Tuesday 26 June 2012

Every Day Country Folk

 Today my post will sing of stable doors and animals bolted, of riverside towns and expansionist chickens, of bunnies and beef. Grab a cup of coffee and a comfy chair. Sit back and enjoy and/or click past muttering "Bl***y Deefer's off on one again...."
 We had decided that what the still door-less Utility Room needed was a stable-style door in two halves, painted red to match the house front door. You can't seem to buy them anywhere except for mad money, a guy we asked to quote a price for us has joined our "choir invisible" of vanishing Irish tradesmen (I'll call you in a couple of days....), and making one from scratch is way beyond Dad’s carpentry skills and tools, with all those mortice and tenon joints etc. But then ace interweb ferretter, Mum came upon a website which advocating buying a suitable one-piece door and cutting it in half. You have to strengthen the door so that the half you cut off doesn't fall apart, of course, and you hang it first on 4 hinges to make sure it does what it's meant to, then you split it, re-hang the halves and finish with weather strips (2) and all the door furniture (bolts, handles etc). More complex than anything Dad had tried before; He’s a rustic arches and dodgy nest-boxes kinda bloke!) but hey... nothing ventured.

 So, orf to Carrick on Shannon went Dad, down the minor roads, dry stone walls, green green fields, leaving Mum with us behind as he had to bring a full sized door back in a Fiat Panda. Nice town, Carrick, all boaty, marinas and riverside pubs etc. Mum got down to some weeding in the gravel of the front terrace.

Before Dad started the carpentry Mum and Dad decided to move rabbit run en bloc down the western field to give bunnies a new bite of longer grass. Not a bother except this seems to unleash in the me, a new enthusiasm for biting through the chicken wire. On this occasion, unknown to Mum and Dad, I must have made a hole too small for a Westie but big enough for an escapist rabbit, but more of that later. They next closed off the gates at either end of the cattle race and open "Chicken-Gate" (which sounds like some dodgy American scandal inquiry) to give the chooks extra territory and a million worms and grubs unwise enough to live in the thin carpet of earth and grass over the concrete of the race. No escape downwards, guys! We expect very proteiny eggs tomorrow, Ladies.

And so to door wrangling, which goes OK and Dad is quite proud of the results. He finishes carpentering and sands off the door halves, passing them to Mum who is our proud, no-runs, gloss painter. She sits out in the yard on a stool in the sunshine with the door halves propped in front of herself on the big terracotta tubs, looking for all the world like a Parisian painter at her easel. Dad thinks “Ahhhhh sigh...Why do I love her at these moments?” Soppy git!

While she's a-painting, Dad grabs the shovel and barrow and moves a bit more soil from round the horse-drawn-hay-rake-in-a-hedge (hdhriah) to fill the two newest raised beds. It's hot. he finishes and grabs a cool Guinness on the front terrace. Coco, joins him. I am pre-occupied elsewhere so I don’t know this is happening. They sit and watch Ginny, the grey and white rabbit lollop past them down the drive towards the road. ARGHHHH! Dad jumps up, shouting to Mum to help and sprints across lawn to road in time to see Ginny crouch and freeze on the grass verge as a tractor/trailer thunders by inches away. She's untouched (thank God she froze) but a bit shocked. Dad manages to grab her but she comes to, screams and kicks out. (Ouch! cheers Ginny). Dad returns her to the run and they've found the hole, fixed it, settled her and returned to the front terrace, when we all hear noises of cattle being moved down the lane towards us. Mum jumps up and races to stand at (lack of) front gate to stop ingress of beef animals and to stop us shouty dogs from scattering the cows. Spoilsport!

The relaxing life of everyday country folk....


Bonfire Night Irish Style

At lunchtime on Sunday 24th we bad farewell to our house guests after a very successful 'bonfire night' (BfN is 23rd June, St John's Eve in The Republic of Ireland where they don't really go in for those nasty UK celebrations of toasted Catholics on Nov 5th, can't think why...). The Silverwoods arrived minus one niece (Em-J in Paris on exchange visit) but plus Lily and the seven pups in a crate. The pups are 3 weeks old now and very cute and, because we hope to end up with one of same Mum and Dad were very pleased that they were the source of much delighted, happy, fascinated sniffing for Coco and I.
 Mum cooked a superb chicken dinner. Dad had decided in the shop that the organic Free Range birdie he had been sent out to buy looked a bit light for feeding 7, so he'd supplemented with half a dozen wings and drumsticks. The kids were much amused by counting how many 'limbs' the evening roast appeared to have!
The bonfire, when we tried to light it, was good and wet, so took a time to get going but eventually blazed away. The kids amused themselves running back and forth from caravan (now officially adopted as their 'den'), helping dig out the horse-drawn-hay-rake-in-a-hedge, or chuck more wood on the fire. Nephew M (6) has been a bit anxious / alarmed / paranoid about fire since the Silverwoods had a bit of a drama in the house recently where the flu from a badly installed range started a minor house fire in a stud wall behind the range, so Mrs S was very pleased that he seems to be quite relaxed near the bonfire. 

 We retreated to bed at gone midnight Saturday and nobody was that keen to get up on the Sunday. Dad, Coco and I were all on our own rousting chickens and rabbits out of their scratchers. Eventually the guests and hostess stirred and Mum laid on porridge for the 'smalls' and then an Irish Fry for the rest of the humans. It was a lazy morning with occasional excitement for 'smalls' as the Lovely Girls managed to produce 4 eggs, and all in the proper place. 

 Our guests departed midday leaving Dad to a bit of lawn mowing and filling raised beds with soil and Mum to restoring house to 'between-guests' format. Mum and Dad discovered that our new concrete apron, being due west facing, makes a very nice 'sun-deck' from which to watch the sun sink over the galvanized farm gate and the Charolais cows, while sipping rosé. They are going to buy a French stylee café table and chairs.

And so to bed.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Married all over Again?

 Way back in the dark gloomy days of February (we know this because of the photographic record!) the only injurious accident happened on the build project. A window frame in the kitchen which the boys were trying to prop up above the old sill, in its new position fell out of its supports and landed on the back of Dad's hand. Luckily he had tough gloves on but he still took a whack and was bruised (though not enough for him to stop work for more than a quick half hour sit-down). Luckily, by quick thinking, he realised that if his hand swelled he'd not get the wedding ring off, so he whipped it off straight away.
After a couple of days, the swelling had gone down a bit, so he tried the ring on but it still wouldn't slide past the knuckle. Mum took it for safe keeping, threaded it onto the ever-present string of pearls (signature jewellery?). He tried it several times over the next days and weeks, and then months. It just felt wrong not to be wearing it (although generally speaking it's not a good idea to wear rings when buildering; you can get nasty injuries).
But whether the swelling was just never going to go down because of scar tissue, or perhaps Dad's hands had grown thicker and tougher with all the physical builder work, we don't know. Dad decided in the end to have the ring re-sized upwards. Almost at the same time the string on the pearls gave way, so a trip to the jeweller in Balla was planned, to get both jobs done. It all went a bit quiet, then. The jeweller joined the happy band of "Choir Invisible" local tradesmen who promised to call us back and we never seemed to hear from again. A month or so went by, Trees came into leaf, the birds sang, a tumbleweed blew across the screen.........

Eventually Mum and Dad got fed up with waiting and called by the jeweller. It was all in hand, they suggested; some old tosh about the lady-who-normally-restrings-the-pearls being off on maternity etc etc. You should hear something in the next couple of days. More birds sang. More tumbleweed..... We called by again and finally got the ring back. It had had to be re-sized up FOUR sizes. Dad now has it back, he no longer feels 'naked'. "I'm Married Again!" A few days later the pearls eventually returned too, so Mum also feels 'complete'. We just wonder why it all has to take so long.


Concreting the Aprons

A big day yesterday when we finally got enough of a break in the weather to do the concreting of the aprons; those 'paths' around the sides of the house which shed water away from the walls and help prevent damp. The forecast had Wednesday 20th as the best day this week. It was NEARLY good enough, but read on. The experts today were Mike the Concrete again, he who came to set up the shuttering almost 2 weeks ago now, and today his mate was Declan, Sean-y being tied up on another job
 They were here on site and ready when the ENORMOUS concrete mixer lorry arrived from Grogan's of Ballyhaunis, a town about 15 minutes away. We only needed 3 cubic metres of concrete which is normally less than they'll bother with, but they were slack and Mike is a mate and frequent customer of theirs. The driver managed to reverse the lorry up the drive and thread it through our side gate. He was a good man, both skilled and very co-operative and helpful.
 These guys can be only interested in dumping their load and getting out, if they are inclined but ours was prepared not only to move the lorry around to the various bits of the job, but also to despatch the mix down the chute at manage-able speed, even a barrow load at a time so that the three of us, working quickly and hard, admittedly, were able to spread it roughly into the aprons without double handling any. The driver even turned the lorry right round in our 'car-park' bit so that he could drop the left over bit onto what will be the caravan bay in the former hay-barn and even hosed our barrows out with his wash hose when he'd done washing the chute and drum of his mixer. What a hero! Grogan's should give him a pay rise! Dad gave him a decent tip.

 This concrete laying lark is quite a caper and the two guys were veritable artists at the job. You don't just pour it into the hole(s) and spread it flat. These guys smeared and sloshed it about to get it fairly flat using shovels and the rake. Then they level it to the levels already set up 2 weeks ago between the expansion joints by drawing a plank back and forth, and settle it by slapping it with the plank edge. Next a smooth surface is created with a wooden hand held float. Then you leave it a while to start to 'cook'. This is best done by drinking tea on the front terrace as provided by Mum from the posh teapot and accompanied by biscuits while you gossip and yarn.
Refreshed by tea you can now go over the already smooth surface of the concrete again with a metal hand held float but also a big, wind-surfer sized float on a twist-able pole, the twist action enabling you to slope the float slightly towards or away from you to give a good action which does not cut up the stuff you just smoothed. Then you go round the edges with a "bull-nose" float which puts that last 4 or 5 inches wide smooth edge and the curved 'nose' instead of a sharp corner. Finally you use a 12 inch wide 'diamond roller', a heavy-ish roller with waffle-iron diamonds in its face, which puts a pretty imprint onto the concrete in stripes, to give a non-skid, attractive finish.

There you are! You didn't know concreting was so complicated, did you? Nor did we. The concrete 'cooks' fairly fast, so if you can get about 2 hours from the end of doing the diamond roller-ing with no disturbances and no rain, then it's 'Happy Days', job done. New concrete, though, does not like heavy rain. The rain washes the concrete powder down off the top layer of sand and grit, breaking up your nice glossy, smooth (and bull nosed and diamond-patterned, in this case) "skin". As we got towards that crucial point, ominous black clouds were gathering. The boys were joking with Mum that she should say a Rosary, get down on her knees and even (they tell us some "Good Catholics" do this) deploy an icon. Mum, smiling, produced an "Infant of Prague" fridge magnet (Diamond would be proud of us!) and the boys told her to put it on the wall overlooking the apron! I felt sorry for them though, when the rain suddenly hammered down, breaking up the beautiful skin as described.

When it stops and the sun comes out, you can work the concrete again, smearing the exposed grit back down into the mix and giving yourself another smear of cement, which the guys did, but you can only do this once. The concrete is now cooking well and 'going off' and will quickly become too hard to work. So with all the 'pretty' stuff repeated and more dark clouds gathering, the guys rushed to cover their work with handy bits of corrugated sheeting, plastic sheet and wood and just about managed to protect it all before the rain comes down again. At this point, Mike and Declan can do no more. They go home, with Mike promising to return today to check up on whether we got away with it. "You can't odds it" he said, philosophically. "No good getting excited about it; These things 'appen"

It looks OK this morning, peering under the sheeting, but we'll leave all the protection down till Mike tells us we can lift it.


Wednesday 20 June 2012

Snowberries and Sunsets

We are all enjoying the fact that not only are we well north of our old location in Kent, here in Roscommon so that we get longer days than we did, but we are also well out to the West. We are probably one and a half time zones west of Greenwich, which is on the extreme east of the GMT/BST band, so that our days are also a good hour later than Kent. Mum took these pictures at the moment of sunset on Tues 19th June (22:03pm) while Dad was on the phone to barging buddy 'Boss of Volunteers, Basil'. Basil commented that his sun in Kent was long gone down.

 While standing in the lane last week waiting for the District Vet Office guy to come and check us out for the herd number, we noticed that the hedge on the far side of the lane is actually made up of this pink flowered, round leaved shrub which was unfamiliar to both Mum and Dad. Thinking they might have a rarity on their hands which was worthy of reporting to the botanical records people, they took a cutting indoors to identify it. Using a variety of flora books they finally nailed it via the "round leaves" using a key in the ancient and much loved "Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe (Fitter, Fitter and Blamey, 1974, pub Collins)" book Dad has had since he was an Ecology student in 1975
It turns out to be Snowberry (Symphoricarpos), a very common garden-escape and thug. Says Hessayon in the expert books, "Few plants are easier to grow than S, this rampant shrub will flourish in any soil, in full sun and in the dense shade under trees...etc". Ah well. It was briefly exciting!


Tuesday 19 June 2012

The Hay-Rake in the Hedge

 We have discovered in the hedge on our western boundary, just to the left of the new gate through to the field where we dogs go to shout at Mike-the-Cows's Charolais beasts, what looks like an old horse drawn hay rake, all rusted up and looking very antique-ish. Its left wheel is almost clear of the soil and weeds, all be it almost hidden under the elder branches and surrounded by nettles. The rake at the back though, and the right hand wheel are almost buried under a pile of banked-up soil and much of the structure has ivy, elder and hawthorn growing up, round and through it
 The booms which ran out either side of the horse are in a sorry state, one rusted away completely and the other almost rusted through. John Deere Bob (our source of advice on such things) thinks it has been there about 30 years and had soil piled up against it which TK Min may have been 'saving' because top soil is expensive. Also, if the black plastic sheeting is anything to go by, it may have had big-bale silage or hay/straw stacked against it.
Mum and Dad think, and JDB agrees that if we can get it out it might look nice painted up and standing on the front lawn or somewhere as an antique but JD cautions pulling it out gently lest it just fall apart. So Dad is going to dig away and expose as much of it as possible to see if he can free it up. At the same time he will be persuading WD40 and other oils into the wheel bearings to see if they can be freed up. Watch this space for progress.


Borrowing the Tractor

 Local old boy and neighbour, John Deere Bob is becoming a firm friend and frequent visitor. He arrives at random times, chugging gently up the drive in his tractor, giving everyone a nice excuse to stop working, settles himself into "his" chair, accepts tea and sometimes a fig roll or two. He always protests that he can't eat that, or cake, because he's diabetic but Mum will charm him up and he usual gets persuaded to have one. Mum thinks he's very handsome.
He's a twinkly eyed old fella with a lovely sense of humour. He and his family have lived in this village for ever and he has a wealth of knowledge of all things local as well a sound knowledge of Irish history and old politics so he enjoys a good spar with Mum, who is also well versed in such things. Dad has been accepting loads of calf manure from his calf house, nipping down there to shovel muck into the box on the back of his tractor, while Bob did the tractor driving. They'd cleared Bob's barn and had started on a calf house belonging to Farmer McG (with his blessing).
 It was a nice surprise then, when on Saturday, out of nowhere, Bob showed up and suggested that Dad carry on with McG's calf house on his own on Monday while Bob was in Galway for medical attention, and Dad might borrow the tractor for the day to do this. Dad was delighted. He's driven a couple of Massey Fergusons in student jobs 35 years ago but has not sat in a tractor since, and never a John Deere. John Deere's were always seen as expensive, Rolls Royce style tractors - very posh, although we suspect that maybe JD have expanded the range downwards, and Bob's one may not be THAT exclusive!
Dad asked for a supervised practice session to re-acquaint with the works - starting has to be in neutral, stopping is with a "strangler", the three point linkage and hydraulics and the fancy gear box with its 'road' and 'work' ratios.

So, Monday came and Dad was up nice and early, walking down to McG's to find the tractor. The fun began. Dad shoveled 3 and a half loads out of the calf house in the morning. You can see the size of the box on the back of the tractor in my 5th picture. On the final load, he took his flat UK-style shovel down there so that he could give the calf house floor a really good scrape and clean, the way that Farmer McG might be suitably impressed and invite him back next year!

Now we have 6 or 7 neat piles of calf manure sitting in a row along the allotment waiting to be spread as each crop finishes, from which we can also borrow to fill raised beds as we complete them.

We love John Deere Bob!

Monday 18 June 2012

Office, Logging and Garden

We finally getting round to nailing another long standing job, having got a chance to buy wood at Woodie's DIY in Carrick on Shannon on the day of the NCT re-test. That's the gnarly bit under the stairs where the broad band arrives and a phone point but where the work station was still the old green fold-away caravan table. This has now been treated to a nice work top and a shelf for the screen, 2 box-shelf units from IKEA (originally intended for the kitchen but Mum found they didn't 'go' and that was that.) and a new book case unit from Mulligan's in 'Balla' ( we have discovered that all the locals call Ballaghaderreen by this name, which makes life much easier and we can't really go round calling it "Bally-Lala" which was becoming its nickname!)
In the kitchen garden, with the last of the most recent 10 tonne of 804 gravel now shoveled away to become floor of caravan bay in the former hay barn, there is space for Mum and Dad to build the third (of four) raised beds out of our inherited railway sleepers. The first one, completed a while ago is now producing some nice looking crops, particularly shallots, onions, garlic and radish. We are rubbish at labeling things when they get sown, but Dad is "fairly confident" that the radish row was double-planted with parsnip seed as per the advice in the "Vegetable Growing in Ireland" book. Radish takes 3 weeks to crop. Parsnips take 3 weeks to germinate, so you can use radish to mark your parsnip row.

While the chainsaw was out for cutting the railway sleepers in half to make 'ends' for the beds, Dad decided to try his hand at felling his first tree. In the woods to the left of our drive which are, we think, black spruce there are a few dead weedy ones long since over shadowed and killed by big beefy neighbours. They are about 45 feet tall (compared to 60-70 or more for the big, healthy trees) and less than 12 inches diameter at the bottom. Dad selected one which stood a chance of falling into a gap between others, neatly across the drive and onto the lawn. It all "sort of" worked except that the tree kind of bounced off a neighbour and hovered briefly in the clasp of its branches but it came down soon enough when Dad made an extra cut in the trunk. Dad cleaned off the side branches (some of which Mum stole for pea sticks) and then logged it up into 40 odd logs. Nice clean job.


Silverwood Seven

 On Friday 15th, Mum and Dad head for Silverwood to catch up with the family but also to get a first glimpse of Lily's pups (at Day 12) and also, if they can wangle it, Tommo the Builder's "bottle brush kittens". We dogs are left behind for this as we'd cause too much confusion and Lily has even banished the puppies' Father, Maxwell from the room. The pups are all very cute, plump and healthy and have been going down great guns on Facebook with a series of pictures posted by Mrs S under the heading "The Silverwood  Seven"
 The plan is currently that one of these little mites joins our number at week 8 so, roughly, the end of July. It will be a boy and will be named Towser. Mrs S has picked one out for us.
 Mum and Dad are taken round to Tommo's house where a young daughter, the nominal owner of the cat, Bailey, brings the kittens down to the front garden to show them off. Later she also brings Bailey down and she has indeed got the legendary 'bottle brush' tail which it would be quite fun of the kittens were to inherit. Bailey herself was formerly a feral cat, then adopted by Tommo's daughter. She has had three kittens. There is a big one which an Aunt is having, but the other two, very similar kittens are ours. They might have been named Heckle and Jeckle but now Mum has seen that one is slightly ginger and the other 'blue', they may end up named Ginger and Blue.

 All very cute. It remains to be seen how I take to these new animals when they arrive, or indeed how Coco does. Incidentally, ignore anything you heard or read about Coco being renamed Trig. The name never stuck. The humans keep forgetting it and calling Coco Coco anyway, so they have decided to revert to Coco.

Gutters at Last

 Two of our longest standing story lines draw naturally to a conclusion. Mum's Fiat Panda has to be re-presented to Carrick on Shannon's NCT (Car Testing) station for it's re-test, resplendent in new front tyres and lower wishbones at silly o'clock on the 13th. Unlucky for some, but not for us today, as the car passes easily and we come away with the required multi coloured slip of paper to go in the third pocket of our windscreen stickers making us finally legal on that car, at last, displaying, as required by Law, proof of insurance, road tax and NCT test.
 On the same day we are hoping that the apron concreting guys will also show up and finish the concreting but the Ready-Mix boys are unable to deliver, so we must wait till tomorrow. However, out of the blue Gutters O'Grady phone. These guys priced the job up yonks ago and then vanished. It feels like about 6 weeks but might be less. Sparks was still around when they came, measured up and explained the method of producing formed aluminium profiles. Nobody uses plastic guttering lengths or cast iron any more unless they are made of money. We agreed the price and then waited for the call. And waited. And waited.
 Then they take us by surprise by phoning on the morning of the NCT test and asking whether they can come and do the job that same day. Of course they can. especially now there is no new wet concrete for them to put their ladders in by mistake.

2 guys arrive, the boss and an Eastern European lad named Denis. In 6 hours from about 11:30 to 17:30 they whizz round whipping off the old brittle and broken metal gutters and pulling out or breaking off the old supports. They make new gutter lengths using a fascinating machine in the back of the lorry. The machine holds a reel of sheet aluminium about 18 inches wide but feeds it through a forming machine which bends it into gutter shapes. These lengths slowly emerge from the back of the lorry and the 2nd man just supports the weight of the free end and walks away from the lorry till the first guy gets the length he needs and stops the machine to guillotine the end off. Ends are crimped on with pliers and sealed with mastic. The shape includes the brackets inside the gutter trough, which will be fixed to the fascias with special fixing screw/nail things.

It is quite funny to see, in side view, the man apparently pulling a length of gutter way too long to have been in the lorry, out of its back. Sparks tells us it looks even more bizarre when the machine is in a short vehicle like a Transit van.

So, the boys fit all the horizontals and then run all the down-pipes to direct all our storm water into the drain gulleys and so, under the new yard, to the dug-out ditch below the house. Next time it rains we all enjoy watching the water being directed 'properly' and hearing it gurgle down the drains. We enjoy even more that it is no longer pouring off roof ends and down walls, filling window boxes to overflowing and water-falling past windows. There seems to be a lot less making puddle in the yard, too!

That's more like it!

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Eggs and Bread

One of my rambling catch up posts today. First up, we are now well into egg production and we have at least 3 chickens 'on line' as evidenced by the fact that we can collect 3 eggs from the nest boxes (at last! No more laying eggs in muddy puddles!) each day and have started to build up a bit of an excess which Mum and Dad will be pleased to give away to visitors and to people we visit. These eggs can be a bit variable in size while the Lovely Girls are still a bit new to it, and we have also had the occasional double-yolker.
 In the process of finishing unpacking the cardboard boxes of "stuff" from the Tígín we came across two items with nice memories attached and which we are now happy to have here in Ireland. One is Dad's engraved pewter tankard presented to him by the Faversham Horticultural Society as a Thank for 10 years of being Treasurer. This has now been Christened with a couple of cans of nice cold, post mowing-the-lawn, hot day, Guinness.
 The other was a small clay house which Mum got from one of the children for whom she used to babysit. This is also a tea-light style candle holder although it's not wise to use it as such because it has no 'chimney' to allow the heat out from the candle flame. The family are great friends of ours. Mum babysat this particular potter's elder bro' and sis' and patted the pregnant bump of their Mum (Teresa M) when she was carrying this one (R). R was about 12 when she made this 'pot' and is now fully grown and a mother herself. We love that this 'pot' so nearly resembles the Tígín we have ended up with, so it has elements of prescience and romantic "See! It was meant to be!" about it

 Finally, pinned down indoors by the rain on the Diamond Jubilee week, Dad decided to re-acquaint with bread making. Dad prefers this done 'properly' without the aid of a bread maker, with all the kneading and rising that this involves. Mum was therefore dispatched with 'bread flour' and yeast added to the bottom of a shopping list and we have been quite pleased with the results so far. He tends to make bread rolls and plait loaves and has only so far tried plain white, not yet got back into the granary and wholemeal but no doubt these will come as he gets into it.