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Posts tagged ‘weather’

This week, a very rubbish post

I think it is obvious that life here in Ireland is very different from life in the UK. Whilst some things stay the same – lots of (almost) familiar forms, daylight saving time, TV licences – the basic structure is very different. For the first time we are personally responsible for most of our services. There is no Council Tax, just a much smaller Land Tax paid each year – 12% of the UK tax on our old house. But – there’s always a “but” – no lighting, no council rubbish collection, no mains drainage or water, no gas network. This is the case in many urban as well as rural areas.

Finding out how to obtain and manage all of this really focuses the mind. I have become far more aware of what I use and what I throw away. Especially what I throw away. Yes, the rubbish bins farce rumbles on and we are having to find new ways to handle it ourselves. When I filled a bag with mixed rubbish and remembered there was no handy bin I had to stop and consider what the hell I was going to do. Try it for yourselves – peer into your kitchen bin and think “What am I going to do with all this?”

Ratproof and capacious

We already recycle a lot but that collection ended too so now we are finding new solutions for our reusables. A new coal bunker in the wood is for grass cuttings and compostible food waste. We chose a coal bunker as it is rat-proof. Almost all plastic bags are compostable now so we can just chuck the whole lot in. Glass and tins go to the banks outside shops. There’s a lot of cardboard but we have a lot of land. It is going outside to deter weeds, encourage earthworms and hopefully rot down. The big problem is plastic. We can burn small amounts but would prefer not to have to. Then Jacqui remembered the big counter in Tesco.

“Recycle all your hard and soft plastics here “ it says. So we are going to remove all the plastic bags at source and put veggies and fruit into nylon bags. Empty bottles and cleaned food trays will be returned and slipped in each week. I don’t know if that’s allowed. I’m sure someone will tell us in the next few weeks. That leaves polystyrene packing from large items, bubble wrap and larger plastic sheets. Still musing on that. Dealing with each item makes you very aware of just how much waste there is despite all our efforts to cut it down.

The solar panels should be installed at last next week and we will see a big drop in the electricity bills. Currently almost 45% of the power goes to the pump, mainly to supply the farm. When we have flow meters installed I will be able to calculate exactly how much. Oh I’m going to have fun with my little calculator! And we can finally dispense with the butt-ugly pump house and its dangerously frail electricity supply.

The butt-ugly pump house

There have been some misgivings over putting our water supply in the hands of a solar system. Ireland is always cited as a dark, cold and wet place after all. Well, there are storage batteries built into the system for stormy days and the panels don’t need sun, just light. It is certainly wet here in the winter though not continuously. Many days there are fierce little squalls that rush down the road. I can hear them coming and reckon I have about 30 seconds to get inside. That is hard-earned knowledge from last year, believe me.

After they pass however there may be a longer patch of sunlight complete with rainbows before the next hits. Of course there are what the Irish call “dirty days”. The Italians have a lovely description for this type of rain. They call it “bagnata gli contadini” which means “soaking the peasants”. On such days this peasant lights the fire and hunkers down in the snug relying on the batteries to run the pump.

So, a post mainly about rubbish. Even if we do manage to persuade our providers to resume service I think we will be far more efficient in our consumption. This has been a hard but good lesson in how to do our own small bit towards preserving the planet and so, in a strange way, I’m almost grateful.
Almost – I still have all that bloody bubble wrap in my room and no idea what to do with it.

Yes, yes, let’s talk about the weather!

With thanks to WS Gilbert for the title

In the UK everyone talks about the weather.  It’s a national pastime and one we came to expect and accept.  It seems it is the same in Ireland.  One important difference here is you cannot go into a shop, pick up a paper, put the money down and walk out.  No, every transaction begins with, “Hello, how are ye today?”  Then a few general pleasantries and then, if you are in for the first time, some gentle(ish) questions about who, what, why…  Especially why did you come to Ireland – and inevitably this is followed by, “It wasn’t for the weather, for sure”.  Everyone talks about the weather, especially in the country where it can be vital for the farmers.

The community here is a decent size – small UK town or big village maybe.  Yet the second time we went into the pharmacy the woman serving greeted Jacqui by her first name and asked how we were settling in.  This has been the case practically everywhere.  One notable thing for us coming from the growing “hostile environment” in the UK was everyone, when they heard we had bought our house, was pleased.  And so many said something like, “Well now, firstly you are very welcome”.  And then they would add something about the weather, of course.

At the moment we have a heat wave with glorious sunshine and temperatures topping 29 degrees.  That’s about 85 in Fahrenheit.  The sky is a startling blue, the clouds are shiny white and everything in the garden has gone mad.  There were some lumpy, frosted stems in the front we thought we should remove in the spring.  Suddenly we had lilies – five feet tall and luminescent in the sunlight.  The lavender round the Majestic has gone crazy and fills the air with scent.  It is far too hot to do much during the day so I have been up early and tried a bit of clearing with the strimmer.  As I am rather short (and the weeds are very high) I invested in a helmet with visor to fend off tumbling nettles and thistles.  I look ridiculous – a sort of mini Darth Vader – but it is better than a face full of undergrowth. 

Jennie Vader

We also decided to cut our losses and got a man with a digger in to clear the side garden.  John and his magic machine were terrific.  Where the suspect piles of rubbish and heaps of brambles made any progress impossible we now have rich, fallow soil that is almost level.  Several passers-by have asked what we are going to do with the land.  We don’t know yet though the back by the hedge is earmarked for a wild flower garden.  And best of all, the rats will be gone from there.  John steered his digger round the margins and carefully avoided disturbing the hedges.  These are a bit overly enthusiastic at the moment but we are leaving then until autumn.  The birds are nesting here – robins, blackbirds and gold finches – and they will not be disturbed.  Even the starlings have been let alone.

Speaking of starlings, we had a tense moment in the spring.  One morning we heard strange noises coming from the log burner chimney.  They were faint at first and we thought it was birds on the roof.  Over the morning they got louder until we could hear scrabbling in the metal pipe.  Calls to local sweeps went unanswered so we tried to open the stove ourselves.  After a frantic call to the previous owners we managed to lift the top and a young starling shot out, flying past us into the kitchen.  After several attempts Jacqui managed to catch it and let it out of the back door, much to the disappointment of the dogs.  It flew onto the roof and chattered at us for five minutes before flying off.  It would be nice to think it was thanking us but somehow I don’t think so.

When we arrived it was grey – grey with shades of mud.  Even the snow fell from grey clouds and there was not enough to settle and turn the countryside white.  Everyone in England told us how wet and rainy it was in Ireland.  We looked out of the window and wondered whether we had made a mistake after all.  Now in the midst of summer with flowers, birds, trees and insects (oh so many insects!) we know we will have these bright days to look to when winter comes.  And hopefully everything will stop growing and we can make some progress.

Learning to appreciate what we have

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. 

You call that snow??

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.

Stormy sunset in Tipperary

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.

The best sheep’s cheese we have ever tasted

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!

The Barbara Cartland of cakes

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”.