THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

Relief Milker

24 February Wednesday

The internet man visited and he told us that another man would be coming to check out our location for reception and to install the service. We expected the man on a Saturday but he arrived today because the weather was good. He told us that he is a farmer in Cork. Before becoming a farmer, he had been in the army. That was where he trained in orienteering. He claimed that he is a Good Man To Read The Land. He used powerful binoculars to locate and determine that our house is not in a direct line with the nearest mast. He said that was not a problem and that he would be able to bounce a signal off the house of a man named P.J.O’Neill across the valley. He got things set up quickly with a small dish. With his knowledge of land, he does this installation of Line of Sight broadband for the internet company as a second job. Right now is his busy time on the farm because all of his cows are calving. We were lucky to get him between the calves and between the downpours. He left his wife in charge of the birthing today. He said she is well able for it, but the rain and wind are a different and less predictable thing altogether. Suddenly we have really fast broadband. We have a three week trial period, but already, after a few hours, this is faster than anything we have ever experienced here. We knew our internet was bad but we did not realize how truly dreadful it was until now, when it has come good.

26 February Friday

We walked up past Lady’s Abbey. I detoured in to look into the roofless area of the old Abbey and to check for the red chair. Someone had tried to set it on fire a few months ago and I wondered if since then the whole chair had been removed or if it had been completely burned. I was surprised to find neither thing had occurred. The chair was back in the small room exactly where it had been before someone tried to burn it.

 

28 Sunday

There are loads of daffodils everywhere. And crocuses. And wild garlic. I saw the first primrose today.

1 March Monday

We woke to a thick white cold fog over our world. I went down to the book barn to look for something and found there was no electricity in one end of the barn. We thought a fuse had tripped but finally we decided it was probably mice who had chewed up some wires under the floorboards. We tried different experiments and we went up and down with extension leads and then I had to fix a cardboard box that collapsed when I leaned too heavily on it and I was sweeping up mouse poison that was scattered all around but had not been eaten. I was rushing because it was cold and because suddenly there were so many things to take care of. I went back and forth between the two barns and the house.  Simon was making multiple trips too. The postman arrived at about 10 or maybe it was 10.30. I had been so busy that it was not until I was standing and talking to him outside that I realized that I was still wearing my pyjamas and my dressing gown with rubber boots, a big scarf and a wool hat. He did not seem to notice.

2 March Tuesday

The mornings remain icy. The grass was white with frost, as was the roof of the barn. The field was white. I looked out the window as I waited for the kettle to boil. The fox was moving slowly uphill. He turned and looked in my direction. It would be nice to think that he saw me at the same time that I saw him but really he was just looking around.

3 March Wednesday

The Donegal Postman is the man who most reliably predicts the weather. Word is already out that he is promising that April and May will be fine.

4 March Thursday

On the good days there are already cows out in fields. It is lovely to see them again. I did not realize how much I missed seeing cows on the land. As always, they have been under cover all winter long. Today I had to pull over in the car to wait while the McGrath’s cows walked up the road from a far field to their milking barn. I was happy to wait.

5 March Friday

Throughout this pandemic we have read about people ordering Take Away food. We have heard reports of people living on nothing but Take Away food. Food delivered to the door has not been an option for us. There are few restaurants and they are all closed anyway. And no one wants to deliver anything down our dirt track. We read about a restaurant in Tramore that has been delivering fine food all over the country. We decided to see if there was any chance we might receive their offerings. A restaurant in Dublin or Cork would not consider delivering to these parts, but we hoped that Tramore, which is only 43 kilometres away, might do so. It has been a year since we ate any food besides that which we have prepared for ourselves. The Beach House said delivery was no problem so, as directed, we ordered on Thursday the 25th for delivery on the following Friday. Today.

After lunch this afternoon we received notification that our package had been damaged and that the recipients had refused delivery. We knew we had never been called nor had anyone arrived here, so there was no way we could have refused delivery. After various phone calls and emails with the owner of the restaurant we all recognized that the problem was with the courier service. All deliveries are in chaos over the entire country. Mike told me he waited three weeks for an automobile part to arrive from Ringaskiddy. We were refunded and we are now promised delivery of a free meal on the 19th of March. We will be invited to choose from the menu next Thursday. Peter the owner was very upset that our food had not been arrived. He said they have delivered things as far away as Donegal and Galway with no problems so Tipperary should offer no difficulty. It takes less than a hour drive to Tramore but since we are still unable to travel more than five kilometres from home, it might as well be the moon. It is hard to imagine people living in a city waiting nearly four weeks for a takeaway supper. We are not unhappy to wait. We hear nothing but good things about this splendid food.

6 March Saturday

The birds cannot get enough to eat. I am constantly filling the feeders. There is never enough for them to eat. Some days I chop up an apple and leave it on their table. Other days I leave crumbs or some oat flakes. Whatever I put out disappears immediately.  Whatever I put out is never enough.

7 Sunday

A Relief Milker is a someone who goes and helps out on a farm on either an occasional basis or on a regular day or for part of a week. He does the milking and whatever other jobs need doing. A lot of young men move around the country side helping out on farms. Sometimes it is older men but mostly it is the younger ones. Today I saw a fellow getting into his car down in the village. His services were advertised in the dried mud on his door:

G.BYRNE

RELIEF MILKER

AND ALL ROUNDER

 

8 Monday

Rain. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. Rain. Rain. Sun. Wind. Rain. Every day is a wild thrashing of in and out weather. We live within the weather. The sunny moments can be hot but the rain can quickly turn to sleet. The wind has been so loud it is difficult to keep the sound of its roaring out of our ears even from inside the house.

9 Tuesday

The little notification from the national network is always visible on the upper right hand corner of the television screen. It reads STAY AT HOME. We will know that things are normal again when this message is no longer visible.

 

10 March Wednesday

The jewellery shop in Cahir is not open. By law, the shop is not allowed to open. It is not an essential business. I needed a battery for my watch and the jeweller told me to ring him when I was in front of the shop and he would step outside and give me the correct battery. His shop was not open but it was open.

11 Thursday

Breda and Siobhan and I walked down the field track at Molough. We knew we were taking a chance. Rain and gusty winds arrive without notice and every downpour is a heavy downpour. We wore full waterproofs and we took our chances. Torrential rains came down twice. And each time there was a one of the two big sheds available to step into. One was echoing and nearly empty as most of the winter hay has been removed. The other shed at the bottom of the track had large pieces of machinery, none of which we were certain about the function of, but it was pleasant  to look at them and to discuss their possible functions while we waited for the rain to clear again.

12 March Friday

We have had 10 weeks of lockdown since Christmas. The new possible deadline is early April but no one believes that we will actually be released then. The vaccine is rolling out slowly because the supplies are not arriving into the country. Everyone is weary of all of this.

I heard two men talking with the distance of a pick-up truck between them. They were wearing masks and they each had a big woolly hat pulled down low. Their conversation was loud. They were both shouting to compensate for the muffling by their face masks. It was a continuation of the on-going discussion between people of who lets their wife or their husband or their partner cut their hair. One of the men said that he had finally agreed to let his wife cut his hair but he would not be letting her loose to cut the grass.

13 March Saturday

I return home from my walks with my pockets full of lichen. I might fill one pocket or I might fill two pockets. I do not need this lichen but I love the silvery look of it on the ground. I am obsessed with lichen. I love spying it among the other vegetation and I love collecting it. When I arrive home with two pockets full I feel wealthy. I fill bowls with the lichen and I leave it on a windowsill to dry out. When that bowlful gets dusty, I throw it out as there is always more to collect. Now I am coming home with my pockets full of wild garlic. There is so much of it popping up every day. It is more useful and of course more delicious than the lichen and it is beautiful, but maybe not as quite as beautiful.

The Third Floor

1 February Monday

The Irish calendar decrees that today is first day of spring. It does not feel like the first day of spring. It feels like February. Every year I feel certain that the first of February is not remotely the first day of spring. Breda and I walked in the mountains and we sat down to eat our sandwiches in the cold and wind. We did not linger. She pointed out the kind of reeds used for the making of the St. Brigid’s crosses. It is a tradition to gather the reeds and make the crosses today, but we did not collect reeds as we had no intention of making the crosses.  It was too cold to do anything but to keep walking. Back down here, at home, we have masses of snowdrops and crocuses and even some daffodils are starting to show. Perhaps spring is closer than I think.

2 February Tuesday

When I listen to the radio or while I am waiting in the shop, I hear people moaning and despairing about how greatly they are suffering because they cannot go to visit their mother who lives in Wexford or Fethard or Waterford. There is a lots of weeping and wailing because people have not seen their mother in three weeks or two months. Anyone whose mother is more than five kilometers away feels hard done by. A lot of families got together in the summer in one of the few parts of last year when we were not in lockdown and many more people got together over Christmas. Too many people got together at Christmas. That is why the virus took off and that is why we are in Level Five lock-down now.

Today is my mothers birthday. She is 95 and there is a big blizzard kicking off in New Hampshire, so she is trapped at home alone. She tells me that she has heat and food and plenty to read, so she is not unhappy. And she has the telephone. I have not seen my mother since October 2019. I try not to mention this when people are moaning. All distances are too far right now.

5 February Friday

I was pulled over at a Garda checkpoint in Poulacapple on the way to Kilkenny. I reached over to the passenger seat to get my letter from the doctor’s office validating my journey as Essential Inter-County Travel. The Garda did not look close enough to read the letter, he simply nodded to acknowledge the piece of paper. He said that to his own eyes I had the appearance of an honest woman, so he waved me along.

Before the doctor could get down to any other business he wanted to put a pin in his map. The pin was the important thing. An enormous map was pasted on the wall over his desk. It was a world map. He wanted to know where I was from originally. With my guidance he stuck a little round blue pin into the map as close to what we could consider New Hampshire as was possible. A tiny bit north of Boston was the best we could do. He did not have a national map for his Irish patients. This mapping activity was only for those of us from far-flung locations. Most of the pins were white and some were blue but I do not know if they marked any difference or if he just ran out of white ones and so he moved on to a box of blue.

8 February Monday

The Third Floor is spoken of with all seriousness. The Third Floor is where Covid-19 patients are taken at the hospital. The entire floor has been given over to the care of people who are ill with the virus. If someone tells you that a person is On The Third Floor you do not need to ask what the problem is. You do not even need to use the word hospital. The Third Floor says it all.

9 February Tuesday

The good thing about growing bamboo is that I have a regular source of strong and flexible sticks. I made a flag for Mrs. Hally’s 103rd birthday. The flag was on a piece of card and it stood tall on its bamboo pole. I thought it could be stuck into a plant pot on the porch outside so that it could be seen from where Mrs. Hally sits in her chair looking out over the marsh. I knocked several times before Siobhan came to the door. She said in a whisper that the priest was there in the house and that he was just now saying a Birthday Blessing for her mother. I was interrupting the Blessing. The Bishop has instructed priests not to go into peoples houses during the Covid lock-down but this priest is a good friend of Mrs Hally and the family. He knew how very much a Birthday Blessing would mean to her. He was willing to defy orders from the Bishop. Apparently most people in the village would not have knocked at the door. They would have known that the priest was there when they saw his car outside, but because he had just bought a new car, he was maybe not quite as visible as he would usually be. New or old, I would never recognize the priest’s motorcar from any other motorcar.

10 February Wednesday

We walked up on one of the steep forestry roads above Goatenbridge. There was water streaming down the side of the track and the running water was full of frog spawn. Another sign of spring.

12 February Friday

There is always another word or expression to note. I think I have been hearing this one for a long time but I just did not fully register it. To Make a Hames of something is to screw it up due to clumsiness or ineptitude or simply by being less careful than you should be. I made a Hames of it or She’s after making a Hames of it. Like an athlete dropping the ball: He made a Hames of that pass.

15 February Monday

I drove to the village and found it full of cars. Cars were parking everywhere. People were hopping out and putting on their masks and walking rapidly toward the church but they were not going too near to the church. Nor were they going inside. There was a funeral about to begin. Funerals always take place at eleven o’clock in the morning. Only ten people can attend a funeral mass inside the church in this Level Five Lock-down. The ten person limit was not enough to allow all of the dead man’s family to attend the service. The people outside the church were family and friends and neighbours. They were lining up along the road before the hearse arrived in order to pay their respects. I think they were also there because it was somewhere to go. There was a good amount of waving and calling out to each other across the way. The sun was out and the wind was sharp. People were zipped into their jackets and masked up and hatted but they were happy to be out of their houses and most of all they were happy to see other people because even a sad event provides a chance to be less alone.

16 February Tuesday

The day was grey and wickedly cold. I dropped my little box of blueberries on the floor of the shop. They went everywhere. They rolled under shelves and off in every direction. I laughed as I crawled around on my knees to collect the berries. The girl who worked in the shop laughed. There were two other two customers in the shop. They laughed. There was a lot of laughter. We needed the laughter.

17 February Wednesday

The first leaves of wild garlic are pushing up. They are too small to eat yet, but it won’t be long.

18 February Thursday

There is plenty of rain and plenty of mud. The road crew has not returned to do any more work of the boreen. They were so quick and eager to start at 8.30 on a Monday morning. That was nearly four weeks ago. The track is now one long running mess of mud. Derek tells me that they will be filling the potholes one shovel full at a time.

21 February Sunday

After days and days of torrential rain and flooding and more torrential rain and more flooding, the sun has come out today. The roads are once again passable. We are no longer trapped by water.  Fields are appearing in places that looked like lakes. We have had no internet for most of the last few weeks. We get a small signal for two or three hours each day. This problem might be weather related, but it might not. What it is is annoying.

 

The Hedge School

25 January Monday

No one wants to go to the dentist. This new variant of the virus from England is rampant. Everyone is nervous. I had an appointment with the dental hygienist. I rang up to cancel. The receptionist did not seem surprised. She sounded as though she was waiting for my call. She told me that everyone is cancelling. If a procedure is essential or if it is an emergency, people are willing to go to the dentist. If not, no one wants to go. I heard on the radio that the government is considering employing dentists to take on the job of vaccinating people. At least then they will have something to do.

 

26 January Tuesday

Derek delivered new postcards. They are a gift from An Post. The ones sent out to us during the first lockdown were big and glossy and the pictures on them were not good. This new offering is smaller. Each one is the size of a normal post card and it is on better card stock. It is not glossy. The best thing is that the front side of these new cards has no image on it. It is just white with a green edge. The blank card gives us a chance to write or draw or glue something onto it as we wish. We can post our cards to anyone on the island of Ireland, North or South, for FREE.

27 January Wednesday

The digger arrived at 8.30 on Monday morning. The grass was scraped and removed from the middle of the boreen. There were two men on the job: one with the small digger and the other with a larger machine. He collected the grass and soil and stones and took it all away. We were trapped for the day, as anticipated. In the morning they cleared as far as the gate into Scully’s wood and after returning from their dinner, they did about half way in from the tar road. I think that their plan was to meet in the middle. The men did not come back on Tuesday but they left the digger and three kinds of shovels and scrapers up at the farm, so we knew they would be back.

Today they reappeared and finished the entire road. On both Monday and Wednesday Derek handed our post to the man in the small digger. The digger is small but it is still as wide as the boreen. There was no way for Derek to get by. The man delivered the letters and packets to us himself rather than backing up to allow the post van to drive down and then to drive back up again. I am sad to see the grass gone. The primroses will not be blooming down the middle this spring, but I feel certain that they will return next year. Or the year after that.

28 January Thursday

The butcher was a thin nervous man. I asked for a shoulder of lamb. He quickly directed my attention to a silver tray with three lamb kidneys in one end. The rest of the tray was heaped with tiny tiny pieces of diced lamb shoulder. The pieces were so small I did not know what they might be useful for. The tiny cubes of lamb were too small for stew. They were too small for anything. They looked like pink peppercorns. I wondered if they were a mistake. He suggested that I might prefer the diced lamb shoulder rather than the entire shoulder I had requested. He was disappointed when I thanked him but said no.

 

29 January Friday

Walking up Bahernaugh in bitterly cold sunshine, I decided to continue as far as the old hedge school. The road is now impassable by car, and it was rough uphill walking. The old man who used to live up there died last year. He was in a care home for a year before that. There are plenty of sheep in his fields. I think they belong to his cousin Michael.  The house and the sheds are closed up and looking sad, but the little sign is still on the blocked up window identifying the one building as a school.

30 January Saturday

The Garda are everywhere. They continue to surprise. They are fining people for going too far from where they live. We are still in lockdown. The end date of this lockdown was scheduled for today but that date has changed. It is now tentatively planned for 5 March.  That may or may not be the date when we are allowed more freedom. We can only go 5 kilometers from home for exercise. If we go any further than that we must have an essential reason:  food or medicine or a medical appointment. There is nothing open so there is nowhere else to go anyway. People no longer get warnings. We are now being fined for going too far from home.  Five cyclists in fancy lycra gear were given fines. Five men. Five fines. It was obvious they were on a long cycle ride as a group. No one dresses up like that to go only five kilometers.  One man was fined for having a passenger in his car who was not someone he lived with and who had no reason to be in the car with him. The radio is full of news of these fines. It is making us all stay closer to home, which is of course the whole point.

 

31 January Sunday

We think about being somewhere else, but of course we cannot go anywhere. This is a recurring theme.  We prepare food from different cultures and we listen to music from far away. We watch films and we read books in order to transport ourselves.  We want to travel, but we recoil at the idea of boarding a crowded plane, train or bus to go anywhere at all. A seat on a bus is not a place where anyone wants to be these days, even if the bus seat is one of the newly upholstered ones on BusEireann.  The running red setters are so cheerful. They suggest great speed and momentum and joy.

No.  A seat on the bus is not a place where anyone wants to be these days. As an healthy option, my book BY BUS, written pre-pandemic, when we were able to roam freely on buses, is now published by UGLY DUCKLING PRESSE in Brooklyn, NY. This book offers the reader multiple journeys by bus, without the need to wear a mask.  It is now available to order with a pre-publication discount:

By Bus

Do You Read Books?

3 January 2021 Sunday

The Leopardstown Races are a big part of the holiday season. Traditionally they take place 26-29 December. This year they happened as usual but without the big crowds in attendance. Of course. Everyone who follows the racing watched it on the television. Siobhan’s mother was busy at Leopardstown from her armchair every day, as always. She sat with her pen and the newspaper and made notes about each race. She knows the background of each horse. All year she keeps track of all the race meetings and of the horses, trainers, jockeys and owners. There is not much about the horses that she does not know. Mrs. Hally is 102.  Siobhan tapes the program because her mother falls asleep frequently. Each race gets replayed and replayed until Mrs. Hally feels certain that she has seen everything.


6 January Wednesday

We took a walk out to Lady’s Abbey. It was cold. I wanted to check on the red chair that had been stored in one of the small rooms at the ruined Abbey.  We were shocked to find the chair laying on the ground outside. Someone, probably kids, had used it to start a fire, or else they had started a small fire with the idea to burn the chair once the fire got going. It was a bad idea. The red seat of the chair did not burn well and they never got enough heat going to burn the back and the legs. All they did was ruin the chair.  Someone had left that chair safely sheltered so that it would be available to sit upon each time they visited the Abbey. A man walking with a crutch appeared as we were leaving. He used his crutch to point to the chair and the failed fire and he said, “Kids! They are trying to have fun but they don’t know how.”

8 January Friday

We walked up behind the house that used to belong to Francie Cooney.  It has just been sold.  The sign is still up. It says SALE AGREED. I had never been up onto the land so we wandered in to take a look. Once there are new people in possession we would not think to go in and look around. That would be intruding.  The land goes back in three sections. I have been passing the house for years. I had no idea there was so much land stretching back from the road. The small house is in the first part and then there is a big open-sided shed with a rounded galvanized roof full of tools and broken machinery and some more land and then there is a third section with two stone buildings and a high wall. The stone wall on the left side of the entire piece of land is about two and a half meters high. Just by being back there and talking quietly we disturbed a fox who was sleeping up in a secret place on the wall. He ran along the length of it and disappeared.

9 January Saturday

Tommie loves fruit. He claims to love all fruit. He is also partial to sweet things: cakes and biscuits and puddings and pies.  But his preferred favorite thing is fresh fruit. I knocked on his door today, took a few steps back and asked him if he likes pineapple. He looked dubious and then we talked a little and I gave him the box with a piece of pineapple cake in it. The box was made of cardboard so Tommie could not see the cake that was inside the box. Looking at the box gave him no clues to its contents. Simon had made the cake from one of the pineapples that has been lined up on the windowsill with pine cones. It was the last of the pineapples that we called our Christmas decoration. The cake was made following a recipe from Mauritius but I did not tell Tommie that. He was a little disturbed about the fact that he did not know if he had ever had a pineapple or if he had ever seen a pineapple. He would have been further disturbed by the word Mauritius. I gave him the box along with a carton of Bird’s Custard.  I told him that the pineapple and the custard go well together. He asked if this thing in the box was a sweet thing or was it something else. He did not say the word pineapple. The word seemed to disturb him.  I explained that it was a cake made with the fruit of the pineapple. Once he knew that it was a sweet, his face relaxed and he looked happy and he said that he looked forward to the eating of it.

11 January Monday

Robins are everywhere. There are many birds of all kinds on the feeders and on the bushes but mostly there are dozens and dozens of robins. For a while I thought I was getting to know one and that she was getting to know me. Now I know that there are too many robins to really focus upon. I cannot recognize one from another. They are all fat and they are all everywhere. I cannot keep the feeders full enough.

12 January Tuesday

There is not a lot of variety in the things to see when I go out to walk. At this time of year there is not much animal activity. Most days things are much the way they were the day before.  Most days I never meet another person. I have to take different routes to provide myself with variety especially now that we can only go five kilometers from home for exercise.  Today I got excited when I saw something in the road up ahead of me.  I was looking at it for a long time as I approached. I could not decide what it was.  Finally I got close enough to identify it.  It was a sugar beet. What did I expect it to be? It was not even a whole sugar beet, but only half a sugar beet. The other half must have gone off in the machine that gathered them up in the field. This half might have fallen off a trailer. It gave me something to look at and something to think about. I am still excited about it.

15 January Friday

Tommie did not enjoy the pineapple cake. He was polite about it. He said that since he has never before eaten nor seen a pineapple probably it is too late for him to start. He did not like the pineapple cake but he was very happy to have eaten the entire carton of Bird’s Custard.

16 January Saturday

I went to the Farmer’s Market but it was not fully up and running after the  Christmas break. I was a week early.  Pat was not there, so there was no fish. James was not there so there were no organic vegetables.  Maria was not there so there was no cheese. Those were the things I had come to buy. There were a few other stalls open so I did purchase a few items. I decided I would need to go over to the supermarket to buy more food.

A man in the SuperValu car park shouted to me: DO YOU READ BOOKS? I looked up as he ran over to me, wearing his mask and lugging an enormous shopping bag full of books.  I looked at the books and they were a terrible mess or at least the ones showing at the top of the bag were in a dreadful state.  The covers were bent and curled and stained and torn. I told the man that I had so many of my own books at home that I simply did not have space for anymore.  I directed him to the wire bin just inside the door of the supermarket. The bin is full of books that people leave there and other people scrabble through them and help themselves to whatever they want. The man said he was headed for that bin but he saw me first and he said he thought I might be the kind of person who might want an entire bag of books.

17 January Sunday

Sometimes Saturday night or maybe Sunday night. Going to the sauna once a week is the closest thing to Going Out Somewhere that we have had throughout the last ten months. It is an occasion to look forward to and an occasion to savor. Walking the 80 meters across the yard in the darkness in my dressing gown offers a new challenge. I can no longer just wander along looking up at the stars as I usually do. There are snowdrops coming up everywhere in the grass.  They are not easily visible by the light of the lantern because most are not yet in blossom. There is not very much white to catch the light. Walking in the dark demands careful attention. I do not want to step on them.

18 January Monday

I telephone Tommie once a week and when I do I try to have some news for him. Sometimes there is little to tell. We none of us have much news in these endless lockdowns. He told me that he considers himself a hermit these days. A hermit who has his dinner delivered each day by Eileen Condon. He told me that her portions are mighty.  The dinner is usually too much food so he has enough left over for his tea too. He finds these days of quarantine long and lonely. Today I had some news for him. He was pleased to hear that a man from the council had been down for a look and now some work is promised on our boreen.  I told him that the potholes are worse than they have ever been. Even the postman is shocked by the state of things. It is easy for the council to forget about this road because there is only our one house on it. They forget that they are responsible for it.

19 January Tuesday

I had received the order from Dublin. My habit is to send payment by return post with a check. The last time I made this same order, Esther included an envelope addressed to herself in my handwriting and with an uncancelled stamp on the upper right hand corner. This was the envelope I had used for the time before. Esther did not say anything in her note about the envelope but I accepted it for the small kindness that it was. I put my check into the envelope and I felt smug for getting the chance to use the same stamp twice.  This time an envelope arrived with my order again.  It was completely wrinkled and a little torn and it was addressed to Esther herself again, but not in my handwriting.  It was someone else’s handwriting and someone else’s envelope. Their stamp had not been cancelled either. So I used this envelope already posted by someone else to send my payment to Esther, again for free.

20 January Wednesday

Some undergrowth has been cleared up at Middlequarter. A post with signs for walkers is suddenly visible. It is not a new post nor are the signs new. They were there but they were hidden. I am intrigued with the one pointing to the village announcing: Refreshments Available.

21 January Thursday

While out walking I had seen the car driving around slowly. It is always a big thing to note the first new car of the year. Well, it is not a big thing, but it is anyway a thing to be on the look out for the first brand new car with the number of the new year on the license plate.  I saw a red car with the number 21 and then I saw it again about 30 minutes later. It was driving slowly around the area.  No one is allowed to go more than 5 kilometres from home so this car was circling and driving the same roads.  Because of the new and very infectious variant of the virus, the Guards are out in surprising places stopping people on bicycles and in cars and telling them to go home and to stay at home. They are giving people warnings. This morning I saw the red car again down at the shop. There were no other cars parked out front. There was no one around at all, except me, and this car with the 21 plates backed in so that the front of the car was facing outwards. The driver was sitting in his seat waiting to catch the eye of anyone who arrived. As I left I recognized that it was Larry Doocey sitting in the car. He was waiting for people to notice his new motorcar.  I spoke to Tommie in the afternoon and I mentioned Larry and the new automobile. He was not surprised, but he appreciated getting the news. He said. “Ah yes. It is exactly the time for Larry to buy a new car. He has always been A Man for The Changing Up.”

22 January Friday

We were told to expect the road crew from the council today. The plan was that they would bring the digger and scrape out the grass down the middle of the boreen. Then they would return on Monday to fill and fix as much of the road as they could fix.  That was the plan but this morning the digger was not available so now we are promised the same activity for Monday. The idea was that we would be trapped down here all day unable to drive out.  It is nothing new to stay home all day but it is not normal to be warned of the entrapment ahead of time. .

Pineapples and Pine Cones

12 December Saturday

I found shredded paper and mouse droppings in a deep corner of the long cupboard. There was no food in the vicinity.  The mice were happy enough to chew on other things. I was cleaning up the mess and moving things around as I searched for more of the same. All the time that I was looking and clearing, I was wondering where the mice had entered, and when. I do not know if this is fresh activity or old activity.  I wondered if this nibbling was done yesterday, or was it long ago?  Maybe it was September?

14 December Monday

He is a tall man. He wears a waistcoat with many pockets over a heavy sweater, but he does not wear a hat. There is no logic about when he arrives. It might be early on a Sunday morning or he might appear on a weekday afternoon. There are twelve or fifteen small dogs with the man. They run in ever lengthening loops all around him but they never go too far from him. None of the dogs have collars and none of them are large. They are not hunting dogs. Some of them look like long-haired dachshunds but I do not think that is what they are. That is the nearest way for me to describe them. All of the dogs are mixed-up breeds and all of the dogs are short-legged and all of the dogs are fast and quiet. They are not a barking and baying pack. The man is formal in his address. He has dark curly hair and looks like a person from a medieval painting. He is not a modern man. He might be in his late thirties or he might be older. When the man and his dogs appear down the track he always asks politely if I have seen The Fox. I always say no. I never help anyone in their pursuit of a fox. Sometimes he asks if it is okay for him to cut across our land and to cross up into Joe’s fields. Sometimes he turns and goes back the way he came. Other times he continues up the Mass Path towards Johnnie Mackin’s. The dogs are everywhere. They are like a liquid mass moving all through the yard and off into the fields. They rush to drink out of the low water butt. I see the dogs before I see the man. He carries a curved horn over his shoulder with a strap. It gives off the loud rallying TallyHo call associated with The Hunt. This man has no horse, no weapon and no crowd of people and baying dogs with him. He is always alone with his many small dogs. When he blows the horn the dogs all come running from wherever they are. He also carries a huge whip, which is hooked onto his belt. When he cracks the whip in the air the dogs hear the loud snap and they come running to join him. Each time he comes the man tells me that he is looking for The Fox because it is stealing chickens. I do not believe him. Today the dogs appeared and shortly after they arrived, he himself arrived, walking down from Scully’s wood and asking if I had seen The Fox. I did not say a word. I bent my head at the neck and gave him a little grimace to say that we have had this conversation three or four times already and to say that you know that I will not tell you even if I have seen The Fox. He nodded, said Thank You, and then he bowed low from the waist. He turned and strode back up the track. A few minutes later I heard the horn. Any of the dogs remaining in the yard rushed away to join him.

15 December Tuesday

The morning was bitter and sharp. The cold was harsh. Derek was late delivering the post. He was so late that I had assumed that there would be no post delivered at all. I asked him why he was not wearing his cap. He acknowledged my concern and agreed that yes, it was way too cold to be out without a cap. He told me that he had had a puncture. I wondered what a punctured tyre had to do with him not wearing a hat. He explained that he had to change the tyre on the van early this morning in the dark and when he was finished, he used his cap to clean and dry his wet hands. It was the only thing he could find. He said it was better to wear no cap at all than to pull a wet and muddy one down over his ears.

18 December Friday

As of today, we are released from our six week lockdown. We are now allowed to cross county borders. The trouble is that everyone else is allowed to cross the county borders too, so there is a mad rush in all directions. It is pre-Christmas panic. It seems to be a very good time to not cross any borders and not to go near the town and to just pretend that we are still not allowed to go anywhere. We shall continue to stay at home.

19 December Saturday

It was a rare treat to find razor clams at the market.  We ate them for lunch.

20 December Sunday

I am always happy to see Anthony’s tyre tree out on display again. He keeps it out back on its pallet all year and brings it around to the front at this time of year after festooning it with fresh ivy vines and little lights.

21 December Monday

The shop in the village is extra busy right before lunch time. There are workmen and delivery men picking up sandwiches to eat in their vans and there are the wives of farmers all in a rush collecting a bit of something towards the dinner. There is always one women who roars, “I cannot stop to talk. I left The Spuds On The Boil!”

22 December Tuesday

When something is broken beyond repair, it is Banjaxed. Banjaxed means that an object or a machine is broken, or ruined. A person can be Banjaxed too—ruined or shattered or deeply deeply tired. A person who is Banjaxed might just be exhausted.

24 December Thursday

I have lined the windowsill with pineapples and pine cones. The pineapples were on special offer at the supermarket for 47 cents each. I bought a couple and then I bought a couple more. They look very festive. The windowsill looked best when there were six pineapples in a row, but we keep eating them so now there are only three.

25 December Friday

Someone spread slurry on the fields. It was either Joe or Joe. The smell is noxious and it burns the back of the throat even when I am outside for only a few minutes. That is the bad news. The good news is that the first snowdrop has come up. It is early but it is a welcome sign of spring. A sign of hope.

27 December Sunday

We have been beaten and thrashed by Storm Bella. We had yellow warnings and we had amber warnings. Winds and rain and the noise of it all. It went on and on and on. I think it is now over. I hope it is over. There is deep water everywhere but we have not suffered downed trees. We have not lost our electricity. The west of the country has had it worse with snow and severely blocked roads. We are just mired in even more mud than we already had. Walking out in any direction is hard slogging work.

29 December Tuesday

My pursuit of mice continues. The long cupboard has been cleared. Traps are set but the mice ignore the traps. They are eating poison every day but it is not killing them. They take some of the poison and move along the length of a shelf and eat it there. They come back for more and more pellets and they continue to evade my traps. Apparently there is an explosion of mice all over the country this winter. Everyone has mice and everyone is fighting the same battle but most people do not talk about it for fear of the rodents reflecting badly on them. My mice keep chewing and nibbling paper and cardboard. Any and all food items have been removed and stored in a big plastic box. Everything else taken out of the cupboard is in little piles along the wall. I am looking forward to being able to put things back but I am mostly looking forward to the end of the mice.

30 December Wednesday

Today is Simon’s birthday. I bought him a calendar down at the shop. It was a fund-raising project for the FAS scheme. It has a few tractors on it. It also has one page with some cleaned-up farm equipment repainted with bright colours. I do not think he will like this calendar much, but I will. He is not interested to view farm machinery and tractors in the everyday world around him so he will not be interested in photographs of them. I will wrap the calendar up and give it to him with the card I have not yet made. He went up and down to the book barn a few times this morning.  It is too cold to stay working down there for long. On one of the trips back and forth, a bird shat on his head.  It was obviously a big bird because it was an enormous messy dropping. He had to wash his hair thoroughly to get rid of it. If it had been a seagull, it would be considered Good Luck. But we think it was a magpie or a crow.  Their droppings are big but they do not arrive with any promise of luck.

31 December Thursday New Year’s Eve.

Last night the sky was beautifully clear. We were able to see the Full Moon. The out of doors was so bright that there was no need for a torch. We have missed the last two full moons due to thick cloud cover and rain. We missed the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn too. Maybe this sighting of the full moon is a positive sign for the year to come. Last night at midnight the entire country went back into Level Five Lockdown.  It is only 13 days since we were released from the last lockdown. Everything except essential retail shops such as food and pharmacies is closed and will remain closed. We can only go five kilometres from home for the purpose of exercise. These restrictions will remain in place until the end of January. It is more cheering to think about the bright full moon and the extension everyday of our hours of daylight.

Don’t Act the Maggot

23 November Monday

The good news is that I now have a robin friend who hops along close to me as I perform small outdoor jobs. Wherever I go out of doors she appears and follows me. The days are bitter and frosty and short so most jobs get done in small spurts. I am stacking another load of firewood, and plucking off the big figs left on the bush while leaving only the tiny fingernail-sized ones. Moving the clay pots into the shed to avoid them cracking with frost and moving plants into the house or the book barn to help them to survive the winter. This new robin has no name yet but if she sticks around and becomes the robin who recognizes me and who I expect to see every day, I will of course name her. It is companionable to have a small presence to chat to in the cold. She tips her head to the left each time I speak.

24 November Tuesday

Tommie has lost track of how long it has been since he last visited Margaret in the care home in Cappoquin. He thinks he was forbidden to visit even before we went into this lockdown but he claims he is mixed up with the time. He knows that there is no chance that Margaret will remember when they last met so if he cannot remember then it probably does not matter anyway. He told me that when he last saw her she was in good form and that she was Thumping Away on Her Crate. He said he could not hear the racket through the glass dividing wall. Her Crate is what he calls her walking frame.

25 November Wednesday

The day was sunny and frosty. There was only one car parked in front of the shop. An elderly woman sat in the passenger seat. She waved to me with enthusiasm and mouthed greetings through the tightly closed window. I went into the shop and when I came out again the car was still there but the woman was gone. I looked up just in time to see her scurrying out from the churchyard leaning heavily on her stick and coming across the road as fast as she could move which was not very fast. She was out of breath when she reached the car and she asked me not to tell a soul that I had seen her. Her husband was still inside in the shop. She said there would be a massacre if he learned that she had stepped out of the car, especially as she was wearing neither a hat nor a mask. She had just popped into the churchyard to say hello to her parents in their grave. She felt certain that they would be feeling the cold.

26 November Thursday

The Community Alert text message warned that a white Nissan van was ‘calling to farmers’ yards looking for hay.’ The identifying number of the van was given and any sightings were to be reported to the Cahir Garda Station. The problem was not that someone was needing hay for their animals. The implication was that Looking for Hay was a pretext for people looking for things to steal.

27 November Friday

Not many cows are still grazing in the fields. Some herds are already under cover for the winter. Whenever I see any cows out in the grass, I call out “Hello Cows! It’s me!”

29 November Sunday

The morning is white. There is nothing to see beyond the book barn. The fields are gone. Joe’s cows are gone. The hills beyond are gone. There are no hills. Thick fog makes everything into an absence.

1 December Tuesday

Today is the first day that things are open again. We have completed our Six Week National Level 5 Lockdown. Almost everything is re-opening today: shops selling non-essential goods, libraries, churches, hairdressers and barbers are all open. Restaurants and cafés will be allowed to open in a few more days. Wet Bars will not be allowed to open. Everything is being staggered to try and keep group movement under control. We are still required to stay within our own county. Announcers on the radio are warning people not to be careless and not to congregate in groups indoors. I heard several voices instructing people: Don’t Act The Maggot. To Act The Maggot is to behave in a foolish way. It is to play at being dumb, usually to garner attention. I have never heard this slang expression used in official terms but today I have heard it again and again. Because everyone knows the expression, we know that we are being told to behave.

2 December Wednesday

I was nearing the top bit of the mass path where it is almost a road or it would be a road if anyone could drive on it. It is wide enough for a single vehicle but it is overgrown with grass and weeds and bushes on both sides are impinging. I saw Buddy up ahead. He was squatting and relieving his bowels. He looked at me with surprise but he did not bark. He finished what he was doing and then he jumped up and over the wall into his yard. Once there he began to bark furiously. His barking made Jessie come running and she ran ahead of him to bark louder and to jump up on me when I reached the tar road.  Buddy stayed in the background and let her do the job of protecting the property.

4 December Friday

There was a bloody bird carcass on a mossy rock. The bones of the body were still attached to the wing. I must have interrupted the fox because when I walked back that way an hour later, all evidence of the bird was gone. There was nothing left except the mossy rock.

7 December Monday

The fog was bad. Again. Thick and white and impenetrable. Driving to Waterford was terrifying but I needed to go to the hospital for a test.  I had no choice. I had a valid medical reason to cross the county line and I was driving in dense fog. It was a big day for me. I was halted by a Garda. I thought I was being stopped to justify my destination, but instead it was because there had been a collision. It looked bad. I had to wait a little while for the emergency services to arrive. I was the only car waiting so I was asked to put on my flashers to warn anyone who might drive up behind me. As I sat waiting for permission to drive onward, I watched two Garda unfolding a newspaper and attempting to cover the license plate of the mangled car. They had some tape but it was not the right kind of tape for the wet and cold weather. The newspaper kept falling off. They tried tucking it in around and behind the number plate, but nothing was working very well. The paper got wet and fell off. The Garda who had stopped me told me that they were trying to cover the plate so that if someone saw the car and perhaps knew the people who had been in it, they would not recognise the vehicle and be upset.

An Added Apostrophe

26 October Monday

Today is a Bank Holiday. In the current climate, it is difficult to know what this means. It is difficult to know if the words Bank Holiday mean anything at all. We remain in Level Five Lockdown. Everything everywhere is closed and everyone is staying at home. The word Holiday feels misplaced.

31 October Saturday

Wild winds gusted and bashed the country all night. All leaves have been blown off all trees. Branches are naked. Views are opened up. We can see things in the far distance. We can view vistas that have not been visible since last year. This is all the work of Storm Adrian. Or it might be the other storm that was coming right behind him. It is not easy to keep track of the names of these relentless winds off the Atlantic.

Most of the vendors at the Farmers Market did not even try to put up their little tents this morning. James, the vegetable man, attached his tent to his car in the hope that the car would keep it from blowing away. Lorraine opened the boot of her car and used the interior space to display her baked goods in tiered rows. We could not get very close to anything she had on offer but we could point to what we wanted. No one lingered at the market. We purchased our food and we rushed away. The noise of the wind made conversation impossible.

1 November Sunday

Today is the first day of the shooting season. I have already seen three cars with men inside and tiny covered trailers being pulled behind. The trailers carry the gun dogs, usually three or four of them squished into the small space. The men will be out hoping to shoot birds and the dogs will be hoping to retrieve the downed birds. It is the time of year for me to sing loudly and to recite poetry when I walk through wooded areas. I need to alert the men with guns that I am not something to be shot. More importantly, I hope to alert the birds of possible danger.

2 November Monday

Joe has had a new man working with him up at the farm for a few weeks now. Today I was chatting to the new man while waiting for the cows to cross the track, so I asked his name. He said his name is Joe. Joe is working for Joe. And then there is the other Joe in the adjoining fields. Joe and Joe and Joe. We are surrounded by Joes.

9 November Monday

It has been an exhausting week. Watching and listening to the election and the results and the endless discussions and laborious counting has been all-consuming. On top of my own concern, I have had to take on the role of The American. I have received many phone calls and messages of congratulations and of shared joy and relief. These messages have arrived from England and from just down the road. I have been stopped by neighbors out walking. Without seeking the job, I seem to have been representing the entire nation. I am the American Friend. One man who knew who I was although I did not know he was, stopped his car when I was walking on the road. He rolled down his window and he asked me if I had voted in the US election. He said, “Of course it only matters to me if you voted the right way.” We quickly established that he and I shared the same idea about who the right choice was. One man, who is a Rabid Republican, avoids me if we happen to be in the village at the same time. Many years ago he lived in the United States and he retains his vote there. He takes his responsibility as a voter seriously. He takes his role as an American even more seriously. I do not know why he lives here and not there. I do not think that he likes having another American in the vicinity. Without me around, he could be the authority on all things American. I do not want the job but I know that he does want it. Actually, he stopped acknowledging me years ago, so this election makes no difference to anything at all.

10 November Tuesday

The newest Gift from the Government is the offer of Free Postage to anyone sending anything to a residential Care Home. A letter or a parcel to a friend or an elderly relative or anyone at all is now carried by An Post for free. The government is trying to make up for the fact that because of The Covid, no one can visit their loved ones in a home. They think everyone will feel better if things can be sent without cost as often as one wants. And they are certain that the people inside the homes will feel better too.

11 November Wednesday

The bales of silage wrapped in pink plastic are cheerful against the grey skies.  Not all farmers use the pink plastic but many do. The pink silage wrap appears every year. It starts out bright pink and it fades in the light.  It’s purchase price goes toward helping support Breast Cancer charities. The idea is that the surprise of pink bales in the landscape will remind everyone that this is an problem that is not going away and that it is one that needs attention and vigilance. The pink is always a surprise. No matter how often I see the bales close up or in the distance they refuse to be ignored.

12 November Thursday

The child had thrown himself onto the ground. He was weeping with ferocious energy. His crying left him gasping and gulping and making a lot of noise. It looked to me like he could not get any air. I watched him with concern. His mother saw my face. She said “Don’t worry yourself, he knows that kind of Hegging will get him plenty of attention.” Hegging is the word for this particular form of desperate sobbing. Just when I think I know all the words that might be new to me, along comes another one.

13 November Friday

Helen McGrath keeps bees up in the Knockmealdowns. Her bees feed on mountain heather. The honey is delicious. The printed labels for the jars were missing an apostrophe. I have enjoyed adding an apostrophe each time we purchased a jar of Helen’s Honey. A new label has now been designed. This one has an apostrophe where it should be, so the jar we are now eating will be the last one with An Added Apostophe.

14 November Saturday

The man selling organic chickens and sausages, bacon, and rashers off his tiny table at the market pronounced loudly to another man. His voice was scornful and dismissive. He said “Vegetarians are No Good to me!”

16 November Monday

The winds have been relentless for weeks now. I go to sleep with the sound of the wind and I wake up to the sound of wind. We have also had a lot of rain. The fields around the village disappeared as they turned into one enormous lake. The river left its banks and became part of the lake. There were no longer any edges to anything, no recognizable boundaries. We lost all sense of location in the landscape. Trees without leaves popped up as if growing out of water. It was hard to know if they were dead or alive. The hump-backed bridge was the only familiar thing. It was shocking to drive down to the shop and to see all of the water. Now the waters have mostly receded. Fields are back and the grass is bright green. It is not easy to believe that all of that water has been so quickly absorbed by the land. Of course, not all of the water is gone anyway. Most of the fields have select lakes and ponds still visible in their low places.

17 November Tuesday

Our internet has been down more often than it has been up and running. It is all weather dependent. It comes and goes in gusts, like the wind. It has not been possible to ring a neighbor and to ask to go to their house and use their internet because we are not supposed to go inside anyone else’s house. Everyone is trying hard to obey the rules and not to allow anyone into their homes. I went down to the shop and I was given permission to sit alone in the badly lit storeroom surrounded by boxes of pasta and porridge and biscuits. The cold came up through my feet and numbed my legs but the wi-fi was strong and good. I have been trying all day to post this blog. I may need to drive back to the village and head back into storeroom to get it done.

A Drive-By

9 October Friday

I looked down and saw a brown wallet at my feet. It was fat and well-worn. I picked it up and looked around. There was not a person in sight. I started back into the shop to leave it at the counter in the hope that the owner would return to claim it. Before I reached the door, someone shouted my name. I turned and saw Dilly running toward me. She was wearing her mask. I could not see her mouth but her eyes were full of panic. She called out, “It’s mine! Erica, it’s mine!”  She was still breathless as she told me that she had been parked right there, right there with her car just beside my car and she had noticed that it was my car when she got into her car and she drove the kilometre all the way up the road to her house and she got out of the car before she realized that she must have dropped the wallet as she sat into her own car. She noticed and registered the presence of my car but she did not notice the dropping of her wallet. She turned around and came rushing back. I was happy that the lost wallet found its owner so quickly. She whispered through her mask that she was just after drawing down some money out of the Post Office account so the wallet was Fat Full of Cash. It took a little while but I was glad to see the panic leaving her eyes. She removed her mask and I removed my mask and we stood and talked in the watery sunlight. We kept the distance of the car bonnet between us. I watched her face return to normal as we spoke of this and that and about how much she missed seeing her grandchildren. The whole time she was talking Dilly never stopped clutching her wallet with both hands.

10 October Saturday

New bramble growth is rampant. The young ones are hanging down as tendrils. They grab at my hair and my face and they catch on clothing. I have had two falls in the last week. Both happened while I was walking up the mass path. Both times the reason for the fall was the thicker brambles that are growing or creeping sideways across the path. They hooked my ankle and down I went. I am good at falling. I fall often. I have learned to sort of roll into a tumble and unless there are a lot of rocks, I am mostly unhurt. The first fall was into mud and leaves. The second fall was caused by creeping brambles too but I fell into a scattering of apples both rotten and not yet rotten and some freshly fallen from the trees up at Johnnie’s orchard. The apples that are still hard are like ball bearings. Once the brambles tripped me it was difficult to get myself up and out of the rolling mess without slipping on another apple. The best part about the fall was the lovely smell of rotten apples on my trousers and my hands. The smell followed me around for the rest of my walk.

11 October Sunday

Shebeens are getting busted all over the country. Hundreds of these illegal Wet Bars have opened in sheds and garages and in custom-made structures built of scrap wood and old pallets. Some are elaborate with beer on draft and electricity and portable toilets installed outside. Others just offer a few cans and bottles to drink by lantern or candlelight. Most have a wood stove for heat. Depending where they are located, those partaking can arrive by foot or bicycle or on a tractor but it is best if very few vehicles are visible. These private bars have always been around in rural places but apparently they are now opening in the suburbs and in the towns. The Gardaí are finding them and busting them but they know that for every three they find, there are another one hundred shebeens out there.

12 October Monday

No Bodge! No Bodge has evolved from No Bother. I do not know if people have always been saying this, or if it is a new development of slang. Now I hear it all the time. When I say thank you, the person I am thanking used to say No Bother which I did not really like but that was what was said. Now when I say Thank You what I hear in return is No Bodge. Maybe this is a distinctly local expression or maybe it is more widespread. Since we are in constant but varying degrees of lockdown we do not venture far. Perhaps everyone in the entire country now says No Bodge. Or maybe it is only within our very near world.

13 October Tuesday

Moll Collins of Moneygall turned 100 years old this week. A colour photograph of her was printed in the Irish Times. In lieu of a party, a Drive-By was organized and assisted by the the Gardaí from Roscrea and Nenagh stations. Moll sat in a chair at the end of her path just outside her gate while people drove or walked by at a safe distance. They tooted their car horns and they called out Many Happy Returns. It looked like the best celebration ever.

15 October Thursday

There are announcements on the radio telling British people resident in the country to hurry up and exchange their driving license for an Irish one. They must do this before the end of the year or else they will no longer be legal to drive here. Their insurance company will not cover them. They will be illegal driving on their British licenses. This is all part of the reality of Brexit arriving on 1 January. The British will no longer have the rights of other Europeans. Most of them feel outraged by this change. They think things should continue as they are even when that is not possible. Everything will be different.

16 October Friday

I finished stacking firewood into the lean-to and under the long bench. Billy the Timber has retired and his son no longer cares to cut and sell firewood. Johnnie O’Brien delivered this wood but we were asked to pay for it by writing a check to Father Sheehy’s GAA Club. The load was a mixture of Lime wood and Palm wood. Together the load smells like old geraniums. I had never heard of using palm as firewood and when I looked it up I read that burning palm in your wood stove is tantamount to burning straw. Then I learned that the palm trees that grow all over the Irish coasts are not real palm trees but they are some kind of import from New Zealand called a Cabbage Palm (Cordyline australis).  They look like palm trees and they grow well in this temperate climate and in windy locations, but they are not even remotely related to Palm trees.

 

17 October Saturday

Tommie told me that he is 88. He implied that he will not be 88 for much longer but he would not tell me his birthday. He does not want me to know the date. He does not want me to give his birthday the smallest amount of attention. He said he has never had a card nor a cake and never a party to celebrate his birthday.  No one has taken notice of the day even once in his life and he says there is no reason to start now.

18 October Sunday

The honeybees are still in and out of the barn roof. They are busy all day every day. They are in and out and swarming around the entrance. There must be a massive supply of honey up there and there is no way anyone except the bees can get it.

20 October Tuesday

The early blackberries growing in the ditches suggested such bounty. We thought this year might be the best year ever for blackberries. Since that moment of initial promise, actual plump edible berries have been few and far between. I have not gathered large bowls full of blackberries. I have had a few cupfuls here and there. Most of my blackberry eating has taken place while coming upon a laden bush when out walking. The bushes are still full of hard berries that I am beginning to accept are berries that will never ripen. My raspberry canes keep producing but they are slower than they were. They take longer to ripen and the berries are smaller and less sweet. Every three or four days I can fill a bowl. It is worth keeping an eye on the bushes. It has been raining now for 24 hours. Maybe more. The wind does not stop. The rain blows hard in different directions. There is flooding all over County Cork. We do not have any flooding but we have a lot of water everywhere. The raspberries were looking ready to pick so I went out and picked some in what I thought was a lull between downpours. It had not stopped raining.  It continued as a drizzle but no longer a lashing. I did manage to gather half a bowl of raspberries and I got completely soaked doing so.

22 October Thursday

As of midnight last night we are in full Level Five Lock Down. Again. We are allowed to go no further than 5 kilometres from home for exercise. Schools and crèches remain open. I am wondering if The Boulders fall within the 5 km restriction. The Boulders are a group of about seven large stones maybe pushed into place so that no one drives off that bit of the road.  There used to be some blue paint on one or two of them. It was the same blue used to mark sheep. Most of the blue has worn off. The Boulders is nothing more than a slim spot to pull off the narrow road and park before heading out to walk on Barranacullia and beyond into the Knockmealdowns. The Boulders is a place to meet in these times when we all have to travel in separate cars. If it is more than 5 kms from here, it is not much more.

23 October Friday

We love the postman. The days when letters or packages arrive from afar are the best. Derek also brings news gathered from along his route. Even if nothing comes and Derek does not appear down the boreen, we savor the anticipation. He is not an early postman so his arrival time is always a surprise. He might arrive anytime from 9.00 to 11.30. These days he only comes three times a week. Last week we learned that one of the postmen went off to Greece on a holiday all by himself. Everything there was closed. He had to spend most of his time locked up in his hotel room and then he came home and had to self-isolate for two more weeks. All the other postmen had to take turns working extra hours to cover his route. Derek said, “I have no news today. I am keeping Myself To Myself as I have been told, so I have no news.”

 

 

 

Peppermint Oil

23 September Wednesday

The week after the Third Thursday in September is traditionally the week when the National Ploughing Championships are held. Of course the championships are cancelled this year. There is as much discussion on the radio about the cancellation as there would be if the Ploughing was really happening.

25 September Friday

There are spiders everywhere. It is a good year for spiders. It is a great year for spiders. We all comment on it. We are all  living with them. They are inside the house in corners and on the ceilings and around the windows and slipping around in the bathtub and in coffee cups and everywhere. It is not just one kind of spider. There is a lot of variety. There are big spiders and small ones. There are the huge wood spiders.  No one seems to know why they are all visible and active all at once nor why they are all visible and active at this particular time of the year. Ned told me that peppermint oil is the answer.  He repeated peppermint oil a few times but he never told me exactly what I should do with the peppermint oil. He assured me that peppermint oil will send them packing.

26 September Saturday

The car park beside Cahir Castle was full of big trucks and machinery. Fifteen porta-loos had been dropped into place. They blocked access to the bottle banks. The entrance to the car park was closed with metal gates that could be shoved aside. Security men were allowing those people who wanted to attend the Farmers Market into the car park on foot. They would not let any cars drive in. Already more than half of the car park was roped off. They were just waiting for the market to be finished at one o’clock so that they could take over the rest of the place. No one seemed completely sure what the film was but the name I kept hearing repeated was Matt Damon. Matt Damon. Matt Damon. Whatever the film was, he was going to be in it. His name was heard like a little rumble coming out from under all the masks. There were men walking around with clipboards and dozens of men in reflective security vests. Big lights were in place behind the fish stall.They were taking over the entire place while we were trying to shop for our fish and vegetables. The late strawberries are finished, but I was delighted to see that Tipperary Pippins are in season and being sold on the Apple Farm’s stand.

28 September Monday

A tiny wren was flying around the room. Wrens are always small but this one looked extra tiny. It was young and it was crashing into the windows trying to escape and to get itself back out doors. It finally smashed into a window with such force that it knocked itself out. I picked up the little body and placed it under the rosemary bush with a jar lid full of water nearby for when it woke up. The wren did not wake up, so I buried it under Kattie English’s rose bush.

29 September Tuesday

I took the car in to Mike to get something fixed. I had an hour to wait around. I had forgotten about the filming in Cahir. Since Saturday we have had all the news: The film is called The Last Duel, and it is set in Medieval France. The car park is completely closed off now and there are temporary walls in place so no one can see what is going on down there. Some of the walls are made of stretched plastic sheeting and some are woven willow. Flags are waving on standards and large red banners are hanging down off the sides of the castle. It all looks festive in the sunshine. There are one or two dozen people leaning over the side of the bridge looking downriver and hoping for a glimpse of the actors: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jodie Comer, Adam Driver. They are all there somewhere.  Ridley Scott is directing the film. No one is so interested to see him. The radio station Tipp FM has a car from which they are broadcasting reports of the activity even though there is not much to be seen so I think there is not much to report. People talk among themselves about what they are not seeing. There are several small rough carts made of dark planks standing around in front of the castle. Another carriage rambles around town pulled by horses that need some exercise. The Limerick bus had to wait to unload its passengers because a carriage was in the way. There is an open courtyard inside the old mill where all of the horses are being stabled. The town seems full of this movie but at the same time everything is proceeding as normal. A elderly man standing on the pavement remarked, “Isn’t it just a fine thing to have something to talk about that is neither The Covid nor the weather!”

1 October Thursday

I had not seen the woman for months and months. She started right in talking as if we had only met yesterday. She started right in talking as if no time had passed.

“I would not marry. I have no time for marriage. It is not for me. I will not even live with The Boyfriend. I need my evenings for the crocheting and the knitting. He can fool around on top of me down in the shed at the bottom of the yard. My mother knows what we are doing down there but I am a grown woman. She would never come down while he and I are down there. Not like the bathroom though. She walks right in when I am taking a shower or having a wee. She thinks it is no problem. She did that to my father for years. She took the locks off the doors because she was afraid of him falling, or that is what she said anyways. I only moved back in after he died so that she would not be alone but now I am never alone. I live in one room, in my own room, but really I never know when the door might open and she will be there. I am never alone except when I am down in the shed but that is when The Boyfriend is with me, so really I am never alone.”

I said, “Well, it is good to see you after all this time. You are looking well after the quiet of Lock Down Life.”

She said, “I’d look better if I had my teeth in.”

2 October Friday

I took an early walk through Joe’s fields. I timed it for when I thought  the cows would be up in the milking shed. I do not always get the timing right. Neither Joe nor the cows work to an exact schedule. I have been spoiled by the long stretch of dry weather and the ease of walking up the track and through the fields on a hard firm surface. Now the weather has changed. There has been rain. We are promised a lot more rain. Today the sun was watery but there was sun. The track was slippery with mud and manure. It was difficult work walking uphill.

4 October Sunday

When a mass is being held in the church, a small group of men stand outside the church. They are not always the same men but their behavior is always the same. They stand close to the front door. The men are dressed for the occasion. They wear their good pull-over sweaters with clean ironed shirt collars showing at the neck. Usually there are four or six men standing and smoking cigarettes and talking quietly among themselves. When everyone else comes out of the church the men are right there by the door. They will be noticed. They will be seen to be In Attendance. Some people might realize that these men have never gone into the church but most people will believe that they were standing or sitting at the back of the church for the whole time and that they were the first to leave the building. Today I stopped at the shop and I looked across at the church. I saw five men standing and leaning outside while a Mass was being said inside. They were lolling against the wall of the church in the watery sunshine. Instead of the usual cigarettes being smoked, the five men were all wearing masks. Not one of them was smoking.

A Bull In The Back

10 September Thursday

Thursday is a big day for shopping. It has to do with it being the day when people get paid. I always forget about Thursday. Normally I try not to go to a supermarket on a Thursday but sometimes I forget. I went to the Supervalu in Cahir and it was full of the workers from the meat processing plant. The workers are mostly from Brazil and Roumania. Meat plants have been a big problem in recent months with sizeable outbreaks of Covid in the factories because of sloppy testing practices. Or no testing. The government is now putting pressure on the meat processing plants and forcing extra testing and vigilance. It is a difficult situation. The workers are treated badly and they are poorly paid. Many of them do not speak enough English to really understand the rules of the current pandemic situation. Their employers exploit that fact. They know that the workers cannot afford to miss a day of work so if they feel unwell they will come in to work anyway. They will bring their symptoms with them. On top of that they have to share their protective equipment. Even their masks get shared. As do their beds because the meat plants tend to be working 24 hours a day. The workers are living with other men who work in the plants and they share the beds. When one man is out working, another man is sleeping in his bed. They are living in close proximity and sharing every single thing in wretched circumstances. Their lives are dreadful. This morning in the SuperValu there were ten or twelve of these men running around the store calling out to one another. They were happy and excited, like children on an outing. These men all wore terrible cheap clothes made of flapping synthetic fabric.  Many garments had been torn and then repaired with heavy black tape. The black tape itself was heavier than the fabric of the garments so there was a lot of drooping. Several of the men had huge scars and rough stitches on their shaved heads. Several had oozing sores on an arm or a hand. At least two were missing fingers. I felt like weeping as I watched them gleefully rushing up and down the narrow aisles. At the same time, I wanted to get as far away from them as I could.

12 September Saturday

Blackberries are now rampant. They are ripening in every direction. The ditches are heavy with berries. I call all of them blackberries. Other people call them brambles. There are many different kinds and they are all in varying degrees of ready for the picking. Some are sour and some are tart and some are juicy and sweet. Once they are all together in a bowl they are lovely. Bird droppings full of blackberry excrement are everywhere. There are purple and blue smudges on the clothes that hang on the washing line, on the outdoor tables and chairs, on the car, on the road.

13 September Sunday

Michael stopped. His truck was pulling a trailer with a bull in it. He was taking the bull to another farm to be put into a field with females. He turned off his engine. He was in no hurry. As we spoke, with me on foot and him sitting inside in his truck, the bull began to throw himself around. The trailer rocked from side to side. The force of the bull’s weight thrashing around inside the trailer made the whole truck move. Even with the emergency brake on, Michael’s pick up truck was getting pushed and jolted along. I could not believe that the truck could be rammed forward by the sheer force of a bull in the back. Michael was neither surprised nor worried about the energetic antics of the bull. We continued with our conversation until another vehicle came along and we had to stop blocking the road with our words.

14 September Monday

Wet Pubs are scheduled to open on the 21st of September. Wet Pubs are those pubs that do not serve food. I had never heard this expression but I knew exactly what it meant as soon as I heard it. In recent weeks, bars and restaurants that serve both alcohol and food have been allowed to open with strict rules. The time a customer is allowed to stay in the establishment is restricted to 90 minutes. Public houses that only serve alcohol have been kept closed. This means most rural pubs, the wet ones, have not been allowed to open. Eating a bag of potato crisps is not considered food. Now there is a date for the reopening but there will still be strict rules and that means no one can stand at the bar while they order or while they drink. Drinks must be served to a person sitting down and staying seated at a table that is a distance from any other table. Rose is not planning to open the pub in the village. It is a very small place. She is thinking that she will give it a few weeks and see how things develop elsewhere goes before she gives it a go.

15 September Tuesday

I saw six greyhounds running along on the side of the road. Several of them had thick blue ropes dangling from their necks. They had escaped from somewhere. They were not running fast but they were not loitering and sniffing at things. They were on the move. The one in the lead was young and light on her feet. She sort of danced along almost on tiptoes. She kept turning her head to check if the other five were still with her. It had all the look of a great day out.

16 September Wednesday

Telling someone to Keep It Between The Ditches is as close as you get to hearing someone telling another person to drive carefully.

18 September Friday

I long for a dog. For the moment I have a windowsill full of animals. It is not enough. It is not the same as a real hungry happy dog but it is something.

20 September Sunday

The freshly mown middle.