Skip to content

What a difference a day makes – and two lovely men.

We are slowly chipping away at all the stuff that needs doing and are surprised at the end of each week at how much we have managed to do. This week we had some help, in the form of Will and Anthony, two of Derek Madden’s “Merry Men”. They were the crew who helped us move in back in February and they turned up on Wednesday to do a blitz job on some of the most pressing areas of the garden and surrounds. They had intended coming on Monday but the weather took a turn for the worst and the jobs were not the sort you want to do in pouring rain and high winds.

It was still a bit uncertain when they arrived but these two lovely men tackled the Majestic, moving some of the wood in to dry. They put more weed mat over the side ground, cleared out the gutters and then – tackled the front hedge. This had gone feral over the summer and the poor postie was in danger of losing an eye trying to get through. What a difference a day makes!

They were quite apologetic it was a bit ragged but it was way better than we expected. The growth has been enthusiastic but random and it will take a year or so to thicken up. Then we can think about shaping it a bit more. Will and Antony did an amazing job, even putting a bit of a slope on the front. It was too wet to tackle the grass but hopefully they might come back when we have a few fine days and work their magic on the back garden too. They also made Jacqui’s day. We explained we were struggling with these heavier jobs, with Jacqui’s health and our slowly advancing age. When they heard how old Jacqui was they paid a great Irish compliment.
“Jeez, but you’re fresh!” Another for the language list I think.

We have had a number of encounters with our neighbours this week. At the weekend we met Des from the farm across the field. We had already made friends with his partner, Julie, and she brought him around to meet us and discuss help maintaining the garden. A highly skilled gardener and tree man, Des is much in demand and we are pleased he might consider our sad little patch. He’s very interested in the wood and could be a godsend later. First we must finish the cutting down phase and move on to the building back bit.

On two separate days we met more neighbours (remember this means anyone who lives closer than 3 kilometres away). Noreen was walking along the track one afternoon as we came back from town. She was without her little dog Brandy this time but I’m getting a bit better at recalling human names. We had a nice chat and it is very reassuring to have a nurse for a neighbour, especially one so helpful.

Yesterday we met the man who walks Rocky, his friend’s dog – an exception to my name recall at the moment. He was the walker who stopped us early on and asked if I was the “writer lady”. He commented on my bicycle which had been out of the shed for a bit on Wednesday. It transpires he spent 50 years in the bicycle trade and identified (and admired) it immediately.

I’ve just got a stirrup pump for it and should be able to ride it again when the weather clears. Turns out there’s a locking joint in the valves of Dutch bikes and I need to turn this or “’twill never be pumped up, you know”. Well, I do now. No wonder I was popping my shoulders with the little pump.

Also his wife is the woman who makes the jam we love and always get at the Friday markets. A small world, Ireland. We’re starting to make connections with and between people too.

The bins are another story. In fact they are several stories ranging from “Health and Safety!” to “The driver lost his bonus collecting them and won’t come down the lane anymore.” I am hoping to have a little word with the closure department tomorrow and will give the details then. Meanwhile we are hunting for someone – anyone – who will do a rubbish and recycling collection. Keep your fingers crossed for us. It is getting a bit desperate.

And finally a question for those of an ornithological incline. We have another new bird in the garden. In fact it hops along the fence and peers in through the windows, not in the least scared by us. It looks a bit like a wren in body shape and beak but at least 50% larger. It has a sparrow-like back and wings but a black/very dark grey head and a white flash on its throat. There’s a white smudge in its chest and it has a russet belly. The tail can be fanned out and it takes delight in twerking at us a bit like a wagtail. I tried to get a picture but failed miserably.
Has anyone any ideas?

Travelling hopefully through the house dominoes

We have made some progress here this week. Several people have contacted us about the many jobs we need doing and our floor and joinery man came to measure up. We are hoping to have a floor down in the grooming room soon and then can tackle the dominoes. Floor down means the freezer, washing machine and dryer can go in. So can the sink for the dogs (that will please them!). We will then have enough storage for the cleaners and Hoover so can unpack the last of the boxes. And we had the log delivery that needs to go into the Majestic out of the rain and into the space made by moving all of the above. We are travelling hopefully and refuse to get upset or impatient about it.

Winter fuel – we hope

Make no mistake, the slowness is not down to indolence or lack of will. All the workmen we know are going flat out, taking on multiple jobs and working every hour they can. Most of them look exhausted all the time. We are a long way out in the wilds and understandably some are reluctant to make the trip but those that do have been wonderful. There is a sense of anxiety here as despite the boom in all types of construction they are eyeing the rise in costs and worrying about being able to quote competitively or cover materials up front.

Feral dogwood!

Many also remember the last boom, back in the days of the “Celtic Tiger”. Almost overnight everything collapsed and the whole economy went into recession. As most of them are sole owners or family firms this was – and would be – a disaster. The economic pattern of Ireland is quite different from the UK, mainly as there was no widespread Industrial Revolution. Whilst 40% of the (very small) population live in Dublin, the rest live in small communities or isolated farms. There is no post-industrial pattern to life or work and much is based on agrarian society.

This does have its upside – people do help one another out, even total strangers. Everyone knows everyone else, even through hearsay. We were, at one time, apparently the talk of the parish. Now we are obviously not holiday home buyers and people stop on their walks to chat over the gate or through the car window. We have had offers of help as Jacqui’s health prevents her doing much at the moment, at least in the hedge cutting and chain saw departments. A neighbour out here is someone “just across the road”. And that is within 3 kilometres. We have space but do not feel isolated or alone.

As winter draws near it brings some sense of relief out here. It does rain a lot. That is one stereotype the country upholds with great enthusiasm. However though it is cold in the mornings it is generally warmer than England. Certainly warmer than the north-east. And this means everything keeps growing. At least when the cold weather arrives we will have some respite and can maybe consolidate the work already done. We began cutting the hedges back but stopped in later spring when birds began to nest. Now we hope to trim and force them back so they grow straight and thick. At the moment they are closing in around the house and have overgrown the front gate. It’s like something out of “Sleeping Beauty”, to be honest.

The Postie deserves better than this!

There are many things the same here but small differences make every day a mini adventure. Take the use of language, for example. The vast majority speak English but with some differences. The word order differs on occasions and there are subtle changes in how some words are used. In England I might say, “Can/may I offer you something to drink?” if I was being formal. Informally maybe it would be, “Would you like something to drink?” Here I’ve found myself saying, “Will you take a drink?”

There are also some lovely phrases generally used. In response to queries such as, “How are you?” English people often say “Okay,” or “Fine thanks”. Even the rather dismissive, “Whatever”. Here it sometimes comes out as “Sure and you know yourself”. I love that! My favourite expression at the moment is a lyrical version of the English, “Well duh!” If something should be blindingly obvious the reply is, “Ah, the dogs in the street could have told you that”.

I’m enjoying the rhythm of the language and coping much better with the accent (except on the telephone where I do struggle a little). I have to be careful though. As speakers of Irish English surround me it becomes more familiar and can slip into an adopted speech pattern. Nothing wrong with that – except when I’m writing. Most of my characters are English and speak a standard version. Some of the Levellers use Somerset dialect. I have to be attuned to the odd Irish pattern slipping in, however much I enjoy some of the expressions. That way lies disaster.

Sure, the dogs in the street could tell me that.

A week of miscellany – but better than the last one

This week we were expecting a fairly quiet time but life does throw a lot of stuff at you, doesn’t it? We had a few things we had to do, chiefly sort the damn bins and get to the hospital in Limerick. There was a delivery to be organised and we hoped there might be some progress on outstanding jobs. In the end there was a big rush of miscellany with varied outcomes, but hey that’s life.

First, the hospital visit on Friday. For some reason the main car park is still closed so it is a bit like a game of musical cars. Not what you want when you have a heart patient on board. And especially as the first act of the clinic is a blood pressure reading. Fortunately we arrived very early and had time to amble slowly across to reception. Then we traversed long, crowded corridors to the lift. The only way up to the clinic is by lift – but the lift can only be operated by a member of staff. There was, of course, no designated lift operator. Instead you flag down a passing staff member and hope you look respectable enough to be allowed in. Don’t ask me – I didn’t plan the system.

Once there we had a generally positive meeting with a very competent and friendly nurse. Jacqui is doing well and recovering slowly. She will need more “interventions” but these will be decided on by the specialist and a meeting is scheduled for December. For now she has to rest, take a gentle walk each day and be patient. She really does her best but she is not the most patient of patients. In her defence she says she gets bored!

The bins are another story. Finally, after five weeks a truck arrived and “swopped them out”. We managed to get a brief chat with the driver and he said the bin man was refusing to come down our road. It seems he broke a mirror in September and lost his work bonus. Well, it wasn’t our fault and we would have liked to know they weren’t coming. Especially as I’d just paid a year in advance. Monday is a public (bank) holiday here but on Tuesday I am on the phone to a supervisor.

Yesterday (Saturday) we met Fergus, the tree man. He arrived with a HUGE trailer of dried hardwood logs that will need to be stacked. We hope to get them into the Majestic but this depends on the pallets being moved and space cleared first. This also needs the newly delivered freezer installed in the grooming room – which needs the floor laid. So we are still dealing with building dominoes, though we are making some progress.

Fergus looked around the wood and agreed we had a bad case of ash dieback in the centre. However on the road boundary he pointed out a venerable ash tree, seemingly untouched. It was next to a big sycamore and there is some evidence the sycamore can help to fight this horrible disease. Fergus is something of a local historian and poet and he said that in the C19th and early C20th people ate from wooden bowls. Bowls made from sycamore wood. The wood had antibacterial properties and will grow a penicillin type fungus if left wet. We are considering sprinkling new sycamore trees through the wood when we replant to spread this protection to the other trees.

One of the great joys of the house is the view across the field from the kitchen diner. It is slightly diminished by the dog-proof fence we had to install but is still breathtaking. It is also ever changing, never the same one day to the next. Actually it’s never the same one hour to the next. We have seen small mammals and large birds in the field, buzzards circling the Fairy Fort, sunrise, sunset, full moon and the Milky Way. There are skies straight out of paintings – Casper David Friedrich, Constable, Turner and (my favourite) John Martin. He does a good apocalypse sky, does John Martin. This morning a murmuration of starlings landed in the wood and flew back and forth over the field. It is enough to lift the lowest of spirits. There were only about 200 birds but I hope it will grow and we will see them again.

A mini Murmuration

So here we are. We are being sensible, doing quiet things and trying to be patient but the great thing is we are together. Jacqui is getting better. We have to go more slowly but stuff will get done and we will both be able to enjoy the results.

It’s been one of those weeks this week.

It’s been one of those weeks this week.  You know the sort.  Stupid little things don’t work.  Bigger things start to really bug you.  It’s cloudy and showery outside and grey all around.  The sort of week where you want to revert to childhood, swing on a chair and kick the table until your mother yells at you.  That sort of week.

Some of it is uncertainty, especially not knowing what will happen with Jacqui.  Are we heading for more stents, intensive physio or open heart surgery?  No-one will commit to anything, understandably but the sense of not knowing and therefore not being able to choose the best route for a good outcome is not helping, nor healthy.  I think she is calmer about it than I am at the moment to be honest.  I tend to be more set in my ways and find some semblance of routine is the only way I can function even adequately.  Uncertainty, changes to arrangements and things not happening that are supposed to happen really throw me.  I know it’s a feature of my dyspraxia but that doesn’t always help.

We’ve reached an impasse in the house too.  Like a row of dominoes all lined up ready to go we have half a dozen unfinished jobs. And they all rely on one being done first.  If the grooming room floor’s laid we can move the white goods in and use the space to clear away.  Then the sink can be put in and the dogs can finally have a decent bath.  Just to amuse you, the largest is too big for the existing sink.  I’m hoping to wash him this week in the shower (now with lovely glass panels – thank you Aidan).  This will involve putting on my swimming costume and getting in with him, wrestling the little beast as he tries to escape a decent lathering.  Well, that vision is in your heads for the week now!

One of the brightest parts of the week was another trip up to see Jan, the goat farmer at the top of the lake.  He has a herd of about 200 goats, mainly Toggenburgs, Saanens and crosses off the two.  They tend to live in large sheds, open at the front with soft beds of straw. They even have a radio playing for company when there’s no-one else around.  Jan was a bit anxious we might think they should be out, roaming the fields as free-range goats, but there are two things you need to remember where these animals are concerned. 

Firstly goats are total wimps.  At the first sign of rain (or even a cold breeze) they are shivering and complaining, heading for shelter.  Secondly they are very sociable.  They like companionship and form close groups, curling up together to share warmth and sharing food.  Jan’s goats are some of the happiest and healthiest I have ever seen.  And the milk is lovely – mild, not too high in fat, rich in protein and adored by the dogs.  When the factory (which uses his milk amongst others) resumes full production we may keep going up every two weeks. 

So next week – we may get the floor done.  Or part of it anyway.  We have a few things being delivered including a freezer to go on said floor. No actual delivery dates scheduled so far though.  We may or may not have someone coming to look at the hedges and trees. We hope they are willing to do some trimming and lopping.  Hopefully we may have the solar power man coming to check the site and make arrangements for the new panels.  And we may even get the bins emptied.  It’s been five weeks now, with three missed collections, a lot of promises and no sign of the wagon.  Don’t hold your breath – except when hurrying past the bins.

A grey day – and the bins are full!

The only fixed point in our calendar is another trip to Limerick on Friday to a clinic for Jacqui where we may get some idea of progress.  Knowing our luck all the others will decide Friday is the perfect day to come and see us. 

And it will be another one of those weeks.

The long, slow road back to “Normal”

After the past overly stressful (and very unwelcome) excitement of the last month we are on the road back to “normal”.  Whatever that might be in these strange times.  We are both still very tired as recent events have taken most of our energy but life does not stand still.  In fact here in Ireland it tends to take advantage if it can.  Whilst we’ve maintained the little bit of progress in the wood, especially around the oak trees, the open spaces have exploded again.  We had a week of showers followed by a couple of mild, sunny days.  The back plot, so smooth and ready for weed mats and planting suddenly grew thistles as tall as I am.  I know that’s not all that tall but there were hundreds of them – literally. 

Overgrown Again!

Jacqui has a long list of instructions from the hospital, chief of which is “Rest!”  Followed by no hoovering, no lifting anything heavy (over about a kilo) and not even making the bed.  This is understandably irritating for someone so active – she had big plans for the land and the house, now on hold again.  It also means we have to rely on my plodding efforts to tame the newly grown wilderness.  It was vital we got it cleared as we hope to have the solar panels installed soon.  That is so not happening in that jungle! I did not falter but jumped straight in and booked a digger and Davey, our lovely builder. 

Once the land was cleared once more I began the task of setting out weed mats over some of it.  This is hard work but strangely satisfying, raking out the worst roots, clipping back brambles and removing stones.  I’m not going to get it all done but hopefully winter will put paid to a lot of the opportunist plants.  I’ve left most of the brambles with berries as the birds will need those and as I was digging away I heard them in the surrounding trees.  It sounded as if they were passing comment, waiting for me to go so they could come down and hunt for insects and grubs.  I hope my work met with their approval.  Someone suggested we put in sprouting potatoes as these will deter (or kill) weeds.  Any thoughts?

There’s not much news from the UK in Ireland, to be honest but I occasionally look at the BBC website.  There’s quite a debate about shortages – are there any, and if so where?  Well, we have had a disruption to our normal service recently.  The dogs have always had goat’s milk in the morning from a local supermarket. It comes from an Irish firm over here.  There’s been none the last three weeks, much to our dismay.  We wondered if the supply chain problems were starting over here.  Then a shop assistant explained there had been a fire at the factory.  It would take a couple of weeks and then everything would return to normal. 

Jacqui got on the phone and located a farmer about 15 kilometres away who was happy to sell milk “over the gate”.  This was a chance for her to have a little run out , her first since leaving hospital.  I was still driving of course. The farmer was lovely, the goats were so beautiful and the dogs love that milk.  They actually queue at the bowl in the morning, each drinking a third before stepping aside.  I’ve never seen that behaviour in dogs before though I keep a close eye on them, just in case.  We are heading out there tomorrow for more milk and I’ll see if I can have a picture of the goats .

At the Institute

On our long, slow road to normal we are being very careful and limiting trips out as far as possible.  This week I began to suggest a possible outing for Friday.  I got as far as “If you take it very easy on Wednesday and Thursday would you like to..” “Yes!” she said.  I hadn’t said where but she knew it was the little Institute market in town.  This is a real gem.  It is run mainly by women and is a bit like the Women’s Institute coupled with an allotment society.  We got there a bit earlier this time but already half the tables were empty.  Even so we got vegetables (including the freshest carrots with their tops), another divine Orange Madeira cake, jam, small pies and flowers, of course.   

It’s the little things that make life so enjoyable and this felt like another small step back to normal for us.

Autumn comes early in Ireland – and an update

Having come from the North East of England we are used to relatively short summers but autumn seems to come early in Ireland.  After the blazing, uncomfortably hot days in the middle of summer it turned cooler.  This was most welcome, to be honest.  We were not properly set up for extreme weather and spent most of our efforts on keeping out the cold.  The lack of opening windows in some rooms coupled with the swarms of flies made for some very uncomfortable days.  We are removing the Leylandii trees soon as they seem to be the favoured home for many of the swarms.  We will also need to look at changing at least one of the windows in the kitchen/diner.  It is gloriously warm and sunny most days, just a bit too hot in summer.

Little Traitors!

I spotted the first signs of autumn weeks ago when I let the dogs out into the garden.  The wires and posts behind the house were lined up with birds all chattering merrily and pointing eastwards.  Their numbers increased steadily for days, swifts on one line, starlings on another (no-one wants to mix with the starlings it seems).  Then just as suddenly they were gone, the little traitors.  The bird feeder was very quiet for a week or so before new birds began to arrive.  Looking back, the emigrating birds had eaten a ridiculous amount over two weeks.  I was refilling the feeders and fat balls every day so I hope they all get there safely.

Still, at least they know where they are going for the winter which is more than can be said for the geese over the back.  Every evening a flock of about 40 birds fly over the house, calling and swooping low.  Then the next morning they are back, all the way from the lake about 6 kilometres away.  Apparently they arrived about ten years ago and lost the leader who knew the way.  After flapping around lost for several weeks they settled into this routine and have been here ever since, spending the days in the field and small pond across the road from us.

Death Row – all marked for cutting, alas

One of the sad things I’ve had to do this week is make some decisions about the wood.  As the leaves turn brown and fall I cannot put off deciding which trees are dead or dying.  Leave it any longer and they’ll all be bare so it was out with a spray can yesterday.  There is one double row of trees, mainly ash, that are all either dead or badly diseased.  Some never came into leaf.  Others put out a few sprouts but have black spots and splitting bark.  I struggled through the deep undergrowth, marking these with pink spots.  A whole slice of the wood will need to be removed, burned and replaced.  Our very own “Death Row”.  I hate to cut any of them but it is better to have 75 healthy trees then 150 crowded, sickly specimens.

I guess an explanation is in order over last week’s missing episode.  Jacqui had a couple of breathless episodes during the week but we thought she’d just overdone things.  It was a busy time despite our efforts with four days of builders and several runs into town.  On Saturday we went in to get our ‘flu jabs and our doctor decided she should go back to A&E to be checked over, just in case.  Back to Limerick – oh joy.  And on a Saturday too.  Believe me, A&E on a Saturday is not the place you want to be.  We were a bit more prepared having gone back home to pack a bag in case she was admitted and she was – at 2.30 on Sunday morning. 

I finally left as darkness fell and drove home, not knowing what was happening.  Our wonderful friend Sharon had gone up to the house to let out the dogs and check they were alright but I couldn’t leave them any longer.  Driving in rural Ireland at night is an experience, for sure.  It is completely dark as there is no lighting outside the towns and no houses for miles.  There are also no lines on the roads let alone cats eyes – the roads are too narrow for two cars to pass anyway.  I was so tired and stressed I missed the turning onto our track and had a horrible moment of panic.  Was I lost?  Had I any idea how to get home? 

I did get back, of course.  Driving around the lanes in daylight I’d mused on the number of houses with traffic cones beside the walls, or white rocks or brightly coloured barrels.  Now I know why.  Next time I’m out I’m nicking a cone from somewhere – or white washing a couple of decent sized rocks.

I got Jacqui back on Wednesday after sterling work from the hospital.  She will need to take things very easy for a while but we hope she is now properly on the mend.  I was in a bit of a state last weekend, wondering what was going to happen and unsure what I could write.  I am just so happy I can offer this positive outcome.  Now we will settle down, enjoy a calmer few weeks and look to a better end to our first year in Ireland.  It has been quite an adventure.

Every day is a school day (in Ireland)

“Every day is a school day” is something I hear a lot in Ireland.  It startled me the first time but I think it shows how open many people here are to hearing new things.  Many adults I have known don’t like to acknowledge they don’t know something.  Perhaps they feel it is demeaning or the person talking to them is showing off.  Actually I love to learn new things.  As a writer every snippet of information, every new sight can be the basis of a story.  A wider experience means I can weave a richer background, hopefully catching a reader’s interest and making the story more real.  But maybe that’s just me.

It is easy to view Ireland (and Scotland, and Wales) as England but with a funny accent.  I learned nothing of the other nations in the Union (and out of it) at school.  We touched on the wars with Scotland, on a “Robert Bruce and the Spider” level.  Wales was referred to in relation to the Investiture in 1969.  Ireland was barely mentioned at all.  Of course, there is a huge amount to learn about a new country from the rules of the road to its rich and fascinating history. 

On a mundane level there are all the slight differences in a common language.  In England the universal positive response is “okay” or “yeah” or (in the north) “aye”.  Here it is “perfect”, whether paying in a shop or giving details over the phone.  I’ve even caught myself using it recently.  Someone recently described a group of people as “fierce”.  I was alarmed until he added, “So I get along with them all, except the last 1% I have trouble with”.  I surmise from this that “fierce” is a compliment, at least in this part of Ireland.

The history pops up in the most unexpected and ordinary places.  Driving into town I noticed a black sign on a cottage window.  When I stopped one time I read it was marking a “Stirabout window” which was a new idea for me.  It sounds quite altruistic, feeding the local population during the famine.  Stirabout, I discovered, was a sort of oat porridge and the regular fare in workhouses.  Not much of a step up from gruel, though if you’re starving it would have been welcome.

Bindweed, NOT Japanese Knotweed!

Sometimes we unwittingly teach others stuff we know, about the pictures in the house for example.  Sometimes they teach us, about farm rules and local legend.  Occasionally we learn something together.  Davey, our builder, had a digger in over the weekend and used the extra time to run through a bit more of the wood.  We finally reached the back boundary in one place – delight!  Then despair as he looked at the overgrowing creepers and said they looked like Japanese Knotweed.   This was a horrifying prospect – it is everywhere and growing at a staggering rate.  We flew to the internet and our wild flower books and after an anxious half hour decided it is bindweed.  That’s bad but can be controlled – with work.  We all compared notes and went off with a bit more knowledge for the future.

On the house front, we are a bit wrung out but the bathroom now has a proper shower cubicle – no more Titanic mornings for us.  And the electricity is finally stable.  The wiring was – eccentric – but Derrick and Davey did another heroic,  late evening.  After seven hours with no power (or water as the pump went off) Derrick found the problem and rewired the entire fuse board.  No more Apollo 13 moments for us, we hope.  Now we just have to get the solar panels in and we can hunker down for winter.

Market Dahlias

Jacqui is doing well, resting and avoiding most of the building stress.  Though she is driving me crazy by thinking up 17,000 things she can do sitting down, which doesn’t count of course. We went out for the first time on Friday and visited the local Institute’s weekly market.  It was lovely and we came back with dahlias, fresh carrots and an orange Madeira cake to die for. 

Turing Tumble, re-programming my brain

So that’s us.  A bit shorter this week as no electricity means no wifi – or computer.  I passed the long, powerless days with my Christmas present – the first chance I’ve had to play with it.  It’s a “Turing Tumble”, a kit that teaches you to make and program a computer powered by small marbles.  It is fascinating, mentally challenging and great fun.

Yes, even when we are resting every day is a school day.

Apollo 13, Titanic and other disasters.

You may wonder what the films “Apollo 13” and “Titanic” have in common with our life here.  Well, both are referenced on a daily basis as we wrestle the house into order.  It has been a very busy and eventful year so far, perhaps too busy on reflection.  We began with a list of things we needed and wanted done but circumstances rather threw our clever sequencing out of the windows.  There is a huge rush of building work as Ireland moves out of lock down and both skilled workmen and materials are in short supply.  Prices have gone up and most people are working multiple jobs simultaneously.  It is challenging, for us and them.

Because of this the two most important things for us are still being sorted, though hopefully will be resolved in the next few weeks.  “Apollo 13” is the most urgent.  The electrics are very odd in this house.  Several electricians had a look, did a few things and vanished.  They are not even answering the phone, which does ring alarm bells.  Why “Apollo 13” you ask?  Well, sometimes the sockets all trip off when, for example, one of us turns on the kettle.  Or a computer.  Or the hot water – yes, really.  Remember the scene from the film where Gary Sinise, playing Ken Mattingly tries over and over again to fire up the capsule simulator and it repeatedly overloads and crashes?  So we have taken to calling “Apollo 13” before switching on anything, especially if one of us is working on a computer.

Basically the main fuse board is wired up almost at random which is why the lights dim if the microwave is on.  There’s no proper neutral loop and some stuff doesn’t seem to be earthed.  This is scary stuff and we are very lucky our builder found a brave, talented and properly qualified man who will rip it out and replace the whole lot with something safe and legal. Derrick, we salute you!

Now, the main bathroom is another interesting DIY project.  Any arrangement where the door hits the toilet when opened is not too well thought out.  The main problem for us though is the shower.  Now, the issue is highlighted in the name – a wet room.  Just a bit too wet, especially as the tiles are not non-slip and quite lethal when damp.  In fact the shower tended to flood the whole floor especially before we took out the bath as the water bounced off the sides and headed for the hallway. 

Many mornings one or other of us has slid across to the door, grabbed the frame and sung that irritating earworm of a song from “Titanic”.  Occasionally, on particularly grey, wet mornings, I hear strains of the Volga Boat Song drifting out on the shower.  The bath, by the way, is now in the garden and will make a wonderful herb trough next year.

Waiting to be repurposed

We are calling a halt to a lot of the work now as Jacqui needs to rest and regain her strength.  Our plumber, the lovely Aidan, is coming in the next few weeks to fit the shower screens that will contain this flood over the winter.  We hope to add a new basin and other fittings next year.  He has even found a proper shower chair if we need one over the next few months. 

Some Jacqui related news.  She is home and doing well.  We have to go back to the hospital in a month for tests and may have to stay overnight but at least this time we will be prepared!  Our main aim now is to avoid surgery if possible. She is being very good and trying not to fret over how sleepy she is or how slowly she has to move at present.  This will improve as she gets used to the medication and recovers from what was a huge shock to the system.  Everyone has been so kind, with neighbours (within 3 kilometres!) checking in, offering help and bringing wonderful flowers.  Our workmen decided jobs have to be finished and gone over and above what we could possibly ask.  And all of you, with your lovely comments and the good wishes you have sent.  Thank you all.

This has been an eye-opening part of our journey.  I realized I could not continue to avoid driving in Ireland, I had to just get on with it.  I thought I would be nervous, out in the countryside on my own.  But I wasn’t.  The house and this place continue to delight us despite recent events.  Things are different certainly.  There is very little radio reception but we have glorious birdsong.  We don’t have a shop within walking distance but we have a garden and a wood.  There is no street lighting but at night we can see the Milky Way.

We have kind, good friends both here and in other countries.

We are fine.

An apology for the lateness – but I do have a note

First an apology for the lateness of this episode – but I do have a note to excuse this tardiness.  This last week has been interesting – a bit more interesting than we wanted, to be honest.  For the past month Jacqui has had recurring attacks of breathlessness that we had attributed to asthma.  Late-onset asthma is a family trait and the house has been full of dust from building work so the idea seemed reasonable.  However on Sunday last she had a very nasty attack and I almost called an ambulance.  Then we went to see the doctor and he took one look at her and ordered us to the Regional Hospital – in Limerick, 40 miles away.

We had been rolling down the roads, happy that our car insurance problem was finally at an end.  Thank goodness it was or we would have been in deep trouble!  Public transport is a bit patchy round here (and non-existent this far out).  The few cab drivers in the area had shut up shop due to Covid and the waiting times for a cab in the local town can be hours long.  We got to A&E at noon and after four hours and several tests they whisked her upstairs.

Now, I was in a strange and very busy town and in shock.  I was also frantic to get back as we had not expected this and the dogs had been alone for almost six hours.  And I’d never driven in Ireland.  I was going to take it slowly, getting used to quiet roads first.  Dyspraxics find it very hard to automate anything physical and driving unfamiliar roads with slightly different rules in a huge strain.  Then a lovely, kind and helpful taxi driver arrived.  He drove me the whole way home and came to collect me the next morning, round trips of over 100 miles.  At least I could take some clean clothes, a toothbrush and some things to keep her occupied.

It’s just as well Jacqui was in the hospital that night as she had what they refer to rather delicately as an “episode”.  I found out about it when I rang to see if she could come home and encountered a bit more Irish candor than I wanted.  The staff were, by the way, overwhelmingly well trained, efficient, kind and helpful – we cannot thank them enough, but this was not a conversation I expected.

            “Oh now, Jacqui.  Well she’s having a bad day of it.  Whatever could go wrong has, you know.  Oh, it’s terrible for her.  She’s not well at all.”  Right. 

Looking back I can actually chuckle about that encounter.  Jacqui’s abiding recollection is the clear organisation and teamwork which made her feel in very safe hands.

I drove the car back that morning following clear directions from Kieran, the wonderful taxi driver.  He gave simple instructions on the easiest route, pointed out landmarks and said, “Don’t worry about anyone else.  They want to pass you, that’s their problem.  You just drive as you feel comfortable.”   The next day I had to go into town for food for the dogs and then set to making the house clean and safe for Jacqui’s return, whenever that might be.  When I went to change the bed linen I was horrified to find it full of little bugs.  Then I put my glasses on and swept up all the biscuit crumbs left by Charlie, the youngest dog.

We got her home yesterday, a long and horrible week later, and she is doing okay.  It was Kieran who did the journey one more time as we couldn’t get any notice of her leaving and all the delays ran through the day and into the evening.  These, by the way, were caused by an extraneous department and not the unit she was in. The next four weeks are to help her rest and recover a bit before they decide the best way forward.  We are revising plans for some of the building work, doing only essentials for the time being.  I have to drive for a while.  But the outcome has been a lot better than we might have expected. 

We are settled into this lovely house and with a new boiler and almost finished extension we will be warm and safe as winter draws on.  So many people have been so kind and helpful offering emotional and practical support.  HSE Ireland were magnificent, even letting me visit one afternoon.  I did have to wear full PPE and apparently resembled a blue jelly baby but it was worth doubling as a Smurf to spend that precious hour with her.

So, that explains the lateness of this episode.  I hope you agree this note does explain my tardiness.

News about books and that boot in the wood

I began this week thinking there would be no news for the blog but it seems I was wrong.  First I would like to share some writing news with you all.  The fifth book in the “Alex Hastings” series is due out next year though the actual publication date depends on a lot of things beyond my control.  I’m waiting for an editor and for my publisher to do the cover design and say whether he or I will supply the “blurb”.  Then the e-book version needs setting up and final proofs have to be checked.  This is the tedious but so important part of publication – and it takes months sometimes!

I had finished the book itself several times in a number of different forms over the last few years.  This is because I became embroiled with an agent (who will be nameless) who promised a lot but seemed to constantly change her mind about what she wanted.  After rewriting, editing and adding sections she finally decided she wanted the whole thing moved to the year 2020.  Eager as I was, this was a step too far – and impossible.  The Levels have changed beyond recognition since the 1980s, the Probation Service scarcely exists and Alex and her friends would be retiring.  Now restored to its former, more coherent form I hope “A Long Shadow” will be with you soon.

Even more exciting in some ways is the news I have signed a TV option for “Death of the Elver Man”.  Jon Moore, the manager of a new media company, Blue Trotter Media Ltd is hoping to turn it into a four or six part drama and has also taken future options on the other books so if it is a success there may be more.  Now is the time to start “fantasy casting”!  Jon is very skilled and experienced with TV and film work to his name, particularly in the field of special effects and prosthetics.  Moving into production will be a new step for him and I am looking forward to working with him and the team.

Now, I promised an update on the boot.  Well, that is all turning rather strange.  When I went into the wood to dig it up earlier this week it was gone.  There was no sign of digging, nothing seemed disturbed but I couldn’t find it anywhere.  After a lot of hunting I spotted the sole propped up against one of the oak trees.  The disappointing news is it is just the sole of an old canvas trainer or something like that but – how did it get there?  I also found a discarded medical mask pushed into a pile of sticks and grass off to one side.  That was definitely not ours.,

Of course, as a crime writer I am constantly making up stories and constructing narratives so here are some possible explanations.  Most prosaically it was moved by a fox or badger – but then why was there no sign of digging?  It had probably been there for years, certainly as long as we’ve been in the house so why now?  And would an animal have propped it up neatly on a tree?  If it was human intervention maybe something was buried under it and retrieved.  Or perhaps it pointed towards something buried or hidden and it was moved to hide the trail from prying eyes.  Or maybe someone is just messing with our heads. 

So, for all those of you who wonder, “Where do you get your ideas?” there’s always something you can toy with.  Everything is copy, they say and the world is full of details and events that can become a story.

Finally, there’s still no movement of the car – or movement of the car.  Fingers crossed for next week.  I’m checking my bike over as I may need to do the cycle ride into the nearest town soon.  And this week I wrote more of Alex Hastings 6, including two “crane” days.  Feels like a successful week after all.

The start of a new garland