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Posts tagged ‘autumn’

Hunkering down ready for winter

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

Well, how hard can it be?

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

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

Marvellous Mallows!
Anyone for camping?

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

An eagle-eyed Mabel

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

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

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

Autumn Sunrise

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

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

This weekend we got hopelessly lost

First an explanation into why I am a day late with this week’s blog. We went to get another vital part of the grooming room and got hopelessly lost. We headed into County Cork using the main roads but around one town there were diversions and road works. Anxious to avoid a trip into Cork itself we moved onto smaller roads. Big, big mistake. We drove for over an hour through a maze of tiny roads. Many were not on the map and they had only road numbers – also not on the map. The only signposts were to places – yep, not on the map. And several were knocked down or moved round so sent us in the wrong direction. In the end it was a seven hour trip but the countryside was lovely. So were the people we went to see so it was just a long Sunday drive really.

We are firmly into autumn now and the leaves are tumbling. For a few weeks there are beautiful displays of colour, then piles of vegetation around the house. Many of the changes are the same as in England. The swifts have left, the starlings are back in force and all the birds are eating as if they are starved. There are more colours here on the trees as a lot of homes have maple trees, beech and rowan amongst others that go a glorious red. We are hoping to plant some American maple and copper beech next year to replace the heart of the wood. Hopefully we can also add some fruit trees and perhaps a hazelnut or two that we will share with the birds.

Mind you, we miss the amazing display of trees around Middlesbrough. There you are – not a sentence you ever thought you’d read, right? When local councils were awarded a grant for planting trees, many years ago, Middlesbrough decided to use theirs to “green” the main roads, especially the A174. The planting is inspired with a wonderful mix of trees giving an amazing show for weeks.

There are other differences too. For the first year since 1989 we had no Halloween callers. This is not all that surprising. Despite have a number of neighbours “just across the road”, they are actually up to 3 kilometres away. Not an easy 3k either – it was a stormy night, pouring with rain and the road was muddy. Bit of a hike for a handful of chocolate I think. With no 5th of November we are spared the fireworks that seem to begin in late September and end after New Year in England. We are lucky that our dogs don’t mind the noise. The oldest used to get up at the window and pull the curtains aside to look out. Charlie grew up with the TV on as a puppy so is used to loud noises and sudden bangs. Maybe that’s why he’s hyper vigilant towards strangers. He’s expecting someone to ride into the house, all guns blazing.

I suspect we are heading for a pre-Christmas “circuit breaker” lockdown here in Ireland. Covid cases are rising fast and there is a hint of returning to work from home for many people. We hope to learn from our previous experiences and will do our “non-essential” shopping next week. We are also bringing the new freezer in and putting it into the little utility room so we can bulk-buy the dogs’ meat and freeze it. Getting enough was a nightmare last time and only one supermarket will come up here to deliver. I’m also getting a job lot of overseas stamps so if I have your address I can send a card this year. If you’re not sure then DM me and I’ll add you to my list.

We are also still fighting with the waste collectors who are coming to remove the bins despite not telling us or answering our emails. As no-one else operates in the area I’m at a loss – and very angry. Still, we have overcome much greater obstacles in the last year and I’m sure we can sort this out somehow. Meanwhile I am composing an icily polite letter of complaint that will go to them, their trade association, the local council and, if necessary, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Have a good week and thank you for reading!

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.