Falling Out of My Stand Up

by ericavanhorn

2 November Thursday

The house was cold when we got home yesterday but that was not surprising after several weeks away. The Stanley would not start. We did all of the things that we knew to do to make it function. Nothing worked. We even checked the tank out doors to be certain that the fuel had not been stolen. Pumping out the fuel from someone else’s tank is a serious but not unusual activity at this time of year. I rang Richie and he told me to open the bottom door and poke at a button there with the stick end of a wooden spoon. I did that, but nothing happened. He said that he is mighty popular at this time of year because everyone has heating issues, but he promised to make a trip up to check out our problem soon. We made a fire in the wood stove and went to bed early.

This afternoon Richie arrived. Everything there is to be known about Stanley Stoves is known to Richie. He used to work in the factory down in Waterford that built them. He keeps abreast of changes and new developments in the manufacture of the stoves. He enjoys being an expert. He took the large flat cooking plate off the top of the stove. He looked inside and said it was just as he thought: there was a dead starling inside. The bird’s body was blocking the hole where the flame should ignite, so the air and the gas could not meet. The starling was as hard as a rock.

He took it outside and threw it into some bushes. While he was out there he looked up at our chimneys and noted the crow guards on top. He called these The Chinaman’s Hats which he announced was probably not a politically correct name but sure he knew that we knew what he meant, didn’t we? He said the starlings are devils for getting in as they can squeeze through tiny openings. Once the bird got down the chimney and into the stove, it could not get back out and there was a lot of scrabbling of the fire insulation inside the Stanley. We could see the detritus  of the struggle. He said he has often found starlings in stoves, so they are not a surprise, but the biggest bird he ever found inside a stove was a crow. He still cannot believe that. He gave the Stanley a complete overhaul while he was here and then sat down and drank a cup of tea with us. He is still on the hunt for a woman with whom to share his life. His daughter is keeping an eye out for him and he asked us to look too. He asks this of us each time we see him. He says to mention that in his favor he is a good cook and that he enjoys cooking for someone else. He added that his house is warm and fully paid for. He will turn 60 next year and he says he would rather not get old all alone. He finds these long dark nights especially lonely.

3 November Friday

Simon found a man standing outside the kitchen door. He was tall and thin and he was not young. He was not a man we knew. Simon asked him if he had knocked the door but he said no. He had simply stood still and waited for someone to appear. He told Simon that The Hunt would be around on Sunday. The man in charge of The Hunt wanted us to be forewarned so he sent this man as there was a good chance we would be trapped here by the horses and the dogs and the activity in the boreen.

4 November Saturday

The stain reminds me that this is the season to buy mouse poison. I prefer poison to traps.  I am tired of finding squished bodies in traps. This stain is a small circle of blood. It is immediately outside the kitchen door. Earlier there was a chewed up mess on that spot. The mess was the head of a shrew that had been bitten a few times and then spit out. The body of the shrew was a few inches away. Harry told me that cats often kill shrews, but when they bite into the shrew’s head a bitter and unpleasant poison is released so they drop whatever they have bitten into. When a hungry farm cat kills a mouse, nothing is left behind.

5 November Sunday

I woke up early after a sleepless night plotting ways to blockade the lawn and the garden to keep The Hunt out, or at least to keep the horses out. It is impossible to keep the pack of dogs from going everywhere. They run in a group of 30 or 40 hounds. They are all running low to the ground, sniffing and barking and splintering off into smaller groups and then re-grouping. The rushing running dogs become a liquid mass. When they arrive following a scent, they are everywhere, and there is no controlling their movements. I hate The Hunt but I cannot hate the dogs.

I dragged a long ladder across one narrow access point. Then I parked the car in order to block the way to the lawn and I tied ropes across from the car door handles to a few trees. The opening down at the bottom of the meadow was the hardest place to block off. I used ropes, a long plastic pipe and a cardboard sign. The problem there is that there is a good chance the horses will jump in from Joe’s field and come across the lower meadow. By blocking them running in from one direction I am also blocking them going out again. I know that the Mass Path is badly overgrown so the horses will not be able to ride up that way. I was exhausted by my efforts. The long ladders are too heavy for me.

Simon was neither interested nor bothered by the imminent arrival of The Hunt. He did nothing to aid me in the blockading. He did not even want to listen to my ideas for keeping the horses off the land. I spent all day rushing in and out of the house, listening for the baying of the hounds. They never came. The fox led the whole circus somewhere else. It is dark now and I cannot decide if I am relieved or disappointed that they did not come after my sleepless night of planning, and all of the rushing around this morning. I hope that the fox evaded them. I hope the dogs did not corner him and rip him to pieces.

7 November Tuesday

Being in and out of hospital several times, and then in both Rathkeeven and Clogheen with his ongoing lung infection has been difficult for Tommie. As a result of his bad lungs, we have not taken a shopping trip together for at least three months. Maybe four. I took Tommie in to Dunnes’ Stores today. He never considers going anywhere else. He was waiting for me wearing a clean sweater and his suit jacket when I arrived to collect him. He had been up since 6. He had promised to make a shopping list but he did not do it. I got him headed into the store with a trolley while I went to park the car. He found the going difficult in the supermarket. Each time I found him in an aisle, he sent me off to find something he wanted but could not find. His legs were weak and even while leaning heavily onto his trolley, he did not find the going easy. I did a lot of running back and forth offering him choices and often arriving with the wrong things. How could I know that when he said he will eat any soup at all what he really meant was that he hates chicken soup?  The woman at the till recognized him and she talked and flirted a bit. He has been talking with this check out woman for decades. She remembered his wife Margaret fondly. He perked up with the extra attention but he was glad to sit into the car when we got to it, and he was happier still to sit down in his chair when I got him back to the house.

9 November Thursday

We have some firewood but we need more firewood. Johnny the Timber is all out of wood so we need to find a new source. We are all thinking about firewood: where to get some and how much to order and what kind of wood is best. We are stacking the wood and moving the wood and stacking more under cover and in good rotation of the other already stored firewood. We eye piles of timber in other yards.  We experience firewood envy. We do not use peat. We tried it many years ago but found it soporific. A peat fire puts me to sleep. The government has now banned the cutting and burning of peat for ecological reasons and many people are outraged. They consider the cutting, drying, stacking, gathering and burning of peat out of the bogs to be an inalienable right of every Irish person.

10 November Friday

A toothbrush seen on the ground in a busy city or town or in a train station or an airport is not much of a surprise.  People are always in a rush and people are always dropping things. A toothbrush spotted while out walking on the short stretch of tarmacadam road is a something to think about.

11 November Saturday

At first I thought that the small amount of green growth inside the wheel well of the car was just stuff that had been thrown up and inside while driving through the muck and mud at the farm.  Now I see that some of it is growing.  I have a healthy nettle growing out of the side of the car.

13 November Monday

The three dogs down at the McGrath farm own their bit of road. Some days they move when a motor car comes along but some days they do not move, not for cars nor for tractors. They watch a vehicle coming along and then they watch some more. They are interested in anything that might happen, but because not much happens, there is more watching than looking or chasing. If I toot my horn they might move, but they might not.  If they do move, they do not move quickly. Most days it is easiest to weave around them.

14 November Tuesday

Hazel announced that she loves nothing better than stripping the carcass of a cooked chicken. She loves getting every bit of meat off the bones before throwing them into a pot for a broth. She swears that the fat in the flesh keeps her hands lovely and soft.

15 November Wednesday

The morning is bright and crisp. From inside the house, the world looks wonderful. The fields are bright green. The sky is mostly blue. There are yellow and orange leaves on the trees. But one step outside and the world stinks. The smell of slurry pervades. I gag because the smell is so strong and sharp. It burns the back of my throat and it makes my eyes water. The smell is astringent and it hurts.

16 November Thursday

I nearly fell out of my stand up! I hear this expression often, but it never fails to delight me. Somewhere else a person would say that they were so astonished that they almost fainted.  Falling Out of My Stand Up is a much more exciting way to say the same thing.