Goodbye to 2023 and here’s to a better 2024

As the year grinds to an ending I offer an apology for my several absences this year. This last month especially I’ve not written anything though a fair amount has happened. Well, I say a heartfelt goodbye to 2023, which ends with a bang – several bangs actually. About six weeks ago I fell backwards off a ladder whilst cleaning out the gutters on the Majestic. I miscounted the steps down and as I was wearing bifocals (yes, time is definitely catching up with me) didn’t focus properly on the ground. The ladder came down too and Jacqui caught it before it could land on me though she got a bruised arm and it did dent my shin. It left me with a stiff right shoulder and neck and a bump on the head so I was a bit more cautious for a few days.

Not cautious enough I fear. The weather turned very cold at the start of December and one morning I was hurrying out to herd the dogs in first thing clad once more in red clogs and a yellow dressing gown. The ground was wet as it was raining so I didn’t expect any ice. Alas, one of the new paving stone was frozen, my foot went up like a cartoon character and I flew backwards onto the gravel of the new soak away. This time my left shoulder took the brunt of the fall, along with the base of my spine. I realized when I tried to stand up I’d hit my head again as I was very dizzy. Time had certainly caught up with me and we were heading for the doctor – and then the hospital.

Thus I ended 2023 with a bruised spine, a torn rotor cuff, sprains and strained ligaments and mild concussion. I can now sit down without flinching and have had a steroid injection in my shoulder. The neck whiplash is much better though my balance is still uncertain. So it is a stern goodbye to 2023 from me!

Overall this has been a rather dreary year as far as the weather is concerned. They say it rains every day in Ireland, though not in the same places. Well, since the 10 days in June when the sun shone it’s rained here every day. The land is completely waterlogged and unworkable and the high winds and winter storms have loosened some of the more fragile trees. A couple of smaller boundary trees have blown over, though fortunately into the wood rather than out onto the road or adjoining fields.

We are so glad the kitchen roof is repaired, even if it did cost 40% more than we were quoted. I must add a special thanks to Robbie who reset the guttering properly once they’d gone. The roof men left a big gap under the tiles that would have caught the wind and ripped it all off again. Fair to say I won’t be recommending them to anyone else. The whole of 2023 reminded me of a story by Ray Bradbury, set on Mars where it rains all year apart from one day. The callous children locked one girl in a cupboard on that day so she never saw the sun. We feel like that poor girl!

It’s not been all gloom however. We’ve had some lovely visitors, including my sister who ventured over the Irish Sea for the first time. We are part of a remote quiz group and have made some friends through that too. The Majestic is taking shape and now has some benches and shelves, mainly fashioned by Jacqui from the old roof battens. She’s also been crocheting up a storm making blankets, little bags and pots, boot socks and a range of multicoloured beanie hats. She even made a coffee cosy for my cafetiere. A local friend does some work for a dog rescue group and a lot of these items are destined for their fundraising stall.

We are looking forwards to the next year, hoping for some health improvements and maybe a bit more energy. The house is being knocked into shape gradually and in 2024 we would like to replace the small orchard that was on the land at the back. Nothing spectacular, just a dozen mixed trees for the birds and us initially. We’ve had sterling support from a number of local people, which helps make life so much easier. There are a couple of ways we hope to give something back in 2024.

Well, a short summing up at the end of a slightly strange year. I hope your 2023 was better and wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2024.

Thank you for reading and I promise I’ll try to get back to the 2-week format!

Tired, incoherent and still standing. Yeah!

Please forgive me if this episode is a bit incoherent – and maybe a little shorter than usual. It has been a very interesting few weeks culminating in our ‘flu and covid jabs on Friday. We had hoped that after a number of rounds our bodies would have become reconciled to the vaccines but we were sadly mistaken. Maybe it is the combination. Maybe it is the fact we are both fairly knackered at present. Whatever the reason, the effects have been rather grim. On the plus side, the worst impact is wearing off now and neither of us can risk getting really sick so I’m glad we have this protection for the winter. Short term pain but long term gain, I think.

A lot of the time prior to last Friday was taken up with the water system again. The Majestic was starting to flood once more, first from the back wall as excess water seeped in by the pipes. We’re not certain what caused this though the farmer who is the other user of the well was pulling a great deal of water and much of the ingress was from round his pipe and meter. Once this was resolved it all settled down again until I went in and found the inside of the shed dripping – literally. The cement eaves above the new system were soaked and we suspected the gutters were overflowing so out came the ladder and up I went.

Certainly the gutters were packed with leaf litter and there was a nasty bend just above the door preventing a proper flow. Using a small rake and my hands I cleared most of it. Hosing out the downspout cleared that and Jacqui fashioned some wooden blocks to realign the worst of the bend. Then just as we were finishing I missed a step on the way down and fell flat on my back onto the gravel drive. The ladder followed and I would probably be writing this with a broken leg if Jacqui hadn’t managed to grab it on the way down. She suffered a nasty bruise on her arm and I’ve a dent in my shin where it finally landed but it could have been so much worse.

Despite our best efforts however the shed was soaked again two days later. This time I had a good look at the system and found there was no water in the softener, just salt. Following the lines back I spotted a pipe that had blown off one of the tanks. The water pressure was building up and spraying over the wall, roof and almost half of the interior. Like many problems, the solution was stupidly simple once I spoke to the engineers. A small plastic clip had come loose so the pipe was not fastened properly. I found the clip several feet away under a bench, refastened it and so far all seems well. I do go out and check it several times a day however, just in case.

We’ve had a few drier days recently and the ground is not as sodden as it has been. The swans are happy with their pond, despite the smashed tree that is still lodged in the water. The winter birds are returning to the garden and eating everything they can find at the moment. They even consumed half an old fruit cake we’d forgotten about. As it had a considerable amount of brandy in it I wonder if they are weaving through the trees and waking up with tiny hangovers… Jacqui has done a clear out of the baking press and is mixing all the old dried fruit, nuts and cereals into tasty and nutritious bird cake as a healthier alternative!

Another uninvited “guest”

The colder weather has also encouraged more wildlife to chance their arm in the warm. There is a huge spider lurking next to the light switch in the Majestic. As I don’t want to get bitten, or to squash it, I’m now using a head torch on my hat when I go out in the dark. We’ve also had a colony of tiny field mice in one of the cupboards. They are coming in somewhere in the utility room and seem to be confined to the boiler cupboard. I don’t like killing anything but we can’t let mice get a foothold (paw hold?) in the house. I won’t use poisons as this can kill so many other animals and birds so I’ve some highly effective traps in there. So far I’ve caught 2 live and quite healthy specimens I took up the road and released. In addition I’ve disposed of 11 more in the wood, dead. They all vanish overnight so probably feed the feral/farm cats or the pine marten. I console myself with the thought it is the “circle of life”.

Up Kildangen!

It’s the end of the GGA sports season here and everyone takes the play-offs and championships very seriously. There are county flags flying from gates and posts as well as the colours of all the local teams. When we arrived we stayed in Puckane and their local team, Kildangan, had just won the Nationals. There were yellow and blue signs everywhere and one house even had a line of small rocks painted alternate colours along the boundary. This time some enterprising local has produced a minion bin dressed as a Kildangan hurler. I think they get the prize for best decoration this year.

Well, it’s been a rather chequered few weeks and I’m getting tired again now so will stop before I do become incoherent. Sending all good wishes to you and thank you for reading.

Take care everyone and see you in a couple of weeks.

Memories are made of this (thank you mother)

A memory from my younger years came back to me this week. I have a lot of memories from childhood, a mixed selection as we all do, but some shine bright – and some really should stay buried. Now, one of our dogs looks like a puppy but she’s actually 16 years old. At that age – not excessive for the breed but still getting on a bit – she needs a bit of cosseting. She has special food that she eats rather reluctantly so we boil up a chicken carcass, remove all bones and make a mousse to add flavour and interest. This takes several days of slow cooking so Jacqui decided to invest in a small, modern pressure cooker. I don’t have very good memories of pressure cookers.

My father was an avid gardener and he had an allotment he used to grow a large proportion of our food. Everything from carrots to soft fruit came from this small patch of Essex clay and at the weekend he would spend much of his time working there. We would await his return with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, wondering what we would be eating that week. Like all gardeners he planted and harvested seasonally which meant an abundance of produce for a short space of time. My mother was tasked with bottling and preserving all of this for winter, a mammoth task in some weeks. And the key to all this was the pressure cooker.

My most vivid memories come from one afternoon when she stood before the overflowing kitchen counters and began to mutter to herself. Usually I was enlisted to scrub and sort fruit and vegetables but this time she sent me out of the kitchen. I was only too glad to escape another tedious hour of “veg prep” and settled down with a book. Some 30 minutes later there was a terrifying explosion. My mother appeared at the doorway to my room looking grim though there was a glint of triumph in her eyes. The kitchen was an appalling mess. Water and vegetables spattered the walls and cupboard doors. There were pieces of metal embedded in the ceiling and one of the windows was broken. It’s supposed to be impossible, blowing up a pressure cooker. Well, I can tell you it’s not.

I’ve treated them with caution bordering on paranoia ever since so the experiments with our new, smaller and supposedly foolproof version were approached with some reluctance. All went well at first except it didn’t seal properly so – no steam, no cooking. The next time it sealed and began to steam. Erring on the side of caution we turned it down as low as possible and waited for the promised whistling that would indicate it was working. After about 5 minutes there was a loud bang, the weight jumped up and a rush of steam shot out of the top. Memories of my mother came back and I turned it off completely, pulled it off the heat and stepped a long way away. We were just laughing at the shock when it happened again. Pressure cookers – tools of the devil!

We’ve spent much of this week looking after our youngest dog. In January he developed a little pimple under one eye. We took him to the vet thinking it was a tick but it turned out to be a small wart. As it was so small and not troubling him we took their advice and left it but over the year it grew and he began to scratch at it. As it was obviously troubling him we arranged to have it removed. Our vets are excellent and they froze it off and cauterized the wound so he had no stitches. They even cut his nails while he was under (he hates having them done). For the past 6 days he’s been wearing a cone and remembering how quickly Cynthia got her collar off we’ve been watching him most of the time. Jacqui’s been brushing him, which he loves, and the collar comes off tomorrow. Don’t know who’ll be more relieved – him or us.

Swan – and spot the moorhen!

The weather has been awful of course. Whilst we missed the worst of the recent storms it has rained every day and the ground is saturated. Even the occasional bright days are punctuated with sudden fierce squalls, though lightened by rainbows. The kitchen roof is holding up well as is the new guttering and soak away system. We are very, very glad we got the water system fixed before this last run of weather as I’m sure it will have affected the water adversely too. One good thing is the revival of the winter pond across the road where waterfowl swim. We even have a pair of swans this year.

So there we are – hunkering down for the winter and glad we are warm and safe. Memories of the journey we took almost 3 years ago are strong this time of year. I never thought I’d still be writing this blog either!

Thank you for reading and I hope you are all keeping well and safe.

Well, some upgrades are good, if annoying

In this networked and computer driven society one of the most annoying thing is the compulsory upgrade. After years of using IT, way back to the dial-up days, I have always been of the opinion that if something needs constant upgrading it doesn’t work properly anyway. This rather rough rule of thumb applies to many things in life, I’ve found. Upgrade your car to something bigger and more flashy! Get a new phone too. It’s a new season so don’t wear old clothes, upgrade your whole wardrobe. Well, new and upgraded often doesn’t mean better, just more complicated (and expensive). Especially where computers are concerned.

I’ve been nursing several older desktop PCs that run Windows 7 for a number of years. Now the last one is finally about to die, hence the lack of a blog last week. Part of my problem is software. As I am dyslexic and dyspraxic it takes me a long time to master a program. I am still using Word 97 for my books (I can hear you laughing from here) and newer Windows systems run much newer versions. I find them so confusing I can barely string a sentence together. They have too many menus, everything is muddled up and the functions I rely on are hidden away – or “improved” to the point they are not of any use any more. I was wondering if I’d be able to write anything ever again. Then help came from an unexpected quarter.

After several weeks of delays I finally went back to the opticians to collect my new glasses. A friendly assistant recognized me (“You’re the writer lady!”) and we had a chat about computers. I am still wary of the many “repair and refurbish” shops around town after the total destruction of Jacqui’s desktop and the wiping of my hard drives by another “expert”. James offered a personal recommendation and on Saturday we set off to find Vassilly’s shop. He was everything we’d been promised – helpful, attentive and, with a minimum of mansplaining, I left the shop with a refurbished laptop. It has the dreaded Windows 10, of course, but I have disabled the worst features (Cortana, I’m talking about you). I also have a book coming that will help me wrestle it into submission. I shall keep you posted.

Clean water at last!
One upgrade that is not at all bad in the water system. We finally were booked in and a technician arrived a couple of weeks ago to install and make good the whole lot. We now have a new softener, UV light filter, a carbon trap, two particle filters and a reverse osmosis system. The shed now looks a bit like the bridge of the starship “Enterprise” at night with the array of lights, all water or solar based. The reverse osmosis system is annoying but vital as it removes the excess nitrates. It fits – just – under the sink and dispenses drinking water from a tiny new tap. It also takes up the whole of the cupboard so we are now looking for more storage space. Not a bad upgrade but definitely annoying, especially as it cost a great deal.

Enter the Wildlife
As winter approaches the rampant undergrowth is dying back again and we are getting more sightings on the trail cameras. Mabel, the little tuxedo cat, is convinced she owns the wood and the garden though I notice she is absent when possible rivals appear. A second cat, a tabby this time, has been enjoying the facilities too. We have no objections to this as it will keep away any rats. We did have a rat caught on camera last week so, hey, the more cats the better I think. After the reckless destruction of the trees and habitat across the road we were very worried for our pine marten. It was a happy moment when I saw him in the wood again looking healthy and suitably predatory.

There’s a lot of wildlife around at present, some a bit closer to home than we’d like. I was woken by some loud scrabbling in the skirting boards a few weeks ago, a rather alarming event. Investigation tracked the source to the boiler cupboard where some field mice obviously hoped to make a warm home for the winter. I will not use poisons in the house or grounds as they are a danger to all animals and birds so I have several highly effective traps. So far we’ve caught one live mouse I released without injury onto the verges outside. Since then we’ve had at least one dead mouse a day too. As they’re not poisoned I put them into the wood for larger animals. I don’t like killing anything but we can’t have mice running round the house and at least they help feed others. We are checking around the back for mice-sized holes to make sure there’s not a second wave.

Annoying Cynthia
Our soakaway continues to be a good upgrade if still rather annoying. It’s messy around the edges and we will probably get bricks or tiles in the spring to neaten it up. One of the dogs, Cynthia, objects to the gravel, picking her way across it like a duchess in a cesspit. This is despite the nice, smooth paving slabs laid across it to make a bridge for her sensitive little paws. The other two don’t care and trot over it happily to reach the grass. And it does do its job with no more flooding now Robbie has fixed the gutters so well.

Well, I will be spending the next week or so taming my new tech and working in the wood to get it smoothed out and more ordered. It has been very wet and quite stormy here though it’s not as cold as the North East coast. We are sheltered from the worst of the winds a lot of the time too and there’s been little flooding near us. I think we’ve been rather lucky, looking at the damage done in other parts of the country and the UK.

So, thank you for your patience and I will be back in a couple of weeks when we should be mouse free.
By the way, if anyone’s looking for a little Christmas present, let me just say “Puppy Brain” is currently on sale at Amazon, half price. And with my new, hopefully reliable, upgraded tech I will be venturing into second book territory very soon.

Thank you for reading and keep safe.

Despite our difficulties we’ve made a breakthrough

Those of you who read the last blog will be aware we have some serious difficulties at the moment.  The most pressing is the water situation, of which more later but, despite everything, we have made a breakthrough.  When we moved in we had to use the big shed, christened the “Hotel Majestic” as storage.  The numerous jobs, large and small, that were needed around the house slowed us down and just as we were getting ready to begin a serious unpack Jacqui became very ill.  This set us back almost a year and there were times when we despaired of ever turning the Majestic into the workshop of our dreams.

The last few weeks we’ve had a bit more energy, possibly as we are no longer drinking water poisoned with e-coli and other unfriendly pollutants.  Jacqui turned this into a flurry of activity and we set to in the shed.  This was initially spurred on by the need to clear a suitable area for the new water system, due on the 12th.  Rather than just pile stuff up out of the way we did a huge recycling run, disposing of four sacks of cardboard packaging and four bags of mixed “dry” – mainly plastics.  We try to limit our plastic use but it is still almost impossible as so much food and other goods come swathed in the stuff. 

Our plastic waste has boomed since the water fiasco as we have to use bottled water for drinking and cooking as well as washing vegetables and other kitchen items.  We’ve already disposed of one full bag of recycled 5 litre bottles and have almost filled another.  It’s expensive, time consuming and the only water we can get has a horrifyingly high level of bicarbonate.  Even when filtered it furs up pans and the kettle and leaves scum on the top of tea and coffee.  We bought a new water filter and a cheaper kettle last month.  The water filter will be okay but the kettle is almost trashed already despite constant rinsing, scrubbing and the use of a metal ball that supposedly absorbs lime scale.  Can’t wait for the 12th!

Jacqui has done wonders in the Majestic now there’s some space.  She continued her re-purposing of the battens from the kitchen roof and has now got shelves up on the shed walls, two work benches on wheels and the useless shelf unit all in place.  Having wheeled shelves and benches means we can move them around later and pull them away from the walls if we need to get to the water pipes too.  Suddenly the space went from a dusty, cob webbed jumble to – a workshop.  It’s not finished by any means but now there’s a place to work, decent surfaces and the tools and necessary items can be sorted and be at hand when needed.  It is a real breakthrough.

Autumn has arrived with lots of falling leaves.  The jungle growth in the wood is fading away and last week we removed a couple more dead ash saplings and cut up some of the fallen branches.  I had a bit of a breakthrough doing this.  As a dyspraxic I have always been very wary of power tools.  I hesitate to use a hammer drill and was always very nervous faced with a jigsaw.  This week I used the chain saw, not just to cut up a few logs but to fell one of the dead saplings.  I am inordinately proud of myself – and would not have managed it without Jacqui’s help and encouragement.

Autumn means we need to get the outside ready for winter and the nice blue bench in the yard needs some protection.  After careful consideration Jacqui decided the feet needed protecting.  It now has its own wellies as it rests upside down waiting for its overcoat – a tarpaulin against the rain.  Speaking of rain, we are still waiting for the gutter man to come and fix the downspout and back gutters.  He’s supposed to be here tomorrow so fingers crossed.  As the rain still runs into the water butt and was going straight into the septic tank Jacqui rigged up a bit of hose that runs from the tap into the new soak away.  It works a treat but does mean the water butt is empty all the time.  Here’s hoping for a breakthrough on that front too.

I guess preparing for winter means different things to different people and on Friday we heard the sound of trees and bushes crashing down.  Some were overhanging the road so presumably this was to prevent falls and accidents in the event of storms.  I went to examine the damage as soon as they left and was shocked to see the awful mess. 

Last year there were some trees torn down and chopped using a digger but this is much, much worse.  A whole swathe of the boundary on the other side of the road is torn up and the road was thick with branches and chunks of wood.  A tree has been pushed into the pond and left along with a lot of debris.  And one of our trees, on the opposite side of the road has been hacked at, the top torn off.  I am very, very angry and intend to find out who is responsible for this damage.  We have asked Fergus, our proper tree surgeon, to call and see if he can help save our tree.  Those opposite are mainly beyond help I fear.  The wildlife has gone, of course, and the moorhens from the pond have disappeared.

I am looking for signs to make it clear the trees on our wood side are not to be touched.  I didn’t think I’d need anything like that out here.

Still, despite the delays and the horrible vandalism this fortnight has been a real breakthrough time.  Once the water system is up and running we can push on and maybe start pointing the rear wall of the shed.  Then it will be on its way to being truly “Majestic”.

It’s a bit slow going at the moment

Well, it looks as if autumn is here despite the almost total lack of summer this year.  We had some fine days though these seemed to coincide with doctor or other unmovable appointments, of course.  Still, we are making some progress though it seems a bit slow going at the moment.  Some of this is the weather – can’t do much outside in the pouring rain.  Some is down to lack of workmen.  There are a number of specialist jobs still outstanding and we can’t always find anyone able or willing to do them.  Sometimes it’s just the system – and people not listening when we say just get on with it!

Our big problem at the moment is the well water.  The excesses of the “summer” mean the water table is high – only 6 feet deep according to professional measurements.  The same day I was merrily writing the last episode there was a lavish application of what smelt like pig slurry in the nearby fields.  Two hours later the heavens opened and it poured for several days.  The next morning our water was yellow.  We took samples and rushed them to the lab and began to use only bottled water for drinking and cooking.  The first results confirmed our cautious approach showing a high level of e-coli. 

We are still waiting for the chemical analysis but are trying to get a full system installed.  Like everything else, it’s a bit slow going at present.  Regardless of the recent analysis we want every possible precaution in place.  After all, we have already had high nitrates in the water and the limescale is off the charts.  Living in a rural area, readings change from one day to the next.  We want to safeguard our water, and do it now.  This however is proving difficult. 

The company we want to use won’t come out or discuss options until all the analysis is in.  It’s a bit like trying to get past our previous doctor’s receptionist.  She won’t (or can’t) answer the questions we have and won’t put us through to someone who can.  First we have to jump through her particular hoops.  We don’t care what the report says, we want everything so this never happens again.  Not so much a bit slow going, more a total impasse.  Meanwhile we are struggling on with bottled water. 

The strange weather patterns seem to have disrupted some of the wildlife.  The geese, for example, are either totally absent or arriving in much larger numbers.  We had a plague of flies in the hot spell and then nothing for several weeks.  Clearing off a windowsill out the back I discovered a strange insect dead in one of the jugs.  It was a fair size, about 3 centimetres, with wings, a hard casing and serrated underside.  Anyone know what it might be?

Jacqui has been working on the Majestic, to make it a usable workshop and also to make room for the new water system when it finally arrives.  It’s been a lot slower than we hoped, for health reasons as well as problems finding reliable workmen for the heavy stuff.  This week she finished the first movable workbench and we can start clearing the centre.  There will be a lot of space with the shelves she’s put up using the roof battens as recycled material and it will be ready for wiring soon. Exciting times!

She also unpacked the metal shelf unit she’d ordered – but this isn’t what she ordered at all.  Alas, it arrived months ago so we are stuck with it.  The frame is flimsy aluminium and it falls apart when stood up so she’s bending the fittings to lock them in.  The instructions are just pictures and so badly illustrated they make little sense.  I hate the picture leaflets – I can’t understand them at all, probably as I’m dyspraxic.  These are so useless they don’t even list the number of parts and the only written section is about using cut-proof gloves.  This, I feel, demonstrates their manufacturing values – rough edges included in the price.

We have a sort of routine now.  Even if we are working in different places we meet for coffee in the middle of the day.  We’ve taken to choosing a TV series and having one episode a day and have gone through a number of favourites, old and new.  Just recently the ever helpful sky box suggested “Schitts Creek” so we tried one episode out of curiosity.  It is a delight!  For once the sky box got it right and we are enjoying it more as the series goes on.  I saw the adverts when it was first broadcast and thought, “Ugh, you’re joking!”  Well, I was totally wrong.

One trip into town this week was to the optician for me.  My glasses get a hard time and I knew I probably needed a new prescription.  I was right and now I should wear glasses when driving, which I was expecting and do anyway.  The visit was very enjoyable, much to my surprise, and my eyes are healthy.  I did the hearing test too whilst waiting for all the forms to be filled in.  It seems my hearing is also very good, especially considering my age.  I can hear almost up to bats squeaking and I put that down to rarely going to live music unless it features an orchestra.  After once trying a rock concert I had to leave after half an hour.  I was a wimp when young but I’m feeling the benefit now.

One of the assistants recognised me as “the writer lady” and asked about some books.  Several others joined in and I handed out bookmarks and talked a bit about the books, both Alex Hastings and Puppy Brain.  It was nice to talk about writing and to find people were still interested in the books.  We also got a message from a friend from the UK.  She sent a screenshot of “The Moth Man” on holiday.  She wanted to know if there were any more and immediately went on line to get a copy of “Smoke and Adders”.  That was a lovely moment.

So, it’s a bit slow going at the moment but we are still moving on.  It rains a lot but the spectacular skies are wonderful this time of year.  And just occasionally there’s a rainbow.

Thank you for reading, take care and I hope to see you again in a few weeks.

Love our home but hate the infrastructure

Pondering over the last month or so over last night’s dinner we both agreed we love our home.  When we were first considering the move we had a short list of what we would like.  A very short list actually.  We wanted off road parking, one of the growing problems in Saltburn.  In fact it had become a bit of a nightmare with the flood of visitors, not just at weekends but every day.  The other thing we really wanted was a bit of garden, mainly for the dogs.  We had a little yard, less than 12 feet square, so whatever the weather we were out with them, several times a day.  Combine the parking problem with the rising crowds and it was not always a nice place to be, for us or the dogs.  So, a very short list, and we got both our wishes.

Being a good distance from the nearest town we have no problem with other cars (though there are occasional tractors driving very fast).  The front is gravelled and big enough for several cars, work vans and even, on one memorable occasion, a road stripping machine.  We have a decent sized garden too though it’s been dug up and churned over a bit recently.  Jacqui has it in hand however and is already planning how to make it a comfortable and restful space.  We also have rather more land than we bargained for, with the back area and, of course, the wood.  Both are somewhat challenging as they’ve been fallow (read overgrown) for some years.  Still with the help of friends and occasional mechanical intervention we are moving on.  A lot of work is needed to consolidate what’s been achieved but the more we do the easier it becomes.

One aspect of our almost-idyllic rural life is, however, the almost complete lack of infrastructure.  A sizable chunk of the back garden is taken up by the gas tank (no mains here) and solar panels.  We will hopefully be adding more later on as the mains is still extremely unreliable.  We got the wiring fixed so the fuses didn’t blow several times a day after a mere 8 months.  Then earlier this year we were granted our own transponder box so the lights no longer dim if you put on the kettle.  Alas, there are still sudden power cuts, sometimes for several minutes, sometimes for almost a day. 

The latest set of outages is the reason this blog is late (for which I apologise).  On Tuesday the power went on and off every few seconds for at least a minute.  We’ve taken to unplugging the computers, having already lost 3 to sudden cuts, but this lot toasted the wifi extenders and seems to have removed all settings from the router.  I’m not sure about the dongles either.  We are now waiting for over 120 euros worth of replacement equipment, paid for by us of course.  We’ve also invested in a lorry load of surge protectors, both plug boards and single plugs.  We are just grateful the new fridge/freezer wasn’t damaged this time!

To finish this moan about the infrastructure, we are still struggling with the soak-away systems.  One seems to be blocked completely and when it rains the water from the gutter bubbles over onto the path.  It also sets up a loud burping sound in the bathroom sink and other drains, which is a bit alarming.  We have several things we can try but otherwise it is back to John Gleeson to set it right before winter.

Despite this we do love our home.  It is quiet, private and we’re getting it the way we want now.  We’ve room to work, room to sit around the table and eat and a lovely snug for relaxing.  The dogs are very settled here too.  As one visitor said, “You seem much more chilled now.  Even the dogs seem more relaxed”. We are, I hope, putting the worst of the last few years behind us and looking more to the future.  Jacqui is developing new skills, seemingly every week.  Whether building the Majestic into a workshop or crocheting a wide range of objects, she’s going for it. 

And I’m writing again after the awful year just gone.  The collapse of Impress, my publishers, was a real blow.  It was made worse by the fight over copyright and the imminent threats to pulp the books.  Thanks to support from the other Impress writers we wrested our rights back.  Thanks to wonderful friends Helen and Noel my books were saved.  And thanks to Jacqui’s quiet but persistent support I finished my first new story last week.  I’ve returned to the Levels, to look at some of the characters in more detail.  First up is Iris, wife of Derek Johns and mother to Newt.  How did such a smart, capable woman come to marry the despicable Derek?  Well, “Iris’s Story” has the answer.  I intend it to be followed shortly by similar tales for the redoubtable Ada Mallory and the slightly mysterious Tom Monarch.

I’m looking at e-books for these at first, maybe all 3 in one as they are short (8,000 word) stories.  What do you think?

So, provided we can stop our infrastructure exploding in the future we will keep on doing, making and loving our little Irish home.

Thank you for your patience, thank you for reading and I hope to be back on time next fortnight!

I’m just up and plodding again, if not running but cannot add pictures this time.

It’s been one heck of an August

Firstly I offer you my deep and profound apologies for the late posting.  It’s just that we’ve had one heck of an August so far.  August has always been a bit of a problematic month for us in Ireland.  Regular readers may recall the plague of flies, repeated each year.  The heat and dust from building triggered Jacqui’s two heart attacks the first year we were here.  The weather is decidedly odd also, either blazingly hot or almost unrelenting rain.  This year it’s the latter.  Workmen either vanish without a word or turn up suddenly and unexpectedly.  We’re always glad to see them but may have problems fitting them around existing arrangements.  The one thing you don’t want to do is send them away – they may never come back!

Well, this year we had flies, workmen and visitors as well as the dreary weather.  Apart from the flies we were delighted to see them all, I have to say.  The first arrival was Noel, our friend from the north-east of England who runs the tiny charity “Lighthouse Family Matters”.  Do look it up – it is a wonderful example of micro-charity.  He’s off to Kenya again soon but wanted to see us and a bit more of his native land before he went.  He went travelling in his camper van for a few days in the middle, then came back and did a magnificent stint in the back garden.  In one day he cleared a path around the land so we can get at the weeds and tree branches.  He also brought over the first boxes of my books so ably rescued by Helen in the spring.  Thank you Helen!  And thank you Noel – you are a star!   

John, our drain man, arranged for Jim and his son Dan to do our soak-away two days after Noel left.  This meant the garden, that we’ve put a lot of work into, would have to be dug up and the grass was all crushed.  We’re not wildly house-proud but we were expecting my sister for her first visit and it didn’t make the best initial impression, alas. As an added bonus Cynthia, one of the dogs, decided she hates the gravel.  She refuses to walk on it to get to the remaining grass and it is beneath her dignity to wee on the concrete. My sister Rosemary and Jacqui put some flat paving stones down for her but she now refuses to use them either.  Difficult dogs!  Lovely, clever but very difficult sometimes.

Jim has finished the job we began on the path into the wood and it is now flat and clear.  When the grass grows back I can use the mower to keep it clear.  With all the rain and odd sunny intervals, the ground is already recovering and green shoots are reappearing.  We are planning the next stage of our land recovery, hopefully hiring a mini-mini digger for the back.  Jim’s machine came from a local man and I recognised him from just after our arrival.  I’d locked the digger in our garden for safety and challenged him when he came to collect it.  He was quite baffled by this until I pointed out I’d never met him and he could just be a chancer.  After rummaging around in his cab he produced a crumpled business card, I rang our builder to check the name and everyone was happy.

My sister’s visit was a delight.  It’s been at least three years since we’ve seen each other and I know she’s not much of a country girl so it was quite brave of her to make the journey.  She flew into Shannon Airport and we drove down to pick her up.  I’m not a fan of flying.  In fact I’ve not flown since 1985, when I was on a plane and all the engines stalled.  Shannon seems to be quite a nice airport however.  Small, efficient and not too expensive either.  It even has a WH Smith – my, they go where water wouldn’t.  

We had a leisurely few days together with trips into our nearest town and an excellent lunch on the shores of Lough Derg.  She was captivated by the decorated windows, most of them in pharmacies. It’s the middle of August – let’s do “Back to School!” Rosemary sent me some bee-bombs for my birthday and Jim had banked the earth up from the soak-away at the side of the wood.  An energetic morning of raking and stone removal left the top step ready for planting and we set the first seeds away together.  When it flowers it should be a beautiful sight and good for bees and butterflies.

On the way back from delivering Rosemary for her return flight we decided to have a very rare treat.  Maybe twice a year we have a burger and the nearest place is halfway down the motorway to Limerick.  I leapt to my feet clutching the money in my hot little hand as Jacqui went to park the car .  The service station was strangely empty with most franchises shuttered.  When I reached the counter ready for my order I was greeted by nervous looking child server who informed me they had “no beef”.  No beef at all – not a burger in the place.  What??  How the heck did that ever happen?  Like all the other people standing around looking very glum, I settled for chicken.  It was okay but nothing more.  Damn this heck of an August!

This year August has been less fly-ridden, possibly as the trees close to the house have gone.  Those insects left have, however, been more vicious than previously.  Whilst Jacqui is thankfully less attractive to them, they have had a good go at me.  I’ve over a dozen new bites by the end of each day and they are long lasting and very itchy.  Strangely, this morning I ventured out into the back room where they hide and nest overnight to find it empty.  They’ve gone, hopefully for another year, and good riddance too. 

The weather has been grim, we are very tired now and it has been a heck of an August.  On the plus side we’ve seen some of the most beautiful skies from the house.  Noel said our kitchen window was like the best TV in the world.  He loved the light around the house and wood, and we do too.  Here are a couple of “screen shots” from our kitchen to show what we mean.

I will be back in two weeks, hopefully after a calmer end to a heck of an August.  Hoping you are all well and the autumn is gentler for us all.

Thank you for reading.

A busy time when nothing much happened

This has been a strange few weeks with a feeling nothing much has happened.  Actually I think stuff has happened but it has been cold and very wet.  This has kept us inside for a lot though it has been a busy time, doing the same stuff each day.  It has been the most grey and dismal month, quite unlike previous summers but I have seen pictures of other places much worse off.  Our previous home, in Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast, was flooded yesterday along with areas inland and parts of England are suffering very bad conditions due to storms.  When we came to Ireland we knew there were often bad storms due to its location facing the Atlantic but we’ve been quite sheltered this time. 

The rain is clearing again now and I actually managed to jump on the mower and give the grass a quick trim yesterday.  We are still leaving most of the wood “wild” and will do the necessary clearing and tidying in sections.  This means there will always be some mature growth for animal and bird homes.  We do need to keep on at the bindweed, brambles and thistles however.  These will run rampant, taking advantage of the clearer land and choking everything to death if allowed.

To facilitate this we have added one more tool to our armoury.  The reciprocal saw is very good for smaller branches and occasional saplings but not anything much bigger.  After some serious thought Jacqui sourced a battery operated chainsaw, lighter and a bit smaller than most models.  When it arrived it was, of course, in bits.  There was much grinding of teeth as we hunted through the box to find the instructions.  These were in the form of rather small drawings and after some struggles we got some way through.  The crucial part was fitting the chain to the saw and here we found ourselves stumped (excuse the pun).  Rather than accepting defeat we lugged it all up to our saviours in Lawlows where they offered excellent advice and support.  

We’ve not had the chance to try it out yet, with all the bad weather, so I’ve focussed on getting rid of more stuff.  This has involved a lot of shredding.  My last-minute panic packing involved much throwing folders and large envelopes into boxes.  Now is the time to sort through and dispose of most of it.  This does involve checking everything – tax records from 2007? No, out they go.  Photograph of my parents?  Keep that and put it safe in an album.  It is slow work and occasionally sad as fading memories resurface but I will be much happier (and tidier) when it is all done. 

Jacqui has a bit of energy at the moment and has devoted a lot of it to getting more done in the Majestic.  She began by making another little table, this time for the bench at the front.  Then she started on the shelves.  We still have a large number of battens from the roof which are sturdy and fairly uniform but a bit rough.  They make excellent shelves for a workshop, supplemented by metal brackets, and soon we hope to begin clearing the centre of the room.  We will then be searching for that other mythical beast, an electrician, to install decent lights and sockets once the workbenches are up.  

Despite having flashes of energy Jacqui is under orders to take things easy at the moment – another reason we won’t be using the chainsaw for a few weeks.  We had her six monthly check-up with the cardiologist which was, sadly, not awfully informative.  It was also a bit disturbing to see he thought she had a stent in her stomach – or at least on the wrong side of her heart.  He offered no relief from the medication, confused two of the tablets suggesting they were both the same and wandered off again muttering about talking to her GP and resting more.  This was such a contrast to our last visit and we were left confused and dispirited.

There is much better news on the canine front however.  Cynthia’s results came back and the lump, whilst alarming in size and the speed it appeared, is harmless.  She had her stitches out and is healing up very well.  She spent the first few days using her tail as a back leg comb-over but has given that up.  Now she trots around happily though her back leg is still almost bald.  From behind she looks as if she’s joined the Masons!

We ventured into town on Friday, partly to get rid of all the shredding and excess recycling and partly to visit the little market.  We had hoped to get some more of the excellent raspberry jam beloved of Jacqui and our visitors.  Sadly there was none and we when we talked to the lovely lady who makes it we learned her husband is very ill.  We know them both and sent our very best wishes for them.  Sometimes life is very hard and all you can do is offer support if needed and kind words.  Her husband was one of the first people to welcome us to our new home and we are hoping, as she is, for a miracle for him.  

We both bought flowers in the market, bunches of beautiful sweet peas.  They have a lovely scent and the colours are glorious.  Jacqui is still crocheting, with an additional seventeen (!) balls of wool from the “Creative Needle” shop in Roscrea.  Well, if I have to be driven to the dentist one of us might as well enjoy it.  She’s making small, brightly coloured items with quirky fairground flourishes.  In amongst the flowers, look for my coffee pot ‘cosy’ and a cover for the sugar bowl.

We have several visitors this month – so exciting!  So I’m off to tidy and get ready.  Thank you for reading, keep safe and let’s hope the weather brightens up a bit for us all.

Life can be like a row of dominoes

Just when you think things are settling down a bit something comes along to mess it up.  And sometimes the first thing knocks up against something else – something more – and everything falls over.  Just like a row of dominoes, one problem becomes a heap on the floor!  Our main problem came about because of two long-standing issues.  The electricity is much better now but the regular power cuts have caused havoc with our equipment.  The last one, almost 24 hours, led to the fridge/freezer defrosting again.  Already a bit dodgy due to age and a fluctuating electricity supply, down it went.  That’s our first domino.

We set to and emptied the fridge whilst waiting for the new one to be delivered.  This led to the second domino.  A lot of the frozen stuff was frosted and inedible, but we still have no regular bin service.  As we don’t want any more rats, discarding it in piles in the wood to eventually decompose into compost was not an option.  We contacted the splendid Derek Madden who agreed to take it away to the commercial dump for us.  There was too much for the bin he provides so we bought another – rats again.  Anything in a plastic sack, however “heavy duty”, would not last overnight. We were coming to the end of the hot spell and the collection was not a pleasant job so a big “Thank You” to him.

There’s a very strong recycling policy in Ireland and for a mere 10 Euros the old one could be taken away.  This proved to be a bargain for us but a bit of a nightmare for the poor van drivers.  The weather turned very nasty and kept on raining making the grass soft and treacherous.  Whilst our back door just met the minimum size it was a very tight fit and the whole thing weighed 122 kg.  They managed to get it into the kitchen and then had to get the old monster out.  In the end they managed but when they left we found the back door wouldn’t close properly.  The hinges are bent and the whole thing is out of alignment.  Jacqui managed to move it enough to close and the inner door locks but now we are hunting a door repair service.

The next domino was the drain, the grease trap, to be exact.  This is a regular headache but we have been very careful about putting any fat or food scraps down the sink.  It still blocked up and started to overflow, just as we needed to do an industrial scale wash up of tubs, containers and bottles.  On examination there was remarkable little grease but the whole thing was clogged with grit from the roof.  We’ve had the guttering rerouted but the storms washed a lot of debris in when the roof was being replaced.  John, the ever-reliable drain man came round and cleared it out but highlighted another problem.  Dominoes again!

All the water from the roof goes into the septic tank and the volume will damage the percolation system.  We need a proper soak-away dug and a pipe set from the guttering.  Hopefully he can do this before winter.

We were a bit tired and drained (excuse the pun) with all this but then we had one final domino.  Whilst brushing her we discovered a lump on the back leg of Cynthia, one of our dogs.  This was removed a few days ago and we are trying not to fret as we await the histology report.  Cynthia is being very good and hardly chewing at the stitches at all but it means one of us has to be with her at all times, just in case.  Knowing their ability to dead-leg passers by with the hard collars, Jacqui found a soft blow up one.  She has now worn it for a total of 15 seconds.  This is 5 seconds the first time and 10 the second. I’ll let you know how she is as soon as we have the report.

The final piece of excitement came just after midnight last week.  I ventured out into the hall heading for the bathroom and was dive bombed by what I thought was a bird.  Then I realised it was a bat!  My, they can move fast and make such a noise.  It raced up and down the hall as I dived for the back doors hoping it would somehow fly outside.  It then landed on the fly curtain and I was really worried it would get tangled up but finally it shot out into the darkness.  I’ve never been that close to a bat before and they are strange, hideous and beautiful all at one.  I can see why many people hate them but I was both scared and captivated by this nocturnal visitor. 

It’s not been all bad though.  Jacqui had her first meeting with the local band and is hard at work on the pieces she needs to practise.  And we now have one of those rare specimens – a plumber.  Joseph had been round and looked at the jobs, saying he’s be back when he was next up this way. He rang unexpectedly and asked if he could come on the day we had Cynthia at the vet.  We agreed, of course, and now we have a shower that doesn’t veer between scalding hot and icy cold.  We also have an outside tap in the garden at last.  Jacqui’s chipped tooth is fixed and I’m past the worst of my root canal treatment.  We are resting and feeling lucky we got through all this!

So, thank you for reading.  I hope it’s not too hot wherever you are.  We’ve had rain in various guises for about ten days now but – hey, welcome to Ireland! And here’s to keeping our row of dominoes upright next week.