Sunday 29 April 2012

The Autumn of his Years

Haggis, at 15 and a half years old is definitely starting to show his age. He is a thinning, rather gaunt framed old chap now, slow and stiff, given to sleeping a lot and getting a bit confused over his where-abouts, especially as we keep moving between Silverwood, the caravan and now the new house. He is also rather weak and doddery, given to staggers at front or rear end (or both) so that he looks a bit drunk as he weaves his way about. Occasionally he gives us all a real scare, such as he did after the last weekend, going off his food across Sunday and Monday, being sick a few times (just yellow foamy emptiness) and seeming very very weak and depressed. Mum, Dad and Sparks all wondered whether this was it for him, not so much the Autumn of his years, more like December and even post-Christmas. On both Monday and Tuesday morning everyone woke and looked anxiously at poor Haggis stretched out on the caravan bed just to check he was still breathing, or lay there in the dark waiting for him to do one of his groans just so we'd know he was still with us. On one of the mornings (Tuesday?) Mum actually woke up, checked him and found him still weak and apparently unable to eat or poo and would have phoned Aoife-Rhymes-With-Deefer (the Vet) about making that hard decision, only it was too early to phone her. Then on Tuesday, Mum cooked some sloppy chicken soup for him and he took a couple of pieces of the chicken from Dad's hand. On Wednesday he took a few more and to everyone's relief managed a rather forced poo. On Thursday the house build project came to its close (this time round), Sparks departed, and Dad decided one of the first jobs was to give all us dogs a blooming good haircut. Haggis was first up, and treated gently by Dad out of resoect for his years and weakness, but cut him thoroughly anyway, rather horrified by the gaunt shape he had become under all the winter fur, a bit like an ancient bony Jersey cow with pronounced pelvic girdle, thin neck, sticky-up spine processes and ribs almost visible through his coat. BUT, something extra-ordinary happened. We don't know if it was the relief of being freed of all that fur, or just a timely co-incidence which would have happened anyway, but he was like a new man. He started eating properly again and (for him) striding about the place purposefully, walking to doors and scratching to be let out, 'demanding' sweeties when he came back in, eating all his breakfast and supper, nay, even queuing up and asking for them at the old times. It is like having the old H-Man back, all be it still a bit gaunt looking and a bit stiff of a morning. Good Man, H Like the creaky gate, you'll see us all out! Deefs


With the room finished, the dining table ready and the cooker and hob available we were ready by Wednesday night for a little celebration. This was to be Sparks's last night on the full-time project, off boating at lunchtime tomorrow as well as being Mum and Dad's first night of cooking supper indoors. Mum had been banished to Silverwoods for the week of the plastering so was unable to cook her brother's special Birthday meal on the correct day (the Wednesday mid-plastering). She owed him one so, as a Thank You for all his hard work and as a belated Birthday treat she would cook him the menu of his choice which was steak with mushrooms, baked potatoes and sour cream and whole sweetcorn, to which Mum added roasted whole garlic. Dessert was to be cheese-board including one of the few good Irish cheeses, Cashel Blue (a bit like milder creamier Danish Blue). This was arranged for about 8:30 pm to give the troops plenty of time to complete the day's work getting doors hung, varnishing done, the shower sorted and so on. Naturally there was a bottle or two of red and, with perfect timing, Uncle MAC had delivered a bottle of Moet to replace a previous one consumed at first move-in. You'll forgive me if I don't dress for Dinner? Deefs

Saturday 28 April 2012


With Sparks fast completing rooms and 'signing them over' to Mum and Dad, they can get involved in bringing furniture into the house. Some of it was dismantled for removal in the 'Big Green Lorry' so it needs re-assembling from flat pack as if it was new. We have long since lost the instructions for this but Dad took them apart only as recently as October and kept all the bits of one piece lashed together with brown parcel tape and the nuts, bolts and widgets in a small plastic baggy or tupperware pot with the main bits of wood for that item. Other bits were transported whole or with just the cushions removed. It was stored in the two main outbuildings, the Tígín (wee housey) and the milking shed, both of which have reasonably intact roofs and anyway the stuff was sheeted over with huge plastic sheets. For the most part, it survived this abuse although three months, even under cover in the often-damp Roscommon air some of it has started to mildew up and came out needing a good clean and scrub, a good rub down with teak oil or beeswax, and in the case of the dining table it got its top well sanded down before re-waxing. These restorative processes have kept Mum and Dad amused while Sparks has carpentered away and Dad has only really got involved in house woodwork when following Sparks around with a varnish pot or when helping with any two-man lifts, offering up doors for marking etc. There are also the two pieces that Dad brought up in the 2CV trailer on Sunday which have been living in Silverwood. They are warm and dry at least but Mum still wants to sand them down and recoat with either oil, varnish or wax. The sofa was a story in itself. Readers may recall the fun we had getting it out of the Faversham house. Not particularly tall or deep, it is very long. Dad can lie full length on it with room to spare and then there's the arms. It must be 7 feet long, way taller stood on end than any doorway. In Faversham there was not the option to walk it in horizontally as the stairs were in the narrow hall just outside the living room door, so its only way in and out was to have the double glazing guys lift out the main glazing panel of the bay window and to lift it in from the drive. Mum was acutely aware of this and worried that it wouldn't come back into this house - fit through the front door and round the corner into living room. When the wall to the right of the stairs went she relaxed a bit but as the stairs went in and then the banister, at each stage she'd growl at the boys "You'd better measure it and make sure", "Are you SURE it'll go?" and "I'm gonna kill you if it doesn't fit!". There is no bay window here as an option. The boys, especially Sparks teased her a bit with "Ah..not a bother! Of COURSE it'll fit" and "Easy" and "No sweat". It had gone into the Tígín easily, hadn't it? Last minute, Mum measure the door of the 'Tig' and found it to be 3 inches wider than the living room door aperture (with no door or door stop yet). "I'm just saying...." she said heavily. Finally the day arrived to heft it in. The boys went to get it OK but on the way round, Sparks said to Dad, "This is the day we could die, you know?". They solemnly shook hands and said "Nice working with You" to each other. In the event the sofa, hefted onto its back slid in without a bother, but the boys were a bit relieved that this was possible, acting more cocky than they had any right to be! Nice one lads! Deefs

Nearly Done

We are now, without a doubt, running in towards the finishing post. This is a short week. Sparks, the main builder is booked off on a boating trip up the River Shannon with a bunch of mates from Thursday and the extra hours and long days we have seen recently were all about trying to finish by then. Well, we didn't quite make it but we were close. We have in fact a few 'de-snagging' jobs to do and a couple of bigger ones, maybe half day tasks. Sparks will come back and spend another week with us after his boating and after he's done a week of 'real work' up in Dublin. Our left over bits include creating the 'hems' round the edges of the tar felt roofs on extension and utility room, doing the gutters, installing the outdoor lights and wiring and plumbing in the outbuildings (just a couple of double sockets each and a terminated pipe for the tígín just in case we need water there one day), reassembling the fire place and finishing some skirting boards and finishing a couple of doors. For Sparks it's a week to practice his carpentry skills as he gets involved in creating the banister for the stairs - lots of interesting angles and funny measurement of sloping hand rails etc. From there he's on saddle-boards (Irish expression for the threshold boards in a doorway) and then hanging internal doors. This proves an interesting job too in terms of angles and cutting. The bathroom door 'hole' is less tall than standard and the aperture, like most of the walls and surfaces in this house is neither straight nor plumb. We end up offering the door up to its frame then drawing a guide line. We have a bathroom door with a slight (couple of mill) belly in it's lock side but you'd never know. It looks beautiful in its light oak finish and makes the stairs look finished. Sparks has another couple of tasks too, to keep his hand in at the 'real job', electrics. He must wire in the 5 amp lighting sockets which, in Ireland, are generally done with small round-pin 3-pin plugs to make them not inter-change with normal mains plugs. He is also moving the broadband in from the caravan to it final position under the stairs. That's where Dad's now sitting. Finally there was plumbing in of the utility room so that we could have our washing machine back. With the showers and washing machine going we no longer have to foist ourselves on the poor hard-pressed Silverwoods every weekend, descending upon them with filthy dogs, humans and laundry, demanding showers and use of the washing machine like University-age kids at the end of term. We could finally move in properly and actually LIVE here. This was cause for celebration indeed, but more of that in a future post. Deefs

Saturday 21 April 2012

Nature Walk

We're loving the 'nature' we are finding all around the place, all be it slightly frustrated by the identification books being (that old chestnut) "in the packing" so Dad is unable to check what some of this unfamiliar stuff is. We will get there, we promise and identify stuff and let you know, assuming you haven't already shouted out the names! 1) In the '2nd' drive way we have a lovely old bank on which grow a profusion of primroses but also this nice little blue flower which we do not (yet) know the name of. They're very common and make a nice contrast to the yellow. 2) We can't wait to get the tree books out and identify the huge fir trees growing all around the property, mainly of this one type shown here with the long cones and the foliage being a glaucous blue when newly emerged. They are enormous and we reckon over 100 years old. 3) The front hedge after its trim. It was a rather run away privet hedge and we will gradually wean it off privet, favouring more wildlife friendly species. We will also try to get some of the locally common 'species' fuchsia hedging going amongst it. That's why it looks like we've 'missed bits' in the trimming. What we've done is to hammer the privet and leave the more interesting stuff (hawthorn, blackthorn, some kind of maple, honeysuckle etc.) to consolidate their advantage. 4)We love that the lichens here enjoy the unpolluted air and grow in great frizzy bunches, here coating the branches of a larch which is pushing new needles out between the frizz. Larch, you'll presumably know, is one of the few deciduous fir trees, being bare-branches all winter and growing new tufty rosettes of needles each year. 5)Out hunting for interesting pics of the lichen and cones Dad came across this finch nest. Dad thinks she's a gold finch but didn't hang around for fear of disturbing her. She's in a low hanging branch behind the milking shed. 6)A dog capable of finding the warmest spot in the cattle yard for her rest.


1) The 2CV and trailer after we'd driven the two cars down to Silverwoods on Friday afternoon with a plan to collect two pieces of furniture for the new house which have been living temporarily at Silverwoods. These 2CV runs always feel a bit like an adventure in their own right, at 2 and a half hours, maybe not as exciting as the 510 mile hike from Kent to the new house or the 8 hour, 2005 run to Kelso castle for a 2CV World Meeting, but still up there among the longest runs we've done in the 2CV. Both pieces are chest of drawers which used to belong to Mum's Auntie May who passed away aged 86 in 1976. Auntie May was always a favourite with Mum when she was tiny, as she used to spoil the infant Mum, buying her special clothes when the real family were actually vary poor, and calling her Princess, trying to teach her about class, sophistication, etiquette and stuff. Mum remembers her always being very upright and poised and given to wearing stiff corsets which Mum was allowed help her dress into. She was scandalised by the new-fangled television equipment and insisted that it be turned off while she powdered her nose in case News-reader Charles Mitchell might see her by looking back down the tube at her! 2)Mum and Dad on Friday morning enjoying a breakfast 'indoors' beside the range, cooked on the newly installed gas hob. 3)Mum goes to work on that fiddly job, painting varnish onto the spindles of the upstairs handrail. 4)The floor of the main bedroom gleaming with new varnish after Dad had sanded and sanded and sanded and sanded it then varnished it twice. Beautiful! 5) A mob of swallows arrived all on the same day and hung around mopping up insects which were flying above our fields. For a while they sat on our wires and we imagined that they might be the same ones who have nested in our bathroom and on the spare room door for the last 15 years, now looking balefully at the new back (swallow-proof) windows and wondering whether to put in an official complaint. Homeless! Sorry, swallows Deefs

New Stove

Some more pics from this weeks exertions. First up a very happy picture of Mum playing Domestic Goddess cleaning the fridge. Next one of Dad, equally happy, trying on his chainsaw gloves and helmet, a Birthday present from Mum. Then a picture of the new gas hob once it had been installed and gas-balanced by qualified gas fitter "Gas-Garvey", all legalised, certified and so on. There are big fines to be had in Ireland for messing about with gas installation of you are not registered and you can risk any service engineers from IKEA refusing to look at your hob and, worse, voiding your house insurance should the DIY hob catch fire to the house. Nobody wants too much of that. 4th pic is of Dad and Sparks playing the fool trying to get the range to go. The first trial fire had died a smokey death and filled the room with smoke 'backwards' through the secondary vents. We subsequently discovered that turning a knob to '4' (fully open) was doing precisely zero due to a fault, which is now being sorted under guarantee. Finally a picture of me and Dad as the range was finally sussed and started to produce the kind of heat it was designed for. Deefs

Second Fixes

This week there's loads to report most of which can be summed up by the expression "Second Fix" but we have also continued with the painting, plus sanded the floors upstairs and varnished them. Second fix is mainly Sparks who has cracked on with the electrical second fixing, which involves fitting sockets and switches, wiring up the main fuse board and finally being able to switch things on and see them working. This included the cooker and the socket for the fridge, so that we were then able to bring those two items into the kitchen and Mum spent a happy morning playing "Domestic Goddess" cleaning the fridge and freezer prior to turning them on again. Dad meanwhile was despatched to apply a coat of sanding sealer to all the skirting boards (still out in the barn), architraves and door-stop battens. Once Sparks was through with his electrickery, he wanted to start skirting boards prior to fixing radiators up and continuing into plumbing 2nd fix. It's easier to paint the first coat of sealer on these 'planks' before they are cut to size and stuck to the walls. By Wednesday morning the skirting had been fixed to the main bedroom upstairs and it was time to clean the floors and hire the big floor sander which, through hours of noisy, house-shaking sanding brought these floors to a smooth finish which could be varnished to a beautiful blond sheen. The plumbing 2nd fix connected up all the taps and rads, the overflow and utility room, toilet and sinks and the new stove so that the system could finally be filled with water to check for leaks and unwanted plumbing noises. This also meant we could finally light the stove which was a bit of fun in itself because it turns out we have a fault in a thermostatic air-flap and produced not much except smoke into the room! Not a problem, the flap could be wedged open while we started the fire correctly and a quick phone call to "Stanley" (the company, not another one in our cast of characters!) has an engineer on the way free of charge armed with replacement parts. It was good to get some heat into the Dining room and see the hot water tank fill with hot water. Mum and Dad actually sneaked a shower a-piece on Thursday night, first ones in Roscommon, so that they were able to drive to Silverwoods reasonably clean and fragrant. There are lots more photos of all this but Blogger doesn't seem to like too many in each post, so read on for more in future posts. Deefs

Sunday 15 April 2012

Happy Birthday Dad

3 pictures of the new vegetable ground Dad is creating in the 'secret garden' at Roscommon. The three rhubarb plants were bought at Castlerea garden centre. The tub between them contains 3 cuttings of the locally frequent species fuchsia which grows around the 'Wesht' in great profusion as roadside hedges. It's one of those 'nearly native' plants which are so well established now, like sycamore in the UK. Mum knew of a place where it grew close to Steak Lady's place so we nabbed a few bits last weekend. We are hoping to establish it as the front hedge of the garden, along the lane, in place of the definitely not native privet hedge which is there at the moment. The new shoots are of lovage, a division from a very vigorous clump in Steak Lady's garden and the general shot is looking north across the ground Dad has managed to dig so far in what will be one of the veg patches. This digging has been snatched in between bursts of building so has not got very far but we do have the onion sets in (nearest to camera) and a few spuds to show willing. Also some asparagus crowns.

Saturday was Dad's 55th birthday so, amusingly, 10 months after he lost his job and 'retired' he is now allowed officially to give up work and retire. The pension rules say that you can start drawing pension from 55, but most policies deduct 5% per annum for each year you start drawing earlier than age 65 (i.e. a 50% deduction if you started at 55) so we're going to hold off that fateful day for as long as possible.

We're down in Silverwoods as usual for the weekend, so it's here that they are laying on the Birthday treats, presents, a lunchtime pint of Guinness or two and a special Indian meal with wine in the evening. Mum has bought him some very appropriate, if not 100% romantic presents of a pair of chainsaw gloves and a 'forest helmet' (chainsaw style hard-hat with ear defenders, mesh visor and flap to protect back of neck from bits of tree going down the back of your shirt) by top brand in these things, Husqvarna. Dad is delighted and will now get brave enough to assemble and try out the chainsaw (when he gets leave from the building project of course!).

The lunchtime drink is taken in the Druid Inn in the Silverwood's local village and is three very nice pints of Guinness while Mum enjoys a glass or two of Merlot. It's all very quiet. Just what the doctor ordered. The evening meal is a work of genius and a labour of love by Mrs Silverwood and Mr S. Three different styles of curry - a Tandoori chicken, a chicken Biryiani and a creamy beef madras. There are two types of rice, white coconut rice and bright yellow turmeric rice. There are home made chippatis and a special thin type of Naan bread called 'Pooris'. There was mango chutney and lime and chilli pickle. None of us are expert in Indian food so if these spellings are wrong or we have mis-named anything then we apologise to the chefs. It all tasted lovely even if it was spelt differently. It looked beautiful too, spread out on the table before we demolished it.

Very nice, too, was all the good stuff on the social networking site, Facebook. A year ago we'd had nothing to do with this but Dad got involved when he left work as a way of staying in touch with ex colleagues and it is now a big part of our 'social' life with friends and relatives on it from Ireland and UK, Faversham folk, barge contacts. We've been using it ever since as a way of telling everybody about progress on the house renovation. If you're on Facebook and you want to get in touch then just go in on Dad's real name. Dad was delighted to be blizzarded all day with greetings and good wishes from all around the place, certainly way more than he would normally get in birthday cards. Made him feel all humble and popular at the same time.

Happy Birthday to Dad.


Getting There (2)

A couple more pictures of the 'getting there' stages described in the last post, most of which are self explanatory. The inspection cover is open because having created the soil stack and toilet waste we were able finally to throw some buckets of water down the toilet and flush away all the 15 year old poo upstream from the inspection cover. This we are referring to a "TK Min's last movement". I assume you didn't actually want to see a picture of that floating happily by, so you've got the clear flowing stream that came afterwards as Dad chased 4 more buckets of clean water down the soil pipe.


Getting There

There's no arguing now that we are approaching the final run in to completion of this renovation project. With the plaster drying fast we have started painting and with painting done and also tiling nearing completion we can start to move onto the final visible bits - radiators hung on walls and connected up, the electrical "second fix" stuff like switches and sockets, carpentry like door frames, architrave, skirting board and so on; all the "finished house" stuff. The plaster that is a bit slower to dry gets 'encouraged' with an oil filled radiator left in the room overnight. It's the one from the caravan, so dogs and mere humans are back to the caravan's gas heater for their home comforts.

Dad's role is mainly to do painting and there's a lot of it. We've managed to buy lots of brilliant white matt finish from B+Q who are doing a 3 for the price of 2 deal on the big ten litre tubs. This is new raw plaster and very absorbent of water, so the paint is watered down for the first coast as a primer. First coat gets 2 litres of water mixed into 10 litres paint, and 2nd coat gets 1 litre water to 10 of paint. As usual, Mum and Dad can do their teamwork bit. Dad loves doing edges and 'cutting in', Mum does rollering on the 'acre-age'. Some of the ceilings are very high, so the roller gets stuck on the end of telescopic pole, or Dad's up the extending ladder with his brush. Most places are getting three coats, but some get 4 if the finish is still not 100%. The kitchen gets completed first as Mum is keen to start assembling the kitchen units we bought from IKEA last weekend. By the end of the week we have used up most of the 30 litres of paint (35 if you include watering down water) and today we need to head back to Roscommon via the B+Q in Athlone for some more.

Mum gets stuck into assembling the IKEA units armed with screw drivers and trusty allen key. These are unusual style ones which stand alone, rather than the standard look of rows of cupboards at ground level with a common work top, or wall units. The cooker unit will have an electric oven and a gas hob, the sink one a double sink. Separate shelf units will have hooks for hanging pans etc. Mum is so happy she confessed to shedding a tear when she saw what she had built. There was a mini hiatus when they discovered they had not bought a vital bit of work top for the cooker unit and Dad had to do a mercy dash back to IKEA in Dublin (6 hour round trip!) for this bit so that the unit could be completed.

Sparks, meanwhile does his normal blizzard of multi tasking. He finishes the tiling and grouting in the bathroom so that Mum can start the deep-clean and polishing the tiles, and he can start installing the toilet, sink, shower (glass) doors and heated towel rail. The toilet and sink obviously involve making holes through walls for the waste and the 'soil', plus connecting them up outside and making a 'soil stack'. He also starts the carpentry/joinery of the stairs bannister and hand rail. This is a lovely job of mitre joints and slotting pre-cut bits into place with a load of cutting thrown in. The spindles sit in a rebate groove top and bottom but are spaced apart with thin infill bits which just fit the rebate bringing the whole back to flat as if the spindles were in individual holes. This is in lovely 'red deal' wood and will not be painted but sanding sealed and clear varnished to bring out the grain. The colour scheme overall is going to be white walls and varnished wood, which Dad hopes will give the place a bit of a 'yacht-y' (or even 'barge-y') look like SB Cambria.

It's all going very well and we are all delighted with it.