THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

Category: Uncategorized

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.

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.