October 2013


It was only fitting that that I scared the lovely Sharon on Samhain.  I could have jumped out on her unexpectedly, or even fitted false vampire teeth.  This would have all have been wasted on her.  Instead I waited until she slipped away to get the little man’s hair cut.  She drove off down the lane in my car, before I turned my socket set on hers.  By the time she returned I was covered in diesel and held a vital component of her precious car ‘Ruby’ in front of her.  This had the desired effect.

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She had a worried and skeptical look as she shook her head and muttered something about hoping that I knew what I was doing.  I genuinely believe that she thinks I get all my car maintenance knowledge from youtube videos.  She also pointed out that I am used to working on petrol engines and not diesel engines like her Ruby.  I will admit that, with some details, youtube does help.  However, youtube cannot replace the apprenticeship I had with what I consider to be the greatest engineer in Ireland; my Dad.  I want to laugh in the lovely Sharon’s face and say, “Diesel engines? pppppphhhhh. My dad used to work on diesel engines bigger than our house!  At sea!  In rough weather!”  Instead I reassure her that I am sure I can get it working in the end. Instead, I apply all the tricks and confidence I learned from the greatest engineer in Ireland.  Then I hit a snag.

I thought the hard part was over and all I had to do was put it back together and turn the key.  The problem, to be technical, was that the priming pump wouldn’t prime the fuel filter.  I was seriously considering picking up the phone and having a conference call with the greatest engineer when the lovely Sharon’s own father appeared on the scene.  He arrived for this evening’s pumpkin party and he brought with him some wisdom.  He looked at the problem, pondered it, and proposed priming the priming pump with fuel before using it to prime the fuel filter.  Prime the thing whose job it was to prime? I was now the skeptical one.  I went with it anyway, and it worked perfectly. Later he revealed to me that he was inspired by the need to prime water pumps with water before they drew water from wells; a memory from his childhood.  This is what engineering is all about in my mind; seeing a system, seeing how it works, and applying it in unfamiliar situations.

Once Ruby was purring away with her usual tractor-like sound (she is a diesel) I set about getting ready for the pumpkin party.  The lovely Sharon set herself up in the kitchen while I did manly things, like light fires.  I moved the pumpkins into the orchard and hung pumpkin lights in the trees around a wood pile fire for all our tiny guests to light their sparklers.  We filled ourselves with food, with woodsmoke, with apple pie, and with memories.  We welcomed in the Celtic new year with friends and family, and fun.

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On the eve of the eve of the end of the celtic  year (the night before Halloween) I fed and watered the chickens under the bowl of stars on a cloudless night.  The black (and white) cats darted in and out of the shadows around me.  I couldn’t stop myself stopping at the end of the lane.  I lingered for a while before closing the gates.  The bull is rising higher in the east every evening, taking its place in the winter sky with its red Aldebaran eye.  Cygnus the swan used to be directly overhead a few weeks ago, now it is making its own annual migration west for the winter.  As I stood and carried out my own cheap eye test by counting the stars in the Pleiades, my ears picked up a chilling cry.  The mythology is that, on the night of Halloween, all the unseen creatures and unmentionable things come out and walk the earth before the beginning of the new year.  Tonight the cold autumn air carried the cry of one such unseen creature.  It was a noise that is difficult to describe; somewhere sitting uncomfortably half way between a woman’s scream and a dog’s bark.  I peeled the edges of my woollen hat up over my ears and closed my eyes, and waited. After a few more minutes she cried out again; the vixen fox.  If I fell for the myths I should place our pumpkins on the window ledges to scare it away.  I’m more pragmatic than that.  The pumpkins are for the fun of carving them and the magic of childhood, and the fox’s cry reminded me to pour urine* around the hen house.

*a fox deterrent that, although disturbing, really does seem to be effective.

All good intentions start well enough. I felt I had an epic amount of work to do this morning, so I left a little earlier with the grand idea of beginning work with time to throw myself into it. Then I slipped into work in what I consider to be just in time, having spent an extra fifty minutes more than usual on the M2 carpark.

I got what needed to be done, done. Then moved on with an extra knot in my shoulders and tension in my head.

I threw myself home after school and asked the little man to help me mow the lawn. There is nothing better to spur you on than a three year old chasing you around the garden with a wooden trolley shouting, “Cut the grass, cut the grass. You missed a bit. YOU MISSED A BIT!”

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After we turned off the ‘noise mower’, we stood under the last of the apple trees trying to fight against the changing season. This lone crab apple tree could not ignore the wind and the shortening days, and was beginning to drop its tiny apples. I remember how much work it was last year to get so little crab apple jelly. It tasted fantastic but seemed such a waste of time. Tonight I was reminded how wrong I was. How could it be time wasted if we laughed as we shook the trees onto big sheets on the freshly cut grass, letting the apples pelt us on our heads. How could the cold air in the golden autumn sun be a pointless time. The picking and reaching for stubborn apples untied the knots in me and I didn’t even mind that the little man stole some of our apples to feed the chickens. They probably won’t even eat the sour crab apples, but it still wasn’t a pointless thing at all.

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The lovely Sharon declared, “So, the good news is that the little man helped me make tomorrow night’s mince pie. And the bad news is that there may be some play-dough in it. It’s OK, it’s pink and blue play-dough, so it should be easy to spot.”

My father had a pile of wood lying in his driveway after a kitchen renovation.  I inquired about his intentions knowing full well it was for the bin.  I sized it all up and settled for as many drawer fronts as I could manage with a car already packed with the double buggy and its accompanying passengers.  I had plans for those drawer fronts.

This year we are heading into the winter with two beehives instead of the usual one.  Two hives had to be constantly fed thick sugar syrup over the month of September until they could take no more.  It is our hope that they took enough for the long dark nights and the cold winter storms.  One hive had all their honey stolen from them, while the other didn’t have a chance to make any at all.  They raised a new queen only to have her fail to mate in what should have been good weather for bees to do that sort of thing.  After much too long I gave up on her and replaced her with a mated queen.

Some of the kitchen drawers were chopped up accurately to make a square frame.  Two big squares of knigspan insulation board were pushed neatly to make a little extra addition to the new hive.  I think this insulation is the norm now for beekeepers.  Instead of a closed box with a small entrance hole and a roof, we now hive the bees in a box with an open floor.  The floor has only wire mesh with holes small enough to stop other bees, mice or wasps from getting in, but big enough to allow the dreaded varroa mite to fall through.  Thick insulation is then added on top of the hive to reduce heat loss through the roof where most of it is usually lost.

Tonight under a fattening moon and a clear autumn sky, I added the kitchen drawers to the new hive.  I also added an extra layer of insulation to the old hive.  They had their winter feed, they had their varroa medicine.  With gold and yellow leaves spilled all around them and the scent of the cottage wood stove in the air; I wished them all the best. The earth is turning  through the seasons and I told them that I hope we will all find each other well in the spring.  Then I lost myself in the moment and told them their honey tastes great with my porridge in the mornings.  I realised my mistake and slipped quietly, and quickly, away before they had time to think about it.

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