It is a given that Ireland is wetter than Britain, sitting further out in the Atlantic. It is generally quite a bit warmer however. The locals were delighted and a bit apprehensive when we woke to a light dusting of snow in the New Year. We took the dogs into the park and they trotted back and forth, sniffing and threatening to roll in the stuff. Not a good idea as snow turns to ice balls in their coat. There was enough to make a slide on one of the rises and just enough for the world’s smallest snow man.
More alarming (for us) were the storms that whip across the Atlantic. These are very common in winter, bringing winds of over 80 k an hour. The rain is fearsome and often floods urban areas. In the village it drained away fast, leaving copious areas of mud, much to the dogs’ delight. We were sheltered from the worst of them but the sunsets were magnificent. I thought about the house much higher on the hills and decided to investigate storm shutters for the windows.
We had managed one quick visit to the house before lockdown and met the vendors. This confirmed our choice – we still loved the house. We knew there was probably “something” wrong with it. It was just too much of a bargain. If something seems too good to be true it probably is, and this is the case here. But – spoiler alert – we were prepared for a few surprises. And we have no regrets. We were all eager to complete as soon as possible. The vendors had lost several sales in the past and didn’t want to risk it again. We were weary, fractious and desperate to settle.
One problem with the lock down was the lack of anyone qualified to do a survey (an Engineer’s Report in Ireland). Travel was strictly limited and crossing county lines totally forbidden. After some negotiation we managed to purchase a copy of the report prepared in the summer and sent that off to our solicitor. A huge mass of papers came back, many of them unfamiliar, and there was no chance to meet or discuss them. And the biggest sticking point was our lack of a PPS number.
This is similar to a National Insurance number in the UK. Without it we could not pay the stamp duty – no payment, no house. A lot of the evidence needed to prove we were residents was not available to us. We had UK driving licenses and passports (wrong address) and none of the “evidence of residence” items. We had only been there a month and were in rented accommodation. Our pitiful offers of a redirection receipt and address labels were laughingly dismissed and then our entire case file vanished from the system. Finally we managed to make personal contact with someone in the Dublin office. They listened, offered some advice and managed to issue the numbers in what was record time. Thank you Sharon, the most civil of Civil Servants! Without her we might still be in the cottage.
As we ground our way through unfamiliar forms and deeply unhelpful websites (some in Ireland, many in the UK) we had Jacqui’s birthday to celebrate. Post from the UK had almost dried up, especially parcel post. The new customs arrangements effectively stopped anything getting through from British suppliers. We couldn’t go into any shops that might offer – oh, a card or something nice for a gift. They were all closed and large swathes of the supermarket were cordoned off. We hunted through our meager resources and assembled a decent meal, using our last special bottles of wine. Before we left we had bought a large block of sheep’s cheese from Real Meals, the deli in Saltburn. How we missed Real Meals, with so many lovely things to taste and share. The cheese was still excellent and we hope to find it again some day.
Putting nostalgia firmly behind us we began to make new choices, trying local produce. In other years I had always got Jacqui’s birthday cake from the Stonehouse Bakery in Saltburn. They make a fabulous coffee and walnut cake, our favourite. Well, I spoke to the “cake man” when he was delivering to Kennedy’s over the road and he produced a coffee and walnut cake for me. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. In fact I think it was the Barbara Cartland of cakes. I’ve never seen so much sweet butter cream on a cake before – layers inside, over the outside and great piped rosettes around the top. It was delicious but we scooped the rosettes off and put then on small, plain cakes. All that slap – far too sweet for us!
So with a home made card, a series of e-books by one of her favourite authors and some interesting Irish touches we celebrated this first birthday in Ireland. Looking back I think it was one of the happiest in recent years. We were beginning to appreciate what we had rather than mourn what was lost. And certainly we lived by the idea that “Less is More”.