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Posts from the ‘A big Adventure’ Category

Making good use of our time

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

Poppies in the “corn field”

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

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

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

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

Owls watching the playground

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

Tended with love
Always makes us smile

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

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

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

We are making good use of our time!

It’s flaming June – flaming awful

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

Storm Alex and a “Jacob’s Ladder”

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

Our solitary Iris
Poppies in a tiny corn field

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s wonderful what a plan comes together

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

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

Oh poop!

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

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

Dog, hunter and fly-tipper proof

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

The road before…
and after. Good job!

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

Most impressive parking I’ve ever seen

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

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

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

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

Surprises – some good and some not so good

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

Scream SocksMunch, not the film!

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

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly easy actually
Working my way up to this one

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

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

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

Happy May Day everyone.

Two steps forwards, one step back

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

Betsy’s Corner this April

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

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

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

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

Saltburn Bank and the East Cleveland Klondike
Grey Easter sky

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

Triffids attacked by slugs!

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

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

Spring is on the march here

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

Easy Access to our wood
Quite cluttered inside!

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

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

Who’s been jumping on my bin then?

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

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

Spring in Betsy’s Garden

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

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

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

A bit of a rough week overall

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

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

The Bird Sanctuary
Two of a number of shells

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

A bit battered but still serviceable.

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

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

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

The silent bird deterrent

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

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

The “Impossible” Puzzle!

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

And suddenly it is spring again

At last we are past the “beastly month” of February and suddenly it is spring again here in Ireland. For several weeks trees have been shrouded in a soft patina of green as the leaves begin to emerge. Daffodils are flowering all along the roadside. In the morning I wake to the sound of cooing from returning doves and pigeons and the sunsets are back in all their glory. A few of our daffodils were broken by the wind so we picked them and brought them inside and on Friday Jacqui produced a “bouquet of sunshine” from the market. Yes, spring is certainly here again.

Sunshine in a vase

This is not to say the weather has been wonderful – far from it. Three storms swept across us, each worse than the last. Knowing how fragile the electricity supply can be we were prepared this time. We had hoarded lots of batteries for storm lanterns and those round press-on lights. We had flasks filled regularly with boiling water and a five-litre stand-by container for drinking (and the dogs of course). Extra wood was stacked inside the porch and we did a big shop in case the roads flooded and we couldn’t get out.

A bit more atmospheric than we expected

I watched the outages on the supply company’s handy app. They circled us but despite some dreadful weather and gales we were unscathed. Until the Monday when, as Storm Franklin left Ireland heading to the UK, all the lights went out. A glance at the handy app said we could expect at least 4 hours without power so I unpacked the camping stove, we put the lights around the kitchen and I made dinner on the single ring. It was rather like being back in my bed-sit days though the camping stove was a sight more efficient than any Baby Belling I experienced. Perfect one-pan cooking – anyone for corned beef hash?

Stand by for take-off!

Although we escaped any real damage in the storm, thanks to Fergus and his excellent tree-cutting, the rain filled the old peat cuttings in the woods next to the track. This year the little lake rose to the lip of the road but didn’t overflow. It has made a nice place for the geese who have returned already, along with a pair of swans. The geese fly in each morning, about forty of them all shouting and flapping over the house. It’s quite a sight, matched in the evening when they take off en-masse and head for the lake about eight kilometres away. They regularly pick their way around the field across the road and take off in a cloud, fly round and settle again. We have such noisy neighbours!

We’ve got the bikes now, delivered by the sterling Derek Madden. We are now embarking on the endless round of bureaucracy required to register them, tax them and make it legal for us to finally ride them. There are no NCT rules for bikes in Ireland, the equivalent to the MOT in the UK, but we still need new plates, VAT assessment and registration tax to be paid, helmets and insurance. Our nearest supplier of motorbike helmets is half-way to Limerick. Apparently most people order them on-line now. How do they know the helmets fit properly? I’m going to ring the shop before we go to warn them two pinheaded little women are coming. Don’t want to go all that way for nothing.

The last couple of days I’ve had a problem with another bird – smaller bird but bigger problem. There’s a young Blue Tit that has taken to flying at one of the kitchen windows. I’ve tried waving and shouting to chase it away but it’s back five minutes later. I’ve tried drawing the curtains but this didn’t work for more than a day. Jacqui painted a decal to fix inside the glass and now it goes off to one side. Has anyone got any suggestions? We have no idea why it keeps doing this and it’s going to be more concussed than a rugby prop soon. All suggestions gratefully received.

Although it is spring again it is actually colder at night than in winter. I noticed in late autumn the ground frosted and standing water froze solid. The same is happening now despite the warmer days. There was no freezing and very little frost through the winter up here. Maybe it is to do with the clear skies. When I let the dogs out at night the stars are bright and hard and the moon is sharp. In winter there were clouds, lots of clouds. Still, it doesn’t stop me standing to gaze up for a few minutes.

The skies are beautiful here.

This has been a very eventful few weeks.

This has been a very eventful few weeks, and not just because of the weather. That has had quite an impact, of course. In fact looking back I’m surprised we did much at all. After a bright and relatively warm January, February arrived determined to live up to its reputation. The first few days were not too bad however – a bit showery and blustery but fairly decent and we began by travelling hopefully.

First up was a trip to the local hospital for my long awaited physiotherapy appointment. The physio was very good, extremely helpful and gave me some exercises to do at home. He also furnished me with a pulley stretcher to go over a door. This looks a bit like some dubious item of torture but actually helps develop and stretch the shoulder muscles. Jacqui helped me fit it over the door and all I have to do is remember to use it every day. No frozen shoulders for me! That was the good news. The bad news was he was leaving the department and there is, so far, no replacement. Glad I sneaked in before he left.

On Tuesday the pump man, Tom, called to look at the water pump. It is fine apparently. The problem is the controller that doesn’t regulate it properly and so is burning up electricity needlessly. He’s coming back to do the moving and upgrading soon – and here the sequencing comes in. My Achilles heel. Well, one of them anyway. First we need to clear the Majestic ready for the installation. Then Eddie has to fit the new solar system and then, on the same day, Tom will relocate the pressure vessel and pipes and Eddie will do the wiring. There’s some extra paperwork to do that needs to be cleared first so we are waiting on that, and still running on the mains at present.

Matching red mopeds!

Wednesday was a real trip out, to Galway. I’ve been looking at mopeds for a while – a quick and easy way to get to the shops or for a fun run out. A man in Galway was advertising a novel Valentine’s Day gift. Matching mopeds – we could have one each! It was an interesting drive as the two counties are very different. Galway has much smaller fields, divided into narrow strips by rough stone walls. It is, as one friend said, almost Medieval. It used to be the poorest of the counties and a lot of money has gone into it recently. There’s evidence of new building and development but it still looks a bit ragged around the edges. The people are just as nice however. And the mopeds we chose are lovely. 20 years old, bright red Jailings – no pedals, 2 stroke engines and perfect for summer days.

And then the rain came. The next Tuesday we finally got a bin. Oh joy! There will be one big clearance next week and then the bin will be emptied every 6 to 8 weeks. We’ve cut down on our rubbish quite dramatically with recycling, composting and using the cardboard with weed mat to clear the land so this time frame should work for us. We woke the next day to gale force winds and the bin blown over, wedged in the gate. That was Storm Dudley – torrential rain, high winds and cold! Not as cold as we were last year but still pretty chilly. We did a dash into town for a big shop in case things got worse and headed home to “batten down the hatches”. I’m glad we did.

Snow on the windows – most unusual

No sooner had Dudley left than Storm Eunice arrived. She was the big one with ridiculous winds, hail, sleet, and even some snow. We were surprised and impressed that the power stayed on though we took the usual precautions – filled flasks and a big water bottle, torches and lanterns charged and our camping stove to hand. We are learning from experience. Then, this morning the third storm in five days hit – Storm Franklin. We are getting a bit waterlogged now and are very glad we had the overhanging trees lopped before Christmas. I wouldn’t have given much for the roof of the Majestic in all this. I got out another jigsaw but I think I’ve possibly overestimated my abilities with this one. It’s a monster!

Impossible image – Impossible puzzle

So there we are – a very eventful few weeks. We get the mopeds next week. They needed a bit of work but are now ready for collection. There should be room in the shed for them by then, unless we get yet another storm. No one’s coming up the lane in this weather unless they live here so fingers crossed for a few clear days. And Monday was Valentine’s Day of course. I went to An Post to get some stamps and came back with a book of special issues. Foolishly I didn’t look at them first. Now I’ve got ten stamps, all of them pink stripy hearts. I’m not sure about using them for the bank, or the solicitor. It might give them entirely the wrong impression. Maybe I’ll cut my losses and get some ordinary ones. What do you think?

Ten of them – good grief…

All part of the Adventure

Well, what a few weeks we have had here in Tipperary. We take time on Saturday evening to reflect on the past days over a special meal and this week realised every week has been busy, ever since we arrived. It is a year round now since we first began the move into our house – well, one day short. It was a lovely house then, if in need of some TLC and making it ours has been part of the adventure. We’ve done our best to make it even lovelier and certainly more comfortable. Sometimes this works splendidly, like the gas heating. Sometimes it’s a bit more difficult.

Last week we had Des, our gardener and friend, working in the wood for 3 days. We decided to focus on the trees and see what could be saved. And how to help the healthy trees flourish. This meant a great cutting of ivy, brambles and dead bindweed that was choking many of them. Des had to take this slowly as the ivy offers excellent accommodation for birds and we won’t disturb the nests. The back of the wood is more open now letting in light and with fewer dangerous overhangs – cause for optimism despite the continuing and necessary loss of some trees.

One thing we wanted to change was the power supply to the water pump. We spent months trying to arrange site visits, then had the ground prepared and finally the system was installed. Unfortunately it doesn’t work. We wondered if this was due to lack of light or sun on the panels. After the redoubtable Eddy did a few checks we found it was partly due to the pump itself. Most water pumps pull up to 1.2 kw when they start up and then just tick over. Ours pulls 4.5 kw and keeps going full blast. No wonder it is so expensive to run!

Now we have an interesting series of steps to sequence – not my great strength. We have the “pump man” coming next week as it will need replacing. Then he will hopefully move the pressure tank and reset the pipes. Eddy will need to be on hand to do the wiring and he’s going to replace the solar system to suit the task. This will be a mixed set-up that switches between panels, mains and batteries. In the winter this will ensure a constant water supply.

In the summer excess power will be fed into the house to save on the electricity bill. If we had known how it all worked we’d have asked for this first but we are learning new stuff the whole time so – no harm done. And we will finally be able to get rid of the butt-ugly shed! I’m looking forward to that part of the adventure.

The same day Eddy called we also had John the drain man. How he stays so upbeat considering his job I don’t know but he was great. He hosed the main drain – some remaining fatberg but the blockages were mainly years of lime scale. He checked the tank, gave the system a clean bill of health and recommended we have the last lot of guttering diverted into a soak-away. A huge relief as we were contemplating new drains and all the disruption and cost that entails. All we have to do is keep an eye on the grease trap (yuck) and arrange for yet another workman – Paddy – to do the gutters.

So many jobs have different specialists here. We now have two Johns, three Dereks, an Aidan, one each of Davey, Dom, Fergus and Eddy, – and Des of course. They are soon to be joined by Tom and Paddy. My phone is full of workmen’s contact details.

1000 pieces and it feels like more
Oh how I wish I could fix this!

I’m heading to the local hospital on Monday for my first physio session and none too soon My right shoulder – used to be my “good” shoulder – was the problem. Although I’m still resting it and doing a new jigsaw I’ve popped my left shoulder too. So contrary to what many of my students would say I’m now totally ‘armless.

I was putting some strain on it reaching up a little to the keyboard and mouse with the new desk and I cannot get my chair to rise at all. I did one broadcast for Southside with only the top of my head visible. So I’ve tried different cushions and now perch on a piece of redundant sofa foam. It’s 12 cm high and looks ridiculous but does the job. Oh the world isn’t made for a short-arse like me. I hope to find someone to fix the chair as it’s normally very comfortable but I’m not holding my breath. In a different country and post-Covid world everything is much slower and harder to find.

Maybe that’s also part of the adventure. Despite temporary setbacks and some health problems moving was still one of the best decisions we ever made and we are, generally, ridiculously happy.