Friday 31 August 2018

TOE? I Slept Through It!

Plums coming ready and in need of making
into jam. I have started using the splits, wasp
damage and windfalls for the pigs.
I am hoping that this is the last mainly-medical post for a while, so normal small holder-y service should start to be delivered from the next post. Please bear with me (or just click on by). At least this one has some pictures in it as I finally managed to buy a lower capacity camera card and my camera is not struggling to find new pics among the 2000 images on the old one.

That sleep monitoring pack. It's job is to
spot snoring, sleep apnoea and any other
breathing problems while you sleep.
Two major medical procedures hanging over from the previous post then - the sleep monitoring and the Trans-Oesophageal Echo (TOE). Regular readers will know that I was not especially bothered about the former (I am well used to sleeping wearing all manner of wires, nostril pipes and packs strapped to me after my 2 weeks in Sligo Hospital) but I was scared to death at the latter. The TOE involves swallowing a rubber pipe containing an ultra-sound transducer and I was sure my very strong gag reflex would give the techies a problem or even be a show-stopper.

A miserable night wired to the telemetry. You can
only see the very top of the chest-pack and straps.
My (old) phone does not do 'selfies' so you have
to spark up the camera, point it at yourself and
guess where the 'trigger' is.
In the event, happily, things went completely the other way round, with the sleep pack having the issues and the TOE a breeze. We'd had an exhausting and full day on the Tuesday, involving probably way too much walking the long corridors of the hospital (7 hours), so my lungs were well stirred up and I was in for a bad night with the ticklish cough and having to keep sitting up to let the coughing fits subside.

The pigs are enjoying the windfalls.
None the less, with Nurse Elizabeth's help, we 'dressed' me in the equipment and off I went to sleep at about 10 pm. Cough....cough....cough....COUGH. I finally got to sleep at about 2 o'clock and slept till 6 o'clock, so when I stripped off the gear and packed it away in its carrying case I needed to leave the nurse/techie a 'love letter' saying she'd get nonsense results for the first 4 hours. Of course (wouldn't you know?), as soon as I'd taken off the gear, I slept like a babe round till 8 o'clock. Maybe we'll give that another try after the heart-op and when I am de-congested.

Fennel
The TOE on Thursday morning was nothing like the problem I had predicted or spent all that time worrying about. We had an early start that day, with an 0530 alarm and an 0630 depart here, to make sure we arrived at "Endoscopy" by 0800. I was quickly into a world of half a dozen nurses looking after me and later, the calming presence of the main consultant (I had no idea he'd be getting hands-on on this one) and I was making sure they all knew (probably to an irritating degree!) about the gag-reflex issue and my need for sedatives.

Everyone was very calm about this (re-assuring) and told me it would not be an issue (they had ways and means etc). I was fitted with a drip line for the drugs. They would wire me up to the telemetry and then worry about sedatives. In good time I was wheeled in my bed into The Room and made to lie on my left side, with my back to the big machine. The main man leant over me to adjust my position and that was all I knew. I woke about 45 minutes later in the recovery room with Elizabeth chatting to the man. I have no idea what the medics did - presumably turned on the sedative tap at some quiet signal before I had a chance to see the pipe and the thing I'd need to swallow.

A good haul of prezzies for the Birthday
Girl
I was delighted to have gotten away with it all so easily. There was not even any discomfort in my throat. If somebody had said "Ah yes, sorry, we didn't actually do anything..." I'd have believed them! After a suitable time I was allowed to stand up and walk to another room where we were given tea, a scone and a glass of water. I was a bit 'drunk' but Elizabeth was there to drive me home (interesting double-vision on the motorway!).

'Lady sized' border fork and spade.
This is the age of the Internet, so today, eaten up with curiosity, I was asking the Surfer if the House what she'd seen and heard that I'd missed. Not much in fact - she'd been sitting in the waiting area knitting, but at least she'd met 'the man' and been able to ask him some questions. She 'Googled' the TOE procedure and we could sit and watch some videos of the thing being done to other people (or cartoon drawings). Curiosity satisfied, but I was glad I'd not been shown that enormous pipe and then asked to swallow it. Our way was much better. They are wise and experienced professionals.

Posh Gin
What else has been happening? That problem ewe had one more dose of the cream slapped onto her bald, itchy patch and was last seen recovered back to healthy pink skin, all dried out and starting to turn grey where the wool had started to grow back  The weather had also turned colder and wetter, so the flies were less of a problem. I covered Elizabeth's birthday in the last post and am now able to bring you some pictures.

Small batch gin.
Another lovely gift arrived from UK friends (Thank you!), being a rather posh (small batch) bottle of gin of a brand which 'we' had not tried. This was 'Bertha's Revenge' and is based in part from spirit made from 'whey'. Beautifully smooth, says The Lady of the House. 'We' have also found some elderflower flavoured 'Fever Tree' tonic to go with, so gin drinking bliss knows no bounds.

We had a lovely visit today from archery friends, Con and Niamh, being fresh from a fun event they organise each year up at their holding, Celtic Games. They all dress up in the Celtic/Druid gear and they invite people to try archery, spear throwing, axe throwing and a low-impact version of quarter-staff fights (two contestants meet balanced on a big log holding either end of a pole and trying to throw each other off balance. If you fall off it's only a couple of feet to the grass. Nobody gets whacked or hurt).

Gladioli - sorry for blurred pic.
We had a lovely chat and caught up on the medical situation / recovery, ranging onto bee keeping and products like honey and bees wax.

Ah well, surely enough for now and, as I said, the last medical based post till the keenly awaited 'Big One' - the heart operation itself.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

5 Week Clinics

Another wordy and non-pictorial post, I'm afraid, while I catch you up (if interested) on things recovery and medical. If not, skip 80% of the paragraphs. Today, 5 weeks out of hospital, the dates for my follow up clinics came round and the lovely appointments folk spotted that I needed to see both the main Coronary Consultant, but also my Respiration Consultant and, possibly, that we live an hour's drive away. They managed to arrange both clinics for the one day - one at 10 a.m. and the other at 2 p.m. Perfectly timed so that we even got a chance to nip out for lunch and a bit of shopping in between.

Regular readers may have worked out that I was a bit worried about these two clinics. I was looking forward to them but I was worried that they might not give me the answers or the progress I want and need. Would decisions be made on big issues like the heart valve replacement surgery? Would my state of (slow) recovery and ongoing congestion with fluid (weight gain) mean that I'd have to put up with another 4 weeks on a different drugs regimen while the medics watched and analysed? I was (am) getting very frustrated now with this light duties, inability to breathe well.

We all (over)hear (accidentally or deliberately) what friends and relatives say about us and some of the things hurt but some buoy you up. I love the "Big Fella" ones - "Strong as an ox!", "Great bull of a man". People admiring my work rate and complimenting me on a job well done. Those are the ones I want to be, not anything to do with shuffling around like an aul' man, wheezing. Those are the days I want back.

What a change! In a few (well 7) exhausting hours, I went from worries about lack of progress to a parachutist's "ground-rush" of too many things happening at once and dizzying up my head. I got a decision by the main man that my heart valve replacement will be SOON, plus a change in my diuretic dosing (to try to slow the fluid build up). He also booked me in for 8 o'clock Thursday morning for a Transoesophageal Echo*. The Respiration Consultant posted me straight off for a lung volume/function test and also set me up with a sleep monitoring kit which I am to wear tonight - all part of the investigation into breathing issues like snoring, sleep apnoea and so on.

The latter is a fascinating piece of kit with a box of tricks you strap to your chest and connect up to an oxygen saturation device on the end of a finger plus a pair of sensors up your nostrils and a tiny heat detector which hangs in front of your mouth like a singer's microphone and detects in/out breaths. With all that gear hanging off me, I have to try to get to sleep. The straps round your chest have 'stretch' detectors above and below your 'man boobs' to detect breathing. The box of tricks saves all your telemetry digitally and you hand the machine in to get the data downloaded and analysed.

*The former (the Transoesophageal Echo (TOE) one) frightens me to death. I may not have mentioned this before but I have a very strong gag reflex, so that anything put near the back of my mouth has me gagging myself into near nausea. It is a real problem at, for example, the dentist, where if they ever need to do an X-ray they try to slide a small flake of lead down between tongue and teeth, but right back to the back teeth. I cannot cope and start to gag. I think my dentist may have managed one X-ray since I have been in Ireland, but certainly no more. At the lung volume/function test mentioned a few para's ago, I had to bite down on a silicone rubber yoke like a SCUBA diving mouth-piece, with some bits inside my lips. That yoke didn't go anywhere near the back of my mouth, but was still a struggle.

The TOE involves swallowing a rubber tube with an ultrasound transducer at its tip. This allows the technicians to move the transducer up and down the oesophagus (your 'swallowing' pipe) which runs down behind, and very close to your heart. They can get much clearer 'pictures' of your heart at this range, than they can get from outside your chest, through the chest wall (a standard "echocardiogram") . When I heard all about this test and read the leaflet, I had the immediate horrors. Swallow a rubber tube? I was sitting in the corridor, waiting for a blood test, and gagging like a pro.

Luckily, I am not the first with this issue and the test team can cope - there are all manner of sedation, anaesthetic and anti-gagging techniques available to them - they just need to know in advance and make sure you have someone who can drive you home after the procedure. Thank you again, Elizabeth. Wish us luck for Thursday morning. Yes, I am amazed that I am facing open heart surgery with confidence and few fears and getting all wound up about a 20 minute chew on a rubber tube. Ah well, there's no accounting.

But that is surely enough medical stuff. More on all these stories in future posts. What else is going on. Happy Birthday to Elizabeth for yesterday. She had a lovely relaxing day and was delighted by a good spread of presents. High points were a lovely (huge) fine-china tea mug which says on the outside "There is England... and then" (on the inside) "...There is Faversham". Love the sentiment. Also up there was a copy of the new book by former Barack Obama staffer, Dan Pfeiffer, "Yes we (still) can".

Dan is one of the presenters of our favourite USA politics podcast, "Pod Save America" and the book covers 'Politics in the age of Obama, Twitter and Trump". The Woman of the House sat down with a series of  big teas (in the new mug) and had the book read by 3 p.m. Also in the mix were a very nice pair of "Kent and Stowe" lady-sized border fork and spade, a book of the best of (Irish writer/satirist) Flann O'Brien, some lovely boot-socks.

Elizabeth also finished the digging over of that huge flower bed. There is plenty work to do on that bed - levelling it off is a big job in itself - it then needs covering with weed proof membrane, replanting and then 'mulching' with 3 tonnes of gravel.

That is enough for this one.

Friday 24 August 2018

Touch Wood

We spread these tarps out when we took them down from the
shed roof, hoping they'd dry in the sun. It hasn't stopped raining
since. The geese love them - permanent puddles!
This is possibly the shortest and least pictorial post you have seen in a long time. The relentless pace of shed fixing, 'harvesting meat' and trying to get better from the recent illness, has finally eased leaving me with a proper slow-news Friday. I promised myself long ago that I'd never reduce myself to posts which said "I'm bored - nothing happening", so in that spirit, no news is a short post.

One story I do need to catch up on is that fox. He/she has been a regular, but not particularly frequent, daytime raider since January (Yes, I know, seems longer). He has left us alone since the 10th of this month, Touch Wood! There is always hope that someone else, in the neighbourhood, has 'got' him. I decided to go back through the blog, the diary and the social media posts to try to add up exactly how much damage has been done, so here goes, month by month.

January (2018): Failed attack (2nd), spotted by guineas and chased off by me.

Feb: 8th Female duck taken
        17th Goose killed but not taken (fox could not get goose through sheep fencing)
        26th Buff Orpington rooster.

March: 2nd  Buff Orp hen
             24th Female duck
             31st Black hen (Beeblebrox)

April: 5th Grey hen taken but let go to walk home (Walk Home Wendy)
           13th Female duck
           15th Attacks turkey Gloria but only wounds her. She dies 6th May from wounds

May:   13th female Duck

June: 28th Takes final female duck.
          29th Failed attack - repelled by dogs

July: 7th Black hen (our last Marans pure-bred)
         16th Hen ("Shtumpy")
         21st Hen with only one chick. Chick is successfully fostered with "The Bumbles"

August: 4th Failed attack
              9th Half-grown poult taken
              10th Smallest gosling taken

Also, at unknown dates, the following birds have now gone missing, presumed victims of the fox


  1. Walk Home Wendy
  2. Tail-less buff orp hen 'Floofy'
  3. Guinea Hen while sitting on eggs out in the hedges somewhere.
There you have it. In total this year

  • 5 female ducks
  • 1 turkey
  • 1 goose and a tiny gosling
  • 1 Guinea fowl
  • 1 rooster
  • 1 young (chicken) poult
  • 7 hens
Total 18 birds so far in 2018. We are no nearer to trapping him or shooting him. He remains unpredictable, wary and very careful.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Much Ado About Ernesto.

Friends of the blog will know that Elizabeth loves her Shakespeare. You get very little of that standard of culture performed round these parts, so when we saw advertised a performance of "Much Ado About Nothing" by a group called the Pilgrim Players, she mentally signed up immediately. This was to be an outdoor, bring a picnic, performance in the grounds of the former Bishop's Palace (Edmondstown House) just outside Ballaghaderreen. I must confess that I cried off, thinking that 4 hours sitting out of doors in a cooling evening might be beyond me at this stage. Mrs C, not discouraged, was determined to go on her own if necessary.

Storm Ernesto's predicted track
With terrible timing, the weather forecast told us of a surprise named storm, Storm Ernesto barging through on that Saturday night with yellow warnings for wind and heavy rain, so Elizabeth donned coat, hat and umbrella and made sure her picnic was in a waterproof bag and Tupperware pots. You have to respect that determination and commitment.

The birds have quickly adopted the new roof timbers as
perches.
Fair play to the venue organisers, the seating area was equipped with straw bales and chairs, and slung over with parachute silk to keep off any light weather. It also had a space at the front where the players could nip in under cover with the audience and say their lines from very close range if need be. When mozzies started to be a problem, Elizabeth bartered some biscuits and clementines for a lend of a nearby man's insect repellent spray.

Connie (arrowed)  has ended her marathon broody-session
and come back to join the flock.
So, they all sat down and enjoyed the start of what proved to be a really good performance as the rain started to fall in earnest, quickly, soaking through the parachute silk and drenching the audience. Ernesto was just too powerful and mean-spirited in the end and Elizabeth got very wet and cold, but the play was only 75 minutes long, so she stuck it out with the rest of the audience. They even got to chat with the cast out front at the end. She was soon back indoors, complete change of clothes into the 'onesie', gin and tonic in her hand. Shame for a hoped for lovely evening as well as for the others in the audience and the players. We've had three months of heat wave, drought and perfect outdoor Shakespeare conditions, so it as a real shame that this all collapsed on the evening 18th August. We heard great things about the other 'shows', matinée and evening. We hope the venue and players are not put off organising more such plays next year.

The digging of the raised bed almost complete. Rain stopped
play about half an hour from the end. 
On the Sunday, two very good friends of the blog had offered to come and help with the hard work, knowing of my 'light duties' status and our Help-X blow-out. Specifically the guy of this couple was offering to do some hours of the heavy digging across the raised flower bed, easily worth a good evening meal and an overnight stay. These good people actually ended up doing a couple of other jobs as well and Elizabeth was inspired to some superb cooking to reward everybody.

There are some interesting colour schemes among this
year's hatched birds.
The evening meal was our 'Parma' style ham with melon, with a superb roast lamb (ours)  as main course with cauliflower (ours) cheese and 'Boulangere' potatoes, then Sussex Pond Pudding. You get an extra thrill at the good food when you know that many  of the ingredients are grown just outside the door. We have done very well for herbs this year, so even the mint in the mint sauce was picked and chopped minutes before serving. The fruit jelly for the meat (I *think* crab apple and red currant) was also ours.

The Bumbles are now half grown adolescents and spend a good
bit of each day (and some nights) away from Mum
If you are not familiar with  Sussex Pond, then it is a sweet suet pud (our suet, naturally) flavoured just by an organic lemon or bits there-of and cubes of soft brown sugar. No actual filling; just the oozing, sugared lemony-ness of the inner suet crust. Cream is available to 'cut' its richness. Although I was born and raised in Sussex, I cannot actually recall being fed it as a kiddie. Pud Lady (Mum) may want to correct me on that one.

Finally, a sheep story and another report of generous help from our lovely friends and neighbours. This concerns our youngest bought-in ewe, Myfanwy, who is about 4 years old at this stage and who, alone, did not get pregnant last winter. Over the last 18 months or so, I had noticed that Myf' periodically seemed to get a Jungle Book style itch in the middle of her back, about a foot forward of her 'tail'.

Myfanwy's sore, itchy patch.
She would rub herself at this spot under any convenient piece of hedge, fence or their shelter. She would wear down through the wool and start to break the skin, so that she sometimes oozed a little blood and it looked angry. Then she seemed to get over it, stopped itching it so that it all dried up, healed over, grew new wool and we all forgot all about it till the next time. These gaps were often months long and only when you saw her doing it again did it occur that this was the same place as last time. The raw patches were only ever an inch or so across. I never found any fly strike or other skin problems while shearing.

Nobody gets to refuse the worm/fluke drench when Charlotte
is in charge. 
Suddenly this year, she is at it again and has itched a huge patch, a good 5 inches across. Some of this patch is healed over, but to its left edge, the red-raw is looking serious. Small flies are starting to show a keen interest and they will not be helping the healing by keep on making tiny, irritating bites. I have tried to contact our vet but she is so busy these days that she rarely replies. I put out a plea on the Facebook small holder groups but did not get anything useful back - plenty of old wives' tales (Stockholm Tar, used sump oil, sheep dip, old Ivermectin (parasite-icide) you might have lying about, etc).

Charlotte messin' with the lotions and potions
Luckily, very good old friend of the blog, respected stock-wrangler and near neighbour Charlotte (of the Mini Horses) read of my plight and volunteered to come round, look at the sheep and do any treatment within her power. I drove out to collect her this lunchtime. Like me, she could find no maggots or any signs of other parasites - lice, fleas, eggs, poo - and the skin away from the lesion was all pale pink and healthy deep down between the wool. These guys tend to gather at the warmest spots on the sheep, so spine, kidneys and shoulders.

The ducks and drakes are starting to sort themselves out by
their green heads and curly tail feathers. 
General discomfort and irritation at skin level can sometimes be caused by worms internally, so we decided to worm/fluke drench the whole flock and to lather Myfanwy's lesion in a thick, coconut-oil like cream (actually meant for humans) called Pinewood's "Emulsifying Ointment BP". This might sting a bit on the open wounds when it first went on but soon calmed down and is thick enough that even as it warmed up to skin temperature it would not run off or get washed off. The little flies would hate it and they did, immediately stopping their landings and exploratory walking across the wound.

Deefer
I must now watch the sheep closely for a while, and apply new cream every couple of days or after heavy rain (basically as soon as I see more flies). I must also look out for scour (diarrhoea) which is a sign that the sheep may well have been carrying worms and are now shedding them (dead). This can upset their systems and would mean we'd need to re-dose after 4 weeks to catch any stragglers.

Towser
Ah well. That is enough for this one. Still no sign of the AWOL cat or the AWOL Guinea Hen, so these may not get mentioned again unless we get firm news (preferably good!). Everybody else is bimbling along just fine. It occurs to me that you have not seen pics of the dogs lately, so I will leave you with pics of all three taken today.

Poppea.
Have a good week.

Friday 17 August 2018

403 Points! Go Jorja!

Niece Jorja at her 'Debs' just before hearing her
'Leaving Cert' results. Looking good J-M!
Yes. Even before I mention our success in finishing "that shed" or the recent change in the weather that made us all delighted that we had, I must congratulate #2 Irish Niece, long term Friend of the Blog, Jorja on nailing the Leaving Cert exams (Brits think "A" Levels). Although the Exam Board tell you the breakdown of your result by subject (As, Bs etc) what everyone is interested in is THE POINTS - that is what gets you into the University, College, onto your course or into job that you seek. Jorja scored 403 which is a) brilliant and b) easily enough for her to proceed on her chosen path, so well done Jorja - formerly known in this blog as J-M.

Rudbeckia
So, all growed up now, a responsible adult, though to me she will always be the little swaddled up bundle that got handed to me in Maidstone Hospital, her tiny arms wrapped around close to her body like a straight-jacket. No-one else could stop the little mite from crying but when I took her she seemed to like the bass-y voice or something and went off to sleep like a light-switch being turned off. Elizabeth and the new Mum (Mrs Silverwood) could sneak off for some 'fresh air' knowing she was in safe hands.

The first new 'tin' going on on the yard-side (front) of the shed.
Meanwhile in Roscommon, we got a brilliant result too, in finishing our chicken house roof. K-Dub rocked up nice and early and we gave it the whole day round to about 4 pm. We had the purlins to fit (horizontal stringers which pick up the screws coming through the tin) and then 30 sheets of the 'tin' (corrugated iron) plus 2 transparent plastic ones recycled from the roof before. The tin itself was recycled anyway, having been carefully lifted from K-Dub's house roof in Sligo, when we did the rebuild/new roof on that a couple of years back (well covered in this blog); a very generous donation.

The back of the building. You can see the new front.
The gifted sheets of tin dictated to us where our middle purlin would go because the sheets already had the central screw-holes in them and it was better to re-use those holes than cut new ones and leave the roof leaking and in need of something to seal the old holes. They were also about a foot too long but we had a nifty solution once they were all on, garden string and a 'Sharpie' marker to create a line, then a thin disk angle grinder to create a neat 'fringe' that lined up with the bottoms of the transparent sheets. It worked well.

With all the sheets on, K-dub went aloft once more, 'riding' the new roof like a horse, while he pressed down and then screwed home our upside down 'V' section ridge pieces. The east end of the roof received two more of these 'ridge' pieces to make a capping wrapped round onto the gable end to stop any 'Beast from the East' winds getting in under the roof. The west end would get its tin tucked in under a re-instatement of the concrete "barge" capping. With those dark-painted ridge bits on, framing the whole thing and the tin trimmed to length it all looked very neat.

Trimmed, end-capped and ridged it all looks very neat
With the outside all complete, time to go inside and re-instate the electrics. I was delighted with the look of the place inside. All the wood is brand new and pale in colour and the underside of the tin is shiny 'galvanised' grey or silver instead of rusty red. Also, with the tarps now off, light streams in through the transparent plastic panels. I will barely need my electric lights!

Lovely new looking interior.
We have just one little de-snag to do. The metal "bent straps" which do a belt'n'braces job holding your wall plates down to the walls (so the whole roof cannot lift off in one piece) need fixing to the stone walls by screws/plugs drilled into the hard stones (some kind of very hard sandstone). K-Dub has a drill for this but had not bought the right kind of bits, so he will come back next week and finish this little job off. There we have it. A new roof. Time to adjourn indoors for a cup of tea and a chat. I am delighted with it. Huge thanks to K-Dub and Elizabeth for the massive effort.

Almost Biblical rain tests the new roof.
Just a quick follow-up on this story and some more thanks to give out. My friends from archery, Niamh and Con plus their current "Wwoof-er" (volunteer labour like our Help-X people, but from the "World-Wide Organization of Organic Farmers" (hence WWOOF)), Stefan. These good folk had planned a day of taking Con to nearby airfield for a Birthday Present light aircraft flight round Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick, or "The Reek". Con and Niamh are mad into the pre-Christian / Druidic history of Ireland and The Reek is positively peppered with ancient sites, cairns and so on.

A friend in the village has a new Grand-child. The Knitter of
this House is joining the baby clothes and layette knitting
effort.
However, pretty much as we finished our roof, the weather took a turn for the worse and we have, we are told, another 'named storm' (Ernesto) coming through this weekend. The wind and rain in front of this storm grounded Con's pilot leaving Niamh and Stefan with a free afternoon. Knowing that my Help-X lad had blown out, Niamh decided to come here with her 'Wwoofer' and do us an hour's work. This was very generous, unnecessary and very welcome - we had the new roof up but the old roof scattered about in various piles of rusty tin, concrete, manky wood, nails, tarpaulins, tyres, string and wire. They all needed tidying off the yard so that was the job I gave N+S, with Elizabeth piling in to help. In a fast-moving hour we had the yard back. Thank you very much, all three.

Erigeron, now finally established in our gravel (we hope)
Which only leaves me with two bits of farm news and a quick 'health' update. Firstly, this back end (of week) was the most likely time for our AWOL Guinea-hen to complete her brooding and hatch out any keets out there in the hedges. We wondered whether she might walk them home all romantically like a little 'crocodile' of school children. No such fairy-tale ending so far. We just have the three 'boys' doing their fox-watch alarms and occasionally obsessing about a patch of East Field where 'she' might be. As time goes by, I guess we will have to accept that maybe Brer Fox intervened and this story did not end well.

Soldier has gone AWOL
New to the AWOL list, our black and white (rescue) cat, Soldier, seems to have gone missing. He has always been an outdoor boy and does not very much enjoy being grumped at by big floofy cat 'Blue', so he may have gone to live somewhere where he is more 'welcome'. We have no reason to think he is dead, he just has not been home for a couple of days. We will keep you posted.

Hen and chicks in the orchard.
So, last but not least, my good self. I am still moseying along in my 'probationary' period, 4 weeks back out of the hospital, sticking to the liquid intake limits and taking the meds, seeing if I can stabilize. This with a review clinic at Sligo hospital set for the 4 weeks when I get reviewed by my 2 consultants, with possible decisions being made about the heart valve replacement surgery. It's going OK but I think I am slowly congesting up again. I am sneaking a bit of that weight back on, my ankles are starting to swell again and most of my nights are interrupted by 'productive' ticklish coughing. We will find out the response to all this on my clinic dates, which have now been advised to me. Wish us luck.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Chicken House Roof

Stripping off the old 'tin'. 
Away and by far the biggest news for this post is our superb progress on the chicken house roof replacement. Having surprised us by turning up 3 days early on Friday to make a start, builder/carpenter buddy 'K-Dub' carried on the good works on Monday and today (Tues). With me on light duties and the Help-X lad having blown us out, K-Dub was working solo for a big part of this time, but assisted by Elizabeth when there were chunks of new timber to be brought round from cutting-place to the shed, or chunks of old rotten roof to stack away for burning later.

Dismantling the electrics.
The jobs, in roughly chronological order were to carefully remove the good tarpaulin and the small two tarps which went on first back in the post Storm-Doris days. Next up, the electrics had to be peeled away from any wood which was now going to be removed. Next, K-Dub stripped off the old 'tin', sliding the sheets down for us to stack on the ground. Sharp edges on those rusty sheets, so gloves were vital.

Nifty chain-saw action while balanced on a wall.
The next stage involved some rather nifty 'high wire' balancing along the tops of walls (none of the woodwork would have taken the weight of anyone the size of K-Dub (or me)) armed with a chain saw. We'd shut all the fascinated chickens out of the building so that K-Dub could go all round cutting old rafters till the roof woodwork, almost in one piece, collapsed into the shed. He then went into the shed and chopped it up into bite size pieces that we could haul out and stack. Finally on the demolition phase, he had to dig out the wall-plates (timbers which sit a-top walls to take the bottom end of rafters.)

Here the old roof timbers have completely collapsed into the shed.
You know how these builder types, when asked for an estimate, suck in a breath between their teeth and say something like, "We won't really know till we get going - you can find all sorts of horrors when you start demolishing roofs!" Well, here, I could see that minor escalation in action and I couldn't argue with the man. The walls of these barns are almost a 'dry-stone wall' construction with very little in the way of mortar between the stones, maybe some mud thrown in on top to fill some gaps.

Some new timbers going in, mainly so that we could sling the
tarp back over the unfinished roof on Monday night.
Well now, 150 years+ later the wall tops are not so much 'wall' as loose small rubble and dusty dry soil. As K-Dub prised the old wall-plates out of their grooves, the sides of each groove simply land-slid in. We decided that this roof should get, for safe keeping and to ensure that the wall plates did not 'walk' away from each other under the load of the new tin, sagging our nice new ridge-beam, 2 extras.

It's not all chicken houses. Elizabeth, Queen of the Pointy
Shovel takes on the mighty job of digging that raised bed over.
Firstly we would span the building with 4 horizontal 'joist' beams. We actually used the spare 4' length off-cuts to make the rafter pairs between these joists into 'A' frames, which neatly gave the Guinea Fowl back their perches. Secondly we would mix a sloppy cement and pour/spread this along the wall tops around and under the new wall plates to give some grip onto the loose rubble. The top 6 inches of wall is probably now the strongest bit, and would be called a 'ring beam' if we had done it all round the building.

Those last 2 jobs were today's and, for another night we have slung the big tarp back over the work to give the chickens a bit of shelter in case it rains in the night. K-Dub is sure we can finish tomorrow. That would be the remaining purlins, the new tin, 'flaunching' the tin in to the gable at the 'windy' end, fitting the ridge pieces and a capping on the East end, strapping down the roof to the walls, re-assembling the electrics and cleaning up. Busy old day. I will tell you all about it in the next post.

A spindle bush recovering from sheep browsing in our 'Woods'
Meanwhile, in the down time (Yes, we do get some! Light duties, remember) I have been enjoying the various groups of birds coming of age and starting to sort out their grown-up family dynamics. The ducks, you will recall, are a young male Khaki Campbell hatched by us this spring, and a Mum and 5 youngsters of 'Silver Appleyard' variety bought in a couple of months ago.

Well, now they are all full size and the KC has started doing odd 'display' moves to various other ducks. He alone has differentiated into a definite drake (dark head, bassy 'quack', curly-up feathers just above the tail). We know that Mum is Mum, but the 5 youngsters are keeping their sex secret for now, from us anyway. KC-Drake's moves include a rearing up on his back end, standing up on the water with his chin pressed down into his chest, and zooming forward across the water with his neck stretched out forward and his chin almost touching the water. Are these moves designed to impress any coming of age males, or females? We have no idea.

Then yesterday, early in the morning, our alpha rooster, Gandalf came into view followed by an entourage of 15 adult and half grown chickens. Up to now the half grown babies have pretty much kept to their clutch-groups. Are they now feeling the changes of teenager-hood and starting to align with the dominant male, playing their cards right, as it were. More on these stories in future posts. Now I must wrap up as the Woman of the House is off out tonight to a meeting for which she needs this lap top. Talk to you again soon.

Friday 10 August 2018

Sleeping Through the Night

We are looking good for some fruit types despite the drought
Now there's a subject close to the hearts of all the new parents struggling with sleepless nights and night feeds of the new infant. I have adopted it as a milestone in the slow progress of my recovery from the recent pneumonia. When I first came out of hospital, I had some bad nights with a ticklish, persistent chesty cough which had at me as soon as I laid down to sleep and had me reaching for the trusty Benylin "dry cough" linctus. This may be too much information, but I was also getting up to pee at about 4 a.m. and had the cough all over again when I laid back down.

The only relief then was to sit bolt upright, so I would spend the last 2-3 hours of each night sitting against the head of the bed, usually joined by the cuddle-loving Poppea (dog), until I could realistically give up and get up at 6 o'clock. As the days went by it was encouraging to see these 2 coughing sessions get  better and shorter. I started to be able to get straight to sleep at night and even started to only get the morning one from half past 4, then 5, half 5 and so on. I was looking at being able to sleep right through the night. They were clear improvements on the way to recovery.

A new one for us this year - we may have some damsons.
At the same time, I know that productive cough is good, in that it is the lungs' way of clearing out the muck and dirt of illness. In my case, this silver lining had a small cloud - this new "muck" might be a sign that I was congesting up again. I guess I also have to take on the chin an occasional bad night like last night, where the bedtime coughing just would not stop and still had me sitting upright, sometimes downstairs, till 2 o'clock in the morning. To be fair, I then got to sleep and slept right round to 8 a.m. Swings and roundabouts. No other health news.

Beautifully mowed grass.
That Help-X lad (Rafael) never did show, so we are setting up August accordingly with Elizabeth picking up all the hard work as it comes due and me stuck on 'light duties'. One of these jobs this week was the mowing, her first time using the mower. I'd heard the mower chug into life when I was sitting round the front of the house. She was well away.

By the time I came down from a good nap, the pond garden was like a billiard table. "Good Job!", I said. "It was EASY!" she commented, sounding a bit surprised. I will have to watch that I don't lose these jobs while I'm 'ill'.

The timber arrives for the chicken house roof.
I was more worried about that other big job to which I would have put the missing Help-X-er, that of helping our builder chum K-Dub re-roof the chicken house. I remember from helping K-Dub do his house roof in Sligo, those are some big baulks of timber and , certainly to start with. Charlotte and I had to stand sticking out of the top of the part built house on ladders holding the new ridge-beam up in fresh air where it would ultimately sit, while K-Dub fitted the rafters to it (and nailed them to the wall plates).

K-Dub starts cutting out the 'barge ends'
Looking up at the beam and the sky, with the moving clouds, your eye had no fixed perspective to help balance. You had to keep looking down to the horizon to prevent falling off the ladder. Quickly, K-Dub fixed enough rafters to it that they were taking its weight, and we helpers could let go of it and come down our ladders to safety.

Not to worry. K-Dub turned up today (an EARLY builder!) - he was waiting on a sink for another job, so he had today free and decided to start. He would cut through the concrete 'barge' ends (gables) to free up the rusty old corrugated iron, plus cut all the rafters to shape/length in preparation.

We are looking at a reasonable plum crop.
This roof, he said, would be nothing like as hard as the house, mainly because the ridge beam gets slung between the two gables. There is no wobbling around on ladders. He can fix it in position with battens, while he brings all the rafters to bear. He anticipates being able to do most of the job on Monday - stripping off the old 'tin', demolishing the old timbers with a chainsaw and re-assembling with new wood.

Mum out with 'The Bumbles' in the woods.
If we don't get as far as new 'tin' on Monday, we can sling the good tarpaulin back over the new wood frame overnight to keep the birds dry. Tuesday will be for making good and finishing off the ridge which gets series of 8 foot long 'V' shaped bits overlapping. We had a good day today and got most of it done, till the 110 volt transformer 'died'. Ah well. I had thought we were starting on Monday, so EVERYthing we did today was a bonus.

I found Connie's hidey-hole down behind some scrap plaster
board in the Tígín
Friends of the Blog will recall that we had 2 birds we were calling 'AWOL', rather than dead to fox. I was poking about in the Tígín and happened to pull out some scrap plaster board and I found Connie sitting on 6 (very old) eggs. She was not out in a hedge and vulnerable to the fox after all. That status is now reserved for the female Guinea Fowl.

Snouts down for some apples.
Meanwhile, Brer Fox has changed his tactics again and nailed a couple more birds. He has lately come every day, instead of every 10th day. On Weds morning at about 9, he was spotted by Elizabeth as he first appeared in 'The Woods'. She happened to be looking out of an upstairs window. She shouted, so I let the dogs out of the front door. Unfortunately, months of training told them to turn left and head for the front lawn gate. Mr Fox was to the right, so able to make good his escape.

A nice sturdy cherry tree but no cherries
this year. The drought got them.
At this time of year, 'The Woods' presents a lovely sunny bank in the morning and can be full of birds. Foxy can sneak in up the 5 acre field, nip through the hedge anywhere and ambush a sleepy bird. On Tuesday, I took up position out there with all three dogs and waited all through the 9 o'clock 'slot' thinking I'd deter him. Not that fella. He waited till I went in at 10, gave it half an hour and then bang! He snatched a young poult. He was probably watching all the time and thinking, Matt can't stay here 24/7.

R+R, Roscommon style.
I thought we'd be safe today. This fox has always left us a week or so after a successful raid. I was out there with K-Dub and Elizabeth was about too, setting up to dig the big raised bed. Surely enough human presence to deter a fox? No. He came in at about 9 a.m. and managed to snatch one of the small goslings.

Ah well, enough for this one. Maybe by the time I write again, a completed chicken house roof and no more foxy deaths. Finally, to be fair to Rafael he has apologised for his 'mistake' today in an e-mail. For what it is worth.