Sunday, December 22, 2013

Moving a garden & other stories

The first foxglove planted in the bank at the new site alongside primroses and, I think, a cowslip - hard to tell which is a primrose and which is a cowslip at this time of year. I have so many things in pots now, little plants newly seeded in the garden, or a herbaceous perennial split and replanted, with a little bit saved for the new place.

There's a holding bed-in-waiting too, the grass steadily dying back under the polythene. Hopefully when I come to dig it over it'll oblige by being easy.

Just like at the old place, there are stones buried and half buried everywhere. Beautiful sandstone that looks fine when made into a wall. Very useful for holding the winter polythene.

Another winter thing - a visit to Coole Park for a spin on the bikes, thinking of my good friend Erin, and this time the Whooper swans were there in force. You can hear them way before you can see them, honking like geese. There were groups of them everywhere. We saw these from the other side of the lake to where the house used to be:

Another winter job down in the harbour, putting the winter covers on Winter Solstice. We did it in two stages - the coachhouse and doghouse a couple of months ago, then the deck covers last week. She's all snug now.

Twelve years yesterday since she was put in the water in Portumna, giving her her name. Amazing how you don't remember the process when you only do it once a year. Joe, when he reads this, will be muttering 'But I did remember and you took no notice,' which is true, but he wasn't 100% certain and I was getting cold so just set in there with the side nearest the wall. And anyway, Joe had already started at the bow. Though I do admit I suggested that. But next year we'll get it right! The trick is to start at the stern on the port side. Otherwise the zips go the wrong way and you end up on your belly (you being me) trying to flip the shock cords over the studs under the rubbing strake with increasingly cold fingers.

But there she is, ears pricked and having cosy winter dreams.

A final photo - the garden the other morning:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Willow weaves and light metal.

Top-of-the-stone-wall makeover time. Or, in normal, old-fashioned english, remaking the willow-weave fence that sits on top of the stone-faced wall we can see from our conservatory. Here's what it looked like before (you see, it could be on a makeover TV programme):

I did the willow topping several years ago, and here you can see it's all rotting away. Joe stuck in a couple of upright supports to stop it disintegrating altogether.

First gather your willow. The yellow stuff on the ground is a type of basket willow got from friends years ago. There's a red version too which looks really pretty where it's growing alongside the drive. Not long enough, though, for this job. The yellow is just about, and its colour is glorious.

The mainstay of the weave, though, is the mile-a-minute stuff that has provided quick and excellent growth in hedges around the place. Cut it to the ground and back it comes every year filled with early pussy willows appreciated by the first bumble bees out of hibernation. It came from the same friends with the label bio-mass. You can make structures out of it too - arbours and the like.

So willows cut and trimmed. Then remove the old stuff.

A few extra willow branches cut and trimmed, then the fun bit. New posts to wind the willows between and here's the result:

It looks so pretty when freshly done! The yellow will fade with time, but the structure should be good now for another several years.

Good to get outside and work on a satisfying project. Great weather for it - absolutely still. So still it seems somehow unreal, like being in a giant bowl some massive creature has made into a toy garden.

A side-effect of the willow weaving was willow cuttings. They work well stuck straight into the ground but I put these in pots in the greenhouse alongside the pretty little yellow flowers, whose name I should know, which seeded themselves liberally in the gravel at the edge of the courtyard. A common summer planting for tubs, I'll have plenty for next year.

There's flowering currant here too. And lavender. I'll have to watch it though as the winter progresses. Mice got into last year's lavender cuttings looking, I suppose, for roots when there was little else to eat.

Finally here's a green dock leaf beetle (Gastrophysa viridula don't ya know) that's settled in shiny accommodation that makes it feel at home. These beetles wear metallic-looking jackets that shimmer in sunlight and can appear anything from bronze to violet to green.

More dry weather please - I still have weeds to pull.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cactus and copse

Isn't that fantastic? I immediately started seeing all sorts of possibilities for artistically posing plants and pots. I bet people still do it on a quiet Tuesday morning in winter, probably posting lookouts at either end of the cactus house.

We were in the National Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin in Dublin, somehwhere I've been wanting to visit for years. Here's another great exhibit in the same cactus house:

Those furry lads? They're not furry. I kind of knew that - my Nana used to keep cacti - but Joe gave one a surreptitious stroke. Ouch.

In another glasshouse plants were going incognito:

And look at this roof:

One of the things I wanted to do while we were there was look at trees in the arboretum. We're planning to plant some in our new garden - I want to re-create something of the woodland feel we have here. There won't be anything like the glorious mature beech, oak and sycamore of this place, but I think I can still make a woodland atmosphere by planting a mix of native and non-native trees alongside those already on the boundary:

We were up at the site yesterday marking out the boundary on the Land Registry Map. The really good news is that Liam who we're buying it from has included a small copse of mostly birch. I've major plans for putting in primroses, cowslips and bluebells and adding native trees at either end. The primroses and cowslips shouldn't be a problem, and there's a couple of bluebells on the ditch already, so I'm hopeful.

One thing I'm really going to miss is the astonishing variety of wild flowers I have in my garden here. Not sure if their absence at the new site is because it's been grazed by horses and donkeys. But I'll be doing my best to make it a garden me and the wildlife will love.

So I'm just looking back at photos to see if I can find one of the copse - I wasn't taking pictures of it because I didn't think it was going to be part of our land. And I found this:

It's  Joe in our field with a bicycle. I was looking down from the neighbour's patio to make sure our house won't block his view of the lake. I think the bicycle had something to do with that. Or maybe Joe has entered a Third Policeman time warp (for those who've never read Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, you should).

And look at all those buttercups. Oh my. So pretty, but that's my next gardening life, pulling up creeping buttercup. And where's the bicycle?

Here's the copse. Just to the left at the back. How astonishingly different a place looks in summer and winter. This was the excavations for the percolation test to see could we have a septic tank - essential before you can get planning permission.

Still can't really believe this is happening. Best not to think about moving from here until it's upon us. At least we're only going over the mountain. And at least I now have a copse to play with.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Unbelonging and rebelonging

This is going to be our new garden.

A bit rough at the moment but look at the view in the photo below. It's better in real life. That's Lough Derg and the Tipperary hills in the distance. I'll have to get a powerful telescope so I can keep an eye on passing lake traffic.

There's another view to the south (this is looking east) of Tountinna, the mountain our broadband comes from, and of the lake out from Mountshannon.

This vehicle is not, I hasten to add, our new house, or even our temporary accommodation. Neither is this:

Liam Flannery was in with his rig drilling for water. We finally got planning permission five weeks ago, and the four weeks to allow for objections was up last week - it takes forever for the drawing of plans and the putting in for it. It seemed a good idea to get the rig in while it was dry, and just as well we did, looking out of my kitchen window at the sodden garden and hearing the river roaring, even through double glazing.

Liam first came to the site a couple of weeks ago with his dousing rods and found the spot where the well should go. We had a pretty good idea all would be well (sorry) as the two houses above us have good water. And there it was, gushing out of the ground at about 1000 gallons an hour. Should do us.

Of course the way the property market is at the moment we assumed it would be a year or two before selling our present house, but no so. We had an offer we couldn't refuse last week. Cat among the pigeons or what. Could all go wrong, but in case it doesn't I'm busy working out how I'm going to move my garden to the new site when there's nowhere prepared to put anything. I've been propagating since the end of last winter, just in case, but I thought I'd be able to do it gradually once we had the site bought.

It'll be dreadful to move from our lovely house and garden. Sixteen years of sweat and joy has gone into it. But it's very remote, and time to move in closer. Exciting, too, having a new project. The stress and tears is all to come. In the meantime we'll be looking for somewhere to rent if it all goes ahead. Now were it summer, we'd have had the boat as an option...

It's being an eventful year. Second book came out. A bit much, I know. Far more decorous to have them decently spread over a few years, or one at the very least. I have to express my lack of control in the issue though, publishers being the way they are. Anyway, here's the author posing.

Similar colour schemes for both books. Pure chance. I did pick the one for the poetry - the second book is poems, Unbelonging, from Salmon Poetry. The cover is glorious - a photo Joe took of a piece of glass art made by Co Clare glass artist Kathryna Cuschieri. Kathryna makes beautiful pieces, as you'll see if you click either or both links.

It's out but not properly launched yet - that'll happen in Galway at the end of November.

Time to go and gather together some more beloved plants from my garden to take to the new acre.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Yarn bombing in Portumna

So do you like the moody photo of Portumna Bridge? And what's that coloured stuff clinging to it? Can you see it. Because it's only now I've uploaded it to this blog that it's appeared. The light was all wrong so I thought I'd only captured a dark bridge. Mmm. What's the next one going to be like? Here we go.

Oh now not bad at all. This is the upriver section of the bridge where we were lurking on Winter Solstice waiting for the 5.30 opening. We'd put her in Connacht Harbour the Sunday before after I launched what you can see on the bridge. So hang on. One more pic after we went through.

And there we are. This is the result of a yarn bombing art project by textile artist Kate O'Brien, who worked with local people - net workers - to make all the separate squares of knitting and crochet that became these nets that you can just see reflected in the water. Kate's aim was to reproduce Monet's painting of pond and water lilies with all these wonderful vibrant colours. It was the beginning of the local Shorelines Arts Festival.

So I, in my new role as author, was asked to launch this exhibition. There was also to be a flotilla of boats going through the bridge as it opened at 3 pm on the Sunday, plus an aerial photo of the whole thing. Joe and I had arrived in Portumna in the camper van on Saturday after a tour of the country (it seemed) on Skipper & Her Mate business. It was warm, sunny and calm. I had a text from Margaret, one of the organisers. The forecast was atrocious for Sunday.

We went over to Terryglass where much of the flotilla was gathered. The forecast was not only for rain but for high winds. Oh no! They were to arrive in the early hours. It was still balmy and summer-like at midnight. I woke at 2. No wind or rain. Perhaps the forecast was wrong again.

Sadly not. We woke to storm. Waves raged in from the west. Not the weather for barges or other big boats. Didn't look like we'd be bringing Winter Solstice round from Castle Harbour to the bridge as planned either. And definitely no aerial photography. The venue was on the verge of being changed to indoors. What a shame.

But the weather gods were partly good to us. The sky cleared, it was mild enough, but the wind still stormed away. However, it was on the other side of the bay. We made a last-minute decision to bring the boat around the corner and tied her up below the bridge. A crowd gathered. There were musicians. Speeches - me among them. I'm getting the hang of this. It's more fun than I thought it would be. Just as well as I'm doing it again on Sunday - not opening an exhibition, but doing a reading and introduction of Skipper in Mountshannon at 12 noon in The Snug on the Main Street. It's part of the Mountshannon Trad Festival. We'll be playing a few tunes there too on Friday and Saturday.

When I went to put my coffee on the table before writing this blog there was something not quite right.

Yes yes of course you can see it straight away, but from above it wasn't so obvious. Books under the legs means Joe's been busy at the paté again. Or it might be a terrine if you're being particular. The tins of whatever-it-is have fitted timber shapes placed on top before they go under the table legs. Heavy objects on the table weigh everything down. I've written about this before, but I'm always so impressed by it that I have to tell you about it again. 

Here's the result.

Mmm yum. Nice one Joe.

And finally.

It's not only cats who have to sit on things you put down to air or dry.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cucumbers and steam trains

This is what happens when you go away for two weeks to help your parents move house:

The cucumbers take over. And the courgettes. Runner beans. French beans. Beans are easier - you can freeze them - but what do you do with an excess of cukes? I think I'll put them into soup along with the courgettes and a few carrots and onions.

Tomatoes weren't great - poor pollination probably due to the very hot weather. But I did have some big and some very small:

It was a mad time in Nantwich, my home town, moving my parents from the four-bedroom family home they've lived in for forty odd years into a two-bedroom cottage in a retirement village. Even though they'd got rid of loads of stuff, on the day of the move I was packing boxes and chucking stuff/putting it aside for the charity shop in equal measure. I know moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do. Add to that moving someone else.

While we were there we took a trip to Llangollen just over the Welsh border from where my brother lives. It's a beautiful part of the world - somewhere we used to go to as a family when I was small. Probably more suited to adults who like walking really, although there was the thrill of the steam train:

Llangollen Railway is a heritage line which runs alongside the River Dee to Carrog 7.5 miles upstream. A wedding party had just been dropped on the platform (smuts on the bride's dress!) and the engine was reversing down the track. It was what they call a Wedding Experience, which makes it sound like some kind of trial run to see if you want to embark on the real thing. They're licensed for weddings and civil ceremonies, and you can do the whole caboodle on board. You can also do the Driver Experience. Gift vouchers are available, so I imagine it's a popular choice for adult children wanting to buy a birthday present for the dad who monopolised their childhood train set.

A canal also runs through Llangollen called, you guessed it, the Llangollen Canal. There are remains of lock gates, or more probably sluice gates, down by the river too, but I'm not sure what they were for.

The canal itself begins in Hurleston just outside Nantwich, and used to be called the Ellesmere Canal because it went via Ellesmere in Shropshire. There was a Grand Plan, as with many canals, to join one place to another for commercial traffic. This one was going to connect Liverpool with the West Midlands, and the industrial town of Ellesmere Port on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal was given its name because of this. The scheme was never completed, and the intended water source at Wrexham was never reached. Instead a feeder channel was built through Llangollen, and this is what we were looking at.

These narrowboats are horse drawn for the tourist trade. Here's the lasses or lads who pull them, finished for the day:

I'd love to hire a boat on this section of canal. The scenery is stunning. Only trouble is you'd have to go over the Pontcysylte Aqueduct, towpath on one side and nothing on the other. And then you'd have to come back.

While we were in England a member of our canine crew died suddenly from a heart attack. She was fourteen. RIP Frankie. We miss her terribly.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Launch of book not boat

On the way to Scarriff Harbour for the Big Event. Ha ha. Big for me, anyway - the launch of The Skipper & Her Mate at the Scarriff Harbour Festival. We stopped for the night at Reddan's Quay in Tuamgraney. There was one other boat in - a Freeman 23, just like our first, and on board we found an Australian couple, (she originally from Clonakilty), children grown, here for the Australian winter. They'd had the boat for only a few weeks and were still in that wonderful first flush of joy. The boat came with a trailer, which seems so improbable to me. Dinghies have trailers, not 23-foot cruisers. They've plans for the Midi de France.

A short while later a sports boat came upriver, and there were our third companions for the evening. This pair were from Galway and were obviously intrepid campers - they had all the gear you'd use for camping except a tent, as they were sleeping in the (very big) cuddy. There's himself in the photo, swimming in the river next morning. Wouldn't catch me in there. That river comes off the mountain, some of it via my garden stream. It's freezing.

Next stop Scarriff. Here's Joe and Aoife approaching the Fair Green where the stage was in the process of being constructed. Bunting up. Sky blue. Looking good. This was after the two days of rain rain rain in the middle of the week. It barely stopped long enough to take the dogs out. How lucky the festival was. By Friday the rain had cleared and I was walking up the Main Street from the boat in a state verging on terror to be interviewed on Clare FM (broadcasting in a van from outside Rogers Off License) about Skipper. I've never been on the radio before so had no idea if I would dry up or stumble or mumble. As it happens I did none of those things, which was just as well as I was to feature on the Marian Finucane Show, RTE 1 radio, the next morning with Áine Lawlor (Marian being away).

I had to go home for that one as they needed a landline. I was supposed to be on at 11.40. They rang to say it would be 11.50. Jesus, the stress of waiting. Then it got to 11.55 and I knew it would be delayed again - couldn't fit it in before the Angelus at noon. Pace the floor, try to read a poem or two, page the floor, urge the phone to ring. Finally on at 12.20. No stumbles. Phew.

Great launch. Theo Dorgan, my launcher did me proud (photo by Kevin O'Shea):

I was thrilled at the crowd in the marquee. The sun shone. We took over the quay wall outside Winter Solstice for food and beverages afterwards - the table was lifted out from the saloon, and every folding chair we could glean was opened out. We'd just about finished when we noticed the sky. Everything grabbed and hurried back inside, the few remaining celebraters hustled in too as the rain began to torrent. Thunder. Lightning. Terrific.

Tremendous but it was good to capture the peace and quiet of early(ish) mornng.

And finally here's Jean, just off to Ballyvaughan after a great festival. One of this summer's new friends, an early buyer of Skipper.

The Skipper & Her Mate available at New Island Books, Amazon or bookshops throughout Ireland.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Swimming on the runway

It was Joe who said we'd never swum on a runway before and he was right. We were in Mountshannon in all the heat, down at the beachy swimming area. We'd gone beyond the nursery slope (you can walk out beyond all the gyrating children and still not be out of your depth) when we heard the sound of the propeller.

If you look carefully you can just see the owner of the propeller to the right of the marker, just in front of Bushy Island. Harbour Flights have started doing Seaplane Scenic Tours - you can fly around Lough Derg for €85 - and the plane was coming in to land as we bobbed about in the water. It's a tiny thing - not for those who get the jitters on Aer Arran. Noisy, I suppose, but no worse than some boats. A novelty at the moment - 'Oh look! There's the seaplane!' but that will wear off soon enough.

There's a bit of a fuss in Mountshannon at the moment - a clash between native (though re-introduced) and manufactured fliers. The white-tailed eagle chicks have just fledged, so there's a bit of sensitivity about what's happening around Bushy Island where the eagle parents nested. Harbour Flights have in the past organised an air show in Mountshannon, but claim the reason they won't be doing it this year is because the Golden Eagle Trust don't want it to take place over Mountshannon. The Trust say they have no influence on whether the show goes ahead. The people of Mountshannon have lost their voice! claims Emelyn Heapes of Harbour Flights. We hope the eagles will be here for many years to come, says John Harvey of Mountshannon Community Council. You can see more in the Clare Champion.

But ... I'm in there too! Here's the link. This is why we have this issue of the Champion. I had a call from the publisher of The Skipper & Her Mate to say the Champion were going to do a piece on the book, and did I have a photo. I didn't. We were in Portumna at the time, but Joe decided this venue wouldn't do for the shoot - we couldn't get me and the boat in properly in the submarine pen style of concrete jetties they have there.

So. Joe took the boat and I took the car to Dromaan. I thought we'd get a photo there, but suddenly the place was inundated with sails and many many young people.

They all sailed in through the narrowing entrance in very little wind. Impressive. Not the place for a photoshoot though.

In the end we got the shot in Mountshannon, showing off Winter Solstice too without the dot over the i.

The deck was so hot I couldn't put my feet down. Looks a bit weird.

Pre-launch feedback on the book has been brilliant. I'm astonished and delighted.

Looking forward (with some trepidation) to what the publishers call a celebration of the book at the Scarriff Harbour Festival:

Come if you can! (Yes I know Scarriff is a long way from most places). Be there in spirit anyway.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Skipper & Her Mate

I left my phone turned on all night and close by just in case I didn't wake up, risking bleep annoyance. I needed to be ready for the courier who was delivering to Winter Solstice in Portumna Castle Harbour. I brought the phone with me as I walked the dogs, checking it every so often in case I'd accidentally put it to silent. I was only just back on board when it rang, the courier seeing if it was Castle or Connaught I was in. Joe, drinking tea in his bunk, got dressed in a hurry. Ten minutes later here it was:

It seemed completely appropriate that it was delivered to the boat. It's beautifully produced - my publishers New Island Books have done a fantastic job. And wouldn't you know, as the day went on the sky turned the same colour as the cover.

I would probably have been happy to just look at them all day, but my manager (aka Joe the Husband) was having none of that. Off he went to our neighbouring boat, barely awake, to offer them a copy. He came back still holding the book. I knew it. Nobody would want it anyway. How embarrassing. But no! I was to go back and sign it.

So here's a rare photo of  the author (yes!) and Joe Trimble, the fellow skipper who bought book number one, aboard Joe's boat.

'Go and ask the people on that boat,' said Joe after that. 'And look, catch them before they leave.' This was what I was afraid of. I'm completely shite at selling anything. The idea of doing it cold left me not just cold but frozen.

'That's the whole point of having a publisher,' I said. 'I really can't do that. I can't I can't.' Fair play to Joe, he understood that.

But never mind. As the day went on, he accosted people (nicely) as they sat on their boats or he helped them tie up. I even sold a few all on my own. A few days later, between Portumna and Terryglass, 60 copies were gone and many people were reading the book. Some said they were rationing the pages, savouring it to the end. Some had it finished. Some came back for another copy for a friend.

Oh my oh my.

Should you want a copy for yourself you can buy it here. It's also available on Amazon.

Portumna Forest Park and a (possible) bovine sculpture

Wednesday evening last in Portumna Castle Harbour I was wearing my usual boating clothes - polo neck, woolly cardy, fleece, longjohns under jeans. Thursday was warmer, but still fine for us to leave the dogs in the boat and go for a cycle round Portumna Forest Park. We found ourselves on trails we'd never seen before - bikes, not dog walking, makes the difference. I was beginning to regret wearing shorts and sandals as we negotiated ever-narrowing pathways with roots, rocks and briars - it's that time of year when briars go searching for new rooting grounds, sending out their spikes at two foot an hour.

Not everything is as you might expect in the Forest. This, for example, mooning beside a waterside trail.  Listening device, bovine sculpture, some class of folly, beacon of hope?

And disorientating views of the lake. We'd been going for a while and come out on the opposite side of the park to Castle Harbour. Where was this?

Then there was a humpy mound, and giant wall-looking rocks poking through the reeds.

It was only on our way back that we found the sign cunningly hidden in a trail marker that we realised what all this was: Bonaveen Harbour, hidden among the reeds and sallies. The estate sawmill used to be here. The mound was where sawdust had been dumped over many years - all grown over now, but definitely not looking natural. The big rocks were part of the estate wall, built out into the lake. Barges tied up to the quay here waiting for the rough planks from the forest to be loaded onto them and taken to Limerick where they became someone's kitchen table or chest of drawers (actually I'm guessing here, but the sign does specify furniture).

Needs a spot of dredging I think. The quay wall is in there somewhere.

The view out was of Cloondavaun Bay. You don't notice these little places when your mind is on your cruising route.

Actually this is all a tease. The really important thing (for me) happened before the cycle ride.

That's going to have a post all of its own. If my flaky internet connection will let me do it before next week.