The Heatwave

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Hard to believe looking back at this that Irish fields resembled Tuscan ones. After the worst winter in 72 years, we had the hottest one in 42. Ten weeks of drought where 40 shades of green turned to 40 shades of yellow and burnt umber. The pigs struggled with the heat and spent most of the day in the hayshed or out behind the mound of building rubble in a shady nook created by it and overhanging trees. The poultry were the same hardly venturing out of the hayshed during the hottest part of the day. We got used to waking up to blue skies and intense heat.

What’s rare is wonderful but with everything there has to be a downside and mine was water. The old well was running really low and I was worried. I contacted the council to see was there a grant to connect the deep well sunk in 1990, 200 feet deep and costing £750! How did I know all this? It was written on a piece of cardboard hanging on the back wall of the big shed. We had cleared it of all it’s junk and the sign was there.

The previous owners for some reason had emptied the contents of the house into it during renovation. It was a huge higgeldy piggeldy mess. I had asked an antiques shop owner from New Ross if he wanted to take a look in it. To be honest it was difficult to see anything in it. For all I knew there could be some gem hidden in there that would pay for all the work I had to do. Wishful thinking. It was rubbish and falling assunder from woodworm. The antiques guy valiently climbed over it all and found two wooden boxes he was interested in. He offered me €100. I bit the hand off him wondering was he slightly touched. He dragged them out and I’m still convinced he was. Actually he promised he would let me know when he’d done them up so I could see he wasn’t……… !

But back to the well. I was approved for the grant and I found a company to give me a price. Pump experts I was told. After weeks of pestering he arrived one really hot evening to sink a submersible pump, pump out the water for a few days then get it tested.

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Curious onlookers

He connected the pump, connected the power and sailed off telling me to run the water for 15-20 minutes every day. Unfortunately he had barely cut the cable to reach the socket in the shed and I had to pig proof it outside from a pair of nibbling terrorists. So it had to be extended using an extension lead. It ran for a few minutes then cut out. Great. The excitement at finally having water was short-lived.

Up to this I had been sparingly using my own water for absolute necessities like toilets and showers. I had stopped using the washing machine and dishwasher, trawling up to the washing machines in the village and washing up in a small bowl in the sink. My neighbour had connected me by a series of pipes running from the well in his stable yard, down his fields and under the road in a drain. These pipes were all connected using connection pieces that in the intense heat burst apart so I had no water. I had assumed he had switched me off for some reason. When I finally got desperate I rang him and he said to my utter horror that this must have happened and that the water was running down the hill. We went to investigate and it was. He put something over all the connections to keep them cool and I ran the water at intervals so that the heat didn’t build up. The water coming through the black piping was warm enough to wash up with!

This water was then filled into two barrels which I used for watering the animals, the tunnel and the flowers in the containers I had nurtured before the poultry ate most of them. They were desperate for greens.

Eventually we figured out why the new well was cutting out. The extension lead had a safety cut out as it couldn’t cope with the power required for the pump. However, it soon became apparent that the water was absolutely manky in the well. The tests came back high in manganese and iron (explained the brown colour), and high in coliforms. He connected the UV filter installed previously and said the water wouldn’t kill me. Good to know. Even looking that unappealing the smell of hydrogen sulphide was the deal breaker. I decided it wasn’t even fit for the pigs.

Then I had to go back to the council and ask could the grant cover a filtration system. I was told the grant was just over €2000 so it would cover connection and half the cost of the filtration installation. Better than a kick in the arse anyway. Now I’m waiting for him to come back to finish the job. To date I’m using that well for the house but not for drinking or even cooking with. Thank God for Larry’s well.

The rain finally returned. All around the country people were saying it was raining but there was no sign of any here. I was watching weather charts and it would look as if we would get it but we seemed to keep missing it. It was really disheartening. But then it did eventually. Even now coming up to the end of August the fields are still bone dry. It will take a good few weeks more of heavy rain to improve the situation and traditionally September and October are when the water table is lowest even after a normal summer.

The heatwave is well and truly over and it suddenly began to feel very autumnal a couple of weeks ago. The summer and drought of 2018 will forever be etched in my mind though just as the past winter is.

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Sitting out on the new patio until 10.30 watching the sun set

 

The Food

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I know I “may” have waxed lyrical about the food since I moved here. I know also that the food in Ireland has improved immeasurably in recent years but holy cow – the fish in Wexford. Not only the fish, the tomatoes, the strawberries and the spuds. The spuds, namely Wexford Queens bring terroir to a whole new level. Put that in yer pipe Frogs, and smoke it. Wexford Queens grown in sandy soil with sea breezes sweeping over them. There is nothing to compare. Nothing as good. Nothing on the planet.

Did I mention the fish? The fish. Oh my God. I live down the road from Mickey the Winch in Arthurstown. He was the owner of the Pere Charles that sank with the loss of five men. Since then he’s never gone to sea but started a smokehouse, Ballyhack Smokehouse smoking wild and farmed salmon. He also sells fish weekly in my local village but if you miss that, you can pop down to his house.

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Poached wild salmon, Wexford new season Queens, Kilmore asparagus
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Monkfish wrapped in pancetta, olives, local tomatoes from Campile, courgette fettuccine and Queens Wexford
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Moules Mariniere

Moving to Wexford from Meath where the only place to get good fish was in a super little but wholly inaccessible fish shop in Navan. It was a brilliant shop but it was a hike and parking was a nightmare. So much so that I only went a couple of times a month and stocked up. Here, I can get fish daily almost and it’s only a 5 min drive.

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Kilmore asparagus with my own duck egg and sourdough

I get local, seasonal and mostly chemical-free veg from Ronan’s Farm Shop in New Ross. I also get Wexford free range pork and bacon (sadly not organic)  and organic chicken. The chicken is from Regan Organics and is second to none. They do duck eggs as good as my own. That’s always my marker. Do they do it as good as I do? Few do, but they do.

The Nutshell café and health food store  in New Ross are terrific for all the other organic dry goods. They order me in 5kg bags of organic strong flour. I make all my own bread because the only decent bakery is in Tramore (Seagull Bakery). I also make my own focaccia and brioche burger buns that I keep in the freezer.

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Homemade free range pork and beef burger, brioche bun

I often take a spin up to Gorey on a Saturday to the market there where they always have a great selection of in season vegetables. Then pop into Partridge’s for a coffee and an almond scone with the mammy.  After that a potter around the shops. Gorey has to be one of the best shopping towns in the country.

I buy chips of jam strawberries from Green’s and make pots of strawberry jam. It’s become a summer tradition. I’ve since discovered a local strawberry grower – Danescastle.

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Green’s strawberries
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Strawberry jam

But it’s not only great ingredients, the local restaurants and pubs are pretty great too. Such a joy when you don’t feel like cooking or have unexpected visitors.

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Beer battered fish and chips

I’m pretty spoiled by having Roche’s of Duncannon who do the best fish and chips and Yellowbelly beers down the road.

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I’ve spoken about The Hollow Bar up the road as well that do great fish and have a gin and tonic menu to die for. Not to mention Aldridge Lodge and Dunbrody (which I’ve yet to sample).

Wexford has pretty great food. It doesn’t have the fame of Cork or even West Cork but that’s because no one is shouting loudly. I aim to change that.

The Now

It’s almost mid-summer. I’m now here going on 8 months but I feel like I’m here so much longer. The feeling of unfamiliarity has almost gone. I had to ask initially where everything was. The feed supplier, hardware, recycle centre, health food shop, butcher (non-existent), the baker, the candlestick maker. I’m sure I drove my neighbour daft texting her, asking stuff. The drive home from Dublin, Meath and elsewhere is now familiar and I have reference points to know how much longer it will take. It’s very disconcerting in the beginning when you have no idea.

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The animals have all taken to it like ducks to water. Indeed the very first ducks were born here the other day. And hopefully in a week or so there will be chicks to join them. Will I breed pigs again? I’m tempted to but not with the present stock. I think the way to go is breed pure bred rare breeds. I’m waiting for my inspection for my new herd number. I didn’t realise the old one was related to Meath. The vet rang me last week and said they’ve a big backlog and he will be out towards the end of next week.

I have decided I will grow a few sheep next year because I have way too much grass. The end paddock is the biggest one and I didn’t use it in the winter and now the grass is waist height in it. My neighbour is cutting it every day but that day hasn’t actually arrived. Probably for dock and other weed control it would be an idea to stick a few goats on it but the thoughts of them escaping…………. Sheep don’t thrill me either apart from eating them. From listening to other sheep farmers they seem to have one aim only and that is to find ways to kill themselves.

Who knows what the future will bring? Would I do it all again? Definitely. I never loved Meath. When I moved there initially, I said “six weeks and I’m gone”. Not sure where to but I found it really backward and insular. We had moved home from living in England for 6 years with two small children. It drove me crazy how limited the shops were. I used drive to SuperQuinn in Blanchardstown once a week to do my grocery shopping and then later in Blackrock on my way home from visiting my parents and that was before the Clonee bypass never mind the motorway.

I suppose I gradually just got used to it but I do remember when the kids were small driving back after being in Wexford with them, how much I hated going back. There is an invisible line at Clonee where the weather changes. You leave Wexford or Dublin in glorious sunshine, hit that line and the sky darkens, without fail. When I was house hunting last summer it happened every single time. I would leave my house and the wind and rain and drive to Bray or Ashford depending on who was coming with me and the sun would come out. For the 10 houses I viewed (some of them twice) it only rained for two but it was grey and dreary on leaving, every single trip.

The locals laugh here when I tell them the weather is miles better in the sunny southeast. They don’t think it is, but they haven’t lived in Meath.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day and it’s the first without dad. In truth he hadn’t a clue what it was for quite a number of years. Dementia had robbed him of everything. We all wished him dead. Sounds an awful thing to say but to watch someone you love go through that dreadful illness is the worst form of torture for you and for them. If an animal had that poor a quality of life you would be accused of cruelty not to humanely end it. Humanely? We treat animals humanely. We treat people abominably.

I’m so glad I decided to write all this down before I forget, because at the back of my mind is the dread that dementia is genetic and I will go the same way. I hope if they can’t find a cure they at least find a way to put people out of their misery if they make a decision in advance that is what they wish.

For now, that’s the end of this chapter. But I’m sure there will be many more.

The Weaners

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Or also known as the horrors, the pests, the terrible two. You get the gist? Two (big) piglets by the time I got them here. I couldn’t find quality pigs on Done Deal, just the usual rubbish from someone who keeps a few pigs and breeds indiscriminately. Buyer beware really applies when buying livestock but particularly pigs. I have bought half-starved, runty piglets in the past because I was desperate and because I felt sorry for them but it’s not advisable. It took me twice as long to fatten them.

I got this pair in a convoluted fashion. I had asked friends if I could buy a couple from them when their sow farrowed however she aborted and they said they were looking for piglets as well. I told them if they found any let me know and I’d take two. They sourced them in Galway and I collected them from their place a week or so later in north Tipperary.

I had actually bought a trailer. Years ago I sold my horse box and I had steadily cursed ever since. Having to borrow a trailer is a pain and although most people don’t mind lending them, I hate being under a compliment to anyone. It was years since I’d pulled one and I was wondering if I’d still be able to reverse it etc. You can laugh but it took me a long time to be able to competently. It had taken a lot of practice, away from the “helpful” comments from men in particular. Actually in the end I was better than a lot of men!

Then there was the question of the driving licence. Somehow in the meantime, it had become law that you have a trailer licence. The thoughts of doing another test….. but one day I looked at my licence and lo and behold I had the trailer category ticked. Phew.

I asked around down here and a neighbour down the road called in one evening to say he had one. I had a look at it and I was in business. I then had to get a hitch on the Ceep (carjeep) or baby toe rag as my builder friend refers to it.

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Reversed in like pro

All that organised and the day was set. But I was still nervous about driving it. It was just over a two hour drive but it took me closer to three. You just can’t go whoring around bends pulling a trailer and boy were they bendy roads. It was a sunny bank holiday Monday so I just took my time. Pulling an empty trailer is a pain because it’s fierce bumpy.

Luckily I was staying the night and not making the return journey until the next day. After an evening of great hospitality and far too much wine (me), Alfie decided to catch the pigs rather than herd them in much to the amusement of a couple of Mexican American friends staying there as well. You wouldn’t get that in a 5 star hotel.

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Photo courtesy of Mexican American guest

I set off in great trepidation. It was a hot sunny day and I had a massive hangover and I was nervous and it was a long drive. Three and a half hours later I was on the road out of New Ross and itching to get home for a cup of tea. There was a massive tailback for roadworks, of course there was. Isn’t there always when you are dying to get home?

I made it and ran into my neighbour to give me a hand to unload them into the stable. I was leaving to go back to Meath the next day so I wanted to keep them in until I got back. He was a great help and we got them unloaded easily.

Today they are free range as in really free range. They are immune to the electric fence and are having a lovely time ducking in and out under it at will to graze with the horses. To be honest I’ve given up trying to keep them in because unless they get out on the road which is unlikely, they can’t do much damage and the neighbours are all pretty relaxed about escapees.

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They will have a great short life (albeit twice as long as a commercial pig) and will then head to Christy Byrne’s abattoir in Camolin, probably in October. Another outing for the trailer.

At the end of the day a good life and a good death is all any of us want.

 

 

Upp

The Cock

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Photo by Avril Roundtree

Cecil arrived here in February, a gangly youth with pimples and a breaking voice. He came with friends of mine from Tipperary as well as their two dogs for the weekend. I had got a notion that I missed having a cock strutting his stuff around the place. Remind me why again because I did nothing but swear at my last one for crowing before 5 am even in the middle of winter. If I happened to be awake he drove me crazy because shortly after the cars flying to Dublin started tearing down the road and there was no hope of any more sleep. Somehow I had convinced myself that it would be different here.

He wasn’t here a wet week when he started to try to crow. Ah, I thought how sweet. He sounded like a teenage boy who goes to say something and all that emits is a squeak. But by heck did he find his voice and now he uses it incessantly. He crows every hour on the hour all night long. I couldn’t figure out why I could only distantly hear him in my bedroom which is closest to the hen house but yet when I went into the bathroom I could hear him much louder. It dawned on me that the bathroom Velux is obviously much less air tight that the rest of the windows.

Recently my neighbour told me he was going to stick him in a pot if he didn’t calm down. I made up a load of excuses that he was young and eager and he would settle. I also told him that he could also be hearing the cock across the road and confusing him with Cecil. Well it was only a “white lie”.

I named him Cecil after my neighbour and friend in my last place. Cecil was an elderly gentleman bachelor farmer. He was phenomenally well-read and knowledgeable about the countryside and animals. I learned so much from him about everything to do with animals, particularly horses. Cecil adored horses and he had bred a few good ones in his day. He still had an elderly thoroughbred mare – Polar Princess, who had won a few big races and he adored her. He looked after her like she was his baby making up big buckets of bran mash for her on cold winter evenings when he religiously and at the same time, brought her in from the field across the road from the yard. When my kids started riding they kept their ponies in his yard and we always made them bran mash after a hunt. He used let them help him feed the pet lambs and cut up the chunks of raw meat for his dogs. I still have a vision of coming home from work and going down to collect them and seeing my daughter standing on an upturned bucket with a big blunt knife trying to hack up a lump of meat. During lambing they used come tearing in the door from school, sling their school bags into the house and run down to “help Cecil”.

Cecil also had an old cockerel he loved. He had him so tame he used eat out of his hand. When he died he was devastated so I asked a friend to give me a replacement for him. When I gave it to him he was thrilled but his nephew who had inherited the farm not so much. Sadly the replacement didn’t last long and then poor Cecil was knocked over by the mare which triggered his epilepsy and ultimately his demise.

I suppose for this reason I am fond of Cecil because he makes me remember his namesake. Between him and another old bachelor farmer Hugh, I had so many laughs as a young mother and learned so much from both of them. Plus they were both so good to my children who still have fond memories of them to this day.

I really hope he settles down and the neighbour doesn’t insist he is put in a pot. Cecil au vin? Because you can’t really live in an old farm yard and not have a cock strutting his stuff now can you?

 

The Extension

For someone who lives for light and cooking I had managed to buy a house with the darkest most depressing kitchen on the planet. I did overlook this fact at the time because the rest of the house was perfect. I had finally re-done my kitchen in my old house after years and although it was “only” an Ikea kitchen, it was perfect and I loved it. The kitchen come dining area was south facing and was filled with sunlight. Now I was faced with walking into a cave every morning. The sense of gloom that enveloped me was unreal. I found myself spending less time in it and was disinclined to cook which was really unusual for me.

There was no light entering at all on the west facing wall. The back door was solid. I decided one of the first things I absolutely had to do was replace the entire door with a glass panel. I ordered it and waited and waited. Finally they rang to tell me they would be out to fit it.

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Not only was I happy to be able to see out, the duck liked seeing in

The difference that made was unreal. Then I got a bee in my bonnet about the oh-so-shiny kitchen that did not suit the house at all and decided I had to change it. However, sense took over and I put that further down the list.

I debated extending the kitchen out to make a kitchen dining area but I had a small cosy dining room anyway and a small sitting room. I got a great tip from my builder friend who had come house hunting with me. He told me lay out wood on the ground in the shape and size you think you will need and mark windows and doors to get a feel for the size of the area. I did this but then I was out walking one day where I do a lot of my thinking,  I remembered friends who live in Tipperary and how I had always envied their covered deck which they call the stoop. That was it. I was going to do something similar with a partial roof. The reason not to roof the whole area was it would have meant losing a window in my bedroom (which is a floor window). The windows in this house are in short supply and for the most part are small sash windows so that was not an option. Plus there was little point putting a window in the dining room then sticking a roof over it.

I have to say that I am the kind of person that wants to do everything yesterday. There were the usual delays but the longest was the 8 week lead in time to get the new double doors and window from Rationel. The builder had costed them from Munster Joinery but they were horrible. So because he had to wait for the doors and window before he could lay the patio, the work stopped. Eventually it got finished a full two months after it should have been.

All the time it was being built I was getting comments to the effect that I was mad; I would never be able to sit out here, that the wind would skin you, there will never be sun ever again, you’ll freeze, it’s a waste of money. But come the end of April when the sun finally did appear I was justified and so glad I stuck to my guns. Because I have lived on it ever since. I haven’t sat in my dining room or sitting room since because they are dark and cold so the television hasn’t been switched on either. The kitchen is now filled with warm evening sun and even on a dull day is immeasurably brighter.

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Now that this job is finished every other job to do with the house has been shoved very far down the list and I am itching to get working on the old out buildings. So far I’ve got doors put on the little sheds in the field the weaner pigs are in. I also pulled all the ivy off the roof.

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All the trees have been cut down. Sacrilege I hear you cry but it really isn’t. They were for the most part self-seeded sycamore and ash growing in the most difficult locations and a danger to all the buildings. How they stayed upright during Hurricane Ophelia I will never know. The boys cutting them down couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been removed before the house was renovated. They had a point because if the one a couple of meters from the kitchen window had fallen, the entire house would have been flattened.

I am so grateful though that the old farm buildings weren’t demolished. If I had a penny for everyone who said to me “it’s an awful pity the whole place wasn’t razed to the ground and started again.” We have no respect for our architectural heritage here. All around are beautiful old farm houses and outbuildings standing derelict beside a horrible new house that doesn’t suit the terrain, the area or the landscape. Houses built from non-indigenous material like red brick or non-local stone. Why there aren’t grants to encourage people to restore old buildings is a crying shame. When you drive around our nearest neighbour Wales – particularly in the Snowdonia National Park, they have kept all their old farm buildings and houses and you never see a big tasteless red brick house stuck up on a hill side.

Next on the never-ending list is restore the hay shed (repair, clean and paint), clear out the junk out of the old sheds and paint them and the doors and finally clear an area to make a garden. I think this is going to be a very long project.

 

The Winter

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The pigs pushed their way out of the shed on day 2

All the dire warnings and predictions came true. It was relatively benign up to Christmas apart from epic rain which obviously managed to seep into my old well and the water turned brown. It took me a few days to notice and when I did it was in the toilet. The worrying thing was I’d been drinking it and hadn’t noticed.

There had been horrendous rain a few days before. I was out checking the pigs one evening and could hear all this water. I walked down to the gate and the water was pouring out of the field opposite and running down the road. My big shed looked like it was floating.

When I realised my water was affected I rang Wexford County Council. To this day I remain impressed at how speedily they reacted. It was coming up to Christmas and one day there was a knock at the door. It was the guy in charge of this area. He told me I lived on the Low Road (who knew?). He also said they’d be out in the next couple of days to put in a drain at my gate. They were and it worked.

The run off from the field opposite is because a lot of the land around is leased to agricultural contractors who farm intensively. They removed all the stones in the soil for growing carrots and between that and compaction from heavy machinery and the fact they couldn’t care less about the land means the drainage is minimal. It still pours out but at least not into mine. I later found out that my yard and house had flooded from it in the past.

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So grim and grey in this picture

The builder who had renovated my house came out to talk to me about a possible extension and opening up the west facing wall to some light. He promised he would be here after Christmas when he was quiet, to make a start. He arrived in February. I’ll never forget one of his workers telling me the warnings about the predicted snow were right. He said if they say it’s coming from the east we always get it here. Storm Emma was coming up from the Azores and they were predicting Armageddon if she met the cold east winds now named The Beast from the East, but at this stage I was still sceptical.

However, I stocked up on animal feed just in case. I remember the poor man in my local Agri was really flustered because the place was mayhem. Tractors with trailers, jeeps with trailers and cars all waited patiently as they were loaded up with feed. He told me he hadn’t stopped since 8am to even get a cup of tea and it was now 2pm. I got double what I would normally then went into Wellingtonbridge to the SuperValu. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the entire wall where the sliced pans are normally stacked was empty. The milk section was as well. I was okay because I make my own bread and I had plenty of milk in the freezer.

But back to the buliding. I had decided I didn’t want to do a room but instead a partially covered patio/deck area. They were going to knock an old alcove out in the dining room and put in a window and knock out the kitchen wall for double patio doors. But first they had started on the roof. The roofers had got the felt on and were heading off for the weekend. I asked if we get snow will it hold up and they said of course. I really hoped they were right.

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It did hold up, impressively. And there was a mountain of snow on it. I was terrified if it slid off on top of me walking out from under it, I’d be buried in an avalanche. The roof was a godsend though because I was finally able to leave wellies, wet gear, buckets, gloves etc outside rather than dragging them into the house.

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We had some of the worst snow in the country. The worst in 72 years. My neighbours said it was all my fault for moving to the “sunny southeast”. But they were great. They called in to see if I was okay or if I needed anything. We took turns to go to the shop (“walking” actually crawling through snowdrifts in places) and luckily I was able to bail out two of them with milk when the local shop was cleared out and couldn’t get deliveries. Everyone I met on the road informed me the shop had no milk. All I was worried about was if they still had wine. I did get some strange looks when I said this.  Walking to the shop was lovely because everyone you passed had time for a chat. I thought to myself this must have been like what it was like in the old days when people had time for each other.

By now farmers and my neighbour who has a JCB were out clearing the roads. It was the same story all over the county. It was farmers who cleared roads probably because the council just didn’t have the manpower.

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There’s an old saying apparently that if snow is lying on the ground in March, you’ll have more before the year is out. It was hard to believe that we could ever get more but we did. Thankfully not a lot. But the cold and the grey and the rain was never ending. It seemed like it would never get warm again. My builder friend said he had heard it was going to be like this until June. Thankfully he was wrong and it began to improve at the end of April.

I was by now 6 months in my new house and I was itching to get out and make a start on the outside.