The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Sheep on a Lump

15 June Friday

The Irish flag down in the village near to the bottle bank looks like it is blowing in the breeze.  It looks like it is blowing in the breeze all the time.  Yesterday was a wildly gusty day and the edge of the flag got caught on a branch.  Now the wind is no longer blowing but the flag is still in blowing position.

 


13 June Wednesday

The roses on the side of the grass-roofed shed are better and more plentiful than they have ever been. We have never had so many in bloom all at the same time. The smell makes me dizzy when I walk past to my room. This is Kattie English’s Albertine rose. It is the only plant remaining from her life here, so I feel it is important to take good care of it and to keep it healthy. It is barely possible to cut these roses and to bring them into the house. They last a few hours and make a thick perfume in a room, and then they droop and die. They are best enjoyed where they grow.


12 June Tuesday

Rhododendrons are in bloom all the way up into the mountains. They are late this year but they are as beautiful as ever. I am glad we remembered to drive up to see them. It is easy to wait a little while and then suddenly it is too late. The blossom do not last long. Shades of pink and lavender and purple line roads and paths. The sides of the hills glow with the soft colours. The rhododendrons in the Knockmealdowns are a much maligned pest. They have invaded and grown like weeds spreading everywhere and choking out a lot of other more indigenous plants. People speak in despair about these enormous invasive shrubs or trees. Some of them really are trees. They are big enough to be trees. Sheep farmers curse them. But for two weeks every year the rhododendrons are adored. Festivals are organized to go walking among the rhododendrons and millions of photographs are taken. When the two weeks are over we can return to worrying about how they are running rampant and taking over all of the other vegetation. And I shall not have to struggle with spelling the word rhododendron for another year.

11 June Monday

I overheard the woman in the shop saying that Shay had been Off Dagging. She said it again and again. She said that Shay had been Dagging Again. I feel I know a lot of local vocabulary and that even if I do not know exactly what a word means I usually know enough to be able to unearth its meaning. I think that context is enough for clues. I think that if I focus on the context I am certain to arrive at the correct definition. Knowing that Shay was Dagging Again just left me in quiet confusion. I had no idea what Dagging was nor where to begin in knowing what it was describing. I did not even know who the Shay that the woman was talking about was, so the fact that Shay was Off Dagging Again was an impossible thing to solve all by myself. I could not ask the woman because that would suggest that I had been eavesdropping which of course I was doing but I was not eavesdropping in a nosy kind of way. I was just standing behind the woman as I waited in the shop and she was talking loudly and for a long time. How could I not listen and how could I not pay attention? I could not leave the shop until she stopped talking and moved from the counter. I could only hope that the mystery of Shay and his Dagging would get solved before she left. I could not interrupt and ask what Dagging meant. Later I asked Breda for an explanation. She told me that Dagging was the same as Mitching. As a word, Mitching left me just as confused as Dagging. Eventually I learned that it was all about not going to school when one was supposed to be attending school. The English called it Skiving. We called it Playing Hooky or Skipping School. At least with Skipping School, the word School was included and that gave a major clue. Skipping attached to the word school made it obvious, at least to me. Dagging and Mitching and Skiving sound dangerous and exotic in comparison.

10 June Sunday

Day after day of sun and heat. It feels like we are living somewhere else. It is impossible to walk up the mass path as it is too hot to wear long trousers and long sleeves and there are too many nettles and brambles along the way to grab and rip at any unprotected skin. Walking must be done in other directions. And it has been dry for so long now that it is not just the farmers who are wishing for rain. The haying is getting done which is good but lawns are brown and the grass is not growing which is not good. I cannot believe that I am hoping for rain. The leaks in the roof have not been fixed yet although we do have a plan ready for the fixing.  Why do I want to battle with rain running down the walls when I can have day after day of sun?  The hedgerows are full of the cow parsley skeletons, the sticky weed is dying back and the wild honeysuckle is blooming.

 

9 June Saturday

Jim and Keith had some beautiful fat Egyptian garlics on their stand today. The garlics themselves are lovely and plump but the way that the green tops are woven together is what is really lovely. Every single person who sees the garlics reaches out to touch them and to comment upon them. The garlics are grown locally by one of the members of the Egyptian Coptic church which is located in what used to be a Catholic convent. The nuns lived there for years and they ran a school for girls. The nuns have mostly died off. Now the convent is the home for an order of Coptic monks. The garlics are grown by the monks or maybe by just one monk who brings them to the market and gives them to Jim and Keith to sell. I think he just gives them the garlics and he does not even ask for any money in return. Perhaps he has so many garlics that he just wants to share them. They are bigger than most garlic we ever get around here. The bulbs are more purple and they are milder. Every single person comments on the garlics and some people buy them saying that they never buy garlic but they feel that they need to buy this garlic. All of this enthusiasm annoys Keith. Sometimes he announces that Jim grows garlic too. It is like he is defending Jim’s garlic even though it is not really the same thing. Jim’s garlics taste good but they never look like a gift. They never appear with such presentation. They arrive in a jumble in a box and we buy them and we eat them and we enjoy them. The Egyptian garlic gets a lot of attention which is not solely about the eating.

 

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Fisherman’s Friend

5 June Tuesday

Andrzej has been repairing the strimmer again and again. Simon has been fiddling with it for years too. The strimmer is now twenty years old. It is a heavy-duty model which is perfect for the rough stuff up and down the boreen. It is also a physically heavy machine. Andrzej says it is the best he has ever used  and he likes to keep it going. His last repairs were finally not enough. The three of us went through every container we could find in any of the barns and the house and the workshop. We could not find a cap to replace the gas cap which finally cracked off. The gas cap was kind of the final straw. Andrzej stuck an old and too big sort of cap on it and then wound some plastic sheeting and a rubber band in order to be able to finish the job he was doing. The gas was still leaking and the engine was making a grinding noise. After that we took the strimmer to O’Brien’s to repair. The younger O’Brien found a new cap to fit. He was pleased that it was even  orange to match the machine even though he knew that of course the colour did not matter.  He did various other tuning things. He said the engine is great and strong and that the machine should last for another twenty years. He was full of admiration for the repair that Andrzej had done by taping on the metal top from a tin of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges to repair the carburetor. The O’Brien said, “I could not have done it any better myself, so I just made it a better shape.”

 

4 June Monday

Tommie was happy to get the cake. He is always happy to get cake. He told us that he is in a lot of pain. He woke up twice in the night to take more pain killers. He said he never wakes up in the night not for anything. He knows the pain is bad if it is waking him up. Margaret would know what to tell him to do because she used to be a nurse. She knows things. He cannot ask Margaret for advice now because she cannot hear and she cannot see and she sits in her chair all the day and mostly she sleeps. He does not want to go to the doctor because he does not want to be sent back to the hospital. I offered to take him to the doctor or even to the out of office CareDoc facility. He said no to everything. His excuse is that today is a Bank Holiday so he cannot go to the doctor anyway until tomorrow at the earliest. He promised that he will go to the doctors if he is still in pain in the morning. He has started to drive again even though he is not supposed to be driving yet. He will drive himself over to the doctors office. He said he could walk but he would rather drive.  He tested Simon’s stick which is a hill walking stick with a bit of spring in it.  He liked the bounce. He has a sturdy stick which he finds good for The Balance. He said that A Good Stick Gives Him Courage.

3 June Sunday

A sparrow hawk smashed into the window and lay stunned on the ground just long enough for me to get a quick photograph of him through the glass. After a five minutes he was up and away again .

 

2 June Saturday

They are still working on the new public toilets in Cahir. It has been months now. There was a lot of digging and pipe laying which went on for ages. And that was after the toilets had already been closed for a year or so. The little temporary toilets are still down in the car park which is convenient for the stall owners at the market. It means they do not have so far to go if they need to use the loo. The new toilets are the talk of the town. They are modern and shiny and sort of glamorous in a crazy way. The castle is in sight, just down the hill on the other side of the river. Cahir is a heritage town. It was once a stagecoach stop and it is full of traditional  buildings. Suddenly there is this silvery grey pointed thing popping up in between other things and right near the bus stop. There are four doors which I assume means four toilets. Today a man was putting some coin machines into the walls. It will cost 40 cents to use a toilet. Some people think this is an outrageous price. Some people think this is a bargain. No one can decide what all the space at the top of the pointy building is for. It is being widely discussed. People worry that it seems like a lot of material and space for not much function. There is more discussion about the shape of the building that there is about the 40 cent charge.

31 May Thursday

The cows are bellowing in the fields in two directions so it is a little bit like several radios on, but it is not exactly stereo. It is always just a few beats off. Anthony Keating’s cows are up in the very steep pasture which used to be Johnnie Mackin’s field. Or maybe they are Donal Keating’s cows not Anthony Keating’s cows. I keep an eye on any cows when they are there because the field is too straight up and down to be fully believable. I fear they will fall off and roll right down if they put a foot wrong. Joe Keating’s cows are in the near field and Joe Casey’s cows are in the field directly above the house. We cannot see Joe Casey’s cows but we can hear them. They are extremely close but the ditch has grown up so it is like while they are the nearest, they are also invisible. There is a bull or a cow who is moaning and bellowing up there. It is making the cows over on Mackin’s field bellow back. Sometimes Joe Keating’s herd joins in. It is a loud and all day kind of noise. It is rare to have cows in all three of these fields at the same time. Usually if a herd is in one field there are no cows in any of the other fields immediately around us. I like to think that all the noise has to do with various kinds of greetings and a shared delight in this glorious weather as well as the proximity.   Between all the cows and all the Keatings and the two Joes it is a distracting kind of day with nothing but birdsong to interrupt all the bellowing.

The New Immersion.

20 May Sunday

The bench in Ardfinnan gets repainted in the spring. First it was blue and then it was red and now it is blue again. There is not a lot of room to sit as the home-made corner structure does not allow for a lot of knee room.  Two people can happily sit and chat but anymore than that will feel a bit squished.

19 May Saturday

A tree fell down in Joe’s field.  We have not had great winds. We have not even had heavy rain. It looks completely wrong to see this tree lying down. The tree is on a low bit of the field. It is often squishy and muddy down there.  All I can think of is that the roots got wet and wetter and stayed wet and finally rotted. I have never lived anywhere where trees fall down so frequently. The mass path is blocked by fallen trees several times a year. Sometimes I think it is to do with the kind of trees. Maybe these trees have shallow roots. Most of the time I think it is to do with just too much water.

18 May Friday

We have had a week without hot water. Niall the plumber came today. He apologized.  He kept promising to come each day but then each day he never arrived. He said he had been Dead Busy.  He said it’s always the same with the work: Famine or Feast. Famine or Feast. Famine or Feast. He said it three times and then he went to work. He installed a new immersion unit. He showed us the old one. It was covered with lime. This is a terrible area for lime in the water. It coats and cakes onto everything and eventually destroys machinery. He was smitten with the date notations I have made on the wall each time we have had to replace the heater.  He was surprised with how long the previous unit had lasted.  He said he hoped that this new one would last as long as the old one. As he left he instructed us to be sure to mark today’s date up on the wall.

17 May Thursday

They are back.  The season is on for the Sticky Back weeds. Sticky Back.  Sticky Jack. Cleavers. Sticky Willy. Robin-run-the-hedge. They are everywhere.  They run up anything that is growing. They tangle in and out between anything that is growing.  Because they are covered with things that make them stick to whatever they touch there is not much need to worry about what or where they go. They stick onto animals and clothes as well as plants.  These weeds are so fast growing and so busy that they look like they are strangling anything they touch.  In fact the growth is more like a fishing net that is thrown over things.  One good grab and the whole clump comes away in the hand.  Of course a good pull does not remove the roots.  The plant just breaks off at the bottom.  I do not really care.  If they are pulled away from things they do not seem to grow back immediately. They will return next year no matter what.  It is a seasonal thing and the season does not last long.  While it is happening the Sticky Backs are everywhere.  I love pulling them off things.  If I am passing in a car I get the urge to just stop and get out to pull the big clumps off the ditches. Sometimes I do it.  When I am walking, I keep slowing down and pulling and slowing down and pulling.  I can grab an armful without even coming to a full stop. Of course there is the good chance that I might grab a stinging nettle or a thorny bramble. Sadly, I do that often.  Stings and stabs do not stop me from this obsessive pulling.  It is the most satisfying kind of weeding work ever.  I seem to have the urge to pull it all down from everywhere in the world which is, of course, not even vaguely possible.

 

The Dog on the White Line.

16 April Wednesday

The old dog was outside the community hall. I was pleased to see him. He looked healthy and bright-eyed although he could certainly use a good brushing. His hair is coming out in huge clumps. He is scruffy.  He greeted each car as it drove up and he greeted each person as they got out of their car or as they left the hall.  He was not aggressive nor was he begging. He was just interested. He is the same old dog who used to come up to visit Frank at the shop every morning.  Frank would give him cake or some other treat that had reached its sell-by date or had just gone stale. Then the dog would sleep for a while. He always walked home in the middle of the road right along the white line until he reached his house.  Since Frank has been ill and the shop has been closed, maybe the dog has decided that evenings are a more sociable time for visiting the shop even if it is not open. Or maybe he comes in the morning and also in the evening. The section of the road with the white line is not a long stretch of road but it is long enough that anyone who drives it regularly knows that the dog on the white line has priority.

 


15 April Tuesday

It is more than ten years since someone started to paint the house in Irishtown. Maybe it is more than twelve years. It might even be longer ago than that. For as long as I can remember the house has had just this amount of blue paint on it. Someone started in the upper left corner and continued as far as the paint went and then they took a break and no one ever returned to finish the job. Painting this kind of pebble-dashed surface uses up a lot of paint. It demands a lot more paint than a regular wall. Maybe the person who began the painting thought he had enough paint for the whole house. Maybe he was not able to get the exact same colour mixed again. The person who began painting has not returned to finish it. Nor has anyone else. Now the house is empty. It is boarded up. Somehow there is still a freshness to the blue paint. It looks like the paint job might be completed any day now.

14 April Monday

A few good days of sun or even just one good day of sun and all of the summer clothes come out. Even if the next day is cold and wet and howling with wind, the summer clothes do not disappear. Or they do not disappear completely. This morning was warm. It was almost hot. But by afternoon it was raining and cold. The only people I saw in the shop were wearing rain jackets over heavy fleeces and sweaters. But they were wearing sandals with bare feet. Two women were admiring the brand new sandals worn by one of them. The one not wearing the new sandals said, “I know they would fit me. I know they would look well on me.” They laughed together and the one who was wearing the sandals looked pleased to be the one with the desirable new footwear. As the other one turned to leave the shop, she shouted, “I hope they’ll cut into you, so. Then you’ll have to give them to me!”

13 April Sunday

I have some tiny plastic tubes with one open end. They come with the little flossing brushes. They are for protecting the little brushes. If I go somewhere I can slide the brushes into the the tubes and then they will not get bent in transit. I rarely put the brushes into the tubes at home. I just line up the different sized brushes on the shelf. This morning I picked up one of the tubes which looked different than the other two or three. There was something in it. I banged it on the side of the sink. A little tiny slug had worked its way into the tube and could not reverse out. It was stuck. Most of the slug came out. Part of what I think was the head remained inside. I was busily trying to flush it out with water for several minutes before I questioned why I was doing it.  I did not want to re-use the tube that the slug had been in. I threw it away.
Even with the erratic weather and the cold nights, I could tell that winter was finally over. Things in the bathroom are sort of protected by the cold weather but nothing is ever completely safe. Once the slugs have made their way back in there is nothing that they won’t ooze and creep over on their way to somewhere else. Nothing is safe. On the whole I would rather not know where they have been.

Repeal the Eighth

11 April Friday

I am wearing my Repeal the Eighth badge wherever I go. I wear it out walking in the fields when there is no one to see except the birds and the cows. I wear it to the shop and the post office and to anywhere I go. I wear it to town and I wear it to the market. I wear it up the boreen and down the boreen. Actually we have five or six different badges.  We both make sure we never leave the house without one. Most people never say a word about it either way.  Most people never say a word but I see that their eyes notice the badge.  My position is registered.  The Eighth Amendment is being discussed everywhere on the radio, TV and in the papers but in the country, people are reluctant to speak about it out loud.

10 April Thursday

Treasa was sort of singing today but it was not singing with words it was singing a tune with some syllables. She said she was only Lilting. Lilting being just that: singing without words but singing a tune nonetheless. Maybe this is a normal expression. Maybe it is just a word I have not heard used quite like this. Maybe it is just herself that calls it that.

9 April Wednesday

I took fresh rhubarb and custard down to Tommie and Margaret. It was not stewed rhubarb. The pieces were still firm and they were gently cooked with a bit of molasses. Tommie was in hospital for 6 days. He has been back home for a week now. Yesterday he had his stitches removed. He was disturbed that he had thought there were eleven stitches but the doctor told him there were actually twelve stitches. He said they were small and his eyes are not so good but still he did not like to have it wrong. He was upset to have learned that Ian had sold the house. The house was on what had been Tommie’s land where his old house had been. The new house was not his house and the land was not his land anymore, but he had been up and down feeding the cats for years and years whenever he was asked to do it and a lot of times when no one asked but he worried anyway about the cats starving. It was still his place even though it was not his place anymore. He has had an emotional tie for too long to not be considered in any changes. He said that he felt Aggrieved that he had not even been told that the house was sold. He was Aggrieved about the miscount of his stitches. He was Aggrieved about no one telling him about the new residents in the house. He was also Aggrieved that he was not allowed to drive for another 6 weeks. Once he started to say the word Aggrieved he could not say it often enough. He was glad to see the rhubarb. Tommie loves rhubarb. He was glad for the distraction.

7 April Bank Holiday Monday

There is blossom everywhere. Stitchwort. Forget-me-not. Primrose. Hawthorn. Gorse. Bluebell. It seemed like spring would never come but now that it is here, it is everywhere.

5 April Saturday

Stella told me that the usual place for a safe is inside in the Hot Press. If a person is going to install a safe in their house for important things like papers and money and jewellery, the place where they always put the safe is in the floor of the Hot Press. The Hot Press is the airing cupboard. It is the place where the hot water tank is located. Most people have some shelves built into the Hot Press. If you have shelves in the Hot Press you can put sheets and towels and clothing in there when they come in from the washing line. Things can be put inside the Hot Press until they are thoroughly dry or maybe until they are ironed. The sheets and towels may never go any further. The Hot Press often becomes the permanent storage place for these things. The trouble is that the burglars know that if a household has installed a safe anywhere, then the Hot Press is the place to find it. If a burglar locates the Hot Press, he will locate the safe. Stella said of course not every house has a safe but a burglar won’t know that until all of the clean and dry folded towels and sheets have been pulled out and thrown onto the floor and probably stepped upon. Stella said this is almost the worst thing about having your house broken into. She said the things that get damaged in the looking and looting are the real pity. The things that are gone are just gone. She said that it is a sad job to wash a bunch of sheets and towels all over again just because someone stepped on them.

3 April Thursday

We climbed the stile and walked over Joe’s fields. From a distance, they looked green and grassy and inviting. It had not rained for a few days but the ground was all churned up from the cows being in those fields in recent weeks. The holes were big. It would have been easy to break an ankle. Some of the holes were just empty. Some of the holes are just firm mud mashed down in the shape of a heavy hoof. Some are full of pee. At first I thought the wet holes were just muddy water but the cow urine mixed with mud and rainwater makes a different colour. It was not easy to walk across the fields. We lurched from lump to lump and hole to hole. It made for a clumsy and rollicking kind of walking. Simon took a stick. I would have been wise to take a stick too. When we reached the last hill up the track to the farm, the ground underfoot got worse. The dirt track was covered in manure. It was slippery and deep and it was hard to get footing. Luckily the distance was not great and the cows were not yet starting to walk down while we walked up. Joe had 10 new troughs piled up in his yard. They are cast from concrete and will soon be distributed out in the fields for drinking water. They are the newest thing. I have been seeing them appearing in the fields of other farmers. I guess this is a new development from the big black plastic ones which have been used for years.

Stuck in Inchicore.

1 May Tuesday

This May Day is gloomy and cold and rainy. It is a desperate day. I walked up the path and I was reminded that it is still wild garlic season. Every stage of wild garlic season is a pleasure. First there are the little shoots coming up and the bright fresh green colour is full of promise. Then the leaves push all the way up and they are a shiny darker green. That is when I think both the smell and the taste are the strongest and the best. Then the buds appear and the leaves lose a bit of their shininess. Slowly, the star-like flowers start appearing like little explosions. The leaves look duller but the flowers make it all look exciting. It tastes and smells good at every stage. I like walking up the boreen and stepping on it and smashing some down with my boots just so that I can walk in a cloud of the smell. There is nothing that is not good about the wild garlic season.

30 April Monday

I dropped some carrots on the floor. They snapped into pieces. Carrots are usually a bit bouncy. I think of carrots as rubbery rather than brittle. The floor in the kitchen is a stone floor. Most things break when they hit a stone floor. But it seemed odd to have carrots snap into clean halves like these did. I grated a few of the carrots for a salad at lunch. They were watery and completely without taste. I wish I could remember where I got these carrots because I do not want to buy them again.

28 April Saturday

Leaving Dublin on the bus with a man shouting into his phone. No one could read or sleep. No one could not listen.

“The bitch yeah you heard about it? Yeah she had her head out the window. She loved doing that she did but we went through a skinny bit of the alley backing down and her head hit a pole. Yeah yeah dead right away. Not even a bark. Hey who is this anyway? Paddy? Paddy Dorman? Who the hell gave you my number? Who do you think you are ringing me? Paddy Gorman or Paddy Dorman? Oh you’re that Paddy. Oh Sorry Paddy I thought you were the other Paddy. You know him yourself. He’s a a nuisance that one. 
We’re stuck in Inchicore. I’m on the bus and we’re stuck in Inchicore. We’re going off to Tipp to see The Wife’s mother. She’s down there already with The Mother. I’m with the The Son. On the bus yeah. She’s not well. Yeah I’ve got the grapes for the gift. Yeah Paddy we’re on the bus but we’re only in Inchicore. We’re going nowhere Paddy. We paid to go to Tipp but we haven’t got far. I’m in the bus now. Yeah we got on at BusAras. That’s where it starts but at this rate we won’t get to Tipp till Tuesday. You know yourself Paddy. Once you’re on the bus it’s like a trap . You can’t get off. You’ve got to go where you paid to go. It was 28 euro for the both of us Paddy. That’s what we paid and we’re only in Inchicore so in that kind of a way it’s an expensive trip but if we ever get to Tipp we’ll feel sure we’ve had our value for the money we will. We’ll feel glad Paddy to be somewhere else.”

25 April Wednesday

The swallows nest in the corner by my door is still in position from last year. The birds left and the nest remains. I have gotten used to it being there. I do not really see it anymore. But now there are birds everywhere. They are all flying around with bits of sticks and moss in their beaks. Nest building activity is manic even though the weather is colder than it should be. The weather is horrible. I think I should remove the nest from the wall before anyone decides to use it again. I do not know if swallows use a nest for a second time. Nor if other birds move into any old nest just for the convenience of not having to build their own. It was interesting to have the mother and the chicks in the corner for a while, but then I had to give up my room. I was driven away by the mother trying to protect her young. I would rather not go through all that again. By the time everyone had learned to fly there was crunchy excrement all over the door and the door handle and the step. I thought I could just pull the nest off today in passing but I think I will need a chisel. It is tightly welded to the wall with mud and bird spit. And since it is now raining and the rain is lashing sideways, I shall do it later.

24 April Tuesday

Celly Ryan was the name on the small van. It was a private bus service. The driver was standing near the van with the door open. He was waiting for his passengers to return. I think the vehicle could seat 6 or maybe 8 people. I wish I had stopped to ask the man what Celly was short for. Celestine? Celeste? I cannot think of a man’s name that might be shortened to Celly, but I am trying.

23 April Monday

A blue security van arrived while we waited at the station in Cork. The man driving it made a careful backing up to the door on the side of the station. It took him two or three tries to get into the exact right position. When he finished he was perfectly in line with the door so I assumed he would rush out of his van, do some efficient moves and take money in containers into or out of the station and then quickly drive away again. He got out of the van and took two small silver suitcases out of the special door. He also removed two pouches which he put under his arm. He walked around the van towards the station and then he met a man he knew. He put the two cases down on the back bumper of the van. It was a flat bumper and it easily held the two silver suitcases. The two men shook hands and then they both lit cigarettes. As they talked a third man came along. They all shook hands again and then they moved about ten steps away from the van until they were standing in the sunshine. The sun was warm on an otherwise cold day. It was warm in the sun and very cold in the shade. The driver kept the two pouches under his arm while he talked for about 20 minutes. He had his back to the van and the suitcases. The silver suitcases seemed to be forgotten. Two small boys came along. They each picked up a suitcase. One of the men saw the boys and nudged the driver. He turned his head and said, “Go away, Lads and leave my cases where they are.” The boys put the suitcases back on to the bumper and they wandered off. The driver stood in the sun for another 10 minutes and then he said good-bye to the two men. He went into the station with the pouches and the silver suitcases. He came out with some different things and he drove away. None of his activity seemed as imperative as getting the vehicle in an exact straight line with the door.

 

22 April Sunday

The cows are in the upper field. They are looking into our windows which means they are looking down and into our windows and watching us from an elevated position. It is not often that cows are in that field and when they are they are not always so interested in what we are doing. This group seem determined to catch our attention. They seem determined to want us to look back at them. This group is very interested in us. There might be one or there might be two or three or four and then they run off and away together and then two more come. I am always facing them from my seat at the table. I wave. I smile. I nod. I have no idea if any of this registers with them. We cannot eat breakfast, lunch or dinner without attracting an audience.

Warble Fly Eradication

6 April Friday

Last night there was an AMBER warning for weather. I was not sure what that meant but the non-stop torrential, lashing rain and the wild gusting winds might be the most wretched rain I have ever experienced.  I have been in a lot of rain. I am sure that I have been in worse rain but this felt bad enough. Now I have spent all morning moving more things out the way way of fresh drips and and puddles. Nothing can be done to solve the leaking in this weather. We can only wait. It is good that the floors are made of stone. The ceilings are another matter. It is good that we read a lot of newspapers. It is not good that I delivered nine big bundles to the dog sanctuary last week. I am going through the remaining supply of paper for soaking up the water fast. I hope the rain stops before I run out.  I have every straight edged container I own snicked up tight against walls wherever there is a leak.  It is time to stop talking about this. I cannot stop living with it but I can stop pretending that my descriptions will help in any way.

5 April Thursday

Two women were in the baking section of the market. They both had several kinds of flour, ground almonds and other cake making things in their baskets. One of them mentioned the fact that the Protestants are very competitive about their cakes. It was a known fact. The other woman felt no need to question or to disagree. It was just a truth and everyone knew it. The one woman said, “Sure they only make us feel bad.”

 

 

4 April Wednesday

The rain is not stopping. The farmers are getting more and more worried. They are running out of fodder for the cattle. The Tipperary farmers cannot help out the farmers in the midlands and in the west as they usually do in a crisis. They cannot help because they need help themselves.
We all need help. All of the repairing of our roof and our leaks has become something much worse than it was before. There is water flowing through the fuse box and down the wall in the kitchen. I have moved every single thing off the coat hooks and off the little racks down below. There was a row of seven small framed things above the coat hooks. The frames are soaked and the things in them are soaked. I enjoyed studying the wet things as I tried to dry them and to save them. It is easy to stop looking at things when they become familiar. Moving a thing from one place to another makes it new again. Which is nice. The warble fly certificate and a small envelope addressed to Kattie and Willie is among the things that I am drying out. The seven frames are lined up underneath a radiator.
Kattie’s name was not Kattie. Her name was Kathleen or maybe Katherine but everyone called her Kattie. Probably Kattie was a pet name which began when she was a child and it just stuck. Maybe the family thought of her as a little kitten kind of person. Kittie. Kattie. Maybe indeed it was supposed to be Kattie but there is an ongoing problem here with the pronunciation of TH. TH often sounds like TT. When I first came here, if I mentioned Kattie, I would automatically adjust it to say Kathie. If I said Kathie someone would always correct me. The correction would be gentle because I am From Away and because of course I never actually knew Kattie. Kattie English lived in what is now our house with her brother Willie English. At one time, there were two older siblings, Frederick and Elisabeth, living here too. Frederick and Elisabeth died years before Willie and Kattie. But they all died well before we came here. Increasingly the people who knew Kattie and Willie themselves are dying or have already died. There are few people now who would notice if I called Kattie Kathie. Even so my correction of her name to be what I think it should be rather than what everyone knew it to be is a little bit arrogant. If I speak of Kattie at all I should use the name that she was known by, not the name I think it started from.

3 April Tuesday

Simon bought a pair of boots. He had seen them in the window of the shop. They were on sale. He walked in and he asked to try them on. The man in the shop was a very serious white haired man. He was staidly dressed in a well fitting suit, a white shirt and a tie. The man spoke highly of the brand of boots. He said they were extremely well made and he pointed out the fine leather and various features. Simon felt happy with the fit, so he bought the boots and he came home. Later he tried on the boots just to walk around in the house and get comfortable with them. The boots did not feel right. They did not feel as good as they had felt inside in the shop. He took them off and looked carefully at the boots. He saw that one boot was size 42 and one boot was size 43. He called the shop and spoke to the man who had sold him the boots. The man burst out laughing. He laughed long and hard and when he could finally speak again, he gasped while he said, “Oh dear! It is not the first time I have done this!” He told Simon to come in and make the exchange for the correct size. When Simon returned for the exchange, the man got the giggles again. He said “Now let us hope I am not after sending you home with the opposite pair of wrong ones.”

2 April Monday

Sister Carmel went to along to celebrate the birthday of another nun who was extremely old. She lamented that it was a pity that there were not many close family members present. She said, “First Cousins are very rare when you are at the age of 100.”

Wine in the Teapot

1 April Sunday

The ceiling has been repaired and the roof was all sealed up in the appropriate places.  Everything has been cleaned and put away. The rain started mid-afternoon and it has been coming down off and on since.  I am discouraged to see the bathroom ceiling leaking in its usual way as if all of that analysis, discussion, diagnosis and work had not been done. I am not looking forward to telling Peter that everything that was done has solved nothing.

31 March Saturday

Debbie and Jim, the goats, were back at the market.  This time they were secured both by generous ropes and within a small fenced area.  There was no chance that Jim could escape this week. A large group of people walked through the market coming off the river path into the car park and then they  loaded themselves onto four waiting buses. They were walking in twos and threes and they were all wearing walking boots and most carried walking poles.  The line of people seemed to be endless.  I asked one of the bus drivers what was going on.  He said they were the Active Knockmealdown Group. He said there were about 300 people in total and that they were going to Cashel by bus and then returning to Cahir on foot  via the St. Declan’s Way. I do not know if that meant they were finished with the entire walk then or if they would be continuing the walk all the way to Ardmore on another day. Or maybe they had already come from Ardmore. The driver did not know. Most of the people walked in a straight line through the market as if they did not notice it was there. A few stopped and filled their pockets with cheese or cakes or apples. There were two tiny lambs in a hay-filled pen. They were exactly to the right of the walking line of people but not one person looked down to notice them. No one looked at Debbie and Jim either.

30 March Good Friday

For the first time in 91 years it is legal to serve and to buy alcohol on Good Friday. The law was changed in January. Restaurants and bars now have the option to open or not to open. They can choose to respect the old ways or they can get on with the new. We stopped in at Rose’s last night. The Thursday before Good Friday was traditionally a wildly busy night with everyone who wanted to drink trying hard to drink enough for two nights in the one night. This year, early evening on Thursday was just early evening on Thursday. Most people have outgrown the manic behaviour that demanded that one had to drink just because one was not allowed to drink. Someone said that it used to be normal for restaurants to serve wine in a teapot just to get around the law. I had not heard that before. I wish I had seen it. I suppose the wine would have been poured from the teapot into a teacup. All very hard to think about. Of course, today people drink at home without a worry or fear of judgement anyway. Brendan seemed to be the only one who had a problem with the relaxing of the old law. He was reprimanding Rose and insisting that she should not open and that she should not be serving drink on Good Friday. John muttered, “No fear, Brendan will be the first one in the door when she opens. And he will be the last one out.”

29 March Thursday

It is a tight time of year. Tight is the expression being used and used often. A few weeks ago the cows were out in the fields. Now a lot of them are back in the barns and under cover. The animals are building up in the sheds. The winter feed is running low. Some of the farmers let the animals out for the day and then bring them back inside at night. Nothing is growing anyway. The cows are in a field to eat grass but there is not much grass growing. There is not much to be eaten. Everyone is tired of the cold and of the long long winter which just refuses to go away. The light has changed but the temperatures remain low. This morning I saw a few sheep wandering around in a big field nibbling and pulling at last seasons stubble. There was not much there for them to eat. Tight. It is a tight time of year.

28 March Wednesday

Peter Ryan was on the roof both in the rain and not in the rain. He was spraying water from the hose into the place where the roof meets the other part of the roof. I ran in and out of the house while Simon checked on the walls in three leaking locations. Simon shouted to me and then I shouted up to Peter. We were waiting for the water to drip and to leak and to puddle into the places where we have learned to expect leaking and puddling. Peter was on the roof for more than an hour. It might have been two hours. The ladder fell down twice. The sun came out and there was a huge rainbow visible over the foot hills. Then it rained again. The rain did not fall for long nor heavily. It just rained and stopped and rained again. Finally the probable leak was found and understood. The water was running UP the galvanized metal in and underneath the roof join. It must have been a combination of rain and wind over time and maybe there is an old nail hole or several old nail holes that rusted and made an opening for the rain to enter. There is a big section of the ceiling ripped out and plaster skim everywhere in the kitchen and in the bathroom. The plan is that this will all be repaired on Friday.

Water Dog under the Woodpile

 

27 March Tuesday

Sean arrived to collect his daughter to go and visit the mother in hospital, but he was thirty minutes early. She was not home yet.  He went next door to chat with Greg just To Put Down The Time .

26 March Monday

Niall came to look at the heating system. With a bit of fiddling, he was able to get it all working again. The pump was not gone after all. We were relieved. We feared we might be needing a new stove and the amount of money to be spent would be huge. The hardship of a few days without heat are already forgotten in our relief. Then Ned Coady came down with his plug-in generator to fill the fuel tank. As we drank tea together afterwards he joked that Simon was off his mark. Usually Simon calls the oil company and asks for 720 litres or 680 litres or whatever amount is needed. He is always spot-on with his order. He has no gauge on the tank. He only uses a long piece of wood that he sticks into the tank and from that he makes his estimate of the volume required. He climbs up a ladder and stands on the edge of the wall beside the tank to make his calculation. It is a joke with Ned and a joke with the men at the yard and and a joke with Simon and himself that Simon is always correct. He never orders more fuel than can be fit into the tank.  The tank fills to within a few centimetres with the amount he orders. The men at the yard cannot figure out how he does it. Today’s estimate was a bit off. He had ordered 650 litres and the fuel filled the tank about 250 centimetres below the top. Ned was not going to let this be forgotten. He was not interested in our days without heat and the almost broken heating system. He acted like he had won a wager. He was still chuckling when he left the house.

25 March Sunday

The older woman was shorter than me and she was badly bent over. She asked me to lift a box of porridge oats down from a high shelf. She said, “I don’t like To Put In On You but I cannot reach that high.” I did not know the expression but I understood the need for help. I mentioned it to Breda and she defined it exactly in the way I had understood it. To Put In On Someone is to impose upon them. There is always another way to say the exact things that I think I already know.

24 March Saturday

The path is wet and there is water running down it and there are lots of rocks covered with moss. The winter has been long and wet.  The moss is everywhere. But the big branches and the brambles are cut back. It is easy to walk without getting entangled or ducking down low, as long as I look carefully at the mud and the slippery stones.  Up near the top the mud dries up and there is so much wild garlic growing along the way that garlic is the only smell. I cannot smell the mud nor any of the other young green things.  The entire length of the path smells like garlic.

23 March Friday

Simon shouted for me to come outside. He said he’d seen the biggest stoat ever and it was under our wood pile. The stoat stuck his head out and looked at us both and then it went back in. It looked too big to be a stoat. We did not know what it was. It went in and out, and around the back, and in and out again, and it studied us without fear and with a lot of interest. It had a nice face. I took a few photographs as it took off and ran across the grass. When it ran it moved low along the ground with large elongated flexing and bouncing movements, sort of like a hare. It was black and sleek and long. A little later we were down at the shop. I asked the blonde woman behind the counter if she knew her animals. She said she did. She looked and said that she did not know what it was but that it was Not a stoat. She called Marian over and Marian said it looked like a stoat but it was too big for a stoat. My phone was being passed around. I thought it looked like a mink but I did not know if minks were native. Marie had a look and said it is more mink than stoat. There were six people discussing the animal now with each other and with Simon and I. My phone kept being grabbed and the photos studied and enlarged as everyone tried to solve it. Someone suggested a pine marten but others put that idea down scornfully. It was too sleek and too thin to be a pine marten. Without exception everyone disliked the pine marten as a possibility and as an animal. John Condon walked into the shop and Marie said “Here’s the man to sort this!” Someone handed my phone to John. He recoiled from it and said he did not have his glasses. The photos were enlarged yet again and shown to him. We all said what we thought it was or was not. Everyone was talking at the same time. John looked at the phone with care and shouted, “It’s a Water Dog!” There was a group sigh of agreement. Of course, a water dog! I had no idea what a water dog was. They all agreed it needed water nearby and Simon mentioned the stream at the bottom of our meadow. John made a flexing movement with his body and his back. He said, “It moves like this.” He imitated the movement exactly right. I looked up water dog when I got home and found all kinds of dogs, mostly Portuguese, which were called Water Dogs but not one of them looked like our animal. Eventually I found a picture of what we had seen and it was indeed a mink.

22 March Thursday

I admired his fancy designer spectacles. I could see they were new. Since I had never seen him wearing any glasses at all before this, I asked if he had always worn them. In fact, he said he had never worn glasses, but he had been instructed to wear them twenty years ago. He said it was hard enough being gay in school. He said that wearing glasses would have finished him off. I asked what wearing the new glasses did for his vision. He claimed that the world was a new place. When I suggested that poor vision was a liability in his line of work, he looked at me in the mirror and we both fell about  laughing. He said that every head of hair he cuts now is a brand new head of hair even if it is a head of hair he has been working on every week for the last fifteen years.

The Pump Is Gone on the Central Heating.

21 March Wednesday

The pump is gone on the central heating. We think it is the pump. We hope it is the pump. It might be something more. We are lucky it is not too cold today. No snow. No sleet. No rain. No wind.  We have kept the wood stove going all day. Sadly, that heat does not reach everywhere. Niall, the plumber, cannot come until tomorrow evening. That means anytime after dinner (lunch) and before about six o’clock. All we can do is wait.

20 March Tuesday

After the torrential rain. After the snow. This morning, I spent half an hour outside on the bench. I sat with my back against the wall feeling sun on my face. With coffee. Out of the wind, the sun was hot and lovely. The first primroses are showing in the boreen. It has been a week of high contrasts. Big holes out on the tar roads remain treacherous. The road drops away in chunks. The tar and everything supporting the tar just drops down to somewhere deep. The holes are big and flat, when they are full of water. If they are filled with water there is no way to know if the hole is an extremely deep hole or a shallow puddle. If there is a really large hole, big enough for one or more car tyres to drop into, we might call it a pot hole but more often it is spoken of as a sheep dip.

17 March Saturday

The market was quiet today. There were only eight stalls. The weather did not help. It was cold and sleety and horrible. The big field behind the castle was completely covered with water. If you did not know that it was usually a field, you would believe that it was always a lake. There were few customers. The good news is that Maria, who makes the pates and terrines and wild garlic pesto is now selling cheese. She had five kinds of cheese on one end of her table. They were all Irish cheeses I had not seen before. One was a smoked cheese and one was a hard sheep cheese and the other three were made of cows milk. We have not had a cheese seller at the market since Katherine left to enjoy her retirement and to play more golf. That must be at least four years ago. Maybe five. We bought three kinds of cheese.

Keith was selling long stemmed daffodils. The stems were 24 inches (62 cm long). I measured them when I got home. I have never seen such tall daffodils. He said he grew them in the poly-tunnel. That explains the height. Our own daffodils get knocked down by the wind. Today they are lying flat under yesterday’s surprise snow, but I know they will stand back up again as the few inches of snow melts. They will never grow as tall as Keith’s daffodils. Our daffodils fight the weather so they will always be stunted.

The Apple Farm had Elstars on offer which made me happy. I know they keep the apples in a cooler over the winter, but still, I marvel that last autumn’s apples can taste so sharp and sweet and crunchy in March. Pat had homemade butter from Tinnock Farms in Wexford along with plenty of fresh fish. We complained together about how buttermilk is being mixed in with a lot of commercial butter these days. It is a way to lower production costs. It makes the butter do funny things in a pan. The new egg woman, who is Australian, had two goats in a pen beside her table. They were young goats rescued from an elderly neighbour who could no longer care for them. Their names are Jim and Debbie. I hope they return next Saturday.

15 March Thursday

I had looked ahead at the weather report. I knew there was a lot of rain falling. I knew that copious amounts had fallen throughout the night. Even with this knowledge I was not ready for the reality of so much rain. It is easy to forget how much rain can fall in Ireland if one is away from it for a short time. As we neared the area close to home, all of the roads were flooded. There was water rushing off the fields as though they were always fast running rivers and they were never fields. The gashes that the council digs out of the sides of any road in preparation for exactly this kind of thing were all full and overflowing. The dikes along the road were also deep and fast running.

Peter was driving us from the airport. He was shocked and worried about his car. He was worried about so much deep rushing water. We were not worried as we have seen it so often before. We knew that it could be much much worse than what we were seeing. At one point I got out of the car and walked through a large lake of water which covered the road in order to let him know how deep it was before he drove through it. It looked deeper than it was. I was glad that it did not come up past the top of my boots. My boots are only ankle boots and they are made of leather. It is not really a good idea to wade through water in leather boots. If I had not done it, he would not have dared drive any further, so there was not much choice.

He told us how he and Maud had returned from a winter holiday in the south of France where they had suffered badly from the dry air. He said the aridity day after day hurt their lungs. He said that it was just Too Dry. When they stepped off their plane in Cork, they were glad to be back in the dampness. He said they felt the moisture wrapping itself around them and then they knew they were home. Immediately, their lungs and their bodies felt better.

I listened as he spoke.  I knew that no matter how long I live in this country, I will never feel good about being damp. I was even more certain about this as I surveyed the rain water pouring down our bathroom wall and into the cupboard in the big room and in the little passageway. I have become very efficient at mopping up water with towels and newspapers. I am good at drying things out over as many days as it takes. I know that I will never fully belong here unless I learn to accept all this dampness. That will never happen.