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Posts from the ‘A big Adventure’ Category

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.

And a Happy New Year to you all

Hello, welcome back and a Happy New Year to you all. This is the first of the fortnightly blogs, hopefully alternating with the podcasts of previous episodes on Southside Broadcasting. I will post a link to the podcasts for anyone interested in listening as we record them.

The New Year certainly brought some surprises for us, some rather unwelcome I have to say. Just before New Year I realised the kitchen drain wasn’t living up to its name. In fact it was pouring water from the sink over the paths outside. With a feeling of dread I began to investigate and discovered the horrors of “The Grease Trap”. Installed a number of years ago this is an extra manhole with a big bucket designed to – yes, trap grease from the waste water. Now, we are very careful about the fats and oil we pour down the sink. In fact we don’t. We wipe out everything and use the paper to light the fire so there should have been very little grease in the bucket. How wrong could I be?

We had our very own “fatberg”. Picture a solid mass, diameter about a foot and more than six inches thick wedged in the top of the manhole. I donned my new, extra tough overalls and began to hack it out. After three hours I had dislodged most of it and it was residing in several carrier bags. Then I had to bale out the wastewater to get at the pipes. After another hour I couldn’t reach any further and the drain showed no sign of clearing. I gave up as the light was fading and it was raining. The next day I abandoned all finesse and poked, hacked and chiselled at the pipes lying flat and stretching down into the drain. Finally something gave and it began to clear. The fatburg was buried in the wood and I went to have a long, hot shower.

We don’t know where it has come from as we are so careful. I suspect it is “old” fat, washing back along the pipe, as the drop to the tank is minimal. I have a nasty feeling we will need to dig up and reset the drain in the spring. Ah, the joys of rural living! We have space, birdsong and wildlife. We don’t have rubbish collections, mains water, drainage or gas. Most days it seems like a fair trade.

The next morning I woke to find one of my arms wouldn’t move properly. An old injury to my right shoulder had come back to haunt me as the ligament gave way again. A trip to the Injury Clinic (Irish A&E) was not quite the festive treat we had hoped for but they were helpful and much quicker than we expected. Now we are in a bit of a quandary. Jacqui cannot lift and carry heavy things obviously. I have one usable arm – I won’t say “good” as I broke both ligaments in the past. It requires some ingenuity to get things done and some (hoovering for example) are just being abandoned at present. It’s amazing how much fluff and dog hair you can scrape up with your feet!

A lot of the kitchen equipment we had in Saltburn has been left behind and so we have to replace it. One advantage is we can get modern replacements and Jacqui has a new super “does everything” mixer. This is terrific as she can make bread and bake without trying to knead or mix by hand. This is forbidden and too much of a strain at the moment. We have an array of (low sugar and healthier) cakes in the freezer, most stored in identical tubs. Well, after crossing out half a dozen labels I finally gave up. When we take one out to defrost it just goes into the tub labelled “cake”. I figure if we can’t tell what type it is then it’s not a success.

It has been cold here though there was barely a dusting of snow last week when we were warned of “hazardous blizzard-like conditions”. It has rained though – oh, how it has rained. I have my grandfather’s barometer/clock and it ranges from “stormy” to “very dry”. In the middle is “change” which in England generally meant changing from one range (wet) to another (dry). Here it seems to mean, “change” – every twenty minutes or so. The sun will shine the clouds scud across the sky and then the wind blows up the lane. That’s the 30-second warning to get under cover before the rain pours down. Five minutes later the sun is out again. It takes some getting used to but the up side is we have many beautiful rainbows over our wood.

Oh, and we were without the car for a couple of days as a brake began to smoke. The garage took the wheels off and everything was fine so it seems we got something wedged in the calliper. The lane outside is a horrible mess with deep holes, torn up surface and pools of water. A lot of farm vehicles drive up and down at a high speed and this rips up the surface – what is left of it. We are slow and careful but there is too much debris to avoid it all. I had a prescription for heavy painkillers and couldn’t get to the pharmacy to collect it. Despite the weather and the horrible road a young man drove out and delivered it the next day – no charge he said. There are some lovely people here.

You may think this was a grim start to 2022 but in Saltburn we grew to dread New Year. Either the boiler broke down or one of our pets died. We would wake up to the cold and breathe a sigh of relief – not this year, we thought cuddling the dogs and cats in to us. So despite the setbacks we are having a happy New Year and looking forward to many more. I wish the same for you all.

A week of surprises, mainly happy ones

Life has a way of surprising us all and this week did not turn out as expected. Our grand hopes for the final stages of the building work came to nothing. Absolutely nothing as our joiner was pinged as a close contact for Covid and had to isolate. No floor then, and no presses either. By the way, a “press” is a cupboard over here, something we really are in dire need of despite our major reduction in worldly goods since moving. This was no fault of his own of course, and we are travelling hopefully into next week. It would be rather nice to get the flooring out of my bedroom. Oh, and thank you for the ideas for disposing of the bubble wrap – they are much appreciated!

The other let down was the solar power installation. The men called ten days ago and were most impressed by Davey’s work on the base and the Majestic. Foolishly we thought we were clear to go. They gave us a rough price and we were assured the panels were ordered and ready. Then, not a word. No message or call, no indication of why there was a delay and if they might pop up suddenly – probably when we were out. We are travelling slightly less hopefully on that one.

There was a bright spot in the middle of the week. We are entering the time of anniversaries in our lives. Near the start of this blog I said we always moved in December. Well in the absence of a formal ceremony in the 1980s we have marked our anniversary on the 1st of December – the day we moved in together down in Bridgwater. And talking of life’s surprises, it was 38 years ago. A lovely evening in and a half bottle of prosecco may seem a bit low key but we enjoyed every minute. Especially when we mused on last year, in the midst of chaos, packing and uncertainty. And next week it is a year since we washed up here, drained and exhausted. That is something else to celebrate.

Wednesday did deliver one rather unpleasant surprise this week. Like any good and responsible person, I went to the vaccination centre in town when called for my Covid booster. This is in a large hotel and it is a strange experience, getting a jab in one of 20 white, boarded cubicles, under the glass chandeliers of the ballroom. The staff took the “well ventilated space” very seriously – all the outside doors were open and the temperature was close to freezing with a stiff wind roaming the corridors. This, coupled with the first rendition of that Christmas album – you know the one – made it a fairly miserable experience.

The people however were lovely and my nurse, Laura, was efficient, friendly and so gentle. They cannot be faulted and I am extremely grateful, especially as Jacqui needs some extra protection at the moment. That was not the unpleasant surprise however. It began about 10.30 at night when my expected sore arm began to radiate heat. All my joints joined in along with shaking and chattering teeth. I took a quick glance at the thermometer and confirmed my suspicions. I was running a temperature that can perhaps be called “interesting”. After a day it fell to below 38 (100.4 in Fahrenheit) and I was feeling washed out but better. Well, at least I know my immune system is working!

Red Dogwood in the old peat cuttings

Ireland is traditionally seen as very green and the variety of shades is quite amazing, even as winter approaches. There are many other lovely sights here and a lot of them throw this green patchwork into sharp relief. Red Dogwood in the old, swampy peat cutting is one such sight. Rosy willow trees keep their colour even after losing their leaves. There are still gardens and verges laden with multicoloured chrysanthemums and the skies are amazing. On bright, frosty mornings I wish I could draw but that’s not one of my skills. I leave that to Jacqui who can sketch, colour and blend to perfection.


Clouds like distant mountains

We have had some cold weather here with a few exceptionally hard frosts. The fields around are glistening white and the dogs love the frozen grass. We can see the moon in the morning, up in the blue sky before it sets to the west. Some days when the clouds roll in they look almost like distant mountains, sharp and snow covered in the distance. This place never ceases to surprise and delight me, even if it comes with sudden sleet squalls and occasional power cuts.

Our final surprise was both delightful and rather awe inspiring. I was out in the garden with the dogs when I heard the familiar call of a buzzard. A second later three birds swooped low over the garden and swept off towards the Fairy Fort. I was just turning away when I heard another call – and then another and another. As I looked up a flock of buzzards, at least 15, glided over the house and headed off into the field behind us. They have been gathering and circling for the last few days, often gliding in silence on the strong wind from the south. I looked it up and saw a flock of buzzards is called a “wake” but, unlike vultures, they do not bring bad luck. We have many different types of birds here but thankfully no vultures.

Now that would be a surprise.

This week, a very rubbish post

I think it is obvious that life here in Ireland is very different from life in the UK. Whilst some things stay the same – lots of (almost) familiar forms, daylight saving time, TV licences – the basic structure is very different. For the first time we are personally responsible for most of our services. There is no Council Tax, just a much smaller Land Tax paid each year – 12% of the UK tax on our old house. But – there’s always a “but” – no lighting, no council rubbish collection, no mains drainage or water, no gas network. This is the case in many urban as well as rural areas.

Finding out how to obtain and manage all of this really focuses the mind. I have become far more aware of what I use and what I throw away. Especially what I throw away. Yes, the rubbish bins farce rumbles on and we are having to find new ways to handle it ourselves. When I filled a bag with mixed rubbish and remembered there was no handy bin I had to stop and consider what the hell I was going to do. Try it for yourselves – peer into your kitchen bin and think “What am I going to do with all this?”

Ratproof and capacious

We already recycle a lot but that collection ended too so now we are finding new solutions for our reusables. A new coal bunker in the wood is for grass cuttings and compostible food waste. We chose a coal bunker as it is rat-proof. Almost all plastic bags are compostable now so we can just chuck the whole lot in. Glass and tins go to the banks outside shops. There’s a lot of cardboard but we have a lot of land. It is going outside to deter weeds, encourage earthworms and hopefully rot down. The big problem is plastic. We can burn small amounts but would prefer not to have to. Then Jacqui remembered the big counter in Tesco.

“Recycle all your hard and soft plastics here “ it says. So we are going to remove all the plastic bags at source and put veggies and fruit into nylon bags. Empty bottles and cleaned food trays will be returned and slipped in each week. I don’t know if that’s allowed. I’m sure someone will tell us in the next few weeks. That leaves polystyrene packing from large items, bubble wrap and larger plastic sheets. Still musing on that. Dealing with each item makes you very aware of just how much waste there is despite all our efforts to cut it down.

The solar panels should be installed at last next week and we will see a big drop in the electricity bills. Currently almost 45% of the power goes to the pump, mainly to supply the farm. When we have flow meters installed I will be able to calculate exactly how much. Oh I’m going to have fun with my little calculator! And we can finally dispense with the butt-ugly pump house and its dangerously frail electricity supply.

The butt-ugly pump house

There have been some misgivings over putting our water supply in the hands of a solar system. Ireland is always cited as a dark, cold and wet place after all. Well, there are storage batteries built into the system for stormy days and the panels don’t need sun, just light. It is certainly wet here in the winter though not continuously. Many days there are fierce little squalls that rush down the road. I can hear them coming and reckon I have about 30 seconds to get inside. That is hard-earned knowledge from last year, believe me.

After they pass however there may be a longer patch of sunlight complete with rainbows before the next hits. Of course there are what the Irish call “dirty days”. The Italians have a lovely description for this type of rain. They call it “bagnata gli contadini” which means “soaking the peasants”. On such days this peasant lights the fire and hunkers down in the snug relying on the batteries to run the pump.

So, a post mainly about rubbish. Even if we do manage to persuade our providers to resume service I think we will be far more efficient in our consumption. This has been a hard but good lesson in how to do our own small bit towards preserving the planet and so, in a strange way, I’m almost grateful.
Almost – I still have all that bloody bubble wrap in my room and no idea what to do with it.

Living in “The Wind in the Willows”

“The Wind in the Willows” was one of my favourite childhood books and now we seem to be living in it.

This week has seen radical changes in the land around the house. Fergus the tree surgeon arrived on Wednesday with some frightening machinery and along with Tom and Robbie set to, making the road and parts of the wood safe again. There have been high winds even this early in winter and several of the trees had begun to lean dangerously. Across the road the trees arched over and were banging on the roof of the Majestic. It was a job for the professionals and they did us proud.

Clearing the Road

Before Fergus tackled the wood I had a discussion about the other residents. On Sunday I went out to call the dogs last thing at night. A large bird swooped over the wall from the wood, gliding silently straight towards me. I’ve never seen a barn owl in the wild before and certainly never that close. It was probably partially blinded by the security light as it was only 10 feet away when it blinked and veered off abruptly. I stood for a moment, open mouthed and filled with wonder.

We were fairly sure it was nesting in the wood and concerned we might disturb it or – worse – destroy the nest. Fergus cut the falling tree with extraordinary care, located the nest and made the remainder safe. He even left part of the high trunk to make a perch for the owls. Off to one side we have a badger’s set. Actually more like a badger mansion I think. It has several entrances, a flat area where they pull out bedding to dry in the morning and a walkway across the top, now catching some sun. We had thought to carve a seat from the fallen log but now will leave it alone so they can live in peace.

A mansion for Badger

Well, that’s Owl and Badger. Ratty we’ve been tussling with for months and as long as he stays away from the house we are happy. Sadly Mole (or one of them) met a sticky end a few weeks ago. I found a tiny corpse by the back door. Perhaps an offering from the same animal that left a field mouse by the front door last month. We had a host of frogs and small toads in the spring and through the summer. They got into the garden and we were very careful cutting the grass, giving them time to hop away. And the first animal we saw was a weasel, strutting through the garden one evening. Quite a cast I think and fit for a book!

Feral Dogwood on the march

We have let the garden go for a while and the grass was way out of control. Jacqui is forbidden to use the strimmer or mower and I have no shoulder ligaments left so can’t do much. Enter Des, one of our lovely neighbours. He got the grass down and piled out to compost in the wood and tackled the feral dogwood too. Much to our surprise we found a small stone boundary deep in the hedge. The dogwood had broken though and was several feet past it, rooting into the gravel of the drive. It looks rather ragged at the moment but Des assures us it will grow back thicker and can be shaped next year.

Both Fergus and Des are very knowledgeable and have expertise and ideas for the wood. We all agree the ash, over half of the trees, has to go. It is heartbreaking, ripping the centre out of the wood but we are making plans to build back. As the land slopes the rain tends to gather at the road side and this isn’t good for many trees. We do have some willows there however. I fancy putting a double line along that boundary to dry the land a little and act as a natural barrier if the road floods. Fergus showed me how to take cuttings so we can plant from our own trees. I’m looking forward to that this winter.

As well as willow we are looking at oaks (my favourite), birch, a couple of Douglas firs and sycamore of course. In the middle we hope to make a centrepiece with Canadian maple, copper beech and fruit and nut trees, mainly for the birds. It would give the wood a new heart and add a lot of colour and different shapes. I read a saying recently – “He who plants trees knowing he will never sit in their shade has begun to understand the planet”. We won’t see the wood come to its full glory but we will make a start and hope others will treasure and nurture it.

Here’s to the planet – and living in “The Wind in the Willows”.

This weekend we got hopelessly lost

First an explanation into why I am a day late with this week’s blog. We went to get another vital part of the grooming room and got hopelessly lost. We headed into County Cork using the main roads but around one town there were diversions and road works. Anxious to avoid a trip into Cork itself we moved onto smaller roads. Big, big mistake. We drove for over an hour through a maze of tiny roads. Many were not on the map and they had only road numbers – also not on the map. The only signposts were to places – yep, not on the map. And several were knocked down or moved round so sent us in the wrong direction. In the end it was a seven hour trip but the countryside was lovely. So were the people we went to see so it was just a long Sunday drive really.

We are firmly into autumn now and the leaves are tumbling. For a few weeks there are beautiful displays of colour, then piles of vegetation around the house. Many of the changes are the same as in England. The swifts have left, the starlings are back in force and all the birds are eating as if they are starved. There are more colours here on the trees as a lot of homes have maple trees, beech and rowan amongst others that go a glorious red. We are hoping to plant some American maple and copper beech next year to replace the heart of the wood. Hopefully we can also add some fruit trees and perhaps a hazelnut or two that we will share with the birds.

Mind you, we miss the amazing display of trees around Middlesbrough. There you are – not a sentence you ever thought you’d read, right? When local councils were awarded a grant for planting trees, many years ago, Middlesbrough decided to use theirs to “green” the main roads, especially the A174. The planting is inspired with a wonderful mix of trees giving an amazing show for weeks.

There are other differences too. For the first year since 1989 we had no Halloween callers. This is not all that surprising. Despite have a number of neighbours “just across the road”, they are actually up to 3 kilometres away. Not an easy 3k either – it was a stormy night, pouring with rain and the road was muddy. Bit of a hike for a handful of chocolate I think. With no 5th of November we are spared the fireworks that seem to begin in late September and end after New Year in England. We are lucky that our dogs don’t mind the noise. The oldest used to get up at the window and pull the curtains aside to look out. Charlie grew up with the TV on as a puppy so is used to loud noises and sudden bangs. Maybe that’s why he’s hyper vigilant towards strangers. He’s expecting someone to ride into the house, all guns blazing.

I suspect we are heading for a pre-Christmas “circuit breaker” lockdown here in Ireland. Covid cases are rising fast and there is a hint of returning to work from home for many people. We hope to learn from our previous experiences and will do our “non-essential” shopping next week. We are also bringing the new freezer in and putting it into the little utility room so we can bulk-buy the dogs’ meat and freeze it. Getting enough was a nightmare last time and only one supermarket will come up here to deliver. I’m also getting a job lot of overseas stamps so if I have your address I can send a card this year. If you’re not sure then DM me and I’ll add you to my list.

We are also still fighting with the waste collectors who are coming to remove the bins despite not telling us or answering our emails. As no-one else operates in the area I’m at a loss – and very angry. Still, we have overcome much greater obstacles in the last year and I’m sure we can sort this out somehow. Meanwhile I am composing an icily polite letter of complaint that will go to them, their trade association, the local council and, if necessary, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Have a good week and thank you for reading!

What a difference a day makes – and two lovely men.

We are slowly chipping away at all the stuff that needs doing and are surprised at the end of each week at how much we have managed to do. This week we had some help, in the form of Will and Anthony, two of Derek Madden’s “Merry Men”. They were the crew who helped us move in back in February and they turned up on Wednesday to do a blitz job on some of the most pressing areas of the garden and surrounds. They had intended coming on Monday but the weather took a turn for the worst and the jobs were not the sort you want to do in pouring rain and high winds.

It was still a bit uncertain when they arrived but these two lovely men tackled the Majestic, moving some of the wood in to dry. They put more weed mat over the side ground, cleared out the gutters and then – tackled the front hedge. This had gone feral over the summer and the poor postie was in danger of losing an eye trying to get through. What a difference a day makes!

They were quite apologetic it was a bit ragged but it was way better than we expected. The growth has been enthusiastic but random and it will take a year or so to thicken up. Then we can think about shaping it a bit more. Will and Antony did an amazing job, even putting a bit of a slope on the front. It was too wet to tackle the grass but hopefully they might come back when we have a few fine days and work their magic on the back garden too. They also made Jacqui’s day. We explained we were struggling with these heavier jobs, with Jacqui’s health and our slowly advancing age. When they heard how old Jacqui was they paid a great Irish compliment.
“Jeez, but you’re fresh!” Another for the language list I think.

We have had a number of encounters with our neighbours this week. At the weekend we met Des from the farm across the field. We had already made friends with his partner, Julie, and she brought him around to meet us and discuss help maintaining the garden. A highly skilled gardener and tree man, Des is much in demand and we are pleased he might consider our sad little patch. He’s very interested in the wood and could be a godsend later. First we must finish the cutting down phase and move on to the building back bit.

On two separate days we met more neighbours (remember this means anyone who lives closer than 3 kilometres away). Noreen was walking along the track one afternoon as we came back from town. She was without her little dog Brandy this time but I’m getting a bit better at recalling human names. We had a nice chat and it is very reassuring to have a nurse for a neighbour, especially one so helpful.

Yesterday we met the man who walks Rocky, his friend’s dog – an exception to my name recall at the moment. He was the walker who stopped us early on and asked if I was the “writer lady”. He commented on my bicycle which had been out of the shed for a bit on Wednesday. It transpires he spent 50 years in the bicycle trade and identified (and admired) it immediately.

I’ve just got a stirrup pump for it and should be able to ride it again when the weather clears. Turns out there’s a locking joint in the valves of Dutch bikes and I need to turn this or “’twill never be pumped up, you know”. Well, I do now. No wonder I was popping my shoulders with the little pump.

Also his wife is the woman who makes the jam we love and always get at the Friday markets. A small world, Ireland. We’re starting to make connections with and between people too.

The bins are another story. In fact they are several stories ranging from “Health and Safety!” to “The driver lost his bonus collecting them and won’t come down the lane anymore.” I am hoping to have a little word with the closure department tomorrow and will give the details then. Meanwhile we are hunting for someone – anyone – who will do a rubbish and recycling collection. Keep your fingers crossed for us. It is getting a bit desperate.

And finally a question for those of an ornithological incline. We have another new bird in the garden. In fact it hops along the fence and peers in through the windows, not in the least scared by us. It looks a bit like a wren in body shape and beak but at least 50% larger. It has a sparrow-like back and wings but a black/very dark grey head and a white flash on its throat. There’s a white smudge in its chest and it has a russet belly. The tail can be fanned out and it takes delight in twerking at us a bit like a wagtail. I tried to get a picture but failed miserably.
Has anyone any ideas?

Travelling hopefully through the house dominoes

We have made some progress here this week. Several people have contacted us about the many jobs we need doing and our floor and joinery man came to measure up. We are hoping to have a floor down in the grooming room soon and then can tackle the dominoes. Floor down means the freezer, washing machine and dryer can go in. So can the sink for the dogs (that will please them!). We will then have enough storage for the cleaners and Hoover so can unpack the last of the boxes. And we had the log delivery that needs to go into the Majestic out of the rain and into the space made by moving all of the above. We are travelling hopefully and refuse to get upset or impatient about it.

Winter fuel – we hope

Make no mistake, the slowness is not down to indolence or lack of will. All the workmen we know are going flat out, taking on multiple jobs and working every hour they can. Most of them look exhausted all the time. We are a long way out in the wilds and understandably some are reluctant to make the trip but those that do have been wonderful. There is a sense of anxiety here as despite the boom in all types of construction they are eyeing the rise in costs and worrying about being able to quote competitively or cover materials up front.

Feral dogwood!

Many also remember the last boom, back in the days of the “Celtic Tiger”. Almost overnight everything collapsed and the whole economy went into recession. As most of them are sole owners or family firms this was – and would be – a disaster. The economic pattern of Ireland is quite different from the UK, mainly as there was no widespread Industrial Revolution. Whilst 40% of the (very small) population live in Dublin, the rest live in small communities or isolated farms. There is no post-industrial pattern to life or work and much is based on agrarian society.

This does have its upside – people do help one another out, even total strangers. Everyone knows everyone else, even through hearsay. We were, at one time, apparently the talk of the parish. Now we are obviously not holiday home buyers and people stop on their walks to chat over the gate or through the car window. We have had offers of help as Jacqui’s health prevents her doing much at the moment, at least in the hedge cutting and chain saw departments. A neighbour out here is someone “just across the road”. And that is within 3 kilometres. We have space but do not feel isolated or alone.

As winter draws near it brings some sense of relief out here. It does rain a lot. That is one stereotype the country upholds with great enthusiasm. However though it is cold in the mornings it is generally warmer than England. Certainly warmer than the north-east. And this means everything keeps growing. At least when the cold weather arrives we will have some respite and can maybe consolidate the work already done. We began cutting the hedges back but stopped in later spring when birds began to nest. Now we hope to trim and force them back so they grow straight and thick. At the moment they are closing in around the house and have overgrown the front gate. It’s like something out of “Sleeping Beauty”, to be honest.

The Postie deserves better than this!

There are many things the same here but small differences make every day a mini adventure. Take the use of language, for example. The vast majority speak English but with some differences. The word order differs on occasions and there are subtle changes in how some words are used. In England I might say, “Can/may I offer you something to drink?” if I was being formal. Informally maybe it would be, “Would you like something to drink?” Here I’ve found myself saying, “Will you take a drink?”

There are also some lovely phrases generally used. In response to queries such as, “How are you?” English people often say “Okay,” or “Fine thanks”. Even the rather dismissive, “Whatever”. Here it sometimes comes out as “Sure and you know yourself”. I love that! My favourite expression at the moment is a lyrical version of the English, “Well duh!” If something should be blindingly obvious the reply is, “Ah, the dogs in the street could have told you that”.

I’m enjoying the rhythm of the language and coping much better with the accent (except on the telephone where I do struggle a little). I have to be careful though. As speakers of Irish English surround me it becomes more familiar and can slip into an adopted speech pattern. Nothing wrong with that – except when I’m writing. Most of my characters are English and speak a standard version. Some of the Levellers use Somerset dialect. I have to be attuned to the odd Irish pattern slipping in, however much I enjoy some of the expressions. That way lies disaster.

Sure, the dogs in the street could tell me that.