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Posts tagged ‘lockdowns’

Time for a radical rethink

Now, I don’t want you thinking we were just sitting around moaning about the cold.  We had intended to stop and try to recover a little after the recent insane few months but we were struggling in the cottage.  It was a perfect base for a holiday but not really set up for long-term life and so we spent a lot of time looking at available houses.  Remember my inability to visualize sizes?  Yes, that became very apparent when we compared the homes for sale with the property we were in.  Many of them were almost the same size.  A radical rethink was needed.

One morning I was sitting at the table with my coffee and I stumbled on a house I’d not seen before.  It was obviously built on a traditional cottage but considerably extended.  There were a lot of rooms, a decent little garden and looked very nice inside.  It also had a small wood that came with the house.  That made me laugh and I took the phone through to show Jacqui.  We could be owners of a wood – hahaha!   A bit more of a radical rethink than we had in mind. Ten minutes later we were on the phone.  It was December 22nd, we were just out of quarantine and everything was about to shut down for Christmas.  Why not start buying a house?

It was a miserable day.  The locals had all been complaining that it was wet, even for Ireland.  There were rainy days, stormy days and “dirty days”, when everything turned to mud and the rain was relentless.  This was a “dirty day”.  Our satnav decided the best way to send us was along a series of ever-narrowing roads with few buildings and mud across the surface.  We had always said it was not a good idea to take a road with grass growing down the middle.  Well, if we’d stuck with that we would never have got there.

The house, when we finally arrived, was perfect.  Well, not perfect but very, very good.  Our good friend is a builder and he drove out to meet us and the agent, to look it over and give a professional opinion.  It was cold inside as it was empty but the log burner in the small front room (a “snug” we were informed) was on and this had the same effect coffee or fresh bread is supposed to have.  We walked through the house mentally checking off the space we needed.  It was big enough, it was fairly modern and we would be able to afford some of the changes we might want.

Outside there was a lot of room.  Not only the garden and the wood (!) but a big outbuilding with a bit more land behind.  There were a few issues.  It was well water, not mains, and this was shared with a neighbour.  The heating was oil, one of my least favourite fuels, and there was no mains drainage.  This set-up is quite typical for much of rural Ireland where there are few main services however.  We could have the space and the beautiful views or try living in a town.  Standing in the garden I could hear – nothing.  Then a few birds, then nothing again.  I felt a little bit more of the recent stress slip away.

Our very own wood!

My concerns about the relative isolation were relieved when the agent pointed out a more direct route back home.  We were closer to some other houses up the road and about ten minutes drive took us into the nearest town.  We sat down and drew up a list of positives and negatives when we got back.  A few negatives like no outside street lighting – actually no street which was a positive in many ways.  And “no lighting” could be fixed by us easily.  A few questions about the water, of course.   The positives list was much longer.  The next day we put in an offer, emphasising we were cash buyers and wanted to move as soon as possible.  So by Christmas Eve we had an offer accepted on a house, just two weeks after we arrived. 

With the Christmas festivities behind us we began to plan for the New Year, only to be hit by the announcement of a full level 5 lockdown beginning on the 30th of December.  This was a major blow.  We had barely been able to go out since our arrival and were desperate to try and get some things from our storage.  We had no idea how this would affect our move either.  A five kilometre travel limit loomed except for essential shopping, which did not include clothes.  I had to resign myself to my raggedy wardrobe for a while longer as we couldn’t unpack anything else from the lockers without the whole lot collapsing on us.  Jacqui made a dash into town before the deadline and found me a decent shirt and spent some long, quiet evenings patching and darning my pitiful garments.

Very raggedy shirts

What could we do?  We hunkered down, chucked more peat on the fire and began to work our way through the process of house purchase remotely.  We wanted the house very much and we were determined to get it – and as soon as possible.  Especially as, most unusually for the south west of Ireland, it began to snow.

December is not a good time to move

December is never a good time to move house.  We should know – all of our moves have taken place in December due to differing circumstances.  This December however was the hardest of the lot. 

We drove off in the car loaded with bedding, three dogs and essentials of life for the first few days.  It was just after 2pm and already getting dark as the rain began to fall.  We had a satnav – something I have resisted for years, and after this journey I felt fully justified in my prejudice.  It assured us our journey was 253 miles to the hotel.  The miles ticked off as we ploughed through what developed into a storm but although we had followed it’s snooty voice without question a glance at a real map showed we were nowhere near Stranrae when it reached a mere 10 miles to go.  By the time we got to the hotel it was almost 7.30 at night and we had driven an extra 80 miles. And the satnav was now telling us we were still 10 miles away.

The hotel was dark, just a faint light in the reception area.  At first glance it could have passed as a set for “The Shining”.  We hauled ourselves up the entrance steps and across the lobby, footsteps and dogs’ claws echoing in the gloom.  I think we must have looked awful as the lovely receptionist persuaded the kitchen staff to stay on and make us something to eat.  We staggered to our rooms and collapsed, feeding the dogs first and covering the bed with a blanket to guard against paw marks.  The food was excellent, delivered to our door, and the dogs seemed happy despite such a disruptive and strange week.  We slept – oh how we slept.

Oh, how we slept!

The next morning we left the echoing, empty hotel that had been so kind and welcome and headed for the port.  The satnav, obviously inhabited by a malicious spirit of some kind, sent us round in circles for ten minutes until we turned it off and navigated ourselves, arriving just in time to load.  The worst part was leaving the dogs in the car.  We had chosen Stranrae to Belfast as it was only two hours.  Two of the dogs are good, experienced travellers but the youngest had never done anything like this before.  We settled them in their crates, left little treats hidden in their blankets and stumbled upstairs just hoping they would settle and sleep. 

Sunrise over Stranrae

On board the staff were lovely, there were coffee, tea and pastries available and excellent seating areas.  We chose a place away from the televisions which was just as well as the BBC was announcing new travel restrictions and an imminent lockdown in Northern Ireland.  If necessary we would claim ignorance – it was too late now and we had nowhere to go back to.  As we pulled away from the dock and set out across the Irish Sea I felt an overwhelming rush of emotion and began to cry.  It was a mixture of relief, exhaustion, fear (mainly for the dogs) and grief for all we were leaving behind.   Looking back now I can still feel that pain, lessened by time but still enough to hurt.  I’m only surprised I didn’t cry earlier but I think we were both hanging on so tightly we didn’t dare relax.

The dogs were, of course, fine when we got back to the car.  The little Trojans had just curled up and slept with no fuss and less worry than I had experienced.  As we drove out of the port we passed a large group of police and customs officials who were setting up cones and signs, the new checkpoint.  We drove on, trying to look suitably respectable which was not easy under the circumstances, not stopping until we reached the service area on the motorway.  Here we grabbed sandwiches and water and walked the dogs before heading for the border and our final destination.

The journey was quite uneventful after that, enlivened only by another storm and the bastard satnav lopping another 80 miles off the journey.  Oh, and a Gardai checkpoint on the motorway outside Dublin.  Although it was rush hour every car was stopped causing a long tailback.  When we got to the front of the queue a very young and very wet officer looking into the car, raising his eyebrows at the contents.  By this time we probably looked more like car residents than respectable travellers.

   “Can I ask you the purpose of yer journey today?” he asked, raising his voice over the barking.

I was very tired and in no mood to be stopped so close to achieving the impossible.

            “We are moving,” I said.  “We have rented a cottage near Nenagh and we are going there.”

There was a pause as he digested this before stepping back and waving us on.

            “You have a safe journey then” he said.

That was when I knew it just might all work out.