The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Endless Rain

18 August Sunday

Before the sun sets today, there will be a new owner of the Liam MacCarthy Cup. It is the big day for the All-Ireland hurling final. The counties of Tipperary and Kilkenny are in a frenzy. Many thousands of fans will be traveling to Dublin for the match at Croke Park. Everyone else will be watching the game in bars or at home. The build-up and excitement has been immense. People are all sporting the Tipp colours of gold and royal blue. The colours are more and more wide-spread every day. Shirts and flags and pennants and caps and dangling car fresheners in the shape of shirts and the funny little lengths of braided wool that appear before every big match. I am fascinated by these braids. I imagine the lengths of yarn being carefully braided by grandmothers and mothers to be hung on car mirrors, antennas and handbags. Any bit of decoration is good as long as it shows the Tipp colours. The Kilkenny colours are yellow and black. These are neighbouring counties with a long and fierce rivalry. A small stone bridge on the border has been painted so that one side is blue and gold and other side is black and yellow.  Every interaction has people discussing whether or not they will be attending the match in person. Nobody has asked me where, or even if, I will be watching the match. Once the match is won, The Liam MacCarthy becomes the important and cherished thing. The word Cup is dropped. And it is never called a trophy.  The Liam MacCarthy will be held high on the top of the bus in the parade for the team when they come home from Dublin. The Liam MacCarthy will travel up and down the county for a year and it will appear in hundreds of photographs. It will be taken to schools and sports centers and old peoples homes and any number of places where groups are gathered. It seems that every single person wants to be photographed with The Liam MacCarthy.

16 August Friday

There was a bright dry spell after lunch. I spent two hours scraping moss and some horrible slimy stuff off the concrete area outside my workroom. There were brown globs of the stuff all over the place. At first I thought they were excrement, maybe from the fox. On closer examination, I saw that they were kind of translucent and more sepia than brown in colour. If I saw these globs on a beach I would assume they were some kind of seaweed. Stepping on them was dangerous. Moss is slippery enough but these globs were extremely slippery. These globs were deadly. I do not know what to call them. Globs is as good a word as any. I filled an entire wheelbarrow with moss and globs and a few opportunistic weeds that were growing out of the cement and between the stones. By the time I finished, it began to rain. Again.

15 August Thursday

Acting the Maggot is a way of saying that someone is messing. A person who is a messer would Act the Maggot without a second thought. Most farmers are happy for us to walk through their land but they would not be happy if we were to be Acting the Maggot. Acting the Maggot might just be some rowdy and foolish behaviour or it might be reckless and destructive. There is a certain amount of disrespect involved with such bad behaviour. It might be a lot of disrespect or it might be a little.

14 August Wednesday

I have filled another huge bowl with more black currants. They just keep coming. And now the raspberries are ripening. That means more picking in an everyday kind of way. Apples and plums are barely visible. After the heavily laden branches of last year, it is a shock to see how few apples there are on any of the trees. There is one tree that is having normal growth and production but most of the trees are leafy and lush with no apples at all. As always, I have been keeping a careful eye on the figs. It has been disappointing to see how few there are. This morning I walked up the stone steps to go into the small mezzanine room and I could barely get in the door. The fig branches and leaves had taken over the top of the steps and all of the branches up there were full of fruit. Once inside the room the thick foliage took over the entrance. It was a battle to get in and a battle to get out. One side of the tree is devoid of figs and the other side is full of figs. Now I must pay regular attention so that the birds do not get more than me.

12 August Monday

The rain is sort of endless. It is endless but erratic. There are moments of blazing sunshine and blue skies but every day there is rain. It is not cold rain. But it is rain. The days are warm and often muggy and the rain is a constant. Sometimes it falls straight out of the sky in an enormous heavy downpour and then it stops abruptly. The sky clears and it is bright and then it buckets down again. Sometimes it is an off and on again drizzle that never ceases but it never really stops anything from happening. A man walked out of the shop this morning and he pointed up at the sky. He announced, “He is very cross That Man Up There. The only way to please Him is to go to Mass five times a day but I’ll not be doing that! I carry an umbrella wherever I go.” I was the only person around. Even so, I am not certain that he was talking to me.

11 August Sunday

When I first discovered the Distemper Brush, I loved it. I wanted to buy it but I did not need it. I just wanted it. I took a photograph of it on the painted cement floor of the hardware shop. I kept thinking about it. Eventually I just had to buy the brush, so I bought it and brought it home. I hung it on the wall where I admire it daily. I sent photographs to Laurie and she made a beautiful drawing of the brush for my book Too Raucous for a Chorus. I have kept an eye on the section of the hardware shop where the brush was hung. It was the only one in stock when I bought it and to this day it has not been replaced. Maybe there is not much demand for painting with distemper these days. Now I have made a postcard of the brush so I can share it more widely. I am loving the postcard nearly as much as the brush itself.

10 August Saturday

It was disappointing not to see The Crosswords from Clogheen this morning. I wanted to ask them if the Sheep Racing had taken place as scheduled last week in spite the heavy rain. I was ready with a lot of questions about how they get the sheep to line up and how they get them to go in the same direction and how they get them to keep going in the same direction. I wondered if perhaps there was a sheepdog in the back urging them forward or at least not allowing them to change direction. I wondered what sort of marking or numbering they used to keep track of each sheep contestant. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it all. I am sorry that I did not drive over in the lashing rain just on the off chance that the race took place. It might not have happened but it might have. Either way, I am sorry to have missed it.

8 August Thursday

There is always another dead bird. This is the first time that I have picked up a bird with a plate. This bird smashed into a window. When I found it, it was still warm but it was dead. The plate has been useful as I moved it around to keep it out of the sun. It is time to toss it over the hedge but I keep looking at it. I wish I knew what it was.

7 August Wednesday

Marian bemoaned that the summer is Flying By. She said, “That’s what happens when June doesn’t fall good.” She said, “Summer never works if you don’t have a June.”

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Sheep Racing at 7 o’clock.

5 August Bank Holiday Monday

People often substitute the word Ye in place of the word You. They use it in conversation and they use it in text messages.  To my ear it sounds almost biblical. (Are ye back yet?) I love hearing it and I love reading it but I cannot use it myself   I cannot incorporate it into my speech.  It would sound false in my mouth.

4 August Sunday

I knew there would be rain. I  believed the forecast. The forecast was for The Odd Passing Shower. The forecast promised that the showers would hold off until the afternoon. I walked up and around Knockperry. As usual, I wondered about the carved head installed in someones wall. I always intend to ask someone somewhere about its history. I always forget.  I got two thirds of the way around before the skies opened. I had no rain jacket and there was no shelter up there so I just kept walking. I got soaked through. Not one part of me was dry. There is a small encampment of travellers just before the road drops down. Actually it is just one caravan and one horse trailer and a bunch of stuff scattered around. Two dogs huddled underneath the caravan and watched me walking by in the pouring rain.  I had been told that there was Sheep Racing scheduled for 7 o’clock in Clogheen. I was eager to see how anyone could convince sheep to race against one another, much less run in the same direction, but the rain was so heavy that I never got to Clogheen to find out.

3 August Saturday

Maurice told me that the word Áras means large building. It suggests a residential building. An abode. A dwelling. Maybe a castle. He said that the central Bus Station in Dublin which is called Bus Áras is not literally translated as Bus Station but should instead  be The Bus Castle.

2 August Friday

The room where the wake was being held was not large. There were family members in chairs along two of the walls. The deceased was laid out in a coffin against the wall at the far end of the room. We filed in behind others in the single line and we shook hands with each member of the family. We repeated our condolences and we said “I am sorry for your loss” over and over again. When a person reached the coffin, he or she stopped and crossed themselves. I did not cross myself. I just continued to the next group of family members.  As always, the room was hushed and the lighting was subdued. When we first arrived and before we had been able to enter the room with the family and the dead man we had to wait in a small line. It was not a long line, but first we were out on the pavement in the sunshine and then we stood in a little entry hall. As we were waiting to take our turn an elderly man came out and he shook the hands of each one of us who were waiting to go in. He said, and then repeated again and again, “I will have to die myself to ever be this popular.”

1 August Thursday

I miss walking up the mass path. It is thick with all of the growth of summer. It is not possible to walk with shorts and short sleeves without being attacked by the nettles and the brambles. Even with long trousers and long sleeves the tangle is winning. I am missing out on a lot of installments of growth and animal movement and bird activity. I do not even know all that I am missing. It will not be long before I am able to move through it all again without too much of a struggle. It will be like no time has passed.

 

31 July Wednesday

Picking black currants and picking more black currants. The picking does not end. The currants are fat and delicious but I am beginning to wish there were not so many of them.

 

30 July Tuesday

We took the ferry from Liverpool. It was a new way for us to return from England. The boat was mostly freight. There were only a few cars on boat. We were the very last car to board because we drove round and round the area looking for the dock which was not signposted in any way. Everyone had begun to eat when we got upstairs from the vehicle deck. It was 8 o’clock. Our food was included as part of the fare price. We all ate our hearty suppers as the boat prepared to leave and within half an hour of announcing that food was being served, the Phillipino kitchen staff started clearing it all away. Everything was completely gone before we even left the enormous harbour of Liverpool. Most of the truck drivers knew this so they took two helpings of the steamed pudding with loads of custard in case they missed their chance. There were no more than fifteen tables spread between two rooms. Since everyone was eating at the same time it was easy to see that there were not many people on board. In the room where we ate there was a large round table with a few smaller tables close by around the edges. Everyone who sat at the round table was a lorry driver from Northern Ireland. Maybe they all knew each other from earlier crossings. Maybe they did not know each other from earlier crossings. I think the brotherhood of truck drivers means that they did know each other simply by their job. They were all in the same club. They discussed the tiny utilitarian cabins which we had all been assigned. They commented on the narrow little bunks. Several of the men remembered ferries where they had been required to bring their own sheets and pillows along with them. There was a nostalgia about this, either for the time or for where those those journeys had taken them. This ferry did not seem to be of this time, but the drivers were remembering even less modern journeys. We listened to the men discuss their travels. They had all been away to different places and now they were all going home. Being at the center of the room placed both them and their exchanges on stage. The lights started dimming. By 9 o’clock we were all encouraged to head down to our teeny cabins to sleep.

At 5 am, there was a loudspeaker announcement regarding the serving of breakfast. Then a person walked down the corridor tapping twice on each door with a key or some metallic object to make sure we were awake. We heard our own two taps and we heard the tapping continuing down the hallway. We climbed back up the steep ladder-like staircase, where everyone ate porridge and tea and toast. The Northern Irish drivers sat at their round table. No one had had much sleep so it was quieter than it had been the night before. Each of the truckers sat with two or three extra cups of tea at their place. The extras were to carry down to their lorries. We were all down on the vehicle deck by 5.30. The freight drivers lined up their cups on their dashboards. The boat decanted us into Dublin Harbour at 6 o’clock on Sunday morning. Driving through the city has never been so easy.

And we were back at home in Ballybeg before 9, even after a stop in Cahir to buy milk and a few staples.

Will I See You Out?

9 July Tuesday

Another batch of elderflower cordial has been bottled. This is the first time I have made several small batches over a few weeks. Ordinarily, I make one big batch. This year it was about gathering the blooms at the right moment and in bright sunshine. The weather was against me and then blossoms were often too high for me to reach. I hope I do not do it this way again. It is just as much work to make a small batch twice as it is to make a big batch once.

8 July Monday

Cars drive too quickly through the village. Tractors and farm machinery always go too fast, especially when they are getting in the silage which is what they are doing now. The days are not long enough for the work that must be done and there is always the possible threat of rain which will ruin the Getting In. The narrow roads are treacherous with speeding equipment. If there are several other vehicles pulled in or a delivery truck parked when one is ready to leave the shop in a car, it is not easy to see around them. This is a problem at any time of the year. It is worse with speeding tractors on the move.  It is nearly impossible to see if something is coming from either direction. A person walking out of the shop or arriving and getting out of their own car will offer to check the road for the person attempting to depart. He or she will say “Will I see you out?” Or “I’ll see you out then.” That means they will stand in the road and look both ways and signal or shout when it is safe to back out. It is the polite thing to do and it is much appreciated. We all do it for one another.

7 July Sunday

I have been picking gooseberries. It feels like I have been picking gooseberries forever. The bushes just keep on producing. Every afternoon I sit on my box and I pick and pick and I pick and then I toss bags full of berries into the freezer. I am in competition with the birds. Often I am picking from one side of a bush while a bird is eating away on the other side of the bush. This is a battle and I am determined to win. I do not mind the birds having a good feed of fruit. I just want to be certain that I get more than they do. The thorns are sharp and painful. It feels like they are ripping me to shreds but at the same time, they never seem to pierce my skin. There is no blood but there is a bit of shouting and cursing as I get stabbed again and again. I think there are some kinds of gooseberries that have no thorns. Maybe these are new breeds. Even if thorn-less gooseberries exist, I am not going to plant any of them.  I already have too many gooseberry bushes. Today I have decided that I am finished with the picking. Whatever remains on the bushes is all for the birds.

6 July Saturday

Maureen got out of the car. She has been instructed to stand still for a moment so that she does not get dizzy by moving too quickly. Her friend stood close by. She was there to give Maureen an arm if needed, just until she got her balance.  Her friend squealed, “OhMyGod! Your glasses are filthy! It looks like you cleaned them with Mashed Potatoes!”

5 July Friday

I see Marie at least once a week. I do not know her well. I do not know her family or where she lives or anything like that. She used to work in the shop and then she trained to work at the Day Care Center. The pay is much better there and she loves working with the children. She is a cheerful person. We always greet one another and she always calls me Sally. I used to correct her and tell her my proper name, but I no longer bother. I just return her greeting and chat about whatever there is to be chatted about.

4 July Thursday

There are a lot of bees around the edge of the roof of the barn. They are just over the door. They have been there for several weeks now. We now try to enter and leave the barn from the opposite direction, but it does not really make much difference because the swarm is still just above and to the left of the door. We cannot ignore them but we can move quickly and quietly past them. It is a pity they did not choose to make a hive on the back side of the barn. They would have had more privacy and we would not be so aware of them. Their noise is loud. It is a little bit scary to go into the barn and a little bit scary to come out, but really I do not think it matters much. They are busy and they seem to pay us no attention at all. Anyone who sees or hears the bees advises us to get a beekeeper to come and take them away. The hive is well tucked up and into the eaves. I do not think anyone could get up and get them out without killing the lot. Since the bee population is in short supply all over the world, we feel it is best if we leave this community to just keep doing exactly what they are doing.

 

3 July Wednesday

The barley looks fine in the fields on both sides of the track. It moves constantly and gently with the smallest breeze.

2 July Tuesday

The woman stood in the middle of the road. It is not a busy road. It is a single track road with three houses on it. One of the  houses has been empty for four years. It is an extremely quiet road. The woman stood in the middle of the road watching as two painters were finishing up a bit of detail around her windows. She was admiring her freshly painted house from as far away as she could be which was not really very far at all. I was out for a walk. I do not know this woman except to say hello to. We exchange pleasantries like “It’s a desperate day altogether!” and “A Fine Evening, isn’t it!” But that is as far as we go. That is as far as we have ever gone. She used to have an elderly dog. I spoke to the dog every time I passed the house. He was deaf and blind and did not pay any attention to me.  Today the woman turned to me as if we were in the habit of discussing a great many things. She said, “It is looking well, isn’t it?” It was both a statement and a question. I replied, “Yes, indeed it does look well.” She nodded and said “Yes. I think it is looking well. I am happy how well it is looking.” If I had not seen the painters there I would not have known that the house had been painted because it was exactly the same colour as it was before it was painted.

Any Stick You Could Buy In A Store

1 July Monday

Anthony has a bucket near the doorway of his premises. There is a thick piece of timber on the bucket to make it more comfortable. Anyone waiting to have a tyre repaired is welcome to take a sit-down on the bucket. Or someone who is walking by can take a seat and chat even if they are not having a tyre repaired or replaced. Today, I see that Anthony has added a red cushion.

 

30 June Sunday

I was walking up near Middlequarter and thought to take the path that drops down to the Holy Well. It was a bad idea as everything was heavily overgrown and I was wearing shorts. There were too many nettles to make such a walk pleasant or even possible, so I gave up. I was sorry as I have not been down there for a long time. There is not much to see. I am never certain how and why one little spring gets called a Holy Well and another does not. There are hundreds of Holy Wells around the country. Not all of them are signposted. Some are just known to be where they are by the people who know. Usually the water is believed to have curative powers. Sometimes a particular saint used a well and that made it holy. I must ask around for the story of this well, which does not look like a well at all. It is just a slab of stone with a trickle of water coming out beneath it. And at this time of year it is probably completely choked out with weeds and nettles.

 

29 June Saturday

We had just finished lunch when there was a tiny tap on the door. It was Tommie. He was returning the plate I had taken to him last week. The plate had been full of lemon cake and strawberries. Now it was empty and washed.  I was preparing strawberries to eat with cream just as he knocked so I offered him some. Tommie loves fruit. He loves all fruit but he especially loves summer berries. He refused a cup of tea but said yes to the fruit.  He sat down and we all three ate big bowls of fresh berries. Then we talked. Or Tommie talked. He told us stories of Real Life People. He told about a woman who could tell a lie and he said that whatever she said and whatever way she said it, it looked better than the truth. As he talked he swung his walking stick up above him and around in the air. He was pleased when we complimented him on the stick. It was a length of ash with the bark stripped off. It was not straight but it was strong. He said he preferred this stick to any stick you could buy in a store.

After an hour and a half, Tommie said he should be going. I walked him out to his motorcar. I was surprised to see that the passenger door was open and I was shocked to see Margaret sitting there. I asked him why he had not brought her into the house. He said it was because he had not meant to stay so long. I spoke to Margaret and said that she should have come inside. She said she was fine where she was, just sitting out and listening to the weather. I guess by weather she meant the little breeze. She is mostly blind and she cannot hear a lot, but she perhaps she was able to hear and see enough to enjoy the light wind and the birdsong. Her face looked terrible. It was black and blue and she had a big bandage on her forehead and another one around her forearm. Her fingers and her hand were all black and blue and swollen. She said she had had another fall. She said “This is just the way things are going, Girl. I recover from hitting the ground just in time to fall again.”

 

28 June Friday

Sharon moved away at least six months ago because the house she had been renting was being put up for sale. It was Mary Corbett’s cottage. Then it was The Murder Cottage. Dessie lived there next and it was still spoken of as The Murder Cottage. When Sharon moved in, she wanted to change the way people referred to her home. Living in a place where someone was savagely killed carries a tough legacy. She searched out a large flat stone and put some sticky vinyl letters on it. She renamed the place The White Cottage. The letters were quite small. The heavily varnished stone was leaned up against a tree so that it could be seen from the road.  We all tried hard to use the new name but The Murder Cottage remains the shorthand way to identify the place. The house has not sold yet. A man comes along and does some small jobs every few weeks to keep it looking tidy. When Sharon left, I thought maybe she had taken her naming stone with her but today I walked past the house and there it was lying flat on the top of the wall with most of its letters missing.

 

27 June Thursday

The fire station in Lismore is not large. I am not even sure that it is even wide enough to have a fire truck inside. There are two yellow firemen’s helmets hanging outside the station. The original plan must have been for them to be used as hanging baskets.  No one planted any flowers in the helmets this year, so there are just a few dead stalks.

 

26 June Wednesday

It was raining hard. Just as I turned to drive into the boreen I saw a young boy pressed against the stone wall. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The sweatshirt was not waterproof. He was dripping wet and his hood was plastered tight to his head with the rain. I recognized him as the son of a neighbour a kilometer or so down the road. I think he is 12, or maybe 13. I stopped to ask if he wanted a lift home. He said no. I saw that he had a hatchet held in his hand. Maybe it was a hatchet or maybe it was an ax. It  was pressed close down along his leg. It might have been that he was trying to hide it from me. Or it might have been that he was trying to keep it from getting wetter. After I got home I mentioned him to Simon. He said the boy had been up and down past the house several times in the rain. Always carrying his hatchet. I have spent the rest of the day wondering if we should be worrying about this lad marching around with a hatchet.

Going to Bed in the Bright

25 June Tuesday

A man in a tractor dumped a big pile of stuff to the side of the storage shed on Mason’s land. It was grey and looked like cement which meant it was probably lime. When his trailer was empty, he climbed down from the cab and put a delivery note bill under a stone. I was walking up the track towards him. He waved and shouted across the field, “If you see your man tell him the bill is right there. But no worry. He’ll find it or he won’t!”

 

24 June Monday

To me, it is a pie. Here it is called a tart: top crust, bottom crust and a layer of fruit in between. I find there is always too much pastry for the skimpy amount of fruit inside. The fresh tart in the shop had a large circle cut out of the top crust. The piece of crust which had been cut out was laid onto the top of the tart, just beside the hole, so that the hole was both absent and present. It was still attached to the tart and had been baked right along with the rest.

23 June Sunday

The cows in the lower meadow began bellowing sometime after midnight. They woke me up. I lay in the dark and listened. I wondered what had set them off. There was moaning and mooing. Screeching. Lowing. Roaring. I do not know what got them going. Hunger? Separation? Distress? Maybe a fox startled one of them.  After about twenty minutes they were quiet again. I went back to sleep.

22 June Saturday

The talk at the Farmers Market this morning was all about the dead goose. By current count, 41 geese live in the river with their nests up on the banking of the castle. They are fed a lot of snacks by tourists and given a more healthy regular diet by locals. They have no reason to leave the area. Last week one of the geese was walking across the car park when he was hit by a car and killed. The car drove away without stopping. The murdered goose was named Bruce. I did not know any of the geese had names. This makes me wonder if perhaps they all have names? Apparently a young girl gave Bruce his name but how did she recognise him in the crowd? They all look very similar to me.

21 June Friday. Solstice. The Longest Day

At this time of year there is not much night. Today is the longest day. The sun rose at 4.56. It will set at 21.56. The elderly woman in the shop complained that these long hours of daylight depress her. She feels that seven hours of darkness is not enough. She finds it a sad and difficult time because she fears Going To Bed in the Bright. She knows that she is not the only one.

20 June Thursday

A young man boarded the bus with us at the airport. He was carrying a large bouquet of flowers. It was a showy and extravagant bouquet in a white cellophane paper. The paper was like an enormous upside-down white skirt. I do not know where he bought such a bouquet. I do not think there are flowers on sale anywhere at the airport. I think this man must have bought the bouquet somewhere else. He must have arrived at the airport with the flowers but it was apparently not to give the flowers to someone just off a plane from somewhere because he had no one with him. He just had the flowers. Now he was boarding the bus and taking the flowers somewhere else. The entire bus smelled of his bouquet. It was a bit much. There were enormous lilies and something else with a strong smell. The man wedged his bouquet high up into a crack between the two seats in front of him so that he could enjoy the journey and have his hands free while the flowers were safe from any crushing and damage.

Before leaving Dublin we made a stop at the bus station. Two people heavily laden with plastic carrier bags stuffed full of things got on the bus. A terrible smell arrived with them. Suddenly the flower fumes that had seemed overwhelming during the journey from the airport to the station seemed not so bad. There would be at least two hours between leaving the Bus Aras and the first stop. No one would be able to get off the bus. This was a daunting prospect. I wondered if I would be able to stand it. A older woman leaned across the aisle towards me and she sort of cooed: “Oh the Poor Poor Misfortunates.” Then she sighed heavily and went back to her book.

Traffic was bad and the bus was slow. The two hour journey took three hours. I was sitting near the front of the bus. The bouquet was propped up in its position of safety in the center of the bus. The Poor Misfortunates sat all the way in the back of the bus. I suppose I was lucky in a way. From where I sat, the smells cancelled each other out and I was far enough away to able to forget about them, at least for some of the time.

It is Nice to be Nice.


12 June Wednesday

I went into town to get a new tax disc for the car. The old one expired at the end of May. We have until the end of June to get a new one. A one month grace period. I was feeling a little bit confused. Maybe this is the old way and things have changed while I failed to notice that they had changed. I felt certain that the one month grace period somehow does not apply any longer and that instead of me being a few weeks early to get my new disc, I am actually a few weeks late. I asked the woman at the counter if this was still the system. She said Yes, of course. I asked her why we are allowed an entire month after the date of expiration. Shouldn’t the tax expiring mean that the tax has expired? Why do we get a whole month extra to sort ourselves out? She explained that everyone is always so very busy with things to do and deadlines and life in general, so why should the motor tax office put more pressure on people? Then she added, “And, anyway, it is nice to be nice.”

11 June Tuesday

A starling is caught in the blind of an old empty house in Irishtown. It must have gone down the chimney and got itself caught in the blind trying to escape out the window and now it is dead. There is not a thing to be done. It is too late for anything to be done. I look at it every time I pass. I try not to look but then I do. It has been hanging there for a long while now. It does not seem to get any more decomposed. It just hangs there. Dead.

 

10 June Monday

The tiny calves are together in one field, without their mothers. They have two little white plastic houses to go into to get out of the rain. Or to get their food which might be in there to keep it dry, or to keep it from being blown around. These are the reasons that I thought they have the little houses. Today under a steady soft, but persistent, drizzle, I saw all of the calves huddled in a tight group in a far corner of their field. They were moaning and bellowing together in voices louder than their small bodies seem able for. And they were all wet. So much for my theories about shelter.

9 June Sunday

Elderflowers are everywhere. Except when they are not. They look like they are everywhere. The cream colored blossoms are polka-dotted all over the landscape. Everywhere in every direction, there are elderflowers. Their omnipresence is deceptive. The big floppy flowers are all high up on the trees. Today we had a few hours of bright sun in the midst of all the rain and the grey darkness and cold days. When we do get some sun, it is watery sunlight. It is not strong hot sun. I decided I must gather the flowers and make at least one batch of elderflower cordial. The weather forecast is promising ten straight days of rain and no sun. And this on top of all of the cold and sunless days we have already had. I decided I had to use today’s sunlight to get the blossoms while I could. Popular wisdom says that blossoms picked in overcast light will make a cordial that smells like cat pee. I did not want to risk that. I went out with clippers and a basket to collect 20 or 25 blossoms, which is not very many. It was really hard to even get that small amount. Everything was high up and way out of my reach. I eventually got my flowers and made my single batch. It was far too difficult. I can only hope the rains move off and I will have a second chance to make more.

8 June Saturday
I went to the vet’s office to collect some bubble wrap. They are happy to save the bubble for me as it is a kind of recycling. It is a slow job for me to go through it all and remove the tape from the bunched up bits, but it is free. I try to remind myself that the time I spend untangling and folding up the bubble wrap is cheaper than the money we would spend to buy brand new rolls of it. They seem to have less bubble these days. Maybe the vaccines and the liquids for the cows and horses are being shipped in plastic instead of glass containers. Or maybe there is another reason. Anyway I need to stop in more frequently than I used to and I get less per trip than I used to.

As I waited for the young girl on duty to stuff my bubble into a bin liner, I met a 3 1/2 year old mixed breed Whippet. I fell in love immediately. I have been vaguely looking for a new dog. I have mentioned here and there that I am ready for a new dog. I have mentioned here and there that I am no longer happy to live without a dog. I have mentioned that when I see the dog that is to be my dog, I will know immediately. Seeing this dog gave me that feeling. Unfortunately, this dog was happily owned and loved by the two people with her. But now I have a whole new breed of dog to be looking at and for. I did not know I wanted a Whippet, but now I do.

7 June Friday

The bee hives from the bee man in Burncourt are back on the tops of Mike’s wrecked cars in his work yard. These hives are different from the ones that the same man brought last year. One is covered with tar paper. Another looks like a picnic cooler painted yellow. The third one is just a wooden box with a red top. The bee man is looking to attract a new swarm. None of the boxes have attracted any bees yet. I think this weather is too cold for bees.

Wet Rain.

 

6 June Thursday

All week, every single time I look out the window or walk out the door I see a rabbit. There is never not a rabbit in my line of vision. Simon has been adamant when he assures me that there is only one rabbit and that I am always seeing the same rabbit. Tonight I walked across from the barn and I saw three rabbits in a little group quietly eating grass together. Another one was hopping over near the white lilac.  I should know better than to believe Simon.  Rabbits often look alike. And rabbits are known to multiply. Pretending that there is only one is silly.

5 June Wednesday

A motorcar had turned in at the end of the lane. There was a tractor and another big machine cutting and collecting silage in the adjoining field. Jobs like cutting silage get contracted out. I recognized neither the machinery nor the men. They machines both rushed over to the corner of the field when the car arrived. A woman and a small boy got out of the car. The woman stretched up on tip-toes to pass a couple of plastic containers over the stone wall to the young man. He climbed down from his tractor to meet her. Then she handed a flask and two big plastic bottles of some fizzy drink over to him. He put one container and one bottle up and into his tractor. He walked over and handed one of each of the things up to the man in the other machine. Then the woman lifted the little boy over the wall. The man reached and lifted the boy the rest of the way over and into the field. The boy was about 6. I am guessing his age from his size. Maybe he was younger. Maybe he was older. I did not know the woman, nor the man, nor the other man who never left his machine.  I had never seen the little boy. I was only out for a walk by myself. The man, who might have been a brother or the father or an uncle swung the boy up into the tractor and then he climbed up himself. The little boy stood high on the seat beside the man and he waved wildly with both hands at the woman and at me.  He was delighted to be in the tractor in the midst of the important work of bringing in the silage. He wanted to be seen to be high up in the tractor. The woman and I stood and waved at the boy as the machines turned away from us and started back into the work of cutting grass and circling round and round the field. We waved until the boy stopped waving and directed his attention to the job being done.

4 June Tuesday

Today has been all day Wet Rain. People might think that all rain is wet.  There are different kinds of rain. There is Soft Rain. Rain can be Desperate. It can be Lashing. I do not think there are as many words for rain here as some northern places have for snow but there are a lot of ways to explain and describe rain. I doubt I have heard all of them yet. Wet Rain is a particular sort of soaking rain. It is the kind of rain which means you will get wet no matter how you dress or how you move.  A Wet Rain will drench any person out in it. This is a certainty. The daisies are drooping down with this all day rain. They are drooping and dripping. They are lying down flat with the excessive water so they are tangling into each other and sometimes tripping us when we try to move through them. We get wet simply by walking out to check to see if the post has arrived or going down to the the book barn to do a job. It is much too wet to go out to trim these flopping daisies out of the way.  We have the choice of changing our trousers with abnormal frequency, or else we just stay in the house.

3 June Monday

Morning. How are you? Are you well? This quickly spoken greeting comes out like one long word with little space for breathing or differentiation. The you is pronounced as ye. MorningHowareyeAreyewell?

2 June Sunday

There is a big black bull in Joe’s front field. I call it the front field. Probably Joe does not call this field the front field. It is the first field as I enter the boreen from the road. It is the field on my right. When there is a bull in residence, the bull is always in this field. I do not think that Joe owns a bull. I think that he rents or leases a bull for a month or for a few weeks for breeding. The bull arrives from another farm in order to inseminate cows. I do not think they say inseminate. I hear it said that the bull is here to Cover the Cows. This is not the same bull as in recent years. The previous bull was brown and white. This bull is black. He is so black that he looks like a silhouette against the green pasture. He is so black and so big that it is almost hard to see him. He is like an absence cut out of the field.

31 May Friday

I could not sleep last night. It was the jet lag. Coming from west to east is often a problem. Reading had not worked and listening to the radio had not worked. I finally got out of bed. I played solitaire for a while. This usually tires me. I get bored and sort of hypnotised by the cards and then I get sleepy. I did not become sleepy. I just kept playing. I worked on a crossword puzzle from yesterday’s newspaper. I read yesterday’s newspaper. After three hours I finally went back to bed. I did not sleep. The room was getting lighter and lighter. The birds were making an enormous noise outside. I should call it the dawn chorus but it sounded too noisy for a chorus. It was cacophony. I got up again. It was about four o’clock. I made a cup of tea and I went outside. It was too chilly to sit down so I walked around and looked at things. There was plenty of light to see everything that had been growing in my absence. The ox-eye daisies were rampant. They are the wild flowers that just take over everything at this time of year. It was really getting light but it was not bright. It was only a little after four in the morning. I could see the white blossom of the daisies and the pink roses against the grey stone of the book barn. There was plenty of light to see colours and to see details. It was subdued light but it was light. Joe’s cows were not in the near field but they were just a little further along in the second field across. They were all standing around along the rounding of the hill pulling grass and eating. I wondered why they were not sleeping. I wondered if cows sleep. My thoughts kept returning to sleep. There were more cows down in Donal’s field. That is the field I call the Low Meadow but Jim Trehy told me that a field like that is known as the Bottoms. I try to think of it as the Bottoms but as often as I remind myself of it, this name does not come naturally to me. It is still the low meadow and this morning it was full of Donal’s cows. I could see them clearly. Their black and white hides showed bright against the green. I walked down the orchard meadow and through the apple trees and I considered getting out a rake to gather up some of the long grass which had been cut down around the trees. I was wearing my dressing gown over my pajamas and a shawl around my shoulders. I was wearing low rubber boots. It did not seem the best outfit for raking and anyway I was too tired to DO anything. The only thing I wanted to do was to sleep and since I could not do that I was happy to look at all of the variations of white blossoms against all of the green and to watch a rabbit hopping and to listen to the birds singing and screaming. I finished one cup of tea as I walked so I went  inside to make another. It was 5.15 and there was no chance that I was going to get any sleep.

Your Own Name

14 May Tuesday

The woman at the desk asked me: “What is your own name, so?” Anywhere else a person asking for my name would be enough. Your Own Name is a kind of double possession. A double descriptor which never fails to surprise me. It should not surprise me any longer but it does.

13 May Monday

I was paying for my milk and newspaper when I felt eyes upon me. I looked to my left and there was Peggy, right beside me, and staring intently at me. The minute I turned towards her, she averted her head sharpish and marched across the shop to the magazines. She picked up a magazine and began flipping through pages rapidly. It was a teen magazine. Peggy has no children and she has no grandchildren. I am certain she has no interest in a teen magazine. It was obvious that she just grabbed the first thing that her hands touched. Peggy has not spoken to me for four or five years. The last time was a phone conversation when she rang and said that she did not want to fall out with me. We spoke on the phone for 45 minutes that day. We parted on good terms. Or I thought we parted on good terms. Since that day she refuses to salute if we pass one another in the car. She does not just fail to salute, she turns her head abruptly and looks away even if she is driving in a forward direction. It is a dangerous kind of head turning while operating a motor car, but she is making a point. In the last two years she has extended the snubbing to Simon. Her problem is with me and not with him, but he is now tainted by association. I wave and I greet her with a smile wherever and whenever we meet. This friendliness on my part has no effect. I have been told by another neighbour that Peggy fell out with the neighbour’s cousin over a jar of jam. That snubbing and feud lasted for twenty years. It only ended when the cousin died.

12 May Sunday

There have been thundering and thumping noises throughout the afternoon. All week there has been silage cutting. After it was cut the grass has been left to dry in piled up lengths through the fields. The fields looked like corduroy. Now machines are racing through the fields and picking up the piles and spitting them into huge trailers. The trailers are huge and blue and they are pulled by blue tractors that rush along beside the grass collecting machines. It is a dangerous time to be on the road or driving through the farmyard as the speed of the activity keeps everything moving at top speed. From here in our valley it sounds like planes on a runway. Sometimes it sounds like thunder. Sometimes it sounds like rumbling traffic from afar. The noises are a shocking change from the usual deep silence.

11 May Saturday

Ned painted his van. He painted it red. It already was red but he repainted it, just to brighten it up. He painted it with some red gloss paint from his shed and he used a paint brush. It is not well done. There are saggy bits where the paint was too heavy and it drooped in kind of sideways puddle. He did not do the small area around the letters on the back of the van because his brush was too big to get in between the letters. Around the chrome letters it is possible to see the old, not glossy red that was the previous colour. The van sat behind him at the Farmers Market as it always does. There was a lot of discussion of his van and his painting skills and not much of any attention paid to wooden bowls for sale on his tables. He got a lot of teasing but he did not seem to mind. I think he enjoyed it.

Old Linoleum

 

10 May Friday

There is a small piece of printed linoleum outside my work room.  It is old. It might have come from Johnnie Mackin’s house.  It might have come from Tommie Halley’s house. It might have come from some other old house where people had lived but where no one is living any longer. Maybe it was stuck onto the bottom of something and it fell off once it arrived here.  I have had it for a long time already. I keep it on the step. It is not useful for wiping feet. It is not useful for anything. I like the pattern. I think of it as a little welcome mat.

9 May Thursday

Pat flew to Paris on a mission. She went to Paris to buy herself a Hermès scarf. She spent nearly three hours in the store deciding which scarf to buy. She said that the staff were wonderful. She said they had nothing but patience. A friend went with her to help but he was not involved in the final choosing. That was her job alone. The friend stepped outside to have a cigarette break now and then. While smoking, he was able to keep track of the limousines and other fancy cars arriving at the shop. Most of the other customers were wealthy Asians and none of them were traveling alone. Maybe they were with family or perhaps they were with friends. The shop was spacious and well organised. The staff could manage all of the buyers and the entourages who came along with them. The scarf was Pat’s gift to herself for her 60th birthday. It was not a casual decision. It was a special, long-dreamed of and costly purchase. She wanted to get it right. It has been several weeks now but she has not worn the scarf yet. She opens the box on her kitchen table to admire it and to show it to friends. She unfolds the scarf and look at it spread out large. Then she folds it up again and puts it carefully back into the box. She is simply overjoyed to have it here in her house in Tipperary. She has invited me over for a viewing.

8 May Wednesday

The rain bucketed down all night and well into this morning. This soaking is much needed by the farmers and much appreciated by me. It has been cleansing and cleansing is what we need. It is that time of year again. I do not know what causes it or who is the culprit. Is it one type of bird? Or is it all of the birds? Once again the house is covered with lashings of excrement. The car is covered with excrement. Every piece of washing that goes out to the clothesline gets hit. The birds must be flying extremely fast so every splash is long and diagonal and white. What are they eating to make such milky white liquid poop? How fast are they flying to make it all land with such splatter? And why does this last for a few weeks and then, as abruptly as it began, it stops. It just stops. Every year it is like this. It starts and then after about ten days or two weeks, it stops. I have theories about young birds and young digestive systems but these theories are not based on facts.

 

7 May Tuesday

There is a fine looking triangle in the long field. The triangle was dug out and filled with gravel. I guess it is for drainage.

6 May Monday

Election posters have appeared everywhere. I like the variety of suddenly having language in the landscape. The posters are tied onto trees, fences and telephone poles. Some of the posters have the words RECYCLED POSTER along the bottom edge. I assume this means that the candidate has run for office before. It does not look like a new head has been struck onto an old one. Almost every poster has a photograph of a head on it. That is how we know who is who. There are small mobile units with a poster on each side which get moved around the area. Just as we get used to seeing somebody’s face on the little tent device on a particular corner or stretch of road the whole display disappears and is driven off to another location. We might see it in a new place but we might not. We may not drive that way so we may never see it again. I love the element of surprise as these trailers move around the countryside.

5 May Sunday

The black and white farm cat ran across the path in front of me. She had something in her mouth. At first I thought it was a small rabbit. It might have been a shrew but it was big enough to be a rat. Whatever it was, it was not dead. It was struggling hard to be released.

4 May Saturday

Tom used to come to the Farmers Market every Saturday. He did not buy anything at the market but he stood around for an hour or more talking with the various people who had stalls or with the other people who were there for the shopping. He spent most of his time talking with Ned Lonergan who makes things out of wood. Ned makes fine bowls and egg cups and walking sticks from local timber. He and Tom would usually discuss where a tree had fallen recently and who Ned might have to approach to get access to some of the wood. Today we met Tom in the SuperValu car park. We talked for a few minutes and mentioned that we missed seeing him at the market. He said he had stopped going to the market because Eileen does not care to shop at the market. She thinks it is certain to be too dear and that it is a kind of exclusive affair altogether. She says that if you begin to buy from one person you will have to buy from everyone or else you will make enemies. She says the market itself is nothing but a problem and a way to be forced to spend money that you do not have anyway. Eileen never did come to the market for her shopping and Tom only came to meet people and to have some conversation. She has told Tom that it is not right to go there if he is not there to buy things. So now he does not go at all, but he wishes he did.

 


3 May Friday

Tiny calves cluster together in the fields. They are so small that their legs wobble. Their legs are not yet strong. They tumble into one another. They seem too young to be away from their mothers. When Joe arrives with the teat trailer full of their formula they rush and jostle to get a suck. The once bright red teat trailer is now a faded pink. It looks like a miniature fairground carousel. With rubber teats.

1 May Wednesday

It is the first day of May but the nights are still cold. It does not feel like May. I brought in several wheelbarrow loads of firewood just to be ready. I hope we do not need a fire in the evening but the probability is that we will need a fire. My new method for unloading the wheelbarrow is to wheel it right into the house. The old system of armloads or baskets or buckets full from the doorway seems silly now. I wish I had been doing it this way for years.

Passing Blustery Showers

30 April Tuesday

Hay barns everywhere are empty or they are nearly empty. There is not much left to offer to hungry cows. The cattle are mostly out in the fields but when the weather gets bad they disappear back into barns and under the roof for a day or two. It is like this spring cannot decide to settle.

29 April Monday

I am distracted just now by Simon on the phone to FedEx about a parcel pick-up. The person on the other end of the line is somewhere in England. The person does not know where Tipperary is. Simon explains to him or her that Tipperary is in the Republic of Ireland. That does not seem to help. He cannot believe that this person has never heard of Tipperary. He explains that there is even a song about it. He asks if the person has never even heard this song. Now he is singing the song. Simon is singing Its a Long Way to Tipperary over the telephone to the FedEx person in England. I doubt it will help.

28 April Sunday

Large piles of grey stuff have been dumped in various fields. Every time that I see these piles I am startled and I worry that cement has been dumped in someone’s field. I think it is cement because it looks like cement but it is not cement. It is agricultural lime for spreading over pasture fields.

 

27 April Saturday

Friday was really cold. We spent the entire day anticipating the arrival of Storm Hannah. The winds were ferocious well before anything  had even started. The radio advised everyone to stay at home for six hours starting from 6 o’clock. We were also told to stay well out of the way of power lines and falling trees. Some places were given an Amber Warning. Western parts of the country were given a Red Warning. We knew there was a good chance that we would probably lose our electricity. It was a good night to be going nowhere.

By this morning the worst of the storm was over.  The sun was out and it was bright and cold. The winds were still wild. As expected, the west of the country got hit badly as Hannah blew in off the Atlantic. Our local damages were small in comparison. It took us a lot of driving and detouring and backing up and turning around to get to Cahir but we were determined to get to the market. There was a large tree down on the Ardfinnan road. We were told that the tree knocked down the power lines and took out the electricity for most of the village. Big branches and small branches were strewn everywhere. Flower pots and buckets and garden furniture have been blown all over the place. The Castle car park was littered with geraniums and other bedding plants that had blown right out of the soil. Everyone was discussing who had power and who did not have power.  The market stalls were all pushed up against the wall for protection from the wind.

Jim started to tell me about Speedy and Rattles, two brothers who live close to him. Their elderly mother lives not far from the brothers and she lost her electricity last night. Speedy works for the ESB so he knew just where to go and what to do to get his mother’s power back on. He jumped on his bike and sped off into the wind. Jim never finished the story because one of the market tables full of scones and bread and cakes blew down and we all rushed to help to set it back upright and to save the baked goods. I would like to hear the end of the story but until I do I have been enjoying the names Speedy and Rattles in between the Passing Blustery Showers which we were promised.

26 April Friday

The young man told Anthony: “I gave him a Crossbar!” I heard this and I imagined a great whack with an iron bar. I imagined violence and blood. I imagined a hearty beating. I was relieved to be told that Giving A Crossbar was nothing more than providing someone with a sideways seat on the crossbar of a bicycle.

25 April Thursday

It is a fact that when any workman comes to wash his hands at the kitchen sink, he always reaches for the washing-up liquid. The washing-up liquid can be sitting exactly beside the bar of soap but no one ever uses the hand soap.

24 April Wednesday

There is a grey squirrel at the bird feeder. As a result the birds hardly have a chance to get at the nuts. This squirrel has found a way to crawl out onto a thin branch and to balance himself upside down while gnawing at the side of the feeder. This is a new thing. We have never seen grey squirrels here. I thought maybe it was just me who had not noticed them but everyone says the same. And now that we acknowledge them we understand that this is not good news.  It is bad news. The grey squirrel is an invasive species that pushes out the native red squirrels by eating the same things as the red squirrels but eating them before the red squirrels can digest them properly and by bringing diseases which eventually kill off the red squirrel population. Grey squirrels are not native. They were brought to Ireland from England and have spread slowly throughout the entire country. They are almost everywhere but not quite everywhere yet. 100 years ago, six pairs of grey squirrels were brought to a castle in County Longford as a wedding gift. It is difficult to imagine someone thinking that twelve grey squirrels would make the perfect wedding present.

23 April Tuesday

It is sometimes hard to tell people who do not live in the country how much death there is out here. Last night I woke to the sounds of a screaming struggle just under the bedroom window. There was a final high-pitched shriek followed by complete silence. A fox had killed a rabbit. These are familiar noises. I am sorry that I know these sounds so well. The shrieking makes my heart race with fear and with helplessness. The rabbit cannot help what is happening to her and I can do nothing at all to help. Even hearing the sounds means that it is already too late. There was no sign of the struggle in the morning. Instead, I found a dead mouse in the book barn. He was caught in a trap under the table. His body was swollen and smelly. This was not a recent death. Just outside and near the door I found a dead bird. Some other creature had torn the front of the bird open and ripped out his organs. There were feathers everywhere. I walked up the path later and found a tiny rabbit with its head bitten off. I expected to see the head further along the path but I did not. There is not always so much death visible in one day. In between all the corpses, I am finding many broken eggs of varying shades of blue. Thrush eggs  and blackbird eggs and probably others I am not able to name. Young birds are popping out everywhere. The pieces of shell and the sky filled with birdsong make all of the death seem less grim.