Driving on – literally at the moment

This has been a very busy and rather tiring fortnight.  We had planned to keep most of the first week free as we had booked a mini-digger but things didn’t quite work out as planned.  The digger arrived along with a very patient and helpful man who showed us the basics.  It was called a “mini” digger  as it only weighed three tons but it was much bigger than we expected.  We needed a ladder to get into the cab, for a start.  Then the fun began.  There’s all those different levers that go in so many directions.  Buttons on the floor, red switches and a locking lever are needed to fix the bucket.  And it did lurch around as we tried moving it, initially as I forgot the blade on the front.  This steadies the whole thing for lifting but drags across the floor when driving on.

We spent the whole first day trying to get the buckets changed until we gave in and called the shop.  The lovely Michael came out after work and showed me again.  I’d forgotten about the final locking on bit so all my hard work was wasted time and again.  Still, I had plenty of practise and was getting more accurate when manoeuvring the arm.  We marked out where we were going to work and locked it up for the night.

Alas, the next day I was back at the dentist, who is about an hour’s drive away.  I’ve had a long-running problem with a back tooth and was waiting for a long appointment to fix it.  Then we had to cancel that as it clashed with the NCT inspection for the car, the Irish MOT.  There’s a problem with this at the moment as appointments can be up to six months delayed and no-one has notified most drivers.  We need the car as there’s no public transport or local taxi so opted for an emergency appointment.  Yes, we had to take it or be breaking the law but it clashed with my dental surgery.  In the interim the teeth flared up again and after three courses of antibiotics the only solution was “direct intervention”.  This is dentist jargon for sticking a scalpel into the gums.

I wasn’t up to driving the digger the rest of the day but Jacqui took over and made a start.  We had three aims for the week.  Hopefully we would be familiar enough with the controls to be competent (and safe).  Then we wanted to mark out and start to level part of the path we plan around the wood.  This will allow us to reach more trees and clear some of the more feral weeds.  Finally we needed to dig out the stumps from the saplings we lost to ash die-back so we can mow in the summer and keep it clear.  We intend to leave a lot of the ground at least semi-wild so there’s cover and flowers for the animals, birds and insects that live there. 

Despite the fact it was horribly, hammering hot we kept driving on, strimming the undergrowth in layers as the grass and weeds shot up to shoulder height in the humid conditions.  We had been told it would be easier to knock the three remaining dead saplings down and Jacqui gave it a good go.  When the first one fell it left a huge hole right in the middle of the planned path.  We had to cut the sapling into metre long pieces to move it before Jacqui managed to lift the root ball out and away.  Then we resorted to digging the stumps out after that and then spent the last day trying to level the ground a bit. 

We are now pretty tired after all that.  It was a lot of fun but surprisingly hard work, especially as I had difficulty remembering which lever moved which bit.  Still, we survived with no injuries and are looking forward to the next time.

The digger may be gone again but we are still driving on.  As the soil dries out we can break up the earth and fill the worst of the lumps and holes.  The weather changed in the middle of our endeavours with rain followed by a massive thunderstorm on Saturday evening.  This knocked out everything.  We had no power and, as the batteries for the solar system and the storage tank were drained overnight by the other user we had no water either.  The wifi went, of course, as did the phone signal for some time.  It was almost 24 hours before the electricity was restored and a dark and gloomy day it was too.  Jacqui planned ahead, of course, and we had a couple of power banks to keep the phones and tablets going.  The next day we arranged a shipping order of batteries for the storm lanterns.

The weather has been erratic this last week though there have been some wonderful sunsets to enjoy.  I have been back in the wood and done a bit more clearing. As I was cutting back some bindweed (and muttering to myself) I realised the tiny oak that was barely a twig last year had leaves!  Lots of leaves, in fact.  It is leaning on a small ash sprout which I carefully cut back.  I hope that with some TLC this last little oak will grow and add to the run of eight we uncovered earlier.  The track needs to work, of course, but we have plans.  Next time we may source a smaller digger for the back.  Or perhaps we will go for a skid-steer to scrape and level the paths.  Either way, we will keep driving on.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back in a fortnight.

Enjoy the weather and keep safe!

It always rains in Ireland

There is a popular misconception that it always rains in Ireland.  Certainly there are some months of the year when this seems to be true.  Days of overcast skies, drizzle or the occasional torrential downpour and endless mud can dampen the spirit.  However it may rain most days in Ireland but not everywhere.  An occasional shower in a hot spell can be most welcome, as it was last week.  In summer it rains far less and it can get hot – very hot.

The arrival of high temperatures and day-long sunshine following all the rain had an amazing effect on all the plants.  From little seedlings and scrubby undergrowth everything burst forth with astonishing speed and enthusiasm.  Jacqui had planted some bedding plants in tubs by the fence and sown radishes and rocket in the small trough.  In ten days the Mimulus was flowing over the sides in a waterfall of colour.   Jacqui has been re-purposing some of the old roof battens and made a little table for the back.  Now we can sit out in the evening sun with drinks (and smudge pots to deter the insects).

A quick examination of the trough revealed half a dozen fat and happy snails (over the wall with them!) and the first long and crunchy radishes.  The rocket, picked fresh in the evening, is delicious and we’ve enough to make pesto as well as salads.  It’s a small start, along with the herb and lettuce bath tub, but we are slowly expanding what we do and are now making plans for the poly-tunnel greenhouse and, in the winter, the first fruit trees and canes.  We are also harvesting the wild-sown sycamore seedlings to grow on and plant as a hedge.

The field behind us was cut and the silage gathered at the start of the hot spell leaving it to go golden in the sun.  Within minutes a huge flock of rooks descended and began picking over the earth.  They were constantly flying in and out again for several days until finally they moved on to something better.  Then the blackbirds arrived to finish off the job.  I hope they found and enjoyed the snails on the wall.

We’ve been very busy these last few weeks and surprisingly sociable.  Recently we were invited to join a Zoom quiz group.  Some members are local, others are in the UK but it was nice to get to know more people.  Then last week several UK members visited and we all met up at John Ryan’s pub in Carney.  As it was a quiz night we used their wi-fi and joined in as usual despite the occasional interruption from the pool table next door.  The following Saturday we all met up and had a lovely evening meal in a friend’s garden.

An interesting aside.  I spotted a car loitering outside the house the next day and went to see if they were lost.  A couple from Paris were looking for “the house of Shane MacGowan”, and I was able to direct them as it is next door to where we had dined.  It felt rather good, being able to direct someone.  And I’m sure Shane wouldn’t have minded as he was away that weekend.

Earlier that week we had visitors with our friends from England arriving after a few busy and fun-filled days on the “Wild Atlantic Way”.  Rather than struggle with Dublin Airport and motorway they opted for Shannon.  This is smaller, less crowded and actually several hours closer to us.  It was a lovely visit, as usual, and Helen did wonders on our driveway.  The gravel topping breaks out into a weed-filled carpet in the summer, including nettles, thistles and rows of tiny sycamore seedlings.  Helen worked her way down it, weeding and pulling the weeds out, tap-roots and all.  We are hoping to find some red creeping thyme to plant in their place.  Not only will it spread and give a carpet of colour but it will smell gorgeous when we drive over it.  We have called it the “Helen Tap-Root Eradication Project”.

On top of this sterling work, they brought us a present.  There are many things that are as good or better in Ireland but some cannot be matched.  Jacqui has been looking for some decent marmalade for several years now.  It’s either too sweet, too runny or has no shred at all to speak of.  We have tried a dozen different types, all of which are going into orange or marmalade cakes.  Then our friends arrived with a jar of the real thing – Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade.  Thank you Helen and Adrian!

To top off our social week two new friends, Lorainne and Nicola came round for coffee, tea and cake.  The dogs were delighted with all these visitors – especially for them, of course – and have been watching from the windows hoping for some more.  We are settling back a bit and dealing with the usual little problems.  As rain is finally forecast we had to fix the downspout into the water barrel.  The join was cracked and it kept falling off so finally we drilled and screwed it into the gutter.  It’s only a temporary repair and I think we will need to replace the whole run soon as it’s an old and discontinued type.  Well, it’s a relatively easy job and much cheaper than some recent projects!

It’s clouding over now though still warm and a bit humid.  The rain will be welcome, for us and the farmers who are already complaining they’ve no grass for their cows.  I hope it’s not too heavy as next week we have hired a digger for a bit.  We aim to clear the path around the wood and dig out the small stumps from the dead ash saplings.  Once it is level we can get the mower out and keep the paths clear.  Then we can work out way round, clearing the bindweed and brambles from the trees.  We need a smaller machine for the back garden but are looking for that and will finish the clearing later in the summer.  I’m so looking forward to driving a digger!

Well, that’s us for the last few weeks.  Thank you for reading and I hope to see you all next time.

Keep well and enjoy the weather.  And yes, it does always rain in Ireland – eventually.

Mainly about writing this time

Something a bit different this week – a blog mainly about writing.  In theory the last few years should have been good for writing.  It’s been quiet and we are fairly isolated so there’s time and space to focus.  Well, space anyway.  Anyone who has read some of these posts will know we’ve been pretty busy.  There’s the house needing work, the wood, the rampant garden and all the necessary adjustments around such a drastic move.  I’ve been thinking about the writing and we’ve been talking round writing too.  I’ve even actually done some but there are some big issues arising from the whole business.

I never did expect to make a fortune writing.  It’s a nice idea but really, it doesn’t happen to us ordinary writers.  Like most fiction authors my dream was much more prosaic.  Not even a living wage really, just enough of an income to know my books reached a decent sized audience.  This may have happened at one time or another but I’ve little evidence of it.  It’s impossible to check the numbers with any accuracy, even on Kindle.  The publisher is supposed to gather the numbers of physical books and I know these weren’t done fully.  One year I officially sold a dozen books, even though I personally signed over 30 in one afternoon at a single festival! 

Most people are amazed to discover how low royalties actually are.  On an average paperback, the amount is calculated on the net price – after discounts etc are given to distributors and shops.  This can be as low as 20% of the price paid by the reader, from which the author gets maybe 10%.  This is 2% of the cover price (2p in the £1) – not a lot for over a year’s work.  Even this is paid over a year after it is earned and often withheld against other costs or even not paid at all if it is below the publisher’s minimum payment.

The other source of income is the PLR – Public Lending Right.  This is a small (less than 1% of the book’s price) payment paid per loan from libraries.  Now, this is a very welcome idea but has two flaws.  Firstly loans are only counted from a limited number of (mainly large) libraries.  This is despite the widespread use of computer systems that automatically capture all loans.  Secondly only official libraries can submit figures.  With the closure of so many council libraries, the new community libraries are a welcome stop-gap but – they deprive all authors of even the pennies in income.

All of this is not helped by the awful state of the publishing industry at present.  Rather than making reading more popular (and more productive for us all), COVID has forced many small and medium publishers, shops and writers out of business.  As the victim of one publisher who borrowed against the business and lost it all I know of a number of writers who have just given up completely.  The winners seem to be sure-fire sellers especially celebrity authors, some of whom can actually write a novel but others who use a ghost writer and sell their name.  The market is currently saturated at present, especially with “celebrity” biographies, with little money left to explore and support new writing.

COVID has also had a big impact on book distribution and hence availability for many writers.  With several of the main companies closing down post-pandemic, the remainder often will not handle small press or self published books.  Special orders have to go through a bigger shop that may not deal with that press, or not at all.  Many books are picked up from a local shop or a kiosk at the station or airport – or they used to be.  Now there’s little chance of this, and no chance for a local author just starting out, because of the distribution monopolies.

Soon only those rich enough to live on their own means or better-off retired people will be able to afford to write and what a dreadful loss this will be.  All the young, poor, disadvantaged, minority voices gone, lost for a generation.

All of this seems inherently gloomy for which I apologise.  I’ve been struggling with it (and other aspects like agents –NOOO! And publicity – Yeah, right) for some time.  With a lot of encouragement and help from Jacqui I’ve ventured out into self-publishing for “Puppy Brain” and will probably do the same for the fifth Alex Hastings book.  This leaves the thorny problems of costs and especially publicity to be handled.  The latter, especially, is not anything I thought about when I began all this.  Like most aspiring authors, it was mainly about writing.  A whole part of my brain is still focussed mainly on writing but the other issues keep forcing their way in which is rather distracting.  It’s hard sometimes to work on a story and wonder if anyone will ever see it.  Despite this I finished “Puppy Brain” and hopefully will live happily ever after.

I leave you with a recent experience a friend from Teesside posted on Twitter.  Will Nett is a clever, funny and thoughtful writer as well as a thoroughly nice man.  Three days ago he posted this:

“I got stopped by a fan and asked for a photo earlier. I used to be   someone…..REPEAT….I USED to be someone!”

Hope you enjoy the sunshine now summer’s arriving at last.

Thank you for reading and I hope to have some country tales for next time. 

Not everything new is a good thing

My apologies for the brevity of this episode, but there are very good reasons for it.  I am currently struggling with “the new”.  Specifically, the new Google that has imposed itself on the website I use.  It has been sending little messages for several months now about “sun setting” some elements.  I should move to the new platform as soon as possible.  Google did offer to set up a basic blog site automatically when their timer ran down.  Good, I thought. Go ahead, please. 

So I opened the page today to find a huge digital countdown across it.  Six weeks to go, ticking down in seconds.  That’s enough to spike your blood pressure!  I clicked on it, hoping it would go away but – no.  I stared at it for a few minutes as the seconds rolled over.  I swear it was mocking me.  Finally, reluctantly, I clicked on the “easy set-up” button.  That was definitely mocking me – it lied.

I spent nearly four hours opening multiple web pages, reading strange and barely comprehensible sentences and instructions that directed me to previous pages, new forms and then demands for my bank details.  These, by the way, were just in case I ran over the “generous free space offered”.  No chance of that as I couldn’t enter a single word before hacking through the thicket of acronyms, URLs and hot links.  I’m not an IT idiot – I began on the net in 1986 and have repaired and upgraded machines for years.  This, however, is deeply confusing and really rather horrible, not to sat f#*%ing hostile.

After managing to complete four of the ten stages, including installing new plug-ins (why??) and extra links (leaving out 90% as I don’t do most social media) I finally got something like a recognisable blog screen.  So here I am, writing a short update and hoping it will post.  I will use the next two weeks to crack this infernal system and give a proper update then, I hope.

In the meantime I find myself muttering, as I do when my programs offer an update.  In my 37 years of experience I have rarely found an update improves anything.  It just makes everything slower, more complex and less biddable. In many cases “update” actually means “bloatware”.  So I leave you to lapse into full Luddite mode : Not everything new is a good thing!

Thank you and I hope to be back soon.

When one door closes another may open

This last fortnight there has been a sense of one door closing behind me.  A lot of this has to do with writing as well as events in the UK leaving me with a feeling of – not helplessness but certainly being limited in what I can do.  Several people we care about have suffered losses or awful accidents and we can only send virtual love and let them know we care.  We knew when we moved we were leaving for good.  That door was firmly closed behind us as we sold up, gave away possessions and looked towards something different.  Different we certainly got.  There are many small differences in Ireland – it is not just “England with a funny accent”.

Adjusting to these differences can be enjoyable.  The space around us is utterly liberating.  People are very friendly in the main as well as curious about our lives and choices.  A lot of people know our names even after meeting only once. The weather is wetter but milder than the north of England, the occasional “100 year” freeze excepted.  There are more public (bank) holidays and life is generally more relaxed. Spring comes earlier and is exceptionally beautiful.  As the UK door closed another opened for us.

It is harder to adjust to some differences.  Roads are generally narrow and can be in very poor repair, which doesn’t stop some drivers speeding heedlessly round blind bends.  Especially one particular bin firm who trumpet their green credentials.  I’ve written about the infrastructure before – or lack of it.  Whilst it holds up (just about) there are numerous power cuts out here which can be disastrous for any IT work.  Light, heat, cooking facilities, internet, television and water can all vanish in a second.  Would we swop our new life for the relative stability of services in the UK? No. Even if there’s no weekend post, some courier deliveries never arrive and breakdown services are totally useless.

I have felt one door closing this last month and it is hard to see one opening, though we will try.  When my publishers declared bankruptcy last year I hoped I would be able to rescue my books and republish them myself.  I did manage the rescue and thanks to a couple of very good friends will have the remaining copies soon.  The republishing is more problematic.  No publisher is likely to touch an existing series for all kinds of reasons.  Self publishing, done properly is actually very complex and the alternatives can be expensive.  There are all the problems associated with publicity – bad enough for a small publisher but almost impossible for an individual. And then I encountered something unexpected and potentially disastrous.

Many self-published writers rely heavily on local, independent bookshops.  Good for readings, signings and spreading the word.  Only now, following Covid, several of the largest distributors of books are gone.  The main firm left does not supply small bookshops as it’s not “economically viable”.  Big, mainstream stores focus on best-seller lists and sales figures from – you guessed it – this distributor.  If they don’t supply the small independent shops it can be impossible to get that “foot in the door” to attract the large booksellers. There’s still Amazon, of course, but not much else.

The second door that closed last month came as a result of the shaky electrical supply.  We have lost four computers since moving, mainly due to repeated power failures and fluctuations in supply.  I have been working on another Alex Hastings book, number 6, and had written almost half when my PC crashed.  I was sure I had saved the file – I email myself and put the work onto USB sticks regularly.  However, after removing the hard drive and running it as an external I found it was blank. 

Several frantic searches through email and USBs also came up blank.  I have the first 18,000 words – and nothing more.   On top of everything else it feels as if the last 10 years work may have been for nothing.  I’m hoping to publish “A Long Shadow” (Alex Hastings 5) this year but at the moment I feel this may be the last in the series.  I’ll keep you posted.

Trying to be positive, as this door closes maybe another opens.  Hunting through the USBs I found a lot of earlier writing including two partly written novels.  A lot of the research and notes were also there.  I am quite hopeful I can pick up and carry on, polishing my earlier efforts as I go.  And I am already working on “Seeking Schroeder”, the second book in the “Puppy Brain” trilogy.  So, I’ve not given up, even as one door closes.  It’s just a bit hard to get going again.

So, thank you for reading and all good wishes for a happy few weeks.  Enjoy the coronation if that’s your thing.  Or enjoy the day’s holiday anyway.  Tomorrow is May Day and a national holiday here so I’m taking mine early!

Forty Years On

Today, April 16th 2023, is a beautiful day after several weeks of rain, cloudy skies and strong winds.  It is also exactly forty years since Jacqui and I met, in a discotheque in east London.  Yes, I really am that old, and who goes to a disco now?  Or even calls them that? Forty years on from that date we are at a place we never could have imagined.  Still together, for a start as we met on the rebound and decided we both needed some nice times for a change.  We would stay together as long as we were having fun.  Well, I guess we still are.

Time is a funny thing, simultaneously objective and subjective with whole years collapsing in the memory but tiny events glittering like fireflies in the dark.  It seems as if there have been mountains to climb, over our life together and in the last three years.  We both learnt the benefit of focussing on smaller tasks, partly from the Open University and partly from bitter experience.  A six or eight year course of study is impossibly daunting.  One year at a time seems possible. 

Our Saltburn Lantern Light

Our first year in Ireland – the first nine months or so – we were trying to unpack.  We had to adjust to lockdowns in a strange place, making the house comfortable and coping with the losses and damage from the move.  This was very hard as we kept finding broken items or things with pieces missing, not to mention some precious items gone completely.  This included most of the power tools so many small problems became one big problem.   Already in a state of exhaustion and shock, this made everything much, much harder.  The next year we were recovering from Jacqui’s heart attacks and beginning to make small changes in our surroundings.  We have pictures up – lots of pictures.  We have (partially) tamed the lawn in the back garden.  With a lot of help we have made improvements in the wood, gaining a magnificent wood store in the process.

Now we have more energy and are making plans again. In small steps this last week we got the mower out and did a quick service.  Now the grass is less jungle-like and hopefully the little frogs will retire to the wood again.  I drive very slowly round, peering ahead to spot them jumping away.  I’m very proud of the fact I managed to reverse the mower into its shed which is narrow and dark.  I was too nervous to do that last year but as we plan on hiring a mini-digger soon I thought I’d better widen my skill set.  Where the Leylandii trees were Jacqui has fixed tubs on the stumps for flowers. Ireland is very green – lots of yellow and green mainly – and the painter in her craves brighter colours.

The side garden, “Betsy’s Garden”, is coming on nicely too.  The chrysanthemums were glorious last autumn so we are adding more, in different colours.  The soil obviously suits them and they are comfortably low maintenance.  We are looking for native honeysuckle plants to grow against the wall.  They’re not much to look at but the scent is wonderful.  I had a bed-sit in London with a honeysuckle hedge out front and forty years on I still love the scent.  And the trail cameras have captured some colour pictures as the sun rises earlier.  The badger continues to boss the wood but the pine marten shows great cunning.  He’s taken to running along the back fence, a defensible route that leaves little scent.  Clever Mr Pine Marten!

Of course, not everything goes to plan.  The main shower has been playing up, getting decidedly cool, so I tried to get a replacement thermostat bar.  This was only available in a complete set (of course) and had no instructions at all enclosed but, undaunted, I tried the repair.  This involved a lot of running back and forth to turn off the water, then on, then back off again.  It leaked, of course.  I worked back towards the wall to discover the olive was missing on one pipe.  When I removed the final plate it seems the water pipe is glued into place so I can’t get behind it.  Now it’s back to trying to find a real plumber.  I was going to replace the toilet seat but after yesterday I’m not so sure.  I have a sneaking suspicion we might end up with just a hole in the floor.

We used to be quite musical and as we packed our instruments ourselves they made the journey unscathed.  It’s a long time since we’ve played anything much and we have stiff fingers (me) and a wobbly lip (Jacqui).  We’ve joined an on-line quiz group however and part of it is a musical interlude or two.  Wanting to contribute something, we’ve unpacked and polished up the saxophone, glockenspiel and tenor recorder and are doing our best to produce something that doesn’t make the dogs bark.  Forty years on, I can still remember the fingering for a number of tunes.  I just can’t manage the actual playing so well.  Undaunted (if accompanied by Tibetan Spaniels) we will press on.  It’s another return to normal at last.

So here we are, having taken a journey one step at a time, with occasional leaps into the unknown.  We will have a quiet dinner tonight and raise a glass to this most improbable but wonderful life together.  When we met Jacqui wrote out the lyrics to Bob Seger’s “Little Victories” for me.  As a plan for life it seems perfect.  Much of what we do we celebrate as a “little victory” and they add up over the years.

I think the same can be applied to efforts to help others.  No-one can right all wrongs or help everyone.  Instead we choose an individual or a family, and the impact can be lovely.  One of our favourites is a tiny non-profit project in Kenya run by a friend.  Called “Lighthouse – family matters”, this supports a family with several special needs children providing a house, water, medicine and the means to grow food.  You can find them on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/groups/365062013615394  Truly a “little victory”.

Here’s to Forty Years On.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you all again in a couple of weeks.

Cross the river before you abuse the crocodile

This has been a rather odd few weeks with some fairly frantic activity mixed with slow periods of waiting, perfect for reflecting on life.  Sometimes the delays in events can be infuriating and I have to speak sternly to myself.  Life is generally lived at a slower pace here in Tipperary and there is a lack of workmen in many areas.  Everyone takes on several jobs, moving from one to another like a juggler spinning plates.  Coupled with the ever-increasing difficulties in ordering supplies from the UK this can lead to a lot of frustration.  But it is counterproductive getting angry or rude.  Skilled people are to be valued, and not just because they can choose to go elsewhere so I take out one of my proverb mugs each morning and remind myself.  “Cross the river before you abuse the crocodile”.

Old African proverb – still wise today

Having said that, when things are finally completed it feels like a huge boost.  The roof is done and despite some seriously heavy rain the kitchen is warm and waterproof.  We had an unexpected bonus this week too.  The empty buildings up the road are sold (finally) and we have neighbours.  The property had no water or power and they have been waiting over nine months for connections.  Well, after three visits, to put up posts, then string wires and lop the tops from our trees, we had a new connection too. 

Happiness is a large metal box!

This time we have our own transformer and it makes a huge difference.  Previously we were at the end of a line with several other properties drawing power.  This explained why when we switched on the kettle the lights all dimmed.  Atmospheric but not exactly helpful. Also as the supply fluctuated it may well have contributed to the failure of three computers since our arrival.   It did mean we spent two days in one week sitting in the dark as they were working on the coldest, wettest days of the month.  It was worth it though.  The joy of being able to boil the kettle and switch on the microwave at the same time is priceless!

One of those dark days coincided with the 24 hour blood pressure test.  I cannot condemn this enough, on all levels.  If you’ve had one you need no explaining and if you haven’t then you are very lucky.  Not only does it interrupt your life every 30 minutes (and then 3 minutes later if the reading is high), it makes it impossible to sleep.  It also left me with bruises, a roaring headache and frozen shoulders and neck.  To no-one’s surprise my readings were high.  Pain, shock and exhaustion can do that to a person I guess.

I didn’t make it through the full 24 hours, ripping the cuff off at half past seven the next morning when it tried to inflate for the seventh time in an hour.  We took it back to the doctor’s surgery and it was still huffing and swelling away in the bag.  It was like some malignant creature from a horror story that refused to die.  Jacqui had an even worse experience when in hospital, tethered to leads, drips and heart monitors as well as the fiendish device.  Her room was very cold, intentionally, and she was watched through CCTV the whole time.  She was exhausted and a mass of bruises and plasters covering needle marks when I got her home, but at least she came home.

I am firmly of the opinion you need to be strong and healthy to survive many aspects of modern medicine.  My mother had cancer for over eleven years and underwent numerous different types of chemotherapy.  As she got sicker the regimes were harsher with more side effects, a sign of their desperation I think.  I remember sitting with her one afternoon when she said, “Sometimes the cure is worse than the complaint”.  I waited, thinking she was going to refuse any more treatment.  Then she added, “Still, it does mean you can occasionally change the outcome”.  That’s why I’m as compliant as I can be. I’m not going to abuse the crocodile until I’ve crossed the river.

With powerless days and no workmen I’ve been reflecting on times past, especially on Saltburn where we lived for 30 years.  Despite delays, lockdowns and struggles over finance the “Real Meals” team held the first Cheese Festival last weekend.  This is a new venture, designed to compliment the summer Food Festival which is returning this year.  This was one of the high spots of the year in town and it’s wonderful to see it back again.  I also returned to Saltburn, at least virtually, with the Book of the Month pod cast last Friday.  Jenna Warren, owner of “Book Corner”, the independent book shop in town, has published an excellent debut novel.  It is called “The Moon and Stars” and it is a great read. I can thoroughly recommend it.

Mr Fox about to stake his claim
Mr Badger is not amused

In the wood there have been some developments showing on the trail cameras.  Whilst the badger obviously feels he owns this little patch of land, the fox is starting to challenge him.  Last week I captured foxy coming in, stamping around and then peeing on the trees to mark the path.  A couple of hours later badger came out and sniffed around, looking for whoever dared to do this.  It is very interesting stuff but I hope I don’t check the cameras and catch a full-on badger/fox throw-down one morning.

Coming along nicely now

So there we are, moving into spring with birds, insects and all manner of plants gracing the land around us.  Jacqui is out now putting more plants into Betsy’s Garden and we are clearing the cut tree branches. We now have plans for the first fruit trees and bushes later in the year.  We are also hiring a mini digger and have a friend who will show us how to drive it.  Why should Ireland tremble?

Despite health issues, some continuing problems with the house and other little stumbling blocks we are happy here.  Life flows on and we are adjusting – not abusing crocodiles but learning to be patient. 

Thank you for reading.  If you are interested in the review for “The Moon and Stars” you can download it here: https://southsidebroadcasting.podbean.com/e/book-of-the-month-the-moon-and-stars-jenna-warren/

Have a good few weeks and I hope to see you in a fortnight.

Watching and waiting

We have spent a lot of the last few weeks watching and waiting for things to happen, or change. No sooner had I posted the last blog than the (hopefully) last of the winter storms swept through Ireland.  It is generally much milder here than in northern England but we woke to snow – real snow, not just a light dusting.  We stayed at home as the roads are rarely gritted, especially out in rural areas.  Where we live even the towns are still rural areas so ice and snow settle and freeze overnight.  It was rather beautiful and the dogs enjoyed it, being originally bred for the conditions. 

Rather unseasonal for Ireland
Coloured willows in the wood

It did help to put paid to the roof work, of course.  The new slate runners were still “on order” and it wasn’t possible to work in the icy conditions anyway.  This meant the house got very cold again and we were mining the log pile every other day.  It amazed us it didn’t seem to shrink at all.  The snow faded away after a couple of days but was followed by heavy rain that occasionally turned to sleet.  This was much less popular with the dogs, especially as the garden is all churned up and very slippery.  After a week the runners arrived and work resumed full tilt, starting with another layer of insulation in the roof.  This has made a real difference even though the job is not finished yet.  We are watching the skies and waiting for the last stage, hopefully this week.

Fearless pheasant
Nosy little wagtail

As the snow faded away we found ourselves being watched as the birds are returning and are exceptionally nosy this year.  I’d already disturbed three female pheasants in the wood one morning.  Then later that week I watched a young male walking back and forth outside our kitchen window.  He’s been there almost every day, peering in for up to half an hour at a time.  We are used to robins and blackbirds landing on the sills and commenting on our décor but now we also have a couple of pied wagtails using the scaffolding as a viewing platform.  The birds seem to have decided we are relatively harmless and unless we run about or shout they ignore us.  Maybe one day the buzzards will come when called – but probably not.

I’ve been a bit shaky the past few weeks.  Actually, these past few years if I’m being honest.  I thought it might be a form of long Covid but I have been getting very tired and have most unflattering rings under my eyes.  Finally I went to the doctor, with extreme reluctance, as my strategy of watching and waiting was not working out.  There was a long chat about the stresses in life at the moment, from the roof to the ongoing water problems.  Then he took my blood pressure.  Unsurprisingly it was high – very, very high. 

Now I’ve another appointment next week for blood tests and the possibility of a 24 hr pressure monitor.  I’m not keen as one measure with the “automatic” machine left me with a bruised arm and numb hand.  And as I’m extremely needle-phobic I’m not sure the test will give an accurate reading!  I shall, of course, make this point in a quiet and respectful manner.

Mr Badger’s highway

Despite the occasional gloomy bits life here is still delightful.  The wood is coming into bud again and the ash trees we had to cut down are sending out little shoots.  I don’t know if they will come through infected so we will talk to Fergus.  It would be good if we could keep some, at least for a while.  The main actor in the wood seems to be the badger that comes and goes most nights.  We hope to get the path round the wood dug in a week or so and I will make sure we disturb his track as little as possible.  The bird tenement at the back is filling up again and the bird song is wonderful in the mornings.  It actually echoes around the wood. This is truly a beautiful place to live and we know how lucky we are.  

And St Patrick’s Day passed off peacefully this year. Hooray!

Well, that’s us for another fortnight.  Thank you, Jacqui, for the snow pictures and thank you all for reading. If you are a new arrival to the blog you can get all episodes, beginning in March 2020, on this site.  I am also recording two at a time for Southside Broadcasting and you can catch them here: https://southsidebroadcasting.podbean.com/.  Then put “Tipperary Tales” in the search engine.

Slow but steady progress

Hooray – February is finally over!  Universally loathed as a “beastly month”, the arrival of March suggests Spring is just around the corner.  We will be very happy to see that as at present we have almost ground to a standstill on some important jobs.  The most pressing is the roof to the kitchen.  This was making slow but steady progress after a fit of over enthusiasm on the first day.  The men set up scaffolding, scrambled up and ripped it all off, throwing slates down into the garden and hauling them away.  Then they did some covering up and left for the day.

Rain in Ireland – who’d have thought?

Alas, a very wet patch rolled in, the rain came down and water began to run through the ceiling.  That was an absolute low point.  We used every spare towel, mat and durry as the floor is like glass when wet.  All the furniture had to be moved, lights off and appliances unplugged.  It eased off after about four in the morning and I emptied the buckets and went back to bed.  There was no serious damage but it was not a pleasant experience.

Dry – but cold

There has been some slow but steady progress since with roofing felt and new battens fitted.  It is at least fairly watertight but a cold spell means the house is much cooler than before.  The new slates with special runners have arrived at last so work should resume this week.  Keeping everything crossed as a final icy blast is due according to Met Eireann. 

The flood evening came as we were taking part in our first on-line quiz game.  I’ve never done a quiz before – well, once at a conference 20 years ago.  This is a small group of “local” people, some of whom are currently residing elsewhere.  Despite the dodgy infrastructure and water coming through the ceiling it was quite fun and we joined in again the next week.  It’s a good way to get to know people even if some are remote.  And it feels as if we are slowly but surely settling into the area.

Mr Badger, late home
Mr Pine Marten, still shy
Mr Fox

There’s some good news about the trail cameras.  After weeks of wrangling, cursing and getting pictures of waving grass we’ve got something.  You may remember the badger’s bum from last time?  Well, he is certainly a big lad and we’ve pictures and a short video of him waddling off for a night out.  The very nervous pine marten has finally made an entrance and a couple of days ago we got our first fox too. If you click on the pictures you can enlarge them. Look for the eyes!

 It is one thing to know (or suspect) we have wildlife using the wood but quite another to actually see it, and to be able to share with our friends. It’s a bit of a clamber through the wood at present as the ground is still uneven.  The brambles are making a comeback already and I’ve several nasty scratches.  We hope to get John, the digger man, back this month to smooth a path.  Once the stumps, holes and rocks are shifted we can use the mower to keep it clear.

No, not 25 metres away

The water analysis came back and one reading, for nitrate, is only just under the threshold.  This is almost certainly due to agricultural fertilizer and slurry that has been applied ten feet from our well.  The dogs are back on bottled water as all three have had some health issues.  We have another set of bottles ready and will be retesting 24 hours after the next slurry.  This could be the major issue this year and I’ll let you know what happens.

Ah Pollock…

As it has been cold throughout most of the house we’ve been using the fire in the snug a lot.  This room is well named and being in the centre it does warm a lot of our home.  We’ve been enjoying some of the more eccentric offerings from Sky.  The Discovery Channel is re-showing “Alaska Homestead Rescue” which is most enjoyable.  We have little to complain about compared to some of these people (though what were they thinking?).  I’m fairly sure I’m not going to check the cameras one morning and find a bear or a cougar staring into the lens!  Jacqui is working on a crochet jumper – very impressive.  I am the epitome of slow but steady progress as I work on the impossible Jackson Pollock puzzle.  Maybe in a few months I’ll finish it…

Kindle edition is listed under Jem’s name!

I’ve had a couple of queries about the Kindle edition of “Puppy Brain”.  It’s listed under Jem Cooney if you are looking for a copy and very reasonably priced at £3.99.  The paperback is currently on special offer at £8.24, 25% off so grab a cheap copy if you’ve not got one.  Work on the next book last week and I have the plan set out.  I also took the first big psychological step and wrote the first page so I’m going to be a busy bunny this summer.  In other good news, the first option for the TV production was up last month but Jon has taken up the second.  This is a huge vote of confidence on his part and I am pleased and so grateful to him.  May this year be good to us all, especially the writers!

Well, it’s getting very cold up here in my room as we’ve not begun our daily assault on the huge log Jenga.  I’m next to the stripped off roof and there are draughts galore so I’ll sign off now.

Have a good few weeks and I hope to see you in a fortnight. 

Thank you for reading.


Well, there’s always something

I’ve been reminded these past weeks of one of those brilliant one-liners from a film.  In the movie “Carrington”, the title character is warned against getting involved with the critic and writer Lytton Strachey. “Dora dearest, he’s a terrible old queen!” says a friend, in much less PC times.  “Yes,” replies Carrington, “But there’s always something, isn’t there?”.  So as we move towards the third spring in our Irish home, steps forward are mixed with stumbles, trips and even occasional falls. 

It has been an interesting fortnight that began rather inauspiciously with our attempts to get the well tested.  There is a 25 metre exclusion rule for private wells and some activities inside this put the water at risk.  We sent for testing bottles and followed the instructions carefully.  It was quite a rigmarole – disinfect hands, wipe tap, run water, wipe again, run water, take samples.  These were wrapped in sterile plastic, put in a cold bag and we set off on a 200 km round trip to the lab.  But there’s always something, right?

Less than 4 km into the trip a front tyre burst.  Despite trying to call out the AA we were stuck for over an hour before a friend came to our rescue.  The tyres had all taken a bashing on the roads recently. They’ve been torn up by rain and tractors and we didn’t feel happy risking the journey with no spare.  Jacqui went off to get it replaced and I rang for another set of testing bottles.  The second time we did make it to the lab in the time limit and are now waiting for the chemical analysis.  The biological result was okay so we can drink the water, after a week of using bottled supplies.  Even the dogs were on spring water for a while.

Animal or Vegetable?
Definitely Animal!

When our friends visited last month we set up a trail camera to spot any visiting wildlife.  This has been a process of trial and error – mainly error, I have to confess.  First there’s the need to find the right location, with somewhere suitable for camera mounting.  Then there are a lot of settings to adjust, from motion-delay to number of shots in a burst.  One evening we got 58 pictures of grass waving in the high wind – not what we wanted.  Another day there were 5 consecutive shots of what could have been mammal eyes peering out of the undergrowth.  Or maybe just a grass hummock stirring in the breeze.  Then there were 2 real shots – a large mammal moving into view.  That’s when I set the camera to take 5 in a burst.  Hopefully next time we will get more of the badger than its bum.

In more positive news, Jacqui has completed the cardio exercise program, with good results so far.  We breathed a sigh of relief at losing the two early starts each week but, well there’s always something.  The good news was the local (18 km away) hospital can do her ECHO test.  No trip to Limerick – hooray!  The bad news was another early start as it has been tacked on to the stress test. That’s the final part of the rehab program.  I’m not sure about the reasoning behind doing the ECHO first and then putting a patient covered in ultrasound jelly on a treadmill but they’re the experts I guess.  

We’ve been keeping an eye on Charlie, our youngest dog, as he’s been very itchy recently.  The vet did a good set of blood work and apart from a slight marker in his liver readings he seems fine.  He has just finished a short course of anti-allergy pills and they seem to have helped.  He’s also been off all his biscuit and Markie treats, something he’s a bit upset about.  If the irritation returns we will at least be able to give him treats as we look for the source of the problem. 

With better weather on the way he can get out more too which should help his mood.  He’s a real wimp about the rain and stands in the doorway, peeing on the step if I let him.  There’s quite a lot of rain around in Ireland so roll on spring!  When we get the grass cut we have some basic agility equipment for him to try out.  I did a bit of agility with one of our Tibetan Terriers before I snapped an ankle ligament.  We hope Charlie will enjoy it and find it interesting.  And I’ll be a bit more careful this time.

Think the path needs some work
So does the herb garden

There’s a definite stirring in the wood now and we are preparing for the burst of growth all around.  This year we have plans, with the mower ready to go and the makings of raised beds for planting.  We hope to get John, the digger man, back to run a proper path around the wood. If he can, maybe carve out a bit of the bank behind the house for the greenhouse.  This year we plan to grow more than the herbs and the “cut and come again” lettuce in the bath.  They have been wonderful but a bit limited.  We’ve been assembling the materials and cleared the land several times now. Frustratingly we can’t proceed owing to delays from other people.  Hopefully this year we will finally make a start but we know there’ll be a few bumps along the way.  After all, there’s always something, isn’t there?

Thank you for reading and for all your feedback.  It really is appreciated. 

Have a good few weeks and I hope to see you in a fortnight.