A Happy New Year to All

It’s a bit late but may I wish you all a very Happy New Year.  It is getting lighter now, slowly but surely.  Soon there will be signs of spring and everything will start to grow again.  We will get the hedge trimmed before that happens!

January sky

We are past the worst of the cold spell here but it has been very wet – fearful wet, as they say.  The New Year brought some storms and heavy rain and the kitchen roof really began to leak.  The tiled floor is rather like a skating rink when it gets wet. We put mats and towels down.  A selection of plastic tubs caught the worst drips and thankfully no-one, dog or human, slipped and fell.  Faced with the usual problem of finding someone to repair anything we turned to our friend Piers for advice. He recommended a roofer called Morgan who has been a godsend.

Firstly Morgan kept in touch and let us know when he expected to call.  Secondly he not only knows the area, he knows the house.  Finally – he actually turned up.  After a heart stopping half hour walking across the roof and checking every slate he gave some dreaded news.  “A new roof”.  I sighed – it was what we hoped to avoid but if needed it can’t be.  Then he laughed and said, “No, just kidding yer.  Think it’s the lead on the joins.”  He showed me some pictures of the flashing which would have made a good collage.  The whole join is a series of mis-matched patches with a pair of long cracks in the centre.  He went away, got some lead and repaired the breaks in an hour.

Just in time as it turned out as a series of fierce squalls blew in that evening.  We watched anxiously but the roof was sound.  Morgan is coming back next week to do a complete fix, replacing the mishmash of lead with a continuous run.  The one thing you can count on in Ireland is rain so I cannot describe how relieved we are.

The long break always causes some problems especially up here where services are patchy at the best of times.  Well, I managed to get an abscess in a back tooth just after Christmas, the same day I broke a tooth on the opposite side.  I was not a happy bunny.  Our splendid doctors’ surgery emailed a prescription to our equally splendid pharmacist and I was beginning to recover in a couple of days. Everyone grumbles about the health service here but that was so fast and efficient.  I am grateful and impressed in equal amounts. Next week I’m heading to the dentist for the really nasty bit – think of me on Thursday please.

The other big problem we have at present is boiler fuel.  We have an LPG tank and a contract for remote monitoring and refilling.  After running the heating all day during the cold spell I checked the tank and it was below 20%.  I am a naturally anxious person so I rang the supplier who said they had arranged a delivery.  Nothing arrived. 

I rang again just before Christmas and was assured that they could read the tank. They would deliver our gas before it got too low.  Nothing arrived.  I rang this week and they said we didn’t have a remote meter but even so we should have had a delivery earlier that week.  I insisted they check and yes, we do have a meter. Though it’s not linked to our account.  But we are a priority now so not to worry. Our dial now reads 2% which is less than a little tank to run a caravan.

Tomorrow should be an interesting day.  We are expecting our gas delivery (yeah, right) and Jacqui has her first appointment with the Cardio Rehab unit.  It’s her birthday this week so I’m hoping the long-promised parcels will arrive too.  If everything goes to plan we will be celebrating later in the week, warm and dry and well on the road to recovery.  Well, you’ve got to have a plan haven’t you?

I got some lovely and different jigsaw puzzles this Christmas.  Two are wooden – beautiful things with pieces cut into animal and bird shapes.  Jacqui made me a smaller frame for them as the bits tend to slide around – until finished they’re more like mosaics than jigsaws.  I spent a happy few afternoons with them.  They really are quite stunning when completed and, unlike the second-hand puzzles from charity shops, have all their pieces.

As we are running the heating a lot less we’ve been mining the log pile and using the wood burner in the snug.  Piers repaired the door for us last month and the glass is now fixed properly. This means we’re not at risk of fumes.  We wait for a break in the rain to dash out and fill the dog-show trolley (now re-purposed) to drag a load inside.  Fergus and co did such a good job stacking it is all drying out very well and a few bits are sporting some attractive fungi.  However we are not tempted to try any of them. We remember the excellent advice from Wild Food Mary .

So that’s our New Year.  Stormy skies with occasional power cuts, a warm fire and lovely views when the sun comes out.  We have finally unpacked some of the stained glass and it makes a beautiful focus on one back window.  I hope we can continue to take the best of our old life in England as we move forward into our third year in Ireland.  That should make for a Happy New Year I think.

Keep well, stay safe and thank you all for reading.

A Christmas update

It is Boxing Day in the UK and St Stephen’s Day here in Ireland and the first round of festivities is behind us.  We had a lovely day – quiet, warm and very restful.  This is mainly because we planned carefully and managed to get everything done early, something I can heartily recommend if you can manage it.  I realise this may be a counsel of perfection for many, especially those with big families but the pay-off is tremendous.

Beautiful but very cold wood

We were a bit pushed this year, partly due to the elements.  Like most of you we found the weather turned cold, then colder, then ridiculously cold in the last few weeks.  It was so cold our water froze up. Not the new pipes that are nestled in the relative warmth of the Majestic.  No, the few remaining original pipes buried underground froze.  For three days we were without any water and I spent several interesting hours scraping the hoar-frost off walls and buildings to put into the toilet tank. You don’t realise how important something as basic as water is until it’s gone.  We now have a water butt from the roof for general water. We will lay in a stash of drinking water for the future. Every day is a school day here.

We were planning our writers’ group dinner and it looked as though we would have to cancel but the thaw came just in time. Luckily there were no burst pipes on our side of the system. It was a small but very happy gathering that we all enjoyed, including the dogs who revel in company.  Jacqui had prepared a wonderful selection of food, termed “Mezapas”, a combination of mezedes and tapas.  It was the first time we’ve entertained in the house, due to Covid and Jacqui’s health and it went off splendidly.  We might try it again sometime next year…

A Liquorice Hamper

Although we’ve not had any strikes over here we have been affected by them too. Post from the UK has almost ground to a halt the past few weeks.  This affects items going in both directions so some of you may not have received a card from us yet and some items we ordered weeks ago have still not arrived.  Despite this we had a very happy day with a range of gifts for each other.  I don’t eat much chocolate but do have a weakness for selection boxes.  This year they were in short supply so Jacqui bought four-packs of the most common items and wrapped them up in a home-made jigsaw board. Oh yes – sugar rush for me!

Jacqui loves Henry Goode’s Liquorice, which you can only find in the chemist for some reason.  I tried to buy a box of it but the wonderful staff decided that was far too scruffy.  Instead they used a make-up hamper and filled it with silver glitter straw and ten bags of liquorice, wrapping it all up in gift paper complete with little rosettes.  Now there’s a selection box for you!

Our Christmas Day was enlivened by our dining room roof leaking – again – just as we were getting ready to eat.  This has been a regular problem when there is heavy rain from one particular direction.  We were told it was fixed before we moved in. We’ve had at least three workmen who promised to come and see to it but so far nothing has been done.  It’s getting worse each time so we will have to make it a priority in the New Year.

A Community Library

One disadvantage in living so far out in the countryside is the lack of any sort of facilities.  With houses and farms stretched over several kilometres there can be little sense of community but still people will find a way to make life better for one another.  In the depths of the big freeze there was a knock on our door.  It was a neighbour, Noreen, with her dog Brandy.  She lives over a kilometre away but often walks along the road on her days off.  She was just checking we were okay and didn’t need any help.  We were so touched and felt reassured someone was thinking of us with kindness.   

Driving around the small roads of the area I spotted another sign of community.  Opposite one of the isolated houses was a big wooden box on a pole.  For a moment I thought it was a shrine to an accident victim, a common sight in Greece.  We stopped and I went over to investigate, finding it was a library box.  All of the books are donated, not officially part of the library system.  This box was a way of sharing books of every type with neighbours and friends. There are official libraries but they are far apart up here and often only open part-time.  The service is excellent however with activities for the whole community, computer access and an inter-library loan scheme covering the whole country.

What is this bird?

I leave you with another ornithological puzzle.  When the frost melted away I saw several mid-sized brown birds picking their way across the back field.  Might they be partridges do you think?  They were utterly fearless, ignoring me as I photographed through the fence.

The St Stephen’s Day Rainbow

So, a happy (Boxing) St Stephen’s Day to you all.  This morning we were treated to a magnificent rainbow stretching from the fairy fort to our wood. An omen of better times ahead I hope. 

May the next year bring you peace and happiness and thank you all for reading.

The season for anniversaries.

We are well into December now and winter has crept in with all its delightful little quirks.  Here in Tipperary we are not immune to the cold – it has been very frosty with ice and freezing fog for most of the last week.  We are, however, having a run of small celebrations.  December means Christmas for most people here but it is our season for anniversaries too.  On the 1st we had marked 38 years since moving to Somerset and beginning our life together.  We could not have a formal union until 2005 and waited until 2006 for a civil partnership but it is our 1984 moving day we celebrate as our anniversary.

Frosty sunrise

On the 9th we held a small “thanksgiving”, marking two years since we arrived in Ireland, ragged, exhausted and both exhilarated and desperately sad.  So many people helped us on the journey and wished us well and we remember you all.  We couldn’t have moved without somewhere to stay and Sharon and Davey worked a miracle to find us a cottage – with our three dogs.  They were waiting for us, along with little Chloe, in a warm, bright room.  We even had a Christmas tree to decorate. 

Back in England three wonderful friends, Lynn, Paul and Su, stepped in and fought valiantly against the chaos left by the movers. Without their help we would never had got away in time, would have missed the ferry and the next day the borders were closed.  We would have been stuck, homeless and under lockdown rules.  We cannot ever thank them enough – and a “thanksgiving” seems more than justified.

Serious festivity near us!

Now we are heading towards Christmas and will have a small gathering of the writers’ group later this week.  This is our first foray into entertaining since we arrived and we are busy tidying up the last boxes, cleaning and planning.  I climbed a ladder to adjust the curtains yesterday and was horrified to find great clumps of fur on the ceiling.  The dogs have been blowing their coat for some time and it is very fine hair.  The ceiling is pale wood and where the fur has drifted up it sticks, invisible from the floor.  When I finish this I will be wielding the soft broom again, checking for fur and the ever-present cobwebs.  Then I will put up our tree, and the lights outside.  We can be festive – though not as impressive as some houses near us.

On display in Easons

The new book, “Puppy Brain” is doing well and there are a couple of (very good) reviews on Amazon now.  If you have read it please would you consider posting a sentence or two?  It really does make a difference – and not just to my ego.  Sales, ordering and stock are all controlled by an algorithm.  If there are no reviews, after a few weeks “computer says no”, and that can sink the book overnight.  I ventured into Easons Bookshop in our nearest town last week.  This is the Irish equivalent to Waterstones and I was a bit nervous.  The sales manager was wonderful – welcoming, interested and positive.  She has agreed to stock the book and offered really good terms.  I expressed my delight and with typical Irish frankness she said, “We don’t screw our authors over here”.  Well, it’s on the shelves and prominently displayed.  I am so happy!

I’m furious!!

Of course, not everything goes to plan.  I’ve been having some problems with out local An Post office for some time.  I thought it was just me but it seems the man running it is well known for his behaviour.  This time he refused to fill out the customs forms and sent my books out as “business documents”.  Two came back first, then the other two yesterday.   The town An Post was very helpful however, resending the first two with proper documents and naming the office without me having to tell them.  I can only apologize to anyone waiting for a book.  I will never use the local office again – I don’t trust him at all.  But now we have about a 40 kms round trip if we need any counter service, or to buy stamps.  Well, there’s always something.

We often find ourselves reflecting on events past during this season for anniversaries.  Whilst in the supermarket we spotted a frozen whole goose and a familiar gleam appeared in Jacqui’s eye.  There was no stopping her – roast goose on Saturday it was.  We recalled similar reactions from us both, most notably our last trip through France about ten years ago.  We stopped in Saumur, a lovely town with a nice hotel.  But they had changed their room structure without telling us.  We ended up paying for two rooms, much to my fury.  When Jacqui picked me up for dinner I was stuffing all the soaps, shampoo, sewing kits and assorted snacks into a bag.  I found myself suddenly very Geordie. “I’m stripping this place, me”, I said.  Well, the refugee charity at home did well out of it, and we never went back there.

It is Christmas Day in a fortnight so I will probably be a day or so late with the next episode.  I would like to wish every one of you a very Happy Christmas and hope the next year treats you well.  Stay warm, keep safe and thank you for reading and following this little blog.

A strange, mixed fortnight

I’m sitting at my desk and enjoying a rare sight through the window – the sun is shining.  We’ve had rather a lot of rain over the past few weeks, as I think a lot of you have.  Here it has veered from long, sullen downpours to bursts of hail mixed with sudden bright spots.  The wind has been ferocious and we are very glad we have managed to keep most of our trees safe, apart from the one faller early in the month. And the geese are making their way back too, though in limited numbers. 

I still think it looks like a cow!

The old peat swamp is filled again, making a little lake across the road.  There is a strange hummock in the middle and the first time I saw it I thought it was a cow – maybe some Highland cattle – stranded there.  No, it is just some thick brown grass poking over the water.

Always an exciting moment

Like the weather, this has been a strange, mixed fortnight.  My new book, “Puppy Brain” was published officially on Thursday and the Kindle version is now up and available too.  This is always a very exciting time.  Even though it’s the fifth time for me it is still a thrill to open a box full of books I’ve written.  Or co-written in this case.  Then there was a bump in the road.  It seems the main distributor to book shops won’t sell to small or independent shops.  Relying of economies of scale, they demand a much higher discount for self-published or small press books.  This results in the classic “Catch-22” situation.  Without large orders the book is unlikely to feature in big, mainstream shops.  Without sales in the big, mainstream shops there will be no large demand or orders. I’m working on it.

Meanwhile I’m sending out the signed copies promised or requested on Monday so look out for the arrival if you have contacted me.  I have a stock I can dedicate, sign and send though these will incur postage from Ireland.  Amazon has sold their stock already but if you want a copy from them don’t be put off by the “almost 2 months” delay.  This is down to the algorithm and your order will arrive much sooner.

I have been musing on a feature of Irish society that impacts on us and, I suspect, many others here.  With the cities increasingly overcrowded and horribly expensive, government policy is to persuade people to move out.  There is a lot of space in Ireland, though building is still slow.  People often buy an old-fashioned cottage and renovate it over time.  In fact several estate agents have a whole section for “Derelict Property”, though at least one tarts it up as “Former Glory”.  The advantage of these properties is almost all have a good amount of land – about an acre at least.  The disadvantages are many.  No roof sometimes.  No amenities at all.  Décor that shuns the name, no heating or insulation and often very small rooms.  However, priced from 30,000 up they can turned into perfect homes with space and gardens – over time.

There are obstacles to the plan however.  Out of the towns there are no services.  I mean NO services.  Mains water and sewage, telephone connection, cable and gas are all absent. Dodgy electricity and patchy wifi and mobile signals are common.  Our problem with rubbish and recycling has been documented here, but it is a big issue.  The largest firms have switched to long, very big wagons they can’t (or won’t) drive to more remote locations. Perversely they use the smaller trucks in town!  And there needs to be proper public transport.  We have none and all the local taxi drivers left during Covid.  

This push into the countryside is not welcomed universally either. Some farmers (not all) are used to having free rein over the whole area, and resent the newcomers, or “blow-ins” as they are called.  There are some really abusive areas of the Internet where posters jeer at new residents, laugh at their concerns and suggest they just sell up and move back to the city.  The sense is newcomers don’t respect “country ways” and don’t understand the problems of farmers.  There may be some who don’t but there are some farmers who flout the law and behave in a rather un-neighbourly manner.  There can be shooting out of season, multi-shot guns used, slurrying next to domestic wells, electric fences that interfere with domestic supplies and intrusions onto private land, for example. 

Our tree lopping
“Guardian” of the countryside

Many of them behave very well and live up to their image as “guardians” of the countryside.  But not all.  Last post I described the fallen tree onto the road from our land.  We cleared it within an hour without damaging anything else – of course.  Why would we do otherwise?  I leave you with two images. First we have the neighbour’s trees lopped by Fergus to prevent accidents last year, at our instigation and expense.

Second we have the tree “pruning” we encountered along the road, by the same neighbour.  I think it was done with a JCB.  It is heartbreaking to see the damage to living, healthy trees.

So who would you say is the “guardian” of the countryside?

A post mainly about writing

I began this blog expecting to use it mainly about writing.  After all, that was my new venture back in 2010 when the first of the four crime novels came out.  Then, of course, the unexpected happened and we upped sticks and headed over the sea to land in Ireland.  After the dust settled I found myself writing about writing that rather than actually writing.  In fact, for the last few years that’s been mainly the writing I’ve been doing. 

There are a number of reasons for this.  I think the whole Ireland adventure makes a decent story (and it seems you agree with me).  It keeps me working, at least a little.  The main reason why there have been no new books however comes down to the Impress debacle, long brewing but still a hammer blow when it landed.  My fifth Alex Hastings novel, “A Long Shadow”, was accepted for publication three years ago.  You may have noticed nothing happened.  Then supplies of the first four began to dry up and there was no communication from the new owners of Impress.  And then, suddenly, Impress went into administration.

Happy days – soon to be available again.

This was very frightening.  I, along with a number of others, was in danger of losing rights and copyright to my books – eleven years work ripped away.  A lot of time and energy was poured into fighting for the books and I have the rights back now but it certainly knocked my confidence in the publishing industry.  Agents, in my experience, are not worth bothering with for all sorts of reasons I can’t articulate without risking a libel case.  Publishers take control of everything – editing, printing, distribution, publicity – unless they don’t do it.  Or don’t do it properly.  Then books are published but just disappear in the huge sea of new titles.  It’s enough to make you want to give up.  And I was very close to that a couple of months ago.

Then Jacqui encouraged me to revisit a project I had been working on with my cousin, Jem Cooney.  I was wary of writing in a different genre but with Jem’s name on the book it took some of the pressure away.  We both have Tibetan Spaniels and both had a range of stories about breeding, showing and training them.  Together we wove this into a novel called “Puppy Brain” and it seemed a possible way back into writing again.

“Puppy Brain – A real underdog story”.

Wanting to keep more control over the development of this book I sought out a highly respected self-publishing firm, Grosvenor House.  They have been excellent – professional, quick and responsive.  I had my own publishing administrator, the excellent Melanie Bartle, and had all the help and support I needed.  Before this I viewed my job as mainly about writing but now I have some experience in cover layout, different synopses, metadata and a whole lot more.  It has been a rich educational experience and now – “Puppy Brain” will be published on November 24th!

Starting with the adoption of Lucy, a young Tibetan Spaniel, it follows the efforts of Liv and Petra to honour a promise.  They agreed to have one litter of puppies and try to show them, although neither had ever done this before.  They are told the dogs are not good enough and fit “only for pets”. When they try a few local shows meet fierce resistance from some people.  Determined to do their best they push on, making friends – and more enemies – as they go.

For those wary of cute fluffy dog books, this is NOT one of those.  Nor, for those of you who are anxious and soft hearted, is it about harm to any animal.  It is the humans who fight the battles in this book.  Anyone who has any knowledge of the dog world will know it can be warm, friendly and supportive.  It is also a real shark pool.  Ever wondered what it is like to actually show a dog?  Or – whisper it – try to qualify to show them at Crufts?  This story is for you.  Just like to support the underdog?  This is for you too.   

You can pre-order“Puppy Brain” on Amazon now and an e-book will be out in a couple of weeks.  You can also order from your local bookshop, or online in the next few days from most big retailers. These including Waterstones, Blackwell and the Book Depository.  I will have some first editions and am happy to sign and send a personal copy, though this will entail postage from Ireland. 

The details for the book are:

“Puppy Brain – A real underdog story”  by Jem Cooney and Jennie Finch.  The ISBN for the paperback is 978-1803812502.   

Amazon.com (USA) is also beginning to list the title and it will be available to order soon.  Other outlets include Barnes and Noble, Baker and Taylor and Chapters/Indigo. If anyone from Australia or further afield wants a copy please contact me and I will find your local supplier.

And may I ask a small favour?  If you like it, wherever you get it from, could you go to Amazon and leave a rating and mini review?  It can be just a sentence but it makes a huge difference, particularly to the computer algorithms.  These dictate whether the book will appear on search engines, be stocked and reordered or even be available at all.

It’s the beginning of a new series I hope.  I think Jem is happy just to see his name on a “real” book. I’ve got more stories bubbling away now so will probably pick it up and run with it for a while.  But never fear, Alex Hastings fans.  I have plans to publish “A Long Shadow”, hopefully next year and will be reissuing the first four books too.  It’s been a slightly wobbly journey but I feel I’m back on the right path again.

So, there we are.  A post mainly about writing for a change.  Just as well really – the weather is vile at the moment!

Keep warm and thank you for reading.

A Happy Halloween to you all

Well, we’ve had quite an exciting – and rather busy – time these last few weeks.  Halloween is fast approaching and autumn is definitely here. It’s stamping its mark on all around us, sometimes with a bit more force than we expected.  On the plus side, the wood is looking good and unusually for this part of Ireland the leaves are changing colour.  Displays of autumn shades were a regular feature of life in England but over here trees often stay green, if a bit battered, all through the year.  I think this may be because it is much wetter, but this year there was actually a bit of a drought, just for a few weeks.  This caused a modicum of panic, especially amongst some farmers, and also may have triggered the leaf changes. 

This needed some work
In less than an hour

Be assured, normal service has been resumed.  This last fortnight we have had some tremendous rainfall and very high winds.  On Wednesday I heard some strange bird calls and went to investigate. I was shocked to find a small tree had fallen over the road.  It was one of the almost-dead trees on the edge of the wood so we set to with clippers, axes and a reciprocating saw.  Jacqui used the saw, by the way.  I know my weaknesses.  Within an hour the road was clear and we had a pile of kindling and small logs.  And a great sense of achievement.  I think it shows how much better Jacqui is now – progress has seemed slow but it has been progress.

We had our second set of visitors last week. A dear friend and her son made the journey from England and it was lovely to see familiar faces again.  They hired a car at the airport and we met them in the nearest town to guide them through the lanes to the house.  I remember the first time we came here, to view it.  The satnav sent us along the longest and most confusing route possible until we had no idea where we were. And even less idea how to get back!  They had a very restful and happy few days, visiting a few places and helping out in the wood.  The weather was kind for them, bright if not sunny by day and cool enough to light the log burner at night.

A sad find for us

As the undergrowth dies back we can now get further into the wood and it was our visitor who spotted a body just past the oaks.  It had obviously been there a long time as it was picked clean but I’m fairly sure it was a badger.  A sad find as we love the idea of a set in the wood.  I rescued the skull before another animal could drag it away and it is on our monument.  There’s no sign of shotgun injury on the skeleton so it may have been poisoned by someone.  I hope not – they are beautiful creatures and we hoped they would be safe on our land.

Very odd fungi
Inside out in two days

Other interesting signs of autumn have popped up in the form of some white mushrooms growing along the wall outside.  These looked very strange, even more so when they matured after a few days. They seemed to turn inside out before melting away to an inky sludge.  I did some research and I think they may be Shaggy Ink Caps, also known as Judge’s Wig.  If they are then apparently they are delicious though very short lived.  I’m very wary however and will check with Wild Food Mary before we have a fry-up.

I have finally found a writing group locally.  It’s just begun but the members are a lively and talented bunch.  It gets me out of the house once a week and I’m getting used to being with other people again.  I hadn’t realised how far I’d retreated into myself over the past few years.  I think this is not so unusual and I must make a determined effort to keep in contact with people. Maybe even, if possible, make new friends.  We left a lot behind when we moved – and have few regrets – but the hardest thing was the people.

Now for some writing news.  I should have a new book out before Christmas.  This is not an Alex Hastings but though if it goes well I will probably go with these publishers for the next one. Written with my Irish cousin, Jem Cooney, it’s called “Puppy Brain” and is the first (hopefully) of three novels. I’ll have some dates and order details in the next few weeks. If anyone would like a personal copy I will have some to sign and send.  For the curious, here’s the cover “blurb”:

When Liv and Petra inherit Lucy, a Tibetan Spaniel, from Liv’s brother-in-law, he has one final wish, for Lucy to have puppies and one day to see them in the show ring. Despite never having bred or shown a dog before the women agree – after all, how hard could it be?

Two Puppies, One Promise, No Chance.

So, thank you for reading and a Happy Halloween to you all.  It’s a public holiday here – not because of Halloween but just the October one.  Have a good and safe night and I’ll be back in two weeks.

Hunkering down ready for winter

It’s a few weeks away from the changing of the clocks and we are hunkering down ready for winter.  Days are noticeably shorter, of course.  The first storms are gearing up for some excitement to come and the first frosts have appeared in the morning.  In a rural and relatively isolated house hunkering down involves a lot more work than we had in Saltburn.  We will be taping up the window frames soon – a quick and very effective draught excluder.  The shuttered vents are all closed again – so welcome in August but not in October!  And I’m buying a cartload of proper draught excluder for the doors later this week.

Well, how hard can it be?

One problem we encountered was the failure of the clock on the boiler.  The hot water was fine and we could switch the heating on manually but the timer wasn’t working.  Oh, those cold mornings running to the utility room to switch it on – I thought they were in the past.  Well, we were hoping our boiler man would do a service and check it for us ready for winter.  Unfortunately a mix of Covid and overwork meant we were waiting – and waiting.  Finally I decided I’d have a go myself. 

Our nearest little town has two hardware shops, both excellent for different things.  I was most impressed when Dennis in Hassetts had the exact clock in stock.  He also had a fine, new mains tester screwdriver.  One thing I always remember from my college days was the importance of checking twice for live wires.  Good thing I did as although the local switches were all off it was still live!  Despite there being one wire cut very short (isn’t there always one?) I had it fitted and running in less than an hour.  Now I’m having another go at the plumbing and swapping an outside tap too.  It’s amazing what you can do when you have to.

Marvellous Mallows!
Anyone for camping?

Despite the approaching winter we’ve had some lovely sunny days and the last of the wild flowers have put on a grand show.  Freed from the mini-field of wheat from dropped bird seed a bed of Mallows has flowered.  They make a marvellous show, mixed with a few late poppies.  We hope for more next year and will sow another section now we are getting a grip on the garden.  The replacement mower is doing a splendid job and last week one of our (five) promised workmen arrived.  Bill the fence man built us a lean-to by the back wall and as soon as we clear the entrance we can house it, safe and dry.  It’s better than some tents we stayed in during our European ramblings and I am toying with the idea of offering it as “wild camping”.  Any takers?

An eagle-eyed Mabel

Mabel the cat has made a reappearance, materializing on our wall this week.  She sat above the bird window for a while but the birds were far too canny for her.  Then she suddenly ran back towards the gate end, jumped down onto the grass and crouched there.  Three flicks of her tail and she pounced, diving into the Mallows and coming out with something in her mouth.  She crunched away happily for a couple of minutes and then trotted off over the fence and into the wood.  On examination I found the remains of a small stomach and possibly a tiny gall bladder – a mouse I think.  I decided not to add a photo of that….

“Jenga” for adults
It’s the size of a lorry trailer

We are looking at the approaching winter and, like everyone else, pondering on heating the house.  Although it is considerably smaller that our house in Saltburn it is detached so has more exposed walls.  The windows aren’t as good as we had in Saltburn either, hence the tape.  One advantage we have is the log burner in the snug, which lives up to its name in winter.  And we have the magnificent log pile courtesy of Fergus and his crew.  This is like the world’s biggest (and possibly most dangerous) game of “Jenga” as the logs are packed in and piled high, though generally laid out in rows.  Removing one can allow several others to be taken easily or can cause a slide of heavy wood.  We are proceeding with great caution but now have full bins inside, ready for winter.

Autumn Sunrise

One positive bit of the shorter days is the later arrival of sunrise, captured by Jacqui through the bedroom window.  Facing east, the sky turns some wonderful colours in perfect counterpoint to the kitchen widows in the evening.  We love the skies and the open air surrounding us.  They are different every day and on clear nights the stars are breathtaking.  We may be hunkering down ready for winter but every day we know just how lucky we are.

Thank you for reading and I hope you are all well and happy too.

Living in interesting times

Hello and welcome to a most crowded few weeks.  There is supposedly a Chinese curse – may you live in interesting times.  Well, this is certainly one of those interesting times for us.  Let me begin with the book news, on several fronts.  I “attended” the virtual meeting last week and along with half a dozen fellow authors spoke to the administrators and one of the directors of the publisher.  Despite everyone trying to untangle the mess the company is in, we were all left with a sense of unease.  

Impress, it seems, is no more – and in fact was dissolved several years ago.  We are now absorbed into one (or more!) of several imprints and/or companies under the umbrella name of “Untold Publishing”.  As one of these is now in liquidation we should get our rights back (hooray!).  But – there’s always a “but” – the titles were used fairly freely and have been interchangeable on paperwork. This means there’s no firm proof which “company” some books belong to.  So maybe we get some rights but not others, or all of some books, or none… Interesting times indeed.  I’m holding my nerve, submitting my contracts to the administrators and breathing a huge sigh of relief that I hold the film and TV rights for them all.

This whole debacle has taken a huge amount of energy, as has a ludicrous arm-wrestle with a bank in the UK.  This ongoing saga comes about as Jacqui tries to begin transferring some of an estate to the rightful recipients, all also in the UK.  As we are in Ireland this is all attempted by on-line banking and every time – EVERY TIME – “computer says no”.  Our account is locked, the transfer refused and we are told we can discuss it with a freephone number – except we can’t, from Ireland.  The delays trying to get through on the International line amounted to four hours last week and still I was cut off on each occasion.  Interesting maybe but incandescent with rage comes closer to how I feel at the moment.

Mabel at the window

It’s not all gloom and frustration however.  We’ve had a new visitor, a little black and white cat we call Mabel (she looks like a Mabel).  I was having breakfast when I spotted her jumping up onto the back wall with a young rat in her mouth.  Several minutes later she appeared at the window, peering in at me – thankfully without the rat this time.  She is a cute little thing and very welcome to call, especially if she helps keep the rats away.  We’ve seen very few this year, so hopefully the owl, the dogs, the pine marten and now Mabel will persuade them this is not a very welcoming place to nest.  Last year was a bit too interesting in that sense.

The mushrooms in the wood are still going strong and so Jacqui hunted around and found a mycologist (mushroom expert) nearby.  We were also hunting for someone to work on our computers – how we miss our friendly experts from Saltburn! – and located a young man called Daniel up towards Roscrea.  We set out with one old (very old) laptop and he’s fixing it, along with a general removal job of the ghastly Windows 10 from a small Lenovo.  He’s also repairing the lovely new ACER PC trashed by Mr Mobile when we first arrived. 

Pharmacy window promoting the ballooning festival

Birr itself is a lovely little town with a riverside walk, winding streets and a good array of shops.  Like most towns in Ireland it has a few chain stores, mainly supermarkets, but a plethora of local businesses.  Shops are smaller but very friendly and happy to give advice and help, even if you don’t ask for it.  They also support and advertise local events with some lovely window displays. People still ask if we live here, if we like it and occasionally why we moved.  I’ve noticed this last question is much rarer now however.  The staff in an organic food store suggested we contact “Wild Food Mary” about our mushrooms. Jacqui made a phone call we set a meeting for another trip to Birr last week.

Mary was an absolute fountain of information and help.  She examined our samples with great care and showed us a couple of tricks to help identify a dangerous fungus.  Using a range of books she showed us how they could be identified.  This was quite an alarming exercise as the majority of the pages had big red symbols saying “Danger” or “Poison”.  Our mushrooms almost certainly fall into these groups so we shouldn’t even put them in the compost.  There’s a plot line – killing someone through lettuce grown on compost from poison mushrooms.  Must make a note of that for a book.  

Gathered by an expert!

Mary is a noted local expert and we were so grateful for her time and expertise.  She showed us some of the mushrooms she’s gathered in the last few days, an amazing selection.  And, unlike ours, all good to eat. She has a website, “Wild Food Mary”, which is easily findable on your browser.

Frog in the grass
Well, at least it’s green

We’ve done another cut of the grass and the back begins to look almost like a lawn in places.  The frogs seem to like it however and we go very slowly round avoiding them.  They are only a few inches long but break cover and leap away. This means I spend a lot of time peering at the ground in front of me and stopping to let them escape.  It’s getting cooler now and we are eyeing our wood pile and getting ready for evenings in front of the fire.  I remember visits to Switzerland where houses up the mountains had one wall stacked with cut logs.  I always thought this looked a bit excessive but now I understand. Our wood pile looks like a lorry trailer parked in the wood.  It is a source of great security in these uncertain times, to be honest.

And finally to “Puppy Brain”.  We have now done a full proofing and is being typeset as I write.  Jacqui did a second reading, picking up the points I missed so it should be 99.9% error free.  I’m not going for 100% as there’s always one little typo that sneaks through.  I’ve been working on the metadata which is all the stuff for remote platforms and publicity. That’s going well and it should be good to go before Christmas.  I’ll let you all know when it is being launched and where you can get a copy if you wish.

So that’s us – mushrooms, wildlife, publishers and a new book.  We are living in interesting times indeed.

Thank you for reading and for all your comments and reactions. 

They are noticed and very much appreciated.  Keep well, until next time.

Things leaving and new things coming

Off to warmer climes – little traitors!

Autumn is very much on its way in here and there are changes all around.  Things are leaving and new things coming, some welcome and others less so.  The past week has seen more and more swifts around the house.  They line up on the electricity lines in the evening, all pointing in the same direction.  Then after half and hour they disappear until the next day.  On Thursday the garden was suddenly a dangerous place to be as they swooped low over the grass and dived off the roof, calling and performing elaborate tricks in flight.  They stripped the food from the bird window and then all lined up, over two wires this time. Then on Friday – nothing.  Well, a few lonely stragglers that were too late for the flight.  We will miss them, though I don’t think the flies will!

Speaking of flies, they have been far fewer this year, although just a eager to bite any exposed patch of skin.  I cleared out most of the hatching sites last autumn – with one exception.  We don’t use the upstairs bathroom a lot and I noticed a large number of dead flies on the floor this week.  Eager to clean up I opened the top window and was mobbed.  A very unpleasant new thing had arrived and set up home around the frame and tiles.  And possibly in the roof space too.  I resorted to filling the room with fly spray and slamming the door as there were so many.  Then I went outside to check if there was a dead body hanging from the chimney (there wasn’t). The wise survivors are leaving the premises, the new, young, and foolish are still coming but they are fighting a losing battle. 

The new mower is a joy and we’ve been able to cut the grass again – twice in a month, yahoo!  I say “grass” though being in Ireland there are clumps of moss scattered throughout.  Still, it stays green so who cares?  We were also going to do bit of the path in the woods and drove it round to the gate.  Imagine our surprise to find several huge patches of wild mushrooms growing in the chippings from the Leylandii trees.  Knowing very little about wild fungi we cut several to photograph and get an expert opinion before trying them.  They don’t seem to last very long – a week and they are turning black and melting away.  Anyone recognise them? 

Anyone for mushrooms?
Any ideas, anyone?

The wood never fails to amaze us.  The path remains uncut as when we drove in we spotted several tiny frogs scrambling away.  They are a lovely bright green colour with a black stripe and I reckon if we saw two as we entered then the wood is probably full of them.  I’ve also seen a couple of brown newts too, one in the garden which is a long way from the wreckage of our pond.  That, by the way, is a project for next year.  We hope Fergus will bring his digger, clear out the debris and help us plant up a decent ecosystem.  There is some water rising from the ground, some seeping in from the old peat workings over the road as well as the inevitable rain to fill it. 

Evening sky – more reliable than Met Eireann

And the first of the storms has already passed.  An amazing evening sky led to a night of heavy rain and winds.  This one was called “Danielle”.  Who thinks of these names?

Now, things leaving or lost – well my excellent old “Brother Brick” laser printer suddenly refused to feed any paper.  I ordered a new roller, at a shocking price, but to no avail.  I now have another, equally brick-like printer and a trip planned to the dump to dispose of the old one.  I’m sad to see it go, not least as I’d just installed a new print drum.   I’m still running an old computer whilst trying to find a decent replacement PC I can actually use.  I will NOT use Windows 10 – a monster that seems to take control of everything – so am seeking something with Windows 7.  I’m still using a 20 year old version of Word as I can’t cope with the newer “we will do everything!” versions.  As I hope to get back to some serious writing this winter I need something I know and trust. 

And finally we come to the writing.  What can I say?  Everything is now frozen as the publisher has called in the administrators. This is actually a good thing as Company House has just given two months’ notice to force the winding up.  If they go ahead first then all “assets” become property of the Crown.  And books are considered “assets”. 

I was in despair when I read this – twelve years work seized and sold on without my consent.  Yes, it is legal, though it doesn’t seem particularly moral. 

We are hoping the administration will go ahead first however, hopefully next Friday.  The moment it is official all book rights revert to us, the authors.  All we need is the official documentation to prove our ownership.  A dozen (or more) of us are keeping our fingers crossed.  I have a new Alex Hastings book ready to go – it’s been ready for two years, waiting for publication.  And half of a sixth novel too, though I’ve been too despondent to look at it recently.  On the bright side, my collaboration with Jem Cooney is in its main proofing stage and looks good to go for Christmas. 

So here’s to “Puppy Brian” and a good outcome on Friday.

Thank you for reading.  I will post a quick update if I have any news from the administration meeting.

Moving in fits and starts

Every Saturday evening we have a special meal, eaten at the table with the “nice” china.  That dates us, doesn’t it?  And every week we raise a glass and say “What a week!”  Well, yes, once more this has been very busy and challenging.  We are still moving on – moving in fits and starts towards making the house and the garden what we want.  These last few weeks we’ve been fighting the weather that has been too hot or too stormy.  Both of these bring the nasty little biting flies out in numbers.  Now August is past they will diminish hopefully.  We have also been struggling with the insane growth spurts in the wood and the garden and the strange and just bloody awkward plumbing.

Most of all however we had a very frightening few days with our oldest dog, Chloe.  She celebrated her 15th birthday earlier in August and quite honestly doesn’t look or act her age.  The vet says she wants something of what Chloe uses, she looks so young still.  We reckon there’s a very dusty and raddled portrait hidden somewhere.  Last week however I woke up as she kicked me and found she was having a seizure.  She went rigid, began to shake violently and her eyes rolled up.  I yelled for help and picked her up, stroking and nursing her as she shook more, foamed at the mouth and after several minutes began to scream in a high pitched voice.  I was terrified.  It lasted over five minutes – a long time for any dog, let alone one her size (5.5 kilos) and age.

The night vet was soothing and gave us good advice over the phone that helped when she had a second fit a few hours later.  We took her into the vet the next morning and they ran tests that were reassuring – bloods good, nothing on the ultrasound, temperature and heart both normal.  She had three more fits, each on shorter than the last and then nothing.  She’s been fine ever since so we wonder if her eternal curiosity led her to sample something alien from the garden.  We are keeping a very close watch but travelling hopefully.

Thinking about the garden we decided to try mowing again but the old Husqvarna refused to start once more.  We’d run out of patience waiting for the promised spare parts, visits to check it over and other non-delivered mower services.  The grass was up over the dogs’ heads, the wood was out of control again and neither of us are up to hand trimming.   We looked hard at our bank account, got in the car and went searching for a mower that actually worked.  On the far side of town we found exactly what we needed.  An Irish company called “Simplicity” make a lighter, lower and – yes, simpler – mower.  It drives with individual levers not a steering wheel, it mulches the cuttings and it is so much fun! 

Looking far too pleased with myself!

Here is the promised picture of me on the mower.  We’ve already cut the “lawn” and part of the path in the wood.  I managed to ground it on a hidden rock but we got it free again.  As the ground is very rough and neglected I will need to go out and mark obstacles before we go any further in.  The mower moves well on the lawn and slightly bumpy ground but will be a bit jerky on rougher terrain.  Moving in fits and starts until we get it smoothed out and under control I think.

Once the mowing problem was solved we turned our attention to the bathroom.  We purchased a new unit with lovely big basin months ago but only now feel strong enough to tackle the fitting.  The first job was getting the old basin out and capping off the water lines.  We had a constant leak despite all my efforts until our joiner, Dom, showed me the “penny valves”.  These are tiny screws set in a join – turn them 90 degrees and presto! No more water.  Wish I’d known about them last week.  Still, as Jacqui says, our problem is simple.  We are not plumbers.

The old basin
Progress – of sorts

Neither of us are strangers to hand tools.  Even, much to the horror of any men around to power tools of the drill and saw variety.  But we are emphatically not plumbers.  We do have YouTube, helpful but as much of our house is old some of the problems scarcely exist on line.  We also have a book from my father, “How to fix almost everything” from the 1980s which is fabulous.

We’ve been working on the basin for a week now.  The waste pipe is concreted in and in the wrong place of course.  The fittings are different and needed four visits to different shops to get pipes, elbow joints, a different waste trap, new brass connectors… We may be slow, it may be awkward and downright painful occasionally but we are slowly turning into “hobby”  plumbers, in fits and starts.  I think we would probably be hovering around NVQ Level 2 by now. Or perhaps not…

Oh poop!
Yes, rather tired and stiff

So now I have to go down and do the final fit for the basin.  I’m really stiff, I’m not looking forward to it and, let me be honest, I’d much rather take the mower out for a spin.  Maybe tomorrow. And I’ve almost finished my stash of jigsaws.  After several weeks this was the latest result – oh poop!

For those of you wondering about some book news, I am still waiting for confirmation of Impress’s status.  There are still some books around if people want them and I’m exploring options for book five, “A Long Shadow”.  My collaboration with Jem Cooney, “Puppy Brain”, has reached the proof-reading stage (oh joy) and I expect it will be available for Christmas.  I’ll post details as soon as I have them.

Thank you for reading.  Your support and encouragement means a great deal.  Keep well and see you in two weeks.