Aug 10

Pigs in Ireland

While not far as the crow flies, ireland is quite different from Scotland.
Landscape is different. Accents are different. Money, food, etc.
I had to walk back up to the train station in Dublin after I tried to buy a tram ticket with Pounds Sterling, as I took a train from Belfast into the Euro zone.
It is always strange to be in a place where real things happen. Belfast spent decades in a violent Catholic/Protestant struggle.
As with many cities that were heavily bombed in WWII, Belfast is a mix of old, beautiful buildings, and horrid 50s-60s architecture. At least for me, this saps my enthusiasm for photographing it, as every shot will have a McDonalds or otherwise in the shot. I strive to take photos that can’t be dated . (And the horrible quality of my Li River photos is going to take me back there to redo them!)
Dublin on the other hand, has done what Belfast has yet to do: created an interesting, clean, walkable city, revitalized and bustling.
For a U2 nerd like your author, it was cool to go to Windmill Lane,

Windmill Lane
Windmill Lane
where they recorded their first 3 albums. The studio is no longer there, but just follow the graffiti.
This is also the home of St. Patrick and he is celebrated by one of the oldest churches in Ireland.
Being Ireland, it needs a lot of rain to stay so green, and I got my share. I spent a rainy day being a tourist, seeing the Book of Kells and the Long Hall, the excellent library at Trinity College.
I also saw the Museum of Printing, which was interesting to a machine nerd like myself, but a bit of a walk on a rainy day.
Then it was off to the farm!
Tullywood farm is in Roscommon, a two hour train ride WNW of Dublin and about 30 miles from Sligo, on the west coast.
On the farm, Joe, Julie and 12 year old Tara raise pigs and sell artisan pork: real bacon and great sausages, white and black puddings…yummy! I have introduced them to homefries with the bacon and sausage mixed in.
The work so far has been varied and fun. Joe has built the farm from the ground up and there is lots to do. In the first week, I have laid a concrete slab, painted the farm shop doors, painted the weathervane, shoveled out a nice layer of old, dried (and not so dried) pig shit, and disposed of a couple dead goats.
I have finally got to do some cooking. Besides the homefries, I have busted out some rice krispie treats, chocolate chip cookies, lasagna and homemade bread.
And we started building a brick shithouse. No, literally. We are building a double bathroom with one shower out of brick and cement. And that’s just the first week.
Sadly,we took Tara to her first day at boarding school. She is head strong and whip-smart. Me:”Hey Tara, I need a piece of wood about kinda this big by this big.” Her:”Do you need a 2×4 or a 3×9 or what?” Me:”Oh…right. A 3ft. 2×4 will be perfect.” And she knows right where it is.

It will be quiet and boring around here but she will be home on the weekends.

So that’s it for now.

Aug 10

On 40

I have a very distinct memory on New Year’s Eve, 1980, whence I was 10. I was at a party where I probably shouldn’t have been and recall thinking “Wow, when it’s the year 2000, I will be 30!”.
Today I turn 40 years old.
Another clear memory. When I was in my early teens I asked my father what it was like to age. (He was right around 40 at the time, now that I think of it.) He said something to the effect of: “It feels the same. There is no switch that flips and you feel old.”
And as with many things, you can’t know what he means until you get there. I often reflect at where I am compared to where my parents were at the same age.
I don’t feel like an adult and I have long known why. Due to the course my life has taken, I don’t really have any of those watershed moments that somewhat define adulthood. I have long jokingly said that you are an adult when you have matching dishes and a headboard. But I don’t have a mortgage, wife or child: Things that demand responsibility and fiscal prudence.
The only thing that has really changed is that I am smart and am (was) getting paid more. A man is a boy with better toys.
So I have been able to live a quite carefree life, as evidenced now by my somewhat rash shedding of life 1.0 for my current e-vagabond lifestyle.
They other thing that only became self-evident when you get there is 40. As I was approaching it, the classic ‘mid-life crisis’ totally made sense.
It’s obvious that by then, you have been doing some job, cube-bound or otherwise, for 10ish years and you have to think “Is this it? Is this the goal state?” And of course you buy a nice car because by 40, you are likely earning the means.
My new worldly life has left me less stressed about 40. I am out in the world, doing something different and dynamic. Prudent? Not likely, but if you think in terms of stories you have for your grandchildren, it’s the right thing to do.
And I wasn’t going to find my wife by sitting in my cube/home, so I will see if I can find her out in the world.
So I am pleased to bring in 40 in Northern Island, checking off another country on the list, one of life’s nice pleasures.
Thanks to all for your kind greetings and well wishes.

Aug 10

Adieu Biggar

I sit in Belfast, on my 40th birthday.
I just completed my first real stint as a HelpXer, spending one month in Biggar, Scotland. Biggar is a small town (village?) about 26 miles southwest of Edinburgh. Well, actually, I was on a rare sheep farm about 4 miles out of Biggar.
I spent a peaceful and productive month building things mostly.
But first, Julie and Gordon Johnston have a lovely old farm where they raise rare breeds of sheep, in the hopes of keeping the breeds alive. Hebridean sheep are interesting, with their distinctive four horns. Sowes and Shetland sheep are the rest of their mix. I didn’t deal with them very often, other than some corralling and keeping an eye on them as I walk past, hoping they didn’t gore me in the ass.
Needless to say, farm life is far different than city life. There aren’t really days off, as the sheep and chickens and dogs need to be fed daily and eggs collected. I only really had 4 full days off over the month, but I don’t mind since I was still getting into the groove, improving my strength and endurance.
Second, we don’t have thistles, which are covered in very sharp barbs, or stinging nettles, which have much smaller, glassine needles that contain a stinging acid. Your skin is tingling mere seconds after sadly brushing against them.
And there are generally more bugs.
But it’s quiet, hilly and verdant and starling roosting in the barn. And I had a nice little apartment and good food and drink were provided.
I got started immediately, finishing up the shed at the top of the property, planking up the remaining walls. I guess the previous helpers (they had only started hosting in the spring) were overly adept with tools and they were visibly relieved to know that I could handle a hammer.
We started Posthenge, the giant 20’x50’x10′ wool shed I mentioned last time. Post hole digging is just hard work, esp. in the rocky soil, which required shattering rock with the heavy steel pole before taking it out. But it will get you into shape!
Sadly, we didn’t make much more progress beyond cementing in the poles and getting the first cross beam up.
I took on a couple little side projects, like redoing the mail box and repainting the Egg sign and post.
The final week or so was mostly spent on Sheephenge, the sheep shed I built. This was a fun and simple project but the lesson is here: Foundations that start out inaccurate bore inaccuracies throughout. For instance, when the posts are 12′ 1/4″ apart, 12′ beams don’t reach. That breeds a series of hacks that will ensure future projects will be more accurate.
Word to the wise: baling hay is hard work. After finally getting a window (hay needs 5 rain-free days to dry, and every delay reduces it’s nutritional value), we had 2 days to bale up the harvest. It’s a long day of hefting bales that weigh anywhere from 15-35lbs depending on water content. Pick them off the field and into the trailer. Then off to the barn where they are hefted again into stacks. Repeat a few hundred times.
It’s a great workout and a good days work when you have the right number of helpers. But, and I can’t say I wasn’t warned, if you don’t wear long sleeves and jeans, you suffer. the stiff ends of the hay make little welts in your skin and the next day they itch. My forearms and legs look like I am recovering from smallpox and are quite distracting.
I got to drive a tractor. I drove a right hand drive old Land Rover.
I saw the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
I ate good veggies straight out of the garden, fresh eggs most days and yummy home fries from homegrown potatoes.
Overall, a good, productive and learned month.
Now, I pass today in Belfast. Tomorrow, I search out the Book of Kells and then off to Dublin to partake that city, including the pilgrimage to Windmill Lanes, the studio where U2 recorded their first 3 albums.
Then it is off to a rare pig farm in Boyle, Ireland, where I will spend another month. Then the continent will have cooled a bit and it is off to France!
Nice to have you along for the ride.