THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

This Day Week

6 January Thursday

Today is Nollaig na mBan: Women’s Christmas. Little Christmas. Twelfth Night. Epiphany. Today is all of these things. It is the official last day of Christmas and it is the day when all of the decorations and the tree should be taken down and everything except the holly should be removed from the house. Nollaig na mBan is supposed to be a day of rest and pleasure for the women who have done most of the work throughout the holiday season. The men of the house take over on this day and do any and all domestic jobs that need doing. The women are traditionally out visiting one another, sharing tea or dinner with female friends and family, but of course another year with Covid restrictions has put a halt to this ritual. Sharing a flask of coffee sitting on some stones after a winter walk in the mountains, or a shared park bench in the city, is more the order of the day.


8 January Saturday

I am walking across the yard in the dark and the rain. I am on my way to the sauna, wearing nothing but my dressing gown and carrying a little lantern. I am wishing that I was also carrying an umbrella. The ground squishes underneath my rubber clogs. There has been so much rain. There is so much mud. On the return trip, I am less bothered by the rain. My body is radiating heat. I feel impervious to the rain. I have to tread carefully because there are daffodils pushing up all over the place. They are already two inches out of the ground but there is not a snowdrop in sight. This is not the correct order of things. This is all wrong.

9 January Sunday

When a person says This Day Twelve Months, they mean a year ago today.  But if that same person speaks of This Day Week, they mean one week from today. I cannot figure out how these two expressions can be so similar but one implies going back in time while the other suggests the future.

12 January Wednesday

A farmer in Ardfinnan has two llamas in the field with his flock of sheep.  When he moves the sheep to another field for grazing, the llamas move with them.  The discussion locally is that the llamas function as protection.  A fox will not attack a sheep that has been separated from the flock if there is a llama nearby. I am not sure how much truth there is in this theory because llamas are not natural residents of Tipperary. Not one person can claim to be experienced much less an expert in the matter.

13 January Thursday

There are two kinds of names.  There are the names used as identifiers and the names used for address.  The identifier tells the listener about the person who is being discussed: Johnnie the Timber. Mickey the Boxer.  Pat Flan. Billy the Wood. Auntie She-She. I would never call Sheila Auntie She-She to her face. I would address her as Sheila, but if someone else speaks about her they call her Auntie She-She, so that we will know exactly which Sheila is being discussed. As for Mickey the Boxer, I do not know why Boxer is attached to his name, but it always is.  When I meet him on the road, I call him Michael. For years I thought one man was called Frankie the Wire, but eventually I learned that his name was Dwyer. It was  just a confusion because the whole name was said with a thick Tipp accent.

15 January Saturday

Breda and I walked up on Barranacullia. We walked around the mountain and down to the river and then up to the cairn on top. Wherever we walked the sheep ran along in front of us. Big lines of crushed up swedes had been poured out on the hill for them. They were interested to eat the vegetable matter but they were more interested to run away from us.

16 January Sunday

Simon boned out a chicken. He stuffed it with black pudding and rosemary and sausage meat and I do not know what else. When he was finished with the stuffing, he sewed it back up with book-binding thread.

17 January Monday

The light is lasting longer and later every single day. I enjoy taking a walk at the very end of the afternoon as the sky is going all pink and just as the sun drops. It is still light at five o’clock. Only a few weeks ago it was completely dark at five. A few times I have been caught out on a road when the light dropped faster than I expected. I should remember to wear a high-visibility vest.

18 January Tuesday

There is a low table in the waiting area of the doctor’s surgery. It used to be in the middle of the room covered with magazines and looking like an ordinary coffee table. There are no longer magazines available for anyone to touch or look at and there are only four chairs in the whole room. The low table is now pushed into place in front of the counter where the receptionist sits. The table is made of heavy wood. It is about 22 inches by 36 inches. It is not something that is easily moved. My impression is that it was placed there to stop people getting too close to the receptionist. There is a sheet of glass in front of the desk to protect the receptionist. The glass is 4 feet long and there is a shelf with bottles of hand sanitizer along the length of it. The only part of the long area not protected by glass is one end, about 6 inches wide, on the far left. This is where the receptionist hands out receipts and where the bank card machine is placed for payments. As a result of the low table blocking the way and the narrow point of access in the glass protecting the receptionist, every person who comes out of the doctors’ offices immediately squeezes themselves into the the slot between the heavy low table and the radiator that is attached to the wall. There is only about 10 inches available to stand in, so most people do so with one leg in front of the other. We each stand kind of sideways while trying to maintain a normal transaction. Every single person moves into this awkward space in order to settle whatever business needs to be settled. The table is another annoyance in our current life and we all accept it without question.

20 January Thursday

 

21 January Friday

Another late afternoon walk, up the road in search of a short mud-free stroll. There was indeed no mud, but the further I went, the stronger the smell. Slurry was being spread in the fields I was walking past. The stench was terrible and the after-effect of the smell was a horrible burning at the back of my throat. The interesting thing was a bright yellow and black sign announcing: CAUTION/SLURRY SPREADING IN PROCESS. It was both a redundant and an unusual sign. It is not normal to find something to read when I am out for a walk, but the smell of the slurry and the noise of the tractor is ordinarily enough to alert anyone to the activity of spreading. We do not need to read about it. Along with the sign were a pair of metal ramps so that any vehicles were able to drive over the thick hose that is transporting the pumped slurry from a tank to the tractor moving around out in the field.

22 January Saturday

Walking to and from from the sauna tonight my torch lit up dozens of snowdrops in the grass. They are just coming into blossom. This is a cheerful sign. Nature seems to be back on schedule.

This Day Twelve Months

17 December Friday

The woman in front of me at the post office counter announced in a loud voice: “I have not bought a stamp since This Day Twelve Months, and today I bought three!”

18 December

It was not a cold day but yesterday had been bitter. The older lady at the farmer’s market was half-way apologizing for appearing in her long fur coat. She explained out loud to no one in particular that she thought the day would be as cold as the one before had been. She was obviously happy to be out wearing her glamorous coat. She had taken a lot of trouble. Her long suede gloves were immaculate and her wig was perfect. The coat had a high fluffy collar and similar fluffy cuffs. It might have been mink or it might have been fox. I do not know much about fur. I felt I had to comment on her appearance and she was happy that I had. It gave her a chance to discuss the coat. It had been left to her by her friend who died earlier in the year. The friend had lived in the United States for many years and she owned three fur coats. She brought them back to Ireland with her, but the weather was rarely cold enough to have a need for even one of them. They were city coats designed for attending the opera or a concert. This coat she was wearing was not meant for an hour at the farmers market on a Saturday morning in December but she confessed that she had no where else to go and it seemed a pity not to wear the coat. Wearing the coat was a way to honor her friend. She told me that her friend’s initials were sewn into the lining at the hem and she thought of her each time she looked at the carefully embroidered letters.

19 December

Every year Anthony brings out his tyre tree and he decorates it with fresh greenery. Every year I am happy to see it again. After twelfth night, he will return it to the back of the yard where the greenery will die as it sits on its pallet until next year.

20 December Monday

I cannot see for the fog. It is heavy and thick and white. It has settled all the way down to the ground. My walking takes me from one tree to the next tree. I lose each tree as I pass it. I lose each gate as I pass it. I lose the stone walls. I am deprived of everything. Everything disappears as I move. Each thing looms and then it evaporates. Where I am going is familiar because I have gone this way before but inside the dense fog every single thing is new. I can only see the most immediate next thing and then my eyes are searching through the whiteness for the next thing.

21 December Tuesday

The local holiday clean-up seems to be proceeding as normal even though government warnings tell everyone to reduce their contacts and not to gather in groups.  I overhear the yearly conversations repeated about what has been done and about what has yet to be done. The flurry of activity is manic. The Omicron variant cannot stop all of these rituals. Getting the tree and its decorations up is just one thing. Festive evergreen wreaths must be taken to the graves of the family dead and the gravestones must be scrubbed clean. The car must be washed both inside and out, and the house must be cleaned and the windows washed even though most people will not allow anyone into their homes. There will be no one to see all the hard work. A trip to the hygienist for a cleaning of the teeth and a fresh haircut are essential to guarantee that everyone looks good in their photographs.

24 December Friday

Every year I get out my mother’s red tablecloth on Christmas Eve and every year I swear that this is its final year and I promise myself that this will be the year that I throw it away at the end of the holiday.  Every year we remark on the small red rounded iron-on patches and my father’s cigarette burns and the stains and the holes and melted candle fat. This table cloth is a mess. Every Christmas we say that this table cloth has had a long life but Enough is Enough. In the last few years I have laid a red and white checkered picnic cloth across the middle of the table so that the old red cloth only pokes out from around the edges. It is more difficult to see the wear and tear. The red checks look like summer. The checkered tablecloth does not look even vaguely Christmas-y but it covers a multitude of damage and of history.

27 December Monday

We walked out the road to Lady’s Abbey and as always, I stopped to look for the chair with the red velvet seat. It was no longer in the little room where it sat for so long before someone tried to set it on fire. I thought the area must have been cleaned up and the chair removed along with the rest of the burnt mess, but the chair had only tossed into an alcove on the side of the Abbey along with a lot of branches.

 

28 December Tuesday

Someone sent a card using last year’s postage stamps which marked The Christmas Day Swim. The swim is a big part of the celebration for anyone who lives near to the sea and since this country is an island there are a lot of group swims in the morning. The Christmas Swim is as much a part of the holiday as anything else.

1 January 2022

During Storm Barra, plastic feed bags blew down the boreen. One bag was stuck up a tree. I tried to reach it, first with a heavy stick and then with a rake. I could not get anywhere near as there were so many brambles and also because the tree was up on a precarious banking. I decided that I might have to wait for another kind of wind to catch it. It annoyed me every time I saw the white bag stuck high up in the branches. Last night we had more wild winds. The final winds of the year. Noisy smashing gusts woke us over and over all night long. This morning I found that the plastic bag had been blown out of its tree and that two others just like it were scattered down the length of the boreen. I walked along and collected all three and put them in the lean-to for eventual removal to the recycling depot. MAZZOLENI printed on the bags offered me the idea of a little bit of travel in these restrictive times. I like the idea of the Dry Cow Special coming all the way from Italy to feed Joe’s wintering Irish cows.

 

3 January 2022 Monday

Double barrel, solid with concrete.

Yesterday Fortnight

24 November Wednesday

Tommie is extremely clear about when he does not want to be disturbed. Sunday morning is an important time to him. He does not want to have to answer the door nor the telephone when the television priest is performing Mass. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, there are always matches being played on the television. These matches are as important as the Sunday Mass is to him. They are so important to him that he feels that everyone he knows should know this and they should neither stop in for a visit nor ring him on the telephone. He feels that anyone who knows him should know about these times and that they should know better than to interrupt him. He told me that last week a woman called to visit and she came right in and sat in the old chair that used to be Margaret’s chair and this woman talked to him in a great big long gust for half an hour while the match was playing on the television. He did not listen to what she was saying and he did not turn down the volume but he swears that the woman did not take one single breath for the whole time that she was talking. He says that he has no idea who she was but she seemed to know him so he let her talk and then when she was done talking she said good-bye and she left. He was still annoyed about it when he told me and at that time this interruption was already five or six days ago.

25 November Thursday

The house is on a corner. The upstairs windows are undamaged. None of the panes are broken although the house looks like it has been empty for a long time. The single downstairs window has been covered with plywood and painted to look like the other windows. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make sure that the panes were delineated as six over six, just like the windows upstairs. I think the painter used masking tape to mark out the dividers between the glass.

27 November Saturday

I had a little cold and I was at the doctors surgery. I was not there because of the cold, but when I sneezed a tiny little sneeze the receptionist rushed out from her cubicle and shooed me outside. I was the only person in the waiting room and I was wearing a mask but she shooed me out the door anyway and she told me to go home. She said I could not come in and she promised that the doctor would phone me later. He did telephone me and he told me that I must have a Covid test. He said that things have gone so rampant and contagious in the area that they can take no chances. I was certain that I did not have Covid but I had to drive to a shed on the Fethard road at seven the next evening and I was given a PCR test while I sat in the car. I was also given a box of fifty masks and told that I would receive my test results within 48 hours. When I got the text telling me that my test was negative, I was completely relieved even though I had been sure that all I had was a very mild cold. I still have the little cold, but it is getting better.

2 December Thursday

Yesterday Fortnight means two weeks from yesterday. It is a common expression used to project a time two weeks in the future but not from today. It is always marked from yesterday.

Monday Week means a week ago Monday.

Half Two. No one says Half Past Two, nor do they say Two Thirty. It is always Half Two.

3 December Friday

Michael O’Sullivan the musician and composer was born in Clonmel. The house he lived in, or the house he was born in, now houses an insurance company called O’Sullivan Insurances. The building and the business might belong to his brother or his cousin or another of his relations, or it might not. Opinions and theories seem to vary greatly. I have not been able to ascertain if any of it is fact. When ringing the insurance company office it is not unusual to be placed on hold. The music played while waiting for a human to answer is one of Michael O’Sullivan’s compositions, performed by himself. Which might mean something, or it might not.

4 December Saturday

A Cattle Crush is an alley that a farmer builds to encourage cows to keep moving but to move in a single line. Mostly it is to get a cow into a safe position to be taken care of individually. It is used when the cows need injections or new ear tags or any old thing where the farmer needs to address an animal’s issues one at a time. Sometimes a Cattle Crush is made of fencing and sometimes it is made of cast concrete. Sometimes the side of a barn is used for one wall and fencing is used for the other side. The Cattle Crush beyond the Abbey has not been used for animals for as long as I have been using it. We open the little gate and walk through it on our way to the river.

7 December Tuesday

For two days the radio was been full of the approach of Storm Barra. Now it has arrived. Coastal areas are all under Red Alert. We only have an Amber alert. We have been sitting inside with rain and wind beating on the house from every direction. It feels like the roof might blow off. The bamboo is blowing itself horizontal. I went down to the barn for a bit of book-packing but it was too cold to stay down there for long. Branches kept flying and smashing against the windows. When I gave up my work to return to the house I could barely open and close the barn door. The wind was stronger than me. We heard on the radio that there are gusts of up to 132 km an hour in County Clare. The birds are going mad for the nuts. They are swarming all over the feeders while the feeders themselves are rocking and flapping in the wind. They need refilling but I cannot see the point of going out as the nuts would just fly away with any attempt to scoop them out of the bucket and into the small openings of the feeders. It is not only slates and chimneys and branches crashing around. The radio tells us that trampolines and lawn furniture are blowing and flying all over the roads and across fields. This is not a day to go out and empty the compost.

8 December Wednesday

Last night I filled buckets and bottles and pitchers with water. I knew that if our power failed we would have no water because the generator that pumps the water from our well is powered by electricity. Without electricity we would not be able to flush the toilet nor brush our teeth nor do any of the dozens of things that we expect to do with running water. There were multiple texts back and forth between neighbors as we checked in with one another. I laid out candles and made sure that the torches were fully charged. By bedtime, we had still not lost power. The wild blustery wind had not stopped once, not even for a minute. The noise of the wind filled the air and it filled our ears. I was so prepared for disaster that I think I was a little disappointed that my preparations were not needed. We have lost the internet, but we did not lose our electricity.  All day today we have continued to be buffeted and beaten but the sun is shining and the rain has stopped. We now know that the end is in sight. The radio assures us that this storm is moving eastwards.

The bees walk.

27 October Wednesday

Bees are still coming into the house on sunny afternoons. They come in and they often spend the night, but they are no longer buzzing around noisily in the afternoons. They walk. The bees walk or else they stand around in one place for a long time. They can stand in one spot for more than an hour.  Then they walk to another place. There is not much flying. I think they are preparing for winter sleep. They are a lot easier to catch.

12 November Friday

Our compost heap is always evolving. It was once a disheveled pile of vegetables scraps and leaves. Now the heap is less of a heap. It is inside a wooden box with a lid on hinges. This is the latest manifestation. At some point, this will rot and the pieces of old pallet wood will fall apart and then the compost heap will be slightly different or a lot different. Again.

I have never found a rat in the compost. I have never even seen a rat in the compost, but I am always aware that there might be a rat in the compost, so I am always on guard. I used to talk to myself out loud whenever I went near to the compost heap with the idea that just hearing my voice would make a rat take cover. Rats are bold and brave. I doubt that my voice would frighten or disturb them. For nearly three years we have had the compost contained in this wooden box. Before I open the lid of the box, I knock on the top. I also keep a heavy stick nearby. The stick is not a weapon. I use the stick to make a few loud thumps on the wood. The stick makes a louder noise than my knuckles can make. I do not want to open the box and to have a rat jump out at me. Nor do I want to find a rat just looking at me without bothering to move. If a rodent is present and active inside I want it to run away so that I do not have to.

14 November Sunday

It is a very small shop. The sign requests that only two people be inside at the same time. I could see one masked man talking to Seamus at the counter. I was ready to pay for my petrol. After waiting outside a few moments, I decided that there was no one else in there so I walked in the open door. The two men turned to me immediately. Seamus asked if I knew about Flax. I said that I did know about Flax and that I ate milled flax most mornings. Then he said: Walnuts. Do you eat Walnuts? I said Yes, I eat Walnuts. I love Walnuts. They are delicious and good for me too. He asked if I ate porridge. When I answered yes to that too, he turned to the masked man and said, “She is way ahead of us. She is doing everything right. We need to up our game.”

15 November Monday

Our well has been fixed and disinfected with an elaborate system that takes the water through a filter and then through an ultraviolet light and then through a salt water tank that also functions as a water softener.  The complete apparatus is installed on the back wall of the shed, near to the pump, with a small tube emptying some of the salty water outside. It all looks very scientific. I go out to look at it several times every day. We should have done this years ago. The man who did the installation was named Gearoid. For me, Irish names are difficult to say and even more difficult to spell. His son, Aaron worked with him. Aaron made dozens of trips to and from the van to bring in the tools and to carry things away again. Each time Gearoid asked for something he used Aaron’s name in the request and each time Aaron did the job his father thanked him and used his name again. He used long involved sentences. Gearoid would say, “Now Aaron I would be hoping you could go out and into the van and find the drill with the long extension that we will be needing to make a hole through this stone wall. When you find the drill, Aaron, I would be hoping that you could bring it to me here now, Aaron. I hope you could do that for me please Aaron.” It was a very formal and quiet working relationship. On completion, Gearoid promised us that our water would be very different from now on. He was right. We use less soap while bathing or doing laundry or washing dishes. The water tastes different. The tea tastes different and we use fewer tea leaves to make a good strong cup.  We marvel and discuss the taste of the water endlessly. We have been buying bottled water to drink for years and have used the Brita filter for tea and coffee water. Now the water from the tap is delicious and it is no longer full of lime or bacteria. No more endless huge jugs of water to buy and lug in from the supermarket and no more plastic bottles to recycle. We should have done this years ago.

17 November Wednesday

Our friend Jim is in the hospital. First he was in Waterford, then he was moved to Clonmel and then he was returned to Waterford and now he is back in Clonmel again. It has been about eight weeks that he has been bouncing back and forth. Sometimes he has been in isolation due to hospital infections. He is old and in a fragile state. When I spoke to him on the telephone his voice was weak. He told me that the physical therapists are now building the strength in his legs so that he can walk again. He is not able to walk by himself yet but he is optimistic that he will improve. The hospital wants him to be able to walk with a frame before they will allow him to leave. Jim tells me that he may get some of the use back in his legs but he fears that he will never go home. One daughter has been named as the single visitor to go into the hospital. Because of Covid, other family and friends are not allowed to visit and because they never know exactly where Jim is, they send get-well cards and messages to his home address, with the understanding that Jim’s daughter will deliver the cards to him in whichever hospital he is in. Today we learned that the daughter has not delivered any of the cards to him. Not one. He has not received a single card nor note wishing him well. The daughter is saving all the cards in large box so that Jim can look at them when he comes home.

18 November Thursday

Jacinta asked me if I thought the new cleanser made the house smell pendy. I asked her what she meant by pendy. She said pendy was the smell of things being a bit musty or a bit damp and old smelling. I said that I did not much like the smell of her cleanser, but I would not call it’s odour pendy.

21 November Sunday
It has been an unseasonably mild autumn. The nights are cold but most days have been bright and sunny. 0n the 26th of October, Joe told me that his cows only had another six days to be eating grass out in the fields. He said the grass was not growing so it was time to bring them inside and under cover for the winter. Today is the 21st of November and the cows have been outdoors every day since that conversation. They did not know they only had six remaining days of freedom so they do not know how lucky they are.

Hatchet Boy.

8 October Friday

It was 5.45 in the morning. I was just off a flight from Boston. I walked and walked and walked through the darkness to find Zone 16. The Clonmel bus used to leave from a place closer to the terminal and that place was together with all of the other buses, but my transport is now at Zone 16 and anyway I was looking for a different bus than the one I used to catch. Now I was looking for the JJ Kavanagh bus. The old X8 BusEireann Express has not reappeared since the lock down. It was a long walk in the dark and the cold. It was at least a half a kilometre.  Maybe more.  I was weary. Zone 16 was a long distance from where the other buses stopped. The only thing Zone 16 was near was the small airport church that is called Our Lady Of Heaven. My bus was scheduled to depart at 6.15 but there was no sign announcing it, nor was there a schedule listed in among the other pinned up schedules. There was no reference at all to the bus I was hoping to board.  I was glad to see it pull in at 6, because that gave me time to talk to the driver and to make sure I was in the right place for the right bus. The driver told me that she was indeed going to Clonmel and asked me if I was here on holiday. When I told her that I was not on holiday but that I lived near Clonmel, she wanted to know where I lived and then she told me that she lived just down the road in the village. She told me that she was originally from Ardfinnan and that later she ran the shop in Goatenbridge, but she said it was finally too expensive to keep the shop going. She said she could buy her own groceries in town at the Tesco for cheaper than she could sell them in Goatenbridge. The shop went out of business and she later bought the house in Newcastle when Dessie and Noel were selling up their family land by the river. I knew exactly where she lived. Now she drives the bus first up and then down from Dublin Airport starting at midnight with a lot of stops along the way. I was not even at home yet but already I was being collected and delivered by a neighbour. I wondered why I had never even seen this woman before but she said her hours are erratic and sleep is the single thing she does most of when she is not driving her bus.

10 October Sunday

All week, the afternoons have been warm and bright. The honeybees in the roof of the barn are busy around their entrance. They are out and about in the garden on every bit of blossom available. The door and the windows of the house are all wide open. Some of the bees come into the house and they buzz around the skylight and the windows in the big room. I catch them in a cup when I can reach them and I take them back outdoors, but I cannot catch them all and some get stuck in the house overnight. Mid-morning, as the sun warms the room, the bees wake up and start their buzzing again. I like the sound of their work outside, but day after day, the buzzing is becoming annoying inside.

11 October Monday

It is not the first time. I heard a thump followed by a long whoosh noise as I drove up the boreen. I assumed I had hit a stone because I was going too fast and I thought nothing more of it. By the time I reached the village, my front left tyre was completely flat. I was driving on the wheel rim. I was lucky that Anthony was open and that he was able to replace the tyre for me. 85 euro. He could not be certain what had caused the puncture. We noticed two cuts in the side of the tyre but they seemed too high on the wall to be made by stones and they were definitely not thorns. That was about six weeks ago. Last week Simon was driving out and he felt a bump that he thought was a stone. When he reached the point where the dirt road meets the tar road, his front left tyre was flat. Another cut mark. Another 85 euro. This morning I went out to drive to the village to fetch the newspapers. A completely flat tyre. Another cut mark. Another 85 euro for another new tyre. These are not regular tyres for town vehicles. These are heavy duty tyres produced to accommodate rough terrain like this uneven road.

I have walked up and down the boreen examining both sides carefully. There is nothing sticking out from the rocks and the growth that could be responsible for this kind of cut in the sidewall. I keep making the same walk and I keep trying to figure out what is cutting the tyre, always the same tyre. I do not like to point a finger but I have begun to think about Hatchet Boy. It was about three years ago when I used to see him walking down the track holding a hatchet closely pressed against his leg. He was trying to walk carefully in order to hide the hatchet. He never said hello nor made any gesture of friendliness. He just waited until I had passed with the hatchet held tight to his leg. He was about eleven at the time. Or maybe he was nine. I knew that he walked down the track here and then turned off into the expanse of Cooney’s wood. I assumed he was doing some cutting of trees or branches down there for some project of his own. Maybe he was making a hide-out. I never saw him returning because he could use the route through the woods to get back to his own house. Now I am wondering if perhaps Hatchet Boy has graduated from his small axe to a knife. Perhaps Hatchet Boy is annoyed that our parked vehicle partly blocks the route down the track. Maybe Hatchet Boy is stabbing the tyre to punish us for blocking his way. There is plenty of room to walk even with the motorcar parked off to the left but maybe Hatchet Boy has taken offence. Maybe Hatchet Boy has evolved into a bit of a vigilante. Or maybe he just enjoys using his knife.

Since the most recent cut tyre, I am parking in a different location. I am keeping an eye on the vehicle in the hours after school, especially the hours just before dark. I cannot go to the home of Hatchet Boy and ask his mother is he is now carrying a knife, but I am not sure what to do next.

13 October Wednesday

Last night I found a slug draped over the bristles of my toothbrush.  I threw the slug out the window and washed my toothbrush multiple times in very hot water. Then I brushed my teeth. It is the problem of this time of year. Windows are open and things come in. This morning, I saw a slug stretched out long and thin on a window. I was interested to watch the body so elongated. I wondered how much time it would take for him to move across the expanse of the glass. I was interested but mostly I was glad that this slug was outside and not inside.

14 October Thursday

I had not seen her for many days. Paulina has been studying for exams and she has spending hours and hours every day and every night at her computer. When I greeted her and I inquired as to how she was, she threw up her hands and said, “Don’t ask! Don’t even ask!! My Eyes Are Cut Out of My Head and My Brain is Scorched!”

15 October Friday

Today is grey and wet. The soft drizzle is soaking. Not a bee is buzzing, neither indoors nor out.

 

Tarmac Cactus

14 September Tuesday

There is a single lilac blossom blooming. This is not right. It is September. It is the wrong time of year for lilac to be in bloom. The blossom is scrawny. It looks indecisive about its very presence, but it is there.

15 September Wednesday

Alice brought me a large and long bright yellow squash.  She asked me if I liked aubergine. She offered it to me as an aubergine. She said she did not eat aubergines and she never had eaten aubergine and neither did her husband nor her sons. She told me several times that they had never eaten an aubergine and nor had she and she swore that she would never try one and anyway she said that she had enough different things to eat. I told her that it was not an aubergine but a big yellow squash but she was not bothered with the correction of the word. Whatever it was, she did not want it. It had been given to her and she was eager to give it away to someone else. She had accepted it because it was offered and because of course she wanted to be polite but she did not want an aubergine in her life. Alice brought it to me because she knew that we had a great many spices on our shelves, which was strange enough and odd in itself, and because of that, she thought we might enjoy something different to eat.

16 September Thursday

The side of the building is painted to announce the sale and servicing of LAWNMOWERS, CHAINSAWS, HEDGE TRIMMERS, and BRUSH CUTTERS. The front of the building has no sign and it offers no clue as to what takes place inside.

17 September Friday

The small fuzzy caterpillars arrive every year at  this time. They move quickly. Wherever I walk on a stretch of road they are rushing to cross. These speedy caterpillars are everywhere. When I see one I call it a Tarmac Cactus, but now I am told that it’s local name is a Hairy Molly.

18 September Saturday

Each week, Ned Lonergan brings his carefully hand turned bowls and boards and platters to sell at the farmer’s market in Cahir. Every bowl is engraved on the bottom with a wood burning tool. He writes his name and the date and the type of wood he has used to make the bowl. Each item is carefully oiled. The chair he brings for himself to sit in is a completely different kind of home-made.

19 September Sunday

I am picking raspberries twice a day. They are plentiful. In the morning I go out to gather a small bowl full quickly, just enough to add to our two portions of cereal. In the morning the leaves are wet. The mornings already feel like autumn and they are heavy with dew.   The leaves are wet so my sleeves get wet.  My sleeves are always soaked after the picking, so every morning I have to make a decision whether to eat my breakfast in my dressing gown with the sopping sleeves, or to go and get dressed for the day before tucking in to my cereal. In late afternoon, I go out again and gather a larger amount of the berries. These I freeze or take to friends, or I set them aside for us to eat in one form or another after supper.  Many people have received a gift of raspberries already. I love to give the gift of raspberries. Now I am beginning to give people a second offering. What I do not like is to make jam. I am happy to eat raspberry jam if someone else makes it. At this time of year, my preferred method is to eat my raspberries freshly mashed onto a piece of toast.    As I am picking, I often wonder about the berries that the birds have pecked at and maybe even eaten half. I never know if it matters and if the there is any problem with sharing bird saliva. I am not sure if birds have saliva. Anyway, there are plenty of raspberries both for me and for the birds and already the hedgerows are full of blackberries ripe for the picking. And the figs. The figs are fine this year. We had one perfect fig. One fig that tasted like we were in a warm and southern country, but there has not been enough heat for most of them to be be fully ripe and sweet like that. I bring them into the house at a certain point to finish ripening over a few days. If I leave them on the bush the birds will attack them and hollow out the fruit from the skin.  Once indoors, they are safe to ripen slowly and then they are delicious cooked into small tarts.

20 September Monday

There are dozens and dozens of little tiny wrens flying around. They come in the house and they get confused and they get stuck in impossible places.

 

21 September Tuesday

The house has appeared uninhabited for years. The paintwork around the windows is chipped and the curtains inside are droopy and dirty. There is never any activity to be seen in or around the house, or none that can be seen from the pavement. There is no space between the street level window and the door, just the narrowest piece of wood. Today I noticed that a clean and ironed white embroidered cloth has been laid along the inside of the window sill. A framed photograph of a man is on view. It is a photograph of a young man with a black and white cat. Beside the framed photograph there is a stack of five books. There is no name anywhere. There is nothing to say whether the man in the photograph is dead or alive. There is nothing to tell me if that same man is now old or if perhaps he is still as young as he was in the photograph.

I wish I had taken note of the titles of the five books.

The New Stanley

16 June Wednesday

An Post has printed special stamps to celebrate Ireland’s Pride Month. Booklets containing both national and international stamps are available for purchase. Some of the rainbow colored stamps are printed with the word PRIDE and some are printed with the Irish word BRÓD. An Post sent everyone a card with the information about this support for the LGBT community and suggested that we all display the card in our window as a show of solidarity.

23 June Wednesday

We have had a good spell of dry and warm weather. Now rain is promised. We know that all the fields and the gardens need a soaking. Jacinta was in a rush because she and her husband wanted to bring their turf in before the rain come. Every year they purchase turf from a man who owns a bog up on the mountain. They buy the turf by the line. The man has a machine and he cuts the lines and Jacinta and her husband and the other people who are buying the turf from him go up to the location regularly to make little stacks of the turf. This is called footing. They move the brick-like pieces of cut turf so that each side gets exposed to air, and over weeks, they slowly add more pieces to each stack as the drying process continues. When the turf is brown and kind of hairy it will let in the wet and hold the moisture. It will not dry out evenly. It will not be much good for burning. When it is black and crusty, it is more water-resistant and then it gives off great heat. With several days of hard rain forecast, Jacinta and her husband are eager to load up their six air-dried lines of turf and to get it all home and stacked in the shed. This will provide them with good fires in their wood stove all winter long.

28 June

I woke up depressed to see yet another morning of heavy grey cloud cover hanging over everything. Later I overheard two women standing outside the shop discussing and taking great delight that this day is drizzly and grey and damp. They repeated again and again that they love this weather, over and over and to whoever would listen. They agreed that neither of them enjoy a day when it gets too warm. They prefer a day that is cool and fresh. They did not enjoy the recent stretch of almost hot days. One of the women was complaining about how hard it is to get even the smallest of jobs done when it Goes Hot. She listed all the problems that she could think of about hot days. Then she stopped herself mid-complaining and she laughed and said, “I’ll Have the Ears Burnt Off You with My Giving Out!”

30 June Wednesday

The new graveyard is called the new graveyard even though it has already been there for nineteen years.  It is no longer new but it is newer than anywhere else for burying people.  There are now thirty-five people buried in the new graveyard.  It is filling up but the filling up is not fast. This morning, I met Olive at the gate to the graveyard. She had a scouring sponge and a spray bottle of cleanser with her. She had arrived to clean the stone on her husband’s grave. Murty has been dead for six years now. Six, or maybe seven, years. She told me that she misses him every day. She misses him dreadfully. She goes to clean his stone frequently just to give herself something to do.  She says that without Himself to cook for three times a day, her life has no order. Her days are empty. She was quick to tell me that three men died recently and that all three had been buried in the graveyard in as many weeks. She spoke of each man by his first name.  She said she was of course sorry and deeply sad for their families, but she added cheerfully that “Now we will have Some New Company.”  After a few minutes more, I said good-bye and I left her there with her cleaning equipment. All day I have been wondering what she meant by Some New Company.  Was she suggesting that the visits of other mourners might provide companionship for herself when she goes to visit her husband, or was she implying that the newly deceased would provide some company for Murty and the others who are buried in the graveyard?

3 July Saturday

I picked up three small courgettes. The man at the market stall offered me more but the rest of them were all big ones. I told him that I preferred the very small courgettes for their tenderness and sweetness. I said I was happy to take just the three. He directed my attention back to the larger ones again and he said, “But these were small last week.”

4 July Sunday

We drove up the mountain to meet friends in Lismore. Heavy rain was promised so we planned to eat in the outdoor area of a restaurant. This was to be our first time eating in a restaurant for more than eighteen months, since the pandemic began.  We were led through the still non-functioning and not yet legal indoor part of the restaurant to an area out back that had been built out of corrugated metal. There were gaping openings in the homemade construction to allow the air in, and to keep the rain out. The wind was blowing hard through the room and I was glad to have dressed in several layers of warm and waterproof clothing. The tables were much too close together and the floor was made of cast concrete. The noise inside the indoor/outdoor room was deafening. There was nothing to absorb the sound and nowhere for the noise to go. A table of six women were dressed in summery sleeveless party garments. They were all heavily made up. They were necking colorful cocktails and laughing and talking and shrieking and roaring. Every aspect of this lunch time OUT was thrilling and wonderful to them. They were celebrating. They were raucous. Along with the diners at the other four tables in the little indoor/outdoor room, we had to shout to make ourselves heard over the noise of the happy women and the crashing sound of the rain beating down on the tin roof.

5 July

She was disturbed that the day was rainy. It was not because the rain was interrupting the warmth of summer, instead she explained “I do not like to see the roads wet.”

7 July

The new cooker has been installed. The old cooker has been removed and the new one has been moved in, positioned and wired up. The new cooker is not beautiful, but it will provide us with reliable heat and hot water in the winter months. It is not beautiful nor is it new, but it is a fine second-hand Stanley.  It had only one owner and the only reason it had to be removed from the house it was in was because the woman of the house is now in a wheelchair and she could no longer work with it. It was too tall and the lids on top were much too heavy for her to lift. It took three men to take out the old Rayburn and to get the Stanley off the truck and to bring it in on rollers and to lower a new liner down the chimney. Ned and Eddie returned today to finish the bricking up of the chimney hole and the wiring and all of the smaller but important details. When Eddie finished the drilling and wiring, he turned on the cooker to test that everything was working correctly. We were all impressed with the immediate strong heat that came off it. The radiators heated up quickly as did the hot water in its tank. The day was warm and the doors and windows were all wide open. We did not need any heat at all but we needed to test the machine. Simon was excited by the large size of the hot plate on top and at how quickly it heated up. He sliced some bread and began to make toast. I made a pot of tea and we sat down with Ned and Eddie at the big table with our chairs all facing the new cooker while we discussed its merits and the job that had just been accomplished. We ate toast with butter and marmalade. We toasted the new Stanley with toast.

9 July Friday

The morning was cool and overcast. I was wearing long trousers and long sleeves. I thought I would attempt to walk the overgrown Mass Path. This was a terrible mistake. The nettles and brambles and hogwart made the track into a tangled mess. I knew right away that I had made a bad decision but I kept believing that since I had already been through the worst of it, I might as well continue. I was wrong. Over and over again I was wrong. Every time I reached a short distance where the undergrowth was kept at bay because of the tree shelter, the tangle took over again with a vengeance. I could not go back so I kept going forward. By the time I reached the road at the top my face and my neck and my hands had all been scratched and torn by the brambles. I had nettle stings on every bit of exposed skin.

11 July Sunday

It has been raining off and on all afternoon. A heron stood on the roof of the book barn for a long time. I wanted to go outdoors and get closer but I knew it would fly away if I approached. I went back and forth to the window to check on it for an hour. The last time I looked the heron relieved herself while I watched. There was a long white stripe of excrement in a perfectly straight line from the top ridge of the roof to the bottom edge. It was wide enough and white enough to be easily visible from the house. Then the heron flew away and within the hour the white stripe was washed away by the rain.

12 July Monday

I have been competing with the birds for the gooseberries. I think I am winning.

14 July Wednesday

When she commented about the man by saying: He Has a Turn in Him, I had to ask what she meant.  She explained that it means that he is able to do something good for others, but more than that it means that he is not all bad.

The Egg Man Wears a Fedora.

 

 

29 May Saturday

There have been no coach loads of tourists for months and months and months. There has not been one tour bus in the car park below Cahir Castle since the pandemic began. The five or six extra long places reserved for parking buses have not been used. Slowly, we have all begun to park in those places when we arrive on a Saturday for the Farmers Market. It is not a big thing. It just means the cars can spread out a little more than they already do. Today it seemed a very good thing to have the use of the bus area because there was not much room to park in the regular car spaces.  A few dozen geese had come up from the river and they were all sitting around on the asphalt. There was little room for cars to park nor even much space to drive around the geese.

1 June Tuesday

Everything has been wet. It has been wet and it has been cold. The weather predictions of the Donegal Postman promised us that April and May would be warm and dry. Instead they were wet and cold. Everyone has been disgusted and disappointed. I have only been able to walk up the Mass Path because I am still wearing long trousers and sturdy long sleeved shirts. The vegetation has grown tall and thick. It is way over my head. The nettles are monstrous. I pretend that I am pleased that it is not too hot to walk up there, even while I am being slapped with wet leaves and branches.

2 June Wednesday

Breda and I met up at The Boulders and we walked for about an hour around and over Barranacullia. One hour was enough for me. It was my first time walking up in the mountains. We did not go high enough to see across and down to the sea on the south coast, but we heard the cuckoo.

3 June Thursday

Going to the hairdresser is usually great fun. Ollie always makes me laugh. He is a man with a giggle resting close under the skin. Today I went to have my hair cut. I had missed the brief slot when the hairdressers and barbers were open before Christmas. They were open and then abruptly more Covid restrictions were imposed and they were shut down again. I missed my chance. This was my first appointment since last September. Ollie was shocked to see how long my hair had grown. I was shocked to see him. He was behind a plexiglass screen when I arrived so there was no mask covering his face. I stared at him and I asked, “What has happened to you, Ollie? You look completely different!”  He said, “Yes–I RAN! I rushed out of the country when there was a gap in the travel restrictions!” He said that he knew the flights to everywhere and anywhere were going to be halted any minute so he flew to Turkey on 5 January and he had his teeth crowned and Done and he had his nose broken and then Done, and he had his forehead botoxed. Done. All in five days. He flew back to Dublin looking as if he had been severely beaten. He said his face was bruised and horrible but he had to go into quarantine at home anyway so it did not matter how gruesome he looked. Now he has his new look and gleaming teeth that I thought for sure were false teeth. He looks like a completely different person. His long hair has been cut very short. Even with his face mask in position over his nose and mouth when I could only see half of his face, he looked like someone else. There was no laughter. I remained in shock for the entire time of my haircut. Ollie informed me that the dental work alone had been worth the flight out. Flying to Turkey to have work on one’s teeth has been going on for ten years or more. It is called Dental Tourism.  He said it would have cost him 33,000 euro in Ireland but it was only 5000 euro in Turkey and he assured me that the quality of the work was better. I really did not care how much it cost, but it seemed essential to him to report these prices to me. There was no talk of new recipes nor of sewing up waterproof capes for his ducks nor of what was growing in his garden. There Was No Laughter. Ollie now has a plan to return to Turkey to have his eye lids pulled up tight. He might have his neck done too.  He will wait for a while to earn the money for all that, and anyway with the current restrictions, it is not possible to fly to Turkey nor to anywhere else right now.

4 June Friday

I walked down through the fields at Molough. I did not recognize the crop but it was growing tall. It was nearly at my waist. There was a lot of rustling and crackling as the wind blew though the plants. It was noisy in a quiet way. Suddenly a young deer leapt across the track from one field right into the next. At the point of crossing she was only a few feet in front of me. I do not know if she knew I was near. Before I could register surprise, three more fawns came rushing out of the tall growth and all four disappeared across the field with high bounding and bouncing movements. Within seconds I could see nothing except an occasional head bobbing up out of the far high growth. It was a Four Fawn Morning but it was over almost before it started.

7 June Monday

We were sitting outside and keeping our distance from one another. It was not warm but it was not raining so we were happy to be out of doors and sharing a cup of tea. I held the jug of milk over his cup. Without words, I was offering to pour milk into his tea for him. I did not want to interrupt what he was saying. Francie interrupted his own stream of conversation and he said, “Yes, but don’t lean on it.” I guessed that this meant that he did not want too much milk. Just a little.

8 June Tuesday

The same man has been delivering eggs to the shop for years. He always wears a knee-length white laboratory coat unbuttoned and flapping open over his trousers and his sweater. He wears this official looking white garment all year round, and on his head he wears a black fedora. He is not a young man. This is not a trendy fedora. It is an all weather hat that might look a bit smart on someone else but the egg man wears it pulled down low.  I have never seen the man without the coat nor without the fedora. In these times of continuing infection, he now wears the coat and the fedora and a face mask. He leans forward and down as he carries his big tray loaded with eggs. His eyes have never been visible.

9 June Wednesday

I walked the track through the fields at Molough again this morning. The crop has grown taller since last week. I was confused to see that some plants had been pulled out and thrown down on the ground in the middle of the track. When I reached the top, I saw the farmer and an elderly man and a young boy and a dog at one of the gates. The old man held onto the gate with one hand and he leaned on a walking stick with the other. The boy sat on the top bar of the gate. The farmer and his dog were inside the gate at the edge of the planted field. I stopped and asked what the crop was and I was told that it was gluten-free oats. I asked why some plants had been pulled up and tossed down on the track. The farmer said that those were the weeds and that they had to come out as they would contaminate the crop. They needed to be pulled out. He pulled up one of each plant and showed me the difference between the two. Once he pointed out the difference, it was easy to see that the plants were not the same. He had already been around the perimeter of one field pulling by hand. He said there were not many of the bad plants so it was not as big a job as it sounded. He had some men coming to help him tomorrow. Together they would comb the fields and it would take them only a day to clear the 100 acres of these occasional intruders. But for today he was on his own. The elderly man was too old to be any help and the boy was too young. The dog was there because the farmer hoped the deer would take his scent and maybe stop trampling this crop of oats.

10 June Thursday

Derek told me that one of the postmen has been seriously unwell and that he had to go into the hospital. No one wants to go into the hospital unless there is absolutely no choice. Everyone is afraid of what they might catch while inside. They might get the Covid or they might get the MRSA. There is no one who wants to take a chance if they have any choice at all. If they are too ill to have a choice, everyone else worries for them. Derek said that this man is an extremely thin fellow. He held his index finger straight up in the air to demonstrate. He said the man was Just Like This. He said he was not a man who could lose any more weight. Everyone at the sorting office in town is concerned.

 

11 June Friday

The weather has finally warmed up. There are flies everywhere.  They are big, slow and annoying flies.  Doors and windows are open so the flies come inside and they are a nuisance. Women are complaining about the flies invading their kitchens. It is a new topic of conversation. Every counter in every shop has displays of what I call Fly Paper and what everyone else calls Fly Catchers.  It is that horrible sticky twist of paper that if it works will end up with multiple dead insects stuck all over it. Fly Catchers and Fly Swatters. It is the season.

12 June Saturday

The man who sells organic chickens and organic sausages and bacon at the market now has an extra table beside the one that holds his little refrigerator. He uses the second table to sell the big sacks of potatoes and carrots and cabbages that Pat O’Brien used to sell every week. The things on the extra table are not organic. I am not sure if perhaps Pat O’Brien is providing him with these vegetables even though he is no longer at the market himself. I have never known the chicken man’s first name. His chickens are labelled as Butler’s Organic Chickens so if I think of him at all I think of him as Mr. Butler. The woman in front of me pointed to the enormous sacks of spuds and asked him to carry one to her car for her. She said, “So — you are the new Pat!”   Mr. Butler is a quiet soft-spoken man. He responded to the woman’s statement by saying, “I’ve always been a Pat.” So now I know the name of the chicken man.

13 June Sunday

It was at exactly the same spot in the boreen. I turned the corner and there was the fox. It was not the bright red fox that I see out in the field every day. This one was brown. He was bigger and he had a dark almost black tip on his tail. He saw me at the exact moment that I saw him. I was only a few steps away so he sprang up with all four feet off the ground and over the ditch. He was gone in a flash.

14 June Monday

We went down to the village for Margaret Hally’s funeral this morning. She had been living at the residential home in Cappoquin for a few years. The last time I spoke to Tommie he told me that since the care home restrictions had lifted, he was now driving up the mountain to see her once a week. I commented on the Cappoquin road. I remarked that it was bendy and steep and dangerous. I offered that maybe I could drive him up for his next visit to Margaret. He was annoyed that I would suggest such a thing. He said he has known that road all his life. He said he knows every corner and every bump in it. I said that for a change it might be pleasant to look out the window instead of having to pay attention to wandering sheep tumbling down onto the road in front of oncoming motor cars or in front of his own car. He agreed that it would be a treat to look carefully out at things as a passenger. He acknowledged that the wandering sheep are a challenge. Right after we spoke, Tommie was rushed into hospital. He has been there for several weeks. Today they brought him out from town in a special ambulance and in a wheelchair so that he could say his farewells to Margaret. He was hooked up to a small oxygen tank and he had a nurse at his side. We all stood in the bright sunshine on the street outside the church and then in the graveyard feeling sad for Tommie having to say goodbye to his wife of so many years in this diminished state.

My Own Name

23 April Sunday

I lost track of when the first swallow arrived this year. I have lost track of a lot of things. Breda knows exactly because she always keeps a record. She writes the date on her calendar and every year it seems to me that she sees the first swallow a few days earlier than she saw it the year before.  She is delighted with the first sighting and she tells everyone she meets that she has seen it, so in a way her sighting has become a signal for me to start looking for my first swallow.  Breda now tells me that she has heard her first cuckoo.  I will need to get up and into the mountains before I have a chance to hear one and since I am not yet able for the mountains, my first cuckoo will be heard much later than Breda’s first cuckoo.

26 April Monday

As of today, I have permission to stop wearing my blood clot socks.  I am sick to death of them.  They are difficult to put on and they are difficult to take off. This does not mean that I have reached a full recovery, but giving up wearing these socks every day up feels like a momentous thing.

28 April Wednesday

I remembered that putting out cooked eggshells for the birds is a good thing to do in the spring when they are laying their eggs. Since the birds need extra calcium, they take the shells and that provides the chicks with more of what they need to get strong.  The blue jays in New Hampshire used to eat paint off the sides of the house in order to get a calcium boost. I do not think we have blue jays here.  There are jays but I do not see the big blue jays I that recognize from home. I cooked up some empty eggshells and crumbled them, and I took them out to the bird’s dining area. After two days I could see that not one bird had been interested in the eggshells. They were all on the table and on the ground exactly where I had scattered them. There had not even been any wind to blow them away. Blue jays are native to New Hampshire. They are not native here.  I thought the local birds might be tempted by the cooked and crunchy shells but they have no interest. They do not even want to try them. It is better for me to continue with apple scraps.

2 May Sunday

Florrie told me that her husband took to baking bread during the lock-down. It has been a fashion of the Covid months and everyone was making bread but she was completely surprised when her husband decided to start baking. First he made soda bread and then he progressed to sourdough. He is currently on a new phase of making pizza bases. He was happy to make bread and she loved that he made bread, but she said he would not cook the dinner. Florrie’s husband had no interest in any other kind of food preparation. Baking was a form of entertainment for him. He felt that cooking was her job and he was glad to leave it to her.

4 May Tuesday

The magpies are going crazy on the nut feeders.  They jump up from the ground and attack the feeder.  Sometimes there are two magpies beating and thrashing at the same time while the feeder swings wildly on its branch.  I do not think it is easy for them to get their big beaks into the little mesh openings but they continue to try.

5 May Wednesday

I had my first vaccination today. The scheduled time was very specific. I was advised to arrive no earlier than five minutes before my assigned time, which is what I did.  The whole thing was well organized.  There was no wait at all, just a steady movement toward the vaccination booths. There was a quiver in the air. Everyone was eager to get their vaccination and we had all been warned by friends and family and neighbors to drink lots and lots of water before we arrived. People checked with one another in the queue to make sure that everyone else had drunk enough water. Some people carried bottles of water with them as if to illustrate that they were the most hydrated.  As I moved along the route, I was asked repeatedly to state Your Own Name. No one just asked my name.  It was always Your Own Name, as if I might be giving someone else’s name and always with the double form of possession.

When I reached the vaccinating booth, I was once again asked for Your Own Name, and the two women there squealed with delight at hearing My Own Name.  They wanted to know all about it and where it came from.  They knew right away that it was not local. When the woman at the desk noticed that I was born on Valentine’s Day, she announced that my mother had missed a great opportunity as she could have named me Valentine. She said my mother Should have named me Valentine as there was nothing finer than to be named after a saint.  I did not explain to her that my mother would never in one million years have considered naming me after a saint.  I could not explain that that was not how my mother chose our names. When I left the booth after my jab the two women sang out “Good Bye! Good Bye! Dear Valentine!” as though My Own Name really is Valentine.

6 May Thursday

John the electrician returned early this morning.  He finished the job of re-wiring the book barn that he had started yesterday. He finished the job that Peter Ryan began when he drove down on a digger and dug out a trench to lay a cable from the tool barn to the book barn. He finished the job that needed to be done after the mice chewed some wires and the book barn caught on fire. We were lucky to catch the fire in its early smoke-filled stages and we were lucky that the fire did not start in the middle of the night.  It was mostly the paper shelves that suffered damage. We were fortunate that no books were destroyed.  The fire forced us to do a major clear-out of paper and samples and all kinds of collected stuff.  The fire made us do a lot of work that we would not have done if we had had the choice.  I am still not fully strong so my level of participation in the work has been slow and small. Every day the doors were thrown open to air out the place but we had to establish elaborate methods to let the air in to circulate but not to let the swooping and diving birds come in. Plenty of birds did get in but most of them flew out again. Now the smell of burnt plastic fittings and smoke are gone and the new wiring is complete. We trust the rodents have been defeated.

8 May Saturday

I returned to the Farmers Market today for the first time since mid-March.  It was nice to be welcomed back.  It was lovely to have been missed.  Pat O’ Brien had his final day selling vegetables last week. Three weeks ago he announced that he thought he had just enough potatoes to last him three weeks and when the big sacks of potatoes were gone that would be the last day for him. And so he is gone. He was the one who organized the market and got it all started eighteen years ago. It is a shock to note his absence.  The remaining stalls have all been moved around to accommodate the gap. I neither have nor need a photograph of Pat, but I have an old picture of his money box with small potatoes placed in position to hold down the paper euros on a windy day.

10 May Monday

Some things are opening up today. We can now go anywhere in the entire country. We are no longer confined to a twenty kilometer radius within our county. Hairdressers and barbers are open, but most non-essential shops are not.

11 May Tuesday

The baker told me it is called Gur although some people call it Gudge.  In Cork, it is known as Donkey’s Gudge. What it is is a cake made of all the leftover cakes and biscuits that did not get sold or eaten. It is never the same twice because the leftovers are never exactly the same.  The baker in Grangemockler told me that he adds jam and raisins to his Gur and it has a thin top and bottom made of pastry. Those are the his only constants. He swears that leftover Christmas cake makes the finest Gur. I bought a piece of the Gur he had on offer today and I brought it home. It was not delicious, but it was filling.

13 May Thursday

Two sparrow hawks hover on the side of the book barn.  They sit on the roof or cling vertically on some stones. They spend many hours waiting and watching. They are watching for the starlings who are nesting in under the roof.  The starlings are careful when they go in and out.  It is a dangerous situation.

14 May Friday

No bag is ever used only once.  I comment on this frequently.  It is not so much about recycling as it is just something that is always done, and has always been done. Sugar bags are re-used to carry jars of homemade jam.  Sugar was poured out of the bag to make the jam and later the same bag is used to transport the jam in case the sides of the jar are a little bit sticky. The bag for Flahavan’s oats appears regularly, often, and in many guises.  The bags are too sturdy and well made to use only once. People carry their sandwiches to school or to work in these strong paper bags.  Today I loaded one up with empty glass jars to give to Anne for her marmalade making. I know that she will re-use both the jars and the bag.

15 May Saturday

There are flowers in the edges of the track and along every road and every path.  Buttercups, and Tufted Vetch, and Stitchwort and Speedwell, and more Vetch. Primroses. Wild garlic. Loads and loads of Vetch, and Lady’s Smock, and Herb Robert. I love the names and I love that that Cow Parsley is now blooming and sheltering all of the small blossoms. They are not hidden but they are a little harder to see.

17 May Monday

More of the country has opened up but there are many warnings along with the openings. Shops and museums and libraries are now open. We can go places but at the same time, we are sort of being told not to go anywhere. Or not to go to many places and not to go anywhere with many other people.  Restaurants and bars remain closed. The weather is so changeable that it kind of goes with the mixed messages we are receiving. The weather is not very encouraging for going out to all of the places where we now have permission to go. We have driving lashing rain followed by sun and blue sky and then there is rain again. It is not easy to be outside for more than a few minutes without a big sweeping gusting change. Even though we are landlocked, it is obvious that we are living on an island.

19 May Wednesday

I met Mickey the Boxer getting down off his tractor.  He had loaded up a single bale to take down the road for his cows. He used his cane to get himself down out of the small tractor and and he used it to push himself back up into the driver’s seat.  Collecting one bale from Tom Cooney’s shed and taking it home again was a job that had taken him the entire morning.  When I met him, we talked together for a few minutes about the weather and the hay and the unseasonably cold nights and the frosty mornings and then he was ready to head home for his dinner.

The Mend

For any readers of this blog who received notification last week entitled RAINFALL RADAR, you have probably realized by now that this is a pre-Covid posting and it is a mistake. 

Apologies to all. It is human error mixed up with technology error. 

A small moment of Time Travel….

I was the first patient scheduled for surgery on a Monday morning. The surgeon visited me in my room before the operation. We both signed a paper document. He told me that he had seen a red squirrel on the weekend. He said it was the first one he had seen in the seven years since he has been back in Ireland. We both felt that this sighting of a red squirrel was an auspicious start for the week.
I have lived here for several decades, but I have never seen a red squirrel. I only see the pesky grey ones that were mistakenly imported as a wedding gift for someone many many years ago.

My wrists are thin and my hands are bony. Veins stand proud on the back of my hand. Rings, bracelets and nail varnish have always seemed to me to be a bad idea. I try not to call attention to my hands. I was lying flat on my bed in the hallway outside the operating theatre when the anaesthetist arrived. He was from somewhere on the Indian sub-continent. He introduced himself to me before he lifted my hands gently, first one and then the other. He said he had never seen such wonderfully large and visible veins. I said Yes. My hands are not beautiful. He held my two hands in his two hands and he replied, Ah no. They are beautiful to me!!

—-

My first food was toast. First I was served one half a slice of white toast. The next day, I was given two half slices of toast. Underneath the toast rack lay a single slice of soda bread. Not toasted.

I set off to take a small walk down the corridor. I held onto the white rail against the wall. At the first door there was a woman standing a few feet inside.

She asked: How do I look?

It was 8.30 in the morning. The woman was all dressed in pink. Her nightdress showed pink underneath her dressing gown. The dressing gown was white and fleecy with pink swirls all over it. With her bright white over the knee anti-blood clot socks and fluffy pink slippers her outfit was completely coordinated. Her wispy white/blond hair was cut about shoulder length with a flyaway fringe. Her eyebrows were drawn on or maybe they were painted on with some dark brown product. The ends of these wide eyebrows were squared off with sharp corners. They were about the width of a magic marker. The rest of her face was heavily made up. The painted face and the fluffy pinkness failed to make her look youthful. The woman looked like a cupcake but not a fresh cupcake. Everything about her was a little mashed. She looked like she was missing some air.
She announced to me that she had had a hysterectomy. Her surgeon was doing his morning rounds now. She was waiting for him. Her surgeon was not the same man as my surgeon. Hers was a different surgeon than my surgeon. We had had the same operation but she informed me that her man was The Best. She inferred that my doctor and my entire procedure was no doubt sub-standard.
She asked again if she looked alright. I could not tell her that she looked okay for a mushy cupcake. She wanted to look nice for her surgeon. She wanted to please him.
I turned and I crept slowly back into my room.

————

The glass in my three windows is covered with some kind of a film. None of the other rooms have this coating on the glass. The film is translucent so it allows in a white light but it cannot be seen through. The film stuck onto the windows is cracked and distressed. The light is diffused. Soft and sort of feathered. The outside looks sharp and colorful through the narrow slots that are open.

When asked about it, one nurse suggested that the coating might be there to stop the intensity of the sun. Another suggested that perhaps the covered glass made the room appropriate for the respectful privacy due a nun or a priest.

 

It is quiet inside and it is quiet outside.  Except for the birds.

I hear birdsong through the open side windows.

—————

First names are an important part of life in this country. Everyone is on first name basis immediately and it important that a name, once known, is used frequently in the course of a conversation. Many people manage to use the name of the person they are talking to in every single sentence. The regular use of Christian names combined with the fact that there are a few names that are used again and again and again means that there are a lot of women named Mary. Mary is a popular name here among the nurses. I can hear them at all hours calling to one another up and down the corridor. Mary shouts up to Mary and Mary shouts back to Mary. One Mary says Are you there, Mary?  Shall I wait for you, Mary? and Mary calls back in a cheerful voice I am coming Mary. I will be with you shortly, Mary. The patients are Mary and the nurses are Mary.


A woman comes around sometime during mid-morning and mid-afternoon and again before bedtime. She is offering coffee, tea or a glass of milk. I made the mistake of ordering coffee.  It is best to stick with tea.

————
I take small slow walks out of doors. I look at everything coming up. Slowly. Slowly. The walks are slow. The coming into flower is slow. The grape hyacinth. Flowering red currant. I do not really like the flowering currant but for a few weeks every spring it is a pleasure to see it.

——-

Looking across to Anthony’s  field. It is steep.  The cows are there and they look like they might fall off the side of the hill and tumble down.

——

The hospital bed was delivered by a young man about to become a father for the first time.  He delivered the bed to us earlier than we had requested because he did not want to travel too far from home. He did not want to miss the baby’s arrival.  He was excited, so we felt excited for him.  We had ordered the hospital bed because our own beds are built so high off the floor.  The top surface of each platform is 36 inches off the floor. The mattress on top makes it higher.  It is normal for me to climb up and down with the help of a stool but after surgery I feared the climb might be difficult.  The hospital bed is now in the big room. I spend the day and the night seeing this room in a new way. The things on the wall opposite look like completely new things.  I lay here in a lazy daze of staring without seeing but seeing it all.

—–

I can see the glass door of the cupboard. Reflected in the glass, I watch the cows walking by up in Joe’s field. That field is about three meters above the ground level outside the house.

—–

Three pheasants under the birch trees at the bottom of the meadow.

—–

I take nuts out to the birds. Slowly. I decant a small amount from the big bucket and I carry them out in a bowl. I thought I would walk around for the recommended 10 minutes but after feeding the birds I came back into the house and fell into the bed.

—–

Derek the Postman told me Napping is the important bit.

—–

There is a teasel bent on its stem down near to the ground.  It catches on my dressing gown each time I walk to the bird table.  Each time it happens I think that I will return with the secauters and I will cut it down but of course I never remember and leaning down to cut the thick stem is probably not a good idea anyway.

 

I rang Tommie from my bed.  It had been a while since we have spoken.  He told me that he has had his second jab,  and that he felt ill for three days after it. He said he slept a lot and that he was off his grub.  We agreed that this is not like him.  He interrupted the call and told me that someone was at the door.  He told me to wait.  He went away and I waited but he never came back to the telephone.  I had no chance to tell him I had been in hospital.

The last time I saw him, before my hospital stay, I took him some apple cake on a plate.  John Mangan arrived at the same time.  John was carrying his bag of messages from the shop.  We three talked at a distance from one another  with Tommie standing in the doorway holding his plate of cake.  He said he would just go and put the cake into the kitchen.  He went inside and he never came back.  John and I talked for a while.  We wondered if maybe Tommie had sat down to eat the cake.  It was cold so I decided to leave.  John said that he would wait a little longer and if Tommie did not return soon he would shout out. He promised that he would not leave until Tommie’s front door was firmly closed.

—–

The sun pouring in through the skylight is knocking me out, but since I am already lying down it is fine to just go back to sleep.

—–

We live in a valley. Everything in every direction is up or it is down. I started by making Figure Eights around the yard.  Now I have progressed to following the perimeters around buildings and bushes. I attempt to find all of the edges I can walk without any climbing. I like coming up behind the sauna in a way that I usually would not view it.

 

The daffodils that have been folded down lie with their faces in the grass. They might have been bent by a passing fox or a badger or a cat.  It might just be the weight of the blossom itself that topples the flowers. I pluck the bent ones and bring them indoors.

—-

Pat assures me that I am Heading for The Mend.

—-

I have lost track of days and I have lost track of weeks.  On the 12th of April we had a national opening, of sorts. The schools are all open again. And we are now allowed to go 20 kilometers from home for exercise– an extension of the 5 kilometers sanctioned up until now. Nothing more is open. All shops remain closed.  Life remains on hold. It is more than 100 days since this version of lockdown began just after after Christmas.  I continue to live in my own little lockdown within the lockdown.

—–

I am learning the lines of my perimeter walks. There is a great deal to pay attention to and to notice every time I go around. I pride myself on observing all of the small signs of spring.  Everyday there are new poops from the fox. Why does she choose to relieve herself here in our yard when she has all of the surrounding fields to choose from? It must be some kind of territorial marking.  I see which branches have buds. I see forgetmenots and dandelions and whitethorn added to the visible blooms. Blue bells. A few apple blossoms. The promise of wild garlic flowers bursting out in another few days.  But I completely missed the completely flat tyre on the car even though I walked past it at least eight times.

—-

This walking by foot feels like one long journey not a lot of small walks for the purpose of building up my strength.  I walk around and around following my own trail through the grass. It feels like one long walk.

As I stroll around at slow speed I remember the frequently quoted Antonio Machado line: Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking. I walk and walk and walk. The grass records my path.