THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

Home-made Seating.

27 May Wednesday

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

28 May Thursday

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

29 May Friday

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

30 May Saturday

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

31 May Sunday

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

1 June Monday

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

2 June Tuesday

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

3 June Wednesday

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

4 June Thursday

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

5 June Friday

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

To Town on the Wood Road

13 May Wednesday

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

14 May Thursday

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

15 May Friday

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

16 May Saturday

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

18 May Monday

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

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

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

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

20 May Wednesday

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

21 May Thursday

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

22 May Friday

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

23 May Saturday

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

24 May Sunday

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

 

25 May Monday

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

Welcome Home Dear Husband.

3 May Sunday

This morning, I cut Simon’s hair out in the garden. I gave him a haircut but I am not yet willing to let him give me a haircut. I placed his hair on the wall for the birds. No nest building material goes to waste in the spring. Everyone is getting haircuts at home. Marianne reported that she had just given Jim a haircut because she said he was looking like A Blown-Over Thistle.

4 May Monday

The weather is dry. It is too dry. The farmers need rain. The crops need some proper soaking rain. We all need more rain. I have a mossy ground cover that I love because it creeps and covers things throughout the garden. Some people hate this plant because they think it is invasive. I cannot think of it as invasive. It is easy to get rid of it. It is easy to tear off a bit if it arrives in an awkward place.  It provides a soft spongy cushion over rocks and hard surfaces. I was looking at a clump of it today and remembering that Tim and Máiréad Robinson gave me a bag full of this plant many years ago. It was rampant in their damp garden in Roundstone. The Connemara climate was perfect for keeping it moist and happy. I brought some home and I have had it growing here ever since. Máiréad told me that the local name for the plant was Welcome Home Dear Husband No Matter How Drunk You May Be. The idea being that if you fell onto the plant after having Taken The Drink, it would soften your landing. Now both Tim and Máiréad have died of the dreadful Covid Virus. I am glad that I have this small living thing to remind me of them. Most people will remember Tim for his wonderful writing. I will, of course, remember that, but I am most happy to have this tiny spreading plant from their garden.  This little plant is impossible to kill.

5 May Tuesday

Today our freedom of movement has been extended. We are now permitted to go as far as 5 kilometres from our home to take exercise. This is a big increase from the 2 kilometres we have been restricted to until now. It feels like the whole world has opened up. It feels like anything is possible and that things will get better. I drove up to take the Knockperry walk and to feel closer to the mountains.

6 May Wednesday

Rat Glass. Rat Rug. Rat Hole. The word Rat has been on my To-Do lists everyday. I know it is hard to live near a farm and not to have rats around. I know it is hard to live anywhere in the world without having rats nearby, visibly or not visibly. I prefer it when they are not visible. On Saturday, I saw a rat disappearing into a hole under the concrete outside the printing shed. Later I went into the print shed and I found that the back wall had completely rotted in one corner. The hole was a big hole. The hole was easily big enough for rat entry and departure, and the old rug on the floor was covered with hundreds of rat droppings. I closed the door to the shed. I have yet to deal with the problem. The next day, I found an enormous rat dead on the grass near the shed. I could not see any wound on him so I do not know how he died. He was much bigger than the first one I saw. I smashed a jar and poured the broken glass down the hole in the rocks. Now I will smash some more glass and place it outside the print shed beside the hole in the wall. Mick instructed me on the broken glass method years ago. It is an ugly solution but rats are an ugly problem. It is too hard to kill them with poison when they are living outdoors. If they can get to water, the poison may not kill them. With Mick’s method, when a rat cuts its feet on the broken glass and the other rats smell blood, they gang up and kill the bleeding rat. Very quickly all the rats will avoid the area where the broken glass is so that they do not become the next victims.

7 May Thursday

The postman was sorting letters up against the steering wheel. He had his head bent at an angle and a telephone clamped tight onto his shoulder. He was talking on the phone while sorting and tossing a few things onto the seat beside him. He looked busy and efficient. I was disturbed that he was doing all of this while driving his van down the middle of the road with me coming towards him in the opposite direction.

8 May Friday

I walked around the bend just as the fox jumped down off the banking. We were both startled. He saw me while he was in mid-air and he twisted his body so that as he landed he was already running away. It all happened fast. He was gone in a second. It was almost too quick to recognize what was happening. The fox was young with a shiny dark red-orange coat and a thick and bushy tail.

9 May Saturday

One part of the Saturday ritual that has been maintained in this time of lockdown is porridge for breakfast. It was our habit to order it at the café where it always tasted different from what we make at home. Of late, the At Home version is Pinhead Oatmeal which is far superior to regular oats. The café will never be serving Pinhead, but when we are allowed, we will once again enjoy eating our Saturday breakfast there. We like eating upstairs and looking out at the weir and the castle. It was the whole activity of driving to the village for the papers and then over the back road to Ardfinnan and on to Cahir for breakfast and then to the Farmers Market across the street from the café. We are missing the Farmer’s Market. We miss the fresh fish and the cheese and the vendors who have all become friends and the other shoppers too who are our once-a-week friends. Going to the village for the newspapers remains, like porridge, as a Saturday morning constant. Today we woke up to such a thick fog that it was impossible to see as far as the place where the fence would be if it had not fallen down. Everything was gone. It was impossible to see the fields. It was impossible to see across the fields. The hills had disappeared. Waterford did not exist. The Knockmealdowns did not exist. By the time I drove back from the village with the newspapers, I was in a little tunnel of light fog. It was already lifting a little then, but it was 11 o’clock before it burned off completely.

10 May Sunday

The boreen is becoming more narrow by the day. It is closing in. The stitchwort and vetch and bluebells, violets, primroses and ferns are all getting overwhelmed by cow parsley. The cow parsley is lining the boreen and taking over the ditches. It is frothy and soft and nothing else has a chance to be seen. Every year I delight in driving through it while it rubs both sides of the car. It is like going through a car wash without any water.

11 May Monday

I have been wearing a few garments again and again and again. A thin black cardigan is a favorite. It is full of moth holes. Some of the holes are large because I have washed it and worn it and washed it and worn it again. The holes get bigger and bigger. There are no longer moths nor eggs anywhere near it. They have done their damage and they are gone. I wear it every day and I layer more things on top of it if it is cold and if the day gets hotter I take it off. A few days ago I walked in the mountains wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. I did not need that sweater or any sweater at all. Today is not like that. Today is cold and there is a vicious wind. I went down to the shop to purchase a few things. As I left, a woman followed me from the hand-washing station outside the door to my car. I do not know this woman except to say hello to. Sometimes we comment on the weather to one another. That is as far as our relationship goes. I am not sure what her name is but I think I know where she lives. She is an older woman but I do not think she is as old as she looks.  If she is as old as she looks, she should not be out at the shop, but staying at home and cocooning. She spoke to me from the required distance. She said, “I do not want to interfere but I could not help but notice your moth holes.  I have a solution for that if you want to know it.” She did not wait for me to respond. She kept talking. She said, “Since your sweater is black you must only ever wear a black shirt underneath it. That is the trick. That way no one will notice the holes and you will get a few more years out of it.” I thanked her for the advice and she nodded quickly as she turned and walked away.

Interrupting the Silence

22 April Wednesday

We were heading out of the village for a walk. Since we were passing Tommie’s house we thought we should stop and say hello. We knocked and then we backed off as far as the stone wall. He came to the door and pulled out an aluminum cane with three feet. After greeting us, he explained that the cane belonged to Margaret. It was a special one for The Balance but since she is no longer at home to use it, he uses it himself when he comes to the door. He leaves it in place so that it is always ready. He leaned heavily on the cane while we talked together for a few minutes. He spoke calmly of the long lonely days and the need for us all to be trapped and to stay trapped. He understands that it is important that we do what we are told, but he is not enjoying being obedient. After a short time, he announced that he had to go back inside to sit down. He said his legs had held him upright for long enough. Before he closed the door he thanked us for Interrupting the Silence.

23 April Thursday

Stitchwort has taken over the hedgerows. Whenever I call a hedgerow a hedgerow, I am quickly corrected by anyone around here who hears me say the word. A hedgerow is not a hedgerow. A hedgerow is called a ditch. I should know better by now. I do know better, but I do forget. Stitchwort and vetch are the predominant blossoms of the moment and because the stitchwort flower is a bright white it makes the ditches look polka-dotted from a distance. I love stitchwort. Vetch demands closer examination. I am fond of its leaves with the grasping tendrils at the end, but for the moment stitchwort is my favorite flower.

 

24 April Friday

Joe’s cows were in the adjoining field last night. We could hear them tearing and pulling the grass as we lay in bed. We were nervous because at the moment there is no proper fence to keep them out. If they were to break into the yard, or if they were to break out of their field, they would of course make a mess trampling and eating plants and leaving enormous hoof holes in the grass. The fence needs to be replaced, but for now there is only a piece of white rope stretched across the missing pieces of fence. It would not keep a determined cow out. Then there is the fine string with the bit of blue in it. I believe the blue is a filament of wire that is hooked up to a battery to give a tiny electric shock. Much of the time these flimsy strings are not connected to a battery so there is no shock to be given. I know this because I step over them or under them regularly and I rarely get a jolt. The cows do not know whether a string is electrified or not. They just seem to learn that the blue and white string means that they have gone far enough. I do not like falling asleep with the niggling worry that I might be woken at any moment by a garden full of cows.  I slept well last night trusting that the very large field offered enough eating options and distractions for the herd not to take interest in the one section that offered an easy break out. Happily, this morning all of the cows are still on their side of the pieces of string.

 

25 April Saturday

John Scully was on the road outside one of his barns. The yard was full of drinks cans. Beer cans and cider cans and lager cans. Thousands of cans. Millions of cans in tumbling piles. There were also twenty or thirty of those huge bags that you need a tractor to lift and carry and place somewhere. The bags are usually used for sand or mulch or even firewood. The bags were all full of cans. There were lots more cans in various heaps up against the barn buildings. I asked him what he was doing with all the cans. It turned out that they were not his cans but they belonged to his friend Pa. Pa has been collecting them from pubs and from friends in order to crush them and then to sell the crushed cans as scrap metal. Pa has a special machine called a hopper that he uses to crush them all up at speed. I think there are a lot of already crushed cans in one barn all ready to go. I do not know how much money one can get for a ton of crushed drinks cans. Somehow I do not think it is much. Pa is not around these days and John has all the cans. Maybe he has the hopper too. He said he has other things to worry about. His tractor has broken down and he is trying to repair it. His lawnmower is broken too. The grass in front of the house is knee high. He himself is sporting a huge white beard. He says everything is growing and there is not enough time for all the jobs needing to be done. The cans can wait.

26 April Sunday

No one ever uses the bottle banks on a Sunday because the bottle banks are located in the car park beside the church. It is not a law nor is it even a rule, it is just something that everyone pays attention to because a Mass might be happening inside and it would be disrespectful to be smashing bottles outside the church while people are worshiping inside the church. In these days of quarantine, Mass is no longer held in the church on Sunday, but still, without it being discussed, no one uses the bottle banks on a Sunday. So now it is not because there is a Mass taking place but simply because it is Sunday that the bottle banks are not used on a Sunday. The fact of it being Sunday is enough to make us all hold onto our glass bottles and jars until Monday, or any other day, as long as it is not Sunday.

28 April Tuesday

When the daily total of deaths from the Corona Virus are being reported they are not identified by town, nor by county. The deaths are listed by the totals in the East, South and West of the country. The news reader might announce 22 deaths in the East, 2 in the South and 7 in the West. The Republic is a complete country but the North of the Republic is never spoken of as a part of the country. The North of the Republic is not a place. When The North is spoken of, it means Northern Ireland. This is the North of the island. This is the North of Ireland. So there cannot be another North other than The North. There is only one North.

29 April Wednesday

I took an unexpected tumble out the barn door. I do not know how it happened. One ankle twisted and then the rest of me went down and I ended up flat on my back with my knee twisted and my shoulder rammed and my back throbbing. I was so surprised by it all that I just lay on the hard cement weeping. I wept copiously. When I stopped crying I tried to notice how much the different parts of my body hurt and where they hurt and if anything was broken. I lay quietly on my back. Maybe I was in shock. The ground was wet but at least it was not raining. Very quickly, I became distracted by the starlings who are nesting in the eaves right above the doorway. They were taking the open door as an opportunity to swoop in and out of the workshop. When a large dollop of excrement landed on my leg I decided that it was time to get up off the ground and to hobble over to the house.

30 April Thursday

Recent weather has been predictable in its unpredictability. After days and days of warm dry temperatures, it has turned changeable and wild. Rushing fluffy clouds and rain and sun and then more rain and more sun and the greyest of skies and heavy hard downpours followed by the bluest of skies. Everything is fast and thrilling and then it is over and there is something else. It is this kind of constant change that does not let us forget we live on an island. We are landlocked here in our valley, and we are in also in full Corona lock down, but the sudden changes in weather remind us that we are never far from the sea.

1 May Friday

I am still feeling fragile from my fall. Nothing is broken but I am stiff and weak.  I am reading a lot. I am not walking or doing much of anything physical. I am thinking that perhaps I move too fast. Maybe I need to slow down instead of always being in a rush.

Maisie’s Stile.

14 April Tuesday

There is still a lot of hay stacked in the three-sided sheds. It takes a farmer weeks and weeks of work to get a shed filled up with bales in preparation for winter. The removal of the hay then happens slowly over the winter months. Some years the farmers empty their sheds and run out of hay while the cows are still under cover. This year cows have been out in the fields and feasting on grass for several weeks now. The grass is not growing fast, but it is growing. The cows are eating in the fields and there is still hay to fall back on. I think this is a sign that all is well.


15 April Wednesday

I went to the supermarket in Clonmel. It was my first trip to a large store in 5 weeks. I felt nervous and I felt a little bit silly for feeling nervous. It was 8.30 in the morning. The shop was not open for everyone yet. There was a man outside making sure that people were over a certain age before he let them in. I fit his age bracket, so I was allowed to enter. Inside the store was gloomy. The lights had not been turned on yet. It wasn’t really dark, but it was odd to be in a supermarket and to be in such subdued lighting. There were very few people. There were so few people that it was almost like I was on my own. Whole long aisles were empty. I was surprised to turn a corner and to see another person. Everything was extremely quiet because of the lack of light. I went down an aisle to get some shampoo and I heard a peculiar moaning sound. There was one woman at the far end of the shelves. She was wearing a big woolly hat pulled down low. She was keening and moaning and banging her hands on her head. I wondered if she was alright. I listened and I was able to hear her muttering to herself. She said: I cannot do it. I cannot do it. I have to do it. I have to do it. I cannot do it. Then she moaned again. Walking past her, while keeping my distance, I saw that she was standing in front of the hair dye selection. Dying her own hair was obviously not something she was accustomed to doing and it was not something she wanted to do. I think what I was hearing was fear.

16 April Thursday

A cow was sheltering in the corner of the field nearest to Scully’s wood. As I grew near, I saw that she was giving birth. The calf was most of the way out. The mother bellowed at me. I assumed this was a Go Away kind of noise, so I moved along quickly to give her privacy. A little later I walked back up the boreen to see how mother and child were doing. The black calf was shiny and still very slimy with placenta and the residual birth stuff kind of hanging off in places. It was standing up and sucking on the mother’s teat. The mother turned her head and once again gave a huge bellow. I felt my presence was an intrusion so I left. I was pleased to see that they were both okay.

 

17 April Friday

I have been searching for Maisie’s stile for more than a year now. I have not been looking in any kind of focused way but each time I walk up by where her old house was, I try to locate where the stile was. Today I think I found it, but really, I cannot be certain.

While in her eighties, Maisie walked across the narrow road and went over the stile into the fields for a walk every day. Her two elderly dogs went with her. She was always wearing a cardigan and an apron over a striped dress. Her outfit was the same all year round. As she got older and more stiff, she just walked across the road and climbed up onto the steep stone stile and used the high vantage point to look around and over the fields. She did not climb doen the other side. Eventually all she did was cross the road and cross back home again. The stile remained a destination until even crossing the road became too far for her. After that, she would just stand at her gate and look out at anything that might move and at all of the things that did not move.

Maisie was not outdoors very much in the last few years of her life. She lived mostly in her kitchen with a lot of cats. The smell was terrible. I could not enter the room because I knew I would be sick on the floor, but I spoke with her regularly through the open door. She died at the age of 93. The house where she lived has been torn down now and a new house built in its place. The new gate is not where the old gate was and the new house is not on the same footprint as the old house. I hold her old gate both as a photograph and as a location in my mind. But the changes have made it difficult to locate where both the gate was and where the stile that Maisie walked straight across the road to climb over was. Brambles and bushes have grown up and over the stone wall. Once the foliage has taken over I will never be able to see the stones of the steps. One day I walked through a lower farm gate and back up into the field thinking that it might be easier to recognize the stile from the other side. But the other side is even more overgrown than the road side. I feel like today I have identified the spot. I might be wrong but I feel satisfied to have found what I have been looking for, so I hope I can now stop looking for it.

18 April Saturday

There is a new ritual for funerals in this time of isolation. It is not the same as an actual funeral but because people are not allowed to gather together for the traditional ceremonies in the family house, or the funeral home, or the church or the graveyard, an announcement is now made for mourners to pay their respects On The Road. The route the hearse is to take will be announced for a certain time of day. The departure time and approximate times of arrival through certain villages along the way will be listed. The journey will be along the lanes and roads that the deceased traveled regularly. The arrival time at the church or the graveyard will be announced too. People are not invited to attend the service which will be restricted to family only but they are invited to stand outside their houses or beside their fields at the given time. They are invited to stand inside their gate or outside their gate. To stand respectfully as the deceased passes and to pay their tribute in this quiet way.

19 April Sunday

I almost stepped on part of a dead bird  outside the kitchen door this morning. It was not a whole bird. It was one wing and a bit of connecting flesh from what had been a starling. An hour later, I was down near the book barn where I found another wing and more remnants. I wondered if the two wings were the wings of the same bird or if two different birds had been eaten. I decided not to think about.

20 April Monday

One building down in the village has been closed up for as long as I have been here. I always think I should ask someone about it but I never remember to do so. The windows and the doors are completely closed up with blocks. There is no visible way to enter the building, or at least not from the front. I do not know if it was a house or a shop. The closed up place no longer surprises me but what does surprise me is that every few years it gets a fresh coat of paint.

 

Essential Errands

3 April Friday

Birds are everywhere. In the cities people are remarking that this easy to hear birdsong in their lives is thrilling. Here it is the same as always. It is of course exciting, but it is the same as always. The bird activity sounds no different. It is spring and birds are building and discussing and rushing about. What is unusual is the racket inside the book barn. I knew the starlings were building their nests in the roof as they do every year, but now they are way past the building stage. There are already new chicks. There is a great noisy chirping altogether. Never ending chatter. Sometimes there are what sound like little screams. At moments it is impossible to be inside the barn and to get anything done. The noise is too loud.

4 April Saturday

I was glad that I remembered to ask Joe about the red tape when I saw him. He told me that the cow was probably on a course of antibiotics. The red tape on her tail and her legs was simply there as an alert to ensure that her milk could not be put in with the milk of other healthy cows. He said that this is what he does for his cows and he is just assuming this is the case because the cow in question belongs to the other Joe and she is not one of his own cows. He was only answering my query.

5 April Sunday

All day rain. Soaking rain. Heavy, lashing, pissing rain. Desperate rain. It is desperate rain with gusting winds that throw the downpour into different and often surprising directions. This is the kind of rain we have not had for many weeks. Many many weeks. The farmers will be pleased. It is good to have an excuse to stay in the house. It is good to have an excuse that has nothing to do with disease or contagion or death. It is a valid and completely ordinary reason to be struck indoors all day. It is pleasing to feel trapped and happy. I spoke to Tommie on the telephone before lunch.  I ring him often. He is not allowed to visit Margaret in the care home in Cappoquin. His dinners are delivered to his house. He was not bothered by the rain. He said “Sure, where would we be going anyway?” Several times, as the rain appeared to let up, I dressed for a walk but as soon as I was ready to step out, the rain came down hard again. If I had a dog I would be obliged to go for a walk, but since I no longer have a dog, I am not obliged. I made the short trip across to the tool shed to fetch something from the freezer. I decided that as a walk out, perhaps this was enough. Going to the freezer is a bit like going out to a shop. I always find something in there that I did not know I needed or wanted. Which is kind of what happens in a shop.

 

 

6 April Monday

I am trying to use things up. My plan is to not wear anything that has much life left in it. I only wear old clothes. I wear the sweaters that have unraveled at the sleeves and have been caught on barbed wire. I am letting holes and stains have their day. Socks that are almost worn out with holes in the toes or almost broken through at the heels are being worn and worn. When the heels finally break through, the socks will be thrown out. We are eating the things from the back of the cupboards. There is a high shelf in the pantry that I cannot reach. Since I cannot reach it and I cannot see up there, I pay little attention to what is there. The other day we soaked and cooked some ancient lentils. That was a mistake. Even after several days of soaking and cooking, they never softened. They remained hard and unrelenting but the sauce they were in was so good that we crunched our way through them anyway. Homemade chutneys and jams have appeared. These are the things that are always being Saved for Something Special. Now is the time. They are being dusted off and they are being eaten.

Yesterday I threw out six old telephone books from 2014, 2015 and 2016. Some were the residential directories and some were the Golden Pages. Of course, throwing out is a relative term. All I could do was to move them from the house into the lean-to. It is me who drives things to the Recycling Depot. This morning I decided it was time and I loaded up the stuff to go. It has been more than two months since my last trip. Maybe it is more than three months since I last went. I think it was January. The lean-to was full. Gathering all the stuff from the various buildings took me an hour. There was not one inch of spare space in the car when I finished loading up.

The instruction from the government is to go no further than two kilometres from home, except for Essential Errands. I drove to town with three Essential Errands to do. I have to break the two kilometre rule to go anywhere at all. As I drove up the Cashel Road, I was stopped at a Garda checkpoint. I had heard about these checkpoints but it was my first time to be stopped at one. The young Guard looked at my car and said, “Going to the Dump?” I said, “How did you know?” He claimed that he just has a sense for these things, and he waved me along.

7 April Tuesday

This morning, the doctor telephoned to check that Simon is okay. They had a long and cheerful chat about a variety of things. Dr. Maher said that he rings a few of his vulnerable patients every day just to make certain that they are keeping well and safe.

In the afternoon, a police van arrived. Mattie McGrath, our local TD, was the passenger and a young Garda was driving. They came to see that we are all right in the lockdown. This checking up on isolated homes and older people is another gesture by the authorities. It was also a way for the new Garda to learn where people are living. New police recruits are trained in Templemore at the Garda Training College, and then they are sent all over the country. They are never sent to the place where they are from, so each new posting is full of strangers, never friends and family. Ideally this means that there is less chance of them being compromised or corrupted but it also means they do not know the back roads, the boreens and the hidden away places. The word Garda means Guardian, which means they are the protectors of the people, so in order to be protectors they need to know where everyone is. Mattie, as a TD (Teachta Dála), is one of several elected Deputies for Tipperary. He sits in the Dáil in Dublin. He is the equivalent of a Member of Parliament or a Member of Congress. He is also a neighbor on the road into the village.

8 April Wednesday

Every day there are more and more plants and flowers to notice. I cannot keep track of what appears but it is fun to try. Nothing in nature is ever the same. The same plants appear every year but they are always a surprise. Today I saw the first bluebell. Dandelions. Celandine. Robin-Run-Up-The-Hedge. Forget-me-nots. Every tree has buds or blossoms. Gorse. Hawthorn. Spring is rampant.

9 April Thursday

In the midst of this time of isolation and hand-cleaning and worry, the Everyday Challenges remain the same. The enormous milk tankers which race along at speed remain a danger on the road for both pedestrians and drivers. Milk gets collected every other day from each farm, but both Glanbia and Dairygold collect in this area so there seems to be a long shiny milk truck on the road every single day. Today I pushed myself into a ditch as a tanker came barrelling around a corner. After it was gone, I spent ten minutes getting myself unhooked from the brambles that held me.

10 April Friday

Good Friday is always a quiet day. But this is the quietest Good Friday ever. Except for one tractor in the distance, there is not a single human sound. In previous years there was always the discussion in the build up before Good Friday about the pubs being closed in the whole country and all alcohol consumption forbidden. Increasingly these discussions have felt more and more at odds with contemporary life. The pubs have been closed for many weeks now. There has been no Good Friday discussion this year. The radio has been silent on the subject.

11 April Saturday

We walked down through the fields below Molough Abbey. On the right side the field is freshly plowed. Maybe it has been planted. If not, it is all ready and a crop will be planted any day now. On the left side of the track, the rapeseed has grown tall. It is as high as my head. It is so beautiful to see the glowing yellow of the blossom but the smell is terrible. It smells like fiberglass resin. As pretty as it looks, the stink of it nearly ruins a walk.

12 April Sunday

Another Sunday of all day rain. After a week of warm sunshine and eating our lunch outdoors in sheltered spots, today feels like winter. The rain has been hard and straight down and it has never ceased all day long. An Easter Sauna seemed a good idea. I enjoyed walking across the grass in my dressing gown and my rubber clogs while holding an umbrella. I liked stepping out of the sauna and standing naked in the rain, using the downpour as my shower. I liked walking back across the grass not even bothering with the umbrella.

A Cow With Red Tape on Her Tail.

21 March Saturday

I love the gate closest to the end of the boreen. It was constructed to follow the uphill slope of the land.

22 March Sunday

I met Breda and Margo up at the Boulders at 11. We each traveled in our own cars and we did not venture near to one another. We walked for three hours following a particular overland route that Breda knew and that Margo wanted to learn. She was tracking us on a new app on her telephone. I was happy with the freedom to walk the mountains without a single thought about where I was going. There was no path. All I had to do was keep Margo in my sights. We saw one man and his dog in the far distance. We saw no one else. Breda kept repeating, “There is Not A Sinner in Sight!” I saw some furry caterpillars curled into circles and nesting in the dry grasses. We saw a lot of sheep, and ten or twelve Belted Galloways in a loose group. The gorse was in bloom everywhere.

23 March Monday

I found a new cattle ear-tag stuck in the peaty soil up the mountain yesterday. I did not show it to Breda nor to Margo. I knew they would not be interested. I knew Breda would tell me to drop it because it was covered in muck and dirt. I put it in my pocket and today I have washed it. I am delighted to add it to my collection of tags.

25 March Wednesday

There were cows being led up the road. Rather than wait, I turned up the Knocklofty road on my way home. Seeing a car stopped up ahead, I assumed it must be yet another farmer blocking the road while yet another herd was ready to cross. It was not a normal time of day for the movement of cows so it was odd to be stopped in two places for the same problem. As I neared, I saw that it was not cows. A woman was walking around the outside of her car which was stopped exactly in the middle of the road. She was looking down. I assumed she had a mechanical problem. I drove a bit closer and then I stopped and got out. There was a white-haired lady sitting in the back seat. An old and extremely dirty terrier was wedged under the car on the driver’s side. He was not trapped. He was just sitting there with only his head showing. His head was unusually large. The woman said she stopped because the dog was in the road and she did not want to hit him. As soon as she stopped, he dove under her car and now she could not get him out from underneath nor could she get back into the drivers side. He was barring her way. I approached the dog and he bared his teeth and snarled at me. He was ugly and he was vicious. I talked to him nicely and then I lowered my voice and attempted to sound stern. I told him to Go Home. Go Home. Go Home. He snarled and snapped each time I attempted to get closer. At one point, he rushed at me and then he ran around the car and wedged himself in under the other side. A small van pulled up behind my car. I went over and asked the driver if she had any kind of a stick. She got out with a walking stick and a small boy. By now the white haired lady had gotten out of the back seat of the first car. All five of us were keeping our distance from each other and we were all trying to keep an eye on the dog. The woman with the stick pushed at the dog and he scooted underneath the car so that he was completely out of sight. He came running out again and went from one side to the other side returning always to his position of head exposed and body tucked underneath. I ran up the road to the only house in sight to see if the people there knew who owned the dog or maybe if it was their own dog. Two big lazy friendly dogs greeted me in the yard and then they returned to lie down in the sun. They could not be bothered. No one answered the door, so I ran back down the road. Just as I got there the dog rushed out from under the car and into some tall grass. He bared his teeth and snarled at the woman with the stick who had nudged him away. Without a word, we all jumped in our cars and raced off before he could rush out and get underneath one of our vehicles. He was looking for shelter and protection. I have been worrying about this dog all day. I know that he was angry and probably he was scared and hungry and maybe hurt, but I also know that he was vicious and dangerous. I deserted an animal in need. I had no idea what else to do.

26 March Thursday

An Post has given us all postcards. We can post them for free anywhere within the country. It is their gentle idea of a way to keep us in touch with one another. It is a gift to make everyone feel better. Having the postman arrive down the track is like a visit. There are lots of balancing acts. Some of the postmen have to take turns taking care of their children while their wife works. Some of the postmen have fallen ill, or someone in their family has fallen ill. There is only one postman left who knows our rural route but he must also do his own regular route so he delivers to us every other day. Maybe he arrives three times a week or sometimes it is only twice a week. There are never any deliveries on a Saturday. Having things delivered by post is more thrilling than ever.

27 March Friday

This year Lent lasts from 26 February to 9 April. Every year I hear people describing or listing what they have given up for Lent. It is only valid if you give up something that you want and you love like butter or chocolate or wine or television. The idea of Lent seems to be to remind yourself that you cannot have everything all of the time. I am surprised that people are still bothering now with this particular denial when all of life has been turned upside down. I find it strange that people are still sticking to their self-imposed restrictions even while so much of life and normal activity have been curtailed from outside forces.

28 March Saturday

We are eating wild garlic at least twice a day. So far it has not been added to breakfast. I keep a jug of it on the counter. It is used as a garnish. It is made into a pesto. It is mixed in some way with just about everything we eat. When I go out to collect more, it is a form of shopping. I must decide where to get my leaves from today. Under an apple tree? Under which apple tree? Near the water butt? Down the edge of the path? These are the decisions that keep me busy.

29 March Sunday

We changed our clocks last night. This means that the sun is now setting at 8, but really it is not fully dark until 9.

30 March Monday

We have been walking through Joe’s fields but it is hard work. The last time the cows were in the field it must have been extremely wet and muddy. There are deep and varied hoof holes all through the grass. The soil is now dry. The holes are hard. Walking over the fields makes for a lot of lurching and staggering. Without strong boots and a sturdy stick, such a walk is potentially ankle-breaking stuff. It is a relief to get to the long rough track and out of the fields. Every day this week, we have lumbered all through the fields and around on the road and down the boreen to home. It is about a 4 1/2 kilometre walk. Today, we saw only one man on a bicycle and one man in a tractor. Most days we see no one.

31 March Tuesday

There is a cow in the field of the other Joe. She has red tape on her tail and red tape around each of her back legs. None of the other cows have any red tape. I would like to know what this means and what her problem is. The chances of me bumping into Joe to ask about the tape are slim. I wonder about the cow and her red tape each time I pass. I shall continue to have theories.

Nest Building

6 March Friday

We organized the bags around our feet as the bus closed its doors and drove off. At that exact moment, a woman greeted us with a hearty roar.

She shouted, “You’re back, then? Have you been away to London again?”

I looked up in confusion. The woman was no one I knew. After a few minutes of her enthusiastic chatter, I realized that I did indeed recognize her as the woman who had sat beside us in the bus shelter last November. That day the X8 was well late. There had been heavy traffic when the bus left Dublin, so it was now behind schedule all the way along its route. We were on our way to Cork to catch a flight. We had plenty of time so we were not worried about the bus being late nor about getting to our plane. The woman was sitting in the bus shelter to be out of the rain. She was not going anywhere. She was just waiting for the rain to stop. She told us all about her brother in Manchester who was dying. She thought it was The Cancer but she said that no one was telling her straight. She had been to see him once and she thought she might need to go again before it was too late. She announced that it is no good going to see someone when the person is already dead. They won’t appreciate your visit nor your love if you just travel to see them dead and in the box. She said that is the easy way for people to look like they care. She said she understood it all as it is no fun visiting a dying person because there is not much to talk about. They have no future and you do, so every conversation is going to be a bit skew-whiff.

The woman talked and talked and rarely paused, and when she did pause, she asked a question. She might have been 28 or she might have been 45. It was hard to tell. She quickly found out that we were flying to London, but also that we lived here and that we were only going over there for a book fair and some visiting. She said she was happy about that. She was happy that we would be coming back. She felt it was important to have people from different places living in Tipperary because it made the area like the world and not like a village. She said too many people had already married their cousins and the whole county was in sore need of fresh blood just the same way as farm cats need to be refreshed before they all become inbred and end up getting stepped on by a cow because they are too stupid to move out of the way. She covered a lot of conversation in every gust of talking.

I had not seen the woman again since that day in November. Now it was March. I doubt I would have recognized her at all, but when she started talking I knew her voice. She recognized us and she started right in as though we had all been speaking together this day last week. She reported that she was just back from Manchester herself, but this time it had been for The Brother’s funeral. She said he lasted longer than anyone had expected or even hoped for. No one had expected him to make it to Christmas, but he did. She said he was little more than a shell when he died. She said that she had only been back a few days but when she arrived back from the funeral and the flight, she had gotten off the bus and walked right down to the Aldi and bought herself a Shepherd’s Pie for her tea and it was lovely and full of carrots and peas and just what she needed after the plane and the bus and arriving home into a cold house. She said her boyfriend was useless so she knew there would be nothing to eat and that he would not be at home to welcome her anyway. She recommended that we do the exact same thing. She said, “A Shepherd’s Pie is not something you will ever regret.”

8 March Sunday

Primroses are blooming in the boreen. The air is cold but the pale yellow blossom means that spring is here.

10 March Tuesday

The market square felt a bit empty when I stopped in Mitchelstown. Half the country has gone over to England for the races at Cheltenham. The other half of the country was placing their bets for the first race at 1.30. I parked in front of Paddy Powers. People were rushing in and out of the door. It was the busiest place on the square. The word on the pavement outside the shop was that you should bring your own pen when placing a bet. People were agreed that The Virus is sure to be clinging on to those little stubby pens that they always have for you to use in the bookies. I heard one man tell another it would be no good at all to have your horse come in with a big win, and then to die of The Virus right after.

12 March Thursday

I have been sewing up the sections of a book. I finished one section and I am halfway through the second section. Each time I build up a sizeable amount of cotton off-cuts, I take the threads outside and leave them on the table for the birds. Immediately, the birds leave off their eating of nuts in the feeders and they attack the pile. Within minutes, the threads are scooped up and off into various nest building projects. As often as I take them outside they disappear. I cannot sew any faster.

 

14 March Saturday

Popping in and out of several pharmacies, I had been asking for the hand sanitizing liquid that is being recommended. We are being told to use it all the time, after every single interaction out in the world. Everyone is looking for it but no one has any to sell. One pharmacist said that she had heard that the woman who ran O’Gormans Pharmacy in Clonmel had gotten 144 bottles of the sanitizer in yesterday, but she added that they were probably already gone. Every single person is trying to protect themselves. I saw people shopping in the supermarket with gloves on. Some of them were wearing the plastic disposable surgical gloves, and some people wore just any old winter gloves. One woman was wearing thick hand-knit mittens. In the second pharmacy I visited, the pharmacist came out from the back and suggested that I buy some cheap vodka. 40% should do it. That will work just as well as any hand sanitizer, she said. She turned to the other woman behind the counter and then back to me, and she said, “You did not hear me say this!!

16 March Monday

I heard a car horn outside. Ned had arrived with the heating fuel in his mobile tank. He needed me to move my motor out of his way, and to fetch him a ladder and then he needed me to open the window so we could drag in the extension lead to plug in his generator. He said he knew we were all in lock-down so that is why he arrived without ringing first. He knew we would be at home because where else would we be? He said: “You are going nowhere‘” He did not like the idea of us running low on fuel. When he was finished filling the tank, I asked if he wanted to come in for tea. I was not sure if I should ask him to come into the house, but I did. In the end, he did not offer me much choice. He said, “Of course I will come in for tea. We always have a cup together, don’t we? We cannot let a small thing like a world-wide epidemic get in the way of our tea. Your table is a large table. I will sit at one far end and you two can sit at the opposite end. We will speak up good and loud-like and we’ll have no problem hearing one another.”

17 March Tuesday

Today is Patrick’s Day. There is no celebration anywhere. No celebrations, no church services and no parades anywhere. Everything is cancelled. It is quiet. It is very quiet. I walked up the Mass Path, slipping in the mud all the way up the hill. Once there, I was delighted to find the wild garlic in bloom. I had not noticed any growing in the lower meadow yet, but the path at the top is lined with the shiny leaves. I came home with huge handfuls of it ready to be eaten.

The Bee Hive

24 January Friday

There was a gate. Was there a gate? Now there is no gate. Maybe there never was a gate? I see a stone wall cleared of any growth. Has the wall been recently rebuilt to compensate for a place where a gate had been? Or was the hedge covering the wall simply cleared? Passing the same place every day, and sometimes several times a day, I feel I should know exactly how these things are. The fields, the openings, the gates, and the ditches are all so familiar that I am confused. Once bushes grow up and around this wall I will not remember where the wall was and I will not remember my question about the space or the gate that might have been there. Or might not have been there.  However it was will be lost within what it is.

25 January Saturday

Bright sun and deep mud.  Somehow it is easier to struggle and slog in the mud up the Mass Path when the sun is out. When I came out onto the road at the top, I met PJ and his two dogs. Jessie, the Saint Bernard puppy, is growing bigger by the day.  PJ nodded towards my muddy trousers and said, “You got taken”. I did not understand what he meant until he pointed out that by me falling into the mud, the mud had won. I got taken.

26 January Sunday

Margaret is still in the hospital. Tommie continues to be driven up and down to visit her in Waterford every other day. She had a kidney infection after the two hip operations so she was put into isolation. She went on hunger strike for a while. Well, it was not a hunger strike but she went off her food and she went off her food for long enough that it was a worry for Tommie and for the doctors and nurses. No one knew what to do to tempt her back into eating. Now she is eating again, but no one knows what made her change her mind and to begin eating again. Tommie figures she just got hungry. He worries each time that he goes to Waterford what he will find this time. He cannot do anything to help but he can worry. He put his foot down and refused to carry her decorated vase to the hospital. He is pleased that she seems to have forgotten about the vase.

He told me that he is very very weary. He said that weary is different than being tired. He is weary. He has decided to spend two or three days at home this week just to get himself rested up before the next journey to Waterford. When he is at home he gets many phone calls from people inquiring about Margaret. He gets worn out with having to explain everything. The telephone is near to the front door. There is a little seat beside the telephone table but it always has things piled up on it. Tommie has to stand up to speak on the phone so he never likes to talk for a long time. This is a telephone that is attached at its base with a twisted, tangled, and not very long cable. The hallway is a little bit draughty. This weekend he had a call from a former neighbour asking about Margaret. He was surprised that this woman was ringing as he did not know how she could even know that Margaret is in hospital nor did he think it was like her to be asking after Margaret. It was not a normal call. It was a call that puzzled him. He could not think how this woman knew that Margaret was unwell. He thought about it for a long while. He said he could not rest until he identified The Source of the information. Finally, he remembered that both woman went to the same hairdresser. He said he felt better knowing that he had located The Source.

27 January Monday

The battery died. It needed a neighbour and jump leads to get it going. The red cap covering one terminal of the battery was all chewed up. The black one was fine. That was not why the battery died but it was a messy surprise. As a result of the dead battery, I learned that rats are a big problem this winter. It is not just us. Noel O’Keeffe has had many cars coming into the garage with complaints of things not working. The  answer is always rats. Farms are active spots for rats and it seems every farmer has had his engine invaded by the rats. There are chewed brake cables and fuel lines and any number of rubbery plasticky things under the bonnet all gnawed until they do not function correctly any more. All car problems keep coming back to the hungry rats. The garage has developed a rodent strategy. Blocks of poison have a hole in the middle. Noel’s mechanics are attaching the blocks with a loop of wire. The loop is fastened to something inside the engine so that a rat can be attracted to the block and he or she can nibble away at it and then hopefully go away and die. It is a clever system, but it will not be so good if the rat dies in the engine.

 

29 January Wednesday

The Bee Hive is a bungalow on the Dungarvon Road. It has not been open for as long as I have been here.  The house is always referred to as the Bee Hive.  There is no sign and there has never seen a sign but everyone knows it as the Bee Hive. There are two old petrol pumps outside. They have not been serving petrol for as long as I have been here. The inside of the bungalow used to have a room that served as a bar. All of the drinks were served in bottles or cans. There were no barrels or kegs and there was no refrigeration.  I do not know if there was even an actual bar. There were drinks to be bought and chairs to sit in while drinking the drinks and petrol could be bought outside. The shade in the large window was up when the Bee Hive was open. If the bar and the petrol pumps were not open for business, the shade was pulled down.  I have never seen a person going in or coming out of the Bee Hive. The building is kept tidy outside. The Dungarvon Road is a busy road.  Few passing cars would even notice the pumps, much less stop expecting to buy fuel.

30 January Thursday

A lot of people are described as a A Good Few. Actually, a lot of anything can be A Good Few, not just people.

1 February Saturday

Today is the First Day of Spring. In Ireland. It is not the first day of spring anywhere else. Some people say it is The First Day of Spring because today is the halfway mark between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Others credit Saint Brigid. Brigid is the patron saint of a lot of things and today is her day. Her presence is good for crops and babies and farmers and printing presses and dairy cows and lots of other things. She is the patron saint of blacksmiths, boatmen, brewers, cattle, chicken farmers and children whose parents are not married. She is the patron saint for children with abusive fathers, children born into abusive unions, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, mariners, midwives, milk maids, nuns, poets and the poor. Poultry farmers, sailors, scholars, travelers and water men all come under her protection too. She is sort of an all-round helpful and hopeful saint. She is a good one to have on your side. Most years I feel like it is crazy to be celebrating the first day of spring on 1 February, but today the air feels light and right. The snowdrops are up. There is even the first appearance of wild garlic showing itself.  We all comment on the noticeable stretch in the days. Everything feels positive so it might as well be the First Day of Spring. Another positive thing about the days being longer and lighter means that people are happy to say that 1 February is the first day in the year that You Can Eat Your Dinner By The Light of Day.

 

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He Has Been Knitting His Own Cardigan.

15 January Wednesday

A courier rang and announced that he was up at the farm. He refused to drive down the boreen. He had a parcel to deliver and it needed a signature. He claimed that he could not and he would not leave it at the shop in the village. I explained that the people at the shop signed for our deliveries all the time. I said it was a system that worked and that it was normal for us. He was not going to do it. He said that if I did not arrive to sign for the parcel he would be obliged to return it to the warehouse. The rain was lashing down. I said he would have to wait a little while as I had no car today and I would have to walk up to meet him. He said he could wait but then he said he would not wait for long. He told me to hurry. I slogged up the track in my rain jacket and my welly boots carrying an umbrella. I carried the umbrella because I knew I would need to protect the parcel on the way back down.  I was hoping it would not be too heavy. He handed me the thing to sign out the window of his van. He had no intention of getting out and getting wet. I passed him the umbrella. He held it over my head while I signed and then he handed me the parcel and returned my umbrella all while sitting up high and dry in his van.

16 January Thursday

The judge in the court case was annoyed. The young man in question was not doing the things he was supposed to be doing. He was not doing the things that he had been ordered to do by the court and he was not doing things in the order that they had been assigned to him. He was not obeying the rules of his probation and the judge said that he was self-referring elsewhere. The young man was just doing things in whatever way he felt like doing them. He is knitting his own jumper. He has been allowed to knit his own cardigan. These are the expressions the judge used. I suppose the expressions might be positive in certain contexts but in this case they were not.

17 January Friday

A rabbit is a symbol of luck. John Mike casts rabbits in a jelly mold. I do not know if he casts rabbits because they are a symbol of luck or if he just he likes rabbits. He casts the rabbits in concrete, not in jelly. His garden is full of rabbits. Some are painted and some are left natural. The colour of concrete is the colour he calls natural. Rabbits are tucked under bushes and in little lines around the edges of the beds. There must be several hundred rabbits in the small area around his house. Maybe there are more. He will not listen when anyone curses real rabbits that are eating vegetables and young plants in their own garden. John Mike will not have a bad word said about rabbits. He holds up his hands and shouts STOP. STOP. STOP.

18 January Saturday

Free. I have learned a new nickname. Free is short for Geoffrey. Free Hackett. Free Costigan.

20 January Monday

There were only two of us sitting in the waiting area. A nurse came out and spoke to the other woman who was waiting and then she went away. Before she left she encouraged the woman to fill up her cup at the water cooler and to keep drinking. The woman had been sitting on the other side of the room but she moved to sit closer to me. She came and sat in a chair leaving only one empty seat between us. The woman and I were sitting in the Ultrasound Scan department. We were both waiting to be called. My instruction letter had said that I should drink one and a half liters of water one and a half hours before I arrived. After I drank all that water I was instructed to Hold It. The woman had obviously had the same letter. She told me that the first thing she did when she arrived in the scan waiting room was to go and pee. She said she could not wait one minute longer.  She said that she could not hold any water at all these days. She said she certainly could not hold a liter and a half and if she could she certainly could not hold it for that long. She sipped slowly from her plastic cup. She said, “It might be alright if I had a lift to get myself home but I have to go home on the bus. There is no way I am getting on the bus after wetting my pants.”

The nurse came back and introduced herself to me. She said her name was Rose. She checked my date of birth and she told me to keep drinking water. She refilled my cup and then she refilled the cup for the other woman. She told us both to keep drinking.

The woman looked over at the book I was reading and she squealed, “Oooh! I’d like to read that book.” I was startled by her enthusiasm. I asked her if she knew something about the book. She said No. I asked her if she was a fan of the writing of Natalia Ginzburg. She said No, but she said that she liked the title. The title was “Happiness, as Such”. She asked me if the book was good. She asked if it was new. I told her that it was not new. I explained that it had been published in 1973 in Italian. I told her that this translation had been done in 2019. So it was new in English. She snorted. “Why would you be wanting to read such an old book? I only like new books. I like happy books. I might like that book but probably I would not because it is too old.”

Rose came back and asked the woman to finish her still full cup of water. When the cup was drained, she led the woman away to the Ultrasound room.

 

21 January Tuesday

The mornings have been crunchy and white with frost. The frost does not last long but it is good to have this hard dry cold after all of the mud and damp. Everything looks different.

22 January Wednesday

I detour past the house as often as I can. I do not know who lives there. I know nothing at all about the house. I have been trying to understand what the gunny sacking is doing on the wall. Why is it draped in such a particular way and over such a small area of such an enormous wall? The fabric is well secured and it has been there for several months already. Is it hiding something or is it protecting something? It has not been left there by chance. Each time I approach, I think that this time will be the time when I pass the house and the fabric is gone.  If it is gone, I will not know anything more than I know now.

23 January Thursday

The birds continue to empty the green-topped feeder. The nuts in the other feeder do get eaten. Eventually. Slowly. Very very slowly. Every day I tell myself that I will not refill the green-topped feeder until they are both empty, but then I do it. I cannot bear to see the branches laden with birds all waiting for nuts. I just want to know why they do not like the metal-topped feeder.

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