Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Tree

Our garden is surrounded by forestry and we're forever getting fir trees of various types seeding themselves. Very handy at Christmas. Here's Joe bringing this year's tree to the Barn. It was a funny shape. A two-thirds tree, perfect for pushing into a corner. 

We started trying to heat the Barn on Tuesday. The walls are two foot thick, so once it's warm it stays warm, but my parents arrive tomorrow and it still feels chilly in there. The stove is burning coal, the central heating is running, the electric radiators are on. A Major Battle! A Race Against Time! Will it pass the Mother Test?

It's so cold that the river that passes through the garden is iced over. The water is still running underneath, leaving a strange elevated shelf of ice in places.

The waterfalls are gorgeous - exotic grottos that look like they belong underground. Joe took this photo of just below the flat bridge. There's a huge plate of thick ice there.

And Lough Graney has frozen over. We've never seen that before. It happened in January while we were away, but the previous icing over happened many decades before. No doubt there'll be some eejit trying to drive a tractor across it. 

The snow is so powdery. It's strange having no slush. Clear blue skies make it feel Nordic, or perhaps Alpine. Power cuts and water problems, however, are very much of this place. There was a major problem with the pressure tank - Joe had to diffuse it the other morning. Frozen pipes led to an increase in pressure. The dial was on dangerous red. He had to put on his flak jacket and make sure he snipped the right wire to save us being blown into the heavens.

No cold water again this morning, but the intrepid husband knew what he had to do - remove a yokey-me-jig and get a replacement diaphragm. Or something. I left him at it while I walked the dogs (we were in a rush to get to Galway to pick up the turkey). When I got back he was staggering out of the boiler shed clutching a halogen heater. Both he and the heater were wet. I didn't ask. Me and the dogs went quietly inside.

The tree is up and dressed. It looks very festive. The photos of it, however, are crap, so I'm putting the moody (aka not-enough-light-because-Joe-was-playing-with-camera-settings) shot up here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I didn't write the Christmas cards

I'm in bed waiting for the snow. The bed thing isn't to hide from the weather but because I have a bad back and can't sit down for a long time. Joe gets this sort of thing a lot but I rarely get anything that makes me have to lie down. I didn't even do anything. Just sat up in the bed at my friend Jean's house in Dublin on Monday morning.

We'd gone up to Dublin for a reason. Every year there's a Christmas concert in St Bartholomew's Church, Clyde Road. It's one of the most beautiful churches I've ever been in. This is my second visit. Jean's father Bobby has been singing in the choir there since about the eighteenth century, and we went one Sunday morning a couple of years ago for the service. The vicar at the time gave a sermon people really did listen to and enjoy. He was a bit camp and used to cycle round Ballsbridge on an old sit up and beg wearing his cassock and hat. It's very high Church of Ireland with incense and ornate robes and sing-song responses.

Alan Stanford was doing the readings - he's best known for his work at the Gate Theatre, Dublin over the last twenty or so years. This was his 21st Christmas concert at St Bart's. He was very good, as was the choir. There were boys, girls and men in the choir. No women. Not sure if this is just because they only started taking girls in the choir a few years ago and none of them are old enough yet to be classed as women, or whether they get chucked out as soon as they start wearing bra and make up.

The back was ok on Sunday which was just as well as sitting in a church pew is a challenge at the best of times. It was Monday morning when I realised after making the tea that I could no longer bend down. We had to drive to Galway to have my thumb looked at which made it all worse. A visit to Mona my wonderful physio on Tuesday morning showed up raging inflammation. I'd had a bit of a virus over the last few days and it seems that had got into the joint. I didn't know that could happen. Nasty little virus. They go for the most vulnerable spots, it seems. The joints where you already have a weakness. Like the government going for the people who are already struggling to keep their heads above water.

The thumb was injured a while ago in a lavatory door accident - pulling a jammed door from the outside to release the poor woman trapped inside. My GP thought it was a soft tissue injury that would heal itself, even if it would take a while.

'No need for a splint,' he said.

This is how the stricken digit looked when I came out of the hospital. It seems the tendon that connects muscle to the last bone in the thumb has become detached. The splint has to stay on for six weeks. It's called a Zimmer splint and it looks, as someone pointed out, as though I have one of those fat toe nail files strapped to my finger.

The good thing about the back and thumb business is that Joe wrote nearly all the Christmas cards. Thank you Joe! 

In case anyone goes yuk at the thought of detached tendons, as one of my flute students did, here's some cute pictures of Aoife taken by Jean in Dublin. They'll take your mind off it.
 Aoife likes to get herself wrapped in a blanket but forgot she had this one over her when there was a sudden smell of Bonios.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Thaw - Day Eleven

Finally green is reappearing all around us. But our bit of road out is still completely treacherous. It must be the last road in the county to thaw. At the moment (one o'clock) there is a layer of ice with water on top. It's about as slippy as it gets. So thoughts of bringing the car back to the house are scuppered.

Joe's just been out to Ryan's Bridge and scattered sand around the car, started it up, and taken it up the hill to the main road. Everything's clear out there.

We have plans for crampons and tyre socks. Tyre socks is a concept I'd never come across until I heard the AA on the radio talking about them. And a friend down the hill who walked up for a visit had them. They allow you to drive on snow and ice and are easy to put on and take off. The friend also had metal strips used in the building trade screwed to her boots. They were turned up at the edges to give grip. Not as easy to put on and off as crampons, but they certainly did the trick.

We won't be caught out next time. Really really.

I suppose we'll get all stocked up with stuff and there'll never be a freeze like this again. Or at least not until a month after we've thrown them all out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Freeze - Day Nine

When I got a text yesterday from Scarriff Community College saying the school would be closed today I was surprised. The local primary school has been closed since last week, but the secondary school stayed open. The Scarriff roads were gritted and free from snow last week but now there's freezing fog down there in the valley and the roads are lethal. I suspect they've had less students each day as the conditions settled into solid ice.

At least I don't have to make a decision about whether to try to get into the school for the lunchtime trad music group I've been involved in. I really had thought I'd be going to that today. That conditions would be better.
The ice is getting thicker on the flat bridge. We've put down a trail of ash from the range and the sitting room stove which helps with the walking, but there's no way we'd get a vehicle across it. And even though we left the car at Ryan's Bridge a five-minute walk away, I don't think we'd get that out today either. I'm supposed to be teaching tomorrow. We'll see what happens.

It's raw today with a north wind. Outside is very quiet. No distant sounds at all. Standing in the garden it felt as though the world had closed in to our little valley. Our muscles have become used to walking in ice and snow so we stride up the hill to the top where everything is cold and still. It's slower coming down. Going out towards the main road is getting awkward. The strip of snow up the middle, the safe place for walking, is narrowing from the few vehicles that have passed up and down.

As always I wonder how the birds can survive such harsh conditions, especially the tiny ones. I'm putting out food two or three times a day. I counted 26 chaffinches this morning. The blackbirds and fieldfares are still busy at the apples - 27 fieldfares the other day and 16 blackbirds. I've been hacking
Bird bath ice shapes
ice-bound apples out of piles tipped off the lawn in autumn and scattering them under the apple tree where there's less snow and ice to provide food for a few days more.

Under the hanging bird bath is evidence of the continuing freeze - ice shapes from previous days' upending of the water container. I haven't seen any birds using it yet. It's fairly new and they're suspicious. Or perhaps they're getting their drinking water elsewhere. Not from the garden pond though. That's solid with ice.

The skies look as though we may get more snow. There was a sprinkling this morning. There's a thaw promised for Thursday but it's beginning to feel as though this is the world now. We're into a steady rhythm of getting in fuel, trying to keep pathways safe to walk on, feeding the birds. We have become insular. A strange inertia has settled on the house which has become a place of hibernation. I've stopped being anxious about things. It feels like it will be more and more difficult to go out into the world again.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Still iced in - mostly

Looking towards the flat bridge
On Thursday we decided to try to get the car as far as Ryan's Bridge (a five-minute walk). The trickiest, iciest section of the track out is close to the house. We have to cross a flat bridge then make an immediate right turn up a hill. There was thick ice on the bridge and on the other side, so Joe went down with a pick axe and shovel. Hack hack hack,  a severe application of sand and we were ready to make the attempt. We took precautions - two sacks of sand and a shovel in the boot of the car and off we went.

Dogs at Ryan's Bridge

 It was unnerving going across the bridge - it has no sides - but over we went and up the small hill on the bend without a bother to park at Ryan's Bridge, the point where our track meets the slightly bigger track. There were the tracks of two vehicles. How dare they drive up and down here? The more the snow compacts the harder it is for our car to get traction. Didn't these people know they were adding to our problems? What did they think they were doing using our public road. Hrummph hrummph.

We left the car at the bridge. On Friday, we thought, we'd be out of here no problem.

Woke to thick snow, on the ground and still falling. Looked like we were in for the duration. But a miracle thaw (okay, it had been predicted by the weather people) began around midday. We phoned a neighbour who said cars were passing from Scarriff, so we set off for the car, hats on, walking sticks at the ready. In Scarriff it felt like coming down from the fringes, from the Wild West, the mountainy people staring wide-eyed at the big town where you could buy stuff.

Loaded up with supplies we felt secure. Among our purchases were two packs of butter -  required for pastry for mince pies. I make gluten-free pastry and butter is what you need to use - with margarine the pastry becomes frighteningly stretchy and unwieldy. The first batch of mince pies had been delicious. We were looking forward to this second lot. I'll just send a quick email, I thought. While my back was turned the range took off to hot hot hot. Four of the mince pies were just about edible.

Back from walking the dogs. It's freezing fast and getting treacherous out there. The bit of thaw hasn't helped one bit. At the top of the hill we realised we were being surrounded. Great banks of freezing fog. The mast on Maghera mountain was just visible. Slieve Bearna had gone altogether. The fog is all around the house now. Maybe I'd better stuff old socks and knickers under the doors to stop it getting in.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December and it snowed.

The forecast was wrong. Very wrong. We woke yesterday morning to snow. We weren't supposed to get snow. I checked and checked different online forecasts and listened to every report on the radio. Dublin and Wicklow were to get it, not us. Even when the electric meter man said we would have snow on Monday night we thought he must be wrong. Instead he was probably listening to Clare FM who had a much better idea of what was going on than the regional reporters. So we didn't go into Scarriff for supplies while we had the chance.

As I said in the last blog, it's not the snow as such that causes us problems, it's the snow half thawing and compacting into ice. If you can get out before the major compacting and refreezing you have a chance so yesterday we made a run to the shop in Flagmount. Annette said she'd never had such a busy Tuesday morning. In everyone's mind was the freeze in January when people were trapped in their houses for a week or more.

The 'main' road
So this morning we walked to the main road. This is the Gort to Scarriff road reported on Clare FM - the only road in the county mentioned - as being particularly treacherous. The road is a pure white compaction of snow with ice underneath - an ice rink.

It's all very beautiful of course, and I thought I'd love it, but I'm finding myself anxious. I should be teaching flute this afternoon/evening but have had to cancel. Even if I did get in at 5 miles an hour (so an hour and a half to get there), the thought of driving home in the dark with the temperature plummeting by the second is not appealing. In fact it would be stupid. Tomorrow I'll miss my poeting in Galway, a treat of the week, my city buzz.

The broadband is flaky. It's entirely possible the deep well pump will freeze and we'll be breaking the ice on the small river to get a supply.

Ha ha. And we might not get out til Thursday week.

Stop complaining woman! We have a winter's worth of fuel in the shed. The pantry is full of food and so is the freezer. We've a whole Christmas cake to eat (I can always make another one). And the small dog is in heaven scooting about in the snow.

Looking over to Lough Graney from the end of our road.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Winter wonderland time. The garden has transformed itself from the browns of early winter to Narnia, with frost glittering on every branch and the small scattering of snow lying all day in places the sun didn't reach.

The post and the electricity meter reader arrived here with no problem, so the roads are clear at the moment. Our difficulty arises when we have a fall of snow which half melts then refreezes. No gritting of the roads round here, so the hills in particular become impassable.

Part of me longs for the snowfall that's forecast for the east of the country, but the other half wants 'out there' to remain accessible. Perhaps we'll have to do what a friend did last winter when we were in India away from the last big freeze - he carried a bag of grit and a shovel in his car boot, so could grit himself out of a wheel-spinning standstill.

More photos of the garden - an antidote to the bad numbers being reported endlessly on the radio.

The polytunnel hasn't lost its layer of snow from the weekend, leaving it cold inside even when the sun is shining, but I'm assuming there will be an insulating effect too, so maybe it'll be a little warmer at night that it would otherwise have been. I've covered the strawberry plants in there with dry bracken, so they'll be ok.

I also covered all the pelargoniums (more popularly known as geraniums) with agricultural fleece - I lost all of them last year, in spite of them being in the glasshouse. These look as though they're off to a wedding.

Today the house has been filled with Christmas smells. I made the first lot of mincemeat and took a photo of it. They're not maggots in there, really they're not. It's vegetable suet. The mince pies with the cup of tea were delicious and not in the least maggoty.

The Christmas cake has been in the oven for the last four hours, the tin wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string to stop it burning. I'm going to go and check it now to see if it's done. This is the first check. It usually takes several as it always takes longer than I expect to cook. Hope it's not burned having said all that.

Nope. Not done at all. Another hour I'd say.

A mouse ran along the base of the cupboards in the kitchen today in full view of Joe and I. The dogs noticed nothing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Trying to catch the shot

The haggard is full of blackbirds busy at the apples. Whenever you go out there they cluck hysterically, judgementally. How dare you disturb their feast. There are fieldfares too. I was glad to see them back, right on time. End of November every year they appear, winter visitors from Scandinavia. I've seen three so far in the garden, but up the track this morning towards Jones's eighteen or twenty flew over. I was out with the camera just now, trying to catch a photo, but there was silence. Not a one. I'll have to try earlier - there was a good crowd feasting this morning.

Then I was trying to capture a coal tit on the seed feeder, also in the haggard. Here's the result of that one:

 Then I went for the easy option. The bird table outside the kitchen door. Only not so easy. The buggers all disappeared of course, and it's freezing cold today, so no fun sitting there with the half door open. But eventually the great tits, blue tits and goldfinches reappeared. Busy times at the table.

I have such admiration for wildlife photographers who sit for hours in freezing and wet conditions to get the shot they want. I haven't the patience for that at all. I can probably manage ten minutes. Maybe twenty when the weather's good.
I seem to be on the road to Galway a lot at the moment. I was asked to read poetry at a fundraiser for the Galway Rape Crisis Centre tonight - much to my amazement. It's at the Crane Bar and should be a good night - not because of me, I might add. It's a night of entertainment by women artists of various hues - official name An Evening Celebrating Women in Action. I find I'm getting a little nervous, but nowhere near as terrified as I would be if I were playing flute - which they also asked me to do. I suffer from the most appalling stage fright with the music if playing solo. It's deeply annoying and is self-fulfilling. I'm nervous I'll make a mistake, and because I'm nervous I'll make a mistake I make a mistake. So I'm nervous I'll make a mistake. Ho hum.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oedipus and antlers

We went up to Galway last night to the Town Hall Theatre to see Pan Pan's production of Oedipus Loves You, a play by Simon Doyle and Gavin Quinn. It's described as 'a new work based on and inspired by the Oedipus the King plays of Seneca and Sophocles and the writings of Sigmund Freud'. It was the Oedipus story told within the setting of a modern (and fairly disfunctional) family mixed with punk songs. It was wild and full of energy. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. The opening scene was particularly striking.

We stopped at Paddy Burke's in Clarinbridge on the way back with Erin for a debriefing drink. I always find plays take a while to assimilate enough to be able to talk about them, but we managed it pretty well. I'm still thinking about it though, and whether it really worked or not. Great night out regardless. But wild weather on the way home. Horizontal rain and gale-force winds. The electricity was out when we got home. One of those nights when we'd no torch with us, but at least we knew where to grope for one just inside the door. And most of the candles were still in place from Thursday night last when we had the previous power cut. Bed by candlelight. Could be romantic but it wasn't. Just Very Cold. The range was still lighting when we got home but no central heating.

The wind from last week may have knocked the antler sculpture flat, but we had a great view of the real thing yesterday. Three female deer and a fine-headed stag in the field at the back. They all cantered off across the field when Joe opened the door. They're probably the same ones who've been tramping about in the Hollow across my newly cleared beds and the garlic and eating the swiss chard.

The deer in the photo was captured on film the other day, but it's the same field.

The garden is full of fallen apples and leaves. The blackbirds have made a good start on the apples, and I'm expecting the flock of fieldfares any day now - they usually arrive towards the end of November for the apple feast - although I'm a little fearful there won't be any. So many were killed in the January freeze. 

Leaf raking is a great winter activity. Nothing like it for keeping you warm, and for being outside in winter sunshine. And wind. No end of wind at the moment. Joe and I raked/packed black binliners with leaves at the weekend. The binliner business is for making leafmould, a glorious substance for improving the structure of the soil. I haven't tried the binliner business before, but the usual container is still full of not-yet-rotted leafmould from last year. It takes two or three years to make really good stuff. I hope I've knifed enough holes in the black plastic bags so it doesn't simply turn to slime.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wrapped up boat and new van

All wrapped up. The photo was taken by Tom Bailey.
Our first trip in the new van took us to the tip of Cavan to Quivvy Marina and the boat. We needed to check on her and take out all removable things that will go mouldy (bedding, cushions, tea cosy, wooden spooons). This was the first time we'd seen her since she had her new winter cover put on. It is an amazing piece of stitching. With protruberances. Don't laugh! (even though I did).

We stood for a while in awe at the snugness of the boat compared to how she looked in previous years with flapping tarpaulins tied on with bits of string. Which zip to undo first? And how would we deal with the velcroed flaps where the fenders and ropes came out?

The cover is ingenious. The sections that cover the side decks come off altogether so you can have just the dog house and coach house roof protected - useful in summer when you have to leave the boat in the lashing rain for a few weeks. Then, in winter, on go the side deck sections.

It wasn't as difficult as we thought it would be to get in - you can make a door opening at the back - but you have to remember to bring a torch. It's pitch dark inside.

It was threatening rain and in all the rush to get everything off the boat I forgot to take any photos. The one with the half cover was taken by Nigel at Irish Spars and Rigging who made the cover.

The van was brilliant. I spent most of Friday working out where to put everything and packing her up ready for when Joe got home from work. The dogs wouldn't get out the whole day.

First stop Athlone. In the rain but it didn't matter. We were toasty warm and comfortable - great heater. It felt so spacious! Although of course it's not. It's tiny compared to our kitchen. Or sitting room. Or bathroom really. But kingsize for a van and so cleverly designed. Oh I'm smitten. No question.

The kitchen
There's a great advantage in knowing the waterways so well - there's always somewhere to park a camper van. We stopped beside the lock in Athlone in a car park next to an apartment block. Very quiet and close to the good restaurants and bars. They call it Athlone's Left Bank which is pushing it a bit (well, quite a lot), but it does have a feel of an artisan quarter, a castle and, of course, the mighty Shannon.

We went to Al Mezza, an excellent Lebanese restaurant we've been to before. Great food. Very expensive wine though. Really you need to go with a few people. Or at least Joe needs to go with another foody. The meze is fabulous - lots of small courses - but I'm always defeated way before the end.

The second night in the van we stopped at Shannonbridge - riverside again. The Shannon is in its usual state of winter flood - the jetty wall had disappeared completely. We went to Killeen's on the Main Street, a family run pub that's hugely popular with tourists and boaters. Great crack anyway and the Killeens are lovely people. There's a shop attached too that sells everything which was just as well. I had to send Joe on an emergency mission before we could have dinner - chopping an onion is no joke with the sort of knife you use for cutting an egg.

There was live music in the bar. Hmm. We thought we were going to be sitting in the shop when we saw Singer-with-Guitar and one of those boxes that do the chunk chunk noises and a woman in black leather trousers. But actually they were great. Okay they obviously do weddings and so on but she played flute, they had a repertoire that included jazz and bluesy stuff, and I have to report that I did end up dancing. Not alone! There were others dancing.

Can't wait to go off in the van again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween mice and stag's antlers

I came face to face with the mouse last night. I was in the pantry looking for the oatmeal when there was a flicker in the corner of my eye. I'd put everything into containers as soon as I realised the mouse (or mice) had returned - we get them every winter - but this lady had her eyes set on the giant Toblerone in the corner; the dark chocolate Toblerone Joe had given me on my birthday; the treat of a Toblerone I was not prepared to share with a mouse. Seconds later she was on the shelf in front of me where she paused for a second, not a bother on her, before doing a mouse-scoot along the shelf, onto another shelf and up the corner of the wall to upstairs where I later heard her at her housework.

At least this year it isn't a rat (or two). Not yet anyway. They have a much heavier footfall.

We managed a bonfire on Sunday night in spite of a heavy weekend of birthday celebrations (which were quite amazing). The weather cleared in the afternoon, Joe and I did some work in the garden (always a good Halloween activity) and I laid the lantern trail across the garden and lit the candles in this lad on the left.

The bonfire struggled for a while. Some of the wood was damp, we didn't have a huge supply of garden cut backs like we usually do, and it seemed for a while it wasn't going to go. Finally a couple of good branches caught and we were away, welcoming in the ancestors and all that.

Joe had built an amazing 'sculpture' over the fire itself thinking, at first, that it would burn. I'm glad it didn't. It's very appropriate - stag's antlers for Samhain. They're still there today. Probably will be all winter. I haven't the heart to dismantle them and they make me smile every time I go out to kick apples for the dogs.

Apple kicking is the favourite game of this time of year and Aoife and Frankie are terrible bullies when persuading you to play. Especially Aoife. You can only take so much of a dog repositioning itself so it is forever in front of your eyes and staring staring staring. The haggard is full of apples. We've shifted barrowloads of them to the edges, made apple juice and still there are more. The high winds of yesterday brought down most of the stragglers in the trees, so the lawn is covered again. What you have to do is kick the apples for the dogs to chase. Or rather Aoife chases while Frankie gets hysterical and makes a lot of noise while bouncing around in front of you, occasionally taking off after a high-flung fruit.

The camper van is home. The poor thing is very dirty, something I'm sure it isn't used to on nice English roads. Our track was the last straw for it, chucking up filth on to its pristine white sides. But no matter! It's lovely and we plan to go away this weekend for our inaugural trip.

Here it is:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Coventry camper

It was 4.30 am when I got up into a cold morning on Thursday last. You can never sleep properly when you have an alarm set for the middle of the night. On the road to the airport I passed a badger's bottom disappearing into the undergrowth, frightened a deer who scooted along the road in front of me, avoided a fox busy at its business. Red-eye flight full of sleeping businessmen. Arrival at Birmingham before I'm normally out of the bed and a train to Coventry to see the camper van. Jean, the joint seller of the van picked me up at the railway station. The sun was shining and it was bitterly cold.

Bob, Jean's 81 year old husband drove the van and me to a level spot for a proper viewing - their drive was very sloped. I had a thorough tour of its virtues and facilities (which took a lot longer than you might imagine). It was in beautiful condition and had the huge skylight we'd seen in photos of other vans of this type, but realised we hadn't asked if this one had. 

Plenty of room for the dogs. Outside storage locker for boots and outdoor chairs and other stuff you don't want cluttering up the inside. An astonishing variety of ingenious additions put in by Bob - extra shelves, magnet on the bathroom door, specially adapted clock (frame removed, hook installed on back). Here's Bob in the photo. And the clock.

I took it for a drive which I think made Bob very anxious. Jean never drove the van. Could a woman do such a thing without crashing or panicking or hitting reverse instead of first? However, he could hardly refuse as I'd come all the way from Ireland. Bob began by giving instructions on changing gear, but went quiet once we hit 50 mph. Possibly in terror.

So I bought it. Jean and I went to lunch to celebrate (Bob had had enough by this stage I think - the poor man was probably exhausted). They were the most delightful people. Then off to Nantwich via Birmingham New Street with a quick dash to TKMax, one of the biggest of their stores according to Jean. A single, very pleasing purchase and back to the train. Joe will have the job now of picking up the van - Tuesday next is Arrival Day. I'm planning trips already.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More camper van...

The camper van search continues. The van in Prestatyn was no good. Too rattley, the wood too plasticky. Too expensive for what it was.

So tomorrow I have to get up at quarter to five, drive to Shannon, take a plane to Birmingham, get on a train to Coventry, look at and hopefully buy the van I'm going to see - like the one in Chorley, a 2004 (or is it 2005) private sale. Then I get on a train to Crewe, stay the night with my parents and fly home with Ryanair from Liverpool on Friday. The plane tomorrow is Aer Lingus. I have a horrible feeling it's a wind-up yoke. I don't much like the small propeller planes. Don't much like flying. I'll be on the valerian and Stugeron again.

Better go to bed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apple time of year

Written this time last year when at the same task of pressing apples.

It appeared in the Sunday Tribune in January.


At the first pressing of the crop
golden juice reflects October light.
Sunshine slants through half-leafed trees
heavy with apples.

A three-legged press sits squat on the table
beneath the fruited branches.
Apples fall as I release
the aromatic liquor.

A glass raised high contains the pink-tinged glow
of stained-glass window.
Sharp liquid, utterly apple, hits the palate,
summer and autumn in one.

The lifted barrel reveals spent fruit,
russet and ochre moulded
in a fat wheel of plump cheeks.
Bleeding the flesh has distilled the colours
of falling leaves.

            October 2009

Friday, October 15, 2010

Motorhome (aka camper van) odyssey

No time to blog while in Blighty. Camper vans and poems took over my days. The enjoyable little trip to Prestatyn had been changed for one to Halifax which was MILES away. The van there was better because it was a Peugeot not a Fiat. You'll have to take my word for this - research had been done. On Monday we'd just set out on the way to the M6. My mother was driving as far as the motorway intersection where I would take over when my phone rang.
'Have you set off yet?' said Joe.
'I've found another van.'
'No. I can't go to another one. Halifax and Chorley are too much already.'
'It's good news! There's one in Preston. It's identical to the one in Halifax. Preston is just up the road from Chorley.'

Oh joy. We didn't have to drive to Halifax.

The sun was shining. It was a glorious day. There wasn't too much traffic on the motorway. The directions to the motorhome place in Preston, our first port of call, seemed straightforward - I'd phoned them and got directions - although turning off towards Blackpool on the M55 caused rather too many comments about not being able to see the tower yet, Blackpool having one that looks vaguely (very vaguely) like the one in Paris. To be fair you can, apparently, see it from Preston. It is, after all, 158 m and it was modelled on the Eiffel Tower.

The van in Preston was rather splendid. It was the newer of the two we were going to see. I took it for a test drive and loved it - easy to handle, quiet engine, good on duel carriageway and winding lane. Inside, there were so many storage places you'd never be able to find anything. A very natty feature was the hanging locker that could be opened both from the body of the van and the bathroom. Somewhere to put your clothes while you take a shower. The layout was like the last van (which suited us perfectly in most ways) but it was all a bit bigger, and there would be space for the dogs between the beds even when you pulled out the yoke that allowed them to be wide enough to sleep on. We wouldn't have to hoik the heavy seat backs into the front as we'd done before.

All going well. We had lunch then headed for Chorley. I should have known not to trust Google Map directions. I've been caught out before. They were complete crap. Nevertheless, several phone calls later, and after a small detour to the caravan section of the company, we arrived. The older (and slightly smaller) van was lovely, though I think I was somewhat seduced by the warm upholstery and the big skylight. But when I asked to take it for a test drive, the sales woman said she wouldn't be able to bring me out as she was on her own (we discovered the sales people were all at a big motorhome show in Birmingham). Except she wasn't on her own (so why say it?), and the young fella in the office said he'd bring me out. But then she spotted that the MOT (NCT equivalent) had just run out. So all I could do was drive round the tiny car park in first gear. What use is that?

So we made an offer on the Preston van. The sales man came back to us with their offer. No we said. Well, when I say we I mean Joe, me being complete shite at making a deal. So the man from Preston came back saying he'd accept our offer but had to convince his boss.

Then Joe had an email. The price of the Prestatyn van had been reduced. Joe looked at the website again and noticed it wasn't a Fiat but a Peugeot. The website was wrong.

Then Preston man came back saying yes! The offer was accepted! But Prestatyn Van has a towbar which would cost 500 quid, they don't do a DIY version and it has to be fitted in the UK.

The upshot is that Joe's going to Prestatyn.