.”   The next day I had to go into town for food for the dogs and then set to making the house clean and safe for Jacqui’s return, whenever that might be.  When I went to change the bed linen I was horrified to find it full of little bugs.  Then I put my glasses on and swept up all the biscuit crumbs left by Charlie, the youngest dog.

We got her home yesterday, a long and horrible week later, and she is doing okay.  It was Kieran who did the journey one more time as we couldn’t get any notice of her leaving and all the delays ran through the day and into the evening.  These, by the way, were caused by an extraneous department and not the unit she was in. The next four weeks are to help her rest and recover a bit before they decide the best way forward.  We are revising plans for some of the building work, doing only essentials for the time being.  I have to drive for a while.  But the outcome has been a lot better than we might have expected. 

We are settled into this lovely house and with a new boiler and almost finished extension we will be warm and safe as winter draws on.  So many people have been so kind and helpful offering emotional and practical support.  HSE Ireland were magnificent, even letting me visit one afternoon.  I did have to wear full PPE and apparently resembled a blue jelly baby but it was worth doubling as a Smurf to spend that precious hour with her.

So, that explains the lateness of this episode.  I hope you agree this note does explain my tardiness.

News about books and that boot in the wood

I began this week thinking there would be no news for the blog but it seems I was wrong.  First I would like to share some writing news with you all.  The fifth book in the “Alex Hastings” series is due out next year though the actual publication date depends on a lot of things beyond my control.  I’m waiting for an editor and for my publisher to do the cover design and say whether he or I will supply the “blurb”.  Then the e-book version needs setting up and final proofs have to be checked.  This is the tedious but so important part of publication – and it takes months sometimes!

I had finished the book itself several times in a number of different forms over the last few years.  This is because I became embroiled with an agent (who will be nameless) who promised a lot but seemed to constantly change her mind about what she wanted.  After rewriting, editing and adding sections she finally decided she wanted the whole thing moved to the year 2020.  Eager as I was, this was a step too far – and impossible.  The Levels have changed beyond recognition since the 1980s, the Probation Service scarcely exists and Alex and her friends would be retiring.  Now restored to its former, more coherent form I hope “A Long Shadow” will be with you soon.

Even more exciting in some ways is the news I have signed a TV option for “Death of the Elver Man”.  Jon Moore, the manager of a new media company, Blue Trotter Media Ltd is hoping to turn it into a four or six part drama and has also taken future options on the other books so if it is a success there may be more.  Now is the time to start “fantasy casting”!  Jon is very skilled and experienced with TV and film work to his name, particularly in the field of special effects and prosthetics.  Moving into production will be a new step for him and I am looking forward to working with him and the team.

Now, I promised an update on the boot.  Well, that is all turning rather strange.  When I went into the wood to dig it up earlier this week it was gone.  There was no sign of digging, nothing seemed disturbed but I couldn’t find it anywhere.  After a lot of hunting I spotted the sole propped up against one of the oak trees.  The disappointing news is it is just the sole of an old canvas trainer or something like that but – how did it get there?  I also found a discarded medical mask pushed into a pile of sticks and grass off to one side.  That was definitely not ours.,

Of course, as a crime writer I am constantly making up stories and constructing narratives so here are some possible explanations.  Most prosaically it was moved by a fox or badger – but then why was there no sign of digging?  It had probably been there for years, certainly as long as we’ve been in the house so why now?  And would an animal have propped it up neatly on a tree?  If it was human intervention maybe something was buried under it and retrieved.  Or perhaps it pointed towards something buried or hidden and it was moved to hide the trail from prying eyes.  Or maybe someone is just messing with our heads. 

So, for all those of you who wonder, “Where do you get your ideas?” there’s always something you can toy with.  Everything is copy, they say and the world is full of details and events that can become a story.

Finally, there’s still no movement of the car – or movement of the car.  Fingers crossed for next week.  I’m checking my bike over as I may need to do the cycle ride into the nearest town soon.  And this week I wrote more of Alex Hastings 6, including two “crane” days.  Feels like a successful week after all.

The start of a new garland

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

Another week has flown by – another week without transport here in the depths of rural Ireland.  The insurance saga grinds on though I feel we are making some progress.  The garage collected the car at stupid o’clock on Tuesday and checked it over.  Not surprisingly it passed the NCT (the Irish MOT) and we had the precious certificate for the insurance company.  Just one problem though – they demanded “physical proof” of the NCT, either a copy in the post or a fax.  No, they said, they had no mailbox so a pdf was not possible.  The nearest post box is about five kilometres away and who the hell still has a fax at home?  So thank you to our lovely builder who drove into town especially to put it in the post.  Now we wait – and hope.  This is one aspect of normal service we really do need to resume.

We rely heavily on deliveries at present, for obvious reasons and Jacqui has been very pro-active in dealing with our current wave of unwanted and uninvited residents.  It’s been much cooler these past weeks – just as well as the local farmers appear to be emptying their slurry tanks over the county in preparation for winter.  We often do not open the windows which keeps out the smell and a lot of the flies.  There are fewer insects now but it is still a relentless infestation.  It will be better next year as we are rooting them out inside.  We are also removing the main attractions in the garden including three Leylandii trees they love.  We are less enthusiastic and intend to dig them out and replace them with something smaller and native.  In the meantime we have a stunning range of products to combat the flies, horseflies, wasps and mosquitoes.

Supplies for the “Flyminator”

The biggest step forward this week was finally getting the gas boiler in and running.  The gas tank was installed back in May and filled in June but we were still relying on the old oil boiler for hot water – which it refused to supply unless we were running the heating.  Now we can turn on the tap and – presto, hot water!  You really don’t know how happy that makes you unless you’ve had to rely on immersion heaters or slow warming tanks.  We are just adapting to many different things here but this was one thing we could change.  As far as we are concerned it comes under the heading “Quality of Life”. It also frees up a big area at the back of the Majestic for storage. Hopefully we will have a reliable water supply and heating for the winter.  Almost normal service !

So on to developments on the writing front.  This whole project has meant I’ve scarcely written anything for several years.  I had packed away all the sources and reference books, notes and pictures along with my trusty computer.  There is an old Jewish saying (with thanks to Rabbi Blue).  If you want to make God laugh then tell him your plans. In the absence of contact with readers, bookshops and libraries the plans I had drifted away.  They became inconsequential next to the real-life drama we were living.  When we moved into the house I discovered my lovely big writing desk was missing and we had no way to replace it.  It seems a small thing in the whole big adventure but it was almost the last straw.  Then I began this blog, just a few words every week but the discipline has been very good for me. 

My writing corner is still small and crowded but we hope to locate another table soon – when we can drive again of course.  I found some of the maps I’d marked up in a box and the original manuscripts for the first five novels too.  Yes, there is a fifth book with the publishers and there are plans for the next year.  Those of you who have followed this page since the beginning may remember I used to make a paper crane every day I wrote 1,000 words.  My garlands were left behind in the studio but finally, this week, I made a start on Book Six of the Alex Hastings series.  And so I have made my first Irish paper crane.

Hopefully the first of many

It has been a long and occasionally painful journey but gradually normal service is being resumed.

What’s in a name? Rather a lot actually…

What’s in a name, William Shakespeare asked and the answer can, sometimes, be “rather a lot”.  Firstly, thank you everyone who commented and expressed sympathy for our car troubles.  We are still without transport but I can report we are moving forward.  The garage behind our first cottage have been magnificent and they will collect the car on Monday.  They will give it a quick pre-check, take it for the test and return it the next day.  Hopefully we can then get some insurance and leave our latest enforced isolation.

Regarding the insurance, I would like to offer some information.  Many people in the UK use the comparison websites for insurance quotes.  It is quick, easy and often offers a decent price.  What is not made clear is these are actually considered “brokers”.  Not a problem in England but at the root of our dilemma here.  We have been puzzled by the refusal of some companies to insure us.  “We cover courage!” one company boasts.  Yes, but you won’t cover two retired lecturers for about 6,000 kilometres a year to drive to the shops, will you?  Something was off and we were determined to find out what it was.

It took some persistence but someone finally admitted they didn’t accept a foreign no-claims discount, especially from a “broker”.  This is partly due to Covid where people working from home are unable to do detailed record searches.  The impact of Brexit makes sharing of data a grey area, compounding the problem.  Any evidence of a no-claims record from a comparison site often cannot be verified in a reasonable time so it is rejected.  Now, you may think this is interesting but not relevant to you but if you need “foreign” car insurance it can be devastating.  And we never thought we’d need to insure our car in another country either.

Despite this ongoing headache this week has been much better for us.  The building work has resumed and we are creeping towards luxuries such as a modern boiler.  At present we cannot heat the water without running the heating which, in the recent heat wave, was less than ideal.  We tried opening the windows but this brought the plague of flies inside, along with wasps, butterflies and, worst of all, horse flies.  We’re installing fly screens on the door and windows and occasionally have a mass hunt using those clever tennis racquets that zap them when you get a hit.  In the morning it sounds like a machine gun in the lobby there are so many. 

The horse flies seen to love Jacqui and we are investing in a range of cures and researching preventative measures.  Our beautiful old Tibetan Terrier, Saffron, suffered from bad ears all her life and we found a cream used for thrush was the best thing for them.  It works wonders on the horse fly bites too – hooray for mild steroids!  A friend told us about a wrist band used by horse riders to deter them.  I was delighted to learn it was called “Naffoff”, which is what I say constantly when in the wood.  I can’t wait to try them.

A proud stand of oak trees

Speaking of the wood, we try to get out for an hour or so most days.  We are concentrating on the top end where the oak trees are and it seems to be paying off.  After some heavy work we have stripped most of the brambles and the choking ivy away.  We consigned whole heaps of nettles to the compost heap and as we moved further back we discovered several more oaks.  These are older trees, better established but still struggling.  Each tree may take several days to clear all the parasitic invaders but already the nearest is looking better and I am hopeful we can save them. I’m not sure the tiny tree at the front will survive though we are going to remove the sapling next to it to give it more of a chance.  If it doesn’t we will replace it with a new tree, another oak.

I wonder what’s under here?

And sometimes you find something rather disturbing in the undergrowth.  This week I unearthed a couple of old shot gun shells and a snare, now disabled of course.  But next to them, buried in the earth, was a boot, sole upwards.  I just hope the rest of the owner isn’t in there, head down.  Unless it’s the illegal hunter in which case I hope it is.

It’s been a rough week all round

Apologies for the delay in posting this week but it has been rather a rough few days.  After several months rolling smoothly along the sheer weight of new things – people, places, procedures – caught up with me with some quite negative impacts. There is a rich and extensive bureaucracy in Ireland and it is only too easy to run foul of it, especially in these uncertain times.  Despite some recent “opening up”, Ireland is still coping with a backlog of cancelled appointments for just about everything.  Licences, inspections, dentists – you name it, it can take weeks to see anyone.  Or talk to anyone – or, most difficult of all, get someone out to check or repair something.

Our immediate problem is transport.  We are trying to insure the car but have just been told we need the Irish equivalent of an MOT.  Fair enough, except we were told it wasn’t needed when we registered it and got our nice new Irish number plate.  We were also told the offices would contact us to say when we should go and test the car.  They didn’t.  So now we have a car we can’t insure unless we get the test.  But we can’t get to the centre (which is about 15 miles away) without driving. And we can’t do that without insurance. 

            (Bangs head on table repeatedly)

In fact we can’t do anything – shop, post a letter, get to a doctor or vet – at present.  

            (Must stop banging head on table as we are running out of aspirin).

Sometimes the bureaucracy is a little too helpful.   Last month we exchanged our driving licences but I got a text message asking for a medical report. It was, apparently, so I could keep my entitlement to drive large vans. This had been inexplicably added to my UK licence.  I had told the very helpful woman at my interview that a/ I had no idea I even had that and b/ I really didn’t want it.  Just car and motorbike, thank you. 

Anyone who knows me will be aware I couldn’t drive a van even if I wanted to.   At just five feet tall if I could see out of the windscreen I couldn’t reach the pedals.  The centre in Dublin, eager to ensure I didn’t miss out on this exciting prospect, reinstated the van category – and then asked for the medical.  I hope it’s sorted now, but has delayed the issuing of my licence.

Home baking!

A couple of features of our previous lockdown life have proved helpful this week however.  When we arrived we couldn’t go out anywhere so Jacqui ventured into the murky, labyrinthine world of on-line grocery shopping.  Stuck here trying to unpick the car insurance tangle, we are slowly emptying the freezer and awaiting the delivery truck.  Also Jacqui tried her hand at bread making and results are quite delicious.

We also instituted a special Saturday meal to end each week and have kept this up every weekend since.   We set the table with my parents’ special china, have several courses and a selection of wine.  So to finish I offer the sommelier’s suggestions for this week, to go with baked cheese, duck breasts and a selection of local cheeses. Two Pinots – Pinot Grigio from Italy and Pinot Noir from Chile.  Both under 7 euro a bottle from your local supermarket.

Here’s to a better week coming up.  Cheers!