some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

Tag: rule of law

A Butty Yoke

22 December Thursday

Tommie and I went to Dunnes’s Stores for his pre-Christmas shop. We drove into town early to avoid any crowds. His knee was paining him so he did not enjoy the trip as much as usual. He was glad to have traveled out, but he was gladder still to get home. Once he was settled back in his chair, he was eager to tell me about those people he had met and spoken to in the supermarket. He met one man he used to know through hurling matches a long time ago. He said the man had played for a competing team. He said being on opposite sides made no problem for either of them. The matches had taken place more than seventy years ago.  He was happy enough to converse with that man today. Before I left, he told me that he was glad to be back at home with his dog.  The dog is a needlepoint that Margaret did many years ago. It is used as a fire screen in the daytime when the fire is not yet lit.

23 December Friday

The Farmers Market took place this morning rather than tomorrow, which is Christmas Eve. It was busy with an air of excitement although we were sorry that the cheese woman was not there. Keith had very little on his stand. He had a few boxes of eggs and some apples and a lot of beets. The beets looked shiny. I went closer to take a look. I thought perhaps he had polished them but even as I thought it I could not believe that was possible. They were not polished but they had been scrubbed clean. They had been scrubbed so hard that the skins were rubbed off and the beets did indeed look polished. He said that the beets had been heavy with clay and barely recognizable as beets. He said they looked like clods of earth, so he washed them to make them look better. Three years ago, Keith was selling beautiful tulips grown by his wife but he had cut all of the leaves off every stem. He said cutting off the leaves made the tulips last longer. I said that I wanted leaves on my tulips and I suggested he could just let people make their own decision about leaves or no leaves.

Keith has been selling flowers and vegetables and eggs at the Farmers Market for more than ten years. He works very hard but he is not a natural. He is not a natural grower, nor vendor nor raiser of chickens. He is always the last one to arrive at the market and the last one to get his tables set up. We all bring our egg cartons to him for re-use. He and his wife make a tiny little printed label to put into each box of eggs that he sells. The label is made of two small pieces of paper, cut carefully with pinking shears and glued together with the date hand-written. The printed note may give the Best Before date, or it might be the day that the eggs were laid. It is not clear what the date represents. Making a tiny label for each box, one at a time, is at least as labour-intensive as the one-on-one visiting time he tries to spend with each of his chickens every single day.

26 December Monday

Whenever I open the kitchen door, Mary tumbles into the house. She sits out there pressing her entire body into the wood of the door. If it were sunny, I would think she is basking in the reflected heat of the door, but it is grey and bitterly cold. There is no warmth to be found from the wooden surface. I think instead she is listening and trying to be ready for when and if we remember to feed her. She does not appear every day now so I am not so regular about putting food out for her,  but if she does not eat it, the fox does.

28 December Wednesday

29 December Thursday

I have been keeping an eye on the Historical Society’s postcard supplies, purchasing a new one almost every time I visit the shop. I was delighted to buy two new ones today. One card shows Rose in front of the pub with some Scottish tourists and other one shows her with a crowd of local bikers.  They all like to stop there when they are out for a spin.

30 December Friday

The ground has thawed and there is mud everywhere. The bull in Joe’s front field stands for hours and hours ankle deep in the mud. If bulls have ankles? He does not seem to mind the cold mud.


3 January 2023 Tuesday

Breda’s horse died last night. His name was Levi. He had a stroke and he could no longer walk. He could not stand. They called the vet and she came to give him an injection to put him to sleep. Breda is heartbroken. Levi was a member of the family and he stayed on and on while various other horses and dogs and cats came and went. He was 36 years old and had been living with Breda for 25 of those years. I never knew that horses could live so long but I guess if they are healthy and well cared for, they do.

5 January Thursday

We had a bonanza load of post delivered today.  It is the first time we have had a delivery since 23 December.

6 January Friday

Epiphany. Twelfth Night. Little Christmas. Women’s Christmas. Nollaig na mBan. Today is the last day of Christmas and the day when all decorations and cards and trees and wreathes and lights and every single sign of the holiday period is supposed to come down and be stored away or thrown away. In counties Cork and Kerry the women go out to dinner together to celebrate all of the work they have done over the holiday. In the village, Anthony will move his Tyre Tree on its pallet into the back part of his yard and the greenery draped around it will die. It is the same this year as it was last year and it will be exactly the same again next year.

7 January Saturday

Teresa said her newly married grandson had traveled to Rome for his honeymoon and then got caught up in the Pope’s funeral.  She said it was not what he and his wife had planned for themselves.

8 January Sunday

A Butty Yoke is a short stubby kind of a person. It is not a complimentary way to describe someone but the description makes for a clear picture.

That Drainpipe of a Man

12 January Thursday

A commemorative stamp has been produced to celebrate the fifty year anniversary of Ireland joining the European Communities. There have been many articles in the newspapers and on the radio discussing the subject. There are a few gripes about the long arms of European regulations, but after watching the UK since Brexit, no one doubts that the decision to join was a wise one. Finding this glorious stamp at the post office today cheered up a gloomy grey and wet day.

13 January Friday

The rains have been torrential. The river has swollen hugely and fields are full of water. The road approaching the village is no longer bordered by fields. It looks like the mountains come right down to a lake.

15 January Sunday

If someone says she will meet me on Monday Week , she is not talking about tomorrow, the day after today, but the Monday after that. It is never Next Monday but always Monday Week.

16 January Monday

Joe has put numbers on some of his fence posts. Relief Farm Workers help him out for two or three weeks or months at a time. I assume the new numbers are helpful when he asks a lad to spread slurry on Field No. 8 or to move the fence wires to direct cows into Field No.12. When I think of it like this, the numbers make good sense. Each red number has the word PADDOCK printed above it. I hear people speak of fields and meadows but paddock is an alien word. Paddocks are not a word used in dairy farming. Paddocks are for horses not cows. Nevertheless, I am happy to have something new to look at and to read as I walk out. There is not much by way of print to read in nature.

17 January Tuesday

The top shelf in the Cahir library was not tall enough to put the books in right side up so they have just been crammed in with their spines at the top, and all I can see are the bottom pages. No titles are visible. It is no way to look for a book.

18 January Wednesday

Tommie went to Dublin once. He has never traveled any further from home, but he likes to tell me about Paris. He considers himself a bit of an expert on Paris. John is Tommie’s nephew. He is a long distance lorry driver and he rings Tommie from wherever he is. Wherever John is, if he is abroad for his work, according to Tommie he is always in Paris. He is in Paris if he is loading up with chocolates in Belgium or unloading his consignment of beef somewhere north of Paris or waiting to board a night ferry in the port of Calais or Le Havre. Whenever John is on the road, he is always in Paris.

Tommie tells me that John is a homebody and that he frequently bemoans the fact that he would prefer to be down any old muddy boreen than unloading his truck in Paris at five in the morning. Tommie does not have a mobile telephone.  He does not know anything about mobile telephones. When he speaks on his telephone he sits in the upright red chair right beside his small telephone table.  Even though he knows next to nothing about mobile telephones, he assures me that John has a really good mobile telephone. He is certain that it must be a very fine top of the range telephone because when John talks it sounds like he is right there in the room with Tommie.

Last week, John could not board the ship because the storms were ferocious and the seas were rough. That meant that he could not eat nor could he even go to the loo. He had to wait in the queue for hours and hours just in case they started to load the lorries. He did not want to be left behind. Once the lorries board the ship, there is hot food and a bed and a shower waiting for the freight drivers. Everything is included in the cost of crossing. Because of the storms, it took thirty hours before they could get onto the ship and when John returned to Ireland and unloaded his goods, he had to load up again and leave immediately because there was a schedule to be met. Tommie says that John is needed in Paris and that is why he is rarely at home.

20 January Friday

My workroom looks and feels like a storm has passed through. It has been far too cold to stay up in that barn or down in the book barn for long so I rush in and look for something and then I rush out again, leaving opened folders and boxes and little stacks of objects  and chaos in my wake. It is too cold to sit down for any period of time. This week I installed some pages of a book. I thought if they were up on the wall I could not avoid filling in the gaps of what I need to do to pull them all together. I thought I might trick myself to ease back into the project. These are the pages of An Inoffensive Man. An Inoffensive Man is an expression often used at funerals by a priest. I can never decide if it is a compliment to be called an Inoffensive Man, or if it suggests a dearth of admirable and noteworthy characteristics.  I put this book away a few years ago with good intentions but at this moment it is still nothing more than a series of disconnected stories about people I have met and about whom I know very little because I did not grow up here so I only know these mostly men at the end of their lives and what I know is what they have told me. It could all be lies.

21 January Saturday

The day was bright with watery sunshine. It was not really bright but it was not raining either. Two women stood on the footpath. One was giving out about the British Monarchy and the other one was her audience. The one said, “Those English people they loved their Queen. And oh, but then there was Poor Princess Diana. They loved her too, but Poor Diana was married to That Drainpipe of a Man. And now don’t you know but that Drainpipe is the King.”

23 January Sunday

Snowdrops are pushing up. I have been watching for them and today I see two have come into flower. I like the French word for snowdrops: Perce-neige which means to perforate or pierce the snow. There is no snow here for the green shoots to perforate, but the idea is the same. Snow. Mud. The promise of springtime is made visible in each green shoot.

The Dancing Place

12 March Sunday

Two black bulls are in Joe’s front field. They were standing around there like cut out silhouettes in January before I went away and they are still there. As if they have never been anywhere except there.

13 March Monday

On inquiring in the shop if they had any brown shoe polish, the woman and I began a conversation about the reduced availability of shoe polish and about the general lack of shoe polishing done by anyone these days. We agreed that the disappearance of shoe polishing activity probably is largely to do with people wearing sneakers or trainers, soft shoes that never needed polishing. She apologized for her own lack of shoe polish to sell to me and then she suggested, in a whisper, that I might try using Spray Furniture Polish. She said that she has used this method herself in the past and assured me that it works well. Still in a hushed voice, she said, “If I were to see you out and about with well polished boots, I would be the last person to question whether the shine came from shoe polish or furniture polish. The question would never cross my mind.”

14 March Tuesday

When Liam Harper needs an updated reading of our electricity consumption, he sends me a text and requests it. This happens several times a year. He used to leave a telephone message on the land line. Some weeks ago he sent a text and I told him that I was out of the country and that I would send the reading along as soon as I got home. He sent back a message saying Lovely! Enjoy! With little glasses of champagne scattered about. Back at home, I sent him the current reading: 81668. Smart Meters have been installed in local homes recently but we do not have one yet because we were not here when the men were going around doing the installations. For at least twenty-three years, we have reported our readings to Liam Harper, either by telephone or by text. I would not know Liam Harper if I met him on the road but I feel we have a certain amiable friendship. I asked Liam if the installation of a Smart Meter would spell the end of our regular chats. He texted back No More Reading with the Smart Meters! So, this current reading was our last. He added that he was delighted that we had a great holiday.

15 March Wednesday

There are daffodils everywhere. Daffodils. Narcissus. Crocus. Hyacinths. Forsythia. It is cold and often wet but it looks like spring, even when it does not feel like spring.  Primroses are blooming on the way up the boreen. And the wild garlic has arrived.

16 March Thursday

Ned arrived with a supply of fuel. I opened the window to pull in the extension lead and I plugged it in to the wall socket. Ned brings heating fuel on a small truck with a generator. The generator needs to be plugged into an electricity source in order to function. It is not possible for a normal size oil truck to come down the boreen so we always need to wait until Ned can come and then we must always be at home so that we can plug in the generator for him. We do the same ritual every time. He told me that he needed the ladder, so I went to the lean-to and dragged three ladders out and onto the grass. They were kind of tangled into each other and there were lengths of timber on top of them, so it was a struggle.  I could not pull only one out. I had to pull all three at the same time. The step ladder was too short. I took him one of the taller ladders, and he climbed up the banking to the oil tank where he cut away brambles with clippers before he started to fill. When he was finished, I unplugged the generator and handed the plug back out the window to him. Then we had tea and discussed the world. And we discussed Simon’s uncanny ability to measure volume. Before we ring Ned, Simon goes outside with a stick and he climbs up the banking and makes a measurement of the contents of the green plastic tank. There are no markings on the stick, nor on the tank. This time he did not even use a stick. Instead he just tapped the tank and listened to the fullness. Or the emptiness. When he arrives at the number of litres he thinks we need, he asks Ned to bring that amount. Today it was 750 litres. So far his estimate has never been wrong. Ned swears he has never known anything like it for accuracy. Before he left, Ned shouted to me that he had put the ladder away. When I went outside later, I saw that he had done so. Sort of. He threw the ladder down onto the grass with the other two, leaving them all for me to put away. It was even more difficult shoving them back into the lean-to than it had been to get them out.

19 March Sunday

I waited at Flemingstown Cross for the cows to pass. Flemingstown is not a town. It is just a name for a short area of road and land. It is a townland. There is no sign for Flemingstown. It is just a place with no specific edges, and we all know the name of it, which is how we are able to tell someone where we are or where something else is. There were two white tapes stretched across the road, one blocking my direction and another blocking the cul de sac to my right. The white tapes were tied onto bushes and even though they had no real physical strength or authority they were enough to let the cows know that they had to take a right, or my left, down Flemingstown. The cows plodded along single file to where they were being directed by this lack of choice. The boy on the quad bike following the cows looked very young. He dismounted to untie the white tapes and free the road again for traffic. I recognized that the cows belonged to Tomás O’Dwyer but I knew this boy was not a son of Tomás. He has five daughters.

20 March Monday

I walked down the street from Mike’s garage after leaving the car to be checked out. There is a gate in a break of the stone wall that leads into a field and often there is a small horse eating in the field. Maybe it is a pony. Today the horse was at the gate looking in the opposite direction from me as I approached on the sidewalk. I called out a cheerful Hello Horse! and he turned his head around and bit me on the shoulder. It was not a hard bite and it did not go through my coat. But it hurt and  it surprised me. I think it surprised the horse too. When I walked back the same way a few hours later, I had cleaned the horse saliva off my coat and I thought I might make a photograph of The Biter. He was no longer at the gate. I could not see him anywhere far down the muddy field.

21 March Tuesday

A elderly man stood in the center of the door to the shop.  Each time someone approached him to go in, or to come out of the shop, he made moves first left and then right and then left again.  He blocked the way in a kind of false confusion, threw out his arms and jiggled his hips back and forth. Each time, he announced with glee, “This is The Dancing Place!” I have heard this expression used before. It is used to define a busy doorway where people bump into one another as they try to go past one another or around one another. The idea of it being a Dancing Place is about the unintentional movement of two people together trying to move around one another. it suggests a dance. The man was reveling in the chaos of making a normally efficient doorway into a party. He was having a wonderful time.

22 March Wednesday

The top blew off one of the nut feeders. It blew off and it blew away. I cannot find it anywhere. I have now secured an oyster shell on the top of the feeder with the help of an elastic band. I may never find the original top but that is no longer a worry. This one is working well.