THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

Tag: wind

He Is Not Keen On Caps.

21 December Saturday

Our usual system has fallen asunder. Derek the postman was off work with a bad back so the post all got piled up inside the box instead of being put into the shed which is the norm when we are away. The substitute postman did not know the system, nor did he have the key to the shed since Derek still had that and he was in too much pain to be worrying about passing on our shed key to the man taking over his delivery route. The old tool box which we have been using as a post box let in the rain after too many days of heavy heavy downpour. Half of everything was sitting inside the box and under several inches of water when we found it. It was not a real problem. Most ink is waterproof these days. It was just a matter of drying letters out on the radiator before opening them. An attempt to remedy the problem in anticipation of future torrential rain was to buy a new plastic box which looked good in the Co-op, but it is really a bit light for the job. We have several weights in the bottom so that the wind cannot move it around and then another stone has been placed on top. There is also a piece of wood under the front edge just to tip the box a little to stop a huge and deep lake forming in the cover. There are clips to hold the lid on but if they are not clipped and the wind is ferocious the whole top blows away. Stone and all. This new box is not ideal. Now I am wondering if we should just return to the rusty tool box and hope that there will not be another prolonged period of heavy rain.

25 December Wednesday

There are two feeders full of peanuts hanging on a tree just outside the window. The birds all go for the feeder on the right. There are five or six different kinds of small birds eating at the feeders. Chaffinches. Bullfinches. Blue Tits. Robins. Gold Crests. House Sparrows. Wrens. Maybe there are others too. Every single one of them prefers to eat from the green feeder. The feeder on the right has a green plastic top and a fine metal mesh. The one on the left has a metal top and heavier metal mesh. The green cylinder is emptied hours before the metal one is even one third empty. We watch this happening day after day. I brought the metal feeder indoors and emptied it and scrubbed it with hot water. I thought maybe it had been contaminated in some way and since I rarely remember to wash the feeders, I thought this might be as good a time as any to do it. The cleaned metal feeder did not attract more birds. Next, I moved the feeders. I changed their locations on the tree. The green one was hung where the metal one had been and the metal one was hung where the green one had been. I thought I could trick the birds into going to the metal one which was placed where the green one had been. They have paid no attention to my attempt to confuse. They continue to empty the green feeder first. The birds are all choosing the green topped feeder over the metal topped feeder. I wonder if they can see colour and they prefer the faded green to the not very shiny metal. It does not matter. I wanted to feed the birds and the birds are eating. When the green one is empty they will go for the metal one. Or not.

27 December Friday

The morning was cold and grey. We walked up Middlequarter. Just before turning onto the rough track, we met a woman with two small dogs. The first dog stopped in front of Simon and he refused to move. He was not aggressive. He just stopped. The woman said “He is Not Keen on Cats.” We had no idea what she meant. There were no cats in sight. She nudged the dog forward and patted herself on the head. It was well after she and the dogs had gone that we realized she had said Caps. “He is Not Keen on Caps.” The dog had a problem with Simon’s tweed cap and he had to be jollied along to continue walking. I was surprised that a dog would have such an opinion about headgear.

29 December Sunday

Tommie is up and down to Waterford to visit Margaret in Ardkeen Hospital. She fell and broke her hip again. It might be the same hip that she broke a few years ago or it might be the other hip. He might have told me which hip it was, but I have forgotten.  She had to have two operations to get it right. He said that she is weak but cheerful. Different people take Tommie down to visit with her every other day. He finds the whole journey very tiring. It is almost an hour away and he can no longer drive that far himself. I have offered to drive him but he says he has a waiting list of offers so instead I check up on him on the days when he does not go down to Waterford. Billy Kennedy took him down on the 25th so that he could have his Christmas dinner together with Margaret. She cannot hear much and she cannot see much so all she can do is to worry. She worries about small things. She insisted that Tommie take her blue cardigan home and then she asked him to bring it back. She has been back and forth about her purse too. First she is afraid to have it with her in the hospital and then she is afraid to not have it with her. Tommie put his foot down about that.  He is refusing to take her purse back  to the hospital. Now she wants Tommie to bring her the vase that she made by sticking broken ceramics into plaster. She says it will brighten up her room to have the vase and the artificial flowers there. He says she won’t be able to see it anyway. I think it is important for him to discuss these demands that Margaret makes upon him because besides carrying things back and forth to Waterford, there is not one thing he can do to help her.

30 December Monday

We are seeing shoots of green as daffodils push up and out of the ground. We are not seeing snowdrops yet. The order of everything is wrong.

31 December Tuesday

Another unseasonably mild morning. Two women were standing outside the shop talking. One of them was saying that her tree has lasted well this year. She said it is the best Christmas tree she has ever had. She said it still has not dropped any needles. She has confidence that it will last well right up until Twelfth Night. Her companion said that must be because it was more freshly cut when she brought it into the house. “No,” said the woman, “It is because I have been putting Red Bull into the bucket instead of my usual sugar and water.”

1 January Wednesday

The boreen is full of trees that have fallen over in the winds and because of the rain. The earth is still so wet. Roots cannot hold. The earth has been wet for so long that even though the rains have stopped everything remains soggy. Branches heavily laden with ivy have snapped off. Once again I am crawling on my knees to go underneath trees and climbing over other trees and slipping in the mud just to take a walk. I am wondering why I do not simply go for a walk somewhere else.

2 January Thursday

The pencil selling dispenser is new and shaped like a short fat pencil. The top of the unit has a point like a sharpened pencil. It is made of clear plastic with small drawers to open once a pencil has been selected. The little drawers are labelled from 5B or 5H  right on down to plain H.  Every pencil in the display is a Faber Castell. I believe it is the only kind of everyday pencil sold in the entire country.

3 January Friday

I went into a shop in town to buy a few things. The shelves were nearly empty. They did not even have any milk. More places are opening up again after the holidays but the delivery of supplies has not fully kicked back into operation. I sort of wondered why this shop was open at all. When I went to the counter to pay, the woman at the till offered me a coupon for a discount off my few purchases. I said okay and waited but she did not give me a coupon. Her eyes were darting back and forth and back and forth and she moved her head as though she had a crick in the neck. She said “Look at me. Look at me. Look at my eyes. Look where I am looking. Down! Down! Down to the left!” It almost seemed like she was talking to someone else but I was the only person there. I looked down to the left and there was a piece of paper with four coupons on it. She spoke in a loud whisper. She said, “Pick it up. Pick it up. Rip one off and give it to me. I cannot be seen to be giving it to you, but it is there for the taking. There is a camera installed here now and if they see me giving you the coupons, it will mean my job, but there is no reason why you cannot find them for yourself!” I did as she instructed and when I handed her the coupon, she acted surprised and then she gave me 5 euro off my shopping.

4 January Saturday

Birds are crashing into the windows every day. I think they think it is spring because the days are so mild and things that should not be growing are growing. Most of them fly off but sometimes they knock themselves out when they hit the glass. This afternoon I heard a loud thump. When I went outside, I found a fat robin on the path. She was on her back breathing heavily. After about an hour, she was still there but her breathing was less labored. I picked her up and moved her to the table with a little bit of water and some mashed up nuts. She sat upright and very still for another hour and then a second robin came to collect her and they flew off together.

 

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Dirty Carrots + Small Potatoes

6 January Monday

Today is Women’s Christmas. Little Christmas. Nollaig na mBan. Twelfth Night. Epiphany. Today is the last day of Christmas. The tradition is that all the decorations and signs of the holiday must come down and be put away before the day is over. The tree. The wreath. The cards. The lights. Everything must be cleared away. The men are supposed to take over the duties of the house because the understanding is that the women have been doing all of the cooking and cleaning and everything over the twelve days of Christmas and now they need a break. Women gather together to go out for lunch or afternoon tea or dinner just to be together with other women and to have the chance to eat some different food. Women get together to be without children or responsibilities. I assume all of the holiday stuff has to be completed before the women go out but I am not sure exactly who does all the clearing. It is probably the women.  The new thing I learned is that the kitchen floor must be swept before going to bed on Twelfth Night. Again, I do not know who does the sweeping and is it the very very last thing done before going to bed?

7 January Tuesday

The ground underfoot continues to be muddy and slippery. I have been walking out with Breda’s dogs every day. My current preferred route is up Murphy’s lane and into the fields. The stubble in the field is crunchy even while it is soggy. It does not make sense. The stubble gives no resistance underfoot. When flattened it stops my feet from sinking in to the mud but it is soft and pliable and it still makes a crunching noise. I find the combination of crunchy and soggy at the same time confusing. The dogs don’t mind. They are running and running and running and trying to sniff down every single rabbit hole.

8 January Wednesday

It has been unseasonably mild. There are cows out in fields. Joe’s cows are in a field that has kale in it so this is a winter eating treat for them. It is not normal to see cows out in the fields at this time of year. Most herds are kept under cover in big sheds with open sides so there is air and light but no freedom to roam. They stand on slatted floors so their excrement falls through and they are not standing in their own mess. Standing outside in mud and muck, or inside in muck, causes hoof infections. Joe houses his cows up on a specially constructed platform. The platform is open so the animals are exposed to the elements all winter. I believe this is called an Out Wintering Pad. In the summer months, Joe gets delivery of enormous piles of wood shavings. The shavings get dumped in several piles and he uses the tractor to move them all into a storage place. While they are outside the smell is wonderful and woody. Throughout the winter, fresh shavings get spread down on the outdoor slats and replenished every so often. I find it worrying that the cows are outside in the rain and the cold and the winds all day and all night all winter. Joe has assured me that it is not a problem for the cows. I continue to worry.

9 January Thursday

There is a shed up beside the ruin of Murphy’s cottage. It is open to the elements but the roof is still good. There are three small triangular windows in one wall of the building. Someone laid a piece of sheet glass on the bottom edge of one of the triangles, like a window sill.

 

10 January Friday

The place where I enter the Lumpy Fields is two rusted gates joined together at a single point in the middle. A twisted piece of wire holds the gates together in a precarious kind of balance.  To make the opening big enough to pass through, I use both hands to lift and push the diagonal gate up into a horizontal position and then I slide it along to allow enough space for me to pass between the edge of the gate and the wire of the electric fence. For some reason the fencing wire is always on even though there are no cows in the vicinity. I do not need much space to squeeze through but I have been zapped enough times to want to avoid more shocks. To close the gate, I slide the one along again until there is more weight in the section of gate on the right and it drops back into its angled position. The two gates are old and not very sturdy but the system works.

11 January Saturday

When asked if a man would be running for a local political office again in the upcoming elections, the women seemed to be in agreement that He was very Shook Looking. This did not mean that he had been shaken up nor upset by something.  Mary explained that it meant that he was not looking healthy.

 

12 January Sunday

The farmers market was open at barely half capacity yesterday. There were not many stalls and there was very little to buy. It was windy and cold and drizzling with rain.  I am not sure why any of us were there.  I bought Dirty Carrots and a cauliflower from Pat.  I do not like Dirty Carrots. I have never understood the excitement with which they are greeted. People go looking for Dirty Carrots and they are excited when they find them.  I have no problem with a dirty carrot but I will never understand the lure of Dirty Carrots.  Dirty Carrots have clumps of soil on them. They take a lot of washing. The sink is full of sand and clay after they are washed. I do not think they taste any better than any other carrot. I have been marveling about the attraction of Dirty Carrots for years. I rarely buy them, but because there was so little to purchase yesterday I did buy some. While paying for the Dirty Carrots and the cauliflower, I looked at Pat’s money box. He was using small potatoes in the compartments where the bills were piled up in order to keep his paper money from blowing away.

 

 

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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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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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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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Swinging the Beans

9 June Tuesday

Yesterday Tommie and I went to the dentist again. He was in high spirits. He was looking forward to his new dentures. He was looking forward to eating toast without first dunking it into his tea. He was not in Daniel’s office for long. All that happened was that he had more measurements taken and he had his mouth yanked about a bit. He was disappointed to be leaving yet again without his new dentures. We walked down the ramp slowly. He was not tearful. He was cross. I drove him home on a different road. I slowed the car to look at a field where small bales were strewn all over the place. They had not been properly stooked. They were a mess. It was obvious that the bales had been in this disarray for a week or more. I could see the error in this because of my recent education about stooks and stooking. These bales were exactly as they were not supposed to be. Tommie was outraged. He has spent his whole life knowing the correct way to care for hay. He could not believe how wrong this was. He told me that I should go right in and inform those people of the Error in Their Hay. He said he would wait in the car for me. I said it was way too late to save that hay. Tommie was invigorated by his anger. It was the best thing that happened on the whole trip.

10 June Wednesday

She was unhappy to learn that she was listed in his mobile phone under W for Wife. He wanted her to list himself in her telephone under H for Husband. She had him listed under his own name and she felt like that was where she wanted to look for him and that was where she wanted to find him. He had a perfectly good name. He explained that this was not about his name. His name would, of course, stay the same. This was a practical detail. This was about A Possible Future Emergency. She understood what he meant but she said that she did not like being reduced to being Noun. He pleaded. He said, “Sometimes it is important to be a Noun.”

11 June Thursday

We set off early for a walk over Joe’s fields. The cows had been gone from the near field for long enough. We knew that they were already up in the milking shed by the time we set out. We would not be in their way and they would not be in our way. We passed a group of calves with ear tags as big as their ears. They were no longer babies. They were off the formula and now eating grass and hay. These were adolescents, or maybe teenagers. They ran to the gate to look at us.

12 June Friday

The expression everyone is using is Letting Out. We are still only in Phase Two of the opening up of services and shops and movement in the whole country.  Already the language has changed to accommodate our new freedoms. Letting Out is what happens for the cows in the spring.  They have been cooped up in open sided sheds and when spring is finally arrives they are let out and they go a bit crazy frolicking and jumping and racing around the meadows.  We are not Coming Out of Lockdown. We are being Let Out.

13 June Saturday

The fox moved through the long grass. His head and body and tail moved as one long curving line. His legs were not visible. The grass was too long for that. He was just a slither of colour. The cows were in the same field. They did not pay any attention to the fox weaving in and out very near to them in the grass. The cows paid no attention to the fox and the fox paid no attention to the cows. They were all in the same field but they were doing different things.

14 June Sunday

The sign was very small. It was tiny. The road is not a busy road. The arrow pointed down a side road which is even less used. The smaller road is a narrow dead end with only four houses the whole length of it. One belonged to Pa and Peggy but they have both died and their cottage is empty.  I walked down to the Bake Sale because I thought it would need some customers.  The little girls doing the baking would be disappointed if no one came to buy their cookies and cupcakes. I could not have been more wrong about the lack of passing trade. Everyone from their primary school was there, plus the parents and a few grandparents and it was a lovely afternoon so people were lingering in the sun and drinking tea and staying two meters apart from each other in all of the official ways, but happy to be together and happy mostly to be anywhere at all.

15 June Monday

I love these days with the doors and windows open and the bird activity and noises of tractors in the far distance.  I stepped outside to drink my coffee on the bench beside the kitchen door. As soon as I sat down I had to jump up and move to another part of the garden. Something has died in the honeysuckle. The smell is terrible. There is a rotting corpse in there getting heated up by the late morning sun. No doubt I could dig around in the foliage and find whatever it is and remove it, but I am not going to do that. I shall just wait for the smell to go away.

 

16 June Tuesday

Twice a week we do a Zoom exercise class. There are about 30 people participating in the class. At the beginning of each class we greet the people we know and the people we don’t know but who we now recognize as other regulars and when it is over we all wave good bye to one another. We have named this class Swinging The Beans because some of the exercises require us to use tins of beans as hand-weights. Simon started out using chickpeas but now he claims to prefer cannellini.

 

Staying Home

18 June Thursday

I stepped out of the book barn and found myself up to my knees in wasps. They were swarming in a deep dark mass from my knees right down to the ground. Some of them were not even flying. They were just walking around. They did not seem to be going anywhere except for a few who walked right up and onto my sandals. I panicked and stepped back into the barn and I shut the door. I stood there for a few minutes but since I did not want to be in the barn anymore, I had no choice but to step out again. The wasps ignored me and they kept swarming. I waded slowly through them. When I cleared the barn and the wasps, I looked back and I could see that there was the usual crowd up under the eaves going in and out in a busy manner. There did not appear to be any up and down activity between the two groups. Still, the low-to-the-ground swarming felt dangerous.

We phoned a man who does Pest Control. His name was Pat. He works with his daughter, and their firm is called Arrest-A-Pest.   He said he would stop by this evening. We were pleased that he would be coming so soon but we had the usual heart-sinking feeling about the word Evening. Evening is a complicated word. Evening here is not like Evening elsewhere. Evening is any time after lunch and it stretches as far as night. The way I understand it is that Evening is both afternoon and evening combined in one word. These days the sun is not going down until 10 pm and it is not full dark till much later. We had no idea when Pat would arrive but we knew it would not do us any good to think nor to worry about it.

Pat said on the telephone that he knew where we lived and he did. He arrived at around 8 pm. He had known Willie English and his three siblings who had lived in this house for years. He knew Johnny Mackin from the ruined house above. He said he had Come Up in the area. He was born just over in Roxbrough and he knew everyone around here. He knew the people who were still alive and he knew those who were dead. He was pleased to tell us as much as he knew. We showed him the wasps. They were busy up around the roof but there was no longer a single wasp down low to show to him. He said that they are not wasps but honeybees and that it is illegal for him to do anything against them. He said we would have to live together in friendship. He said the honeybees are not aggressive and that they will not attack nor sting us. Sadly the honey they are producing is all up in the roof with the queen and there is no chance that anyone can get to it. He explained that the swarm down low to the ground that scared me this morning was a group consolidating to move out. There was a ready queen and the crowd was heading off with her to make a new home somewhere else. It was just a fluke that I walked into the middle of them while they were preparing to depart. Pat said they were not interested in me and probably thought no more of me than they would any tree that was in their path.

19 June Friday

There are certain seasonal things that I never remember. There are months when it is okay for the farmers to spread slurry on the fields and there are months when it is not allowed. There are certain months when it is not permitted to cut the ditches. The months when birds are nesting and laying their eggs in the bushy growth are the times when the cutting is not okay. I should know the months both for spreading and for hedge cutting by now. They should be in the calendar of my head, but somehow these familiar activities take me by surprise every year. Early this morning I walked along a stretch of road and I felt dizzy with the heavy scent of the wild honeysuckle. It was sweet and thick. I slowed down so that I could enjoy it. It was almost overpowering. I wished that I was not alone. I wished that I had someone walking with me today to share the fragrance.  In the afternoon, I walked along the exact same stretch of road and the honeysuckle was completely gone. The big machine driven by Ned Shine or someone working for Ned had come along. The hedges had been cut. It looks like a massacre and there is not even one tiny blossom of honeysuckle left to see nor to smell.

20 June Saturday

At the age of 66, the government gives everyone in the country a card which allows them the freedom to travel anywhere in the country on a bus or a train for free. The card includes travel to and travel within Northern Ireland. It works for public transport within a city like Dublin or Cork. I had my birthday a few months ago and my card arrived right on schedule but I have never used it. This spring has not been the time when anyone wants to be traveling on a bus or on any other form of public transport, even if it is free. Traveling on a bus is not what anyone wants to be doing, at least not if they can avoid it, so the gift of this card is sort of like being given nothing.

21 June Sunday

Elderflower blossom is everywhere. Loose and loopy branches bounce up and down in the breeze. The creamy white blossoms look enormous and blousey. Foxglove is rampant too.  I think I have never seen so much of it in so many places. And as always the wild daisies have taken over the garden.

22 June Monday

Today I received a check in the post from the insurance company. It was for 30 euro. They sent checks out to everyone because they know we have not been driving our cars during the lockdown. They felt we should be rewarded and reimbursed for not using our motorcars. There is a new sort of boasting that people are doing about how little petrol they have used in the last three months. Two men were discussing this outside a shop. They were shouting to one another across the back of a blue car and banging their fists on the boot of the car for emphasis. The first fellow said he had filled his tank in the middle of March and he still had 3/4 of a tank left. The other man said he had only put 27 miles on the clock since the lockdown began. It was a kind of oneupmanship to announce how far each man did not go.  There is newfound pride in the act of Going Nowhere.

23 June Tuesday

I walked out this morning and I found a puffball beside the path. We ate it for lunch.

24 June Wednesday

I saw Anthony’s Christmas tree.  It is the one made of tyres that he brings out every year. It is sitting on a pallet out the back with assorted machines and stacks of old tyres and stacks of new tyres.  It is waiting until it is needed again. It looks a little forlorn with last December’s greenery still there but gone dead and the baubles hanging just as they were when it was Christmas.

25 June Thursday

The government is encouraging people to stay at home this summer. They want people to stay in the country and not to fly off to Europe nor to travel by ferry to the continent. The Kerry County Council has sent a check for 100 euro to every household to encourage residents to stay in Kerry and to spend this windfall locally.

26 June Friday

Tommie was rushed to hospital and after a week there, he was sent to Saint Teresa’s Care Home in Clogheen to recuperate and to regain his strength. Once he was over feeling ill, he had a lovely time. He enjoyed being fed three meals a day and he enjoyed the tea and biscuits before bedtime which was at 9 pm. He said if he had stayed any longer he would have gotten fat. He loved the women who worked there and he loved not being alone all day every day. He said that before he went into hospital The Spring Had Gone Out Of His Step. Now he feels that he has it back. I took him to town and this time his new dentures were ready. He came home a happy man.

27 June Saturday

Another sign of the year moving along is Joe’s delivery of wood shavings for his cows. They stand outside all winter on a specially built platform with no roof over their heads and these wood shavings underfoot. As the shavings fall through the cracks of their platform, new shavings get put down. Every year I worry about the cows exposed to the weather and every year Joe tells me that they do not mind being out. All day today I have heard the noise of the tractor scooping up the shavings and taking them off to be stored until they are needed in the winter. The smell as I pass through the farmyard is lovely. I know there will be a second delivery in the next week or so.

 

The Odd Passing Shower

30 June Tuesday

The Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan is begging people not to go Abroad. At the same time, the radio is full of non-stop advertising from airlines offering low fares to escape to everywhere and anywhere. Travel agencies have asked the government to put a halt to all travel outside of the country. They want everyone who has booked a holiday overseas to get their money back with a payment from the government. They want everyone to Holiday At Home. In daily life, there is a constant question and answer discussion about where one is going for a holiday. The question is asked even when just buying milk. It is imperative for everyone to be going somewhere simply because we are out of lockdown and allowed to go somewhere more distant than 20 kilometres from our homes. Some people are going to Donegal or to Tramore but a lot of people believe it is their right to go to Spain or to a place further afield. The country is divided between those who fear people bringing The Covid back with them and those who just want to Go. There is a lot of hand-wringing and worry about people Going Foreign.

1 July Wednesday

A rabbit flew off the banking at a great speed. She thumped into my chest before pushing off with her feet, dropping to the ground and disappearing. I guess she was being chased. She came out of the opening in the bushes that the fox usually comes through so I assume she was being chased. My presence interrupted the whole activity. This is the first time I have ever collided with a running rabbit.

2 July Thursday

We walked out of Ardfinnan on a narrow tar road in the direction of Lady’s Abbey. There was grass down the middle of the road. On the right we passed a small two-story building. It was small but we knew it was too big to have ever been a house. It was built of stone. All four walls were standing but the roof and the windows were long gone. It was built as a Fever Hospital. Lady’s Abbey was also without roof and without windows. It has been through various states and re-buildings over the centuries. There are a few graves outside and a few crumbling interiors intact. In one small room there is a wooden chair. It is not an old chair. The chair is in fine condition. It has a red velvety seat which has not been damaged by the weather, so it cannot have been in the room for long. Someone carried the chair in there for a reason. There is nothing inside the room to suggest an altar or a place of prayer or any reason at all to be there for a long enough time that anyone might need a chair. The ground beneath the chair is not even flat enough to allow for sitting without teetering or tipping over. I have been thinking about this chair all day. I will go back soon to see if it is still there.

3 July Friday

Slurry has been spread on the fields. The entire out-of-doors stinks. A terrible stench hangs over everything. It causes a burning in the back of the throat. The washing can stay on the clothesline. It is too late. Who wants to sleep in sheets that smell like slurry? They can be left outside for a few more days. The rain and the wind will refresh them and blow all of the odor out.

4 July Saturday

A man leaned into his car boot and lifted out a Madonna. I do not know if she was made of plaster or wood, but she was carefully painted. I could see no chips, cracks or missing bits. She was large. She was at least half the size of the man himself. He cradled her in his arms as he walked across the road with slow deliberate steps to where another man was waiting with the boot of his own car open. The second man had blankets ready. Together they wrapped the Madonna carefully and they laid her down in the boot. They were gentle in all of their movements. They crossed themselves before they closed her in.

5 July Sunday

Birds are eating my gooseberries. It has never been such a big problem as it is this year. I do not mind sharing with the birds but this has been a battle. They have had more than half the crop off my four bushes. This morning I sat outside on a box in a soft drizzle of rain. I have to pick in the rain because I want to collect the gooseberries before they disappear.  I picked as many as I could but even while I was picking a thrush was on a near branch plucking and carrying a berry away. And it was not just one thrush. As soon as I turn my back, a whole flock descends and strips the branches bare.

6 July Monday

Murt stood outside his gate. Sometimes he stands inside his gate and sometimes he stands outside his gate. He cannot walk far these days but he likes to have a look at things. It is important to have something to report to the next person he sees. He told me that he saw two girls out walking. They were going fast. He was impressed with their speed. He said, “Those girls are Good To Walk. They went past me like I was Tied to the Ditch!”

7 July Tuesday

The woman was discussing the definition of her crease. She was thinking of maybe even changing her crease once she had her hair color sorted out. She has had a lot of time to think about it because until now it has not been possible to talk with her hairdresser. I had no idea what she was talking about. I had to ask. A crease is the parting in the hair. A crease defines the point on the scalp from which the hair goes left or right. I did not have to learn a new language when I came to live here but I am always learning a new language.

9 July Thursday

On and off rain everyday. It is grey and gloomy and it does not feel like July. Some days are cool and some days are humid and close like a tropical jungle, but the days are rarely bright. Lady’s Mantle always looks good with raindrops in its leaves. That is one small good thing about the rain and drizzle. We all feel a bit discouraged. The weather people on the radio are running out of ways to forecast the rain. Today we are promised Just The Odd Passing Shower.

 

——————————————

The Beinecke Library at Yale invited me to contribute something to their project Creativity in Isolation.  I thought I had nothing to offer but then I realized that of course, this journal is what I have been doing throughout the lockdown. It was not a special something extra for the lockdown nor something that I did because of the lockdown. It is just a continuation of what I have been doing anyway. With many thanks to Tubyez Cropper, for doing the tricky stuff, and to Nancy Kuhl for pushing me.

https://beinecke.library.yale.edu/article/creativity-2020-erica-van-horn-journal

 

 

A Two Bird Morning

12 July Sunday

I was in a hurry. I ran out of the shop, opened the car door and threw my newspapers onto the back seat. As I slammed the door I wondered whose sun hat was on the seat. That was the exact moment when I realised that this was not my car. I re-opened the door, grabbed my papers and apologized to the man sitting in the front seat as I did so. He did not turn around. He mumbled with his mouth full: “You caught me eating The Chocolate. I have been told not to eat The Chocolate.” He did not seem at all bothered that I had put my things into his car and that I then took them out again. He was only worried about being caught eating The Chocolate. I never saw his face so he need not worry that I will identify him.

13 July Monday

A Two Bird Morning. The first was a tiny wren who came into the big room and flew into a window and knocked herself out. I took her outside and placed her under a table. She was still there an hour later. I worried that she might be injured, so I placed a jar lid full of water and some crumbs nearby in case she needed sustenance to get herself flying again. Perhaps it was just the shock that kept her there. An hour later I looked to see if she was still there. I moved the water a little closer to where she was sitting and my movements startled her. She made an awkward little stumble and a wobbly flight and disappeared into the rosemary bush. About an hour later, a starling came sweeping into the kitchen, did a quick circuit and rushed out again.

15 July Wednesday

Tommie is back at home. Again. He was rushed into hospital for a second time. He spent another seven days inside. While there he was given a second test for The Covid which he assured me is a most unpleasant thing. He felt that having the test once was painful but twice was unfair. He said it is the fault of his lungs and his breathing but the antibiotics did their job and now he is pleased to be at home again. He claims to have No Big Energy but for the moment he is committed to the idea that his lack of energy is the fault of the heavy grey and humid weather, and not his health. He reported that his new teeth give him a lot of pleasure every single day. He can eat anything at all without fear that he might be swallowing another tooth. He declares that it was money well spent and that these new teeth that Daniel made him are even better than the previous set.

17 July Friday

I had seen a little envelope like this once before. I found it on the ground out in the middle of nowhere. It was from Fourmilewater and it was yellow and white.  I did not know what it was for. Today a neighbour offered me some Dear Little Envelopes from her church. The envelopes are dated and because the dates have expired, she would just be throwing them into the recycling. Because no one has been attending church during the days of the Lockdown, she has a backlog of unused envelopes. She knew I would like them. She knew that they would be a novelty to me. The plain green ones are for the weekly offering. She has loads of those. The ones for special collections have different colours on the top. The three I have been given are for St. Patrick’s Day, a Projects and Development Fund and the Diocesan Priests Easter Collection. People attending the church can decide which causes they want to contribute to. There is no obligation to put money into every envelope. There is no obligation, but there is a list. And every envelope has a number. My neighbour’s envelopes all have the same number printed onto them. This number is her number. The person who gathers the envelopes together in the Parish office can tell exactly who gave what. They can match the number to a name and keep track of the generosity, or the miserliness, of each Mass-goer. Throwing random coins into a collection basket is an anonymous way to contribute to a church. There is nothing anonymous about the envelope system.

18 July Saturday

There are three different windows in the end of the building. The stone shed was part of the farmyard when Maisie lived there. Her house was torn down and a new one built in its place. The shed with the three unmatched windows remains exactly where it was, even though it is hard to remember it’s exact location now without the house to define its spot. It is strong and well-built and the roof is good. These windows were the windows that were available at the time the shed was being built. They were not a decision. They were just there and they did the job.

20 July Monday

Tommie was interested to hear of the visit from Pat, the man who came to investigate our wasps. The wasps that were not wasps but honey bees. I said we had been surprised that Pat knew so much about our house and Willie English and his siblings and Johnnie Mackin and everyone else in the vicinity. He snorted and said, “Of course he knows everyone! He Came Up here.” Pat had told us that himself, but he did not tell us that he was Aidan’s brother. I asked Tommie how I could ever have known that Aidan and Pat were brothers. He said that everyone knows that. I reminded him that of course I did not grow up here myself. I did not Come Up Here. I do not know all of the extended families of every single person whose home place is here. He remained scornful. He told me that I have been here long enough to know these things for myself.

21 July Tuesday

I am picking blackcurrants every other day. The bushes keep producing. The figs are ripening. Both the birds and I are keeping careful track of them. Raspberries promise to be abundant, but the apple trees are not doing very well. Nor the wild plums. Meadowsweet, Brambles, Herb Robert, Dog Roses and Cranesbill appear everywhere. After the seasonal massacre with the hedge-cutting machine, the honeysuckle is again crawling over the ditches and smelling sweet. Ferns. Ferns. Ferns. Everything is growing. Everything is fine.

23 July Thursday

We walked out to Lady’s Abbey to check on the chair with the red velvet seat. I was delighted to see that it was still in its place and still looking well. There was a man we recognized who was mowing and trimming around the graveyard and the Abbey. He used to work for the council but we could not remember his name. He did not remember our names either, but we all knew that we were known to one another. He clears the grass at the Abbey once or twice a year even though he is not paid to do it. He also does the grounds down at the old Ballybacon church. He was wearing a floor length leather apron totally covered with bits of grass. He said he had wondered about the chair himself. His theory was that probably someone left the chair in the small room so that they could bring it out and sit beside a grave. They then put it away so that it would not be wet the next time they came to sit upon it.

 

25 July Saturday

Tomorrow is Reek Sunday. This is the traditional day for devout Catholics to climb Croagh Patrick. Every year up to 25,000 pilgrims arrive from all over the country. Local farmers open their fields for parking and there are stands for refreshments and volunteers and ambulances at the ready. Mountain Rescue teams are on hand, as are multiple priests at the top of the mountain saying endless Masses. Some of the pilgrims walk in bare feet and others climb in their Sunday best which is not really appropriate clothing for walking up or down a steep and rocky mountain. Croagh Patrick is exactly the kind of pointed mountain that a child might draw. This year the priests and everyone else in County Mayo are asking people not to come and walk the mountain on Sunday as a crowd because of the Covid but instead to spread their visits out over the summer. Tomorrow there will  be no parking and no priests and no one to rescue anyone if there is an accident. There will be chaos if the pilgrims ignore the advice and arrive anyway.

Biddable

27 July Monday

I was thinking that the haying was not quite as frantic as the silage but I was wrong. Few farmers own the enormous machinery needed to cut, turn and bale the hay. Contractors have the machinery and they send out teams to race and rush around the fields in order to do the job for everyone in the area. When they finish one set of fields they are immediately on the road to another set of fields. The big machines are always in motion. They often move in convoys. The machines get bigger every year. Most of them take up the entire road. And the roads are deadly. This afternoon, I was driving up from the village and I met a tractor racing towards me. Then I saw that it was not a single tractor but one tractor followed by two huge machines. There was no way we could pass one another on the narrow road. These were the machines that were as wide as the road. I began to reverse but I was on the narrowest bit of the road just past O’Dwyer’s farm. The corner there is a blind spot and it is a bit scary even without tractors racing around. I was backing slowly. I am not the best backer-upper. Another tractor appeared behind me. This one was pulling a trailer full of hay bales. The trailer made his backing up more difficult. We both went slowly in reverse, as did the second tractor that had come up behind him. I found a field with an open gate and I backed myself in there. I waited in my field while the two tractors and the loaded trailer maneuvered themselves into the O’Dwyers farmyard. The first three were able to drive along on their way and once the second two had come out of the yard and passed up, I drove out of the field and headed home. It was not the longest wait but it was long enough. An idea might be to stay at home until the haying is over.

 

29 July Wednesday

Since Monday the 20th, we have been required to wear masks inside all shops. There was a pair of short muddy boots in front of the shop. A man came out of the shop. He said quietly to himself, “On with the mask. Off with the boots. Off with the mask. On with the boots.” He climbed up into his tractor and drove away.

30 July Thursday

So far we have had one perfect fig from the tree. It was delicious. We could have believed ourselves in Italy while eating it. It was that good.   I am keeping an eye on the rest but the birds are also keeping an eye on them. Sometimes they peck into a fig that is still too hard to be tasty for them.  I do not know why they are in such a hurry.  The pecked fig is ruined for both them and for us. The only thing that we have had copious quantities of this year are the black currants. Everything else has been a victim of the weather. I have a lot of hope pinned on the raspberries and blackberries.

1 August Saturday

I prefer a circular walk but sometimes I am forced by conditions or locations to turn around and go back the same way that I came. This is not a terrible thing. The view is different when the direction changes. But it is less satisfying than a walk which starts in one place and arrives back in the same place without repeating itself. When I am forced to turn around and go back the way I came, I touch the gate or a post or a tree before I turn around. Since the onset of Covid 19 and the threat  of germs I got into the habit of tapping the gate or the pole with my foot instead of my hand.

3 August Monday

We met Thomas while out for a walk somewhere between Goatenbridge and Clogheen. Siobhan knew him. He was happy to chat with us while sitting on his bench near the house. He asked if there was Anything Strange which is just a way of asking if we had any news. He owns 14 old tractors but most of them do not go out anywhere on the road because of the insurance. He just crosses with them into his fields. Or his son does the driving. Or his grandson. Mostly the tractors get worked on and painted and fixed up. One tractor was hooked up to a table saw. It was being used as the power source to run the saw. Thomas had cut some chairs out of trees and made a little sitting place by the road. It might have been for people to stop and sit and rest while they were walking by, or it might have just been just to look at. He included a small table also cut from a tree and on it he placed a teapot.

 

5 August Wednesday

The door was open. The radio was blaring. The keys were in the ignition. The motor was running. The man who owned the car was inside the shop. He wore a mask with his mouth covered but with his nose exposed. He talked to this one and to that one. There were only two or three people inside the shop when he arrived but then someone came in and someone left. It went on like that. He spoke in a loud voice. Maybe he thought nobody could hear him because he was wearing a mask. Maybe his voice sounded muffled to himself. He was in no hurry to leave. Someone suggested that he might run out of petrol keeping the engine running but he said there was no worry about that as he had just filled up over at Joanie’s.

7 August Friday

Biddable. It is not a word I was accustomed to hearing but now I hear it often and I enjoy it. I think it is my new favorite word. When someone is agreeable and not difficult, he or she might be called Biddable. A Biddable person will be someone open to options.  Dogs too are spoken about as being Biddable, but that is about obedience.

 

8 August Saturday

I am trapped by bales.  I cannot drive out through the farmyard. I cannot do anything but wait.

10 August Monday

We had two days of hot sunny summer weather. The mornings began cool with dew on the grass and then the sun warmed everything. After weeks of grey heavy skies and thick humid weather, the change was wonderful. I have been depressed by the lack of summer. Today we woke up to white mist over everything. There was no horizon. It is still warm but the blue sky is gone. We are still waiting to see where the weather will go today.

Bockety

13 August Thursday

The new stove arrives today. It is not a stove. It is a Cooker. After all these years I still forget that a stove for cooking food is called a Cooker, not a stove. The name comes directly from the action that the thing does. A Cooker cooks. The word stove is reserved for a wood stove or for something like an Aga that provides heat.  Replacing the old Cooker has been an idea on the horizon for months. Back in April, I thought there was a dead rodent in the honeysuckle. The smell near the kitchen bench was terrible. The smell went on and on. I could not believe one small body could take so long to decompose. Then I thought it was second dead rodent. I avoided the bench and I sat elsewhere. There are lots of places to be outside. It was not a bother.

When the gas bottle that provides the fuel for the cooker ran out, we replaced it. It reminded us that we meant to buy a new Cooker last summer and then again in the autumn, but we just never got around to it. Replacing the bottled gas involves unhooking it from the rubber tube and carrying the yellow cylinder to the car and wadding stuff around it so it does not thrash around in the boot while driving to the shop and then having Kieran unload the empty and putting a full bottle into the back of the car. And again, wadding a blanket or cramming a box or something around or against it so that it does not crash heavily around in the back when the car turns a corner. I cannot lift the full bottle out of the car. Simon does that. He hooks it up and then we have gas, but it is not great this butane gas. It is wet. The heat has never been high heat. We decided last year to buy an Electric Cooker even though we both dislike Electric Cookers. What we dislike even more at this point is the constant transporting of gas bottles up and down from the village. Empty gas bottles and full gas bottles. Back and forth and up and down.

After the latest bottle was replaced, it did not last long. It only lasted two weeks which is far too soon to be running out of fuel. A bottle should provide at least 100 hours of cooking. The timing was terrible. It ran out while we were preparing supper. The smell was back again too. I could not believe that there was Yet Another Dead Rodent in the same location in the honeysuckle. We decided that maybe there was a leak in the gas line that takes the gas into the kitchen through a small hole in the wall. We thought maybe a rat had chewed the rubber, or maybe the rubber was just old and perished. We began to turn the gas on at the top of the bottle where it stood inside the honeysuckle bush each time we chose to prepare food. Then we had to remind ourselves to turn it back off again when the cooking was done. That was all right on a fine day but when it was raining it was annoying to go outside each time the Cooker was needed. And then again when it was no longer needed.

Sean Hackett sent out an electrician named Tommy Lonergan. He installed an outlet and switch to adapt the electricity to allow the Cooker to work. Now that Tommy has done his part, the new Cooker can be delivered and installed. I will take the last gas bottle back to the shop and get our deposit back. I will return the old empty one as well as the new one we had on hand in anticipation of yet another one running out. We need never buy another. And as for the honeysuckle, this seems like a very long-winded way to announce that since it has gone scraggy and horrible, and since it’s major function was only ever to hide the gas bottle, perhaps this is the time to cut it down.

14 August Friday

I bumped into Michael Keating this morning. He only just found out that Jim Costigan died. Pat at The Cross told him and he said he had been meaning to tell Michael and Joe for weeks and weeks now, but then he forgot and with no one seeing much of anyone these days the news got lost.
Michael told me how fond his father and Biddy had been of Jim and how much they enjoyed his yearly visits to service their Stanley. Michael said if the times had been different and if he had known, he would surely have driven his mother over to Moyglass for the funeral, but of course he did not know at the time and anyway we were all in lockdown and not able to travel that far from home. We spoke of the many ceremonies and rituals going on without any possibility of being shared in this strange time. We spoke for as long as we could talk with Michael up in the tractor and me standing down on the ground. We talked until a car came along and then we had to move along because we were blocking the road.

 

16 August Sunday

Cows walk from all corners when they are ready to leave a field. Walking around all day while eating grass and changing places does not make much wear on a field.  By the time the walking cows get to the track or the gate that they need to file through they have formed a single line. There is always one cow who is the leader. Their single line nearing the gate quickly wears a path through the grass.

17 August Monday

Julie used the word Bockety to describe the house. It suggested that the house is ramshackle. Bockety is a lovely word. I am not certain if it is a word in common use or if it is her own word. She was quick to tell me that Bockety is used to describe things, not people.

18 August Tuesday

The washing was hanging on the clothes line when the rain began. We had 24 hours of hard steady straight down rain. This morning the clothes line is drooping dangerously low. The clothing is heavy with water. Everything is too wet to bring indoors. I am waiting to see which happens first: Will the clothesline break with the weight of wet fabric or will the clothes dry in the breeze before that happens?

21 August Friday

The early evening silence is enormous. It takes a while to register that the deep quiet is because the wind has stopped. There is no wind. After two days of howling and thrashing and buffeting, the world is silent. We have been beaten and buffeted by gusts of noisy wind since Wednesday night when Storm Ellen hit. Branches and entire trees have fallen down, roofs have blown off, fences have been blown down and electricity has been lost all over the country. This area has been hit harder than usual. The storms off the Atlantic usually hit the west of the country first and they are weak by the time they reach Tipperary.  We got off lightly. We did not lose electricity but lots of homes nearby did.  Along with the winds we had thunder and lightening and rain off and on throughout the days and nights. Here we have had many branches to pick up. Things blew all over the place. There were small animals and birds dead everywhere. They had been tossed into walls and trees. Part of the roof in the entryway to the sauna blew off. The roads are lined with trees being cut up into manageable pieces. I rang Tommie to see how he was after the storm. He said he did not hear a thing. He slept like a baby all though the worst of the winds.  He said “Giving these storms a name like Ellen is a trick to make us less frightened. Sure, we all know an Ellen, don’t we?”

Easy Enough to Forget

25 August Tuesday

Tommie was finally allowed to have a visit with Margaret in the care home in Cappoquin. He found it awkward.  He and Margaret sat on opposite sides of a big sheet of glass and they both wore masks. He said she did not know who he was with his mask on, so he took it off. She still did not know who he was.  He felt that after more than 60 years of marriage she should recognize him, but 5 months of no contact had made him easy enough to forget. He was told that he could schedule a half hour visit every two weeks but before he had the chance to make a second visit, they placed the care home back into lockdown.

26 August Wednesday

The ditches are full of honeysuckle and purple loosestrife and creamy clumps of meadowsweet. I am still waiting for the ripening of the blackberries. There are loads of little hard berries but there has not been enough sun to ripen them. The teasels took a beating with all of the storms and winds. They are tumbling everywhere. Very few remain standing fully upright.

27 August Thursday

The roads remain dangerous. Farm vehicles command priority.

28 August Friday

I recognized the woman at the dump. She was the one who had quizzed me about how to dress when dropping off the rubbish and recycling. She said it was a terrible dilemma because if she came all the way into town she wanted to do some other errands and she liked to look nice when she went into a shop. She did not want to wear her good clothes because going to the dump could easily become a messy job if your Black Bag full of the horrible non-recycling stuff broke or if something leaked in the car or spilled when one lifted it up. This woman was always in two minds about whether to dress for the dump or to dress for the town. She lived too far out to make two separate trips. It was last year when she quizzed me about how I managed this issue for myself. When I saw her today, she looked just the same to me as she did then. She certainly did not recognize me from our previous conversation. Either she has resolved the question in her own mind or she is still worrying the problem.

29 August Saturday

As always, the cows ate their way right around one field leaving it tidy and short with straight edges exactly where the fence stopped them eating. Today, after milking, they walked right through that field to the next one where the grass was fresh and long and ready for the eating.

31 August Monday

I saw a yellow plastic ear tag under the gate. It was stuck in the dried mud. I briefly debated whether to crawl over the gate or to squeeze under the gate. I had to get the tag. I looked around until I found a stick. It was a short stick but it worked alright as an extension of my arm. I stretched through the gate and scratched away at the mud until I dislodged the plastic. Then I scrabbled and raked it over towards me. As always, I am delighted to have a new tag.

2 September Wednesday

We often hear reports on the radio lamenting the fact that the country is no longer practicing religion as it once did. Actually it is not so much a lament but more of an observation about the change in attitudes and behaviour. Few people attend mass regularly and that is not just because of The Covid. The numbers attending church have been falling for many years. There are not so many people subscribing to the practices of the church. When it comes to a funeral or a wedding or the confirmation rituals for children, it appears that everyone is still a Catholic. There are maybe not so many people practicing the official religion in official ways but it remains common to see a car slow down when it passes a church while the driver crosses himself or herself. Increasingly the crossing is often done while the driver is also on the mobile phone.

Many sentences end with the expression God Willing or Please God, especially when anticipating the future. Today my doctor told me on the telephone, “I will see you on Thursday at 10.30, God Willing.”

In written form I do not usually see God Willing abbreviated (G.W.), but P.G. (Please God) and T.G. (Thank God) are common on paper. I am not even certain that people realize that they are saying it. They just say it.

4 September Friday

Raspberries are ripening fast now. I am picking a bowlful every day. Sometimes it is just a normal kind of cereal bowlful and sometimes it is a very large bowlful. We are eating copious quantities of raspberries, giving some to neighbours and freezing some. The freezer is now full of all sorts of frozen fruit. I spilled an enormous bag packed full of blackcurrants inside the freezer today. The hard little berries all tumbled to the bottom. Of course. It is a pity it was such a large bag. I have yet to go out to the shed to empty the freezer of its contents and shovel up all the escaped frozen blackcurrants. Blackberry picking has not started. They seem to be slow to ripen, although I hear from other people that they have huge quantities growing near them. I am busy enough with my raspberries so I am glad the blackberries are not ready.

5 September Saturday

Breda and I walked up the old path along the stream to the waterfalls. It was clear for most of the way. We remarked on what easy going it was and we remarked that we had not expected it to be so clear, but as soon as we said that we walked into a mass of fallen down trees and branches. Either Storm Ellen or Storm Frances had done the damage. It was a mess. It was a scrabble to get through but with a lot of crawling and snagging and scratching, we managed to get in and then we had to keep going because backing up was not possible.  Halfway though our struggle we heard a man shouting. It was another walker who was crashing through from the other direction. He said he had walked down from Bay Lough which is several hours walk from where we were then. He was a huge fat man and he was pouring out sweat. By the time we met, he was out of the branches and done with the thrashing and he had blood pouring down his face. When we pointed to the blood on his face, he waved both of his hands in the air and said “No Bother. No Bother. You know yourself. It will be after clotting itself any minute now.” And then he marched off down the path.

6 September Sunday

The cows get a bit of fresh grass thrown down to munch on while they are waiting for the rest of the herd to finish up the milking. Some days they wander off down the fields whenever they are ready, but if they are being taken to a new field across the road they have to wait till everyone has been milked. They do not leave the farmyard until they are all ready to go together in a group. I like seeing them snacking in a long line.

7 September Monday

While walking up through Joe’s fields today I found another ear tag mashed into the manure on the track. This one had been snapped off so no doubt the last bit is still in the ear of the cow. A few days ago Breda pointed me towards a tag in the bog when we were up the mountain. She did not want to pick it up but she knew I would want it.  It was a small one, made for a sheep.  Finding three new tags in one week is a thrilling bounty. Sometimes I go for months without finding a single new one.

A Bull In The Back

10 September Thursday

Thursday is a big day for shopping. It has to do with it being the day when people get paid. I always forget about Thursday. Normally I try not to go to a supermarket on a Thursday but sometimes I forget. I went to the Supervalu in Cahir and it was full of the workers from the meat processing plant. The workers are mostly from Brazil and Roumania. Meat plants have been a big problem in recent months with sizeable outbreaks of Covid in the factories because of sloppy testing practices. Or no testing. The government is now putting pressure on the meat processing plants and forcing extra testing and vigilance. It is a difficult situation. The workers are treated badly and they are poorly paid. Many of them do not speak enough English to really understand the rules of the current pandemic situation. Their employers exploit that fact. They know that the workers cannot afford to miss a day of work so if they feel unwell they will come in to work anyway. They will bring their symptoms with them. On top of that they have to share their protective equipment. Even their masks get shared. As do their beds because the meat plants tend to be working 24 hours a day. The workers are living with other men who work in the plants and they share the beds. When one man is out working, another man is sleeping in his bed. They are living in close proximity and sharing every single thing in wretched circumstances. Their lives are dreadful. This morning in the SuperValu there were ten or twelve of these men running around the store calling out to one another. They were happy and excited, like children on an outing. These men all wore terrible cheap clothes made of flapping synthetic fabric.  Many garments had been torn and then repaired with heavy black tape. The black tape itself was heavier than the fabric of the garments so there was a lot of drooping. Several of the men had huge scars and rough stitches on their shaved heads. Several had oozing sores on an arm or a hand. At least two were missing fingers. I felt like weeping as I watched them gleefully rushing up and down the narrow aisles. At the same time, I wanted to get as far away from them as I could.

12 September Saturday

Blackberries are now rampant. They are ripening in every direction. The ditches are heavy with berries. I call all of them blackberries. Other people call them brambles. There are many different kinds and they are all in varying degrees of ready for the picking. Some are sour and some are tart and some are juicy and sweet. Once they are all together in a bowl they are lovely. Bird droppings full of blackberry excrement are everywhere. There are purple and blue smudges on the clothes that hang on the washing line, on the outdoor tables and chairs, on the car, on the road.

13 September Sunday

Michael stopped. His truck was pulling a trailer with a bull in it. He was taking the bull to another farm to be put into a field with females. He turned off his engine. He was in no hurry. As we spoke, with me on foot and him sitting inside in his truck, the bull began to throw himself around. The trailer rocked from side to side. The force of the bull’s weight thrashing around inside the trailer made the whole truck move. Even with the emergency brake on, Michael’s pick up truck was getting pushed and jolted along. I could not believe that the truck could be rammed forward by the sheer force of a bull in the back. Michael was neither surprised nor worried about the energetic antics of the bull. We continued with our conversation until another vehicle came along and we had to stop blocking the road with our words.

14 September Monday

Wet Pubs are scheduled to open on the 21st of September. Wet Pubs are those pubs that do not serve food. I had never heard this expression but I knew exactly what it meant as soon as I heard it. In recent weeks, bars and restaurants that serve both alcohol and food have been allowed to open with strict rules. The time a customer is allowed to stay in the establishment is restricted to 90 minutes. Public houses that only serve alcohol have been kept closed. This means most rural pubs, the wet ones, have not been allowed to open. Eating a bag of potato crisps is not considered food. Now there is a date for the reopening but there will still be strict rules and that means no one can stand at the bar while they order or while they drink. Drinks must be served to a person sitting down and staying seated at a table that is a distance from any other table. Rose is not planning to open the pub in the village. It is a very small place. She is thinking that she will give it a few weeks and see how things develop elsewhere goes before she gives it a go.

15 September Tuesday

I saw six greyhounds running along on the side of the road. Several of them had thick blue ropes dangling from their necks. They had escaped from somewhere. They were not running fast but they were not loitering and sniffing at things. They were on the move. The one in the lead was young and light on her feet. She sort of danced along almost on tiptoes. She kept turning her head to check if the other five were still with her. It had all the look of a great day out.

16 September Wednesday

Telling someone to Keep It Between The Ditches is as close as you get to hearing someone telling another person to drive carefully.

18 September Friday

I long for a dog. For the moment I have a windowsill full of animals. It is not enough. It is not the same as a real hungry happy dog but it is something.

20 September Sunday

The freshly mown middle.

Peppermint Oil

23 September Wednesday

The week after the Third Thursday in September is traditionally the week when the National Ploughing Championships are held. Of course the championships are cancelled this year. There is as much discussion on the radio about the cancellation as there would be if the Ploughing was really happening.

25 September Friday

There are spiders everywhere. It is a good year for spiders. It is a great year for spiders. We all comment on it. We are all  living with them. They are inside the house in corners and on the ceilings and around the windows and slipping around in the bathtub and in coffee cups and everywhere. It is not just one kind of spider. There is a lot of variety. There are big spiders and small ones. There are the huge wood spiders.  No one seems to know why they are all visible and active all at once nor why they are all visible and active at this particular time of the year. Ned told me that peppermint oil is the answer.  He repeated peppermint oil a few times but he never told me exactly what I should do with the peppermint oil. He assured me that peppermint oil will send them packing.

26 September Saturday

The car park beside Cahir Castle was full of big trucks and machinery. Fifteen porta-loos had been dropped into place. They blocked access to the bottle banks. The entrance to the car park was closed with metal gates that could be shoved aside. Security men were allowing those people who wanted to attend the Farmers Market into the car park on foot. They would not let any cars drive in. Already more than half of the car park was roped off. They were just waiting for the market to be finished at one o’clock so that they could take over the rest of the place. No one seemed completely sure what the film was but the name I kept hearing repeated was Matt Damon. Matt Damon. Matt Damon. Whatever the film was, he was going to be in it. His name was heard like a little rumble coming out from under all the masks. There were men walking around with clipboards and dozens of men in reflective security vests. Big lights were in place behind the fish stall.They were taking over the entire place while we were trying to shop for our fish and vegetables. The late strawberries are finished, but I was delighted to see that Tipperary Pippins are in season and being sold on the Apple Farm’s stand.

28 September Monday

A tiny wren was flying around the room. Wrens are always small but this one looked extra tiny. It was young and it was crashing into the windows trying to escape and to get itself back out doors. It finally smashed into a window with such force that it knocked itself out. I picked up the little body and placed it under the rosemary bush with a jar lid full of water nearby for when it woke up. The wren did not wake up, so I buried it under Kattie English’s rose bush.

29 September Tuesday

I took the car in to Mike to get something fixed. I had an hour to wait around. I had forgotten about the filming in Cahir. Since Saturday we have had all the news: The film is called The Last Duel, and it is set in Medieval France. The car park is completely closed off now and there are temporary walls in place so no one can see what is going on down there. Some of the walls are made of stretched plastic sheeting and some are woven willow. Flags are waving on standards and large red banners are hanging down off the sides of the castle. It all looks festive in the sunshine. There are one or two dozen people leaning over the side of the bridge looking downriver and hoping for a glimpse of the actors: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jodie Comer, Adam Driver. They are all there somewhere.  Ridley Scott is directing the film. No one is so interested to see him. The radio station Tipp FM has a car from which they are broadcasting reports of the activity even though there is not much to be seen so I think there is not much to report. People talk among themselves about what they are not seeing. There are several small rough carts made of dark planks standing around in front of the castle. Another carriage rambles around town pulled by horses that need some exercise. The Limerick bus had to wait to unload its passengers because a carriage was in the way. There is an open courtyard inside the old mill where all of the horses are being stabled. The town seems full of this movie but at the same time everything is proceeding as normal. A elderly man standing on the pavement remarked, “Isn’t it just a fine thing to have something to talk about that is neither The Covid nor the weather!”

1 October Thursday

I had not seen the woman for months and months. She started right in talking as if we had only met yesterday. She started right in talking as if no time had passed.

“I would not marry. I have no time for marriage. It is not for me. I will not even live with The Boyfriend. I need my evenings for the crocheting and the knitting. He can fool around on top of me down in the shed at the bottom of the yard. My mother knows what we are doing down there but I am a grown woman. She would never come down while he and I are down there. Not like the bathroom though. She walks right in when I am taking a shower or having a wee. She thinks it is no problem. She did that to my father for years. She took the locks off the doors because she was afraid of him falling, or that is what she said anyways. I only moved back in after he died so that she would not be alone but now I am never alone. I live in one room, in my own room, but really I never know when the door might open and she will be there. I am never alone except when I am down in the shed but that is when The Boyfriend is with me, so really I am never alone.”

I said, “Well, it is good to see you after all this time. You are looking well after the quiet of Lock Down Life.”

She said, “I’d look better if I had my teeth in.”

2 October Friday

I took an early walk through Joe’s fields. I timed it for when I thought  the cows would be up in the milking shed. I do not always get the timing right. Neither Joe nor the cows work to an exact schedule. I have been spoiled by the long stretch of dry weather and the ease of walking up the track and through the fields on a hard firm surface. Now the weather has changed. There has been rain. We are promised a lot more rain. Today the sun was watery but there was sun. The track was slippery with mud and manure. It was difficult work walking uphill.

4 October Sunday

When a mass is being held in the church, a small group of men stand outside the church. They are not always the same men but their behavior is always the same. They stand close to the front door. The men are dressed for the occasion. They wear their good pull-over sweaters with clean ironed shirt collars showing at the neck. Usually there are four or six men standing and smoking cigarettes and talking quietly among themselves. When everyone else comes out of the church the men are right there by the door. They will be noticed. They will be seen to be In Attendance. Some people might realize that these men have never gone into the church but most people will believe that they were standing or sitting at the back of the church for the whole time and that they were the first to leave the building. Today I stopped at the shop and I looked across at the church. I saw five men standing and leaning outside while a Mass was being said inside. They were lolling against the wall of the church in the watery sunshine. Instead of the usual cigarettes being smoked, the five men were all wearing masks. Not one of them was smoking.

A Drive-By

9 October Friday

I looked down and saw a brown wallet at my feet. It was fat and well-worn. I picked it up and looked around. There was not a person in sight. I started back into the shop to leave it at the counter in the hope that the owner would return to claim it. Before I reached the door, someone shouted my name. I turned and saw Dilly running toward me. She was wearing her mask. I could not see her mouth but her eyes were full of panic. She called out, “It’s mine! Erica, it’s mine!”  She was still breathless as she told me that she had been parked right there, right there with her car just beside my car and she had noticed that it was my car when she got into her car and she drove the kilometre all the way up the road to her house and she got out of the car before she realized that she must have dropped the wallet as she sat into her own car. She noticed and registered the presence of my car but she did not notice the dropping of her wallet. She turned around and came rushing back. I was happy that the lost wallet found its owner so quickly. She whispered through her mask that she was just after drawing down some money out of the Post Office account so the wallet was Fat Full of Cash. It took a little while but I was glad to see the panic leaving her eyes. She removed her mask and I removed my mask and we stood and talked in the watery sunlight. We kept the distance of the car bonnet between us. I watched her face return to normal as we spoke of this and that and about how much she missed seeing her grandchildren. The whole time she was talking Dilly never stopped clutching her wallet with both hands.

10 October Saturday

New bramble growth is rampant. The young ones are hanging down as tendrils. They grab at my hair and my face and they catch on clothing. I have had two falls in the last week. Both happened while I was walking up the mass path. Both times the reason for the fall was the thicker brambles that are growing or creeping sideways across the path. They hooked my ankle and down I went. I am good at falling. I fall often. I have learned to sort of roll into a tumble and unless there are a lot of rocks, I am mostly unhurt. The first fall was into mud and leaves. The second fall was caused by creeping brambles too but I fell into a scattering of apples both rotten and not yet rotten and some freshly fallen from the trees up at Johnnie’s orchard. The apples that are still hard are like ball bearings. Once the brambles tripped me it was difficult to get myself up and out of the rolling mess without slipping on another apple. The best part about the fall was the lovely smell of rotten apples on my trousers and my hands. The smell followed me around for the rest of my walk.

11 October Sunday

Shebeens are getting busted all over the country. Hundreds of these illegal Wet Bars have opened in sheds and garages and in custom-made structures built of scrap wood and old pallets. Some are elaborate with beer on draft and electricity and portable toilets installed outside. Others just offer a few cans and bottles to drink by lantern or candlelight. Most have a wood stove for heat. Depending where they are located, those partaking can arrive by foot or bicycle or on a tractor but it is best if very few vehicles are visible. These private bars have always been around in rural places but apparently they are now opening in the suburbs and in the towns. The Gardaí are finding them and busting them but they know that for every three they find, there are another one hundred shebeens out there.

12 October Monday

No Bodge! No Bodge has evolved from No Bother. I do not know if people have always been saying this, or if it is a new development of slang. Now I hear it all the time. When I say thank you, the person I am thanking used to say No Bother which I did not really like but that was what was said. Now when I say Thank You what I hear in return is No Bodge. Maybe this is a distinctly local expression or maybe it is more widespread. Since we are in constant but varying degrees of lockdown we do not venture far. Perhaps everyone in the entire country now says No Bodge. Or maybe it is only within our very near world.

13 October Tuesday

Moll Collins of Moneygall turned 100 years old this week. A colour photograph of her was printed in the Irish Times. In lieu of a party, a Drive-By was organized and assisted by the the Gardaí from Roscrea and Nenagh stations. Moll sat in a chair at the end of her path just outside her gate while people drove or walked by at a safe distance. They tooted their car horns and they called out Many Happy Returns. It looked like the best celebration ever.

15 October Thursday

There are announcements on the radio telling British people resident in the country to hurry up and exchange their driving license for an Irish one. They must do this before the end of the year or else they will no longer be legal to drive here. Their insurance company will not cover them. They will be illegal driving on their British licenses. This is all part of the reality of Brexit arriving on 1 January. The British will no longer have the rights of other Europeans. Most of them feel outraged by this change. They think things should continue as they are even when that is not possible. Everything will be different.

16 October Friday

I finished stacking firewood into the lean-to and under the long bench. Billy the Timber has retired and his son no longer cares to cut and sell firewood. Johnnie O’Brien delivered this wood but we were asked to pay for it by writing a check to Father Sheehy’s GAA Club. The load was a mixture of Lime wood and Palm wood. Together the load smells like old geraniums. I had never heard of using palm as firewood and when I looked it up I read that burning palm in your wood stove is tantamount to burning straw. Then I learned that the palm trees that grow all over the Irish coasts are not real palm trees but they are some kind of import from New Zealand called a Cabbage Palm (Cordyline australis).  They look like palm trees and they grow well in this temperate climate and in windy locations, but they are not even remotely related to Palm trees.

 

17 October Saturday

Tommie told me that he is 88. He implied that he will not be 88 for much longer but he would not tell me his birthday. He does not want me to know the date. He does not want me to give his birthday the smallest amount of attention. He said he has never had a card nor a cake and never a party to celebrate his birthday.  No one has taken notice of the day even once in his life and he says there is no reason to start now.

18 October Sunday

The honeybees are still in and out of the barn roof. They are busy all day every day. They are in and out and swarming around the entrance. There must be a massive supply of honey up there and there is no way anyone except the bees can get it.

20 October Tuesday

The early blackberries growing in the ditches suggested such bounty. We thought this year might be the best year ever for blackberries. Since that moment of initial promise, actual plump edible berries have been few and far between. I have not gathered large bowls full of blackberries. I have had a few cupfuls here and there. Most of my blackberry eating has taken place while coming upon a laden bush when out walking. The bushes are still full of hard berries that I am beginning to accept are berries that will never ripen. My raspberry canes keep producing but they are slower than they were. They take longer to ripen and the berries are smaller and less sweet. Every three or four days I can fill a bowl. It is worth keeping an eye on the bushes. It has been raining now for 24 hours. Maybe more. The wind does not stop. The rain blows hard in different directions. There is flooding all over County Cork. We do not have any flooding but we have a lot of water everywhere. The raspberries were looking ready to pick so I went out and picked some in what I thought was a lull between downpours. It had not stopped raining.  It continued as a drizzle but no longer a lashing. I did manage to gather half a bowl of raspberries and I got completely soaked doing so.

22 October Thursday

As of midnight last night we are in full Level Five Lock Down. Again. We are allowed to go no further than 5 kilometres from home for exercise. Schools and crèches remain open. I am wondering if The Boulders fall within the 5 km restriction. The Boulders are a group of about seven large stones maybe pushed into place so that no one drives off that bit of the road.  There used to be some blue paint on one or two of them. It was the same blue used to mark sheep. Most of the blue has worn off. The Boulders is nothing more than a slim spot to pull off the narrow road and park before heading out to walk on Barranacullia and beyond into the Knockmealdowns. The Boulders is a place to meet in these times when we all have to travel in separate cars. If it is more than 5 kms from here, it is not much more.

23 October Friday

We love the postman. The days when letters or packages arrive from afar are the best. Derek also brings news gathered from along his route. Even if nothing comes and Derek does not appear down the boreen, we savor the anticipation. He is not an early postman so his arrival time is always a surprise. He might arrive anytime from 9.00 to 11.30. These days he only comes three times a week. Last week we learned that one of the postmen went off to Greece on a holiday all by himself. Everything there was closed. He had to spend most of his time locked up in his hotel room and then he came home and had to self-isolate for two more weeks. All the other postmen had to take turns working extra hours to cover his route. Derek said, “I have no news today. I am keeping Myself To Myself as I have been told, so I have no news.”

 

 

 

An Added Apostrophe

26 October Monday

Today is a Bank Holiday. In the current climate, it is difficult to know what this means. It is difficult to know if the words Bank Holiday mean anything at all. We remain in Level Five Lockdown. Everything everywhere is closed and everyone is staying at home. The word Holiday feels misplaced.

31 October Saturday

Wild winds gusted and bashed the country all night. All leaves have been blown off all trees. Branches are naked. Views are opened up. We can see things in the far distance. We can view vistas that have not been visible since last year. This is all the work of Storm Adrian. Or it might be the other storm that was coming right behind him. It is not easy to keep track of the names of these relentless winds off the Atlantic.

Most of the vendors at the Farmers Market did not even try to put up their little tents this morning. James, the vegetable man, attached his tent to his car in the hope that the car would keep it from blowing away. Lorraine opened the boot of her car and used the interior space to display her baked goods in tiered rows. We could not get very close to anything she had on offer but we could point to what we wanted. No one lingered at the market. We purchased our food and we rushed away. The noise of the wind made conversation impossible.

1 November Sunday

Today is the first day of the shooting season. I have already seen three cars with men inside and tiny covered trailers being pulled behind. The trailers carry the gun dogs, usually three or four of them squished into the small space. The men will be out hoping to shoot birds and the dogs will be hoping to retrieve the downed birds. It is the time of year for me to sing loudly and to recite poetry when I walk through wooded areas. I need to alert the men with guns that I am not something to be shot. More importantly, I hope to alert the birds of possible danger.

2 November Monday

Joe has had a new man working with him up at the farm for a few weeks now. Today I was chatting to the new man while waiting for the cows to cross the track, so I asked his name. He said his name is Joe. Joe is working for Joe. And then there is the other Joe in the adjoining fields. Joe and Joe and Joe. We are surrounded by Joes.

9 November Monday

It has been an exhausting week. Watching and listening to the election and the results and the endless discussions and laborious counting has been all-consuming. On top of my own concern, I have had to take on the role of The American. I have received many phone calls and messages of congratulations and of shared joy and relief. These messages have arrived from England and from just down the road. I have been stopped by neighbors out walking. Without seeking the job, I seem to have been representing the entire nation. I am the American Friend. One man who knew who I was although I did not know he was, stopped his car when I was walking on the road. He rolled down his window and he asked me if I had voted in the US election. He said, “Of course it only matters to me if you voted the right way.” We quickly established that he and I shared the same idea about who the right choice was. One man, who is a Rabid Republican, avoids me if we happen to be in the village at the same time. Many years ago he lived in the United States and he retains his vote there. He takes his responsibility as a voter seriously. He takes his role as an American even more seriously. I do not know why he lives here and not there. I do not think that he likes having another American in the vicinity. Without me around, he could be the authority on all things American. I do not want the job but I know that he does want it. Actually, he stopped acknowledging me years ago, so this election makes no difference to anything at all.

10 November Tuesday

The newest Gift from the Government is the offer of Free Postage to anyone sending anything to a residential Care Home. A letter or a parcel to a friend or an elderly relative or anyone at all is now carried by An Post for free. The government is trying to make up for the fact that because of The Covid, no one can visit their loved ones in a home. They think everyone will feel better if things can be sent without cost as often as one wants. And they are certain that the people inside the homes will feel better too.

11 November Wednesday

The bales of silage wrapped in pink plastic are cheerful against the grey skies.  Not all farmers use the pink plastic but many do. The pink silage wrap appears every year. It starts out bright pink and it fades in the light.  It’s purchase price goes toward helping support Breast Cancer charities. The idea is that the surprise of pink bales in the landscape will remind everyone that this is an problem that is not going away and that it is one that needs attention and vigilance. The pink is always a surprise. No matter how often I see the bales close up or in the distance they refuse to be ignored.

12 November Thursday

The child had thrown himself onto the ground. He was weeping with ferocious energy. His crying left him gasping and gulping and making a lot of noise. It looked to me like he could not get any air. I watched him with concern. His mother saw my face. She said “Don’t worry yourself, he knows that kind of Hegging will get him plenty of attention.” Hegging is the word for this particular form of desperate sobbing. Just when I think I know all the words that might be new to me, along comes another one.

13 November Friday

Helen McGrath keeps bees up in the Knockmealdowns. Her bees feed on mountain heather. The honey is delicious. The printed labels for the jars were missing an apostrophe. I have enjoyed adding an apostrophe each time we purchased a jar of Helen’s Honey. A new label has now been designed. This one has an apostrophe where it should be, so the jar we are now eating will be the last one with An Added Apostophe.

14 November Saturday

The man selling organic chickens and sausages, bacon, and rashers off his tiny table at the market pronounced loudly to another man. His voice was scornful and dismissive. He said “Vegetarians are No Good to me!”

16 November Monday

The winds have been relentless for weeks now. I go to sleep with the sound of the wind and I wake up to the sound of wind. We have also had a lot of rain. The fields around the village disappeared as they turned into one enormous lake. The river left its banks and became part of the lake. There were no longer any edges to anything, no recognizable boundaries. We lost all sense of location in the landscape. Trees without leaves popped up as if growing out of water. It was hard to know if they were dead or alive. The hump-backed bridge was the only familiar thing. It was shocking to drive down to the shop and to see all of the water. Now the waters have mostly receded. Fields are back and the grass is bright green. It is not easy to believe that all of that water has been so quickly absorbed by the land. Of course, not all of the water is gone anyway. Most of the fields have select lakes and ponds still visible in their low places.

17 November Tuesday

Our internet has been down more often than it has been up and running. It is all weather dependent. It comes and goes in gusts, like the wind. It has not been possible to ring a neighbor and to ask to go to their house and use their internet because we are not supposed to go inside anyone else’s house. Everyone is trying hard to obey the rules and not to allow anyone into their homes. I went down to the shop and I was given permission to sit alone in the badly lit storeroom surrounded by boxes of pasta and porridge and biscuits. The cold came up through my feet and numbed my legs but the wi-fi was strong and good. I have been trying all day to post this blog. I may need to drive back to the village and head back into storeroom to get it done.

Don’t Act the Maggot

23 November Monday

The good news is that I now have a robin friend who hops along close to me as I perform small outdoor jobs. Wherever I go out of doors she appears and follows me. The days are bitter and frosty and short so most jobs get done in small spurts. I am stacking another load of firewood, and plucking off the big figs left on the bush while leaving only the tiny fingernail-sized ones. Moving the clay pots into the shed to avoid them cracking with frost and moving plants into the house or the book barn to help them to survive the winter. This new robin has no name yet but if she sticks around and becomes the robin who recognizes me and who I expect to see every day, I will of course name her. It is companionable to have a small presence to chat to in the cold. She tips her head to the left each time I speak.

24 November Tuesday

Tommie has lost track of how long it has been since he last visited Margaret in the care home in Cappoquin. He thinks he was forbidden to visit even before we went into this lockdown but he claims he is mixed up with the time. He knows that there is no chance that Margaret will remember when they last met so if he cannot remember then it probably does not matter anyway. He told me that when he last saw her she was in good form and that she was Thumping Away on Her Crate. He said he could not hear the racket through the glass dividing wall. Her Crate is what he calls her walking frame.

25 November Wednesday

The day was sunny and frosty. There was only one car parked in front of the shop. An elderly woman sat in the passenger seat. She waved to me with enthusiasm and mouthed greetings through the tightly closed window. I went into the shop and when I came out again the car was still there but the woman was gone. I looked up just in time to see her scurrying out from the churchyard leaning heavily on her stick and coming across the road as fast as she could move which was not very fast. She was out of breath when she reached the car and she asked me not to tell a soul that I had seen her. Her husband was still inside in the shop. She said there would be a massacre if he learned that she had stepped out of the car, especially as she was wearing neither a hat nor a mask. She had just popped into the churchyard to say hello to her parents in their grave. She felt certain that they would be feeling the cold.

26 November Thursday

The Community Alert text message warned that a white Nissan van was ‘calling to farmers’ yards looking for hay.’ The identifying number of the van was given and any sightings were to be reported to the Cahir Garda Station. The problem was not that someone was needing hay for their animals. The implication was that Looking for Hay was a pretext for people looking for things to steal.

27 November Friday

Not many cows are still grazing in the fields. Some herds are already under cover for the winter. Whenever I see any cows out in the grass, I call out “Hello Cows! It’s me!”

29 November Sunday

The morning is white. There is nothing to see beyond the book barn. The fields are gone. Joe’s cows are gone. The hills beyond are gone. There are no hills. Thick fog makes everything into an absence.

1 December Tuesday

Today is the first day that things are open again. We have completed our Six Week National Level 5 Lockdown. Almost everything is re-opening today: shops selling non-essential goods, libraries, churches, hairdressers and barbers are all open. Restaurants and cafés will be allowed to open in a few more days. Wet Bars will not be allowed to open. Everything is being staggered to try and keep group movement under control. We are still required to stay within our own county. Announcers on the radio are warning people not to be careless and not to congregate in groups indoors. I heard several voices instructing people: Don’t Act The Maggot. To Act The Maggot is to behave in a foolish way. It is to play at being dumb, usually to garner attention. I have never heard this slang expression used in official terms but today I have heard it again and again. Because everyone knows the expression, we know that we are being told to behave.

2 December Wednesday

I was nearing the top bit of the mass path where it is almost a road or it would be a road if anyone could drive on it. It is wide enough for a single vehicle but it is overgrown with grass and weeds and bushes on both sides are impinging. I saw Buddy up ahead. He was squatting and relieving his bowels. He looked at me with surprise but he did not bark. He finished what he was doing and then he jumped up and over the wall into his yard. Once there he began to bark furiously. His barking made Jessie come running and she ran ahead of him to bark louder and to jump up on me when I reached the tar road.  Buddy stayed in the background and let her do the job of protecting the property.

4 December Friday

There was a bloody bird carcass on a mossy rock. The bones of the body were still attached to the wing. I must have interrupted the fox because when I walked back that way an hour later, all evidence of the bird was gone. There was nothing left except the mossy rock.

7 December Monday

The fog was bad. Again. Thick and white and impenetrable. Driving to Waterford was terrifying but I needed to go to the hospital for a test.  I had no choice. I had a valid medical reason to cross the county line and I was driving in dense fog. It was a big day for me. I was halted by a Garda. I thought I was being stopped to justify my destination, but instead it was because there had been a collision. It looked bad. I had to wait a little while for the emergency services to arrive. I was the only car waiting so I was asked to put on my flashers to warn anyone who might drive up behind me. As I sat waiting for permission to drive onward, I watched two Garda unfolding a newspaper and attempting to cover the license plate of the mangled car. They had some tape but it was not the right kind of tape for the wet and cold weather. The newspaper kept falling off. They tried tucking it in around and behind the number plate, but nothing was working very well. The paper got wet and fell off. The Garda who had stopped me told me that they were trying to cover the plate so that if someone saw the car and perhaps knew the people who had been in it, they would not recognise the vehicle and be upset.

Pineapples and Pine Cones

12 December Saturday

I found shredded paper and mouse droppings in a deep corner of the long cupboard. There was no food in the vicinity.  The mice were happy enough to chew on other things. I was cleaning up the mess and moving things around as I searched for more of the same. All the time that I was looking and clearing, I was wondering where the mice had entered, and when. I do not know if this is fresh activity or old activity.  I wondered if this nibbling was done yesterday, or was it long ago?  Maybe it was September?

14 December Monday

He is a tall man. He wears a waistcoat with many pockets over a heavy sweater, but he does not wear a hat. There is no logic about when he arrives. It might be early on a Sunday morning or he might appear on a weekday afternoon. There are twelve or fifteen small dogs with the man. They run in ever lengthening loops all around him but they never go too far from him. None of the dogs have collars and none of them are large. They are not hunting dogs. Some of them look like long-haired dachshunds but I do not think that is what they are. That is the nearest way for me to describe them. All of the dogs are mixed-up breeds and all of the dogs are short-legged and all of the dogs are fast and quiet. They are not a barking and baying pack. The man is formal in his address. He has dark curly hair and looks like a person from a medieval painting. He is not a modern man. He might be in his late thirties or he might be older. When the man and his dogs appear down the track he always asks politely if I have seen The Fox. I always say no. I never help anyone in their pursuit of a fox. Sometimes he asks if it is okay for him to cut across our land and to cross up into Joe’s fields. Sometimes he turns and goes back the way he came. Other times he continues up the Mass Path towards Johnnie Mackin’s. The dogs are everywhere. They are like a liquid mass moving all through the yard and off into the fields. They rush to drink out of the low water butt. I see the dogs before I see the man. He carries a curved horn over his shoulder with a strap. It gives off the loud rallying TallyHo call associated with The Hunt. This man has no horse, no weapon and no crowd of people and baying dogs with him. He is always alone with his many small dogs. When he blows the horn the dogs all come running from wherever they are. He also carries a huge whip, which is hooked onto his belt. When he cracks the whip in the air the dogs hear the loud snap and they come running to join him. Each time he comes the man tells me that he is looking for The Fox because it is stealing chickens. I do not believe him. Today the dogs appeared and shortly after they arrived, he himself arrived, walking down from Scully’s wood and asking if I had seen The Fox. I did not say a word. I bent my head at the neck and gave him a little grimace to say that we have had this conversation three or four times already and to say that you know that I will not tell you even if I have seen The Fox. He nodded, said Thank You, and then he bowed low from the waist. He turned and strode back up the track. A few minutes later I heard the horn. Any of the dogs remaining in the yard rushed away to join him.

15 December Tuesday

The morning was bitter and sharp. The cold was harsh. Derek was late delivering the post. He was so late that I had assumed that there would be no post delivered at all. I asked him why he was not wearing his cap. He acknowledged my concern and agreed that yes, it was way too cold to be out without a cap. He told me that he had had a puncture. I wondered what a punctured tyre had to do with him not wearing a hat. He explained that he had to change the tyre on the van early this morning in the dark and when he was finished, he used his cap to clean and dry his wet hands. It was the only thing he could find. He said it was better to wear no cap at all than to pull a wet and muddy one down over his ears.

18 December Friday

As of today, we are released from our six week lockdown. We are now allowed to cross county borders. The trouble is that everyone else is allowed to cross the county borders too, so there is a mad rush in all directions. It is pre-Christmas panic. It seems to be a very good time to not cross any borders and not to go near the town and to just pretend that we are still not allowed to go anywhere. We shall continue to stay at home.

19 December Saturday

It was a rare treat to find razor clams at the market.  We ate them for lunch.

20 December Sunday

I am always happy to see Anthony’s tyre tree out on display again. He keeps it out back on its pallet all year and brings it around to the front at this time of year after festooning it with fresh ivy vines and little lights.

21 December Monday

The shop in the village is extra busy right before lunch time. There are workmen and delivery men picking up sandwiches to eat in their vans and there are the wives of farmers all in a rush collecting a bit of something towards the dinner. There is always one women who roars, “I cannot stop to talk. I left The Spuds On The Boil!”

22 December Tuesday

When something is broken beyond repair, it is Banjaxed. Banjaxed means that an object or a machine is broken, or ruined. A person can be Banjaxed too—ruined or shattered or deeply deeply tired. A person who is Banjaxed might just be exhausted.

24 December Thursday

I have lined the windowsill with pineapples and pine cones. The pineapples were on special offer at the supermarket for 47 cents each. I bought a couple and then I bought a couple more. They look very festive. The windowsill looked best when there were six pineapples in a row, but we keep eating them so now there are only three.

25 December Friday

Someone spread slurry on the fields. It was either Joe or Joe. The smell is noxious and it burns the back of the throat even when I am outside for only a few minutes. That is the bad news. The good news is that the first snowdrop has come up. It is early but it is a welcome sign of spring. A sign of hope.

27 December Sunday

We have been beaten and thrashed by Storm Bella. We had yellow warnings and we had amber warnings. Winds and rain and the noise of it all. It went on and on and on. I think it is now over. I hope it is over. There is deep water everywhere but we have not suffered downed trees. We have not lost our electricity. The west of the country has had it worse with snow and severely blocked roads. We are just mired in even more mud than we already had. Walking out in any direction is hard slogging work.

29 December Tuesday

My pursuit of mice continues. The long cupboard has been cleared. Traps are set but the mice ignore the traps. They are eating poison every day but it is not killing them. They take some of the poison and move along the length of a shelf and eat it there. They come back for more and more pellets and they continue to evade my traps. Apparently there is an explosion of mice all over the country this winter. Everyone has mice and everyone is fighting the same battle but most people do not talk about it for fear of the rodents reflecting badly on them. My mice keep chewing and nibbling paper and cardboard. Any and all food items have been removed and stored in a big plastic box. Everything else taken out of the cupboard is in little piles along the wall. I am looking forward to being able to put things back but I am mostly looking forward to the end of the mice.

30 December Wednesday

Today is Simon’s birthday. I bought him a calendar down at the shop. It was a fund-raising project for the FAS scheme. It has a few tractors on it. It also has one page with some cleaned-up farm equipment repainted with bright colours. I do not think he will like this calendar much, but I will. He is not interested to view farm machinery and tractors in the everyday world around him so he will not be interested in photographs of them. I will wrap the calendar up and give it to him with the card I have not yet made. He went up and down to the book barn a few times this morning.  It is too cold to stay working down there for long. On one of the trips back and forth, a bird shat on his head.  It was obviously a big bird because it was an enormous messy dropping. He had to wash his hair thoroughly to get rid of it. If it had been a seagull, it would be considered Good Luck. But we think it was a magpie or a crow.  Their droppings are big but they do not arrive with any promise of luck.

31 December Thursday New Year’s Eve.

Last night the sky was beautifully clear. We were able to see the Full Moon. The out of doors was so bright that there was no need for a torch. We have missed the last two full moons due to thick cloud cover and rain. We missed the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn too. Maybe this sighting of the full moon is a positive sign for the year to come. Last night at midnight the entire country went back into Level Five Lockdown.  It is only 13 days since we were released from the last lockdown. Everything except essential retail shops such as food and pharmacies is closed and will remain closed. We can only go five kilometres from home for the purpose of exercise. These restrictions will remain in place until the end of January. It is more cheering to think about the bright full moon and the extension everyday of our hours of daylight.