The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Pinhead Oatmeal.

2 November Friday

There are three dead leaves hanging outside the window. I see them each time I sit at the table. They have been there for ten days. The one dangling from the top of the window twirls in the breeze. The two on the left side of the window are held firmly in place by cobwebs. From where I sit the cobwebs are invisible. Every day I think that I should maybe go out and brush them away. Every day I do not do it. I have become fond of how firmly they maintain these incidental positions.

1 November Thursday

I heard gun shots up the hill and from the woods this morning, but there were never enough shots to make me think about what I was hearing. Later Siobhan and I went for a walk. On her way to meet me, she said she saw the Long Field being paced out by several men in camouflage clothing. Their guns were broken over their arms. The first of November is the start of bird shooting season. I forget it every year. It always comes as a surprise.  Pheasants and partridges are the birds in danger. We were glad that we had decided to walk down by the Abbey and by the river. No men. No guns.

31 October Wednesday

It was a Mart Morning. Every Wednesday is a Mart Morning in Cahir. Intake begins from 8.30 am. The farmers are all out with trailers full of animals. If we do not remember that it is Wednesday and if we do not remember that Wednesday is the day for the mart in Cahir we might be confused by the extra number of trailers being towed around and into the town. The approach roads are all a little slower than usual. Today it seemed like all of the trailers were full of sheep. Sheep are auctioned at 11. Cattle and calves are auctioned at 11.30. Some of the sales are from Farm to Farm. Other sales are from Farm to Factory. There used to be a hall with a kitchen and a canteen at the Mart. Joan Looby cooked a big hot dinner for all of the farmers who wanted to eat before they left for home. It was a big part of the day and almost everybody sat down to eat. It was the time for the farmers to chat. There was a fire a few years ago and the building burned down. Now there are no more cooked dinners. A decision was made not to rebuild the kitchen. There is a snack wagon that parks near the intake gate but most people ignore it. Snacks are not proper food. The farmers now go home for their dinner, with or without animals in their trailers.

30 October Tuesday

The flattened dog maintains his position and his watch on the road. This has been going on for months now. Sometimes I do not see him for four or five days. Then he is back again. He does not chase the car when it is going downhill. He only chases on the return trip when the car is going uphill. It is as if he knows that when I drive down to the village I will certainly be driving back up. He watches the motor and his head wiggles back and forth as I pass. His back and white sheep dog colours are crisp and bright against the sand and the drab grey tarmac. He lies a flat as he can. He thinks he is invisible. His chasing does not amount to much. It is all in the planning.


29 October Monday.

Bank Holiday. It was frosty this morning. There was ice in the water butts. The water is frozen solid in the butts while roses are still blooming. It is much too early for such deep cold. The frozen water feels wrong. The roses are in the right.

28 October Sunday

There is always another version of a stile. There is always another way to climb into a field which provides easy access for people but allows no escape for animals.

 

27 October Saturday

TJ has a lovely new sign. I think of him as a blacksmith. This sign offers his services as a welder. A welder with a bright attention-grabbing sign. Once again I find myself pleased with this new bit of language in my landscape.

26 October Friday

We have a new postman. We have had several temporary postmen in recent years ever since John became ill. Once John retired, we had Lee. Lee has been the most constant of all the substitutes. We assumed that he was our permanent postman now. A few weeks ago he started driving down with Derek. He was showing Derek the route so that Derek could take over. Lee himself has been given a new route. We thought he was going to Kilsheelan but it turns out he is doing Marlfield. He had the choice of a town route with a bicycle or being out of town in a van. Derek said it was no contest. Lee took the van. Lee always arrived with the post very early. Usually he was here and gone by 7 or 7.30 in the morning. He had a speedy manner in all things. Talking. Walking. Driving. Delivering the post. Derek said that Lee was always in a rush because he always wanted to be back in town for his elderly Nana. She made him his dinner every day and he hated to disappoint her by being late. Derek does not come early. He arrives any time between 8.00 and 10.30. This lack of certainty makes driving out the boreen in the morning a little scary for us. It is terrible to meet anyone because if we do, one driver must back up for as far as it takes. We got spoiled by Lee and his early delivery. Derek ends every sentence with the word Girl. This is a very Clonmel way of speaking. It does not matter if the person being addressed is a man or a woman. The sentence still ends with the word Girl.

25 October Thursday

I went into a small shop in town to buy some Pinhead Oatmeal. The woman at the counter told me that Pinhead Oatmeal is very old-fashioned. She was scornful that I was even asking for it. She told me that absolutely no one eats Pinhead Oats anymore.  What they eat is Pinhead Buckwheat. She asked if I had ever eaten Buckwheat. I said, Yes I have eaten Buckwheat but what I want is Oatmeal. They are not at all the same thing. I told her that I was not interested in fashion when it came to breakfast. She herself is interested in being With The Fashion, so she no longer carries Pinhead Oatmeal in her shop. I purchased my oats elsewhere.

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Milky Tea

 

24 October Wednesday

Friday is voting day. We have two things on the ballot. The Referendum on Blasphemy is being offered to the people to decide if it should be struck off the books.  It is basically an out-of-date law on censorship.  There is not a lot of discussion about it either way.  I should think many people will arrive in the voting booth still not sure if they should vote with a Yes or a No. This is the 21st century, so I hope people will vote Yes. Until this referendum came along, Blasphemy was a word rarely used on a daily basis. It sounds both old-fashioned and important at the same time. I have enjoyed hearing it said out loud again and again.  On the same day, we will be voting for the President. There are six candidates running. Michael D. Higgins, the current President, is miles ahead of anyone else. We all speak of him as Michael D.  No one ever bothers with his last name. And we do not expect anyone else to win.

21 October Sunday

Walker hates Tom Cooney. Tom Cooney does not like Walker.  It might have to do with the fact that Tom Cooney always wears a big black hat.  Maybe there was a bad or violent person in Walker’s past who wore a similar hat.  No one knows what Walker experienced in his life before he was rescued. He found a good home with Fiona and PJ, but he does have a tendency to take against certain people. He can be a vicious and scary dog. Mostly he is a gentle and friendly dog. Tonight I saw a sign on the gate into one of Tom Cooney’s fields. It is on the gate exactly opposite Fiona and PJ’s gate.  I assumed it meant that the field had been freshly planted or maybe that poison had been put down. I assumed that the person who made the sign forgot to put an S on the end of DOG when he or she wrote KEEP DOG OUT. Then I realized that the sign is meant just for Walker. Any other dog is welcome.

20 October Saturday

The one woman said to the other woman: “I believe it because I was told it by my cousin who is related to me.”

19 October Friday

A man sat down beside me on the bus. I was trapped between him and the window. I always sit near the window if I can because I like to look out. I sit by the window but I always hope the aisle seat will not be occupied. Today this man sat beside me. He was a large man. I was trapped. There was no where to go anyway except where the bus was taking us but having such a sizeable presence so close made me feel trapped. He flipped out the little tray table on the seat in front of him. The table pressed into his tummy. He placed two enormous cups of tea on the tray. He was lucky that there was a tray table for his two cups. Some of the new buses have little tray tables and some of the old buses have little tray tables. But not all of any of the buses have the little pull down tray tables. I would say maybe one bus in six has them. The man was lucky. I am not sure what he would have done with two cups of tea without a place to put them. The man’s name was Tim. His friend sat a few seats up ahead and he shouted down to the man calling the name Tim and Tim answered so I knew he was Tim. He chatted away to me as he settled in. I could not understand what he had said or what he was saying, but he said it all with a Cork accent. He sipped his tea quietly for a while and then he started to lick his arms. Tim had terrible flaking skin on his forearms. He had dry flaking skin and where the skin was not flaking or where it had already flaked off his arms were raw and red. They looked painful. Tim began to lick his forearms methodically. Up and down. Up and down. It took me a while to realise that before each long careful licking, he filled his mouth with milky tea. Tim was using the tea to sooth his painful arms. In between the licking he stopped and looked across me and out the window at the passing scenery. Sometimes he shouted something up the aisle to his friend. Sometimes he just stared straight ahead while he drank tea from one of his big cups.

18 October Thursday

Simon rushed off to have the National Car Test done this morning.  We had done all of the various things to prepare for the test. The last thing was to have the car washed by the lad at the petrol station. It is important to catch him in between his other job which is delivering things for the motor factors shop next door to the station. It is imperative for us to have to have the car washed underneath with a power hose as the daily driving in and out through the farm means that there is a lot of muck caked up under the wheel wells.  We would fail the test immediately if heavy clumpy chunks of manure and mud fell down on the men while they were testing the car. Town people have it easy.  These are not problems for them. Luckily all of our preparation paid off. The car passed the test. The officials are trying hard to get twenty year old vehicles off the road, but we have been spared for another year.

 

17 October Wednesday

There is a new system for checked out books in the library. Maybe it is not new. I do not know how long it has been in effect. It can all be done with computers, so it is considered good for the library. No doubt anyone in a branch library all the way up in the north of Tipperary can know when my book is due back. Everyone can know when my book is due back except for me. The book still has its usual lined piece of paper stuck into the front of it. There are three columns printed on the piece of paper. Each column is headed with DATE DUE. DATE DUE. DATE DUE. All of the columns are empty. The paper tells me that I will be charged 5 cents per day if my books are late but that never happens. Even if my books are late, I am not charged. I am told by the librarian that my books are due three weeks after I take them home. Why must I be the one remember when I took the books? Sometimes they stick a sort of receipt that is like the long thing from a cash register into the front of one book. Sometimes they do not include this slip. I cannot decide how a piece of paper which is not physically connected to the book is an improvement on a date rubber- stamped into the waiting column. With this new system, I rarely have any idea when my books are due.

 

15 October Monday

The morning is full of mist. We cannot see the fields nor the hills. We cannot even see the fence. There is a cold whiteness over everything. The sun is going to break through. There is a bright white glow in the midst of the dull white mist. The combination of the bright sun and the dull mist makes everywhere that is near and visible look creepy. The out of doors is full of spider webs all being caught by the strange light. The hedge looks like it is wearing a hairnet. The rosemary looks like something captured.

14 October Sunday

After all of my despair about our apples ripening too early and falling off the trees and about the apples ripening early but not ripening sufficiently and being all dry and too tasteless to eat, the Bloody Butchers have come good. They are delicious and plentiful and huge and falling off the tree by the bushel. I cannot collect enough of them. The ground underneath the tree is a mass of apples. I have filled boxes and buckets and bags and I have given many apples away. The leaves are falling off the tree and there are still more apples.

13 October Saturday

It rained all night and it has been raining all day. I took off for a walk in a gap between showers. I thought it was a gap but it was not. The rain just went from hard downpour to steady soft drizzle. I started up the mass path in the few minutes when I believed the rain had ceased. About halfway up, a tree limb had fallen from the left and it blocked my way. It was tangled with another big branch that had fallen from the right. I think these were branches that had been cut or broken earlier and last weeks wind just knocked them around. They were too entangled and too heavy for me to move, so I began to push and struggle through them. I broke off bits and pushed my way through. When I was right in the middle of the two branches I realised that I was caught. I could not go forward and I could not go backwards and the brambles had grabbed onto my jacket too and the rain was falling harder. I stood for a while at a funny bent-over angle and wondered what to do. I was sort of resting. I listened to the rain on my jacket. After a little while, I continued with my struggle. Eventually, I broke more branches and dropped to the ground. I crawled out of the mess through the mud and the moss on my hands and knees and continued up the path in the rain.

A Dead Fox.

12 October Friday

Wild lashing rain.  Incessant beating winds all night and all day — so far.  The rain is so heavy and noisy it is difficult to think.  The roof of the big room is being pounded. After such a long dry summer, it is thrilling to hear this sound. It is exciting to hear the rain and to know that we do not have to line up the buckets and throw down the towels.  The leaks are not leaking.  I can still barely believe it.

11 October Thursday

It was first thing I saw as I came out of the undergrowth and reached the tarmacadam road. Dead fox. He must have been hit by a car. There were no obvious injuries. He looked perfect. A small amount of blood was coming from his mouth. He looked like he was resting. Part of me felt that I should move the fox off the road so that he would not be run over and squished by the next car or tractor that came along. Part of me just wanted to go away.

10 October Wednesday

The man did a fast U-turn in front of the church. The turn was too fast to be safe. At the same time as he made the scary turn he was crossing himself: Head.Tummy.Left.Right. and at the same time as he was crossing himself and making the turn he was talking into his phone which was squished between his shoulder and his ear.

8 October Monday

There are fewer raspberries everyday. I can no longer fill a big bowl but I can fill a small bowl. Some days I can only fill a cup. It is best if I pick every other day. For some reason the sorrel is growing like crazy. It is going mad. It is more plentiful that it has been all summer.

7 October Sunday

Oscar walks with me every day now. He walks with me every day that I use the Mass Path. He meets me two thirds of the way around. He meets me just as I pass Sharon’s cottage. The cottage Sharon lived in was The Murder Cottage but since she lived there, she gently made us all adjust to calling it The White Cottage. She painted several small signs to get everyone used to the new name. Sharon has moved away because the cottage was put up for sale and her lease was up. I think she was not offered the option of staying. She was sad to leave. She has gone to live with her mother which is hard for her but good for her mother. Her mother is not at all well and her father died recently. Oscar still spends a lot of time at Sharon’s house. He is waiting for Sharon to come back. He is waiting for her two dogs to come back. One of Sharon’s dogs died suddenly just after she moved but of course Oscar does not know that. He is waiting for both Emma and Shay. He lies down across the road and he waits. Some cars do not know that this is his regular resting and waiting place. He is not quick to move off the road. I worry that he will be killed but so far he does what he wants and all vehicles accommodate him. He is happy to see me on foot and then he is happy to walk up the road and down the boreen with me. Oscar is always happy. He wheezes a lot when he walks now. Maybe he has asthma. Maybe it is not asthma. Maybe it is just age.
Today we were both startled by the bull in Joe’s field. The bull is a different bull than the one that was in the field for most of the summer. That one was brown and white. This one is big and black. This one was rushing back and forth and stopping suddenly with a sort of skid and turning around and then racing off in the opposite direction. He bellowed and he roared and then he ran back again. He criss-crossed the field over and over at a frightening speed. He threw his head down in a charge and then he tossed his head way back. He looked like he could easily jump over the wall if he wanted to and since it was in a downhill direction to where we were, I felt it was a real and frightening possibility. Once he saw Oscar he stopped running abruptly and walked over to the wall. He stood completely still and stared at us.

6 October Saturday

A person stepping off a curb unexpectedly flails about to hold themselves up. Or someone falling in a hole and losing their balance catches themselves after a few wild steps and does not fall. That is what I was thinking as I saw the cow. I was driving down the road and Tomás’s cows were ahead of me. They took up the whole road. I slowed to a roll and watched them. There was nothing else I could do anyway. They had been milked and they were on the way to their next pasture. Suddenly one cow made the kind of wild struggle to stand up that I just tried to describe in human terms. She nearly fell but caught herself before she slammed into the stone wall. I assumed she had caught her hoof in a hole. Then she did it again. And again. The young helper who was driving the quad bike behind the herd to keep the cows moving. Tomás himself was up ahead in his truck. The boy must have phoned him. Within seconds he was there and out of the truck and moving toward the cow. He separated her from the rest of the herd, but it was not easy. She jerked away from him and fell to her knees. She could not get up but then she did get up and fell sort of sideways again. It was dreadful to watch. I had tears pouring down my face. It was awful to see her helplessness and confusion. The car stalled out. I could do nothing but watch. Tomás came near to the car. He looked like he wanted to cry too. He said “Meningitis.” He said it quietly. He said, “Her mind cannot tell her body what to do.” He said, “I must get her to the vet.” He followed while the cow staggered and fell and staggered and fell all the way up the road toward his farm buildings. I watched their slow progress in my rear view mirror while I waited for the rest of the herd to plod along until they got to where they were going. I wept as I watched. I weep again every time I think about it.

5 October Friday

It has been a Two Wake Week. Two people died. They were both elderly and they were both members of large farming families. In both cases, a field was mown and cleared and ropes were put up to define the area. Neighbours were out on the road in High-Visibility vests directing cars through and into the parking field. The entire community turns up on these occasions. The deceased is Reposing At Home. We each walk into the house and we shake hands with all of the members of the immediate family. I am sorry for your loss. Or -I am sorry for your troubles. We repeat these phases again and again. In one house the man was laid out in a coffin. In the other house, the woman was in her bed. They both looked peaceful. People cross themselves or bow their head for a few moments in front of the deceased. The person is at home surrounded by their families and now there are these 5 or 6 hours for the neighbours and friends and relations to come to pay their respects and to provide a special kind of respectful company. There are pots of tea and there are sandwiches and cakes. Visitors can choose to have a cup of tea or they can just continue on out of the house. They can continue with their day. There is a steady flow of people arriving and leaving. We all nod and acknowledge one another. We see people we have not seen for a long time. We also see the people we see every single day. Sometimes the deceased is removed to the church at the end of the wake for a mass and then they spend the night alone in the church. Sometimes they stay in their own house for one last night and then they are taken to the church in the morning in time for the funeral. This journey to the church is often full of small detours as the person who has died is slowly driven over the familiar roads which have been a part of their everyday life and landscape for a long time or forever. Each family makes their choices about these beautiful and quiet rituals.

4 October Thursday

The woman at the counter was grumbling. She said, “Sure, we still have plenty of tourists about. The coaches arrive several times a day to drop them off to see the castle. The trouble is that at this time of year, they are all the ones on the budget tours. It’s always the same with them. They say ‘We’ll have one scone and we’ll share a cup of coffee.’ And that is when you realise there are three of them doing the sharing.”
She kept grumbling and repeating to herself: “It is not my idea of a holiday, I can tell you that.”

3 October Wednesday

I was interested in the yellow and grey paint job. I took a photograph just to think about the colours. Since I have had the photograph to look at I am more interested in the two doors side by side. It is a tiny house. I have a lot of questions about the doors. I have no answers.

Squaring A Pusher

2 October Tuesday

While working to appeal the Post Office closure, I was told about one man who lives alone way up the mountain. He buys one stamp each week when he comes down to the village to get his messages. He buys a single stamp and he posts a card to himself. I do not know if it is a post card or a folded card in an envelope. I do not know what he writes on the card. Maybe he does not write anything on it. The post man delivers the card to the man’s house the next day or the day after that. This means that at least one day a week the man has someone call to his house which means that he is not always alone. The postman of course would notice if he is not there to receive his post. Hopefully the postmistress too will have noticed if he has not arrived to buy his weekly stamp.

30 September Sunday

There were five small pheasants on the lawn this morning. I did not see the mother. They stayed for a long time rushing back and forth in a group not really going anywhere. There are raspberries still to pick, but not so many now. It is best to pick in late afternoon. I can collect enough to provide two good bowls full for breakfast. The days are warm again. The raspberries ripen as the day heats up. The figs are long gone. Blackberries are not gone but they are almost gone. Apples are everywhere but they are not the best apples ever. The drought has made for disappointing dry apples. We have walked up through the Mass Path several times. The Mass Path has been impassable all summer. Now the brambles and things are dying back. We can trample on some of the stuff still in the way.  Waving a heavy stick is helpful too. It is a completely new place to walk after so many months. The best blackberries are up at the top by Johnnie’s orchard. Crab apples are all over one section of the path and they make for deadly walking. This happens every year and it is always treacherous.  No amount of experience can make walking on the hard little apples easier. It is like walking on ball bearings.

27 September Thursday

Jim invited me to do a reading for a local group of retired business people. I was happy to oblige. Today was the day. I went to Raheen House at 10.30 in the morning. The group gathered and drank coffee and ate biscuits and chatted with one another for about half an hour. I was introduced to several of the members. I drank coffee and chatted too. There were about eighteen men and two women there. All of the men wore clean pullover sweaters over freshly ironed shirt collars. One man wore a tie and a jacket. I was glad I had worn my blue dress. After the coffee time, I did my reading. There were lots of questions and comments afterwords. Jim told me afterwards that usually no one says a word except thank you when the speaker is finished. People were eager to tell me expressions that I might not have heard yet. They were also pleased to hear these expressions used again themselves. One man said that his uncle had taken him to Tipperary town and to Limerick Junction when he was thirteen. This was a far distance and a big outing for him. The journey was memorable. He saw a young man talking to a pretty girl on the pavement in Tipp Town. His uncle explained that the man was Squaring a Pusher.  That meant that he was courting the girl. A Pusher was an term from the dance halls. It was only used about females.

26 September Wednesday

The letter of appeal concerning the closure of the Newcastle Post Office has been completed and sent to the Independent Reviewer at An Post. All of the petitions have been collected and sent along with the letter. We were thrilled that more than eight hundred people have signed the petition. Letters from various small businesses and civic organisations have been written and included as support materials. Our committee will hear something back in 28 days. The Post Office is scheduled to be closed at the end of December. We did not have very much time to appeal nor to research and publicise our plight. We only had a few weeks. If we were to begin now we would all know so much better how to do this. I hope we have done enough.

 

24 September Monday

The holes in the road in front of O’Dwyer’s farm have been filled in and repaired by the council. I have been swerving around them for several weeks now. We have all been swerving around them. There are different movements for when I am driving down the road and for when I am driving up the road. It has been terrible to forget sometimes and to drive right through them as the holes were deep. Slamming down into them is not good for the tyres nor for the axle. Seamus told me he had filled the holes up with gravel twice but of course that only worked until the next heavy rain. Then all the gravel got washed out. We spoke about these holes before they got repaired. Now that the job has been done we are still talking about them. Not having to swerve around the holes is as big a shock as falling into them by accident.

 

23 September Sunday

Everything has been chaotic. The bathroom has been torn apart. The bathroom has been unusable. The bathroom has been remade and put back together again. The kitchen has been full of tools and materials. The kitchen has also been unusable. Nothing could be piled nor left outside the door because the weather was so bad. The entire house has been uninhabitable. In addition to the manure and rain and the wind, it has been unseasonably cold, but the door has been wide open all day every day. I have had to sleep at Joan’s house but I have returned each day to witness the progress and to run errands for Peter while he worked. And to shovel manure. Simon left the country. He left me with all of this mess. It was clever of him to leave. When all of this is done it will be the end of the two years of leaking and indoor puddles and black-stained walls and repaired ceilings and all of it. Repairing the roof was just one thing. The World’s Largest Spice Rack has been screwed back onto the freshly painted wall.  I hope this will be the last thing. I have had a wretched time.

20 September Thursday

The terrible winds continue. The winds are constant and noisy. Today rain is lashing down. As the wind changes direction, the rain changes direction. It is impossible not to get wet. It is not easy to keep a hat on. Cows broke in from somewhere. Or cows broke out from somewhere. They must have come and gone in the night. They were all over the yard and all over the car parking area. It was not possible to step out of the car without stepping in a dollop of manure. Manure was everywhere. As soon as it was stepped in, it was tracked around everywhere else. I got a shovel and tried to move it out of the way of the workmen’s boots in order to keep it out of the house. There is enough mess and dust in the house. Shoveling heavy clumps of manure and gravel in the bucketing rain was difficult. I could only toss my shovel loads onto the side of the gravel parking place. If I threw it into the grass the gravel would play havoc later with the lawnmower blades. It was lucky for me that the cows that invaded were young. They must have been young. The cow flaps were not big. There were a lot of them but they were not huge ones and the holes in the grass from the hooves were not too big either. The cows knocked down garden chairs and made a general mess but then they went away. I do not know whether they went up the boreen or up the Mass Path. I do not even know whose cattle they are. I did not even ask. I do not care. I am just glad that they went away.

18 September Tuesday

The left rear tyre had been losing air. I filled it. It was fine for a few days or for half a day. Then it went squishy again so I filled it again and then it was fine for three days. Then I filled it and it went squishy in an hour. This went on for a week or so. I went down to Anthony yesterday to get it checked. He promised to look at it while I went for a walk.  I only went as far as the Holy Well. The wind was strong and wild. I struggled to stay upright in the open gaps between trees. The sheep and the cows were all pressed tight against bushes and along the edges of fields. Anthony’s son found a screw embedded in the tyre. The screw was causing a slow leak. He removed it and patched the hole. Hopefully this patch will last for a while. As I left the village a man in a high visibility vest stopped me and pointed to a tree that was cracking and making terrible noises. He said it was going to come down with the wind. He said it could come down at any minute. He said I could make a run for it.  I could race along hoping that it did not fall while I am underneath it or I could drive away and around one very long circuitous route or another. I asked him what I should do. I asked him what he would do. He said he would Put The Boot In and Go For It. He said that even if he got hit by the tree it would be worth it for the Craic. I was not sure I agreed with his logic. I was not interested to be killed in my car by a falling tree just for an adventure. But I Put the Boot in and rushed past the tree. I immediately felt smug to have escaped unscathed. It was probably stupid. Today I see that the tree has indeed fallen down. It has already been cut up and cleared from the road. The wind is up all over the country. Things are falling and breaking and blowing everywhere. There is damage and there are huge numbers of people without electricity. I think if it were today I would not feel so brave about driving under the breaking tree but yesterday it felt like an exciting option.

17 September Monday

Kitty wiggled her bottom. She moved the chair cushion. She pushed the cushion around again and again to make herself comfortable. She looked over at me watching her. She is a small woman. She reminded me of a dog or a cat getting herself settled. She said, “I am fond of myself.” This is what people say as they try to get settled on a chair.

 

15 September Saturday

I am not much of a fan of ironing. Neither is Simon. We do not own an ironing board. My version of ironing is to hang out the washing on a windy day. Or to leave it hanging for an extra day or two until a good breeze comes along. When I do need to iron something, I put a towel down on the table. It is never a very satisfactory way to work because when I iron the one side of a garment I am inevitably ironing creases into the other side. Simon has taken to having his shirts washed and ironed by a lady in Cahir. She is Lithuanian and her name is Regina. Regina and her daughters do a lovely job. The daughters insist on carrying the ironed shirts out to the car and laying them down gently and carefully in the back. We know that the woman’s name is Regina but she never remembers our names. The finished ironing is labelled with a handwritten piece of paper: ENGLISH MAN.

Post Office Petitions

9 September Sunday

A Church Gate Collection is a frequent event. Ordinarily two people station themselves at both entrances to a church yard or they have one person standing on either side of the gate if there is just one entry gate. These people are collecting for some worthy event or charity. This morning I went alone to Grange church to collect signatures for the Newcastle Post Office petition. I was not collecting money but names. I had never done this before. I got there early to be ready. I arrived at 9.30 for the 10 o’clock mass. The first person to arrive was the priest. I introduced myself and explained to him that I had rung the office on Friday to get permission to be there. My committee insisted that it is was only right to ask permission from the priest. He asked what I was collecting for and when I explained, he waved his hand in the air and said he was fine with All That. The person in the parish office had told me that he is a temporary priest while the regular priest is on sabbatical. The priest did not sign my petition. It was silly for me to attempt this job by myself. Everyone arrived sort of at the same time but by two different gates. I was running back and forth trying to catch everyone. I had four clipboards. Each one had a pen attached to it with red garden twine. I had a little table with another pen and more pages. I had a small sign on the table. My sign kept blowing over as it was a breezy morning. One woman said she would think about it, but everyone else signed with alacrity, if not with much hope. Grange has not had a post office for several years already ever since the branch in Frank’s shop closed. Everyone feels the absence of both the post office and of Frank’s shop. I got a lot of signatures but I did not get every single person. Some headed straight for the side doors. Apparently everyone has a regular route into the church and a regular place where they sit every week. By the time everyone arrived and entered the church there was nothing left for me to do. There were no more people. Everyone who wanted to attend mass was inside the church. Everyone else was at home. I loaded my table and my clipboards into the car. From my arrival to my departure, it was all over in 40 minutes.

8 September Saturday

It was lovely to wake up this morning after the heavy all night rain. The fields have that glowing almost florescent green colour that is nearly garish. It is a bright bright green that I never see anywhere else. We have not seen it for months and months. We have not seen it all summer.

7 September Friday

I am still dropping petitions in to various places. The conversations with each drop-off are animated. Today I attempted to leave some at the house of the hairdresser in Goatenbridge. She has no sign at her house but I was told that her name is Colette and that her house is the last one on the right before the duck pond. I could not find anyone at home nor anyone to ask so I went for a walk around the duck pond. It is a short circuit. Then I went off climbing the forestry paths for an hour and a half. On my return, there was still no one at the hairdresser’s house, if the house I had located was indeed the correct house. I went to the Glenview Lounge which is the only other business with a public face in Goatenbridge. The car park there has a glorious view over the valley and straight up the mountains and the glen. I could not believe how stunning it was. I could not believe I had never been there before. As soon as you enter the bar there is no view of the mountains. The outside does not exist when you are inside. There were two doors to enter. One door was labeled Lounge and the other door had no sign. I went into the Lounge. I was greeted by an older woman who was sitting at a table having a cup of tea from one of those shiny metal teapots. I explained my mission and she said that many people from Newcastle come over to Goatenbridge regularly to play cards. She said the villages have close connections. She called to a man behind the bar to take some petitions from me. He might have been her son. The bar was in the center so he could serve both the lounge and the other room from the one location. The woman said the post office in Newcastle was especially important since Goatenbridge has no post office itself. No post office. No shop. Just the bar. I wanted to tell them that Rose in the bar in Newcastle has been asking people to sign the petition before she will even serve them a drink. But I did not mention that. I just thanked them both and went back out to the amazing view.

 

6 September Thursday

Walking in the same tracks and fields every day offers a restful quality. There is plenty to observe in small changes. There is  plenty of time to think. I find it a surprise and a delight to find language in the landscape. There is a sign in the ditch on the way home. It is a notice for planning permission. Joe is seeking permission to build an underpass for his cows so that they can cross the road by themselves when they have been milked and they are on the way back to their current grazing place. Most of Joe’s fields are on the other side of the road from where his barns and his milking set-up are. The cows can only go so far and then they have to wait for him to finish the milking and come out to get them and open the gates so that they can cross the road. This underpass system for the cows is new to me. Apparently it is becoming very popular with farmers. The little notice for planning permission was not only a little something to read in the landscape but it is a whole new concept.  It is something to look forward to.

Almost all of the fields around have new concrete watering troughs scattered about in them. It looks like every farmer has these new troughs which are much heavier than the usual blue or black plastic ones of recent years. Maybe these last longer. Joe Keating is the only one whose new troughs have language on them. The name of the firm who makes and sells them and their phone number is spray stenciled on the side of each trough with red paint. It is an exciting thing to see and to read in the middle of green pastures.

4 September Tuesday

Every time I leave the Post Office petitions somewhere I get into conversations about the difficulties and possibilities and practicalities of saving our Post Office. Several times every day I am told yet another version of the man down in County Cork who runs a tiny post office in a tiny tiny village. Sometimes as the story is repeated, the man is 82 and sometimes he is 85. Once he was 87. He is determined to keep his post office open even though he is too old for the job. He would like to retire but he knows An Post will use his retirement as an excuse to close the post office. He is a national hero. Each time the story is retold, people feel more and more proud of this stubborn elderly Postmaster.

3 September Monday

The man working in the grounds of the church offered to show me around. He said he had just started to work for the church the week before. He was proud of the small church. He found it very special and beautiful. The church was a Church of Ireland which he reminded me was for Protestants. He said that he himself was a Catholic but he said the people in charge did not seem to mind about that since they gave him the job anyway.

 

2 September Sunday

There are grain spills everywhere. There are big grain spills and there are small grain spills. Tractors rush around trying to bring in as much of the harvest from this difficult dry season as they can.  The roads are dangerous with the speed and the size of the machinery. The spilled grain always looks good in sunlight.

1 September Saturday

I am a naturally parsimonious person. I do not like waste. When the toothpaste is getting difficult to squeeze out of the toothpaste tube, I cut the tube off with a pair of scissors. I cut close to the end with the screw top. I then scrape any remaining toothpaste into that end. I stand the cut-off tube on its top and I place a water glass over the whole thing. The glass keeps out any dust and insects. When we want some toothpaste we dip the bristles of the toothbrush into the remaining paste. There is usually at least a week’s worth of toothpaste for two people still in the tube. I like making this little apparatus for using up all of the toothpaste. I like using the dipping method. It is just as well that I did not mention that the glass over the top is also a way to ensure the slugs cannot get in. Last night I found a slug under the glass. It was not in the toothpaste but it was curled around the screw top. I am now in the position of having to reconsider this method.

31 August Friday

The Eircom man came down into the yard in a big white van. He stayed in the van and talked down to me out the window. He said he was out testing the poles. He was surprised to find us at the end of the boreen. He had no idea that there was a house down here and he had no idea there were so many more poles that would need to be tested. What he thought might be a morning job was now an all day job or maybe a two day job. While he was talking to me he saw a movement on the stone wall. His voice dropped to a whisper and he asked “What is that? Over there on the wall —What is it?” It was the mink rushing and leaping across the wall with its very fluid body movements. The man was not breathing. He was excited. He said he had never seen such a thing.

The Bottoms

30 August Thursday

I am wrong again. I was certain that the name Haulie was the nickname for a man who moved whatever people needed moved.  He moved things like hay, silage, topsoil or stones with his tractor or his truck. I had no doubt that Haulie’s name came from his occupation. Peter has now informed me that Haulie is a nickname that comes from the Irish name Mícheál. The name is pronounced MEE-HAUL. MEE-HAUL to Haulie a logical development.

29 August Wednesday

It is still August but already the mornings are wet. The evenings are cool and the nights are cold so the mornings are wet with dew. Stepping outside to collect the breakfast raspberries is a different job than it was even a few days ago. Every morning I slip on my Wellington boots and go out with my bowl. Sometimes I take a cup of tea with me. Each time I reach in and underneath the leaves to take a berry my sleeve gets wet. Then the sleeve gets wetter. My dressing gown soaks up the water like a sponge.
I could gather my breakfast fruit in the evening or afternoon. I could collect a bowl of both raspberries and blackberries and they would be dry and I would be dry and breakfast would be a different breakfast.

27 August Monday

The Post Office committee is silent. I had a long talk with John. He explained the path of closures: Tooraneena is to close. Ballymacarbery is to stay open. Newcastle is to close. Ardfinnan is to stay open. Clogheen is to close and Ballyporeen is to stay open. It is a straight but wiggly line. It continues throughout the entire country like this. There are 400 post offices slated for closure. If the postmistress or postmaster retires or dies there is an immediate death sentence for that Post Office. No one is allowed to take over a Post Office. No rescues are considered.The couple in Tooraneena who have been running both the post office and the pub out of their house are now 70 years old. They want to retire. No one in their family wants to take over the job anyway. The village is tiny. No post office in any of these villages means quite a drive for anyone who lives there to get their pension or dog license or to pay their bills or anything else. This is a huge problem for people who do not drive. There is little or no public transportation to accommodate this problem.

26 August Sunday

I have always called the Keatings’ pasture the low meadow or the water meadow because it is the lowest piece of land in our immediate view. It has the stream running along one side of it. In very wet seasons the whole place is soggy because water runs downhill from both sides and it all settles there. Now I am told this is not called a water meadow. Nor is it a low meadow. This kind of field is called The Bottoms.

25 August Saturday

The hedgerows are heavy blackberries. They are full of blackberries and full of honeysuckle. The blackberries do not seem to have slowed down with the lack of water this summer. Long tendrils of brambles reach out and grab at me when I walk or drive by. I spent an hour walking up one side of the boreen and down the other side. I clipped off the long thorny bushes which were the grabbing ones. In between clipping I ate a lot of berries. There are many different kinds. Someone told me that we have 30 different kinds of blackberry variations growing. I do not know if there really are that many but there are a lot. Most of them are plump and sweet. Every so often I eat a desperately sour one by mistake. I was happily picking and eating and clipping when I heard a terrible screech just on the other side of the ditch. One of the scruffy farm cats came bursting through the bushes and smashed into me. She was startled and I was startled. We both made squawking noises at the moment of impact. She took off at speed. I continued picking and eating and clipping my way towards home.

24 August Friday

An elderly couple came into the shop. The girl at the counter ran around the place and collected the things they needed. The woman announced each item one at a time. Both the man and the woman were badly bent over. They both leaned heavily on their sticks. The woman was the worst. Her head was bent down well into her chest and her back was bent over too. Without the help of her stick, she would be unable to stand. She would just fall over. It was difficult to hear her voice because she was sort of talking down into herself. She could not project her voice any better. She said something into her chest and then the man repeated it. He said, “Did you say you wanted The Milk, Mary?” And then he repeated that to the girl at the counter. He said, “Mary wants The Milk so.” The girl ran to collect it. It was taking a long time to get all of the things but the girl was willing and eager to help. She was cheerful the whole while. When they finished with the edible items, the man said that Mary wanted a mop. The girl asked Mary if she wanted the Hairy One or the Spongy One. The man repeated the question to Mary who gave her muffled answer. The man said that Mary wanted the Hairy One. I was ready to leave the shop but I had to wait to see what kind of mop the Hairy One was. It was the old-fashioned kind of mop made of long stringy pieces of white rope. It is the kind of mop that is very heavy when it is wet. It is difficult to squeeze out and it is hard work to use. The white rope turns to grey after the very first use. Hairy was the perfect way to describe it.

23 August Thursday

Last night our Post Office committee met for the first time. I rushed off to the meeting with a pad of yellow paper and three pens (one a green Sharpie for the colour of An Post) and an initial list of nine ideas for publicising the campaign. I had a plastic folder to carry all my things in. I was ready. Simon and I designed a badge and we researched where to get badges produced inexpensively. I had all the information. I could not wait to get going on turning this closure decision around. I came home completely depressed. I could barely speak. Apparently local attitude is very negative and the committee did not feel it worth while to go forward without a meeting with John. The post office is located inside the shop so apparently there is a feeling locally that the family are getting something out of the deal. There is resentment and distrust. I have been told about the Irish problem of begrudging any good fortune of a neighbour. This is a really ugly example. I am stunned. It seems that few care about the Post Office. One committee member said that no one his age uses the post office. He could think of no reason to go to it ever. I wondered why he had volunteered to be on the committee. Suggestions to put things in the newspapers were met with the same kind of dismissal from him. No one who is young reads a newspaper. We know that we need to use social media in all of its forms but no one wants to start anything until we know where we stand with the local opinion. Our petition is printed up in multiple copies and ready to go. No one wants to distribute them nor go door to door with them until we have answers to the questions that we will be asked while asking for signatures. There is also the problem that if you write your name on a petition everyone else will see it and know that you have written your name on that petition.
Ger told us that the 18 September, the day for the Big National Protest March in Dublin against all of the Post Office closings, is exactly when the National Ploughing Competitions will be taking place. Rural Ireland will all be at the Ploughing. They will not be in Dublin marching to save their Post Offices.
I loaned Mairéad a pen to take a few notes. Everyone had their phones on the table in front of them. I was the only one with a pen. That was the least of the problems. I came home depressed. I went to bed depressed. I woke up depressed.

Dirty Carrots in Kanturk

21 August Tuesday

I went to an emergency meeting in the village hall last night. The meeting was called because the post office in Newcastle is threatened with closure. As is the post office in Clogheen. Hundreds of post offices in small places all over the country are closing down. There are so many closure issues affecting rural villages, not only with the post offices though they are a huge part of life. . An older person going to the post office to collect their pension is bound to meet someone they know in the shop. They might buy milk or they might buy a paper while they are there. They might not buy anything. But they will have a conversation. They cannot go to the post office without having a conversation. And by the time that person gets home they will know the story of the whole town-land. Every one of us needs our post office for all kinds of reasons. We are going to fight this. I am now on the committee.

 

20 August Monday

I have stopped counting raspberries. It was a ridiculous thing to do anyway. It was easy to fall into when there were so few coming ripe. They are coming far too fast for counting now.  Every morning I pick some and every evening I pick more. We eat loads. I put some in the freezer. I take them to neighbours. The figs too are ripening at a rapid rate. They are ripe and unctuous and without doubt the best figs we have ever grown. They are not at all woody. They went from rock hard to squishy and wonderful within a week. There are plenty for the birds and there are plenty for us.

 

19 August Sunday

There is always another Tractor Run. It is a guaranteed way to earn money for a worthy cause. A long slow parade of tractors rolling through narrow lanes is a reliable draw. There are always some men happy to bring out their vintage machinery to show it off and give it a trip out in the air. It does seem an odd time of year for a Tractor Run as the farm workers are all so busy with haying and silage. The roads are already full of slow moving vehicles and machinery. The slow ones are not a problem.  It is the speeding ones that are frightening. This Tractor Run is advertised to benefit a man called Haulie Murphy. I do not know Haulie Murphy, but I like his name. I like names that tell you what job a person does. Whoever Haulie Murphy is, he is obviously someone who moves a lot of things around with his tractor and trailer or with his truck. Larry Doocey could be nicknamed Haulie what with all the runs he does with his small tractor. He delivers gravel and topsoil or whatever else people need. But he is not called Haulie.  He is always Larry Doocey.  No nickname. And never just Larry. He is always and only Larry Doocey For years we assumed that Christy Driver was the actual name of Christy Driver.  Christy was down at the bar every day occupying the exact same corner seat. But Christy Driver’s name was not Driver.  We missed a party celebrating his 60th birthday. We had been invited but because we did not realize that his real name was Christy Cullinan, we did not go. We did not know whose party we had been invited to and so it was easy to forget all about it. Christy Driver is only spoken of as Christy Driver.

 

18 August Saturday

Today is the beginning of Heritage Week. There are activities and tours and free access to buildings and monuments all over the country. There seems to be a lot of storytelling. In Clonmel, they are combining Heritage Week with the 50 year anniversary of STAG. STAG is the South Tipperary Art Group. The idea they came up with for the day is to set up four age groups from young children to adults and a list of locations. Any amateur painter is invited to go out to one of the assigned locations to paint a picture. They are invited to create A Brand New Original Piece Of Art From Scratch In One Day between the hours of 8 am and 5.30. The paintings must be turned into the art centre by 5.30. Winners from each category will be announced next week.

17 August Friday

The fox came running around the corner of the shed. He was moving at speed. I was sitting on the bench with a cup of tea. He saw me at exactly the same moment that I saw him. He skidded in the dirt and gravel and changed direction while he skidded. There was hardly a wasted movement except maybe a little bit while his legs found their place on the ground. He was gone in seconds.

16 August Thursday

I took a full load of stuff to the dump. As I was moving back and forth between the recycling bins and my car, a woman came over to me. She told me that I looked well. I thanked her. I wondered if I knew her. I did not think I knew her.  But I knew that being told I looked well had nothing to do with my health. She was telling me that I looked nice.  She was telling me that I was well presented. She said she herself never knew exactly how to dress for the dump. She said the gathering up of stuff to load into the motorcar was a certain kind of activity as was the unloading. It could get a little messy. If she chose to go into town for some messages after the dump-run she liked to look maybe a bit nicer than she would if she was only going to the dump. She did not like to waste a trip to the dump without going to town too. What with the price of petrol and everything. She liked to look carefully to see what other women were wearing at the dump to help her to decide exactly how to find the balance.

 

15 August Wednesday

The drive back from Kerry was scary. A soft drizzle had come down. It became a fog. It was impossible to see a thing. The road was winding and narrow with steep drop-offs into the sea. There were a few tour buses crawling along full of passengers who could not see a single bit of the Ring of Kerry which is what they had come for. The drive was slow and the drive was difficult.

We reached Kenmare where we planned to have a good lunch to reward ourselves for the terrifying journey. Cars were parked all along the road entering the town. A cattle market was in full swing right in the centre. There were trailers and tractors and cows and bulls and farmers everywhere. There were a lot of tweed jackets and caps and there were a lot of rain jackets. Some sections of the streets were completely closed off. They had been transformed into big holding pens for the cattle. There were deviations added on to deviations. It was not possible to stop the car. There was no where to park anyway. Hundreds of people plus all the animals and everything under a steady downpour. We escaped as best we could which was slow. We ended up in Kanturk which is a good name but the lunch we found was dreary.

There was a man on the corner near the restaurant with a small blue car. Four young children were squeezed into the back of the car. The children were tight in and screaming and making a lot of noise. They might have been happy or they might have been miserable. It was hard to tell. A woman stood quietly near the man. He had three bunches of Dirty Carrots on the bonnet of the car. He was a huge and loud man.  He kept banging the bonnet and shouting that he only had three bunches of his delicious Dirty Carrots left. He shouted that when he sold these last ones he would be able to go home and eat The Dinner. Each time he banged the bonnet more muddy soil fell off the carrots. There was no one about. It was not a busy location. I did not buy any of the carrots. I would have liked to have made a photograph of the man and his family and the carrots but I knew that if I took a photo I would be expressing more interest than I had. The man would certainly have pushed me to buy his carrots. It would have been difficult to refuse. I have marveled before about this love for Dirty Carrots. Somehow the heavy clumps of soil coated on the carrots hold great promise.  The promise is that they will taste better than another carrot which is just carrying a thin easily washable amount of soil.  I have never found this to be so. I find cleaning the Dirty Carrots much more work than they are worth. The sink is always full of mud and stones after the washing. A normal unwashed carrot is fine. A Dirty Carrot is not. When we left the restaurant, the car and the man and the family were gone so I assume somebody else came along and bought the remaining Dirty Carrots.

 

 

Em & me


11 August Saturday

A soft drizzle. The cows are gone from the near field. All day they were out there as a noisy and excitable presence. They were happy to be eating the grass even though it is not as long and green and plentiful as they might like. There was jostling and chasing and bellowing. The entire herd disappeared just before the rain began. Joe rounded them up with his tractor. Their departure was not a long orderly line. They frolicked and raced over the fields until they were out of sight. I think today was a real outing for them. They were a bit silly with it. The rain is a quiet rain. There is just enough sound on the roof for me to know while sitting in here that it is raining out there. It is a comfortable sound. And at least now I know there is no need for buckets and towels and odd shaped containers to catch the rain. The new roof inspires confidence. We are not so far removed from those endless days of drought. The grass roof still looks burned up and terrible. This is not the kind of rain to solve the farmers’ problems but it is pleasant. And it is a kind of relief to be enveloped in an indistinct view. The hills across the valley are reduced to shadowy shapes when seen through the wet.

10 August Friday

The figs are enormous. The figs have never been so big, but the figs are as hard as rocks. Not one fig is ripening. Not one bird is eating the figs. They probably do not want to hurt their beaks. Apples are falling on the ground. They are not fully ripe but they are falling off the trees. There are no plums. We do not have plums and no one else has plums. Wild or otherwise, all plums have suffered from the lack of water this summer. The raspberries are doing alright. Every morning I can pick a handful so we have between 5 and 8 raspberries each for breakfast. I will be happier when there are more than I can be bothered to count. There are plenty more berries ripening but I eat quite a few in the day each time I pass by the bushes. Blackberries are also coming ripe. They do not seem to mind the lack of rain.

9 August Thursday

I have been driving around with a large stone behind the driver’s seat. It was in the boreen and I stopped to move it out of the way. It had a nasty sharp looking edge and it was big enough that I did not want to be driving over it. It looked like the kind of rock that could do damage to a tyre. The place where I stopped was too narrow for me to open the door all the way. I could not get out. All I could do was to open the door a tiny bit and to lower my arm down and grab the stone. I could barely lift it with one hand but I did it and I sort of swung and sort of hefted it into the car behind me. I have been driving it around like a passenger ever since.

8 August Wednesday

Everyone is now required to get a Public Services Card. It is a new card and it will be necessary for many things whenever identification is required. If you want to get one or you do not want to get one, it does not matter. We will all end up with one. I went today and sat in a little booth with a woman behind the glass on her own side. I could stretch my arms out on each side and touch the walls. It was a spacious booth. At one point the woman pressed a button and a hard wall came down behind me. It was also about an arm’s length away. The wall was pale grey. It was not claustrophobic. It was just a rigid screen providing even light for taking my photograph while I staying sitting in the chair. The woman asked me if I was frightened. She told me that I was not really locked in. Then she said: “Well, you are locked in but you are only locked in for a minute or so.  No bother. It is no bother. As long as you are not frightened, it will be no bother. It will all be over soon.”


7 August Tuesday

I am thrilled to have my new book EM & ME here. It is beautiful. I am happy to see it and to hold it. I am happy again and again. I move the copies around the house so that I can be surprised and delighted each time I come across it. I like to pretend that I do not know that the book is in the spot where I find it. I try to startle myself with each next appearance. I pretend that I do not know that I placed it wherever I placed it. I pick the book up to open it and to look forward to reading it as if I have never before read any of it. As if I had not written it. There is plenty of opportunity to discover the book freshly again and again. It is not at all the same as coming around a corner and seeing Em herself again. That is never going to happen. Seeing her on the cover walking down the boreen through the cow parsley is pretty wonderful.


Simon has taken some copies down to the shop so they are available for sale in among the magazines about farming and fishing and knitting. I am sort of shyly pleased to spy it there when I go to buy milk. I look at it from the corner of my eye. I do not really want anyone to see me admiring and leafing through my own book.  I cannot imagine that there is anyone anywhere who does not want or need a copy of this book.

 

For those who cannot get to McCarra’s shop, it is already available at other shops like bookartbookshop in London, Boekie Woekie in Amsterdam, The Glucksman gallery in Cork, The Book Hive in Norwich, as well at other places I am not able to list here. Of course, it is also available directly from the Coracle website:. http://www.coracle.ie/em-me/

 

Fodder Shortage


5 August Sunday

There is much talk of Fodder Shortage. The things that cattle are eating now are the things that they should be eating in the winter. What will they be eating in the winter? Some hay fields are being baled up. I do not think any of whatever is done is can be enough at this late stage. We are not finished hearing the term Fodder Shortage. I think I just like the word Fodder.  Silage Widow is another favorite seasonal expression.

4 August Saturday

Tipp FM announced the winner of last nights lottery as someone from Waterford. Actually, they are not sure that the winner is from Waterford but they know where the winning ticket was sold. The ticket was sold from a shop in Waterford. This makes everyone happy. The radio announcer named the shop and said there was no doubt that having a winning ticket sold right there in that shop for a win of one million euro would provide a great cheering boost to the people of Waterford on this Bank Holiday Weekend.

3 August Friday

Replacing the roof was one thing. Clearing up after two years of leaks was another. Every time a new place flowed with rainwater, we gathered things into boxes or piles and pushed them somewhere just to get them out of the way quickly. Every time a solution came along we assumed it was the final one and that the dripping walls would end. The leaks moved along the seam between the fold where the two roofs joined together. The bathroom leak was a constant and always in the exact same section of wall. Except for the one time when it took over the ceiling and then the water came in everywhere. The kitchen leaks were in several places and they moved back and forth.The most worrying leak was the one that made its way through the fuse box and continued straight down to the floor. The kitchen ceiling flooded too. Both ceilings have big stains which are yet to be fixed. One part of the ceiling was ripped open and closed up again. That place is a large raw plaster area waiting for paint. It has been easy to condition myself not to look up.

In the big room, the three meter long shelves above the cupboard and the six shelves inside the cupboard, also three meters long, will no longer be soaked in the next rain. We cleaned and oiled the shelves.  We cleaned and coated the wall behind them with stain-covering paint. I was amazed at how black even the very bottom shelves were. Water damage is pervasive. The pans and plastic containers and newspapers and towels catching the rain water were never enough. After cleaning and painting, I began collecting the bags and boxes of stuff which had been spread around the house and down into the barn. Things just kept appearing. Books had been lined up on the floor and piled up on other parts of the floor. The trouble with it all was that the books had been rushed away from pouring water. They had not been examined. They had been moved in a state of panic and with great speed. Many cookbooks were completely destroyed. The pages were rippled with moisture and sometimes stuck together. Things had been moved and then they were moved again. There was no sorting.

With this dry weather, I moved chairs and rugs out doors while I struggled to regain order. Flashlights which had been on the shelves inside the cupboard and then moved out of the way were useless. The batteries and innards were full of rust. Some were still wet inside. They are good for nothing. Several old dog collars belonging to Emily had been saved. Why I do not know. They are now mouldy, but how can I throw them away? A dog whistle on a white string that never worked anyway but that someone gave me when Em was first going deaf. It is not water damaged but should I throw it out or shall I just move it somewhere else? Bowls and cups full of silvery lichen gathered on various walks. The big bowl of lavender from last years garden, or maybe from two years ago. Innumerable stones from various beaches. Every single thing in the room and from the shelves and on the windowsills came under scrutiny. Pine cones. Everything is precious. But a clean-up is a clean-up. Everything that I look at in the entire room demands a decision. I am no longer restricting the purge to the shelves that got wet. Usefulness is not always the best way to decide things. Do we need this stone which looks exactly like Prince Charles’ ear?

It has taken all week to get to the end of this indoor work. The roof is finished. The out of doors is cleaned up. The indoors is now cleaned up too.

There are now boxes full of stuff up in the barn. They are ready to take to sell at the Car Boot Sale in Fethard. I shall probably never get around to doing the Car Boot. Maybe Pat Looby wants them to sell at her weekly table.

30 July Monday

It seemed an auspicious way to begin the week. I trapped one of the enormous house spiders in the bathtub. It might have been a Cardinal Spider. Or just a Giant House Spider. I took it outside and a long way from the house. I am certain these spiders come back and crawling up the drain pipe and back in the tub. The spiders are everywhere especially at this time of year. The spiders make lots of cobwebs and the cobwebs get full of sticky dust and I feel the house is always in the process of being taken over. I never see so many spiders nor webs nor so much dust in other houses.

29 July Sunday

I drive past three farms on the way to the village. Only one has the flattened sheep dog. He is at the last farm on the way down. He is at the first farm on the way back. He lies on the road as flat as he can make himself. He sticks out quite far into the single lane road. He is black and white. He thinks he is making himself invisible but he is completely visible on the grey road. He waits until the car is almost beside him and then he rushes out as if he is going to bite the tyres. He never does more than a quick dash and then he gets back in ready position to await his next victim on wheels. He does not want to bite a tyre. He does not want to catch a motorcar. I always slow for him and his almost attack. It is a game we play together. There is so little traffic on the road he does much more anticipating than dashing.

 

27 July Friday

The yearly National Tidy Towns competition is underway. Some places get really busy with their floral displays and presentations. Some towns just ignore the whole thing. This year is proving tough for everyone because it is so hot. Everything is dry. Things like hanging baskets need a designated person with water standing beside them nearly all day long. As a village, Ardfinnan always takes its place in the competition quite seriously. There is a painted boat at a jaunty angle full of flowers on the green. Lambert’s garage has their usual painted tyres mounted on the wall with flowers tumbling out of them.

I am not sure if the painted cart is a new addition or just one I might have missed in recent years. In addition to the floral arrangements the cart has two milk churns, one inside with the foliage and one on the ground beside it. Both of the milk churns are chained to the cart and the one placed inside is full with a cement block and some  rubble just to make sure that the display position stays fixed.

Put a Smile On It.

25 July Wednesday

The work goes on. Yesterday I found a strange curl of something on the floor. It looked like an enormous toenail. That is not possible. There is no animal with such a large toenail around here. Today a knot of wood fell to the floor. It appears that the toenail was a bit of bark from around the knot. Lots of things are falling from the ceiling. This will not stop until the banging and tapping and activity stops. Most of the time the radio inside the work van is on and loud so that Peter and Mark can hear it above the noise. With windows and doors all flung open we cannot escape. Indoors and out the noise of the work is everywhere.

 

24 July Tuesday

Yesterday Peter Ryan came to remove the side of the roof where the leak has been confusing us for two years. He removed all the slates. He said the roofing felt was so old that it was like lace. There was scarcely anything to it but anyway he left the felt on for overnight just so that we were not completely exposed to the sky. At 9.30 we got an unexpected heavy burst of rain. Rain poured into the kitchen. It was not so bad in the bathroom and not too bad in the big room. We still had all the water catching devices in place there. The kitchen leak was the worst. By the time we went to bed it had mostly stopped. Lucky for us it was not the proper all night rain which everyone has been longing for. In the morning, the floor was soaked and the newspapers were sodden. The buckets were full. Peter sent me to Clogheen to get the lead flashing from Corbett’s Hardware Shop. Then I was sent to the dump with the load of old roofing felt. He cannot put that in Joe Keating’s rubble hole, wherever that is. Peter will return with Joe’s tractor when the work is all done to scoop all the remaining roof rubble and old slates off the flat roof. In between my errands I have made endless cups of strong tea as well as lunch for Peter and Mark. There is not much time in a day in between my jobs. The heat is exhausting.

23 July Monday

Pa is not Dad. Pa is never Dad. Pa is short for the name Pascal. It is never used by a child as a name for a father.

 

22 July Sunday

People look for the ways to describe the damage being done by the ongoing drought. It is a variation of grumbling. Our little concrete water trough is empty. It was made by Johnnie Mackin and rolled down the Mass Path from his house to ours. Nigel Browne rolled it down the hill through the mud and over rocks and branches and holes.  He offered to do it but later he wished that he had not offered as it was a difficult job to get it from there to here. He rolled it three-quarters of a kilometer.  It has been sitting where it is for at least twenty years.  It is empty for the first time in all those years.  The trough is not deep. The whole thing only comes up to below my knee but it has always been full of water. Rain water collects in it. Dogs drink out of it. Sometimes I use it to water nearby plants. Now it is empty. It is devoid of water. The bright green moss around the top edge has turned to brown. There was an inch of scummy muck in the bottom of the trough but already that is drying out and getting crunchy. It is as good a time as any to clean out the drying muck.

21 July Saturday

The three children often play their instruments and some music at the Farmer’s Market. They are all about twelve. There is a box on the ground for people to toss in money.  The money is being collected for the hospice. The girl and one of the boys nod and smile at people as they play their tunes and they nod when people throw coins into the box. The other boy sits straight and plays his banjo with skill but he never acknowledges the audience or anyone at all. His face is serious and sort of miserable. Glum. I thought perhaps I was maybe the only one who noticed it. Today the mother of the banjo playing boy was despairing.  She was at the Apple Farm stand. She said “How I wish he would smile. The very least he could do is Put A Smile On It, but he just cannot.”

20 July Friday

The dry weather continues. The land is bleached out. There is a lack of green everywhere. There is a sense of desperation. There is no grass growing so the cows who should be eating off the fields are eating nuts and feeds that they would usually be eating in the winter. There is worry about what they will be eating in the winter. Everyone likes the warm days but there are all kinds of conversations constructed around the idea of rainfall at night. Many people favour the time between 12 and 6. Or between 2 and 6. Or between 3 and 5. Everyone has a theory for the time they think a nightly rain will do the most good for the land and the least disruption for the summery weather. Everyone has a theory about how very good it would be for everyone and how it would solve the problems of drought but still leave us living in this holiday climate. Farmers and gardeners and cows are all suffering from the heat. Such heat is nearly unheard of. They are saying that it has been fifty days now. I have heard fifty days repeated several times. Surely it should be fifty-two days now. Or fifty-three.

18 July Wednesday

We boarded the ferry and walked up from the car deck on level 5 to level 7 where there were seats and tables and toilets and the shop and food, etc. The first thing we saw as we came out of the stairwell was an elderly lady sitting exactly opposite the door. She had fluffy white hair and a round pink face. I could not see her face completely because she was holding a book right up in front and close to her eyes. The name of the book was TIBET IS MY COUNTRY. The woman was reading with complete concentration.  She was not paying any attention at all to the people arriving out of the stairs and off the lift with bags and books and pillows brought from their cars for the four hour journey across the Irish Sea. She was oblivious to all of the people and the bustle. She looked like she had been sitting there all day which she could not have been because the boarding had not been going on for too long. I think she must have gotten off the lift and sat on the bench in exactly that position so that she would not have far to go when it was time to disembark. Perhaps the people she was traveling with placed her exactly there for that very reason. We wandered off and found our own place to read and sleep and pass the journey. When the announcement came for the car drivers and passengers to return to the car deck and to their cars we saw her again. She was in exactly the same spot and the book was still held up close to her face. Another woman who was waiting to go down the stairs said in a kindly voice: “It must be a savage good book? You have scarcely looked away since you got on board.” The reading woman said “Yes. It is a fine book. I am obliged to return it to the library tomorrow morning but I will never finish it in time if I am forced to stop and speak with strangers.”