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And suddenly it is spring again

At last we are past the “beastly month” of February and suddenly it is spring again here in Ireland. For several weeks trees have been shrouded in a soft patina of green as the leaves begin to emerge. Daffodils are flowering all along the roadside. In the morning I wake to the sound of cooing from returning doves and pigeons and the sunsets are back in all their glory. A few of our daffodils were broken by the wind so we picked them and brought them inside and on Friday Jacqui produced a “bouquet of sunshine” from the market. Yes, spring is certainly here again.

Sunshine in a vase

This is not to say the weather has been wonderful – far from it. Three storms swept across us, each worse than the last. Knowing how fragile the electricity supply can be we were prepared this time. We had hoarded lots of batteries for storm lanterns and those round press-on lights. We had flasks filled regularly with boiling water and a five-litre stand-by container for drinking (and the dogs of course). Extra wood was stacked inside the porch and we did a big shop in case the roads flooded and we couldn’t get out.

A bit more atmospheric than we expected

I watched the outages on the supply company’s handy app. They circled us but despite some dreadful weather and gales we were unscathed. Until the Monday when, as Storm Franklin left Ireland heading to the UK, all the lights went out. A glance at the handy app said we could expect at least 4 hours without power so I unpacked the camping stove, we put the lights around the kitchen and I made dinner on the single ring. It was rather like being back in my bed-sit days though the camping stove was a sight more efficient than any Baby Belling I experienced. Perfect one-pan cooking – anyone for corned beef hash?

Stand by for take-off!

Although we escaped any real damage in the storm, thanks to Fergus and his excellent tree-cutting, the rain filled the old peat cuttings in the woods next to the track. This year the little lake rose to the lip of the road but didn’t overflow. It has made a nice place for the geese who have returned already, along with a pair of swans. The geese fly in each morning, about forty of them all shouting and flapping over the house. It’s quite a sight, matched in the evening when they take off en-masse and head for the lake about eight kilometres away. They regularly pick their way around the field across the road and take off in a cloud, fly round and settle again. We have such noisy neighbours!

We’ve got the bikes now, delivered by the sterling Derek Madden. We are now embarking on the endless round of bureaucracy required to register them, tax them and make it legal for us to finally ride them. There are no NCT rules for bikes in Ireland, the equivalent to the MOT in the UK, but we still need new plates, VAT assessment and registration tax to be paid, helmets and insurance. Our nearest supplier of motorbike helmets is half-way to Limerick. Apparently most people order them on-line now. How do they know the helmets fit properly? I’m going to ring the shop before we go to warn them two pinheaded little women are coming. Don’t want to go all that way for nothing.

The last couple of days I’ve had a problem with another bird – smaller bird but bigger problem. There’s a young Blue Tit that has taken to flying at one of the kitchen windows. I’ve tried waving and shouting to chase it away but it’s back five minutes later. I’ve tried drawing the curtains but this didn’t work for more than a day. Jacqui painted a decal to fix inside the glass and now it goes off to one side. Has anyone got any suggestions? We have no idea why it keeps doing this and it’s going to be more concussed than a rugby prop soon. All suggestions gratefully received.

Although it is spring again it is actually colder at night than in winter. I noticed in late autumn the ground frosted and standing water froze solid. The same is happening now despite the warmer days. There was no freezing and very little frost through the winter up here. Maybe it is to do with the clear skies. When I let the dogs out at night the stars are bright and hard and the moon is sharp. In winter there were clouds, lots of clouds. Still, it doesn’t stop me standing to gaze up for a few minutes.

The skies are beautiful here.

This has been a very eventful few weeks.

This has been a very eventful few weeks, and not just because of the weather. That has had quite an impact, of course. In fact looking back I’m surprised we did much at all. After a bright and relatively warm January, February arrived determined to live up to its reputation. The first few days were not too bad however – a bit showery and blustery but fairly decent and we began by travelling hopefully.

First up was a trip to the local hospital for my long awaited physiotherapy appointment. The physio was very good, extremely helpful and gave me some exercises to do at home. He also furnished me with a pulley stretcher to go over a door. This looks a bit like some dubious item of torture but actually helps develop and stretch the shoulder muscles. Jacqui helped me fit it over the door and all I have to do is remember to use it every day. No frozen shoulders for me! That was the good news. The bad news was he was leaving the department and there is, so far, no replacement. Glad I sneaked in before he left.

On Tuesday the pump man, Tom, called to look at the water pump. It is fine apparently. The problem is the controller that doesn’t regulate it properly and so is burning up electricity needlessly. He’s coming back to do the moving and upgrading soon – and here the sequencing comes in. My Achilles heel. Well, one of them anyway. First we need to clear the Majestic ready for the installation. Then Eddie has to fit the new solar system and then, on the same day, Tom will relocate the pressure vessel and pipes and Eddie will do the wiring. There’s some extra paperwork to do that needs to be cleared first so we are waiting on that, and still running on the mains at present.

Matching red mopeds!

Wednesday was a real trip out, to Galway. I’ve been looking at mopeds for a while – a quick and easy way to get to the shops or for a fun run out. A man in Galway was advertising a novel Valentine’s Day gift. Matching mopeds – we could have one each! It was an interesting drive as the two counties are very different. Galway has much smaller fields, divided into narrow strips by rough stone walls. It is, as one friend said, almost Medieval. It used to be the poorest of the counties and a lot of money has gone into it recently. There’s evidence of new building and development but it still looks a bit ragged around the edges. The people are just as nice however. And the mopeds we chose are lovely. 20 years old, bright red Jailings – no pedals, 2 stroke engines and perfect for summer days.

And then the rain came. The next Tuesday we finally got a bin. Oh joy! There will be one big clearance next week and then the bin will be emptied every 6 to 8 weeks. We’ve cut down on our rubbish quite dramatically with recycling, composting and using the cardboard with weed mat to clear the land so this time frame should work for us. We woke the next day to gale force winds and the bin blown over, wedged in the gate. That was Storm Dudley – torrential rain, high winds and cold! Not as cold as we were last year but still pretty chilly. We did a dash into town for a big shop in case things got worse and headed home to “batten down the hatches”. I’m glad we did.

Snow on the windows – most unusual

No sooner had Dudley left than Storm Eunice arrived. She was the big one with ridiculous winds, hail, sleet, and even some snow. We were surprised and impressed that the power stayed on though we took the usual precautions – filled flasks and a big water bottle, torches and lanterns charged and our camping stove to hand. We are learning from experience. Then, this morning the third storm in five days hit – Storm Franklin. We are getting a bit waterlogged now and are very glad we had the overhanging trees lopped before Christmas. I wouldn’t have given much for the roof of the Majestic in all this. I got out another jigsaw but I think I’ve possibly overestimated my abilities with this one. It’s a monster!

Impossible image – Impossible puzzle

So there we are – a very eventful few weeks. We get the mopeds next week. They needed a bit of work but are now ready for collection. There should be room in the shed for them by then, unless we get yet another storm. No one’s coming up the lane in this weather unless they live here so fingers crossed for a few clear days. And Monday was Valentine’s Day of course. I went to An Post to get some stamps and came back with a book of special issues. Foolishly I didn’t look at them first. Now I’ve got ten stamps, all of them pink stripy hearts. I’m not sure about using them for the bank, or the solicitor. It might give them entirely the wrong impression. Maybe I’ll cut my losses and get some ordinary ones. What do you think?

Ten of them – good grief…

All part of the Adventure

Well, what a few weeks we have had here in Tipperary. We take time on Saturday evening to reflect on the past days over a special meal and this week realised every week has been busy, ever since we arrived. It is a year round now since we first began the move into our house – well, one day short. It was a lovely house then, if in need of some TLC and making it ours has been part of the adventure. We’ve done our best to make it even lovelier and certainly more comfortable. Sometimes this works splendidly, like the gas heating. Sometimes it’s a bit more difficult.

Last week we had Des, our gardener and friend, working in the wood for 3 days. We decided to focus on the trees and see what could be saved. And how to help the healthy trees flourish. This meant a great cutting of ivy, brambles and dead bindweed that was choking many of them. Des had to take this slowly as the ivy offers excellent accommodation for birds and we won’t disturb the nests. The back of the wood is more open now letting in light and with fewer dangerous overhangs – cause for optimism despite the continuing and necessary loss of some trees.

One thing we wanted to change was the power supply to the water pump. We spent months trying to arrange site visits, then had the ground prepared and finally the system was installed. Unfortunately it doesn’t work. We wondered if this was due to lack of light or sun on the panels. After the redoubtable Eddy did a few checks we found it was partly due to the pump itself. Most water pumps pull up to 1.2 kw when they start up and then just tick over. Ours pulls 4.5 kw and keeps going full blast. No wonder it is so expensive to run!

Now we have an interesting series of steps to sequence – not my great strength. We have the “pump man” coming next week as it will need replacing. Then he will hopefully move the pressure tank and reset the pipes. Eddy will need to be on hand to do the wiring and he’s going to replace the solar system to suit the task. This will be a mixed set-up that switches between panels, mains and batteries. In the winter this will ensure a constant water supply.

In the summer excess power will be fed into the house to save on the electricity bill. If we had known how it all worked we’d have asked for this first but we are learning new stuff the whole time so – no harm done. And we will finally be able to get rid of the butt-ugly shed! I’m looking forward to that part of the adventure.

The same day Eddy called we also had John the drain man. How he stays so upbeat considering his job I don’t know but he was great. He hosed the main drain – some remaining fatberg but the blockages were mainly years of lime scale. He checked the tank, gave the system a clean bill of health and recommended we have the last lot of guttering diverted into a soak-away. A huge relief as we were contemplating new drains and all the disruption and cost that entails. All we have to do is keep an eye on the grease trap (yuck) and arrange for yet another workman – Paddy – to do the gutters.

So many jobs have different specialists here. We now have two Johns, three Dereks, an Aidan, one each of Davey, Dom, Fergus and Eddy, – and Des of course. They are soon to be joined by Tom and Paddy. My phone is full of workmen’s contact details.

1000 pieces and it feels like more
Oh how I wish I could fix this!

I’m heading to the local hospital on Monday for my first physio session and none too soon My right shoulder – used to be my “good” shoulder – was the problem. Although I’m still resting it and doing a new jigsaw I’ve popped my left shoulder too. So contrary to what many of my students would say I’m now totally ‘armless.

I was putting some strain on it reaching up a little to the keyboard and mouse with the new desk and I cannot get my chair to rise at all. I did one broadcast for Southside with only the top of my head visible. So I’ve tried different cushions and now perch on a piece of redundant sofa foam. It’s 12 cm high and looks ridiculous but does the job. Oh the world isn’t made for a short-arse like me. I hope to find someone to fix the chair as it’s normally very comfortable but I’m not holding my breath. In a different country and post-Covid world everything is much slower and harder to find.

Maybe that’s also part of the adventure. Despite temporary setbacks and some health problems moving was still one of the best decisions we ever made and we are, generally, ridiculously happy.

New Year, same old problems

Firstly apologies for the late blog entry. This was due to another spell of drain trouble – “second verse, same as the first”. The fatberg broke down a little when I was removing it and some got washed back into the kitchen outlet. This meant all the washing up water flooded over the back patio, much to the delight of the dogs.

I managed to clear that pipe but there are still serious issues with the main drain, way beyond my abilities even if I hadn’t damaged my shoulders again. It’s a job for the (probably expensive) professionals I fear but there’s the same old problem. Everyone is frantically busy and still no one answers their phone! I have refrained from supplying any more detail or adding photographs in deference to my readers’ sensibilities. Enough to say my nice new overalls (which make me look like a Hobbit) are in need of a boil wash.

We are about to try switching the water pump over to the solar panels any day now. It has been cold, frosty on occasions, but bright and dry so the batteries are full and ready to go. I still have little confidence in the wiring to the final phase of the pump out in the little shed, the one section not redone by our excellent electrician. As a precaution I got some spare fuses, much to the bemusement of the lads in the electrical factors. They were obviously not used to an older, white-haired woman requesting C16 and B16 fuse blocks. I thought they were going to refuse to serve me for a minute so reassured them I knew what I was doing and how to fit them. Fingers crossed!

The electrical shop is just next door to the furniture store and we finally got the chance to pop in to look around. Those of you following the journey from the start may remember the idiot movers. Not content with damaging items and throwing it all into storage they left behind a lot of stuff. Some we can replace or do without. Some cannot be replaced – Jacqui’s sketch books, all packed and labelled are missing. That really hurts as it had the original photos and source material too.

At last, a decent work surface!

I have mourned my big desk – a table 3 foot by 5 foot I used for writing. I’ve tried to work in a small Ikea bench but couldn’t manage it. Well, the shop had another small dining table. Same size, a bit higher but reduced as it had been on display. It’s up in my new room and I’m writing again. Strange what a difference a piece of furniture makes but the surface area is so important. I can have research notes to hand and spread out the maps I need without everything cascading to the floor. That made my day.

It was a bit of a difficult week last week as a long awaited hospital visit was cancelled with a little notice. We wanted a medication review as we always read the leaflets and several of the pills Jacqui was on were supposed to be short term. Some have strong contraindications with others and some seem to be doubling up on one job. To our surprise we got an appointment to see our GP the next day and had a very constructive talk with him. Now we are hoping the main appointment, with the Cardiology professor, goes ahead.

A lot of out patient departments are closed still, due to Covid. I have my referral for physiotherapy but nothing else for a while – so no more drain clearing for me. Instead I am indulging in some gentle stretching exercises – across my lovely new jigsaw puzzle board. Be impressed – be very impressed.

750 devilish pieces

We are lucky enough to live next door to a horticulturist (yes, we do have one house within waving distance) and Des has been back and cleared the path around the wood. At last we can go right round without breaking an ankle. We can get at all the trees in the new part too. I did notice there are several other “paths” crossing the wood, animal tracks worn into the grass. The most trodden path runs back to the road side and I was startled to see something has dug up the fatberg and scattered it around. Well, if it doesn’t poison them it will provide some winter nourishment I guess. It’s all a sort of recycling.

Things are getting done now, still slowly but the end is in sight. Our joiner will fit the doors in the grooming room this week. We’ve arranged for the electrician to put the timer on the boiler and earth everything. No more scurrying through first thing to put the heating on! We really want the new sink working but there’s still a lot of plumbing to be done. The poor dogs have been brushed and mopped off but not had a proper bath for a whole year. I think even Charlie, who hates a bath, is getting a bit fed up. We’ve also got a new washbasin waiting (no more wobbly taps!) and a tap for the kitchen that won’t go off after 30 seconds. Luxury.

So that’s us. A slice of our Irish Life. Enjoy your mains drainage, water and gas! Oh, and your bin collection. Life is certainly different here.

And a Happy New Year to you all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoping you had a very Happy Christmas

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

This year we can be really festive!

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

This is what has destroyed the wood

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

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

The 17 note Kalimba
The Indian Banjo

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

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

Wishing you all a very happy New Year.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose…

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

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

Solar panels at last!

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

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

Hollowed out wood

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

A proper room now!

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

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

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

Another anniversary – and what a year

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

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

Moving from this…
To this

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

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

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

The oak trees – the foundation of our new wood

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

Full steam ahead for Christmas!

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

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

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

A week of surprises, mainly happy ones

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

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

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

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

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

Red Dogwood in the old peat cuttings

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


Clouds like distant mountains

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

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

Now that would be a surprise.

This week, a very rubbish post

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

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

Ratproof and capacious

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

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

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

The butt-ugly pump house

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

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

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