THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

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 Romania. 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. 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.

Easy Enough to Forget

25 August Tuesday

Tommie was finally allowed to have a visit with Margaret in the care home in Cappoquin. He found it awkward.  He and Margaret sat on opposite sides of a big sheet of glass and they both wore masks. He said she did not know who he was with his mask on, so he took it off. She still did not know who he was.  He felt that after more than 60 years of marriage she should recognize him, but 5 months of no contact had made him easy enough to forget. He was told that he could schedule a half hour visit every two weeks but before he had the chance to make a second visit, they placed the care home back into lockdown.

26 August Wednesday

The ditches are full of honeysuckle and purple loosestrife and creamy clumps of meadowsweet. I am still waiting for the ripening of the blackberries. There are loads of little hard berries but there has not been enough sun to ripen them. The teasels took a beating with all of the storms and winds. They are tumbling everywhere. Very few remain standing fully upright.

27 August Thursday

The roads remain dangerous. Farm vehicles command priority.

28 August Friday

I recognized the woman at the dump. She was the one who had quizzed me about how to dress when dropping off the rubbish and recycling. She said it was a terrible dilemma because if she came all the way into town she wanted to do some other errands and she liked to look nice when she went into a shop. She did not want to wear her good clothes because going to the dump could easily become a messy job if your Black Bag full of the horrible non-recycling stuff broke or if something leaked in the car or spilled when one lifted it up. This woman was always in two minds about whether to dress for the dump or to dress for the town. She lived too far out to make two separate trips. It was last year when she quizzed me about how I managed this issue for myself. When I saw her today, she looked just the same to me as she did then. She certainly did not recognize me from our previous conversation. Either she has resolved the question in her own mind or she is still worrying the problem.

29 August Saturday

As always, the cows ate their way right around one field leaving it tidy and short with straight edges exactly where the fence stopped them eating. Today, after milking, they walked right through that field to the next one where the grass was fresh and long and ready for the eating.

31 August Monday

I saw a yellow plastic ear tag under the gate. It was stuck in the dried mud. I briefly debated whether to crawl over the gate or to squeeze under the gate. I had to get the tag. I looked around until I found a stick. It was a short stick but it worked alright as an extension of my arm. I stretched through the gate and scratched away at the mud until I dislodged the plastic. Then I scrabbled and raked it over towards me. As always, I am delighted to have a new tag.

2 September Wednesday

We often hear reports on the radio lamenting the fact that the country is no longer practicing religion as it once did. Actually it is not so much a lament but more of an observation about the change in attitudes and behaviour. Few people attend mass regularly and that is not just because of The Covid. The numbers attending church have been falling for many years. There are not so many people subscribing to the practices of the church. When it comes to a funeral or a wedding or the confirmation rituals for children, it appears that everyone is still a Catholic. There are maybe not so many people practicing the official religion in official ways but it remains common to see a car slow down when it passes a church while the driver crosses himself or herself. Increasingly the crossing is often done while the driver is also on the mobile phone.

Many sentences end with the expression God Willing or Please God, especially when anticipating the future. Today my doctor told me on the telephone, “I will see you on Thursday at 10.30, God Willing.”

In written form I do not usually see God Willing abbreviated (G.W.), but P.G. (Please God) and T.G. (Thank God) are common on paper. I am not even certain that people realize that they are saying it. They just say it.

4 September Friday

Raspberries are ripening fast now. I am picking a bowlful every day. Sometimes it is just a normal kind of cereal bowlful and sometimes it is a very large bowlful. We are eating copious quantities of raspberries, giving some to neighbours and freezing some. The freezer is now full of all sorts of frozen fruit. I spilled an enormous bag packed full of blackcurrants inside the freezer today. The hard little berries all tumbled to the bottom. Of course. It is a pity it was such a large bag. I have yet to go out to the shed to empty the freezer of its contents and shovel up all the escaped frozen blackcurrants. Blackberry picking has not started. They seem to be slow to ripen, although I hear from other people that they have huge quantities growing near them. I am busy enough with my raspberries so I am glad the blackberries are not ready.

5 September Saturday

Breda and I walked up the old path along the stream to the waterfalls. It was clear for most of the way. We remarked on what easy going it was and we remarked that we had not expected it to be so clear, but as soon as we said that we walked into a mass of fallen down trees and branches. Either Storm Ellen or Storm Frances had done the damage. It was a mess. It was a scrabble to get through but with a lot of crawling and snagging and scratching, we managed to get in and then we had to keep going because backing up was not possible.  Halfway though our struggle we heard a man shouting. It was another walker who was crashing through from the other direction. He said he had walked down from Bay Lough which is several hours walk from where we were then. He was a huge fat man and he was pouring out sweat. By the time we met, he was out of the branches and done with the thrashing and he had blood pouring down his face. When we pointed to the blood on his face, he waved both of his hands in the air and said “No Bother. No Bother. You know yourself. It will be after clotting itself any minute now.” And then he marched off down the path.

6 September Sunday

The cows get a bit of fresh grass thrown down to munch on while they are waiting for the rest of the herd to finish up the milking. Some days they wander off down the fields whenever they are ready, but if they are being taken to a new field across the road they have to wait till everyone has been milked. They do not leave the farmyard until they are all ready to go together in a group. I like seeing them snacking in a long line.

7 September Monday

While walking up through Joe’s fields today I found another ear tag mashed into the manure on the track. This one had been snapped off so no doubt the last bit is still in the ear of the cow. A few days ago Breda pointed me towards a tag in the bog when we were up the mountain. She did not want to pick it up but she knew I would want it.  It was a small one, made for a sheep.  Finding three new tags in one week is a thrilling bounty. Sometimes I go for months without finding a single new one.

Bockety

13 August Thursday

The new stove arrives today. It is not a stove. It is a Cooker. After all these years I still forget that a stove for cooking food is called a Cooker, not a stove. The name comes directly from the action that the thing does. A Cooker cooks. The word stove is reserved for a wood stove or for something like an Aga that provides heat.  Replacing the old Cooker has been an idea on the horizon for months. Back in April, I thought there was a dead rodent in the honeysuckle. The smell near the kitchen bench was terrible. The smell went on and on. I could not believe one small body could take so long to decompose. Then I thought it was second dead rodent. I avoided the bench and I sat elsewhere. There are lots of places to be outside. It was not a bother.

When the gas bottle that provides the fuel for the cooker ran out, we replaced it. It reminded us that we meant to buy a new Cooker last summer and then again in the autumn, but we just never got around to it. Replacing the bottled gas involves unhooking it from the rubber tube and carrying the yellow cylinder to the car and wadding stuff around it so it does not thrash around in the boot while driving to the shop and then having Kieran unload the empty and putting a full bottle into the back of the car. And again, wadding a blanket or cramming a box or something around or against it so that it does not crash heavily around in the back when the car turns a corner. I cannot lift the full bottle out of the car. Simon does that. He hooks it up and then we have gas, but it is not great this butane gas. It is wet. The heat has never been high heat. We decided last year to buy an Electric Cooker even though we both dislike Electric Cookers. What we dislike even more at this point is the constant transporting of gas bottles up and down from the village. Empty gas bottles and full gas bottles. Back and forth and up and down.

After the latest bottle was replaced, it did not last long. It only lasted two weeks which is far too soon to be running out of fuel. A bottle should provide at least 100 hours of cooking. The timing was terrible. It ran out while we were preparing supper. The smell was back again too. I could not believe that there was Yet Another Dead Rodent in the same location in the honeysuckle. We decided that maybe there was a leak in the gas line that takes the gas into the kitchen through a small hole in the wall. We thought maybe a rat had chewed the rubber, or maybe the rubber was just old and perished. We began to turn the gas on at the top of the bottle where it stood inside the honeysuckle bush each time we chose to prepare food. Then we had to remind ourselves to turn it back off again when the cooking was done. That was all right on a fine day but when it was raining it was annoying to go outside each time the Cooker was needed. And then again when it was no longer needed.

Sean Hackett sent out an electrician named Tommy Lonergan. He installed an outlet and switch to adapt the electricity to allow the Cooker to work. Now that Tommy has done his part, the new Cooker can be delivered and installed. I will take the last gas bottle back to the shop and get our deposit back. I will return the old empty one as well as the new one we had on hand in anticipation of yet another one running out. We need never buy another. And as for the honeysuckle, this seems like a very long-winded way to announce that since it has gone scraggy and horrible, and since it’s major function was only ever to hide the gas bottle, perhaps this is the time to cut it down.

14 August Friday

I bumped into Michael Keating this morning. He only just found out that Jim Costigan died. Pat at The Cross told him and he said he had been meaning to tell Michael and Joe for weeks and weeks now, but then he forgot and with no one seeing much of anyone these days the news got lost.
Michael told me how fond his father and Biddy had been of Jim and how much they enjoyed his yearly visits to service their Stanley. Michael said if the times had been different and if he had known, he would surely have driven his mother over to Moyglass for the funeral, but of course he did not know at the time and anyway we were all in lockdown and not able to travel that far from home. We spoke of the many ceremonies and rituals going on without any possibility of being shared in this strange time. We spoke for as long as we could talk with Michael up in the tractor and me standing down on the ground. We talked until a car came along and then we had to move along because we were blocking the road.

 

16 August Sunday

Cows walk from all corners when they are ready to leave a field. Walking around all day while eating grass and changing places does not make much wear on a field.  By the time the walking cows get to the track or the gate that they need to file through they have formed a single line. There is always one cow who is the leader. Their single line nearing the gate quickly wears a path through the grass.

17 August Monday

Julie used the word Bockety to describe the house. It suggested that the house is ramshackle. Bockety is a lovely word. I am not certain if it is a word in common use or if it is her own word. She was quick to tell me that Bockety is used to describe things, not people.

18 August Tuesday

The washing was hanging on the clothes line when the rain began. We had 24 hours of hard steady straight down rain. This morning the clothes line is drooping dangerously low. The clothing is heavy with water. Everything is too wet to bring indoors. I am waiting to see which happens first: Will the clothesline break with the weight of wet fabric or will the clothes dry in the breeze before that happens?

21 August Friday

The early evening silence is enormous. It takes a while to register that the deep quiet is because the wind has stopped. There is no wind. After two days of howling and thrashing and buffeting, the world is silent. We have been beaten and buffeted by gusts of noisy wind since Wednesday night when Storm Ellen hit. Branches and entire trees have fallen down, roofs have blown off, fences have been blown down and electricity has been lost all over the country. This area has been hit harder than usual. The storms off the Atlantic usually hit the west of the country first and they are weak by the time they reach Tipperary.  We got off lightly. We did not lose electricity but lots of homes nearby did.  Along with the winds we had thunder and lightening and rain off and on throughout the days and nights. Here we have had many branches to pick up. Things blew all over the place. There were small animals and birds dead everywhere. They had been tossed into walls and trees. Part of the roof in the entryway to the sauna blew off. The roads are lined with trees being cut up into manageable pieces. I rang Tommie to see how he was after the storm. He said he did not hear a thing. He slept like a baby all though the worst of the winds.  He said “Giving these storms a name like Ellen is a trick to make us less frightened. Sure, we all know an Ellen, don’t we?”

Biddable

27 July Monday

I was thinking that the haying was not quite as frantic as the silage but I was wrong. Few farmers own the enormous machinery needed to cut, turn and bale the hay. Contractors have the machinery and they send out teams to race and rush around the fields in order to do the job for everyone in the area. When they finish one set of fields they are immediately on the road to another set of fields. The big machines are always in motion. They often move in convoys. The machines get bigger every year. Most of them take up the entire road. And the roads are deadly. This afternoon, I was driving up from the village and I met a tractor racing towards me. Then I saw that it was not a single tractor but one tractor followed by two huge machines. There was no way we could pass one another on the narrow road. These were the machines that were as wide as the road. I began to reverse but I was on the narrowest bit of the road just past O’Dwyer’s farm. The corner there is a blind spot and it is a bit scary even without tractors racing around. I was backing slowly. I am not the best backer-upper. Another tractor appeared behind me. This one was pulling a trailer full of hay bales. The trailer made his backing up more difficult. We both went slowly in reverse, as did the second tractor that had come up behind him. I found a field with an open gate and I backed myself in there. I waited in my field while the two tractors and the loaded trailer maneuvered themselves into the O’Dwyers farmyard. The first three were able to drive along on their way and once the second two had come out of the yard and passed up, I drove out of the field and headed home. It was not the longest wait but it was long enough. An idea might be to stay at home until the haying is over.

 

29 July Wednesday

Since Monday the 20th, we have been required to wear masks inside all shops. There was a pair of short muddy boots in front of the shop. A man came out of the shop. He said quietly to himself, “On with the mask. Off with the boots. Off with the mask. On with the boots.” He climbed up into his tractor and drove away.

30 July Thursday

So far we have had one perfect fig from the tree. It was delicious. We could have believed ourselves in Italy while eating it. It was that good.   I am keeping an eye on the rest but the birds are also keeping an eye on them. Sometimes they peck into a fig that is still too hard to be tasty for them.  I do not know why they are in such a hurry.  The pecked fig is ruined for both them and for us. The only thing that we have had copious quantities of this year are the black currants. Everything else has been a victim of the weather. I have a lot of hope pinned on the raspberries and blackberries.

1 August Saturday

I prefer a circular walk but sometimes I am forced by conditions or locations to turn around and go back the same way that I came. This is not a terrible thing. The view is different when the direction changes. But it is less satisfying than a walk which starts in one place and arrives back in the same place without repeating itself. When I am forced to turn around and go back the way I came, I touch the gate or a post or a tree before I turn around. Since the onset of Covid 19 and the threat  of germs I got into the habit of tapping the gate or the pole with my foot instead of my hand.

3 August Monday

We met Thomas while out for a walk somewhere between Goatenbridge and Clogheen. Siobhan knew him. He was happy to chat with us while sitting on his bench near the house. He asked if there was Anything Strange which is just a way of asking if we had any news. He owns 14 old tractors but most of them do not go out anywhere on the road because of the insurance. He just crosses with them into his fields. Or his son does the driving. Or his grandson. Mostly the tractors get worked on and painted and fixed up. One tractor was hooked up to a table saw. It was being used as the power source to run the saw. Thomas had cut some chairs out of trees and made a little sitting place by the road. It might have been for people to stop and sit and rest while they were walking by, or it might have just been just to look at. He included a small table also cut from a tree and on it he placed a teapot.

 

5 August Wednesday

The door was open. The radio was blaring. The keys were in the ignition. The motor was running. The man who owned the car was inside the shop. He wore a mask with his mouth covered but with his nose exposed. He talked to this one and to that one. There were only two or three people inside the shop when he arrived but then someone came in and someone left. It went on like that. He spoke in a loud voice. Maybe he thought nobody could hear him because he was wearing a mask. Maybe his voice sounded muffled to himself. He was in no hurry to leave. Someone suggested that he might run out of petrol keeping the engine running but he said there was no worry about that as he had just filled up over at Joanie’s.

7 August Friday

Biddable. It is not a word I was accustomed to hearing but now I hear it often and I enjoy it. I think it is my new favorite word. When someone is agreeable and not difficult, he or she might be called Biddable. A Biddable person will be someone open to options.  Dogs too are spoken about as being Biddable, but that is about obedience.

 

8 August Saturday

I am trapped by bales.  I cannot drive out through the farmyard. I cannot do anything but wait.

10 August Monday

We had two days of hot sunny summer weather. The mornings began cool with dew on the grass and then the sun warmed everything. After weeks of grey heavy skies and thick humid weather, the change was wonderful. I have been depressed by the lack of summer. Today we woke up to white mist over everything. There was no horizon. It is still warm but the blue sky is gone. We are still waiting to see where the weather will go today.

A Two Bird Morning

12 July Sunday

I was in a hurry. I ran out of the shop, opened the car door and threw my newspapers onto the back seat. As I slammed the door I wondered whose sun hat was on the seat. That was the exact moment when I realised that this was not my car. I re-opened the door, grabbed my papers and apologized to the man sitting in the front seat as I did so. He did not turn around. He mumbled with his mouth full: “You caught me eating The Chocolate. I have been told not to eat The Chocolate.” He did not seem at all bothered that I had put my things into his car and that I then took them out again. He was only worried about being caught eating The Chocolate. I never saw his face so he need not worry that I will identify him.

13 July Monday

A Two Bird Morning. The first was a tiny wren who came into the big room and flew into a window and knocked herself out. I took her outside and placed her under a table. She was still there an hour later. I worried that she might be injured, so I placed a jar lid full of water and some crumbs nearby in case she needed sustenance to get herself flying again. Perhaps it was just the shock that kept her there. An hour later I looked to see if she was still there. I moved the water a little closer to where she was sitting and my movements startled her. She made an awkward little stumble and a wobbly flight and disappeared into the rosemary bush. About an hour later, a starling came sweeping into the kitchen, did a quick circuit and rushed out again.

15 July Wednesday

Tommie is back at home. Again. He was rushed into hospital for a second time. He spent another seven days inside. While there he was given a second test for The Covid which he assured me is a most unpleasant thing. He felt that having the test once was painful but twice was unfair. He said it is the fault of his lungs and his breathing but the antibiotics did their job and now he is pleased to be at home again. He claims to have No Big Energy but for the moment he is committed to the idea that his lack of energy is the fault of the heavy grey and humid weather, and not his health. He reported that his new teeth give him a lot of pleasure every single day. He can eat anything at all without fear that he might be swallowing another tooth. He declares that it was money well spent and that these new teeth that Daniel made him are even better than the previous set.

17 July Friday

I had seen a little envelope like this once before. I found it on the ground out in the middle of nowhere. It was from Fourmilewater and it was yellow and white.  I did not know what it was for. Today a neighbour offered me some Dear Little Envelopes from her church. The envelopes are dated and because the dates have expired, she would just be throwing them into the recycling. Because no one has been attending church during the days of the Lockdown, she has a backlog of unused envelopes. She knew I would like them. She knew that they would be a novelty to me. The plain green ones are for the weekly offering. She has loads of those. The ones for special collections have different colours on the top. The three I have been given are for St. Patrick’s Day, a Projects and Development Fund and the Diocesan Priests Easter Collection. People attending the church can decide which causes they want to contribute to. There is no obligation to put money into every envelope. There is no obligation, but there is a list. And every envelope has a number. My neighbour’s envelopes all have the same number printed onto them. This number is her number. The person who gathers the envelopes together in the Parish office can tell exactly who gave what. They can match the number to a name and keep track of the generosity, or the miserliness, of each Mass-goer. Throwing random coins into a collection basket is an anonymous way to contribute to a church. There is nothing anonymous about the envelope system.

18 July Saturday

There are three different windows in the end of the building. The stone shed was part of the farmyard when Maisie lived there. Her house was torn down and a new one built in its place. The shed with the three unmatched windows remains exactly where it was, even though it is hard to remember it’s exact location now without the house to define its spot. It is strong and well-built and the roof is good. These windows were the windows that were available at the time the shed was being built. They were not a decision. They were just there and they did the job.

20 July Monday

Tommie was interested to hear of the visit from Pat, the man who came to investigate our wasps. The wasps that were not wasps but honey bees. I said we had been surprised that Pat knew so much about our house and Willie English and his siblings and Johnnie Mackin and everyone else in the vicinity. He snorted and said, “Of course he knows everyone! He Came Up here.” Pat had told us that himself, but he did not tell us that he was Aidan’s brother. I asked Tommie how I could ever have known that Aidan and Pat were brothers. He said that everyone knows that. I reminded him that of course I did not grow up here myself. I did not Come Up Here. I do not know all of the extended families of every single person whose home place is here. He remained scornful. He told me that I have been here long enough to know these things for myself.

21 July Tuesday

I am picking blackcurrants every other day. The bushes keep producing. The figs are ripening. Both the birds and I are keeping careful track of them. Raspberries promise to be abundant, but the apple trees are not doing very well. Nor the wild plums. Meadowsweet, Brambles, Herb Robert, Dog Roses and Cranesbill appear everywhere. After the seasonal massacre with the hedge-cutting machine, the honeysuckle is again crawling over the ditches and smelling sweet. Ferns. Ferns. Ferns. Everything is growing. Everything is fine.

23 July Thursday

We walked out to Lady’s Abbey to check on the chair with the red velvet seat. I was delighted to see that it was still in its place and still looking well. There was a man we recognized who was mowing and trimming around the graveyard and the Abbey. He used to work for the council but we could not remember his name. He did not remember our names either, but we all knew that we were known to one another. He clears the grass at the Abbey once or twice a year even though he is not paid to do it. He also does the grounds down at the old Ballybacon church. He was wearing a floor length leather apron totally covered with bits of grass. He said he had wondered about the chair himself. His theory was that probably someone left the chair in the small room so that they could bring it out and sit beside a grave. They then put it away so that it would not be wet the next time they came to sit upon it.

 

25 July Saturday

Tomorrow is Reek Sunday. This is the traditional day for devout Catholics to climb Croagh Patrick. Every year up to 25,000 pilgrims arrive from all over the country. Local farmers open their fields for parking and there are stands for refreshments and volunteers and ambulances at the ready. Mountain Rescue teams are on hand, as are multiple priests at the top of the mountain saying endless Masses. Some of the pilgrims walk in bare feet and others climb in their Sunday best which is not really appropriate clothing for walking up or down a steep and rocky mountain. Croagh Patrick is exactly the kind of pointed mountain that a child might draw. This year the priests and everyone else in County Mayo are asking people not to come and walk the mountain on Sunday as a crowd because of the Covid but instead to spread their visits out over the summer. Tomorrow there will  be no parking and no priests and no one to rescue anyone if there is an accident. There will be chaos if the pilgrims ignore the advice and arrive anyway.

The Odd Passing Shower

30 June Tuesday

The Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan is begging people not to go Abroad. At the same time, the radio is full of non-stop advertising from airlines offering low fares to escape to everywhere and anywhere. Travel agencies have asked the government to put a halt to all travel outside of the country. They want everyone who has booked a holiday overseas to get their money back with a payment from the government. They want everyone to Holiday At Home. In daily life, there is a constant question and answer discussion about where one is going for a holiday. The question is asked even when just buying milk. It is imperative for everyone to be going somewhere simply because we are out of lockdown and allowed to go somewhere more distant than 20 kilometres from our homes. Some people are going to Donegal or to Tramore but a lot of people believe it is their right to go to Spain or to a place further afield. The country is divided between those who fear people bringing The Covid back with them and those who just want to Go. There is a lot of hand-wringing and worry about people Going Foreign.

1 July Wednesday

A rabbit flew off the banking at a great speed. She thumped into my chest before pushing off with her feet, dropping to the ground and disappearing. I guess she was being chased. She came out of the opening in the bushes that the fox usually comes through so I assume she was being chased. My presence interrupted the whole activity. This is the first time I have ever collided with a running rabbit.

2 July Thursday

We walked out of Ardfinnan on a narrow tar road in the direction of Lady’s Abbey. There was grass down the middle of the road. On the right we passed a small two-story building. It was small but we knew it was too big to have ever been a house. It was built of stone. All four walls were standing but the roof and the windows were long gone. It was built as a Fever Hospital. Lady’s Abbey was also without roof and without windows. It has been through various states and re-buildings over the centuries. There are a few graves outside and a few crumbling interiors intact. In one small room there is a wooden chair. It is not an old chair. The chair is in fine condition. It has a red velvety seat which has not been damaged by the weather, so it cannot have been in the room for long. Someone carried the chair in there for a reason. There is nothing inside the room to suggest an altar or a place of prayer or any reason at all to be there for a long enough time that anyone might need a chair. The ground beneath the chair is not even flat enough to allow for sitting without teetering or tipping over. I have been thinking about this chair all day. I will go back soon to see if it is still there.

3 July Friday

Slurry has been spread on the fields. The entire out-of-doors stinks. A terrible stench hangs over everything. It causes a burning in the back of the throat. The washing can stay on the clothesline. It is too late. Who wants to sleep in sheets that smell like slurry? They can be left outside for a few more days. The rain and the wind will refresh them and blow all of the odor out.

4 July Saturday

A man leaned into his car boot and lifted out a Madonna. I do not know if she was made of plaster or wood, but she was carefully painted. I could see no chips, cracks or missing bits. She was large. She was at least half the size of the man himself. He cradled her in his arms as he walked across the road with slow deliberate steps to where another man was waiting with the boot of his own car open. The second man had blankets ready. Together they wrapped the Madonna carefully and they laid her down in the boot. They were gentle in all of their movements. They crossed themselves before they closed her in.

5 July Sunday

Birds are eating my gooseberries. It has never been such a big problem as it is this year. I do not mind sharing with the birds but this has been a battle. They have had more than half the crop off my four bushes. This morning I sat outside on a box in a soft drizzle of rain. I have to pick in the rain because I want to collect the gooseberries before they disappear.  I picked as many as I could but even while I was picking a thrush was on a near branch plucking and carrying a berry away. And it was not just one thrush. As soon as I turn my back, a whole flock descends and strips the branches bare.

6 July Monday

Murt stood outside his gate. Sometimes he stands inside his gate and sometimes he stands outside his gate. He cannot walk far these days but he likes to have a look at things. It is important to have something to report to the next person he sees. He told me that he saw two girls out walking. They were going fast. He was impressed with their speed. He said, “Those girls are Good To Walk. They went past me like I was Tied to the Ditch!”

7 July Tuesday

The woman was discussing the definition of her crease. She was thinking of maybe even changing her crease once she had her hair color sorted out. She has had a lot of time to think about it because until now it has not been possible to talk with her hairdresser. I had no idea what she was talking about. I had to ask. A crease is the parting in the hair. A crease defines the point on the scalp from which the hair goes left or right. I did not have to learn a new language when I came to live here but I am always learning a new language.

9 July Thursday

On and off rain everyday. It is grey and gloomy and it does not feel like July. Some days are cool and some days are humid and close like a tropical jungle, but the days are rarely bright. Lady’s Mantle always looks good with raindrops in its leaves. That is one small good thing about the rain and drizzle. We all feel a bit discouraged. The weather people on the radio are running out of ways to forecast the rain. Today we are promised Just The Odd Passing Shower.

 

——————————————

The Beinecke Library at Yale invited me to contribute something to their project Creativity in Isolation.  I thought I had nothing to offer but then I realized that of course, this journal is what I have been doing throughout the lockdown. It was not a special something extra for the lockdown nor something that I did because of the lockdown. It is just a continuation of what I have been doing anyway. With many thanks to Tubyez Cropper, for doing the tricky stuff, and to Nancy Kuhl for pushing me.

https://beinecke.library.yale.edu/article/creativity-2020-erica-van-horn-journal

 

 

Staying Home

18 June Thursday

I stepped out of the book barn and found myself up to my knees in wasps. They were swarming in a deep dark mass from my knees right down to the ground. Some of them were not even flying. They were just walking around. They did not seem to be going anywhere except for a few who walked right up and onto my sandals. I panicked and stepped back into the barn and I shut the door. I stood there for a few minutes but since I did not want to be in the barn anymore, I had no choice but to step out again. The wasps ignored me and they kept swarming. I waded slowly through them. When I cleared the barn and the wasps, I looked back and I could see that there was the usual crowd up under the eaves going in and out in a busy manner. There did not appear to be any up and down activity between the two groups. Still, the low-to-the-ground swarming felt dangerous.

We phoned a man who does Pest Control. His name was Pat. He works with his daughter, and their firm is called Arrest-A-Pest.   He said he would stop by this evening. We were pleased that he would be coming so soon but we had the usual heart-sinking feeling about the word Evening. Evening is a complicated word. Evening here is not like Evening elsewhere. Evening is any time after lunch and it stretches as far as night. The way I understand it is that Evening is both afternoon and evening combined in one word. These days the sun is not going down until 10 pm and it is not full dark till much later. We had no idea when Pat would arrive but we knew it would not do us any good to think nor to worry about it.

Pat said on the telephone that he knew where we lived and he did. He arrived at around 8 pm. He had known Willie English and his three siblings who had lived in this house for years. He knew Johnny Mackin from the ruined house above. He said he had Come Up in the area. He was born just over in Roxbrough and he knew everyone around here. He knew the people who were still alive and he knew those who were dead. He was pleased to tell us as much as he knew. We showed him the wasps. They were busy up around the roof but there was no longer a single wasp down low to show to him. He said that they are not wasps but honeybees and that it is illegal for him to do anything against them. He said we would have to live together in friendship. He said the honeybees are not aggressive and that they will not attack nor sting us. Sadly the honey they are producing is all up in the roof with the queen and there is no chance that anyone can get to it. He explained that the swarm down low to the ground that scared me this morning was a group consolidating to move out. There was a ready queen and the crowd was heading off with her to make a new home somewhere else. It was just a fluke that I walked into the middle of them while they were preparing to depart. Pat said they were not interested in me and probably thought no more of me than they would any tree that was in their path.

19 June Friday

There are certain seasonal things that I never remember. There are months when it is okay for the farmers to spread slurry on the fields and there are months when it is not allowed. There are certain months when it is not permitted to cut the ditches. The months when birds are nesting and laying their eggs in the bushy growth are the times when the cutting is not okay. I should know the months both for spreading and for hedge cutting by now. They should be in the calendar of my head, but somehow these familiar activities take me by surprise every year. Early this morning I walked along a stretch of road and I felt dizzy with the heavy scent of the wild honeysuckle. It was sweet and thick. I slowed down so that I could enjoy it. It was almost overpowering. I wished that I was not alone. I wished that I had someone walking with me today to share the fragrance.  In the afternoon, I walked along the exact same stretch of road and the honeysuckle was completely gone. The big machine driven by Ned Shine or someone working for Ned had come along. The hedges had been cut. It looks like a massacre and there is not even one tiny blossom of honeysuckle left to see nor to smell.

20 June Saturday

At the age of 66, the government gives everyone in the country a card which allows them the freedom to travel anywhere in the country on a bus or a train for free. The card includes travel to and travel within Northern Ireland. It works for public transport within a city like Dublin or Cork. I had my birthday a few months ago and my card arrived right on schedule but I have never used it. This spring has not been the time when anyone wants to be traveling on a bus or on any other form of public transport, even if it is free. Traveling on a bus is not what anyone wants to be doing, at least not if they can avoid it, so the gift of this card is sort of like being given nothing.

21 June Sunday

Elderflower blossom is everywhere. Loose and loopy branches bounce up and down in the breeze. The creamy white blossoms look enormous and blousey. Foxglove is rampant too.  I think I have never seen so much of it in so many places. And as always the wild daisies have taken over the garden.

22 June Monday

Today I received a check in the post from the insurance company. It was for 30 euro. They sent checks out to everyone because they know we have not been driving our cars during the lockdown. They felt we should be rewarded and reimbursed for not using our motorcars. There is a new sort of boasting that people are doing about how little petrol they have used in the last three months. Two men were discussing this outside a shop. They were shouting to one another across the back of a blue car and banging their fists on the boot of the car for emphasis. The first fellow said he had filled his tank in the middle of March and he still had 3/4 of a tank left. The other man said he had only put 27 miles on the clock since the lockdown began. It was a kind of oneupmanship to announce how far each man did not go.  There is newfound pride in the act of Going Nowhere.

23 June Tuesday

I walked out this morning and I found a puffball beside the path. We ate it for lunch.

24 June Wednesday

I saw Anthony’s Christmas tree.  It is the one made of tyres that he brings out every year. It is sitting on a pallet out the back with assorted machines and stacks of old tyres and stacks of new tyres.  It is waiting until it is needed again. It looks a little forlorn with last December’s greenery still there but gone dead and the baubles hanging just as they were when it was Christmas.

25 June Thursday

The government is encouraging people to stay at home this summer. They want people to stay in the country and not to fly off to Europe nor to travel by ferry to the continent. The Kerry County Council has sent a check for 100 euro to every household to encourage residents to stay in Kerry and to spend this windfall locally.

26 June Friday

Tommie was rushed to hospital and after a week there, he was sent to Saint Teresa’s Care Home in Clogheen to recuperate and to regain his strength. Once he was over feeling ill, he had a lovely time. He enjoyed being fed three meals a day and he enjoyed the tea and biscuits before bedtime which was at 9 pm. He said if he had stayed any longer he would have gotten fat. He loved the women who worked there and he loved not being alone all day every day. He said that before he went into hospital The Spring Had Gone Out Of His Step. Now he feels that he has it back. I took him to town and this time his new dentures were ready. He came home a happy man.

27 June Saturday

Another sign of the year moving along is Joe’s delivery of wood shavings for his cows. They stand outside all winter on a specially built platform with no roof over their heads and these wood shavings underfoot. As the shavings fall through the cracks of their platform, new shavings get put down. Every year I worry about the cows exposed to the weather and every year Joe tells me that they do not mind being out. All day today I have heard the noise of the tractor scooping up the shavings and taking them off to be stored until they are needed in the winter. The smell as I pass through the farmyard is lovely. I know there will be a second delivery in the next week or so.

 

Swinging the Beans

9 June Tuesday

Yesterday Tommie and I went to the dentist again. He was in high spirits. He was looking forward to his new dentures. He was looking forward to eating toast without first dunking it into his tea. He was not in Daniel’s office for long. All that happened was that he had more measurements taken and he had his mouth yanked about a bit. He was disappointed to be leaving yet again without his new dentures. We walked down the ramp slowly. He was not tearful. He was cross. I drove him home on a different road. I slowed the car to look at a field where small bales were strewn all over the place. They had not been properly stooked. They were a mess. It was obvious that the bales had been in this disarray for a week or more. I could see the error in this because of my recent education about stooks and stooking. These bales were exactly as they were not supposed to be. Tommie was outraged. He has spent his whole life knowing the correct way to care for hay. He could not believe how wrong this was. He told me that I should go right in and inform those people of the Error in Their Hay. He said he would wait in the car for me. I said it was way too late to save that hay. Tommie was invigorated by his anger. It was the best thing that happened on the whole trip.

10 June Wednesday

She was unhappy to learn that she was listed in his mobile phone under W for Wife. He wanted her to list himself in her telephone under H for Husband. She had him listed under his own name and she felt like that was where she wanted to look for him and that was where she wanted to find him. He had a perfectly good name. He explained that this was not about his name. His name would, of course, stay the same. This was a practical detail. This was about A Possible Future Emergency. She understood what he meant but she said that she did not like being reduced to being Noun. He pleaded. He said, “Sometimes it is important to be a Noun.”

11 June Thursday

We set off early for a walk over Joe’s fields. The cows had been gone from the near field for long enough. We knew that they were already up in the milking shed by the time we set out. We would not be in their way and they would not be in our way. We passed a group of calves with ear tags as big as their ears. They were no longer babies. They were off the formula and now eating grass and hay. These were adolescents, or maybe teenagers. They ran to the gate to look at us.

12 June Friday

The expression everyone is using is Letting Out. We are still only in Phase Two of the opening up of services and shops and movement in the whole country.  Already the language has changed to accommodate our new freedoms. Letting Out is what happens for the cows in the spring.  They have been cooped up in open sided sheds and when spring is finally arrives they are let out and they go a bit crazy frolicking and jumping and racing around the meadows.  We are not Coming Out of Lockdown. We are being Let Out.

13 June Saturday

The fox moved through the long grass. His head and body and tail moved as one long curving line. His legs were not visible. The grass was too long for that. He was just a slither of colour. The cows were in the same field. They did not pay any attention to the fox weaving in and out very near to them in the grass. The cows paid no attention to the fox and the fox paid no attention to the cows. They were all in the same field but they were doing different things.

14 June Sunday

The sign was very small. It was tiny. The road is not a busy road. The arrow pointed down a side road which is even less used. The smaller road is a narrow dead end with only four houses the whole length of it. One belonged to Pa and Peggy but they have both died and their cottage is empty.  I walked down to the Bake Sale because I thought it would need some customers.  The little girls doing the baking would be disappointed if no one came to buy their cookies and cupcakes. I could not have been more wrong about the lack of passing trade. Everyone from their primary school was there, plus the parents and a few grandparents and it was a lovely afternoon so people were lingering in the sun and drinking tea and staying two meters apart from each other in all of the official ways, but happy to be together and happy mostly to be anywhere at all.

15 June Monday

I love these days with the doors and windows open and the bird activity and noises of tractors in the far distance.  I stepped outside to drink my coffee on the bench beside the kitchen door. As soon as I sat down I had to jump up and move to another part of the garden. Something has died in the honeysuckle. The smell is terrible. There is a rotting corpse in there getting heated up by the late morning sun. No doubt I could dig around in the foliage and find whatever it is and remove it, but I am not going to do that. I shall just wait for the smell to go away.

 

16 June Tuesday

Twice a week we do a Zoom exercise class. There are about 30 people participating in the class. At the beginning of each class we greet the people we know and the people we don’t know but who we now recognize as other regulars and when it is over we all wave good bye to one another. We have named this class Swinging The Beans because some of the exercises require us to use tins of beans as hand-weights. Simon started out using chickpeas but now he claims to prefer cannellini.

 

Home-made Seating.

27 May Wednesday

I went to the doctor’s surgery. There were many notes taped onto the door and the windows. All of the notes instructed me not to enter the building, but to telephone the front desk to announce my presence. I rang the desk and was told to wait outside the door but not to stand too near the door. I was to wait for the nurse to come and collect me. The nurse’s name is Alice. Every person is always on a first name basis. I stood and waited for Alice at a good distance from the door. I was glad that it was not raining.

28 May Thursday

It has become a thing with us women. When we meet, we look at one another’s hair. When someone looks freshly shorn there is a little bit of envy and an immediate need on behalf of the viewer to comment. One woman who was looking particularly well-coiffed told me that her 15 year old son had cut her hair. He did a good job. Some people trim their own hair and some wear it pulled up in a pony tail or a top knot. There are a lot of hair clips and head bands. Some women are doing home dye jobs just to keep their roots from showing. There is a lot of panic about roots. There are many blondes who are determined to make us believe that they really are blondes. And a lot of women who should be grey but who refuse to be seen with grey hair. It is a very telling time. On the 8th of June, we will enter the second phase of the 5 Phases that the government has decreed for us to come out of lockdown slowly and carefully. There are three weeks between each phase. On the 8th, among other things, our freedom to travel will be extended from 5 kilometres to 20 kilometres. Hairdressers and barbers are not allowed to open until Phase 4. Phase 4 is not until the 20th of July.  The issue of hair will be even more desperate by then.

29 May Friday

We can look out the kitchen door and see anyone arriving down the boreen. We can see whoever appears from behind the grass roofed book barn. Usually it is one of the three cats from the farm, a grey squirrel, a rabbit or a high stepping pheasant, a magpie or a pigeon on foot, or the fox. In the last weeks there have been more people walking this route than we have ever seen in all of our years here. Because of the small distance still allowed for us to be away from our homes, people have been discovering walks closer to home. They have been discovering this boreen and the mass path. It is still a wild and unkempt route, and for those who wear white sneakers and do not like mud it is not an advisable walk. We have met people who live nearby but who we had never spoken to. We have seen other people we have not seen for ages. On a fine day it is good to stand outside and talk. It has made the Lockdown into a strangely social time. There are two small girls, now walking this route regularly with their parents, who equip themselves with little backpacks and rough walking sticks as though they are on a real trek into an overgrown unknown.

30 May Saturday

Today was the second Saturday back at the Farmer’s Market. Last week was too windy and cold to linger, so today was like the first day back after two months. The sun was out. Not all of the vendors have returned. There were only 7 stalls and elaborate marks sprayed onto the tar to tell us in which direction to move and where to queue. We all kept crossing each other in the wrong ways but it is a big space and there are never more than a small number of people so social distancing was maintained and a good time was had by all.

31 May Sunday

Ardfinnan is a village full of home-made seating in public places.

1 June Monday

Small rectangular bales of hay leaning up against one another are called a Stook. It sounds like Stewk. The word Stook is both a noun and verb. The bales get Stooked by hand, and they are arranged in Stooks. Leaned together, the air moves around them and allows the smallest area of each bale to be touching the ground while they dry out a bit, waiting to be collected and taken into a shed and under cover. When the bales are leaned up together it is important that the knot of the twine which holds each bale together is facing outwards. That way the rain, if it comes before the bales are collected, will drain off the bale with the least amount of water going in and soaking the hay.  These bales are only made in small fields of hay. Big fields need huge machines and produce round bales. Richie and Greg explained all of this to me while they were collecting bales one Stook at a time. They only had a tiny trailer and four bales were all they could transport at a go. Richie explained that a Stook is also a term for someone being in a bad humour. Now that I know the word Stook I am looking forward to listening out to hear someone described with it: “That man is in a Stook” or “She has got herself into a Stook.”

2 June Tuesday

Every day from 12-1, RTE1 plays musical requests for people who want to send birthday or anniversary greetings to a person somewhere in the country. Since the Lockdown this shouting out has been more popular than ever. Everyone is at home and they cannot go to visit the person who is celebrating so they send elaborate messages by radio and  whoever is being sent the message will receive it because it is almost lunchtime so they will be in the kitchen with the radio on in anticipation of the one o’clock news. If a person is quite elderly it can take a long time for the announcer to list the children and grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. If there are family members living in Germany and New Zealand and Boston as well as Limerick and Inchicore and Ballycotton, the locations have to be mentioned too. The announcer has taken to bunching up a few greetings for several people who have a birthday on the same day and one song will be played rather than a separate request for each person. As always, Roundy Birthdays get special attention. I never tire of this expression for a birthday that ends in a zero. Today a man was mentioned who was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his 21st birthday.

3 June Wednesday

I am still wearing my oldest clothes. I am still trying to wear things right out and into the rag bag or the bin in the course of this quarantine.  Sibby announced that she has taken to wearing her best clothes even if there is no one at all to see what she is wearing. She announced that if she does not wear them now then when will she wear them. She said she is too old to be saving things for later. She said, “I am happy to be wearing my Sunday clothes on a Tuesday.”

4 June Thursday

Haying and the bringing in of silage have made the roads deadly.  Agricultural contractors are racing around at speed rushing from one job on one farm to the next job on the next farm. Their machines are enormous. They take up the entire road.  The tractor drivers start at 7 in the morning and work till 10 at night.  There is a roar of machinery in the distance all day long. There is the tradition at dinner time that the drivers are fed by whichever farm they are on at the time. The hearty meals around the kitchen table are now taking place on patios or under trees or even at big table set up in the cow sheds.  Everyone is social distancing at the lunch table.  The wives of the drivers are always known as Silage Widows.  They do not see their husbands or partners for days on end. This haying season seems to be coming to an end but in 6 weeks it will start up again for the second cuts.  Weather permitting.

5 June Friday

After four or five days of hot dry weather, the temperatures have dropped, and each day is cool and brisk. Today the wind is sharp and every few hours there is a burst of heavy rain. The rain lasts for fifteen minutes and then in an hour there is another burst. The cow parsley has gone all skeletal and vetch has become the predominant flower in the ditches. Its purple flowers and tangly leaves are rampant. Honeysuckle, buttercups, clover, the dreadful hog weed, speedwell, foxglove, red campion, silverweed, dog roses and loads of ferns. Everything is in bloom and maybe it had been blooming earlier but we could not see it because up until now the cow parsley hid everything from sight.There is so much to look at.

To Town on the Wood Road

13 May Wednesday

They are called Maize Strips. They appear each year in certain fields. They change the land. They define the curves of a field. They make everything look different. They make the fields beautiful. The Maize Strips are made of a thin white plastic material extruded over the soil from a machine. The soil in the in-between section of the strips weights the white strips down. Seeds are planted through slits in the plastic or underneath the plastic. I am not exactly sure how that works. The plastic works like a little green house holding in the heat and encouraging growth. The corn grows through the plastic while the weeds are kept down.  The white material breaks down all the time as the corn gains strength and height. By the time the corn is a foot high, none of the white is visible. I would like to believe that the Maize Strips are made of potato starch or some kind of material that breaks down and goes directly back in to nourish the soil. I wish it was not plastic, but I fear it is.

14 May Thursday

I met Siobhan in Ardfinnan this afternoon. A visiting carer was at the house to shampoo her mother’s hair and to make her a cup of tea. Siobhan’s mother is 102 and it is not wise to leave her alone. Siobhan had a slot of about an hour before she needed to be back at home. We walked through some fields on the far side of the river and she was able to point out the back of her own house across the fields. She used to walk back there with her father and if he caught some fish he would hold them up and her mother could see with the binoculars if they were having fish for supper. We counted 39 swans in the river. It was not easy to count them because they kept moving. There is big discussion as to whether the swans belong in Newcastle or Ardfinnan. Both villages want to claim them. The swans go where they want to go. There are six geese on the green and in the river. The number is down from 12. No one knows if the geese are being stolen by a fox or by a man. There is now a new small hut for the geese to be locked into at night. Tommie Myles, the butcher, and a woman named Norah, who normally runs the pub but of course the pub is closed for the lockdown so now she has lots of extra time, have joined forces.  Together they make sure that the geese are safely shut in before dark and that they are let out again in the morning.

15 May Friday

John the Post used to complain about the cow parsley in the boreen. Every year he would be angry about the sudden growth. Every year he acted like it was a new and unexpected thing just put out in his way to annoy him. As he drove up and down the boreen four or five times a week, the cow parsley would get thicker and denser and then it would start to droop with its own weight or with the weight of the rain if it was a rainy season and John could never laugh and think of the copious cow parsley as a crazy little fluffy car wash. The cow parsley made him furious. He was irate all the way down the track and he was irate all the way back up, every single day, until the season moved on and the cow parsley had fallen flat to the ground or it had been cut down. Derek is the post man now. He does not let things bother him. He commented on the cow parsley today but he told me it was much worse over Ballindoney way where the road is a proper tar road that is made to have space for cars in two directions. He said there is no use to worry about it. He said, “We could have much worse things coming down on us.”

16 May Saturday

The sun does not set until about 9.40 at night.  Dusk is still falling at 10.30. It takes a longer and longer for the night to get fully dark. Most nights I am asleep before the dusk has dropped.

18 May Monday

I took Tommie into town this morning. I offered to drive him as I did not think he was able for driving himself. He did not think so either. He needed to go to the dentist because his dentures are crumbling. One front tooth has completely broken off. Others have been breaking off in pieces. Sometimes he swallows the pieces and sometimes he spits them out. The dentist is open two mornings a week for emergency visits. This is an emergency.

I made Tommie sit in the backseat in order to maintain the sense of social distancing and I made him wear his seat belt. We had a little struggle finding the ends and getting him hooked in. He said he was too old for seat belts. He said he felt like he was the Queen of England or someone like that but he said if he was the Queen he would have to wave to everyone and he would not enjoy that.

He reported as much as he could about his time inside at the dentist. He said that every single person wore masks and face shields but then he admitted that he only saw the dentist himself and three other people and one was the woman at the desk. He said he was the only person who was not wearing a mask. He said, “I do not even own one.” He said, “I see them on the television and everyone has one but I do not have one.” He sounded a little bit plaintive. The dentist asked if he had driven himself in to town and he said, “No my friend drove me. Her name is Erica but just now today sitting in this chair I do not recall her second name.”  The dentist whose name is Daniel said, “Oh, do you mean Erica and Simon, that Erica?” Tommie was pleased that the dentist knew who I was and that he knew that it was me who had given him a lift. It made him more certain than ever that the dentist is a fine and clever man because he knows everyone there is to know.

On the return trip I asked Tommie if he would like to drive home a different way just to see how things are out in the world. I drove in to town on the Wood Road and I drove back by way of Marlfield. I thought he would be curious about who was planting in the fields closest to home and who had cut their silage and where cows were grazing, but he said, “No, it does not matter how we go because I have never been much of a man for sightseeing.”  He said, “I feel strange being out of my house at all after eleven weeks at home. I do not feel very confident.  I will be glad to get myself back indoors.”

20 May Wednesday

We received a special six page pamphlet today in the post. It is full of information about the Covid Virus. It is all written in Irish. Usually these government announcements are in both English and Irish. I will give it back to Derek in the morning and ask if an English language version is available.

21 May Thursday

Over the recent weeks, elderly people have been disappearing from our view. Everyone over 70 has been asked to stay at home in quarantine. 70 is not so old but that is the number and they are being cocooned. The outside world is full of younger people and the less we see of the older people the more it is possible to think that they do not exist. We see grey hair but we do not see people with white hair. We never see a very old person out walking with a stick. Johnny told me today that they are starting to come out. He said they are sick to the teeth with being cooped up so they are coming out. Today there were two white haired men in front of the church. They were keeping the width of a car between them as a form of distancing and they were roaring back and forth having a lively and much needed conversation. The shouting might have been because of the distance or it might be that their hearing was bad and they would have been shouting no matter where they stood.

22 May Friday

The young dog down at McGrath’s farm has moved himself out onto the road. He looks at each car carefully. He is not chasing the cars. He is just staring at each approaching vehicle and making us drive around him. The old dog is out on the road some days but she stays well back. Her head goes back and forth as she watches a car approach and pass by. Her head is busy but the rest of her body has no more energy for chasing. She had been training up this young dog to be the chaser she can no longer be, but this one does not have the same urge.

23 May Saturday

A second day of wild thrashing winds.  The Amber warnings are still out for much of the country. In between the noise of the winds and the worry about falling trees, branches and wires, there are moments of scary silence over the land. It is nice to have something to talk about that is not the virus. “Fierce Windy Today!”

24 May Sunday

There are big fat bumblebees in my work room. I do not know how they get in but they do not seem to be able to leave the same way that they arrive. They fly slowly and heavily with a loud droning noise. They have thick black legs. They do not fly so much as hover. They bump into the glass on the window and the door. Every day I find at least one dead bee on the floor. If a bee is still alive, I take it outside or I leave the door open so that it can depart. I had a piece of cardboard outside the door where I placed each corpse. I collected about 25 dead bees but the huge wild winds in the last few days blew the cardboard and all of the bodies away. I have started a new Bee Board today and there are already seven dead bees on it.

 

25 May Monday

I took Tommie back to town today. He sat in the back seat again. I left him in the waiting room where there were three big high backed arm chairs with floral upholstery. There used to be eight chairs and a table full of magazines. Now there are only the three chairs with large pieces of clear acrylic hanging down between the chairs doing the job of separating each chair from the next one. There is not a magazine in sight. Tommie was the only person there. He sat himself in a chair. He looked like he was in a booth. He did not have to wait long. When he came outside to meet me, I could see that he was disappointed. He looked like he was about to cry. He had come into town to get his new teeth but instead he had his mouth measured.  Now he has to wait two more weeks to get his new teeth.