I wasn’t going to bother to update this blog. I kinda have an idea for it. But circumstances changed this year, so here goes. Bear with me, I may wax lyrical.
Last year I had no help (Woofers, Workaway, Helpx) and stuff ran away on me. The place went to hell in a hand basket. I was trying to run a small business, baking cakes, that was hellishly time consuming, but literally paid nothing. I covered my costs but my time was free. That’s unsustainable is anyone’s books and to add insult to injury, my beloved animals were suffering and the place was falling down around me. I had worked so hard up to this to try to restore the outbuildings and get the garden up and running but I just couldn’t do it all. Something had to give.
This year started off differently. My amazing neighbour helped me paint the house. I got all the out buildings painted myself because I was on a roll. Then I began to get applications from Workaway. My first one was an Italian who did a lot of weeding and painting.
Then I got the most surprising application of all. An Austrian lassie who was a carpenter. I had put on my profile, more in hope than expectation that I needed help with carpentry. She replied that she’d like to come here. I said yes and sent her my mobile number and suggested she communicate from now via WhatsApp. I arranged to meet her off the bus in New Ross. But I got the days and dates mixed up and sat like an eejit for 40 minutes waiting for her while she was doing a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. She was arriving the following day!
True to form I hadn’t really read her profile. I get so many applications that I just say yes to the vast majority because as you enter into a conversation with them you sort the men from the boys. Generally when I tell them what I expect, I never hear from them again. And what I expect in return for full bed and board with fabulous food (I haven’t had one nationality not be flabbergasted at the food here), is not a lot. I figure if they’re not prepared to do what I ask, they’re no loss. So I had only read her profile as I was sitting waiting for her on the wrong day.
So when I actually read it, I got a shock. She was a carpenter who worked as a cabinet maker. I suggested to her I really needed a storage solution for a corner in my kitchen that had a washing machine and a cupboard in it when I bought the house. I didn’t want a washing machine in the house so put mine in the shed opposite. I then installed a dishwasher in the kitchen and removed a cupboard to do so, putting it where the washing machine had been. But due to my general baking obsession and the business, the worktop above it had become storage space for tins, bowls and boxes of flour. It was a towering, tottering mess.
We pulled out the cupboards and got a plumber cum electrician to seal off the plumbing and move the socket up to accommodate my 30+ year old microwave. But we discovered a builder’s melee of heating manifolds and a power unit. Any larder cupboard had to make access to this mess a possibility. We sat at the kitchen table and drew a plan. Then we started to measure. This house, although renovated is probably well over 200 years old. The floor sloped as did the ceiling and the walls were plaster board.
We went to buy the wood. Holy God, the price of the stuff. Thanks to Brexit and Covid (well they’re given as the excuse for absolutely everything now) the cost was eye-watering. A very nice man in Foulksmills Stores suggested we use mdf and ply and trim the ply with wood. We ordered what we needed and they agreed to deliver the next day. In the meantime the Austrian told me she had never made anything out of a dedicated workshop and she needed tools. The only tool I had was a swanky Dewalt drill I’d invested in a week before. But as usual neighbours here came to the fore. ‘What do you need’? They had circular saws, clamps, supports, hand tools, screws, rawl plugs. You name it. One neighbour wheeled a mucking out wheel barrow full of stuff to my gate, shouted at me and said ‘here you go, shout if you need anything else….’
She found lots of problems. She was used to having the right space, the right tools. I kept telling her that my dad, an accountant, was a hobby carpenter who built a summer house in our garden without so much as a drill. He built dog houses, guinea pig houses, benches, cupboards, shelves, doors etc. and he hadn’t a fraction of the tools or workshop space she was used to. Then I took her down to the local joinery, who were delighted to give her a tour and tell her the exact same thing I had told her (re my dad). They bemoaned the fact that modern carpenters can’t do anything when there’s a power cut (no computers). She listened. She took it in and she rolled her sleeves up.
In a couple of days I had two units built, painted by me, (I wasn’t sitting on my hands) and installed. Then we cut the doors and went back to the joinery who loaned her a nail gun to put the trims on. In the picture below she’s adjusting the legs from the kitchen units (Cedarwood Kitchens) that we’d removed to reuse. She designed a removable board that allows access to the pipes etc and also access via a kickboard and a side panel.
We put one door on. We adjusted the shelves, we designed the spice rack for the door. We painted and installed the trims, the kickboard, the side panels, the architraving at the top and the handles. I made so many runs to the local hardwares for bits and pieces then I went to buy the paint. I intented going with Little Green but their mixing machine was broken so I went with Colourtrend. The doors are Kimono red, the little repurposed chest of drawers (bought in a junk shop place) Foxmount and I went with a cream colour called Nude Bisque for the interior. I wanted to unit to be totally unlike the shiny, white modern kitchen that was here when I bought the place (which I hate and want to change).
As we had cut the chest of drawers in half but she had left an overhang to support my ancient microwave, I said why don’t we make a narrow shelf unit for wine bottles? We did and it worked.
We then designed a spice rack to go on the smaller door. We went to the joinery to buy off cuts and get them to cut it. They misunderstood her units and when I went back to collect it, they were great big chunky pieces. The joinery owner said they’re her measurements and she’s a carpenter so basically don’t argue. I replied well she’s the carpenter but I’m the client and I don’t want a great hulking unit like that. When I got home she told me they’d read her metric units as imperial. In fact we went back to plane more off. We ended up with a class rack.
The photo above is with kitchen stuff literally thrown in. I had stuff all over the house (the house is small) and I just had to remove it. But it’s already almost full. It’s a bit like the M50, the more lanes you build, the more cars use it.
But the thing that most impresses me is this young woman. A farmer’s daughter set to inherit the farm who went off to train to be a carpenter. She’s sharp, intelligent, smart. She could do anything. If she was here, she’d have been browbeaten into university because everyone knows that if you’re intelligent here you go to college. Except why? There wasn’t an option when I was leaving school to learn a trade. I was smart, intelligent but I hadn’t a bloody clue what I wanted to do. In my fantasies I wanted to be a vet or a doctor (told I wouldn’t get the points), a journalist (told I wasn’t good enough at English). I know now I was more than good enough for all the above but I was also very good with my hands and have a keen eye (did photography as an elective in UCD and was told I had ‘a good eye’.) But no one ever suggested anything like carpentry. If they had my life might have been so different.
I think we all need more options. This Austrian is here learning about the Irish way of life, learning to ride, caring for horses, preparing horses for the sales (with my neighbour), discovering she’s a talented carpenter who can manage without a workshop and state of the art tools, learning to cook, learning English.
Making larders. She turned to me at one stage and said ‘maybe we could go into business making larders…..’