The NWS

Tintern woods

The new woofing season has begun and all of a sudden I’m inundated with applicants. They all have waffley bullshit on their profiles, for the most part translated by Google and I quote ” I think I own a great spirit of collaboration and adaptation, coupled with a full application of everything I do……….” And they all love animals and sustainability and the countryside; until the reality hits and they have to get out of their pit to feed same animals – in the countryside – before they feed themselves!

But one chap decided he didn’t need any old Google help and just sent me his in Spanish. I replied that I had done one year of Spanish which amounted to: muchas gracias, como se llama, uno, dos, tres Cerveza, donde este etc. He then sent me muchas the sameas above.

I took a woofer for a week, a French lassie who was at a friend’s the previous week. I actually needed her for the following week but was hoping she would work out and stay but she told me she had her next place lined up in Bantry. She’s a graduate of some sort of environmental/sustainability degree – gawdelpus.

I’ve now decided to tell them all they can come for a week’s trial. I was really spoiled by the two I had last summer and suspect I will go a long time before I get half as good.

The sap is beginning to rise though and I’m itching to get stuff done again. I was able to look out the window in winter and just sigh. Funny how longer daylight and warmer temperatures change your perception. I was out with said woofer having decided that it was pointless looking for a “man with a digger” trying to level an area on the opposite side of the hayshed where I had the Mickey Mouse tunnel last year. My plan is to move the tunnel here where it will get almost as much sun but will be sheltered from the south and the south west. Every time there was a storm last summer I was up in the night squinting out the window to see was it still there or was it airborne over Cardiff. Larry the neighbour appeared on the ditch like the proverbial hurler and proceeded to lambaste me. He said phone Jack “he has a digger” and gave me his number.

I ran into the house and grabbed the phone. It’s a mobile but it spends that much time plugged into the wall it may as well be a landline. Jack answered and said “when do you want it done?”. I said cheekily “today”. He replied he’d be there in the morning at 9.30am. I couldn’t believe my luck. I raced off down to Dunphy’s of Campile. You’d want to see this place. Stuffed to the gills with everything from a needle to an anchor. You have to duck going in the door so as not to get whacked on the head by a colander. If there is a tradesman coming out, you’ve to turn sideways to protect your modesty and are full frontal into a line of paint cans. Then you’ve to stand and wait your turn while one of the taciturn brothers takes their time to serve the person in front. They go off looking for each item individually, including out back, answer the phone, take in deliveries, tot up bills, do the invoices. So it can be a long wait. A resident Englishman (there every single time I’ve been) turns around and informs new customers “you best not be in a hurry.”

I digress. I was there to buy a new spade. One of said taciturn brothers helpfully dug (no pun intended) me out a womany one. I also wanted fencing posts and wire. Do. Not. Ask. How. Much. anything is because then they have to go off to check and this adds another ten minutes. Stuff purchased so I had to drive around the back to get loaded up. Same brother came out to load me up while the line in the shop grew ever longer.

Next morning – no sign of the woofer crawling out of her pit so as I was awake at cock crow (literally), I was out like an idiot feeding the animals. Then grab some breakfast to be organised for the man with the digger, who was late. He appeared at the gate on a JCB. I couldn’t see what I assumed was a trailer behind with a mini digger. I ran over to open the gate for him. Then it dawned on me it was only him on his JCB. I told him he wouldn’t fit in. “Show me,” he says. Why do men never take your word? He agreed he wouldn’t fit.

So back to the drawing board. My son says hire one and he will come down and do it. But he needs to check his roster and I need to book a digger and don’t you know the digger will be booked up for weeks and then his roster will change.

What I have decided though is to wait a few weeks before agreeing to take anymore woofers. The weather is just still too unpredictable and after a day’s rain yesterday where we got absolutely nothing done apart from bake.

And the less of that the better.

Coffee cake

The Winter

img_0649
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.

img_9880
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.

img_0575

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.

img_0636

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.

img_0628

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.

The Straw

I knew from the previous year that small square bales of straw would be difficult to come by and didn’t want to risk moving the animals here and face the prospect of trying to buy. Of course this meant a lot of slagging, from my son and from various friends (all men). My son had a point except he didn’t really. It wasn’t logical to buy straw and transport it the length of the country normally but in this case it turned out to be very logical. Another friend gave me some amount of slagging over my “golden currency”.

Anyway I stuck to my guns and persuaded my son to borrow a van from his father to transport my “golden currency” along with my plants in containers from the garden. I had told the removal company I only wanted them to move what was in the house. We had earmarked a weekend when there wasn’t a rugby match on and when his girlfriend was working. On the way down I got “the lecture” that I had been getting for weeks at this stage. “Why you had to pick somewhere so far away” (read that as far from Dublin not Meath), why you have to be so illogical not to get the removal company to do this (last time I checked house removal companies aren’t too fond of moving agricultural commodities), what would you have done if you hadn’t me? (probably be a lot wealthier, with a high flying career and getting significantly less grief). You know the drill. Anyway he shut up when I took him for food (fish) in the local. Having lived in Meath for so many years it is particularly mind-blowing how damn good the food in pubs and restaurants is here.

Not long after we arrived with the load my phone rang and it was my house hunting friends who were in the area at a school open day (Newtown in Waterford). I said why don’t you hop on the ferry which crosses between Passage East and Ballyhack and come over meet us for lunch. They did and then of course my friend’s husband (the builder) had a field day with my son slagging me about the “golden currency”. “Should you hook up the house alarm to the shed in case it gets stolen etc. etc?” Hilarious.

I can tell you I wasn’t laughing during that long winter of 2017-2018 when Wexford was hit with the worst snow in 72 years and I had plenty of straw for my animals. I used the same amount of straw as would normally last me a full year.

I just had had an inkling I would need it.