The Wwoofers

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Walking on Hook Head in evening sun

I decided to get Wwoofers (officially stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). I had heard of the organisation before I moved here but assumed I wasn’t “farm” or “organic” enough. However, turns out as long as you practice a mostly organic ethos you qualify and it doesn’t matter how tiny you are. So one night in the depths of winter I took out membership to be a host.

I had loads of queries. But one thing I learned very quickly is; you tell them – yes, they can come and then you never hear from them again. I accepted three Israeli girls who sent me a long apologetic message that they appreciated most places wouldn’t take the three of them but they really, really wanted to stay together. Close to the time I emailed them did they want directions. They replied “oh sorry, we’re not coming, we thought we had told you…..”.

So then I told them all they could come. Most I never heard from again but I ended up with a crossover of two serious ones. More of that anon but the funniest had to be the message from two German guys driving around Ireland. Hi, we are two German guys who love the look of your farm. We would love to come stay with you for a week but don’t worry you don’t need to pick us up…..!” Read that as we’d like free accommodation at your place because it’s close to the sea….!!

My first Woofer didn’t come through WWOOF. I had worked in the US as a student on my year out. Somehow being deeply persuasive I had convinced the dean of my faculty that a year out in California would really be good for experience in temperate climate plants…….! I told you I was persuasive. He okay’d it despite his better judgement. Anyway to cut a long story short, as my dad used say; I ended up in California in the Los Angeles Arboretum, San Diego Zoo and a National Trust equivalent – Filoli (famed as the location for Dynasty, The Fall Guy and Fantasy Island where I met and had a photo taken with Pierce Brosnan long before he became famous, amongst others.) I met the first woofer’s mother at work there and subsequently his father when they were just boyfriend and girlfriend. I later attended their wedding and then we kept in touch for years only to lose contact but get reacquainted by Facebook – as you do!

She messaged me one night that he wanted to come to Ireland Woofing. I said he could come here and that was it. He began the lengthy process of painting all my outbuildings to match the startling white of my house.

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Conor from Seattle turned out to be ace at painting having the patience to dabble pebbledash to within an inch of it’s life. Here he is in blistering heat painting the pebbledash gable end of the shed. I was at the field side scraping off the loose grey paint from years ago. I almost got sunstroke because I never thought to put a hat on. My neck got fried.

He painted most of my outbuildings while he was here. I had been persuaded to leave the goddamn yellow front door so I wanted to paint the shed doors with something that would match. I settled on this lime green that I think has done the job.

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These little sheds on a hot evening reminded me of a Greek taverna

Conor left to go on a jolly around Ireland and I had Elio the French student next. Somehow I’d got it into my head he was 19 (He was 25). I had to pick him up at the bus outside SuperValu, New Ross. I arrived and parked in the car park along the quays opposite and sat waiting. I had decided I’d wait and see what he looked like before making myself known. If he looked scary I’d just drive off. Thankfully he looked like someone I’d be happy to have. I did tell him all this later and we had a laugh. I’m so glad I didn’t drive off because he was a pleasure to have. He was a superb worker as well as mannerly and all the animals loved him.

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Pigs at his feet

He had asked to stay for a month but I really didn’t want to commit to that length of time in case we didn’t get on or he was useless. I like my own company and independence and the thoughts of having anyone in my space for that length of time horrified me. However, he did stay a month and it flew and I was sad to see him go. He went off at weekends which gave me breathing space which helped too.

The first day he was here I asked him to stack the rest of the wood that had been split and was thrown all over the hayshed floor. I thought it would take him the morning. He had it done in an hour and I had a panic attack that I would never have enough work for him. But needless to say in an old place like this, there is always something to do. He finished off the painting so that everything is now a gleaming white and can probably be seen from space.

I had been making mutterings about the old stone shed and had begun to chip off the grey paint that was flaking off. It had been painted over lime wash years ago and in winter I noticed that when I leaned against the inside wall to pull on or off my wellies, the wall was wet. This was because the paint was preventing the old building from breathing as lime mortar and wash traditionally did. I spoke to several people who all sucked in between their teeth and looked at me like I was somewhat touched. Then they all muttered about “big money”. Read that as they didn’t want to be bothered to do it but if I insisted they would charge me handsomely. How hard can it be to do it myself I wondered. And as always, thought if people with little or no equipment, access to the internet etc could do it years ago, why couldn’t I? I began trawling through Google and just got completely confused by all the technical terms for lime – hydrated lime, slaked lime, lime putty etc.

I went down to the big Homevalue place in Wellingtonbridge to ask. They were totally honest and said they hadn’t a clue but called a man over. He turned out to be the owner. He asked for my phone number, there was someone he knew who had done a job for the OPW and by coincidence he had been in earlier. He would give him a call and then let me know what he said. He also told me ring Byrne’s in Carlow. They turned out to be The Traditional Lime Company. I rang and the man I spoke to told me he’d ring me back, I had disturbed his morning cup of tea………

The long and short of it was I convinced Elio to have a go. He didn’t do that Gallic shrug thing the French are wont to do, so that was encouraging. He didn’t look thrilled though. What had been his downfall was showing me photos of the stone wall he had built in the last place he had been on the Cork/Waterford border. He understood stone and that was nine tenths of the battle as far as I was concerned. I was sitting at the table outside on the patio with him and Michelle, the German Woofer (the crossover) having lunch when I suddenly decided; as I do a lot, to jump in the car and drive to Tullow in Carlow to buy the NHL 3.5 lime, the 0.5ml sand and the lime putty. Michelle on hearing it would probably take me most of the afternoon to drive there and back asked how far it was. She burst out laughing when I told her 60km odd. Twisty turny roads and up over Mount Leinster doesn’t make for much speed. I got it and the next day we set about mixing the mortar. Once more Larry the neighbour came to the rescue. I reckon I’m providing endless entertainment here because a neighbour can rarely pass the gate without having to stop to see what’s going on. He offered his drill and a mixer attachment to mix the mortar.

Elio and myself set to it but it became apparent that he was a natural and I was just annoying him. He told me to go away. He got half the front done in no time and then was itching to lime wash it. We probably should have waited another day or two but I was dying to see what it would look like as well. He put on the first coat and stood scratching his head. Is it supposed to be so watery and all running down the wall? We thickened up the mix and applied a second coat. Then stood back to admire the gleaming white. He headed off to Dublin to run the Half Marathon for the weekend and myself and Michelle stood looking at it in horror the next morning. Drizzley rain overnight had washed most of it off.

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However, when he came back on Monday he applied several more coats and this time they stuck. He finished the back and then showed Michelle how to do it. She’s out there now slowly and forensically finishing it off. She does everything slowly and forensically including surgically removing weeds which is a skill that should be on her cv! She was one of the others I said yes to when she requested to come and then promptly forgot all about her. That was why I had a crossover for a couple of weeks.

I said yes to a big hairy Spanish chap who says he’s an electrician and carpenter but although he initially replied, I’ve had no definite confirmation from him. So when Michelle leaves next month I may not get anyone else.

The little shed is looking mighty fine now like the grand old dame she is. A neighbour thinks it may have been the original farmhouse on the property as it’s got a mezzanine. There is also has the remnants of the old milking machine and pressure guage inside plus the little annexe they put the calves into when they were milking the cows. I keep my feed in here and for now my new hens are in it until they get accepted by the existing bullies.

Having Woofers turned out to be a very positive experience and one that I will definitely do again. I think we all gained from it. And once you get over the horror of someone in your house long term, it’s absolutely fine.

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Job done

 

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