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You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

Joni Mitchell once sang “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” and I can vouch for the truth of that statement.  We finished our packing in a mad scramble and the car was mainly filled by us, the dogs and our bedding.  How Jacqui got a couple of cases, some books and a very old laptop in I don’t know but she did.  Oh and the gifts and cards from friends, some food for the next day and two bags containing a few things for Christmas.  Fortunately the car has extra strong suspension.  Otherwise we may have been stopped on suspicion of smuggling.

I had divided my clothes up into summer and winter, carefully labelling the winter box “This one first!”  I’d been wearing very old, raggedy clothes that I intended to discard on arrival so had a couple of pairs of jeans, three shirts with frayed collars and holes in them and two very sad jumpers.  Jacqui was much more organised and had (bless her) seen to the other essentials.  When we unpacked on the first morning I was so relieved to see socks and underwear in abundance. 

The plan was to arrange a very socially distanced trip to the storage facility and get our clothes and a few supplies when we felt strong enough.  The next few days were spent trying to keep warm as the cottage gradually thawed out a bit and sleeping but we were rather dismayed by the television.  Freeview in Ireland is a bit – limited.  Nine stations in all, two of them +1s so basically repeats.  One of them showing how to get something better with a satellite dish.  And two in Gaelic.

We had a small box of DVDs – 12 in total.  We had chosen 6 each and fortunately we approved of one another’s picks.  Unfortunately there was no DVD player in the television or anywhere else in the cottage.  We were very, very thankful for e-books which we had carefully downloaded onto our readers before leaving.  Doesn’t that show our sense of priorities?

After clearing our visit with Noel and Sheila at the storage place we loaded the dogs into the car and set off to find some clothes for me and the store cupboard for Jacqui.  We were greeted by a most distressed Sheila and a furious Noel who led us down the dim corridors to our locker – one of four, we were told.  Shocked by this news we tried to lift the shutter but it was jammed.  This was the cause of Noel’s anger – he was upset about damage to his lockers but also furious for us.  After struggling for nearly half an hour I managed to wriggle under the door and tried to free the shutter.  There were boxes thrown in seemingly at random with everything piled up and tipping over.  Furniture was wedged in at odd angles and boxes were split, spilling their contents across the heap.  Across the top were wedged the pictures, all packed and labelled “Keep Upright” “Do not stack”.  It was a car crash.

Of course, most of the boxes we did want were nowhere to be seen, in any of the lockers.  We found the store cupboard for the kitchen – boxes of baking essentials and spices, pasta, rice… We were still mentally stuck in Covid Land where these goods were hard to find.  In fact there was no panic buying in Ireland and no evidence of any shortages.  We took the store cupboard boxes anyway.

One locker was less than half full and we began to mine it for anything useful starting with a box of cables and – joy – a very old DVD player I thought I had left behind to be recycled.  The whole move seemed totally random with stuff we needed nowhere to be seen and stuff we didn’t want standing in plain view.  There were a few bits of furniture too, including a chest of drawers from our hall.  As I carried the boxes to the car Jacqui gave a shout of triumph behind me.  I turned and saw her flourish something black and something grey.  A hat, I realized.  A hat and a pair of gloves!  Oh I was so happy.  It was extremely cold and I had nothing but my dog-walking jacket to keep me warm.  Shoving my hands into the gloves and pulling on my woolly hat I felt better than I had for days.

We rode back to the cottage and unpacked, looking at the motley collection of spoils.  They included a five litre tub of olive oil, the DVD player (but no controller, of course), a fish kettle full of cutlery, some extra rugs to cover the chairs and beds and my wonderful hat and gloves.  Oh, and two plastic boxes filled with Christmas decorations.  I know it was Lynn who had made sure they were in the last load.  She had been determined that whatever happened, we would have Christmas.  So we set to and started to make our cold little cottage just a bit more homely.  It’s amazing what you can do with very little and you begin to appreciate every tiny thing.  Yes, Joni was right. 

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

By the way, if anyone would like to follow the audio version, the first two episodes are available now (free of charge) on

https://southsidebroadcasting.podbean.com/category/tipperary-tales/

Moving from Darkness into Light

It is dark at night in rural Ireland. Very, very dark, especially in the rain – and especially in winter.  As we turned the corner into the village suddenly there were lights from houses by the road.  The shop and pub opposite the entrance to our little enclave had bright windows and outside lamps shone on sacks of fuel.  We staggered from the car and waited in the rain as the dogs sniffed and had a pee on the walls.  The front door was flung open and our friends were waiting with open arms – literally – to greet us.  Inside it was bright, warm and surprisingly crowded considering we were in the main room and there were four adults, three small dogs and one little girl.  A fire roared up the chimney in the ingle nook and we were ushered into chairs as we took off the dogs’ leads and blinked in the light.  It was a wonderful welcome.

After greetings, wine, sandwiches, more wine and a guided tour of the cottage from the little girl we fell into the beds that were already made up, too tired to unpack the car.  The next morning we found supplies for breakfast in the cupboards, provided by our lovely friends. We were able to finally stop and take stock.  We opened the last of the cards and presents from Saltburn and decorated the main room with them.  The fire had gone out and it was cold – very, very cold.  There had been virtually no visitors over the last year and the cottage was in hibernation. Storage heaters in the bedrooms took off some of the chill but we were going to need the fire on constantly to keep warm and wake up our home.

Our cottage and home for the next few months was one of eleven set around two little greens.  Built in the 1960s for tourists they were “traditional” in style.  Deep walls, stone floors, basic furnishings, small windows and very small rooms.  Perfect for a holiday but not perhaps ideal in winter for long-term residence. We unpacked the car and waited for a delivery from the nearest supermarket that Jacqui had ordered before we left.  Apart from unpacking our meagre goods and walking the dogs in the park behind the cottages we were pretty much comatose for a few days. 

We did manage a celebratory dinner on the second night.  Saltburn has a marvellous butcher, Gosnay’s, and we had one final steak from his meat counter along with some excellent wine carried in the boot and wrapped in towels.  We had ordered a large block of special sheep’s cheese from Real Meals before we left.  It and the steak travelled without harm and we raised a glass to all our friends left behind and our friends in Ireland who had made the journey possible.  

Musing on life and strange coincidences I remembered when we moved from Somerset 31 years before.  We had visited Street, the home of shoe making in the west, and I found a pair of painted boots with a picture of a cliff on them.  As we drove into Saltburn we saw Huntcliff – a distinctive shape that matched my boots exactly.  It looked like a sign. 

The week before leaving for Ireland I had packed an unfamiliar tea towel, probably from Jacqui’s great aunt, with a picture of a donkey outside a cottage.  Looking out of the window I saw a rainbow over the green and realised these cottages matched that picture.  Another sign perhaps? 

I looked at the news and saw Scotland and Ireland were both closing their borders to all travellers.  Despite the cold, despite the exhaustion I felt a great rush of relief.  With barely 36 hours to spare we had made it.

December is not a good time to move

December is never a good time to move house.  We should know – all of our moves have taken place in December due to differing circumstances.  This December however was the hardest of the lot. 

We drove off in the car loaded with bedding, three dogs and essentials of life for the first few days.  It was just after 2pm and already getting dark as the rain began to fall.  We had a satnav – something I have resisted for years, and after this journey I felt fully justified in my prejudice.  It assured us our journey was 253 miles to the hotel.  The miles ticked off as we ploughed through what developed into a storm but although we had followed it’s snooty voice without question a glance at a real map showed we were nowhere near Stranrae when it reached a mere 10 miles to go.  By the time we got to the hotel it was almost 7.30 at night and we had driven an extra 80 miles. And the satnav was now telling us we were still 10 miles away.

The hotel was dark, just a faint light in the reception area.  At first glance it could have passed as a set for “The Shining”.  We hauled ourselves up the entrance steps and across the lobby, footsteps and dogs’ claws echoing in the gloom.  I think we must have looked awful as the lovely receptionist persuaded the kitchen staff to stay on and make us something to eat.  We staggered to our rooms and collapsed, feeding the dogs first and covering the bed with a blanket to guard against paw marks.  The food was excellent, delivered to our door, and the dogs seemed happy despite such a disruptive and strange week.  We slept – oh how we slept.

Oh, how we slept!

The next morning we left the echoing, empty hotel that had been so kind and welcome and headed for the port.  The satnav, obviously inhabited by a malicious spirit of some kind, sent us round in circles for ten minutes until we turned it off and navigated ourselves, arriving just in time to load.  The worst part was leaving the dogs in the car.  We had chosen Stranrae to Belfast as it was only two hours.  Two of the dogs are good, experienced travellers but the youngest had never done anything like this before.  We settled them in their crates, left little treats hidden in their blankets and stumbled upstairs just hoping they would settle and sleep. 

Sunrise over Stranrae

On board the staff were lovely, there were coffee, tea and pastries available and excellent seating areas.  We chose a place away from the televisions which was just as well as the BBC was announcing new travel restrictions and an imminent lockdown in Northern Ireland.  If necessary we would claim ignorance – it was too late now and we had nowhere to go back to.  As we pulled away from the dock and set out across the Irish Sea I felt an overwhelming rush of emotion and began to cry.  It was a mixture of relief, exhaustion, fear (mainly for the dogs) and grief for all we were leaving behind.   Looking back now I can still feel that pain, lessened by time but still enough to hurt.  I’m only surprised I didn’t cry earlier but I think we were both hanging on so tightly we didn’t dare relax.

The dogs were, of course, fine when we got back to the car.  The little Trojans had just curled up and slept with no fuss and less worry than I had experienced.  As we drove out of the port we passed a large group of police and customs officials who were setting up cones and signs, the new checkpoint.  We drove on, trying to look suitably respectable which was not easy under the circumstances, not stopping until we reached the service area on the motorway.  Here we grabbed sandwiches and water and walked the dogs before heading for the border and our final destination.

The journey was quite uneventful after that, enlivened only by another storm and the bastard satnav lopping another 80 miles off the journey.  Oh, and a Gardai checkpoint on the motorway outside Dublin.  Although it was rush hour every car was stopped causing a long tailback.  When we got to the front of the queue a very young and very wet officer looking into the car, raising his eyebrows at the contents.  By this time we probably looked more like car residents than respectable travellers.

   “Can I ask you the purpose of yer journey today?” he asked, raising his voice over the barking.

I was very tired and in no mood to be stopped so close to achieving the impossible.

            “We are moving,” I said.  “We have rented a cottage near Nenagh and we are going there.”

There was a pause as he digested this before stepping back and waving us on.

            “You have a safe journey then” he said.

That was when I knew it just might all work out.

A Wealth of Experience (or too much)

There are some advantages that come with age and one is a wealth of experience.  My remarkable partner Jacqui had, in another life, been in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Refusing to panic she rang the Stranrae hotel and explained – several times, using increasingly small words – we were not travelling for “Leisure or Pleasure”.  This was an essential trip, allowed under the regulations and we had no choice but to leave our home on the 8th of December. A subtext, not articulated but lurking just around the corner, was the threat to camp out in their car park overnight if necessary.  It worked. 

Now we had the problem of the sale.  There was not enough time to begin the whole process again, with viewings, surveyors, mortgage assessors, solicitors… But a number of our previous viewers had expressed a keen interest in the house and sent in offers, so we sent out messages.  “If you can guarantee to complete in less than four weeks the house is yours”.  Much to our astonishment that worked too.  All we had to do was finish packing and get ready to go.

We had found a removals firm in Ireland who claimed to be expert packers and experienced in handling antiques and fragile goods.  If I do not name them you will have an inkling that these claims fell somewhat short of the truth, but more of that later.  The move was planned for 2 trips, a week apart. A storage room was already arranged some seven miles from the cottage in Ireland. We had done a lot of packing ourselves but there were still large areas of the house needing an efficient and professional hand.  When the mover arrived he took everything we had got ready, filling half the van. Then he walked around the house and said he’d be back to finish the job on the 8th.  We were not sure how he planned to do it but he was confident and drove off after barely four hours. 

The next part of the move still gives me bad dreams.  When we looked around we found there were several items missing.  Two green boxes from the Pet Crematorium were gone.  We had lost Trevor, our cat and Saffron our oldest dog during the year and had not had time to find suitable urns for them.  And a red folder had gone from the table – containing the papers and passports for two of the dogs.  We were frantic, distraught and close to despair as without the papers we could not take our dogs abroad.  Already ill and exhausted from stress and overwork Jacqui had a relapse and was unable to do anything for most of the next week.  Sensibly she slept and recovered in time to drive to the vets where the wonderful Len issued two new, replacement passports.  We could only hope the green boxes were safe in the first load.

The hardest setback of allAlmost a total disaster

We would not have managed as much as we did without our wonderful friends.  Always a tower of strength, Lynn turned up every day to help us pack, sort and manage the dogs.  As the final deadline loomed and it was obvious I would not get everything done two other saviours materialized.  Paul and Su offered some much needed muscle (Paul) and organization (Su).  Together they helped us salvage something from the disaster of the house and we were thankful we would have a professional packer to clear the china cupboards and take down some of the furniture. Ha!

When he arrived, four hours late, it became obvious he was not expecting to pack anything even though I had phoned and warned him we were way behind. Also we and hadn’t been able to get any more boxes.  After he threw a hissy fit we walked him round and showed what was needed.  We had been due to leave at the time he finally arrived. Four hours to help and answer questions built in to the day had seemed enough and we had a long journey ahead.  Instead we had to rush through what was left, trusting him to make proper notes. 

As we set off, late, shaking with fatigue and sick with worry we were buoyed up by the unexpected rush of kindness shown by friends and neighbours.  We had cards, wrapped gifts, kind words and people waving from doors and windows as we finally left our home in the north-east.  It was two days short of thirty one years since we had arrived and as we set off through the increasingly dark and stormy weather the enormity of the whole enterprise finally hit home. 

Full speed ahead to nowhere

With new restrictions and rules changing almost weekly it seemed we were moving at full speed but going nowhere. Suddenly time seemed to speed up as the deadline to move came ever closer yet we were still floating in a sea of uncertainty. Moving home was one of the exceptions to the lockdown but only in England. We were hoping to go abroad, a journey through four countries, each with their own rules. And still no-one seemed to know exactly what could be done. Or answer their phone.

The only course of action was to get on with what we could control and hope the rest worked out. After some difficulty we finally managed a (socially distanced and masked) meeting with the estate agent. They liked the house – a lot – but noted it was extremely untidy. Yes, trying to pack up a lifetime whilst not being able to throw out or recycle will do that to a home. We settled on a stratagy for photographs. Do the front of the house one afternoon and move the boxes to the rear. Then do the back one morning and reverse the process. This required several days of “wasted” effort but the results were quite stunning. In fact I was almost tempted to buy the place myself, it looked so good.

Knowing we were hopefully about to get some (socially distanced and masked) visitors, we focussed on tidying and clearing as much as we could, much to the disgust of the dogs who wanted this to all stop and get back to normal. Alas, there was no going back and we were heading for a totally unknown “normal” in an unknown place. As we waited for viewings we began to look for a place to rent in Ireland. This was far more difficult than we had imagined. Ireland was undergoing something of a housing crisis and rental properties were rare and highly prized. This pushed up the price and it was impossible to get anyone to take us seriously. We were English, still in England and with only English bank accounts and no references. We also had three dogs, albeit small dogs, and most landlords didn’t want any pets.

It looked as if we were heading down a slope with nowhere to land when our wonderful friends in Ireland stepped in. Somehow they managed to persuade a holiday cottage owner to let us have an empty cottage for a long term. It was actually the one place we knew, where we had stayed on our visit four years ago. We breathed a huge sigh, sent off the deposit and blessed our friends for a miracle. We turned our attention back to the house and I knew I was falling badly behind. In desperation I began to heave stuff into big boxes, seal them and label them “TBS” – “To Be Sorted”. Even so, I made a total hash of the whole thing. The whole experience was made worse by the fact my other half was already at work on the kitchen and the china. A wonderful friend had cleared the rooms with us for photographs and was busy on the bedding. I felt like an abject failure and the memory of those days still haunts me.

Absolutely the worst packer in the world

Despite the barely concealed chaos most viewers were impressed with the house and after only three weeks we had a number of offers. We accepted one and then waited for the surveyors, the Energy Performance Certificate and then the second survey for the purchaser’s bank. Everyone was fully booked, delays were inevitable and once more time was slipping by. Then came two hammer blows.

We were supposed to be driving to Stranrae to stay overnight before catching the early ferry but there was a change in the rules. We got a phone call from the hotel telling our booking was cancelled as “non-essential”. And then, with no warning, the sale fell through. We were almost out of time, we were heading nowhere and if we tried to go we’d be sleeping in a lay-by with three dogs overnight.

That was not a good day.

Travelling more hopefully

As the warm weather arrived we began to travel more hopefully.  Despite our best efforts we could not finance a house before selling ours so the plan was to sell, put our stuff in storage, move into a rental property and then look for somewhere permanent.  Seemed a fairly logical way to go about it, especially as travelling to view anywhere was still banned so we were relying on the web to explore the housing market.

Now, I don’t know if you are aware but I am slightly dyslexic but very dyspraxic.  (That’s a form of spatial dyslexia.  I can’t follow instructions in a sequence longer than two steps and have never mastered left and right.  Hell, on a bad day I can’t do up and down and have been known to shut my head in a door trying to get through.)  So looking at the obviously idealized descriptions and photographs of properties in Ireland, I was under the misapprehension that Irish houses/cottages/bungalows were similar to properties in England.  They are not, but I didn’t really understand what that meant until much later.

The immediate difference that even I could spot was the amount of garden or land surrounding anything over 50 years old.  Most of these were “cottages” or “bungalows” and modelled on the same pattern. They were low, single storey buildings with thick stone walls and three, maybe four windows at the front.  A lot of them had “sheds” that more closely resembled stone outbuildings and these, we thought, would be very useful as storage for our stuff until we could get unpacked.  Generally situated out of town, they boasted anything from 0.5 acres to over 8 in some cases.  I had not the foggiest idea how big an acre might be but even I realized 8 of them might be too much for us to manage.

Alas, this inability to visualise actual dimensions sent us off on totally the wrong path.  These cottages listed two or three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and bathroom. The roofs of some were boarded and made extra space similar to the studio I had in Saltburn.  What I didn’t realise was just how small these rooms would be.  A bedroom 2.4 metres by 3.6 metres sounded fine but actually it’s barely large enough to fit a bed and a small cupboard. 

So we pored over the listings, looked at the prices and descriptions and then worked through the photographs and videos.  Now a number of the older properties had a distinctive style of decoration.  Very dark, brown and green (furniture, curtains, wallpaper and paint) and often with several beds in one room.  It was like peering into a time machine.  We scratched those off the list. Several of the videos were very illuminating.  I was particularly curious about one house where the camera flashed past a door on the first floor, giving a glimpse of several road cones blocking the entrance.  Not for us, we decided along with some we labelled “fixer-uppers”.  We were happy to wait and have work done on somewhere if it was basically sound and what we were looking for but some were a bit more than we were willing to tackle.

A bit more of a fixer-upper than we were looking for.

Still, there were enough hopeful prospects for us to think we would be able to find a suitable house without too much trouble, especially as we were cash buyers.  The pandemic had shaken up the property market with uncertainty over jobs making the banks reluctant to lend money.  At the same time there was a growing desire for personal space, inside and out, as the restrictions imposed by lockdown began to chafe.

Then suddenly it was over.  Lockdown was lifted and the country went into Tiers.  We were labelled Tier 2 – not as good as we hoped but much better than the restrictions of previous weeks.  Shops opened, people began to answer the phone occasionally and with the fine weather came a huge rush of visitors to our little town.  At the weekend we did not dare move the car from outside our house as it would be impossible to park even after a short run out for the dogs.  Saltburn had always been busy during the school holidays but it had never been as packed as it was then.  Our resolve hardened as we contemplated the likely impact of international travel restrictions stretching into the foreseeable future. We drew up a list of what we really, really wanted in our next home. 

Fewer stairs – yes, a garden – absolutely and off-road parking.  It’s a pity I didn’t check a few things, like actual room sizes compared to what we had – and was still full of stuff).  Oh, and what the Irish BER rating meant in real terms. But more of that later.  We were moving forward, trying to get the house ready for viewings as soon as we could.  We were optimistic about the chances of getting away before autumn as we began talks with solicitors, estate agents and friends.  And then the second wave hit and everything stopped – again.

And so it begins – rather slowly

So, there we were, both more than slightly incapacitated.  I don’t know what we had caught or where we had caught it,  but I never want to get it again.  It began a bit like the ‘flu with a high temperature, shaking – you know what it’s like.  Then there was the cough, and that was the real problem.  A harsh, dry cough that went on…and on…and on.  I finally went to see a doctor after two weeks and came back with various syrups, then some antibiotics the second time, then some codeine cough syrup on week five.  That, by the way, was so utterly foul I was sure it would cure my cough, just to avoid a second dose.  It didn’t. 

On the fourth visit to the poor young intern admitted there was a great deal of it around, something I had surmised from the hacking and choking in the waiting room, and it was some sort of virus that no-one could identify. 

“Don’t come back unless you start to cough up blood,” he said, adding with a disarming honesty I have rarely encountered, “We can’t do anything”.

This was way back in November 2019 and, like a lot of people, I wonder if it was an early form of Covid but there was no hint of what was around the corner, people were still merrily buying Corona beer and most of the population were mixing to share their coughs and viruses without any facemasks.  Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

When the dust settled from the 2019 election in December it was obvious nothing would stop the loss of our citizenship in just three short weeks and our freedom of movement in a year so despite being desperately tired we hauled ourselves to our feet and started on the house again.  With Christmas coming there were not many places to send our unwanted chattels so we put one room aside, emptied it and promptly began to fill it with boxes and bags for charity shops once they re-opened in the New Year.  Alas, the best opportunity was gone as by the time they did re-open for donations the edge of the pandemic was creeping over the horizon and before much of our stuff was distributed the country was under a lockdown. 

There is so much involved with moving house, let alone relocating to another country, whether on a permanent or a temporary basis.  The sheer mechanics of selling a property at the same time as packing it up and sorting out what is to go, what is wanted and where it will be in the interim are complex enough without being confined to said house without access to professional advice, helpers and tall people who can get stuff down from shelves.  And strong friends who can lift boxes and move furniture.  

A lot of books – but precious little else…

Everything moved at a snail’s pace and the likelihood of actually being able to move became vanishingly remote as the weeks wore on.  We put off telling anyone of our plans as they seemed to be hopelessly unrealistic and plodded through the days doing what we could. Occasionally we stopped to stare at a dusty space, wondering for a moment why we were dismantling our home.  The first task was to tackle our (roughly) three thousand books, putting over a thousand aside to give away and wrapping the others in lined fruit boxes from a local store.  It takes a long, long time to pack that number of books and I was certainly guilty of squandering the space lockdown offered to get ready.  In the end the books were packed, many of the pictures were safe in specially purchased boxes but precious little else. 

When the lockdown eased a bit we had a bit more energy and a sense of grim determination began to drive us forwards.  We managed to get appointments for the dogs to get their passports, though we were then entering a world ruled by two deeply frustrating attitudes.

            Around this time there was an advert for insurance where a customer was harangued over the type of door locks on his house “I don’t know – nobody knows”, he said sobs in despair.  We felt the truth of this and finally took to looking at one another, shrugging and saying, “It’s a door locks thing”. “We don’t know – nobody knows”, especially relating to anything to do with regulations, new rules and possible disruption when the Transition Period ended.  Would we need pet passports – and would UK versions be valid?  No-one knew, even the vets.  What about transferring money overseas (without using some money-laundering scheme, obviously).  Nothing in place yet, said the banks.  It might be alright but then again… nobody knows.  Queries about the exchange rate were met with shrugs and the occasional bitter laugh. We decided to plan on the absolute worst scenario we could think of and just travel hopefully.

And then there was “Computer says No.”  With so many people working remotely many “help lines” were jammed, unobtainable or replaced by web pages that did not have any access to a real person.  Using pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit algorithms, decisions, especially financial decisions, were made by machines covering a limited range of options.  From insurance to a possible bridging loan, computers took one look at us and went “no”.

And absolutely NO-ONE answered their phone anymore!

It was already May, we had no firm escape plan, the house wasn’t close to going on the market and we began to feel time was running out.

A bit of an Adventure

Hello, welcome back and many apologies for my long absence.  As some of you may know I have been on a bit of an adventure – a bit more of an adventure than I anticipated when I began – and many things have changed over the last months.  I want to share this journey with you in all its delight, frustration and near despair and so over the next few months will be adding to my story until we are up to date.

To begin – for many reasons we have considered moving for a while.  More than 30 years ago we rocked up to a very run-down terraced house near the cliffs at Saltburn by Sea.  For those of you who have read the fourth Alex Hastings book, “Smoke and Adders”, this was a move forced on us by events not identical but very similar to those experienced by Alex.  After spending five years in Somerset, not far from the Levels, it took a while to adjust to what was a move diagonally right across the country but Saltburn is a beautiful place, the people were just as friendly as they had been in Somerset and we settled in, doing up the house and slowly making it the home we had always wanted.  Finally however time began to catch up with us.

Victorian terraces are tall and narrow and their staircases are long and steep.  My exciting (and, according to my mother, reckless) youth began to tell as the injuries from several motorcycle accidents made climbing said stairs increasingly difficult, not to mention the shoulder damage caused by bouncing off the road at high speed on occasions.  High ceilings and high shelves were eventually both out of reach.  We also longed for some outside space, especially for the dogs.  We had a small yard they could use but they needed at least one good walk a day and this often meant driving a short distance into the surrounding countryside and keeping them on their leads whenever they were outside.  A garden, we thought, would be heavenly.  It was also out of our price range unless we moved to somewhere smaller, more cramped and outside of Saltburn. 

So – fewer stairs and more garden, and somewhere quiet, within our rather limited budget.  We have a number of friends living in different countries in Europe, an attractive proposition for us as we eyed the uncertainties of Brexit looming ever closer, but most of the possible destinations had potential drawbacks.  In particular we wanted to be in easy reach of the UK in case of a family emergency.  Both of us have Irish ancestors, albeit one generation too far back to allow us to claim an Irish passport.  We have some good friends in Ireland – better friends than we could have imagined, and for someone selling a house in England property was not cheap but at least within reach.

We looked around our large house, took a deep breath and decided to start clearing it out.  Thirty years is a long, long time to live in one place and it is only too easy to acquire a great deal of stuff – our own stuff and some treasured possessions from departed relatives.  Nevertheless, we set to, weeding the books and sorting the china, delighting the local charity shops for a few weeks.

And then we got sick. 

Very sick. 

For weeks.

And everything had to stop.

Small changes in strange times

These are strange times, there’s no avoiding that idea, and like everyone else I am having to make changes to my life, my work and my expectations. Life is, of course, somewhat constrained at present though I am probably luckier than most in that I work from home and generally work alone so it’s not that different. The work itself though – now that is rather in a state of flux.

Just before this terrible sickness swept across the globe my publishers, Impress Books of Exeter, were taken over by a mixed imprint, Untold Publishing. Untold already had Aelurus Publishing, an e-book imprint focussing on fantasy and sci-fi. They also operate a series of services for self-publishing (though not the books themselves). Impress, with their diverse output, printed books and high production values, make up the third leg of this new company.

This sort of change can be rather nerve wracking for an author. Will the new publisher want to keep them on? What about contracts and terms – will they change? Will there be a gap where my books are reissued and if so how long? In the event the changes have proved to be small ones and generally for the better. There’s a shortage of print books, partly down to the closure of so many distributors, printers and physical book shops but one of the first things Untold did was to reformat and reissue the e-books for us. Not only are these now available for Amazon Kindle, they are now formatted for ibooks, kobo and Google books as well. And the print editions will return when we emerge from these strange times, blinking in the bright sunlight and shivering in the fresh air.

So, will there be any more “Alex Hastings” books? I think there might.
Watch this space – and the new Untold Publishing website for news. https://untoldpublishing.com/

Bring me Sunshine!

I’ve never been invited to a crime writing festival as a panellist before – or any writing festival – and so when I received an invitation to this year’s “Morecambe and Vice” I was pleased, flattered and – let’s be honest here – a little apprehensive. I’ve been to conferences before in a professional capacity and found them hard work – very clannish with little cliques gathering in the corners dying to demonstrate their superior knowledge and experience. My overall experience has been one of loneliness and being rather out of my depth. But I need not have worried. “Bring me Sunshine!” was the overarching theme of this year’s M&V and it did just that.

The organisers pride themselves on being open, welcoming, inclusive and quirky and they certainly delivered this year. Morecambe has had a bit of a bleak time recently with a lot of bad press and they wanted to show the town in a more positive light. Holding the event at the stunning Midland Hotel was a good start. Built in the 1930s in a style known as “Streamline Moderne”, it may be familiar to you from several episodes of the TV drama “Poirot”. The inside, I can assure you, is as palatial as the beautiful exterior and for a past student of modern architecture it was a delight.

Somehow Tom and Ben, the organisers, had tracked down three dyslexic crime writers – myself, Fleur Hitchcock and Jane Elson and we appeared on stage together to talk about how the hell you can be a successful writer if you are dyslexic. We all had different strategies and strengths and it was a wonderful experience to talk about this and share our stories to such a welcoming and receptive crowd. I know I picked up some tips and I hope others did too. We were aided by the skillful guiding hand of Ashley Dyer who kept us moving and the discussion open with her questions and comments. The hour flew past, so much so Ben had to come in and stop us so the next panel could get ready!

From the fascinating Polari Salon on Friday evening to the amazing Professor Dame Sue Black’s closing keynote talk there was something for everyone. The whole atmosphere was relaxed and friendly with performers, writers and audiences mingling throughout the weekend. Sunshine? Not much outside apart from a few hours on Saturday when we dashed out to look around and take the obligatory “selfie” with Eric Morecambe’s statue but inside it was bright, warm and welcoming. Yes – well done and thank you Morecambe and Vice. You did “Bring me Sunshine” in abundance.

I can’t wait to see what they have planned for next year!

This year’s brochure with pictures, quizzes and plenty of space for drawing and making notes!