The Spring

          Post-breakfast snooze

The beginnings of spring were felt almost it seemed in mid-winter with buds on trees and daffodils in flower in January. I kept looking at them hoping we wouldn’t get more snow to bury them. So far we haven’t and we are in the middle of another mild spell after a brief cold one.

 

All the animals are out enjoying the mild winter and the pigs in particular have spent relatively few days in bed. Apart from a post-breakfast snooze if it’s cold, wet or windy.

 

Having barely had contact with the vets since I moved apart from the weaner who cut herself, I had that awful experience with Honky’s pedicure. And then one day I noticed the fat cat appeared very fat. He was always at the door inside the shed in the morning waiting for his breakfast so figured that was why.

I had installed a cat flap in the newly replaced windows that up to this had been propped open to allow the cats to get in and out. But one morning after a very vicious storm I opened the door to a soaking wet shed that seemed much brighter. The entire iron framed window had been blown into the field.

The shed is south facing on that side and most of the wind we get here is southerly or south easterly. I had had new glass put in in the summer and by some miracle it was still intact despite big stones that had been rooted up by the weaners. I decided I had better get the window closing properly and the cat flap was installed. Up to this the feral cats from the stable yard across the road had begun coming in for food. The cat flap stopped them for a while. It didn’t stop the goats though…….

The goats hear me in the shed with the cats and jump up on the window sill for a nosy and what better way to have a nosy than stick your head through the flap? Thankfully Freda Goaty McGoatface can’t manage this with her horns.

Anyway I noticed the fat cat had what appeared to be big jowls. But one morning whatever way I looked the jowl appeared lob sided. I felt it and he made a low growling noise. It dawned on me it was a massive abscess. I rang the vet and made an appointment. It was Thomas one of the vets who had treated Honky that day. He said yes it was an abscess and inserted a syringe to see if he could draw the fluid but nothing came. He gave me antibiotics and told me to see how he was in a few days.

Two days later it burst as I was trying to give him his antibiotic. Initially I thought he had got sick. It drained for well over a day. I assumed that would be the end of it. But a massive hole appeared in the skin and underneath you could see the fang marks into his flesh. It was horrific. He seemed very unwell and wasn’t eating. I took him back to the vet who said straight away it had developed into cellulitis probably caused by Pseudomonas and it definitely was a cat bite. He said cats are totally vicious when fighting and go for the jugular. They also have a lot of very nasty bacteria in their mouth.  He injected him with both a new antibiotic and a pain killer and told me to bring him back every day for the next three days.

 

He thought he would need surgery to remove or debride (I had to come home and Google that) all the infected tissue but couldn’t do anything until the infection was cleared. At the next check up he said he thought it might heal on its own and he wouldn’t need surgery. I was so relieved and he seemed better in himself. But then a couple of mornings later I noticed the area was very hot, inflamed and the skin seemed very taught so made an appointment. They decided to take him in. Thomas rang me at lunchtime to say he had cleared away a lot of necrotic and infected tissue and strangely enough, fat. Then stitched him up and put a drain in. He said it would need a lot of cleaning and care but I could pick him up later that evening.

When I collected him he was still very staggery so I left him in the cage. He wouldn’t eat or drink and kept making awful howling sounds. The effect of the sedation wearing off. I don’t know what sedation does to a brain but it really can’t be good. Looking at what Honky went through and knowing how I felt after I last had a general anaesthetic it’s no wonder that they try not to use them on elderly people or anyone with dementia or Parkinson’s.

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I spent the next few days dragging 5 litre bottles of sea water up from the beach, boiling and cooling it and bathing him in it. I also dripped honey into the wound and fed him kefir (antibiotics wipe out all bacteria including the beneficial ones and they need replacing). I also diluted Citricidal which is grapefruit seed extract and a powerful antimicrobial and used it for cleaning the wound. He had to go back the other day to have the drain removed and this time it was Mary who had also treated Honky and the weaner. She isn’t happy about it at all as the swelling is back so wants to have him in on Thursday to do a biopsy and possibly culture the pus to see what the bacteria is. He’s had four antibiotics already and they are not working. The sign of things to come with bacterial resistance? It’s not only humans who will be affected but animals as well.

It’s worrying because he’s an old cat. At 10 he’s the longest surviving cat I’ve ever had. When I lived in Meath, cats were regularly wiped out on the road as it was impossible to keep them in. He has only survived because he is so damn weird and nervy and afraid of his own shadow. He is also the gentlest cat and has played with every kitten who has passed through.

Meanwhile back on the ranch the goats continue to amuse and frustrate. I had to boost the electric fencing to three strands and for the moment it is working although they will still jump it or dive through it to follow me down the fields. I feel guilty restricting them so but until I get a fence erected to stop them getting in around house they have to be contained. They demolish plants and jump on or in everything including the car or a ladder if you happen to be up it or not. 

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A couple of weeks ago I was jarring up marmalade one evening when I heard a commotion at the gate and someone calling me. I went out to find Paddy who had cut the trees down in summer and another man. “I hear you’re looking for a pocán” says he. “I am” says I. “But I only want the lend of him.” He says straight away “a bit like a man?”.

Lots of laughter and innuendo later he gave me his phone number and we will do a deal. I asked him what he did with his goats and he said nothing, they were like his children. I get that. It’s funny both goats and pigs are highly entertaining, intelligent and thoroughly frustrating but you get to love them in a way I can’t imagine loving cattle or sheep or even horses of which I have experience. He reckons my goats are older than I thought they were so I will borrow his billy at the end of the month. The gestation is five months so that means kids around the beginning of August.

I wonder will motherhood calm them down any?

 

 

The Pig’s Prayer

It’s the Chinese New Year on the 5th of February and this year, it’s the Year of the Pig.

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So in honour of the pig I’d like to pen a short prayer.

Let every pig live free – of cage and pen.

Let every pig feel the sun on it’s back, the rain, the hail, the snow and the wind.

For in experiencing sun you must experience the bad.

Let every pig decide when to sleep or root; eat or not.

Let every pig wallow.

Let every pig leg it to soft shelter when the heavens open.

Let every pig toss fresh straw to make a bed.

Let every pig grunt greetings to pigs or people it knows.

Let every pig wag it’s tail for joy.

Let every pig lie and bask in sun or shade.

Let every pig snuggle it’s young unhindered.

Let every pig explore.

Let every pig escape.

Let every pig taste sweet, sour and umami.

Let every pig choose…..

 

to behave as a pig: as nature intended.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The End

It’s just over a year since I upped sticks with pigs. Not sure where I’m going with this blog but glad I wrote it down as I remembered it. Having your dad die from dementia concentrates the memory. I don’t care how many people read this but I’m glad I’ve written it down now for posterity and hopefully my descendants.

The goats came about one evening when I was up a ladder waving a sweeping brush trying to get errant ducks down off a roof. The stupid duckers (that should be an “f”) fly up around roosting time. If they’d stay up there it’d be grand, but they don’t. The dopey duckers fly down once it gets dark and are sitting targets for le renard/brer fox. Well anyway my mobile rang in my pocket. Answer it and it’s D, my neighbour “do you want goats?” Sigh. “D, I’m up a ladder trying to shoo stupid ducks down, can I talk to you tomorrow?”……..

To cut a long story short, as dad was fond of saying (but he never did), I agreed to go look at them. A few days later he rang me to say he’d be down for me in 10 minutes. Five hours later still no sign. Could you explain this to any other nationality? But anyway to us Irish that’s normal. He explained later he’d got a “call out”. He’s one of the best tractor mechanics in the country I’m told.

We took off a few days later at short notice (me) to look at the goats. I jumped into his van and asked how far is it. “About 10 minutes”…….. the answer to every question in rural Ireland is the same. We got there in five. It was an empty, bleak, boring Irish cottage with a “garden”……..an acre. Around the back a ramshackle shed with two kids, one tied up. They were adorable and so friendly. I had been told they were male and female, unrelated and not “done”. The black one had horns so I assumed this was the male. I said to D “can we take them now in your van?” I was upset at the one chained. He said yes and proceeded to shove tool boxes up to the front. We lifted them over the wall and into the van and drove back with lots of “baas” and currant production in the back…….

I have to say that they were belong to his brother (who had bought them as pets for his kids but they’d got fed up of them). We weren’t just robbing them.

So we got them home and I took the chain off “the male”. I put them in the pigs’ stable and put back up the electric fencing around a paddock for them.

I named them Freddy and Fodhla (Fola). Days later I spotted Freddy squatting to pee. It suddenly dawned on me that Freddy was actually Freda but now they just respond to Goaty McGoatface and love when I sing “The Lonely Goatherd” to them.

They’ve done their bit climbing and escaping but not as much as I’ve been warned.

I can’t stay mad at them for long though because they are just so damn cute.

What’s new for 2019? Well hopefully I will continue working to restore all the outbuildings and get a garden and proper tunnel on the go. I’ll start taking Woofers again from spring and continue with AirBNB.

I got five ducks killed, plucked and freezer ready from a place I had bought new pullets in during the summer. The day I collected them I also collected my turkey from the farm shop in New Ross. I almost fell out of my standing when they told me it was €89. The farmer who killed my ducks almost fell out of his several times. He was killing and plucking turkeys the same day. He told me he will sell me a couple of poults next September to rear myself and he will kill and pluck for me and the two of them won’t cost the colour of €89.

I had my own ham for Christmas and gave one to my neighbour who supplied all my water during the heatwave in summer.

It gives me immense satisfaction to produce my own food but particularly meat. Pigs and poultry are reared in the most horrendous conditions in this country (for the most part). I know what I’m eating has eaten, how it lived and how it died. If you’re going to eat an animal, that should be the least it deserves. Pigs are supremely intelligent animals. We have to get off this pedestal we have put ourselves on (mostly due to religion). We are not better than animals. We share the planet with them and we must respect them. If we don’t, we are fucked. Not to put a tooth in it.

The Honks

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Anyone familiar with my story up to this will know that I’m potty about pigs but extra specially potty about one. Honky is a pig I reared from birth. She was completely bottle fed by me having got severe scour and almost dying. Then when I tried to reintroduce her to her siblings they bullied her so she effectively became a member of the household.

Eventually she was moved out and socialised with her own sort but she still has a big part of my heart. The fact that she’s an utter wagon is neither here nor there. She’s grumpy, touchy, easily irritated but also when she feels like it and entirely on her terms – affectionate and loving. She also gives me a huge welcome if she hasn’t seen me for a few days and she demonstrates extreme happiness.

From birth she’s had foot problems. The vet where I lived before said she had laminitis and so I fed her special food for horses who suffer the same. She tends to get bouts particularly when she’s in season and there’s been times she wouldn’t get out of bed even to eat. I’ve seen her walk on her elbows when it’s been very severe.

However, recently I noticed her front feet were very long and in need of a trim. Then I discovered one hoof was split. I spoke to the vets in Wellingtonbridge and I also enquired with a man who pared cattle’s feet. He said straight away that she wouldn’t fit in the crush he uses to hold the cows as he had difficulty even holding weanlings. So the vets decided the only option was sedation. You can’t just lift a pig’s foot like a horse and you can’t just do anything to her Honkyness. She is super sensitive to any interference on her person.

The vet practice rang me to say they were having difficulty sourcing the sedation for pigs and over a week went by. I called in one day to see what the problem was and was told they had got it and would be out the next day. I got a brainwave and asked my neighbour who is a blacksmith if he would be here as well to advise. He agreed.

During the summer one of the weaners had cut her foot very badly probably on some glass or barbed wire or rusty barrels that had been dumped and buried on the land here by the previous owners. I had spent ages picking up anything I had come across but pigs being pigs had obviously rooted up more. It was a really nasty gash but I figured out that it couldn’t be stitched but it needed a deep clean and she probably needed an antibiotic shot. A young slight woman had come out and to say she rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in is an understatement. Most vets have very little experience of pigs and are even scared of them. She asked me to try to hold the pig and she dived in and began cleaning the wound. Holding a 65kg squirming, squealing pig is not easy and it took us all our strength to get the wound cleaned. She was marvellous so I asked for her to come out to sedate Honky.

They rang me to say they were on their way and I rang my neighbour. Another vet had come along, a young man who also was really impressive. You might wonder why I am commenting like this but I’ve had experience of calling vets in the past to come to treat a horse who were patently scared of horses and vets who were totally useless with pigs. Just like any profession there are many more average than excellent.

They had a look at Honky and estimated her weight. I suggested in the region of 300 kg and they thought it was in the ball park. Mary drew up a syringe of the sedative and said that she reckoned it would be more than enough. I grabbed a bucket of food and gave it to Honky then got the other two out with their food. She got the needle in behind her ear easily and we waited and we waited. I asked how long it would take to act and she said about 5 minutes. After about 10 she appeared a bit shaky on her feet but then she can often appear like that. They kept saying any minute now. She started to shake her head and make strange noises but showed no sign of going down. It was like she was trying to clear a fog from her brain. I said I don’t think that is going to work and they decided to give her another dose. This time she was much more irritated by the injection and they just about managed to get it in. And then we waited and waited and waited.

She started to go down but fought it tooth and nail. Then eventually she keeled over.  But she had managed to stagger back up and over to the only place in the shed that wasn’t bedded and she began to slam her head down on the hard ground as if she was rocking to get back on her feet. My immediate instinct was to rush over to stop her hurting herself. They all screamed at me to stay away from her. She could crush and kill me. So we could do nothing but stand and watch this horror hoping the sedation would take enough effect and she would stop. But it didn’t. Larry my neighbour shouted that she was going to do herself serious injury and jumped over the fence to grab a rope. He knotted it in such a way that he was able to get it in her mouth and behind her tusks and he pulled her down. Immediately Thomas lay across her head and Mary set to work with a very blunt set of clippers. At this stage it was getting dark and they had to work with only light from a head torch and fast to get the job done before the sedation began to wear off. Mary said to me to get more straw to surround her with and as I squeezed behind Larry he released tension on the rope and she began to move. Even with two doses that would floor an elephant she wasn’t fully sedated.

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After about half an hour of paring her feet and cleaning out an infection in one they were almost finished. Larry once again released the tension on the rope and she began the head slamming again. He had to tighten it as they sprayed blue spray and gave her injections of anti-inflammatory and antibiotics. Then they told me it “should” wear off in an hour. Four hours later I was still beside her shoving straw under her head to prevent her bashing her brains in. I couldn’t leave her for a minute. I had let the others back in as they were going crazy at the door wanting to go to bed. They of course wanted to investigate what was up with her.

I sat beside her stroking her head and shoving straw under it for ages. At one point she began grinding her teeth and it was so severe I was really worried she would bite her tongue and choke on the blood. Then she began frothing at the mouth. At this stage I was completely terrified and too scared to leave her for a second. I had put my phone in the house to charge or I would have rung the vets to come back out. She began to vomit a huge amount of green bile that smelt horrendous and I had to try and clear that out from under her head. Eventually the head slamming began to slow down to just periodic bouts and I was able to get up. I banked up straw all around her, left her but came back out to check her every half hour. At about 10 pm she had moved into a normal lying position with her head up. To say I was relieved was a massive understatement.

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Finally the head slamming stopped and she appeared to be sleeping

I checked her a few more times before going to bed and considered checking her during the night but figured out what she needed was sleep and peace and quiet.

Next morning she looked up when I went into feed the others but didn’t get up. I carried her food over to her and she took a mouthful but seemed to find chewing painful. I’d say she had bitten her tongue. I tried her with a bowl of watered down cream as I had some in the fridge but she wouldn’t even take that. I had to go into the vets to get more antibiotics and copper sulphate for a footbath, so got a brainwave and bought yoghurt and bananas. She delicately ate a whole bunch of peeled bananas (she’d normally eat the skin as well). I couldn’t get any fluid into her but was relieved she had eaten the fruit. She never ventured out of bed all that day or the next.

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Sick, groggy and disoriented the next day

On Sunday morning she refused her food again but ate the bananas and yoghurt and this time I managed to get some kefir into her. She had got up on Saturday but was very distressed and agitated. She would lie down then get up again on repeat. I put the radio on and it appeared to settle her. I left it on for two days.

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Listening to LyricFM

During this time my neighbour was popping in to check on her (and me) and he said he reckoned it was a big mistake to sedate her. The vets had said that pigs aren’t like other animals and you can’t reverse the sedation. It was a miracle that she didn’t have a heart attack during it or do herself a serious injury. I don’t think I could watch any animal go through what she did again and certainly not her.

It was such a relief on the Sunday evening when she was actively shouting for her food because I had to begin the antibiotic powders then (the injection they had given her was only good for two days).

Then on Monday when I discovered her outside,  I was overjoyed. If anything had happened to her because of the sedation I don’t think I would ever have forgiven myself. I know she had to have her feet treated but sedation must be extremely hard on pigs. The whole thing was an absolute nightmare and I was fit for nothing after the stress of it.

They say you should never get too fond of animals you rear for food but Honky was given a pardon days after her birth and she’s the very same to me now as a dog, a cat or a horse. I love her and in her own way I know she loves me.

The Guests

 

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I decided around the same time I was going to host Woofers that I would set up as an AirBnB as well. I have two spare rooms, one ensuite and figured since I’m nearly always around it would be a nice little earner. From the off virtually everything that could go wrong, did. But the biggest nightmare was shortage of water due to the drought.

 

You can’t accept paying guests and expect them to do a rain dance every time they wanted a shower. I had to turn down a good number of bookings. AirBnB frown on this and make your property virtually invisible. It’s hard enough to get queries anyway when you’re starting out but this made it impossible. I couldn’t figure out why no matter what area I put in to search properties around about, one place kept showing at the top of the list. And it isn’t anything special, believe me. Plus it wasn’t anywhere near the places it said it was. Frustrating to say the least. It also depends on reviews and it’s so disheartening when you bust a gut for very little money and you get none.

 

However, I decided I was in it for the long haul and slowly I would build up a reputation. Their website is really really badly set up. It’s beyond confusing and making a change to a price invariably causes confusion and mistakes. I’m not the only one who says this. I’ve heard it from other hosts and guests. I had decided to give a second guest sharing one room a small discount but when bookings were made they applied it regardless. This meant I hosted three Germans in the summer in two rooms for a pittance. My most recent guests the same. So I removed the discount and inadvertently made every guest after the first free…….

I then got a query from a couple and their brother staying one night in two rooms with breakfast for €31.66. She had even messaged me to say how much she was looking forward to breakfast. When I replied it was a mistake on my part. She replied “ I thought it was too good to be true”.

During the summer some of my Woofers went off at the weekend and booked hostels. They told me the prices ranged from €25-50 in a dorm with up to twelve and no breakfast. In an air bnb around here you don’t pay much more. Compare that to a regular B&B where you’d pay at least double or a three star hotel where it would probably be double again. And I can guarantee that the cooked breakfast will be the cheapest quality pork on the market.

I had decided I was going to feed guests the way I eat. There was no way I was going to buy intensively produced breakfast meats, or sliced pans or instant coffee. Guests here get homemade granola, organic yoghurt, my own sourdough, free range eggs from the hens outside the window, a selection of my jams and marmalades, real tea (not bags) and freshly ground and brewed organic coffee. I also put that I had my own bacon, sausage when available. When available and also not when AirBnB has applied a discount across the board.

So imagine how I felt to get complaints about the breakfast. The complainants also had asked if I had Earl Grey tea (which I had). They had had all of the above minus the bacon and sausage because I had made a decision I wasn’t going to give away my hard work for nothing.

This hard work was from April to September. Feeding pigs twice a day, not using commercial meal with pesticide laden GM soy. This meant that if I’m not around I have to pay someone to come in twice a day. This meant that I haul heavy bags of feed around myself. This meant that during the drought I lugged water out to them that my neighbour kindly provided when mine ran out. I also drive to the beach and collect seaweed and haul it back. I’m not writing this looking for sympathy. It is my decision to do it but it would be nice if your guests recognised this and the fact they are getting a breakfast better than any I’ve ever had in a 5 star hotel.

I also provide an evening meal if they request one. The quality of the food again is what I buy and cook for myself. For €25 a head they get two courses and a glass of wine. There are very nice places to eat locally and some are quite reasonable but guests have said I’m one of the few AirBnBs that offer this and they really appreciated it.

So I’m now at the point of should I just do away with the B supplying only the bed (and the air.) Or should I persevere and hope that I get a reputation as a quality AirBnB. Not supplying breakfast means a lot less work. You don’t have to get up an hour earlier than they say they’d like breakfast because you’ve still got to get all the animals fed first.

I think I will make a decision next summer when business (hopefully) picks up again.

 

But a small request? When you do stay in an AirBnB, particularly one starting out, please leave a review.  And please appreciate the little extras provided (the fresh towels, the slippers, the carafe of lovely well water, the hot water bottle service, the toiletries in case you’ve forgotten your own). Most of these you do not get as standard in a 4 star hotel. How often I’ve had to beg a grumpy bartender for water for my room.

 

The First Anniversary

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Photograph by El

This day last year repeated over and over in my head. Crippled by grief, by regret, by guilt. Wishing I had an hour, a measly hour to talk to you before that bastard disease took your brain.

This morning walking the fields with the pigs and the dogs. The sun shining in a deep blue sky. You would have loved it here. You loved being outside.

Dad, I woke this morning before 4am, about the time I left you last year, to get some sleep. I didn’t think you were going to go so soon, but you did. You never woke up. You never had that lucid few moments you hear some people have. You took your last breath with your youngest children holding your hands.

I got the call before 7am and we raced back down to the nursing home. If I could now have that hour with you I would tell you…….

There isn’t a day or a part of a day that I don’t think about you.

I see you on the beach every time I see the sun’s long shadows on shells.

I think of you when the wind is onshore or offshore or rippling on the tide racing in on sinking sands.

I saw you in the stars last night through the bathroom velux and then this morning I read the poem on your memorial “I am the soft starlight at night”…….

I think of you on cold frosty nights. “It’s perishing”, you would say as you felt the radiator.

I think of you when I see old men with their backs to me wearing beige coats and flat caps.

I think of you every time I walk the dogs. “Let them off the lead to have a run”…..

I think of you every time I see some “dirty looking eijit” driving on the beach. You’d have gone mad at that.

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I ask myself so often – where are you? Can you see us? Do you know what we are all doing?

Do you know we miss you? And.

Does this get any easier?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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