Cross the river before you abuse the crocodile

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

Old African proverb – still wise today

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

Happiness is a large metal box!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming along nicely now

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

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

Thank you for reading.  If you are interested in the review for “The Moon and Stars” you can download it here:

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

Watching and waiting

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

Rather unseasonal for Ireland
Coloured willows in the wood

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

Fearless pheasant
Nosy little wagtail

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

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

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

Mr Badger’s highway

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

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

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

Slow but steady progress

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

Rain in Ireland – who’d have thought?

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

Dry – but cold

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

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

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

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

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

No, not 25 metres away

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

Ah Pollock…

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

Kindle edition is listed under Jem’s name!

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.


Well, there’s always something

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

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

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

Animal or Vegetable?
Definitely Animal!

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

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

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

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

Think the path needs some work
So does the herb garden

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

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

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

Beginning the third year

The seasons are rolling around again and it is one day shy of our initial move into this little house.  As we begin our third year here we can reflect on all we have done – and all that has happened.  It seems fair to say there have been a few surprises along this journey.  And a few bumps on the way.  But despite this we are still very happy here and feeling more settled than we have in years.

Sometimes it takes a new pair of eyes to highlight what we have managed to achieve.  We look around at the wood, better than it was but still needing so much work.  The house could do with painting, the roof needs fixing and the electrics are better but still dodgy. (I’m sure it’s not usual for the lights to dim when the kettle is on).  Last weekend our friends, Helen and Adrian, arrived and were delighted with “how much” we’d done.  Like the best visitors in the world, they were eager to add their contribution and cleared, trimmed and lifted with gusto.  We now have our mower safe under cover and a lot of the rocks are cleared away from projected mowing areas, thanks to them.

Buzzard on the lookout

Hard labour is not compulsory however.  Any visitor who just needs to relax, enjoy the peace and sleep late is also welcome.  We had one very clear night and spent some time looking at the night sky.  Despite the full moon it was still dark enough to see Mars, Venus and Jupiter as well as the Milky Way unfolding overhead.  We are now blessed by our own murmuration – over 200 starlings and growing.  They’ve settled in the trees opposite at night and take off with an audible “whoosh” in the morning.  They fly in a cloud across the fields, making some wonderful shapes and patterns.  This attracts the attention of the buzzards but so far the flock seems to have the upper hand.

Mammal Highway
A Gift – From Whom?

The undergrowth has died down in the wood over winter and there are some very clear tracks weaving across it.  The mammal gates are a great success from these indications and we are curious to know who is using them.  We know animals trek through the drive and wood as they trigger the security lights.  Occasionally we find a little offering on the front step too. Trail cameras are a good option I think.  Some of the paths are quite wide, with several larger flattened areas.  One patch in particular looks as if there was a small animal rave one night.  It is reached by five different diverging paths and opens out into a rough circle.  A mammal party perhaps, or (more sinister) the fairies coming visiting?  I’ll let you know if I find out.

With “Puppy Brain” now ticking away in shops and platforms like Amazon I decided to try some different writing.  When I began after the MA I decided to try entering competitions to see if I was actually any good.  This proved to be remarkably successful leading to an international award (Lit Award of the Ruhr, runner up) and publication of “Death of the Elver Man”.  This time I looked around for something different, away from fiction, and found a competition for memoirs.  I’ve never written one before but it seemed like a suitable challenge.  I managed the 5000 word entry in January and then spent a week composing and polishing the synopsis.  Having judged writing competitions, I know this is absolutely crucial – and so often neglected.  I don’t expect to win but I enjoyed the challenge and I’ve learned a lot from stretching myself.

Oh the joys of dyslexia!

It’s been good to focus more on writing as I’m losing the routine and need to start working more regularly.  Also I suspect I’m getting more dyslexic in my later years.  We often notice unfamiliar signs or buildings whilst out or in town.  I spotted a sign for the 750 year old Franciscan Friary recently.  Imagine my delight in reading it was, at one time, the Chief Irish Fairy. 

We have a new public holiday on Monday, to celebrate St Bridget’s Day.  Bridget is dubbed the “Matron Saint” and celebrated for many years. Some more devout households make cornstalk crosses for their doors. 

Ah Pollocks!

We’ve had a very busy few weeks and have another few coming up so will enjoy a quiet day at home.  I always used to make puzzles on Bank Holidays when younger so I’ve taken up the challenge of the Jackson Pollock once more.  It must be the most fiendish puzzle ever.  Even the 3D jigsaw and Esher’s “Waterfall” are easier but I will finish it this time.  You can see how hard it is – the plain white border is the easiest bit.

So that’s us, beginning the third year.  There are things going on in the background that need some resolving but – hey, there’s always something.  Every day brings a smile and we can look around and feel we are making a home here. 

Thank you for reading and a happy St Bridget’s Day to you all.

Hoping for a better year all round

Well, January has certainly shown its teeth here in Ireland and I think the same – if not worse – in the UK.  In the last few weeks we’ve had the big freeze, complete with frozen pipes and no water before Christmas.  This was followed by some torrential rain and a leaky roof.  In my last post I was hopeful about the roof but, alas, my optimism was unfounded.  When the rain returned in the New Year so did the leak.  Faster, longer and much worse this time.  Morgan came back to inspect the damage and his joke about a new roof was no longer funny. We had hoped for a better year but it is starting with a serious, and very expensive, problem.

Absolutely useless!

We have also had a few issues in the bathroom (the ball cock fell off last week!)  This shouldn’t have been too much of a problem but we couldn’t turn off the water.  There is a penny valve on the pipe, but it is facing the wall with less than 2 inches clearance.  Sometimes I almost despair at the small glitches that lead to big difficulties. 

Spot the moorhen

The cold returned last week and because it is so damp it feels much worse than the thermometer indicates.  The pond over the road froze for a couple of days but is back again and so are the birds.  The geese flew in last week, honking and wheeling overhead and yesterday I saw a heron gliding over the house.  There are a couple of moorhens enjoying the open water too.  The sun is still low for much of the day but the colours in the trees and bushes are very beautiful.  I think I’ll need to move my desk away from the window.  It is too much of a temptation, gazing out and drifting into a daydream.

Puppy Brain in Easons

I need to focus more as I’m finally returning to writing seriously.  I’ve several projects in hand and some deadlines, which concentrate the mind wonderfully.  These include editing and publishing the fifth Alex Hastings book, “A Long Shadow”.  Although it was accepted by Impress way back in 2021 nothing came of it. The new owners floundered and finally bankrupted the company.  Now I have it back and can get it ready for launching towards the end of the year.  I’m also plotting out the next book in the “Puppy Brain” trilogy, working with Jem to move the story forwards.  Jem’s still smiling after seeing his name on a real book and has some good ideas for the next one but with spring and the show season heading our way will probably take more of a back seat this time.

I have managed to recover a number of Impress books, saved from pulping.  The first lot are on their way and the second are hopefully being located next week.  I don’t know how many there are or which titles either yet.  If anyone wants any of the earlier Alex Hastings books please let me know and I can arrange to sign and send direct.  “Puppy Brain” is doing well, both paperback and e-book. The paperback is currently on offer at Amazon with 20% off so why not grab a copy?  Thank you to everyone who has bought it.  An even bigger “thank you” to the readers who have added a short review and rating.  It makes such a difference to the availability as this is set by an algorithm.  Perceived expressions of interest lead to more publicity and orders which drive sales.  What a strange world we live in.

With postal strikes in the UK and very inclement weather in both countries we are still receiving notes and cards intended for Christmas.  This means we haven’t been too worried by longer silences.  However I’ve had a number of messages from old friends in the past week.  It seems the last year has been very unkind to many.  We are still extremely tired, for longer than we expected following the efforts of the move.  Although we are recovering, this is slow and not helped by delays and problems in the house.  We are lucky compared to some of our friends however. 

A sunrise to make you smile

There has been a lot of ill health, some but not all Covid related.  People have lost relatives and loved ones. It feels almost as if half the world has PTSD from the past three years.  There’s a general air of weariness, a dusting of depression surrounding so many people.  I feel it will take a long time to recover from recent events.  We are lucky, living in such a beautiful place.  Even the freezing mornings give glorious sunrises.  The birds are singing, flying in formation through the wood and occasionally peering in through the windows.  We are meeting some new people and making friends despite still being quite isolated.  The roof will be a pain but is necessary.  There’ll be more insulation too so next winter shouldn’t seem so cold, looking on the bright side.

We are hoping for a better year ahead, for us and for all our friends and readers.  May you all recover, keep safe and prosper.  May some of your dreams come true.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you in two weeks.

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?