THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

Tag: threes

The Cough Bottle.

19 December Tuesday

In these weeks before Christmas, there is not a till nor counter in any shop without a bowl or tub of individually wrapped chocolates on offer for each and every customer. It is a little gift offered by a shop to its customers. Cadbury’s Roses. Heroes. Quality Street. In the butcher shop in Ardfinnan, there is a tin of Celebrations. People take a chocolate and chew on it while they are waiting their turn. Then they take another one after they have paid. The same sentence is repeated in every shop: You can worry about The Waistline in the New Year!  The dentist did not offer me chocolate today, but he did give me a pen with his name and telephone number on it.

20 December Wednesday

After not finding Tommie at home, I rang around to find him. It was not easy.  Eventually I located him. He is back in the hospital. Today I went to visit. He is in a ward with three other men. All of the men had visitors. Visiting hours are a lively and noisy time. The fluids support stand at the end of his bed was a free standing device. There were no bags hanging on it, so I hung my jacket on one of the empty hooks. Tommie reprimanded me and told me that the nurses would not be happy for me to be using the stand as a coat rack. The nurses were in and out of the ward and not one of them seemed to notice my jacket. Tommie is never happy to disobey rules nor to question authority. I left my coat where it was. After he told me three separate times to move it, I moved it.

21 December. Winter Solstice.The Shortest Day.

Another day of wild and noisy wind. The wind has been thrashing us for days and days.  It never stops. The noise is deafening. Today the label on the post box blew off. The label was a piece of duct tape with the word POST written in thick black letters. The lid of the post box blew off too, even though there was a rock holding it down. The rock and the lid blew off together but the lid did not go too far. I now have a larger rock on top of the box. The duct tape has been blown far away. It has disappeared completely.

22 December Friday

A tractor tooted its horn as it drove past me on the road. There was a length of blue and silver tinsel dangling from the side mirror.

23 December Saturday

Seamus has plenty of old batteries around the place. Some are car batteries and the other larger ones looked like they had been for his tractor. He uses two batteries to hold up the drooping shed door and a few more are clustered around as a way to gather like with like.

24 December. Sunday. Christmas Eve.

Tommie has been moved to Rathkeevin. He is in a room with one other man. This man spends all day in the Day Room. Tommie does not go to the Day Room. He was in a cranky mood when I visited today. His legs are giving him a lot of discomfort. He said he hopes that no one comes to visit on Stephen’s Day as he wants to give the horse racing his full attention. I promised him that I would not be visiting on that day. He asked me to spread the word.


26 December. Tuesday. Stephens Day.

I walked out along the narrow road to Ladys Abbey in between downpours. Thick ivy has covered nearly every bit of the stone building.  The shapes of the ruined Abbey exist as things somewhere between topiary and architecture.


27 December Wednesday

A pigeon has been massacred and eaten outside the door to my workroom. It was the fox who killed, ate and left the mess.  There was nothing I could do except sweep up the remains so that I do not step in them. I threw the whole mess over the stone wall.


29 December Friday

Everything remains closed. Shops and businesses are locked up tight. Supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies are open, with restricted hours, but nothing else is open. The Twelve Days of Christmas go on for twelve days.

31 December. Sunday. New Years Eve.

The shelf in Marie’s sitting room was narrow. It was made out of a single piece of wood. The shelf was just wide enough for a single can. Lined up along this shelf were seven spray cans of air freshener. Each can offered a different scent, or flavour. The caps were all different colours.  Marie was proud of her selection of smells. She had them spread out with a little bit of space between each can, just to make certain that each one could be individually admired. She waited for me to say something about the selection of cans but I found myself speechless.

1 January. New Years Day. Monday 2024

I brought in three wheelbarrow loads of firewood this afternoon. Already I can hear a wasp buzzing around the room. He came in with the wood. The heat has woken him up and now he floats around in a sleepy stupor. He is dopey but noisy.  If I can catch him I will toss him out the door.  The cold will probably kill him but perhaps he will find his way back to some timber for more sleep.

2 January Tuesday

There is water everywhere. From a distance it looks like the Knockmealdown mountains drop directly down into a lake. It is not possible to see the far edges of the lake. The river is no longer a river. The river is part of the huge lake that covers every field in sight. It is beautiful but it is not good. There are swans on the lake where there are usually sheep in the field.

3 January Wednesday

I went to the pharmacy to get something for Simon’s cold and cough. I described his condition. The pharmacist said: “What you need is The Cough Bottle.” No one ever speaks of cough syrup. It is always The Cough Bottle.

4 January Thursday

I asked at the shop if they had any frozen spinach.  The woman at the till said No.  Not only did they have no frozen spinach but she said that they have never had any frozen spinach. She said I was the first person who had ever even asked for it.

6 January. Twelfth Night. Little Christmas. Nollaig na mBan. Women’s Christmas.

Today is the day for the tree to come down and the decorations and the cards and the wreathes to be put away or thrown away. If one has all of these jobs to do, the day is a busy one. The putting away and returning the house to how it was before the holidays can be a lot of work. At the end of this day, women are supposed to take time for themselves. To share food with other women and to have the evening off after doing so much work during the extended holiday. Clearing the way to take the evening off seems like a small reward indeed.

Harmless.

10 January Wednesday

Joe’s field stands two metres above the boreen. The boreen passes inches beside the house and the field sits above it. It is a peculiar situation. The machine cutting the hedges is roaring by at that height. It is necessary to look out the window and then to bend one’s neck upward in order to see the angled cutter crashing through the growth. The third time the tractor with its cutting machinery passes by, the side of the house is pelted with sticks and branches and thorny pieces of the hedges. It makes a racket. We can hear nothing in the big room until it passes. It feels like the house is under attack from something bigger than hail. The loud mechanical metallic chewing, tearing and spluttering makes it sound like something dangerous. Thwack. By the fourth time the tractor roars by, the sound is more even aggressive as the pieces being spewed at the house have been getting both smaller, and more plentiful. The hedge cutting man finishes the job in darkness with bright lights on the top and front of the tractor to guide him. After he departs, the silence is profound. I could go out with a torch and examine the scattered detritus, but I think I will wait until the morning.

12 January Friday

The man had only just been buried, so people were eager to say something good about him. The worst thing you can say about a man is that he was Harmless. That is a kind of insult. In the shop, I overheard several women reminding each other that Jack had been a great dancer in his day. When I reported this comment to Tommie, he told me Not To Believe A Word Of It. He said that Jack was not a good dancer, only that he himself thought he was. He said that Jack had spent his whole life two beats behind any music and that his wife learned to follow his lead even though she was well able to follow music properly herself.

20 January Saturday

The bathroom is cold. The entire house is cold but the bathroom is extremely cold. It is not a place to linger. The towel rack, made of copper pipes and built by our plumber friend, John, a long time ago, was intended to function as the radiator in the room. It is hooked up to the pipes where a radiator would have been. It is wide and generous, but it does not do much to spread warmth. I enjoy looking at it on the rare moments when there is not even one towel hanging upon it.

21 January Sunday

Two days of wild and battering wind. They are calling this storm Isha. There are multiple weather warnings as well as lots of rain. The rain is not falling but it is being blown in different directions by the endlessly gusting winds. Yesterday it was too wild to venture anywhere at all. Today I drove to the shop. On the way home, I had to stop the car twice to get out and drag large branches off the road. Neither branch had been on the road when I drove down to the village. Each had fallen while I was at the shop. One was large and heavy and I could scarcely shift it. The other one was not so big but it was large enough that I did not want to drive over it.

22 January Monday

All flights in and out of the country were cancelled yesterday because of the wind. Flights trying to land in both Dublin and in Belfast were re-directed to Paris. Thousands of people lost their electricity. We had our candles ready but we did not need them.

23 January Tuesday

Three plastic feed bags from the Italian firm Mazzoleni have been blown down from the farm over the last few days. They have arrived at different times. The bright white and red and black of the bags is cheerful and a stark contrast to the heavy grey sky.

24 January Wednesday

Today is calm. There is no wind. There is barely any sound at all. The world feels different. The sun is out, as are the snowdrops.

25 January Thursday

A letter for an appointment at the hospital always arrives in a sealed brown envelope with a piece of clear tape over the flap, for extra security.

26 January Friday

Another calm morning.  It would be beautiful except for the stench of slurry. I know when Slurry Spreading will happen because the big blue hose is visible in the farmyard.  I think it is used to bring the slurry from the holding tank into the mobile spreading unit. I do not really need to see the hose. The sharp smell tells me what is happening.

27 January Saturday

I repaired my cardigan. Again. This cardigan is old. It might be twenty five years old. It has stretched and drooped and it is now long and shapeless. It is big enough that I can wear it on top of any number of bulky garments. There are many small repairs. The sleeves were shredding a few years ago. I rolled the cuffs up a little bit and stitched them into position. Today I repaired another unraveling down the front that kept getting caught on things. It is not a beautiful repair but I am pleased with my efforts to keep the sweater going in this cold house.

28 January Sunday

Tommie had three outdoor hats laid out on the back of his armchair. He had three spectacle cases on the table in front of the television. He had three glasses of water beside him on the big table. One glass was half empty. He told me that he has been told to drink three big glasses of water every day but he does not enjoy drinking water so he avoids it. The three glasses were placed right beside him so that he could not forget.

29 January Monday

The word Mind is used frequently. It is used in the sense of taking care and watching out: Mind the Child. Mind One Another. Mind Yourself.

30 January Tuesday

My egg sizing device is one of my favourite things.  It is a scale for measuring one egg at a time: Small. Medium. Large. Extra Large.  I have a rubber egg which I keep in position on the little curved hand.  I think the purpose of this egg is to be hidden in a nest to encourage a chicken to lay.  I have no chickens so I keep the rubber egg on my sizing machine. Because the egg is rubber and lightweight, it frequently gets knocked off the little curved platform , and then it bounces away.  Sometimes I have several spent days looking for it, but it always turns up again.

A Fine Flat Acre

31 January Wednesday

The birds are voracious. The more frequently I fill the nut feeders the more they eat and the more quickly the feeders are emptied. I am always rushing to give them more even when it is raining and I should think they would want to be under cover.  They eat and eat and eat.

1 February Thursday-The first day of spring

I have walked greyhounds at PAWS, a local rescue facility for dogs. They sent each of us volunteers out with one dog at a time. On a normal morning, I walked four different greyhounds. There are a lot of homeless greyhounds because Coursing is a popular racing event in this country. I cannot call it a sport. After a dog passes his or her best racing days, it is retired. Cruel people cut off part of the dog’s ear where a number has been tattooed so that the dog cannot be tracked back to its owner. Many dogs get dumped on a road far from home, with or without a bleeding ear. Some of them get hit by cars.  A lot of them end up in rescue centers. The rescue places are full to overflowing with greyhounds. I have been told that some get sent abroad to live as pets. They are gentle and easy companions. The Italians love greyhounds. I love them too. I like to imagine a retired greyhound living out its life sleeping under the trees in a sunny olive grove. I miss having a dog. Each time I see the red van from the Greyhound Trust, I am tempted to give a home to an aging greyhound.

2 February Friday

Looking through the Farmers Journal is never dull. I enjoy seeing advertisements for machinery I have no use for and most of which I do not understand. I do like the idea of the Calving Cameras. It is not hard to figure out their function. A farmer can sit in the warm comfort of home while fully alert to a cow going into labour.

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3 February Saturday

Simon spent the entire day at the hospital. He was there for eleven hours. It was not so much that he was poorly as that the health system is broken and there are simply not enough people to make it work efficiently. He was surprised to see a priest moving around in the Accident and Emergency ward. The priest was a middle-aged black man wearing a long grey cassock and moving from person to person asking if they would like The Blessing of the Throat. He was carrying two fat white candles which he held crossed against a person’s throat as he said the blessing. Simon refused the blessing, but he watched with interest as every other person, including the nurses and porters on duty, accepted the offer. We are always reminded that this is remains a heavily Catholic country.

4 February Sunday

Breda, Siobhan and I drove up into the mountains.  We had decided on the route just off the Mount Mellary road, at the Tipperary-Waterford border. We could have walked right and climbed straight up but we went left, through a broken gate and continued up a just visible track and then circled around the hill in a large loop that took us off a recognizable track through thick heather and lots of mud. It was difficult and slow going with a strong wind against us on the uphill part, but the day was clear and dry and beautiful.

5 February Monday St Brigid’s Day Bank Holiday

This is only the second year of the new three day weekend celebrating St. Brigid. Her official Feast Day is 1 February which is the First Day of Spring. She is regarded as the patron saint of dairy farmers, cattle, midwives, babies, computers, blacksmiths, and beer. She is one of three patron saints of Ireland and the first female saint to be celebrated with a national holiday. It seemed an auspicious day to walk up to Lady’s Abbey.

6 February Tuesday

Torrential rain all day. It is difficult to think. The rain from inside the house sounds loud. When inside an automobile, the sound is impossible. The roads are running with water and floods are promised.

7 February Wednesday

The boreen is lined with dry stone walls on both sides. There is growth both over and through the walls. The stones are barely visible. When a rock falls out and onto the track, it is not possible to drive around it. The boreen is too narrow. It is too narrow for both a stone and an automobile. The only solution is to get out of the car and to move it, if I can. If it is too heavy, I roll it along to a gap where it might rest until someone stronger comes along. Stones tumble out for any number of reasons. A lot of heavy rain can cause a section of wall to loosen. A fox, a badger or a cat using a regular path through the hedge and wall as it moves into or out of a field can cause a stone to be dislodged. Today I walked up and found that a medium sized stone had rolled down, probably because of yesterday’s all day torrential downpours. I picked it up with two hands and lifted it up over my head to heave it over the hedge. It hit the thick dense branches, bounced back and hit me hard on the shoulder. I am lucky that it did not hit me in the head. I spent the rest of my walk, with a sore shoulder and upper arm, working on a murder mystery in my head. I was trying to figure out how the victim could be hit by a stone in a similar manner and killed, and the ensuing confusion about who threw it at them.  I gave up before I got back home. I decided that such a death would be considered a suicide, or perhaps a death by misadventure, rather than a murder.

8 February Thursday

Yesterday I drove Tommie into town for a shopping trip at Dunnes’.  The day was bright and dry.  It was as unlike the day before as it could be. Tommie was happy to be traveling out in such perfect weather but he was not prepared for the outside world nor did he remember a shopping list. Walking into the store made him feel confused. He forgot what he wanted to purchase and his legs were too weak for the necessary standing and walking. I ran around and up and down the aisles fetching the things he wanted and returning them when I got it wrong. It is hard to locate the right kind of foot cream in a brown container that starts with the letter A, or the correct kind of soup when he says that he likes all soup but really that does not include tomato soup or chicken soup. It means that he only wants leek and potato soup but how could I know that if he did not say it. It was an exhausting trip for both of us. I drove him home with a different and slightly meandering route so that he could view changes in the neighborhood and ask questions about things. We pulled over and watched the work being done around the land of the cottage once lived in by Liam Boyle’s mother.  He called the land A Fine Flat Acre and informed me that Liam had a piggery a corner of the land at one time.  When I got him back into his house with his messages unloaded and spread out on the counter in his kitchen, he announced that his Bad Knee is A Friend For Life. He said that he needs to give up any possibility of it ever getting better.

9 February Friday

Taking the walk up the Mass Path after so long has been wonderful.  It was so densely overgrown in the autumn that it was impassable. Now a lot of the brambles and tangles have died back.  Some hunters have been through and they whacked their way through the vegetation. There is a lot of deep mud as well as a few fallen trees to crawl underneath, but the favorite circuit that I call Going Around is an option once more. I took one heavy fall into the mud. Next time I must take a stick to do my own whacking and to avoid landing in the mud. Again.

10 February Saturday

I miss the presence of language which people in towns and cities take for granted, or perhaps they find it annoying. There are plenty of signs in nature but there are rarely words to read as I walk the fields and lanes. There is plenty of machinery to look at. I am curious about a lot of things because I do not know what they are being used for or what a covered trailer is carrying. I am curious about these functions but not curious enough to ask questions to find out about them. I just enjoy being curious and considering my own solutions.