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Hoping you had a very Happy Christmas

Here we are, a year round and our first Christmas in our own house in Ireland. I don’t know about you but we had a very happy day. Last year Jacqui scrambled and juggled and somehow made a special time for us. This year we had a bit more time and a bit more space. There were still hiccups of course. An Post seems to have gone AWOL over the last few weeks and letters and parcels I posted up to 3 weeks ago have not arrived. The electricity is decidedly dodgy at the moment and we were cooking in Stygian gloom at one point last night. We’ve had no snow (hooray) but a goodly amount of rain (how unexpected).

This year we can be really festive!

Overall though I think we did quite well. The tree went up, complete with some of our favourite decorations. We followed Irish tradition and strung lights around the front gate (and are planning more for next year). Jacqui made a wonderful Christmas cake and I iced it. Last year she was worried we might not manage a cake and my callous reply was “We’ve got some extras – we could just ice a pudding”. It didn’t go down well. And dinner was a triumph of course.

This is what has destroyed the wood

We took the opportunity of a break in the rain to walk around the wood for the first time. We thought it would be two years before we could do that so felt very happy with our progress. It is still very rough and uneven underfoot and there are many little stumps now. A lot of them show evidence of the dreaded Ash DieBack – scars on the bark, broken rings and black patches inside. We’ve a big job on our hands but we will bring it all back to life, though with different types of trees.

I’ve made this a shorter read than usual as I have some important work to do. One of my presents yesterday was a 17-note kalimba and apparently I have until June to reach concert standard. It is a little brother for the (at least) 50 year old Indian Banjo but I may be a bit more successful with the kalimba. Firstly the Indian Banjo is right-handed so I struggle as a lefty. Secondly Charlie either sings along or hates it so much he won’t stop barking. I’m not sure which but he’s not taken against the kalimba so I may get to learn in peace. For those of you unfamiliar with these instruments, I’ve attached a couple of pictures below.

The 17 note Kalimba
The Indian Banjo

And I have a wonderful new jigsaw puzzle board. I had to leave my old one behind. It was very old and didn’t close properly so the bits slid around and fell out. A confession – I found it abandoned in the alleyway in Saltburn and it was a bit knackered even then. I’ve several lovely new puzzles I’ve not been able to try – a 1,000-piece jigsaw and three lively dogs do not mix. And the only surface big enough is the dining table that I can’t monopolise for days on end. So I will be very busy – and very happy until at least New Year.

I’m probably going to change these blog posts to every 2 weeks next year though if I have news of the new book or the TV project I’ll post that at once. I am also resuming the podcasts from the blogs in January and will post the link. Many, many thanks to you all for your support and friendship this past year. I have loved sharing the journey with you.

Wishing you all a very happy New Year.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose…

Life is a series of ups and downs and the best we can hope for is it evens out in the end. Take this last week for example. A lot has been going on and there were mixed results. Some we won, some we lost and at least one outcome managed to be both at the same time. It is no wonder we are just plain worn out!

After a lot of delays due to problems sourcing materials, illness and waiting for something else to be done first we suddenly found ourselves with three sets of workmen. They were all in different areas, which made dog wrangling a bit difficult, especially Charlie who went into full hyper-vigilant mode. After threatening him with lavender oil and finally applying a few drops on the back of his neck he subsided. The rest of the day he sulked on the couch, muttering occasionally and wiping his nose on the cushions. Meanwhile our long held plans were coming to fruition.

Solar panels at last!

Eddy arrived with two hefty lads and fitted our solar panels for the water supply. On the other side of the Majestic wall are the batteries, controls, fuses and dials. I’m not saying it is about as complex as the control panel for Concorde but it does probably rival a Sopwith Camel. He left the grid running to let the batteries charge up as it is very grey and overcast at present. Then on Saturday he came back and switched it over, leaving the mains feed as an emergency option.

Alas, this morning I woke to find we had no water and hurried out to the Majestic, a vision in Crocs and a yellow dressing gown. Hurrah for living in an isolated area! I saw the whole system was off and the fuse to the pump had blown so I had to call him out (after getting dressed). Eddy replaced the fuse with a new one and hopefully it will be fine now. Certainly we have water again though I keep checking the box indoors just in case. So – win, lose or both?

Hollowed out wood

Fergus our tree man returned to remove the dangerous tree in the wood and safeguard the oaks which he did with his usual skill. Then he and Tom set to and removed a lot of the dying ash trees. Many of the smaller saplings turned out to be Poplar, a non-native plant in Ireland. They self seed, grow extremely fast and have shallow roots so can destroy a wood if left. They were all removed and chipped ready for new planting. Now we can actually walk around the wood and get to the remaining trees. At the back is a whole ecosystem with dozens of birds’ nests that we are leaving. This is their home too. Next year we will begin replanting and try to make it healthy and beautiful. But the wood looks so bare and empty at the moment. Win, lose or both?

A proper room now!

The third step forwards was the welcome arrival of Dom, our joiner. He laid the floor in the new room, a waterproof laminate in anticipation of dog washing. He then built the frames for the sink and presses and managed to get the sink from Cork in place. It is extremely heavy and we were most impressed. He even fitted out some much-needed extra storage in the utility room. As a grand finale he moved the dryer in and fitted the condensing hose through the wall.

That is such a boon for us in the winter. No more draping the hose inside and trying to catch the water. No more steamed up rooms and condensation on windows. Bliss. We are now waiting for the doors to finish it off, probably in the New Year. Aidan, our plumber, has Covid so we can’t get the sink and washing machine fitted out yet. We wish him a full recovery and look forward to seeing him next month. So, mainly win and a bit of lose I think.

Well, it is a year round now and we are a few days away from the first glimpse we had of this lovely house. Like termites we have burrowed our way into it and are making it our own. Some changes are big, some very small but every step helps us feel more at home now. I will take this opportunity to send all good wishes to you all. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts this year. May the next year be a good one for everyone.

Another anniversary – and what a year

I said last week this is the time of anniversaries for us and here is another. We landed in Ireland a year ago. It is hard to believe sometimes, looking back. Firstly that a whole year has passed since we packed up and headed for an unknown future. Secondly that we have done so much in that short time. And thirdly that we made it at all, amidst changing rules, Covid and hopeless deadlines. Self-isolation, lock down and no crossing county lines when we arrived made it worse. Still, here we are in a new house in a new country – and making a new life.

It has been quite a transition in many ways. We were comfortably settled in Saltburn for many years. We left 2 days shy of our 31st year and had routines, friends and all the security of familiarity. Of course everything changes and we were slowly becoming less comfortable in our home. The town was always busy in the summer and for special days – markets, Christmas fairs and so on. Over the years the tourist season expanded but only in the final few years was it becoming suffocating.

Moving from this…
To this

Parking was always a bit dodgy but it became a battlefield with some very aggressive visitors in the streets. It was no longer possible to walk the dogs to the front and sit quietly for a while as bikes, e-bikes and large groups of people pushed and jostled. As one of our dogs is hyper-vigilant I was frequently shouted or sworn at by strangers when he barked. This, I’m sure you can imagine, did not help to calm him at all. We loved the house but longed for some outdoor space, especially in lockdown. And there was the “elephant in the room” – the approach of Brexit and all the misery that would bring us.

We miss a lot of things from Saltburn and from the UK. We had such good friends and neighbours. People knew who we were, some had read my books, we had local groups we supported in a casual way. We are very, very lucky. We sold the house, we were able to move the proceeds and buy a new home and much of our goods made the journey safely. The dogs travelled just fine. In fact they were positively phlegmatic about it all. I think we found it harder than they did overall.

Yet there is still a lingering sense of loss that comes on sometimes. Being so far from family is hard and there are friends we miss so much. It was wonderful to live by the sea for so many years and I miss the views, the wonderful icy air of winter and the solstice sunsets I watched when walking Saffron, our last Tibetan Terrier, late at night. There is not much of a tourist trade in Tipperary. Right in the middle of Ireland it is neither “The Ancient East” nor “The Wild Atlantic West”. It is lovely in a quiet, green sort of way and I don’t think I would want to go back to a popular tourist site again.

The oak trees – the foundation of our new wood

This week saw our first real storm this year, Storm Barra that swept in off the Atlantic on Tuesday. We were treated to torrential rain and wind speeds of up to 130 km an hour for 36 hours. That’s just over 80 miles an hour. We are in a strange anomaly – a sheltered dip on a hill, so escaped the worst of it. We were so glad the trees along the lane had been trimmed. I doubt we would have escaped with the Majestic intact without the sterling work of Fergus and his crew. He will be back next week as one tree on the edge of the wood is now tilting at a 45-degree angle and one more decent storm will have it down. It is now hovering over my precious young oaks so has to come down safely. Apart from that however we escaped relatively unscathed.

Full steam ahead for Christmas!

Last year we had a small but very determined Christmas, mainly as Jacqui was determined. Our wonderful friend Lynn had ensured the tree decorations and lights were in the last load. This meant they were among the few things we rescued before lock down. Patrick, the lovely manager of the cottages, provided a tree. Jacqui had packed one of the remaining puddings from the previous year and a cake. This year she is busy making new puddings from my mother’s special secret recipe and the house smells – like Christmas.

And last night we marked the passing of our first year with a chicken and special stuffing. Made from three herbs – sage, rosemary and winter savoury – they all came from our garden and combined beautifully. We have named it for the house, a small gesture to remind us that for all the old, lost routines and traditions we can make some new. They help us appreciate and celebrate our new life here.

There is much we miss but we have so much that is different to enjoy. What a year it has been.
We are very, very lucky people.

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.

A week of miscellany – but better than the last one

This week we were expecting a fairly quiet time but life does throw a lot of stuff at you, doesn’t it? We had a few things we had to do, chiefly sort the damn bins and get to the hospital in Limerick. There was a delivery to be organised and we hoped there might be some progress on outstanding jobs. In the end there was a big rush of miscellany with varied outcomes, but hey that’s life.

First, the hospital visit on Friday. For some reason the main car park is still closed so it is a bit like a game of musical cars. Not what you want when you have a heart patient on board. And especially as the first act of the clinic is a blood pressure reading. Fortunately we arrived very early and had time to amble slowly across to reception. Then we traversed long, crowded corridors to the lift. The only way up to the clinic is by lift – but the lift can only be operated by a member of staff. There was, of course, no designated lift operator. Instead you flag down a passing staff member and hope you look respectable enough to be allowed in. Don’t ask me – I didn’t plan the system.

Once there we had a generally positive meeting with a very competent and friendly nurse. Jacqui is doing well and recovering slowly. She will need more “interventions” but these will be decided on by the specialist and a meeting is scheduled for December. For now she has to rest, take a gentle walk each day and be patient. She really does her best but she is not the most patient of patients. In her defence she says she gets bored!

The bins are another story. Finally, after five weeks a truck arrived and “swopped them out”. We managed to get a brief chat with the driver and he said the bin man was refusing to come down our road. It seems he broke a mirror in September and lost his work bonus. Well, it wasn’t our fault and we would have liked to know they weren’t coming. Especially as I’d just paid a year in advance. Monday is a public (bank) holiday here but on Tuesday I am on the phone to a supervisor.

Yesterday (Saturday) we met Fergus, the tree man. He arrived with a HUGE trailer of dried hardwood logs that will need to be stacked. We hope to get them into the Majestic but this depends on the pallets being moved and space cleared first. This also needs the newly delivered freezer installed in the grooming room – which needs the floor laid. So we are still dealing with building dominoes, though we are making some progress.

Fergus looked around the wood and agreed we had a bad case of ash dieback in the centre. However on the road boundary he pointed out a venerable ash tree, seemingly untouched. It was next to a big sycamore and there is some evidence the sycamore can help to fight this horrible disease. Fergus is something of a local historian and poet and he said that in the C19th and early C20th people ate from wooden bowls. Bowls made from sycamore wood. The wood had antibacterial properties and will grow a penicillin type fungus if left wet. We are considering sprinkling new sycamore trees through the wood when we replant to spread this protection to the other trees.

One of the great joys of the house is the view across the field from the kitchen diner. It is slightly diminished by the dog-proof fence we had to install but is still breathtaking. It is also ever changing, never the same one day to the next. Actually it’s never the same one hour to the next. We have seen small mammals and large birds in the field, buzzards circling the Fairy Fort, sunrise, sunset, full moon and the Milky Way. There are skies straight out of paintings – Casper David Friedrich, Constable, Turner and (my favourite) John Martin. He does a good apocalypse sky, does John Martin. This morning a murmuration of starlings landed in the wood and flew back and forth over the field. It is enough to lift the lowest of spirits. There were only about 200 birds but I hope it will grow and we will see them again.

A mini Murmuration

So here we are. We are being sensible, doing quiet things and trying to be patient but the great thing is we are together. Jacqui is getting better. We have to go more slowly but stuff will get done and we will both be able to enjoy the results.