Goodbye Squirrels, Hello Seagulls!

Published on Thursday 20th April 2017 by Julie Embleton

After four happy years, the time has come for us to move on from our little haven here in Skerries. My heart hurts to be leaving this magical place behind, but our lease is up which means it’s time to say goodbye. We’ve been lucky enough to have found ourselves a bigger, brighter, brand new house, so although we’re leaving the trees, fields and squirrels behind, we’ll soon be just metres from the sea, which will be a whole new experience.

The haven we’re saying goodbye to is a gate lodge which sits just inside a set of tall iron gates on the grounds of a farming estate. There are five lodges in total on the estate dating way back to the early 1800’s, so there’s plenty of character and quirks inside the four walls. Although I’m looking forward to the sound of the sea drifting through my window at night, I will definitely miss the whispering of the wind through the trees and fields that surround us, so as I prepare to load the last of the boxes into my car and turn the key in the door for the final time, here, in no particular order, are just a few of the things I will miss the most about our little piece of heaven.

 

My Neighbour

Jimmy lives right opposite me and is the Chief in Command when in comes to securing the farm gates by our entrance at night. Our lodges sit face to face, so we get to wave at each other at least once a day as we come and go. Jimmy is like a second dad to me. Right from the very first day we moved in he appeared with a toolbox to secure an outer door, and I’ve lost track of all the jobs he’s done since. I’ve toasted my butt in front of his fire for countless hours while we’ve nattered about politics and motorbikes and everything in between. We’ve laughed over stupid stuff and cried over the cats and kittens we’ve lost in the last four years. He’d laugh at me for saying this, but Jimmy is a cat whisperer. Every stray and feral cat within a ten mile radius has found its way to his back door and within a few months it’s not unusual to see one or more of those once wary, hissing felines wallowing in the satisfaction of a good scratch behind the ears while they lounge on Jimmy’s couch by the fire. Thankfully, I will only be saying goodbye to Jimmy as a neighbour. Our new house is just a few miles up the road so I’ll still get to grouse about the woeful state of our country, heat my butt by his fire and meet his newest feline house guest.

The Surroundings

To be honest, saying goodbye to the surroundings will be the hardest part of moving. When we first viewed the lodge for renting, it was the land around it that had me saying yes long before I had even stepped inside the front door. The sweeping fields, the wind in the trees, the chatter and song of the birds and the blue strip of sea in the distance make this place something very special. My words won’t do it justice, but I’ll try: To the east, standing to attention in the Irish Sea, is the Rockabill lighthouse. I can’t see it in the Summer when the hundreds of trees on the farm are in full bloom, but I know when Autumn is coming when the distant red blinking light suddenly becomes visible again. The Hills Cricket Club sits to the South, where the satisfying thunk of a cricket ball meeting ash will now, for me, be eternally associated with sunny summer days. To the west lies spreading farmland and a view of Howth island, which, when lit up at night, rises up from the horizon like a whale draped in fairy lights. Finally, looking North, the ancient graveyard of St Moibhi is tucked in to a corner of the farm, where most of the gravestones are so old the engravings have entirely faded. For those of you who have read Released, you might now see where my inspiration for Genna’s little house and its surroundings came from!

Rapeseed crops in full bloom last Summer

A stunning sunrise over the farm.

The Character

Being as old as it is, this little house has lots of character. The tall ceilings have sloping edges – a real challenge when it comes to painting a straight line where the wall meets the ceiling. The walls are over a foot thick, so a wide, deep window sill meets the sash windows. Once upon a time wooden shutters were tucked into the window recesses, but they’re long gone from our lodge, although Jimmy still has the original fittings in his. In the living room, there’s a wrought iron fire surround, sculpted with birds, flowers and leaves, and while I don’t think it’s the original, it suits the living room perfectly and looks even nicer when Cassie is curled up in front of a fire blazing in its grate. Finally, the crooked walls and sloping floors may make hanging pictures and settling furniture a bit awkward, but they’re all part of the charm.

Cassie’s favourite spot in the Winter.

The Creatures

When we first moved in, the scampering of the squirrels in the attic was cute and amusing until I was warned they can do serious damage to electrical cables, so I had to block the entrance they made under the eaves to access the attic. Sorry, squirrels. Now they rob the food I leave out on the bird feeder and swing from tree to tree taunting my cat as payback. There’s one little fellow in particular that loves to hang out in the sycamore tree in the back garden. I often see him in the Autumn when I’m outside hanging up washing. He’s the one who steals whole fat balls from the bird feeder, but it’s hard to be mad when I see his cute face and tiny paws as he sits up in the tree nibbling at his stolen treat. A pair of handsome seagulls also come to visit. They perch on Jimmy’s roof every evening just in time for the food being served out for his cats and I swear I could set my watch by their arrival. Of course, there are also the countless cats that gravitate towards this end of the farm. Some have been too wild to befriend, but others have became as good as pets in the last four years.

 

Ah yes, all of this sounds dreamy and amazing, and it is, but to keep myself from weeping inconsolably over my keyboard, I’ll let you in on the secrets of the less than dreamy and amazing truths about living in this little lodge. Firstly, there’s the wind. Oh, the wicked wind! It rolls in off the sea, gathers pace across the fields and slams into the side of my house like a freight train. It whistles through the aged wood of the outer doors and window frames, filling the house with a sound that would put a banshee to shame. Next, it’s the cold. Being from the 1800’s, insulation wasn’t around when this place was built, so besides the thin layer in the attic, the walls and floors have zero insulation. Between October and May, it’s not unusual for the coldness to wake us during the night. It’s a national emergency if it gets to bedtime and I realise I’ve forgotten to turn on my electric blanket, and that’s with a 21 tog duvet and 2 bedspreads on my bed. Olive oil turns solid in the kitchen, I have to soften butter in the microwave before I can spread it on anything and when steam from the hob builds, a strangely warm fog envelops the entire kitchen. If the outside temperature drops to below freezing, the insides of the windows freeze over and every few months I have to scrape away the moss from where it grows inside the ledges of the glass panes. Finally, there’s the bathroom; the coldest room in the house. We can only use the shower as the bath is hypothermia-inducing, and after the first Winter, we learned to warn guests that the strange misting phenomenon they may experience is the steam rising from their warm pee. . .

So, when I drive away from here for the last time and I struggle to swallow back tears over all the amazing things we will be leaving behind, I will remind myself of the cold and the wind and the steam rising from my pee. I will tell myself that my new house has double-glazing and solar panels and will be hotter than the hob of hell in winter. And I will know as I turn out of the driveway that these modern comforts will be wonderful and amazing and awe inspiring, but I will still miss this characterful wee lodge, the handsome old trees and the giddy little squirrels.

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