“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.
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.
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.
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.