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.