31 December Thursday
I heard on the radio that there was to be both a full moon and a complete eclipse on New Year’s Eve. It was to be the first time these three things had happened all together in 353 years. In truth, I mishead the bit about the complete eclipse and it was only a partial eclipse. We ran in and out and checked on the moon and we looked out the windows and kept track of it all, and only when we knew that it was over did I realize that it was never going to be a full eclipse. This second full moon in one month was a blue moon, which was of course another reason for excitement. The clarity and crispness of the night was perfect.
29 December Tuesday
The New Year’s card has been rejected. I cannot convince Simon that the roughness of it is part of its charm. He does not do rough. He really hates the whole thing. It is getting very late to do something. Will this be our first ever foray into the world of e-cards? I am not very happy about that as an idea. We make things on paper. This is what we do. I feel like an imposter sending something electronic even though it is both cheaper and environmentally sound. I like to receive things in the post and I must assume that other people like to receive things in the post. An Post is only delivering and moving mail on Wednesday and Thursday this week. We had a delivery on the 23rd, but there was nothing on Christmas Eve, which was a Thursday. I guess nothing will get back to normal until the 4th or the 5th of Janauary. We might have time to get another card going by then.
28 December Monday
More dry and icey cold. As Em and I walked through the fields and onto the dirt track, I could hear a hard echo of my footfalls on the frozen mud. Simon spent the entire day in the print shed. He ran an extension lead out the window and turned on the halogen lamp which eventually warmed up the space. It also provided light for his work. He took the wind-up radio too. He wore a hat and a heavy sweater and stood on a thick mat. He was out there to print our New Year’s greeting. He started with some very uneven bits of old grey card which made every single aspect of registration really difficult. He came into the house between printings to warm his feet and to get each new colour of ink. The inks were lined up near the stove so that they had a chance to thaw a bit before he needed them. By the end of the day he was frozen solid and completely fed up with the entire job. He threatened to throw away the whole lot. There is no doubt that he tried to do too many different printings with an awkward starting material. So many printings in such a low temperature was a bad idea too.
26 December Stephen’s Day
Everything is covered with ice. The roads are completely impassable, even on foot. There does not seem to be any system in place for gritting or salting the roads. This is not normal weather for here so there are no normal solutions. As Em and I struggled to walk up the hill from Joe’s gate, we had to walk on the grassy verge. The verge is covered with snow so it is not visibly grassy, but the grass underneath allowed for at least some traction. I had a stick with me so I could use that to help but as I squished onto the side of the road, I had a new problem of being grabbed at by the brambles. When I got stuck in the thorns, it was hard to turn and release myself without stepping out onto the iced over road and then making a wild skid. We walked onto the place where one of the dead foxes has been rotting for many weeks now. I was right in the middle of it before I recognized the bits of rough fur and a broken bit of skull and some vertebrae mixed with the snow underfoot. I spent many days walking well around the spot so that I did not need to smell nor to see the decomposition. It is so far from being a fox, or even a corpse now, that Em does not even stop for a sniff as she passes.
24 December Thursday
Heavy snow began last night and continued through this morning. Everything is white and new and beautiful. We have never seen so much snow in the whole time we have lived here. We dropped every plan for the day and put on our boots and walked the 3 1/2 miles to the village. Almost no cars were moving about and there is that lovely snow stillness in the air. We made some holiday visits and did some errands for people who could not get out. Then we had a drink at Rose’s. We talked with Patsy Lonergan about the turkeys and chickens which he used to raise and sell every year. He stopped doing it because his hip was bad and he said that there was nothing in it as the price of the feed made the birds too expensive for anyone to buy. We are sorry about this because we found his chickens so very delicious. He was disgusted when we said that we were eating fish on Christmas. We were delighted with our fresh fish from the farmer’s market on Wednesday. We have fish for the 24th and fish for the 25th. What could be nicer. Everyone here eats both a turkey and a ham on the 25th. There is absolutely no exception to this unless perhaps you are alone, or maybe just two people, and then it is acceptable to have a chicken instead of a turkey. This conversation in the mid-afternoon in the pub was unusual. Everyone appeared to have slowed down. Instead of rushing about because Christmas is coming, people seem to have decided that it is already here. The walk back up hill was slower and very slippery. The wind was much colder and it was against us. We were invited in for a hot whiskey about a third of the way up. That helped to fuel the final leg of the journey. Em rushed right into the house and ate her supper at top speed, before collapsing into a heap of sleep.
23 December Wednesday
I saw Dessie as I walked around today. He has been off doing a course in Limerick for a few weeks. In his absence, his sister has been feeding his new cat. When he set off for the course there were four huge bags of kitty litter on the windowsill in the porch.. I watched them disappear one by one over the weeks. Now they are all gone and Dessie is back home. We talked about his very fine new spacious driveway which is covered in gravel and has room for several cars. He said Yes, isn’t it sad that I waited a year for the driveway and now I will be leaving. He has been offered a house over near Burncourt with more space for gardening so he will be moving soon. All of the very substantial fencing he made to keep the dogs contained has been designed to be removed and taken with him. The fences were made by taking apart old pallettes and re-using the timber boards. Some of the fence lengths have elaborate curved tops. These curvey bits are covered with white plastic. He explained that this covering was made by slicing open electric cable piping. The reason he put it on the tops of his fencing is not for the decoration but to keep the water from soaking into the end grain of his fence. The opposite piece of the fence, the piece which he cut off to make the curve, is lower down on the ground so that from the window he sees two wavey horizons topped with white.
21 December Monday
The winter solstice. It is the shortest day of the year. I am always glad to have this day over with so that we can at least pretend that the days are getting longer. More importantly, today is the day that John the Plumber came to hook up the new sink and to sort out various aspects of the plumbing for the seemingly never to be finished kitchen. It has been months and months since we started this work and I do wonder if it will ever be complete. Too much travel and time away has made the job like a stutter. When other people do a job like this, they say they are re-doing their kitchen and they have someone else come in to do the work. Sadly, we do it all ourselves (except the plumbing). When we say we are doing it, we are indeed doing it. We figure out what is happening as we go. Each step illuminates a new set of problems and we resolve the next step with invented solutions, sometimes the same solutions that I guess anyone would use. Some solutions are more specific. We often resort to going out to the printing shed to fetch a bit of printing furniture to help to make a little adjustment. What do other people do if they don’t have a printing press and printing furniture?
19 December Saturday
When we go to the supermarket before Christmas, there is always one day, like today, when we are greeted by someone from a charitable organization who gives each customer a paper bag. The idea is that while we are doing our own shopping, we will also buy some things for other more needy people. The person giving out the bags suggests the things that might be useful and appreciated. When we leave the check-out, we each separate our purchases and put the things to be donated into the paper bag. On the way out of the store, we hand over our bag full of food. I have never seen this exact system anywhere else.
18 December Friday
Instead of everyone sitting at home and watching their own DVDs and televisions in these cash-strapped times, there is a big surge in cinema attendance throughout the country. I wonder if it is maybe that the cinemas are warmer than peoples’ own houses or if people just want to feel that they are part of a group. Going out to see a film is cheaper than going out to dinner. And here there is the added advantage of the double seats. When we were first here, we noticed that the far ends of each row had a double seat. We discussed this between ourselves and finally we decided that perhaps it was a thoughtful gesture for overweight people. Eventually we learned that these seats were designed for young couples so that they could sit cosily together without so much as an armrest to separate them from each other.
17 December Thursday
Another Pre-Christmas ritual around here is that people go to the cemetery to clean the graves of their loved ones. New flowers or plants are placed in position. Old dead or dusty plants are removed. The gravel, if there is any around the stone, is raked and the headstone polished up a bit. This is in preparation for a visit to the grave on Christmas morning, either before or after Mass.
14 December Monday
Kenneth the Window Cleaner came by to see if we wanted our windows cleaned this morning. We do want our windows cleaned but it was far too cold and frosty for that today, so we had a cup of tea instead. We talked about this obsession the Irish have to have their windows cleaned before Christmas. It is an Absolute Must for them. I don’t know why, unless it is just because everyone is getting their windows cleaned so everyone else thinks they must do it too. There is a lot of that kind of activity here. We decided to wait till January. Kenneth remarked on our complete lack of Christmas decor and then told us that they do not celebrate Christmas at all. Kenneth is a Jehovah’s Witness. I never knew that they did not celebrate Christmas. Actually I know very little about them at all, but I believe they are always supposed to be spreading the word and seeking converts. We have known Kenneth for many years now and he only once said something about spirituality. Mostly we talk about politics. Since he is from Scotland, he and Simon enjoy raging together about UK issues and politicians. They used to curse about Tony Blair, but now they are just as happy to complain about Gordon Brown.
12 December Saturday
I was in the supermarket looking for the coffee. Everything had been moved and nothing was where it used to be. I asked a boy who worked there where the coffee had gone. He directed me to the biscuit section. He said, It’s only logical. Sure, you wouldn’t want a coffee without a biscuit, now would you?
11 December Friday
Today is the one year anniversary of Em’s Imprisonment for the Healing of Her Cruciate Ligament and the Imposition of the Strict Diet. To look at her now, it is hard to remember that terrible limp. It is easy to remember her as a fat dog though, as we have so many photographs of her like that. People were always very diplomatic, in ironic kind of ways. They said She’s a well fed dog. She has no trouble with eating her dinner. She will not be wasting away anytime soon. Now that she is so slim, she moves better and more youthfully and some people even think that she is a new, younger dog. That is a great compliment, but I am very glad that she is the same dog. There is no sign of the limp. She runs and races and chases and swims happily. Our walks are full of excitement.
9 December Wednesday
The oil men came down to fill the tank with heating fuel. We have only turned on the heat in the last few days. We hate to get going with the heat as it heralds the real beginning of winter. Old houses used to be desirable with their charactor and drafts and idiosyncracies. Now they appear more and more like obsolete monsters. A well-designed energy efficient house feels pretty marvelous and very enviable on a cold day. Some friends living in an envelope house use one piece of wood to heat the whole house for a whole day. Of course, if we had one of those wonderful houses we might not see our friendly oil men. Because our boreen is too narrow for a normal oil truck, we used to get a mobile tank delivered. The tank would be left here and Simon would pump it all out and into our tank by hand. Then, in a day or too, he would take the empty tank back to the oil company in the Nire. After a while, we found someone else who had a mobile tank which could be plugged in to our electricity, through a bedroom window, and the pumping out was much easier. Now the tank is brought on a small truck and it has its own generator. The pumping out and into our tank is even easier. The delivery is still made by two men, and we always invite them in for tea and biscuits. They like having tea and a chat, and I wonder if that is why the two of them come together. They say that they rarely have tea with anyone these days as no one is at home when they deliver. Everyone is out at work. They are also very complimentary about our tea because the water from our well has no chemistry in it and it does make a lovely cup of tea. They are not the only people to comment favourably about our tea. We sat and talked about many things. One of them has lost his wife since last year. We discussed that and we discussed the predictions for this afternoon’s Budget. I offered two kinds of biscuits and pointed out that one kind was a ginger biscuit. I have noticed that a lot of people here do not like ginger biscuits, even if they are coated with chocolate. I mention the presence of ginger ever since an elderly friend took one bite and left the rest of his biscuit on the table. He never said a word but he has been skittish about any cookies offered here ever since. These two men loved the ginger biscuits, and they loved the almond biscuits. They did not even mind that we had no proper milk and that we gave them soya milk in their tea. When they left they thanked us for their lovely Christmas Party.
8 December Tuesday
Today is the day when traditionally the country people all went to Dublin for the beginning of their Christmas shopping. The trains and buses were full of people going to town for the day. Lunch and later some drinks at one of the big hotels was part of the day. Now everybody has a car, and the traffic around and inside Dublin is horrible. Everyone goes everywhere all the time. I wonder if the 8th of December is still a special shopping day for anyone.
3 December Thursday
The geese are flying by, heading south in huge flocks. The noise is often so loud that I rush outside to see them. It is just too big a sound to ignore. Every time it happens it is exciting. And every year it is exciting all over again. Em barks and races along the ground underneath what looks like a thousand geese.
2 December Wednesday
I saw Ken today for the first time in a long time. I asked him if the rumours were true. I asked if he was indeed getting married. He said yes, and he blushed and said yes, indeed it has been known to happen and now it is happening to me. I told him that I was very happy for him. I am not sure if the marriage has taken place yet or not, but he is living over in Ardfinnan with his lady. That is why I rarely see him anymore. Ken is in his fifties and very religious. I have always thought of him as a confirmed bachelor. As we talked, I saw Snoopy in an upstairs window, pushing the curtains aside and barking at us. I told Ken that I was a bit worried about Snoopy who is at home there all the time and mostly alone. He used to be outside all day long running about and barking like mad at anyone who passed. He also had Partner for company. Partner barked like mad too, but sometimes he would let himself out of the yard. Then he would walk calmly down the road and around. He was completely friendly and quiet when he was out and only barked from the safety of the fenced in yard. In the last year he became very deaf and a bit blind too, so he would often forget to bark unless Snoopy bumped into him in excitement. Now Partner is dead and gone, and Ken is away most of the time, day and night. Snoopy is in the house as a guard dog. When I told Ken that I was worried about Snoopy, he said What do you mean? He’s fine! He’s got an electric blanket in there and everything.
1 December Tuesday
Mary told me that an old house cannot be knocked down unless the old chimney has fallen. People who want to build a new house on the site of an old one will often go to the site and knock the chimney a bit to insure that the permission for a new house will go ahead. A fallen down chimney means it is okay to tear the rest of the house down.
30 November Monday
A phone call from Liam Harper was a big surprise. We had switched our electricity from the ESB to Airtricity to use a greener source. For many years Airtricity was only interested in commercial customers and we could not convince them that our remote locale was a viable business address. Once the switch was finally organized we never expected to hear from Liam Harper again. When he phoned, he said it did not matter who we bought our electricity from, because he was still the meter reader. We were happy to chat with him, and Simon went up on the stool with the torch and read the numbers out. I repeated those numbers into the telephone to Liam Harper.
26 November Thursday
It is Thanksgiving Day in America, but it is not Thanksgiving here. Some years ago I tried to make a Thanksgiving dinner at various times and I included other people but it is just silly to try to import a ritual which means considerably less than nothing to people who were not brought up with it. Simon has never been any help with Thanksgiving as he hates turkey and refuses to believe that it might ever be done well. If he is in the United States on that day, he will accept the occasion and the food with good grace, but when imposed anywhere else he considers it an unnecessary affectation. And that is probably realistic. For anyone who is not American, why would you be sitting down for a big feast in the middle of a Thursday afternoon. I cannot expect it to make sense. So we had some lovely pasta and a beautiful tarte tatin, some wine and cheese. Just a lovely evening repast interrupted by various phone calls from a holiday some where else.
25 November Wednesday
It is dry and cold today with a threat of rain in the sky, but Em and I walked up the watery boreen and all around without the rain actually coming. The stream is so swollen and flooded at the bottom of the meadow that we now have a large lake. Earlier we had a little lake, but there is nothing little about this lake. Simon has always fancied having a lake there. It is not easy to get though but at least today it was possible. For the last weeks it has been so deep that even rubber boots were not enough. When we got all the way up and around on the road, Em raced like mad to reach the stream. This is the same stream that passes below our meadow and which is now feeding the new lake. At the road, the stream is well below the level of the road and reached by a short steep banking. For years now, the ritual has been that Em rushes ahead to the gap and down to the stream. She then stands in the water looking up and waiting for me to throw a stick down into the water. Since her ligament recovery, I have usually stopped her from going down the banking because I do not want her to overdo and harm her freshly healed self. Today she just took off before I even thought to say anything. The usual beginning was for me to start looking for a good stick well before we got near the stream. She would register my looking as her signal to rush down the road and get into position in the water. If I failed to look for a stick ahead of time, I would end up near the stream with her waiting in the water and no sticks available. That is a always bad area for sticks. And that is where I was today. Not a decent stick in sight and Em in very deep rushing water. No barking, just waiting. I found a lousy little stick which hit the water and was carried off quickly before she could even get near to it. I threw one more like this and then I just left and continued my walk. Eventually she left the water and caught up with me well down the road. By then I had found a better and stronger stick which I threw just ahead of us onto the track and which she happily carried off towards home. This was an adjusted second part of the stream ritual. The rescued stick from the water is supposed to be carried all the way home. Today we got as far as the bend in the boreen near Scully’s wood and the fox was suddenly beside us. We all three froze. Then Em dropped her stick and the fox ran away and we returned to the house. I am so happy to see our fox after so many weeks. I am happy to know that he is not one of the dead foxes by the road.
23 November Monday
There appears to be a new version of supermarket shopping. Very few people take a trolley, nor even a small wire basket. They walk around with as much as they are going to buy in their arms, or they buy only as much as they can carry. I wonder if this is a form of self-regulation.
21 November Saturday
Simon headed off to Cashel in the afternoon to do a talk about our books. The weather was still terrible. The weather is still terrible. With the roads flooded and detours everywhere, we were not sure if he would get there nor if there would even be an audience for him if he did get there. The talk was in the Bolton Library, which is on the grounds of the cathedral. His talk was being followed by another talk called THE MEANING OF LIFE. The priest who was doing that talk sat right beside Simon and looked at all the books as they were passed around. The audience was lively and the discussion good. Some of the people had come for Simon’s talk and some had come for the priest’s talk. Some seemed to be there for both talks, but some had come early for the priest’s talk because of the weather and the inability to plan how long any journey might take. They were just there because they had made it through the rain in less time than they expected. Simon returned home wishing that he had asked the audience how many of them had actually come to hear him talk about books.
19 November Thursday
It is hard to talk about the hugeness of this rain and the devastation everywhere. I can see the news and listen to the radio but I only can see what I see here. Any place else is not really real. I have heard it reported that this is the worst rain and flooding for two years. It is the worst rain in Living Memory. It is the worst rain for 24 years. It is the worst rain for 1000 years. Everyone is trying to define how bad it is. We have not lost electricity, nor our water supply, as so many people have. We are sitting high and dry on our hillside. The news of bridges collapsing and being closed sounds terrifying. The power of rushing water is hard to believe. Thousand of people are evacuated from their homes and thousands of cattle and sheep are stranded. One man on the radio today spoke of an area near the Shannon where 60,000 acres of farmland are underwater. I cannot picture 60,000 acres. That is just one example. Ireland is Underwater. As I walk out, I examine the places where the road is just ripped away. Gravel and tar and stones are just gouged out of the road and huge long and deep gashes remain. Subside and submerge are oft-repeated words.
18 November Wednesday
A lot of our mail arrives, when it arrives, with the note: NO ACCESS ROAD FLOODED and the date pencilled on the top envelope.
7 November Saturday
The sound of ceaseless rain is driving me mad. The ground is soggy and the teasels are falling over. The grass is a brilliant shade of green and it is still growing. Everything is conspiring to make the wetness as unpleasant as it can. I looked into the cupboard under the bed and saw my old black and white photograph of Le Sommeil des Mages on the inside of the door. It is a 12th century sculpture from the cathedral in Autun. I love it. I made several painted versions of this sculpture years ago. I love to see the three kings sort of piled up on top of each other. I love finding this old photograph inside my cupboard. I have a few things on the inside of doors so that I can find them when I am looking for something else. I put an old chart of NUTS AND BOLTS on the inside of Simon’s clothes cupboard door. I think it is from the 1920s. The drawings are lovely and so carefully done. I do not think that Simon ever looks at it, but I do. These are small things which cheer me as I live with this rain.
6 November Friday
Dance bands were very popular here in the fifties and the sixties but if they were trying to earn money playing the dance halls, they had to leave the country during Lent as there was be no dancing allowed. They would book themselves into the dance halls in Britain and eventually the US. Some of them did so much better there that they never came back. Some came back much later when they were famous.
5 November Thursday
TJ, the blacksmith, has a brand new trailer out beside the road. It is chained to the gate with a lock and a sign saying FOR SALE. It is his usual sort of trailer. It is an open trailer welded of strong metal. The outside is painted blue and the inside is painted a rich rusty brown-red colour. Most people around here know that TJ makes trailers and most people who have a trailer have one of TJ’s trailers. We all know where he lives so anyone around here who wanted a trailer would just go by and talk to him. I have never seen one out on display like this. This is another sign of hard times and things for sale by the road.
4 November Wednesday
Em and I decided to go up the boreen even though I know it is terribly muddy and wet. The stream has been overflowing for days and for a while we had a real pond down there. Now the stream has subsided and the pond is gone, but the long grass is all stretched out flat on the ground in the direction that the water was flowing. I took a big heavy stick along to help me jump through the muck,and it was useful for going though the mud and slippery stones up the path. Since it was a heavy stick, I sort of assumed I would get rid of it when I got to the top of the hill. I kept walking with it and then I realized that I still had it by the time we had reached the Lonely Llama way down the road. The llama ran over to see us when we arrived near to his gate. Against my better judgement, I am getting fond of this Llama. He belongs in Peru. It seems cruel for him to be stuck alone in a field in Tipperary. I kept walking with the heavy stick wanting to get rid of it but not wanting to just drop it. It really was a very fine stout stick. I thought to leave it near the stone wall close to Teresa and Seamus’ so that maybe Seamus would find it and use it when he went out for a walk with his dogs. I often see him walking with stick. This stick was more his size than my size. I had a chat with Teresa over the wall and when I left her, I still had the stick. I thought to leave it near the stream for someone else to find, but I didn’t. Em took it from me and dragged it along for a while, but it was too huge and awkward to be fun, so she dropped it in the middle of the road. I picked it up again. I thought to maybe leave it near the sign, or maybe at the left turn into the boreen. Every time I thought about where it might be best to leave it and I made a decision to leave it at that spot when I got to that spot, but by the time I got to the spot I was already thinking of something else and I walked all the way home with the stick. It is now leaning near the back door.
3 November Tuesday
Throughout all of the rainy days we have been up and down to the barn collating Susan Howe’s POEMS FROM A PIONEER MUSEUM. At one point I did not know which thing was making me the most weary. Picking up the 32 small white and 2 small green cards and putting them in order became an almost endless job. Marching around the table to collect each one, and to make certain that I had only picked up ONE, was like developing a stutter. Each time the act was finished it was exactly like the time before and sometimes I could not remember if I had already done that or if I was just doing it again. It is finished now. All the little sets are in their little green boxes, signed and numbered and put away. And the rain has stopped.
2 November Monday
The meadow walk with Em in amazing bright moonlight. I think the moon is full. I turned off the torch and the night was so bright that we ran up and down the paths in perfect blue/yellow light. Was it blue or was it yellow? It was so bright and so eerie at the same time. I am not sure what colour it really was. It was just beautiful, mostly because it had been bucketing with rain less than 30 minutes earlier. The whole day has been like this. Horrific heavy rain and then bright skies and dancing clouds. Tonight we had the rushing clouds in the bright moonlit sky, and now, as I write, the rain is lashing on the roof again.
1 November Sunday
As I walk out, I am looking looking looking for the fox. I am looking for our fox. I am looking to see a fox scooting down the field or maybe back up the field towards Scully’s wood. I am hoping to see the fox tumbling over in surprise as I come around the corner in the boreen. I am ready to see him scramble to his feet only a few feet from me. I am eager to see him take off at speed. I just want to see the fox and to be absolutely certain that our fox is not one of those two dead foxes which are lying along the ditch on the upper road.
31 October Saturday
Three more nicknames, in common useage, which I never heard before I lived here: Mossie, Toss, and Batt. They are short for Maurice, Thomas, and Bartholomew.
30 October Friday
How can I keep writing about rain? How can I not keep writing about rain? What am I doing on this grey, sodden, bankrupt island? This greyness is making me feel like I am losing my mind. We were out walking today and the wind was so wild and the rain so noisy that I could not hear if any cars were coming. On any road bits of our walks, I usually walk right down the middle of the very narrow road, and Em dashes back and forth according to the smells which interest her. When we hear a car or a tractor approaching from either direction, we move to the nearest side and stand in the grass. Today’s noisy wind made it impossible to tell if anything was coming until they were right near us. There were only two cars in the whole distance, and when one of them came along, I looked down and noticed that there was a dead fox at my feet. It was a freshly dead fox and it did not look like it had been hit by a car. It looked like it was asleep but its body was in a running position, not curled up. Both Em and I examined it carefully and then continued on our way. Half a kilometer later, we were passed by the second car of the day. Moving onto the opposite side of the road from our first stop, we saw a second fox. Again the fox was dead, but not messy in a way that would suggest a car accident. This fox was laid out in just the same way as the first one. I think both of these foxes must have been shot somewhere else and dumped here beside the road. It is just too strange a coincidence to see two very healthy looking grown foxes dead in the same position and so near together on the road. I did not look for bullet wounds, but I have been thinking about them all day.
29 October Thursday
There are huge piles of wood, pallettes, and junk in various fields. The piles have begun to get bigger and bigger in the last few weeks. These are for the Halloween night bonfires which will be lit all over the countryside in the darkness. They will be accompanied by fireworks. There is so much wet everywhere I wonder if any of the fires will even light. Yesterday was dry, but I think a week of dry sunshine might not be enough to dry the land and the wood. We have our own wet weather problem. The new (used) car which we bought in the spring was inexpensive and did not have very many miles on it. Our mechanic friend told us that it was a good brand and that it was cheap because the Irish do not like the Seat. He said it is in the Volkswagon family and that it is a good car, just unpopular here. I thought the car a very ugly shade of green and I thought the name Ibiza was dumb, but the price was right. We did not think to ask WHY people here do not like the Seat. Now we know. When this car goes through deep puddles and the distributor gets wet, the car loses power until it is just forced to stop. The car will not start again until the distributor has had time to dry out. This has happened twice and both times the car just had to stay overnight down in the village until it was ready to drive again. It is crazy to live down an old rough boreen which has very lengthy and deep puddles in multiple locations after every heavy rain. Heavy rain is not a surprise here. It is crazy to own a car that we cannot drive in the rain. The car is made for Spain.
It was a beautiful, blue sky day today. I had to go to town to the doctor, which was a bit of a pity as I would have loved to be out in the garden. As much as I dislike sitting in the waiting room with its ratty magazines and noisy television set, I enjoy seeing my doctor as we always have interesting conversations. The first time I went to her she stood up as I entered her office and she sang me a song in German in a sweet and quavery voice. It was a song about the flower Erica growing in the mountains. She finished the song and then she sat down. She had never met anyone named Erica so she felt she just had to sing that for me. Since then we have been good friends. She is now thinking about her impending retirement. She does not want to retire because she loves her work and loves keeping abreast of new medical developments and challenges. She hates the idea of missing anything. Her sister, who was another kind of doctor in Dublin, retired a few years ago. She was at a bit of a loss for a while and then she began to work as an extra in films. She has since become addicted to the very early morning starts on a film set, and to the hours of waiting around for ones little bit of an appearance. She loves the community of people on the sets and she loves finding out what all of them did before they came together for that particular movie. Doctor Rosaleen feels reasssured by this and now trusts that her own retirement will open up a new world for her too.
27 October Tuesday
It is one of those wild, rainy days. Again. Everything is blowing and gusting. At the shop, one lady said me: “This weather is so bad that if you hang a wash you nearly need to be standing there beside it”. Nothing seems to dry wherever it is anyway. We have these old Horrible Towels which I put down on the rugs when Em comes in from outdoors during extended wet weather. Her first act is always to throw herself down on a rug and to begin to clean herself. The towels on top of the rugs keep the rugs vaguely cleaner, but the towels themselves are horrible to see. One of them used to be a gold colour and the other one used to be green. They are now both very faded and grey and filthy looking, even after they have been washed. We get very used to having them down on the floor, and we walk over them as though they are the normal floor covering. No matter how muddy and wet she gets, Em always cleans herself perfectly. We frequently receive compliments about her beautiful coat, and sometimes I am asked what sort of shampoo we use on her. No one believes that we never actually wash her unless she has rolled in a dead animal or something very, very smelly. She is an obsessive self-cleaner.
26 October Monday
The Tri-colour house has been painted! It is all painted, from top to bottom. No more cement colour and no more white. It is all yellow. When I started to discuss the cement colour, it was explained to me that cement is the compound which is mixed with sand to make concrete. Everything here is made of cement, but a set area of cement is called concrete. So a house is not made of cement. It is made with cement. I am still confused if the colour is called cement or concrete. I can call it gray but I cannot call it natural.
20 October Tuesday
The Lonely Llama has taken to racing over to the gate when we walk past. It never comes close enough for me to touch, but it seems very curious. The eyes are sort of far apart and on each side of it’s head so the llama turns this way and that as it looks at me or down at Em. It does not look straight ahead. I do not really have any urge to pet the llama and I have no idea if this is a good or bad natured animal. Will it nip at me if I reach out to stroke it? I do not want to grow fond of this creature as its very presence here feels so wrong to me. Still, it has been all alone in this field for many months now. The baby llama is gone. Or maybe the partner and the baby are gone. I do not know if this one is a male or a female. It has sort of bowed legs and looks like a cartoon version of itself. I fear I am becoming more interested than I would like to be.
19 October Monday
Suddenly the rose beside the lower book barn has begun to blossom. Throughout our miserable wet summer, we have had very few roses. Now, as the nights get colder and the days get shorter, this plant has decided to make up for lost time. It is a climbing rose which I bought as a gift for Simon eight years ago. It has well formed blooms, cream coloured and edged with deep pink. Ordinarily the flowers are freely produced over a long season. Not knowing a great deal about roses, I bought it because it was called HANDEL, and at the time, we were obsessed by Handel’s “Where ‘er you walk….”. We were listening to it over and over again. For some reason which I do not understand, we have since taken to calling that rose THE EDWARD ELGAR, and neither of us can ever remember that we have the wrong musician in mind. I guess we have changed the name of the rose. We have another climbing rose which is even more prolific but whose blossoms last only for one day. That one is on the side of the building where my studio is, and it is one of the few plants which was here when we arrived. I have been told that it was a favourite of Kathie English, who lived in this house for her whole life. I have tried hard to keep it healthy for her. This rose is a soft pink and is called Albertine, but it too had a bad summer.
17 October Saturday
Everyone at the Farmers Market was a little bit nervous today as the Health Lady was going around with a man and a clipboard inspecting everyone for cleanliness and adherence to hygiene rules. The cheese lady said that the Inspector is very stern and critical when she is on duty. On other weeks she just comes to the market as a regular person doing her shopping. The lady who makes the various pates has the most attractive and clever method for keeping her things chilled. She has filled some golden brown balloons with a small amount of water before knotting them. When they are frozen they apppear a bit fuller and more solid, about the size of a small fist. As the market progresses, they get limper. The mass of balloons together is beautiful. Her various bowls of mushroom, liver, or fish pates sit nicely in the nest of balloons, and the brown is a beautiful colour. I do not think that I have ever seen brown balloons.
16 October Friday
I confused Em when we went out for her night run through the meadow last night. I had a few things to hang on the washing line, so I went the opposite direction from usual, and then I had a struggle to pin the wet things onto the line in the dark. It was very dark. Very, very dark. I tried to hold a torch in my hand but I could not shine light on my actions at the same time as I was doing the pegging out. I just did not have enough hands. Marianne has a light which is attached to a head band. I think it is the kind of thing that people use when they are exploring caves. She uses it to go into the garden at night and catch slugs and snails. This might be a good idea for me ( the torch, not the slug hunting).
The new house just after the corner turn-off towards Neddins has been painted again, but not finished, again. For a long time it was just a gray, cement coloured house. I thought for sure it was going to stay that way. Many years ago I overheard two women discussing the one’s newly built house. The one asked the other is they were planning to paint the house, or would they just leave it Natural? To me there is nothing natural about concrete. The colour of wood may be called natural, but not concrete. Anyway, this house was gray (natural) for a long time. Then it was painted white up to a certain height. I could not decide if the reason for it not being completely covered with white paint was that they had run out of paint, or if the ladders just were not long enough to go up into the gable ends. It stayed half painted white for 6 or 8 months, or more. Now it has been painted yellow but the yellow stops before the white stopped so now it is a three coloured house. I am interested to see how this will develop.
9 October Friday
It has been just beautiful, day after day. The sky is blue and clear and it is warm and sunny and lovely to eat lunch outside and to have tea while sitting in the late afternoon warmth. When the sun drops it gets cold very quickly. The dilemma at this time of year is wanting to have the doors wide open to feel the air and to continue with the feeling of summer. In the case of this past gloomy summer, it is more like trying to maintain an illusion of a summer which we never had. It is important to not let the doors stay open as this is the time of year when the mice are looking for an indoor option. We are struggling to keep the door shut, or at least the bottom half of the kitchen door. Em gets annoyed by any closed doors. She believes it is her right to wander in and out all day long, keeping track of which building we are in and what is happening. Closed doors restrict her freedom. In truth, the mice will squeeze in wherever they want to so it is not a certain way to keep them out. We are probably just trying to train ourselves for the coming winter cold.
22 September Tuesday
The Polish shops in the area seem to move about a lot. I am not sure if this is about short term leases or what it is, but sometimes there are three or four of them in Clonmel and then for a while there will be only one. The Polish and Lithuanians (Foreign Nationals) like to have their own foods and there is a big business now importing these things. I am a big fan of the Lithuanian breads and of the pickles.They seem to carry everything from magazines to meats, and biscuits to salt. Absolutely everything is being imported so that home does not seem so far away. Most of the suupermarkets carry a section of eastern European foods now too.. One shop that has lasted for quite a long time now is just outside the West Gate in Irishtown. It is called CHANCE or CHANGE. I am never sure which name is correct. The letters are hand painted on the wall above the windows on both sides of the corner location. The letters are about fifteen inches high, painted in dark red with a black shadow outline. I keep meaning to go in to ask what the name really is, but I have decided for myself that it is CHANGE. The shop used to be an equestrian supply shop and its windows were full of saddles and boots and horse feeds. Later it became a bridal shop with windows full of white fluffy dresses and various bits of wedding paraphanalia. I liked that it had gone from Bridle to Bridal. That is enough reason for me to call it CHANGE.
19 September Saturday
We weighed Em at the vet’s office this morning. She rushes right in the door and gets up on the scales as if she is as concerned as we are about her weight. Unfortunately once she is there she is very wiggly and wants to rush right off again to find the resident cat and if not to find him, then to eat from his dish. We kept her for long enough to find that she has dropped to 17.8 kilos. This is such happy news. The regular walks added to the strict diet are succeeding. The walks are better and better and we are no longer restricted to the short Perimeter Walks. In fact we seem to go off in many different routes depending on the weather or the mood or if the postman is about to come racing down the boreen. It is no treat to meet him as there is not enough room to get out of the way of his van. If we are taken by surprise by the sound of his motor, we have to press right into the brambles and hope that getting unstuck from them is not too difficult. Sometimes I feel like every day’s walk is blurring into the last walk,or into last week’s walk. I look at the same things but they really are never the same and always a little different. A field just cut or well chewed over by the cows quickly becomes a field full of grass again. Maybe the variations over months and years are just more familiar. Does the familiar walk make it easier to clear the mind and to think about other things or do all of the little changes mean that there is so much to keep track of visually that I really do not think of that many things besides the walk. There are wet walks and dry walks. There are road walks and field walks. Most walks are combinations of several things and most walks are the only walk that I think about when I am walking.
18 September Friday
When money is being transferred from a bank to somewhere else or maybe just from bank to bank, the Irish Army is called into action. Soldiers in fatigues and carrying guns stand and guard the van which I assume is full of money and they walk in and out of the bank along with the special container. Sometimes traffic is stopped while this happens. Except for this domestic job, the Irish Army seems to mostly be off on peace keeping missions in other parts of the world.
17 September Thursday
There is no further development on the kitchen. We are just living with the things that we have done so far. Having a drawer to put the silverware into is wonderful. Forks and knives no longer sit in a tray full of crumbs and grated carrot. The new stove is such a delight that we hardly need to do anything else. The stove top does double as a place for a dish drainer, but this is not forever. If we are not careful this level of temporary will become the new permanent and another nine years might pass. There is a lot of book finishing work to do, and the out of doors is desperate for more attention. Somehow the push to get the kitchen finished does not feel so imperative, but that might be because the sun is out.
16 September Wednesday
The discussions about Swine Flu appeared to have gone quiet. We were not being overwhelmed by Swine Flu in the newspapers nor on the radio nor on the television. There are a lot of little bottles of disinfecting hand cleaner scattered about but the subject seemed to have settled down. Suddenly there is a new problem. When people go to a funeral or a wake, the priest suggests at a certain moment that everyone make contact with their neighbour. At this signal, everyone in the church, all of whom are standing up, are supposed to turn and shake hands with each other, and with everyone sitting in front of them and in the rows behind them. With the possibility of Swine Flue, to not shake hands is to appear un-Christian but to shake all those hands is tantamount to a death wish. A whole new reason for panic needs to be confronted.
15 September Tuesday
I went to the Recycling Depot at Legaun today. I went yesterday too, but they have suddenly decided to be closed on Monday. While I was writing down the new hours on a piece of paper, an old man got out of his car and came over to talk with me. He was the self appointed guard of the saw mill next door. I do not know where the saw mill men had gone. This man was quite disparaging about the new hours and the new regime at the dump. It is run by the Department for the Environment now and no longer by the council. As a result, no one is allowed to take anything away that they might find and want from there. He told me of an angle grinder which he had found a few years ago. He took it home and replaced a spring or a coil and then it worked like a dream. He did not have much use for an angle grinder but he was happy to have it just the same. Then someone told him that the Garda needed 193 guns cut up. These were guns which had been seized and which had no legal right to exist in the country. They paid him to destroy the 193 guns with his angle grinder, while a Garda stood on duty making sure all of the guns were rendered unuseable.
14 September Monday
After breakfast, Em follows me from room to room and indoors and outdoors. She mithers me without cease in the fear that I might forget that we have to go out for a walk. How can I forget? At any moment she could race across the fields or up and into Scully’s wood by herself. She could run up the boreen or down the boreen. She does not need me to get exercise. She is not a city dog, nor even a town or suburban dog with a restricted little yard. She is a Free Dog. She is a country dog. The door is wide open. She can come in and go out freely. She can run about without any restrictions. Maybe once a month she is clipped onto a lead but for the rest of the time she is free to walk or run or explore without constraint. But the morning walk is all about ritual. Ritual must be maintained without exception. To ensure that we do not miss our walk, she follows as close to my legs as possible wherever I move in the house. Often I trip over her. When I change direction abruptly she is sometimes flustered as she does not seem to be able to back up. Do all dogs have an inability to back up or is this just her problem? I do not think I ever noticed that dogs do not back up.
13 September Sunday
I saw Michael O’Conner today for the first time in some months. He was standing outside his house and he saluted as I went past. As always, he was wearing a clean and well ironed white shirt, a tie with a tie clasp and his navy blue blazer with gold buttons. I stopped to say hello and to ask how he was. He called me American Lady, so I know that he recognized me. Sometimes he does not really know who he is talking to. For many years he called Simon The Austrailian. Then he was suddenly The Scotsman. Michael worked for many years in England. He was in the British army and then he worked in a car factory in Coventry. When we first came here, he used to ride his bicycle down to the village to get his messages and to go and have a pint at Rose’s. He would buy ten or twenty scratch cards at a time and sit and study them for hours over a pint of Guinness. Sometimes he would pull up the sleeves of his blazer and show everyone that he was wearing 5 wristwatches on each arm. He was also prone to pulling up his trouser leg to display a wound or a partially healed scab from a fall off his bike. It was not unusual to come across Michael a long way in any direction from his house and as one approached in a car, he would stop and stand at full salute until the car had passed. These days he does not wander very far from home.
12 September Saturday
Em and I walked around the Flemingstown route today. It was very misty as all the recent mornings have been. The early mornings are cold and the long grass is very wet.When the mist burns off the days become hot and sultry. Then we feel like we are in Italy. As we walked over the fields we couldn’t see Joe’s cows anywhere, and suddenly they were just there right in front of us. The fog was so thick that we had very little distance visibility. Once we were on the road, we saw Michael driving along. He stopped his tractor in the middle of the road, turned off the motor, and opened the door so that we could have a chat. Everyone has time and everyone is in a good mood with this fine weather. After a little while, Peter Ryan came along in his red van and we had to end our conversation as the road was not wide enough for him to go around the tractor. It is probably just as well, as Michael was just getting going about Obama’s health care legislation and that discussion would have kept us there for a long time.
9 September Wednesday
I was just about to do some page folding, and suddenly I found myself in my blue paint suit painting two walls in the kitchen so that we could get the stove hooked up and in position. Every time I paint anything I put on my long sleeved zip up paint suit. Every time I put it on, Simon says You don’t need your paint suit for this as it is just a little job. I never listen to him and I always wear my paint suit. He does not seem to understand the freedom the suit gives me. I am completely covered so there is no need to be timid. I can wipe my hands on myself. I am much more efficient when wearing my paint suit, but he makes fun of me and it everytime.
5 September Saturday
We went and bought a new stove today. This is a huge thing for us. For all the years we have been living here, the kitchen has been in an extended state of temporary. We have used a camping stove and a small convection oven for cooking and everything has been very makeshift and very rough. Most people are shocked by it, but now that we have started to fix it up, they keep tell us that they feel sad about it changing. Of course, they have not had to live with it. With each change that we make we have to sit back and look at things for a few days before we do more. It is now in a new state of temporary, but the temporary is changing more often. That means that it really is temporary, rather than the temporary that had become permanent. When we bought the stove, the man in the shop gave us an attachment and some small clips for the hose which has to go through the wall and outside for the gas canister. He held the items in his hand and looked around for a while until he saw a paper bag in the wastepaper basket. He emptied a coffee cup and cake wrapping out of the bag and then put our clips into it. He handed it over with a big smile and he said “I’m recycling”.
1 September Tuesday
Pat told me that the width of a boreen was determined by the length of a cow measured from head to tail. A farmer did not want to give up any more of his arable land than was absolutely necessary. This was considered the minimum, and the bor of the word boreen was the word for cow. Do I believe this?
31 August Monday
I took a little afternoon tea break sitting in the sunshine in the green chair. The green chair is an old wicker chair which belonged to Simon’s parents. We brought it here some years ago, and it has recently been moved from indoors to outdoors. It has floated around outside for a while, without ever finding a permanent place. For the last few months I have had it positioned very near to the wooden fence, just to the right of the stile. I enjoy sitting there and looking out across the hill, and down to the meadow and beyond to the foothills of the Comeraghs. Because the chair is very low to the ground, I look through the top and bottom boards of the fence. The rectangular space made by the fencing makes a frame. Most times, as I sit and look, the picture is just a very quiet landscape. I could call it a still-life. If the wind is blowing gently, I can see grass and trees and bushes moving slightly. Sometimes, Em goes out into the field and walks around. Then my landscape becomes a little film.
28 August Friday
Today has been a big day for Emily. She and I walked up the old mass path in the boreen to Johnny Mackin’s place and all around the old route. She has not been on this walk since early December. I have been buildiing up her leg strength with our daily Perimeter Walks and I just felt today was a good time to try something more. It was a good day for her. She flushed a pheasant, raced up and down bankings, got barked at by several dogs, looked in the gate at the Llama and met Oscar. This and loads of sniffing and peeing. Since she came home she has been sleeping on her woolly mat . She did not even wake up to let me know that it was supper time. The fact that it was autumnal and cool on this August morning meant that I could wear two long sleeved shirts and long trousers to protect me from the overgrown nettles and the brambles. I got lots of stings. My legs and arms still tingle these many hours later. I was nervous about walking past Dessie’s place because I did not know how his young Staffordshire mastiff or bull terrier or whatever it is would deal with Em. I met someone before I got there who told me that the dog, whose name I never learned or chose not to remember, had become a constant problem. Everyone was afraid of it and everyone complained. Dessie’s mother refused to have it back and Kenneth said he would take it but he never did. The higher the fences and the more elaborate the structures which Dessie devised to contain the him, the dog always escaped. Titch, his other small dog, was very sick for a few days and finally he decided he just couldn’t deal with it all. He took the Staff to the dog shelter where the people there told him that someone would have the dog within ten minutes. He said people in the town want these scarey dogs. When Dessie came back home, Titch was dead. Apparently it was a case of poisoning, but no one could tell what kind of poison it was. Someone else further up the road lost two dogs to poisoning earlier this summer.
26 August Wednesday
When Joe came to collect the cows for milking yesterday evening, he stopped his tractor up in the high corner of the field. With some kind of cutting or pulling forked device on the front of the tractor, he started to rip at the trees on the corner of the wood. It made a terrible noise. I could not imagine why he was attacking the trees. He did a bit more further up the way and then stopped, rounded up the cows and drove them away over the fields to the farm. When Em and I walked up there this morning I realized that he had been using the dead and torn trees to block off the ever widening ramps into the wood. I think of these as the entry ways for the fox, or foxes, who live in the wood. Sometimes Em and I go in there. It is very dark and there is almost no undergrowth any more as the ceiling of branches and leaves no longer let any light in. It is a gloomy wood not a dappled wood. We don’t enter very often. The cows must have been climbing up the banking and going in to walk about and explore. By closing off the entrances with branches, Joe no longer risks a cow breaking a leg while trying to scramble back down the banking.
24 August Monday
We finished planting a little row of Yews along side of the slate path. As with all digging here, we thought it would be a quick job. As usual,we were very wrong. The copious amounts of shale mean that every job is half digging and half scrabbling through the soil by hand pulling out rocks and stones. When we first dug out the vegetable patch some years ago, Simon promised he would do it in an afternoon. Instead, it took a week of both of us working very hard. There are three huge piles of rocky stuff beside the line of yews. Now we have to find a place that needs to be filed with these rocks.
22 August Saturday
Before we went to the Saturday Market, we stopped at Keating’s Cross to wait for the bicycle race to pass. We were the first to arrive and there was only a single Garda waiting at the road to stop traffic at the right moment. We had been told that the cyclists would leave Clonmel at 10, and that they would be in Ardfinnan at 10.21. These were very specific times, so we did not want to miss them. We stood in the sunshine and talked to the Garda about it all. The ride for the day was from Clonmel to Killarney, which is 196 kms, with about 8 very, very steep kilometres up the Vee before they go over the Knockmealdowns. He told us that the last vehicle in the support team would have a sweeping brush sticking up from its back to signify that it was the last of the race: The Sweeper. Apparently this is normal for every bike race but I never knew it. As we chatted, all sorts of neighbours and local acquaintances began to arrive. It became a very social event. Everyone was excited that the famous Lance Armstrong would be among the riders, but no one mentioned the names of Marco Pinotti or Mark Cavendish. We all knew that it did not really matter who is in the race as they ride so fast and pass so quickly that it is not possible to recognize any one rider. That did not stop a lot of cameras being readied. All the Garda motorcycles and the support vehicles and media cars went racing along, then came the cyclists in a dense and colourful pack, and then some more support vehicles with all the extra bikes on their roofs, and more media and an ambulance and then came The Sweeper and then it was over. As we drove on to Ardfinnan on our way to Cahir there were still lots of people dotted along the road, chatting and enjoying the sun and waving to cars that passed.
21 August Friday
I feel a bit like Christopher Robin every time I walk out over the fields wearing my shorts and my rubber boots. Today we saw the fox as we reached the top corner of the far field. As usual, I do not know which of the three of us was more surprised. The fox hesitated and then raced into the woods. Em hesitated too and then she raced to the place where the fox had been. I always think that she likes to be sure that he gets away before she has any chance of getting near.
20 August Thursday
Dessie has been doing a lot of work on his place. First, large piles of wooden pallets arrived and he started to make fences with them. The wooden slats were nailed on to the already existing fence. Sometimes they are just tied up to the fence with wire or with string. The idea of the new fence is to try to keep the new dog inside. He told me one day that the dog is never out and about when he is not at home. We all know that the dog is always out and running free when he is not at home. I do not know if the dog goes back into whatever place he has been assigned when Dessie comes home so that the illusion is maintained. The fencing which he is building is getting more and more elaborate. It is as if there is another building around his building. The stone wall which he knocked to make a parking place has been rebuilt very nicely. It is a rounded end to the wall and it looks good. The bumper which was off his car for a year or so and sitting on the pile of rubble is now back on his car too.
18 August Tuesday
Driving out in any direction, I see that everybody has something to sell. In some areas, the roads seem to be lined with stuff. Things are outside houses and in lay-bys. Mostly, it is cars and motorcycles being offered for sale. Today I also saw a ride-on lawnmower, several car trailers, and a pair of elaborate gates with gold painted tops and an electronic opening device. There was also a long white Rolls Royce being offered for servicing weddings. Actually, I am not sure if the Rolls was being offered as a service to weddings, or if it was for sale and the seller was suggesting a possible use for a potential buyer.
17 August Monday
I just found a newspaper clipping which I had saved from a few weeks ago. I still marvel about it. This is it: “Deliberations in the trial of five men accused of involvement in a 2.28 million euro ‘tiger kidnapping’ robbery will not begin until next week because several jurors had tickets for last night’s U2 concert.”
15 August Saturday
The Wexford strawberry vans are everywhere. The little covered trailers are all along the sides of roads. There is never a car near the trailers so I guess they are just towed and dropped off there for the weeks of the strawberry season and used during the day as a tiny, opene ended storage place for the strawberries and whatever else is ripe and ready. The little trailers have small wheels, often painted white. I don’t know if the wheels are just an axle end awaiting a tire or if these are just some very small wheels. I do not thnk they are made for going very long distances. Each trailer is white with hand painted strawberries on the outside, usually just one big berry per side. These painted berries are visible from far along the road. They are not very well painted but I do enjoy seeing the variations around the area. It would be easy to make a stencil and to have all of the strawberries look the same, but each of these strawberries is different from the others, different from the ones on the various sides of the van and different from any strawberrries further down the road. It makes it very interesting to keep an eye out for the next one. There might be another sign leaning up against something which uses painted words to offer New Potatoes, Plums or Apple Juice. Only the strawberries are given pictoral form. A young person sits in a chair beside the little trailer, usually with a book and a small table. If it is raining there is an umbrella up over the table. I am not sure how many hours the salesperson has to sit there, but on a cold rainy and miserable day, any amount of time would be too long. The salespeople never have a car or a bicycle near the stand so they must all be collected by a van at the end of the day.
12 August Wednesday
Simon has made a second fig tart. The first was mixed with plums and had a very lemony crust. This one is all figs and is more like a cake. They have both been fantastic. If the figs continue to ripen at this rate we will be eating fig tarts and fig cakes every day for a month.
Today Em had her yearly check up and her shot and a flea and tick dose. She is healthy and weighs in at 18.2 kilos. We will keep at the diet to reach 17. No visible limp and she is enjoying the daily small walks. She is a new dog. Her growing out hair gives her a rather scruffy presence these days, but it does show off her new slim shape. She liked seeing the black cat who lives at the vet’s office, but she did not like having a thermometer shoved up her bottom. Well, who would like that?
11 August Tuesday
A beautiful sunny day. It has just been a perfect day. We spent a few hours filling the craters left by the invasion of the cows. We are lucky that these escapes do not happen more often.
The woman reading the weather on the radio has such a terrible cold that it is difficult to understand what she is forecasting.
10 August Monday
I have just learned that my laundry basket is not a laundry basket. It is an oyster basket. We saw a bit on television about the oyster beds out in Galway, and they had the exact same basket. They are made of some metal alloy and painted dark green. They appear to be made in several sizes. Some are very tall. The one I have is short. The basket is placed in the water and is heavy enough not to be pushed along by the water when it is empty. All of the openness allows the water to flow through it and the oysters are just dropped into it until it is full. When the full basket is lifted up, all the water drains out and it is just full of oysters. This explains why it is a heavier and sturdier laundry basket than any other I have ever seen or used, but I am very fond of it. Sometimes the weight of it when it is full of wet washing is nearly too much for me. I do like that I can leave it out in the rain and it never rusts. Of course, a plastic one would not rust either and it would be much lighter.
6 August Thursday
The woman from the Environmental Health office came down to test the water in our well. She was outraged at the state of the boreen and was convinced that her car has been irreparably damaged by the brambles and branches. She was wearing little white ballet slipper shoes. I did not think she was very appropriately dressed for going off into rural places to take water samples. Most people who have wells do not live in the middle of towns. People in the middle of towns do not have wells, but they usually have nice tarred roads and clear access. I gently suggested all of this to her but she was not very interested. We had a bacteriological sample taken but decided to forego the chemical sample this year. The cost of the chemical test has gone from 35 euro to 100 euro. This is a shocking jump in price. Have they not heard of Border Shopping?
4 August Tuesday
At about 10.30 last night there was a huge racket outside. Cows were moaning, and mooing, and the tearing and chomping of grass seemed louder than ever. We ignored it for a while, but then I looked out the window and saw the yard full of cows. They had broken out of the field into the garden. I am not sure if it was a break out or a break in. All the cows who were left out in the big field were racing about and charging the fence and making a lot of noise, while the ones in here were just eating like mad things. We rang Joe and then we both went out with sticks and torches to try to keep the cows who were here under control. Two of them raced off down the meadow. We could not figure out exactly where they had broken through, so we just tried to contain the group. It was very dark and moonless. We were lucky that they were black and white cows because the white parts made them easier to keep track of. I think there were about seven of them up here. They were delighted to be eating bamboo, and tansy, and the cherry tree. Michael arrived down the boreen in his truck and eventually Joe appeared across the fields with his tractor. I am always amazed at how many lights there can be on a tractor. It was very exciting. He used the tractor to start to round up all of the bellowing crowd on the field side of the fence. There was a really hysterical feeling out there and the cows started jumping and racing and running in many different directions. Joe’s daughter and I went up the boreen and stayed near the gate there which Michael had opened. As he drove the escaped cows up towards us, our job was to send them back into the field. Simon ran down into the meadow and chased the two who were down there up and all around the house and eventually up the track with the others. It was all very relaxed and very chaotic at the same time. I loved it and I could hardly go to sleep later because I kept thinking about all of it. This morning, the grass looks like it has huge polka dots all over it. The heavy hoofs have made a real mess of the very wet lawn, and lots of things are very chewed over and ravaged, but nothing is destoyed. I expected everything to look much worse in the morning.
3 August Monday
This has been an especially bleak day. We appear to be living in twilight perpetually. In perpetual twilight? The few moments of sunlight are not enough to replace the gloom. One good thing was that I found and picked the first blackberries of the year today. It was just a small handful but the taste was wonderful. Blackberries do not seem to care if they get much sun. The plants are so tough that they just grow and grow and produce without giving a !@#$%^&* about anything like weather. From now on I will have to take small bags or cups with me whenever I go out.
I am not sure if it is just the weather but the service for our mobile phones is worse than ever. We are quite used to not being able to speak or to receive calls here, but usually texts can come and go freely. I tried to send a text today and since it would not go, I kept wandering around, first in the house and then outside. Eventually I found myself standing up on the stile at the edge of the field waving my phone back and forth in the air above my head, in the rain. The text did go.
2 August Sunday
Em is walking at least twenty minutes each day. Somedays she looks like she could do more and somedays she looks exhausted by what she has done. I often go for a second walk after taking her out as twenty minutes is not enough for me. She has dropped another few grams and is now weighing in at 18.3. Today we walked on the track past an entire field of reclining cows. They saw us and suddenly they were all jumping up and running over to the fence. To a cow, they all started mooing or braying and jostling to get a good look at us. There were about 50 of them and I worried that one might get trampled in the mayhem. Joe has told me that occasionally they do kill one of their own in their excitement about something. He implied that it was usually about food. Today was about Em, and she avoided it all by skirting way away from the fence and going deep into the field on the other side of the track.
1 August Saturday
There are pink rose petals in the bathtub. There is no water in the tub, just a small scattering of tiny petals. The old ceramic ink pot on the narrow shelf has a few Albertine roses and a cutting of honeysuckle in it. I put the flowers there so that they would reflect in the mirror. Now the petals in the tub have made another kind of reflection.
31 July Friday
Wednesday afternoon and evening and all day Thursday passed without any rain. It was still grey and overcast but it did not rain. By early afternoon on Thursday, the sound of tractors, combines and all of the machinery for bringing in the hay and winter wheat were going. The sound of machines came from all directions and it continued into the night. At midnight we could still see lights from tractors working on the hills way across the valley. Now there are golden fields cut short with huge round bales of hay sitting out and waiting to be collected. The farmers who got their hay cut and baled yesterday must be feeling happy and maybe a bit smug, but probably more relieved than any thing else, as today the rain has been falling all day long without a break.
I’ve never known exactly what the Pioneers were. I knew that they wore little lapel pins and that they did not drink any alcohol. That is all I knew. Now I know that they are an organisation affiliated with the Catholic Church. When young people are about to make their confirmation and communion, they are asked to sign a pledge saying that they will not drink any alcohol until they are 18 or 21. (I think it used to be one age and now it is the other). After that age they have the choice to re-make the pledge, which some people do, and some people do not. There are regular meetings of Pioneers, but they do not appear to be out and about seeking converts all the time. That is what I thought they did. They are just a church club of like-minded people. I assumed that they would never ever set foot in a bar. Apparently they sometimes join together to make up a team and to participate in pub quizzes. After 25 years of abstinance, a special pin is awarded.
30 July Thursday
I keep telling myself that I need to make a bigger effort to work and think with metric measurement. I am so conditioned to think with inches, feet and miles. Although many things here are metric, nothing is consistant. For many years, all of the major road signs gave distances in kilometers, but the speed limits were still in miles per hour. Now the miles per hour are changed to kilometers per hour but the car’s odometer still records our speed in miles per hour. And not all signs have been changed. On back roads, it is common to come across an old cast metal sign that will still give the distance to a destination in miles. The sign would not mention miles. For someone from somewhere else, there might be the assumption that this sign was stating kilometers. They would be wrong. At the butcher shop or the green grocers’ we can order our food in either pounds and ounces, or in kilos and grams. It would be easier for me if we just had one method. If I had to desert my old ways and only use metric measurement, I would get better at it more quickly. I would have to throw away all of the rulers that are in inches, and I would buy a measuring tape that was only metric and does not offer an option. I always revert to inches when I have a chance.
29 July Wednesday
Em and I took a short stroll through wet fields.. There is watery sunshine, but it is not the kind of sunshine that cheers me up. The lower parts of the fields were so wet that we simply could not walk down there. This weather is annoying. We are all tired of talking about it. We are tired of listening to the promises for more. We are tired of complaining and we are tired of listening to other people complaining. I, for one, am very tired of the word DESPERATE. Another word used in conjunction with the rain is PERSISTANT.. When the weather report says that “There will be scattered showers in the morning, clearing and giving way to persistant rain”, it doesn’t mean clearing in any sense that the rain will be clearing. It means that there will no longer be any clear bits, there will just be the persistant rain.
In spite of all the dampness, it is warm and many vegetables are coming along well. We have been eating potatoes in a wide variety of forms. Rostii, potato and garlic soup, gnocchi, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and probably some more modes that I am forgetting. The courgettes have been small and few, but very delicious. The cavolo nero is fantastic and the beautiful bushy coriander plant is the bestever. The salads are doing well although I need to get some more plants started. The various red leaf lettuces are usually quite unattractive to slugs but this year there is such a boost in the slug population that they are everywhere. Washing leaves before lunch is a job for which I now need my reading glasses. When we walk down through the meadow in the evening, the mown paths are teeming with long slugs, some black, some brown, all horrible and prehistoric looking. It is impossible not to step on them. There are more than you can count, if indeed you wanted to count them. Somehow, and luckily so, these are not the ones in the vegetable garden. Or not that I have seen. Sadly, I am coming to the conclusion that it is not really a good idea to grow vegetables in Ireland without a polytunnel. It might be fine if the proposed harvest is just to be potatoes and cabbage. I am not very fond of polytunnels, but maybe I can learn to love one.
28 July Tuesday
We have been on a big search for a typewriter. Once we decided to use carbon paper for a project, we had to have a typewriter. Computers can do most things that typewriters can do, but they are not made for carbon paper. Our own old Olympia was down in the book barn with a hopelessly jammed carriage. We have a few people out on the hunt for us now. Who would have thought it would be so hard to locate a typewriter.
27 July Monday
I went to the dental hygenist this morning. The hygenist’s room is very small. At some point someone cut a rectangular hole into the door. It looked like it was waiting to have a small window fitted. It has been like this for many years. Now, I think the idea is that the hole is just there for the air. There is a large wall clock leaning against the wall on top of the radiator. When I lie back in the chair I can tell the time by looking down between my feet. I always assumed that the clock was leaning there just waiting for someone to hang it on the wall. This has also been like this for many years. Today I noticed that the room has been freshly painted and the clock, which must have been removed for the painting, is back in its place on the radiator.
26 July Sunday
If half of the cows in a field are lying down and half of the cows are standing up, we know that it will rain. If all of the cows are lying down, we know that it will rain. Probably if none of the cows are lying down, it will rain anyway. We expect nothing less at this point. This has been announced as the wettest July since records began. Em and I went through some really wet and muddy places in the lower fields today. At one point I was in water to the top of my rubber boots. Em even swam at bit. We have been extending the Perimeter Walk a little bit each day. In doing so, we found two old and gnarled hawthorn trees where there is a little path that circles around and behind each tree. When we get to these trees we both take the little turn-off route behind the tree. For a minute, or a few seconds, we are invisible from the field. It is hard to figure out how these little ways were made. Do Joe’s cows walk around there the way that we do, and by repetition make these paths?. How can they go through here and not break their legs on the roots or the rocks? Do they like the feeling of being invisible the way that we do?
25 July Saturday
I painted the new little fence a very soft green which makes it rest very quietly against the long grass. As I was finishing the second coat, and expecting a downpour at any minute, the men from the broadband company arrived to check up on our very erratic signal. It has been in and out all week, and making us a little bit crazy. We thought one man would arrive on Friday but when he did not we thought we would have to wait till Monday. Instead, at 6 o’clock, three huge Landrovers arrived with great long ladders on two of the vehicles. There was one Irish man, and four Polish men (Foreign Nationals). One of the guys went into the house with Simon to check on the computer and to attempt re-setting the signal. Another one of them fetched a pair of binoculars which were eighteen inches long, the longest ones I have ever seen. He was trying to make sure that our Line of Sight was still working. We recieve our signal off Michael Hickey’s roof just over into County Waterford. These radio signals bounce all down the country from place to place. We still find it amazing that we can even get it here in this valley. The Irish man, who was huge and fat, walked around outside smoking cigarettes and the other two Polish guys came out of the house and started to ask me about finding mushrooms in the area. They said they try to stop in woods and forests on their way home every night to forage for mushrooms. They like to get at least enough for that nights’ supper. They cannot believe that the Irish seem to have no interest in finding mushrooms. They said this is a national family activity in Poland. I was pretty useless at directing them to a source. Later, I realized that they must have noticed the copy of La Cuisine des Champignons en 200 Recettes which was lying on the table in the big room. That is why they thought I might know where to look. They managed to get the Broadband sorted without using any ladders.
24 July Friday
I have spent parts of the last two days painting grey rain on blue card. I am making a postcard version of my windscreen wipers, but this time I am painting the rain with a brush instead of with spray. I got the colour right so that it is not clear which colour is painted on to which colour. It is a pleasing bit of illusion. The rain outside is lashing down off and on as I work. Whichever direction I painted my rain was okay. It is all realism with the wind blowing and thrashing it around.
23 July Thursday
The newest offer from the world of supermarkets is what is called Border Shopping. For several years now, people from the Republic have been driving over the border into Northern Ireland to do their shopping. Everything there is much cheaper. In the last year, with the English pound dropping and the Euro getting stronger, there were buses being hired to take loads of people up from Dublin to Belfast and Newry. Sometimes the buses were free. Everyone returned laden with bargains and savings. Many of the savings were at stores which have branches on both sides of the border. It became increasingly hard for them to justify these enormous price discrepencies, especially when some of them really like to market themselves as being Irish companies. The first sign of change was when some stores dropped their euro prices to the same level as pound prices for an area as far as 15 miles south of the Northern border. That prompted questions for the rest of the country. If the prices can be lower there then why not here? Now we have this treat called Border Shopping being offered. And here we are, nearly 200 miles south of the border. It does not excuse the rampant inflation of everything else down here but maybe it is a start. I fear it won’t last.
22 July Wednesday
Maisie’s house is gone. I walked up by there the other day and saw that the slate roof and all of the windows had been removed. I thought this meant that the house would be retained, and rebuilt. But the entire building is gone now and there are two large piles of rubble off to one side. The rubble was the house and now it is just rubble. Maisie Gleason lived there for a long time. I don’t know exactly how long but I think it was a very long time. She was the housekeeper for Tom Cooney’s aunt and uncle. When they died they left Tom all of the land and the house. He told Maisie that she could stay there for as long as she wanted and needed. When she died a few years ago, she was 93. By the time she died, she had an enormous number of cats living inside with her. I had the impression that she and the cats lived mostly in the kitchen but I never went inside to verify this. The smell was impossible. I usually spoke to her from outside the kitchen door or from outside the gate on the road. When she invited me in, I always made excuses about being in a hurry. The smell of cat pee, both old and new, was overwhelming, even from outdoors. I gag now just thinking about it. When I consider the permeating quality of these smells maybe it is better that the house was torn down. Still, I feel sad that another old building has disappeared and will most likely be replaced by something awful and ugly.
Thinking of Maisie reminds me of how consistently surprising and interesting it is to be surrounded by women with names like Maud and Maisie, Fidelma and Geraldine, Breda and Philomena. Some of these are the names of saints but some are just old-fashioned names. They are names which never stopped being in fashion here. I never thought I would know people with these names. Actually, I never thought of these names at all.
Many years ago we were at Cork airport about to go somewhere, and we realized that my ticket was incorrectly written. It was for a Breda Van Horn, and of course, the name did not match my passport We phoned the travel agent and asked for an explanation and hopefully for an immediate solution to the dilemma. Her immediate response was: But don’t you have a Breda in your house?
21 July Tuesday
Five days of the joyful Perimeter Walk, and suddenly Em has started to limp a little. Where has this come from? It must be cat chasing as the walk has been the same and gentle. No walk tomorrow. I shall give her a rest. We came up from the meadow in the evening and stopped to watch a crow climbing up the slates of the roof. It clawed its way up and then slid back down. This went on a for quite a few tries. Em got bored before I did and she went inside to have her night time biscuits. I could not figure out why the bird did not just fly up to the top of the roof, instead of this slipping slipping on the wet slates.
20 July Monday
The intermittant rain has become annoying. The sunny moments are beautiful, hot and drying, but the rain is winning and we are all sick of it. Desperate is the word. The Irish do not have 300 words for rain. They have DESPERATE and SOFT. There are probably a few more that I can’t think of right now, but those are the two most used around here. The farmers are very fed up and there is a lot of concern about getting enough hay and silage in to get their cows through the winter. There is less and less money each time an animal or a pint of milk is sold. Someone told me that a farmer has to sell of six pints of milk to get the price of one pint of Guinness.
19 July Sunday
Simon finished the two tables that he has been working on. The repaired big table on the grass now has strengthened legs and a new top of some wide and well seasoned boards which had been being saved for just the right thing. He built a whole new table for the patio. The patio is not really a patio by any one else’s standards. It is just a concrete platform that connects to the floor of the former milking shed. When we were removing walls in what is now The Big Room, there was a huge amount of rubble, three walls worth, to get rid of. It was big work to get it all out of the house.We had to decide whether to take it down the hill and bury it in a pit, or what to do with it. Finally, Simon and Tom Browne made a frame and put all the rubble into it and then poured cement into the frame so that we have a platform on the edge of the slope, with a fantastic view down the valley. It is a completely different place to sit than at the table on the grass. We haven’t used the patio for a while as it’s table was so old and weather-worn that it drooped in the middle and felt to be on the verge of collapse. The new tabletop is made up of some odd lengths of larch which were left over from the walls of The Big Room. Simon keeps telling me that it is very Japanese. I don’t think it is even vaguely Japanese but it is a good and strong table and I like how it gives the patio a new life. The two sections of wooden fence which were the mainstay of Em’s non-functioning holding pen are attached (how?) to the end of the downhill side of the patio, with a space between them to walk through. We will have to make a step as the drop off from the platform is a bit steep and before this opening became so inviting, no one would have ever gone that way. Now it is an invitation to a broken ankle or leg. At least we can sit at the new table and drink a coffee while we discuss how to best make one step or two steps.
18 July Saturday
After the Farmers’ Market, we stopped at the vet’s to buy a new sack of Low Fat Dog Food and to weigh Em. 18.5 kilos is the good news. 18.5 kilos and no limp. All the news is good news. Suddenly 17 kilos does not seem like an impossible goal. We walked another round of the Perimeter Walk. I think we will continue this for a week, and then extend the journey a bit. She is a bit tired even at the end of this very short route. By walking this way, so close to the edges of these fields I have located some fantastic places for blackberry picking. There are masses of flowers with the promise of a lot of berries in a month or so, and the access is easy and low to the ground compared to many of my usual locations.
17 July Friday
I took Em for a small walk this morning. It was her first walk since early December, not counting the Kerry walk. We went to the top corner of the High Field and then down the dirt track for a while and we circled back along the edges. This is the walk I call the Perimeter Walk as it is just that. It is a good walk for a late winter afternoon when it is almost dark but I just need a bit of a stretch. It seemed a good walk on soft terrain for a small dog who couldn’t believe her luck to actually be off for a real walk, somewhere out and beyond. She wanted to keep going and going, but we want to keep the progress slow and gentle. No limp visible!
15 July Wednesday
I met a woman out walking with her dog today. I did not recognize her and thought she might be new in the area. We spoke a little and I found that she is not new, but that she has just taken to walking in a bigger loop from her house. I knew her family and their fields and it was interesting to put her into context. She knew me by sight and knew our house. She said Ah, yes, you are the people who live in the house with words on it. I was interested that that is how our house is described. We have three of Simon’s poems letttered on the exterior walls. THE IVORY VEINS OF IVY is now obliterated by ivy, but still, we know it is there. The large (22 inches high) metal letters of Hotel Metropole go around the corner on the boreen side of the house. We saw these in a skip in Cork many years ago and thought they were too good to go to waste. When Jenna was about to open a shop, we tried to get her to create the shop name from some of these letters, but she wasn’t interested in the offer. She named her shop Atomic Age, instead. The shop didn’t last long and the letters are still here.
13 July Monday
The potatoes were good. I cannot say that they were the best potatoes that I have ever eaten, but they were good and not very floury. They had a fine taste and that unmistakeable freshness of just dug potaotes. I think we probably could have been eating them for several weeks now, but I just sort of forgot about checking up on them. Now I thinkI should probably dig them all up so that they don’t rot or get eaten by slugs and bugs. Storing them somewhere cool and dark is the question. I fear the mice might find them in the shed. I have to think this one through carefully. Once, years ago, we stored three big crates of apples in the book barn before it was finished. We were away when the mice found them. They ate every single one.
We are keeping a careful eye on the fig tree. The figs so far are really big, but there will be a moment in their ripening when we are in big competition with the birds to see who will get the most fruit. So far, we have never had particularly good ones for eating as they are always a little bit woody. This is Tipperary. I think it is astonishing that we can grow any figs at all here. So far they have always been fantastic for cooking. There is the promise of a lovely fig tart in the very near future.
12 July Sunday
All day long we have gone back and forth between bucketing, lashing, hard rain and glorious hot, hot sun. The wildness and intensity of each kind of weather reminds us yet again of our life on an island. Surprisingly, we managed to get quite a lot done outside, as the sun was so warming and the breezes were so thoroughly drying. Simon started work on converting the huge old outdoor table into a newer slightly less huge version of the table. I already love it. We trimmed the overhanging roses and blackberries and nettles that were lashing at cars as they drove down the boreen, causing the postman to complain. It was getting a bit dangerous as with an open window, you might have your face torn by a thorny intrusion. We wandered up one side and down the other as far as the farm, using just clippers and garden shears. It is about half a kilometer each way. We did it in three installments between showers. And this after Simon did a big job with the strimmer just a month ago. Later there will be the man and a big tractor hedge cutting machine job, but for now, this makes daily passage possible. I guess we will need to do the other bit, between the farm and the road too. Em has been busily chasing both the fox and a cat and she has been running and running with no sign of her limp. I dug up the first of my potatoes and filled a huge bucket. I know they are going to be floury and that I will probably be terribly disappointed when I finally eat them, but for now I am nearly exploding with pride and I keep detouring to the kitchen just to admire them in their soil covered state.
11 July Saturday
There has been torrential rain ever since the early afternoon. Flood Alerts are in effect all over the country. We took a sauna this evening and I walked out to it with an umbrella. My shoulders were hunched and I was cold in my dressing gown, and wishing that I was not outside. By the time I walked back from the heat, I did not feel anything but good and the rain felt refreshing and lovely.
9 July Thursday
The Polish, Latvians aand Lithuanians who have been living and working in Ireland for the past few years are always referred to in the news as Foreign Nationals. I am not sure about the reason for this. I do not think that a French or German or English person working here is called a Foreign National. In fact, all of these people are part of Europe. Maybe the fact that these newer Europeans are still more foreign-seeming is why they get a special form of description. There is a spot beside the river in Cahir where some of the Foreign Nationals regularly gather and drink beer. Sometimes I think they do some fishing there too. There used to be big piles of empty aluminum drink cans at the base of the wall. Now someone puts black bin liners on a home-made device by the wall and on a Saturday morning when we go to the market and walk along that river path, there are usually two bags already full and neatly tied at the top and two more bags fitted into the hanging devices. This may be the same for every morning. The term Foreign Nationals is just a way to clump them all together as most of us cannot tell the difference between a Polish person or a Latvian. There seem to be a number of Moldovians locally too.
29 June Monday
ALL THE OLD THINGS ARE GONE NOW AND THE PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT.
We have had this quote from Jonathan Williams up on the blackboard for more than a year now. I wrote it there at some time in the months after Jonathan died. We were both reading a lot of his work. We were going back and finding favourite bits and discovering new things. We would point out passages or poems to each other as if one person would not find that exact thing unless the other of us made a point of directing them to it. It was a way of feeling that conversation with Jonathan was still happening and that that conversation would continue. I think this was something that he wrote about his own father’s death. Already I have forgotten it’s context, but I look up often, re-read it, and I feel time passing.
28 June Sunday
The weather just continues to be wonderful. Dessie, at Mary Corbett’s old cottage (The Murder Cottage) has got all sorts of things growing on the dry stone wall in front of the house. First he had Grow Bags opened and distributed along the top. These are large bags of soil that are made to be split open and used for the growing of tomatoes or whatever. I gather they are planned to have just the right sort of a mixture of soil in them so that there is no need for a transplant to a pot or a bed. I don’t know if they have holes in the bottom for drainage or how the excess water gets out. I do not think they are designed to be on such display. They are just desigend to be useful in a particular kind of place. The bright printed plastic is very gaudy lined up along a stone wall, and really there is no need for flowers in them as all you can see is the bag. Anyway, he has had his very colourful flowers growing along the wall in these Grow Bags with a black plastic plant pot in between each bag. Just the other day he put long pieces of wood along the sides of each Grow Bag, I don’t know if this was to cover up the noisy looking plastic or if it was to keep the bags from toppling off the wall. The back fender of his car is still on the heap of rubble along with an old gate and lots of roots and rocks. The car without its bumper looks a little naked from behind.
26 June Friday
Em continues to move well. She is favouring the bad leg only a tiny bit and not too often. We see it early in the morning or when she has been a little too active, with a visiting dog or after pursuing the wild cats who come down the boreen to investigate things here. We are still barricading the sofa at night so that she can’t climb up onto it. I think that the half sleepy push to get up or down from there was an unnecessary strain on the healing ligament. A few more weeks of no walks and then we will slowly begin to give her more exercise. She was very nice today when I smashed my head coming out from under the lean-to too fast. I fell hard onto the ground, crying and clutching my head. After a few minutes of noisy sobbing, I was reduced to a quiet cry. I felt her warm body pressing against my side. She waited very gently for the ten minutes or so until I opened my eyes. She had placed her rubber hamburger just beside my face so that it would be the first thing I would see when I opened my eyes.
24 June Wednesday
The long bench outside of my workroom was a good idea. When we made it, we planned it for sitting and for admiring the view from a pleasing vantage point. The deep overhang of the eaves means the bench is protected from most rain. It spans the length of the front of the building between the two doors. It is five and a half metres long and a little bit higher than I would like. When I sit on it, my feet dangle off the ground. It ended up a bit high because when the blacksmith came with the metal brackets he had made, he had to put them into the stone wall in a place where the wall would take them. There was a bit of lumpiness down near the bottom so the bench got higher off the ground. The smooth wooden boards make a wide and comfortable surface, but in spite of the generosity of the width, the bench seems to be used for everything except sitting. Underneath it has become one of our firewood storage places. It is a good and protected spot for wood, and what is stored there now is dry and will be ready for next winter. I use the bench as a kind of table, an extension of my workroom. Right now, I have lined up a fine selection of the rusted objects I have found and collected, both here and from up above at Johnny Mackin’s old place. It looks as if I might be opening a little shop. We spent a lot of time as children making shops to sell groceries. We emptied my mothers cupboards of the cans and containers. We made labels for empty boxes and assorted packages to further fill our shelves. I do not remember ever getting to the point where we sold anything to anyone. The whole activity was about setting up the shop. My line-up of rusty things is for no purpose. It is just nice to see them together and to admire them as I walk past. Sometimes I bring things inside to make drawings of them. There are a few carved pieces of slate at the far end of the bench. Two of them are square shapes with letter carved permutations of the Ivy poem. The long tall one is Aerial Propaganda. These are works of Simon’s which he leaned up against the wall at some moment and they have been here ever since. The wall is very fine. It is a white wall made by mixing cement with a fine white sand. It is whiter than a white from paint and different from a white painted with lime. The wall is luminous. The bench is a bit high and the view is lovely, if and when I choose to sit down.
23 June Tuesday
I found a pigeon beside the road as I walked out this morning. I stopped to look at it to see if it was hurt and to ask why it was walking. I went up very close and it did not seem nervous or frightened or eager to get away. It just continued an unhurried little movement through the verge. As I looked more closely I saw that it had two little bands with numbers, one on each leg. One band was yellow and one was orange. I think these are the identification bands for Homing Pigeons. I don’t know if this bird was lost or just resting. She did not seem to be wounded in any way. I tried to think if I know anyone who is a Pigeon Fancier, so that I could ask what to do, but I don’t, so I continued my journey and I assume that she continued hers.
22 June Monday
Yesterday was the Summer Solstice. It was the longest day and it was a lovely day. It was still brightly light at 10.30 in the evening, and after that the light just dropped slowly slowly until it was night. This summer just seems to be progressing from one pleasant day to another. So much of the horrific heavy rain that has been threatened has not come and that which does come is often at night and just exactly what we need. The breezes in the daytime, which are cooling and comfortable, are drying out the soil a bit more than we might like. After all of my manic haste to get the Elderflowers gathered and made into the cordial syrup, I look around now at masses of beautiful blossoms in every direction. There was absolutely no need to rush. They are everywhere and they are beautiful. Alexanders have replaced the Cow Parsley in the hedgrows. In one way they are not so different from Cow Parsley but in fact, they are completely different. I love the delicate flowers and stems of the Cow Parsley. Alexanders are so sturdy and clunky in comparison. I understand the stems can be peeled, and cooked like asparagus and eaten, but we have yet to try this. It is an interesting fact but still does not make me any fonder of them. All of these umbel blossoms at the same time. They are so varied and all white. The wild honeysuckle in the hedgerows is rampant too. As I walk in the narrow confines of the boreen the heavy sweet smell makes me dizzy. Bringing even the smallest bunch of the honeysuckle into the house fills the room with perfume.
The Eternal Flame still burns. We really got this one wrong.
21 June Sunday
We use the simple wooden table outside the kitchen door as an extension of the kitchen. Simon used it to open oysters today. Often it is where something taken off the stove is put to cool. We eat on this table, but only for lunch and only when it is just the two of us. The other two outdoor tables are better places for eating outside and for being in the open and for having a view. We store things on this table. We pod peas while sitting on the bench there, and we sort salad leaves. The first kitchen door table was made out of a wooden pallet, but this one is built with pieced together planks of wood. It is strong and probably a little bit big for it’s location. We simply cannot live without it. I wonder often how other people manage without such an outdoor table. People who have bigger kitchens probably don’t need an outdoor table. I don’t think this is just about need. We really like doing kitchen jobs outside.
20 June Saturday
I have all of these things which I mean to ask people about at various times. I should carry my list around with me and look at it carefully and choose who to ask about what. I don’t know who I could ask about the blinds. Everywhere there are scalloped blinds in the windows of houses. Sometimes they are a repeat scalloped shape, and sometimes they are a scallop and a wave-like shape intermixed. They never seem to be just straight-edged blinds. They are almost always white, or light coloured. If the house is a bungalow, the blinds are pulled down to a height about one quarter of the way down the window. This height is repeated in every window all across the front of the house. Every blind is at exactly the same height and the line is even all across the house. If the house has two-stories, the blinds upstairs and downstairs will all be at the same level. Is this a discussed and long decided plan? Do people talk about it or do they just do it? Every house is sporting their decorative blinds at the same height. Every house has the same variations of decorative blinds. If someone has their blinds up and down at all higgledy piggedly heights, does it mean their world will think less of them? Do people really care this much to conform like this? Heaven knows how far down the order we must be since our house is without any blinds at all.
19 June Friday
The Eternal Flame is STILL going. This bottle of gas just refuses to run out. And as long as it continues, we can only continue to marvel and to comment on it each time it makes another pot of coffee or cooks another supper. We may need to take bets on how much longer it will last.
I have begun to take Em down the meadow again at night. Every since we were in Kerry where she had both a good walk and a little swim, her leg seems to be better. That was the first real walk she has had since December and I was fearful that she would be nearly crippled again the next day. She was a little bit limpy, but after one day she recovered and now she is like a new dog. We are still not taking her for every day walks. I think we will give this a few more weeks, but going down and through the meadow at night is a big and exciting step. Each time we go out, she goes only as far as the vegetable bed and then turns to look at me. When I nod or say yes, she takes off like a mad thing and barks and races down and around. She is so happy to have this ritual back in her life. So am I. I like to examine the various trees and the growing apples. I like to admire the wildflower meadow which is truly wonderful this year. There is a lot of sniffing around that she does. I guess I am just sniffing around too. Sometimes we both end up back at the top at the same time, and sometimes one of us has to wait for the other. We are back to our old habits exactly as if not a day had been missed.
18 June Thursday
I drove along the valley road from Clogheen back to Newcastle. At a house near to the turn off for the Vee, there was a sign saying FUNERAL IN PROGRESS GO SLOW. There were lots of cars parked on both sides of the narrow road near a house, but not another house nor a hearse nor a graveyard anywhere nearby. Perhaps this was the wake. I asked in Newcastle who had died out Goatenbridge way. Rose thought it might be a certain woman, but Seamus corrected her and said No, she can’t be dead because she’s dead already.
17 June Wednesday
I forgot to note that Em had her yearly haircut on 5 June. It is almost two weeks now since I took her to Debbie. The shock has worn off for us, but each time someone sees her who has not seen her for a while, we are reminded at how foolish and different she looks. Her ears seems very long and pointed and with her new svelte-ish shape, people often think we have a new dog. She is a lot cooler in the heat and seems to move differently.
I never get this business of CALL and RING right. When I say to someone that I will call later, I mean that I will telephone but they think that I mean that I will drop by or call in. They say, Oh, no need to call, just give us a ring.
16 June Tuesday
We took down the little fenced-in prison around Em’s house today. We have not even bothered to try to shut her in for many weeks now. The door has been dangling open and she has been wandering in and out of her house through the little pen, just ignoring it. It all looked so ugly and the grass inside was long and there was a huge wildflower that was becoming a shrub and blocking her entry and exit a bit. I can never remember the name of this one. It has long narrow leaves and becomes more and more of a shrub the more years that it grows in one spot. The flowers are purple and a little bit thistle like, but not prickly. They are soft and I really should remember the name. I will remember, but not now. The complete failure of a holding pen is gone. The grass is trimmed. The wildflower stays the same but now she just veers a little to the right as she leaves the door of her house in order to miss it. She does like being in her house at moments during the day, and spends a lot of time in there if it is raining. She takes a lot of things like yoghurt pots and rubber toys inside with her. Over the years I have put a lot of photographs of other people’s dogs in there on the right hand wall. On the left are photos of cats. It is more of an office than a house as she never sleeps there at night. It is just somewhere to go during the day.
15 June Monday
Last night I strained and bottled up the cordial. I ended up with nine bottles of half a litre each. The ninth bottle is not quite full. Simon printed my labels for me with the drawing of a single blossom which I use every year. This time we gave the label a greenish tint which is nice, but not so nice that I would do it again. Also I must remember to make the labels a little bigger next year. But these are fine and I cut them up and glued them onto the bottles. As always, I rubber stamped the date onto the labels, and noted that the stamp had not been used since my last years’ batch which was made on 20 June 2008. When we offered some cordial to someone recently, we had to explain that only a small amount is poured into the glass and then water, plain or sparkling, is added to taste. This man asked if I was planning to sell the cordial. I said no, it is just for us and for our friends. He was completely confused as to why in the world I would make such a carefully printed label if I was not planning to sell it. I was obviously talking to the wrong person, otherwise I might have been able to say that making the labels is just about my favourite part of the process. I do enjoy lining up the neatly labelled bottles and admiring my work and feeling the same feeling of wealth that a well stacked pile of wood gives me.
The Eternal Flame still burns.
13 June Saturday
At the end of the afternoon, I heard the weather and then checked the forecast for the week. We are promised ceaseless rain and wild winds. I feared for my cordial making and decided that I must rush out and pick the flowers immediately in the bright sunlight. I have always been told that picking the blooms in overcast conditions results in the cordial tasting like cat pee. I don’t know if this is true or not but this is not a risk that I want to take. As usual, the blossoms, which look to be everywhere, are very hard to reach. I was wearing rubber boots and shorts and most of the bushes were surrounded by great high growths of nettles. There was too much bare leg for so many nettles. It was not easy to get my sixty blooms but I finally did it by wandering out of the fields and a long way up the boreen and even out onto the road. Two batches have been made and are now soaking in a bowl for 24 hours.
12 June Friday
We boxed up my little edition of ten Rosemary plaques. The cardboard boxes were a little deeper than they should have been so after a long look around we found some spongy green rubber material which was just perfect as padding and filler. There were two different kinds of this matting kind of stuff and it took a while before we remembered what we had bought it for. We have a wooden chair which Roger Ackling made in 1982. The chair has long narrow slits cut into it, and originally it had some green rubbery material woven in and out of the openings on both the back and the seat. The material eventually cracked and these two kinds of rubber that we found were bought in the hopes of re-weaving and replacing the original, but the two versions bought were both too fat for the slots. So now we are reminded once again to try to repair the chair but meanwhile my enamel plaques have nice little beds of rubber. I sort of wish I would put a photograph of the plaque in here but I am not sure how to add photos into this journal. If I start to fill this up with photographs, I shall probably become lazier about describing things.
11 June Thursday
Back this evening from a few days in Kerry where the sun was shining. The threatened rain has still not arrived. We stopped in at Rose’s before arriving home. We bumped into Paddy there and listened to his anger about the changes in the world at large, and more specifically in his world. He spoke of going out with the dog in the early morning and not hearing any of the starting up sounds of machinery. This, to him, says the most about the lack of work in construction and the recession biting. The quarries are quiet. He said Daphne is most obsessed with the rubbish that is being dumped in the woods. People are trying to save money by any means possible so they are trashing the woods rather than paying bin charges or driving to the dump. Since they don’t walk there, they do not give a !@#$%^&*. She is very depressed by it all. Her beautiful and peaceful world is being violated. I am noticing how many men I see walking children to and from school or pushing prams, or in the grocery store with small children in tow. This has not been a weekday sight here until very recently.
8 June Monday
The landscape is suddenly full of the ripe blooms of elderflower. They look like huge gatherings of polka dots. The creamy yellowish white blossoms, while looking beautiful, threw me into a panic. I have not done a thing to get ready for the making of my Elderflower Cordial. I went into two different pharmacies in Cahir to buy Citric Acid. I needed to get enough for two batches so that meant 75 grams for each batch. I had 30 grams left from last year, so in fact I only needed 120 more. One shop had one container of 50 grams. I bought that and went down the street to another shop where they had several containers, this time 100 grams each. I have never been able to buy my supply from one place and every single pharmacy sells it in a different quantity. Sometimes it is in pots of 60, and sometimes 80 and this year 50 and 100. Now my big question is do I use the 30 grams left from last year or just go quickly and easily with the 100 + 50 and leave my 30 grams for another time? This is like a mathemetical exam question. After all these years in Britain and Ireland, I have still never bothered to learn to weigh things for baking or cooking. I revert to cups and tablespoons or I just wing things by eye.
The Eternal Flame is still burning. More than four weeks ago, we bought a new canister of gas for the kitchen stove as we thought it was almost empty and Simon did not want to run out while cooking dinner for visiting friends. It has gone on and on and on and still it has not run out. Every time we use it we remark on it yet again.
7 June Sunday
After yesterday’s torrential rain and the promise of more to come in the week, I thought I should get everything that was still in a small pot or planting tray out and into the garden. Some of the plants were really struggling to stay alive in the pots. The coming rain and cold might kill them but at least they will die out in the real world. I worked in a frenzy for a lot of the afternoon expecting to be rained on at any point. The rain never came and I got everything into the soil. The onions which were planted many weeks ago are doing really well, but for someone who has never grown onions before I now have a sizeable plantation. The little bulbs were sent by a friend in France and I felt I had to plant every single one of them, since she had taken the trouble to post them. I must look up some things about onions. I don’t know how you know when they are ready since everything is happening underground. And the dreaded floury potatoes are doing well. There is a lot of salad, probably too much with all I put in today, but no doubt the slugs will get a bit of that. I put little plastic collars around each little plant to protect it for the start. These same little collars, cut from plastic water bottles come out every year. Since we almost never buy water or drinks in plastic bottles, it took me ages to build up such a collection and at the end of each planting year I put them all away and then get them out again in the spring.
6 June Saturday
All this rain! It is a shock. We have had ten days of hot, dry and sultry weather. It has been the kind of weather that almost immediately feels like normal. It feels like it will always be like that. It has been hard to do much, especially out doors. Having this wretched cold gave me further cause to just stop. I couldn’t do anything anyway. Now the rain has arrived and suddenly that too feels normal. This too feels like it will always be like this.
1 June Monday
We sat out in the still warm evening sun with three friends last night. We moved chairs every once and a while as bits of shade fell upon us. We ate walnuts and then oysters. We drank beer or wine or elderflower cordial, according to taste. We discussed the very rectangular and handsome woodpile which we used on this years’ New Year’s card. It was right near us in the garden and it had a really large convex bulge in it. We could not help but notice and comment on it. Simon reassured us that it was stable and that it was three logs deep and not going anywhere, or at least not till the winter when the wood might be dry enough and ready to use. In spite of this reassurance, no one wanted to sit very close to it. We woke up this morning to find logs all over the grass. The pile had collapsed (or exploded) in the night. It is much too hot to re-stack it.
8 May Friday
We are waking at 5 am everyday with a cacaophony of birdsong. It is an extraordinary amount of noise and a high contrast from the tearing of grass which is the cow sound. That is really quiet in comparision to this bird chatter. I should be calling it the dawn chorus but it is too raucous for a chorus.
Right after breakfast, we had a swift in the kitchen flapping against the window and desperate to get out. It was quite a feat to get her out from behind the parsley plant and the water glasses full of lovage and dill, but we did it. Em was so excited by it all.
Lots of bird action in every direction. I found a circle of woven hair and moss and sticks on the ground outside my room. This little mat was seven inches in diameter. It was mostly Em’s hair, very beautifully formed together to make this part of a nest. The birds must have found the hair in the compost heap as that’s where the big clumps go after a brushing. I put it back up onto the grass roof in the hopes that it will be re-found and re-incorporated into a home.
6 May Wednesday
Election posters have begun to appear all around the countryside. Distances are long and some people travel far but others stay right near their homes. It is a big job for the politicians and hopefuls to get their name and face out and about. Most of the posters appear on trees and telephone poles. Sometimes they are stuck in the ground on a stick. My preferred solution to this is the little tent-like structure on a tiny trailer. The trailer is left beside a road somewhere and the two sides of the tent have a poster on each side so that they can be read from opposite directions. After a few days someone collects the little trailer and drives it to another spot for more exposure. I think the element of surprise works with this mode of advertising because just when you get used to the trailer and its candidate being there, it is gone. You might see it somewhere else, but you might not.
5 May Tuesday
A man on the radio was talking about the economic situation and he said, It’s another example of the old saying about Playing Handball against a Haystack.
4 May Monday
The wild winds and bright sky of today have been fantastic. Once again we are reminded that we live on an island, even us here in our valley surrounded by mountains. Its a different kind of wind than usual. I am sure the direction would explain it but to me it is just everywhere and there is excitement in the air because of it.
The cow parsley is back and starting to bloom. I am happy to have this white froth along the roads and paths again.
3 May Sunday
In this unofficial competition to grow two kinds of potatoes, neither of which I want to grow because they are both floury and I hate floury, I have to report that the British Queens are doing really well. The Great Scotts are not even visible yet. I don’t want either of them, but still, I can’t help but feel proud as they appear.
A long day of work in the garden. All day there was the threat of rain, so I just kept working, expecting to be interrupted at any moment. Since the rain never came, I never got to stop so I am really exhausted now. I am deeply deeply tired. There has been so much rain and everything is so sodden, that each day of dry sunshine feels like a week. Even an hour here and there feels good. The nights are still cold. I have lots of little plants in trays and I still do not dare to leave them outside over night. I cannot list all of what I did today. The garden just continues to finds work for me even as I set out to do completely other things. It would be good to get the rest of that manure spread on things in the next few days. I transplanted some more of the wild primroses from up the boreen. They are doing well along the edges of walls and in hidden places. One of my major activity seems to have become to provide sanctuary for wild things. I am moving them around and letting them proliferate and take over. An aspiration towards disheveled nature. The wild garlic is really thriving. I moved that in last year and have added some more just now. It would be fine to have the whole meadow full of it. The smell is fantastic, especially when stepped on. The taste is green, fresh and sharp. The wild teazels are rampant after a few years now. They move themselves about with complete freedom and with great authority. I can see where they have positioned themselves for this year. Simon is making a soup of green peas and nettles and lovage for supper. What could be nicer?
2 May Saturday
I received a message from the Warden at the US Embassy in Dublin today. There are various bits of warning and advice about Swine Flu. Does every embassy send out this kind of information to their citizens abroad? I do not like being on their mailing list. It feels like an invasion into this quiet vallley. Often I get warnings about places that I should not travel to, even when I had no plans to travel.
30 April Thursday
I was in Cork today for a few appointments. I try never to visit the town without stopping in to buy two rolls of SilverMints from the tiny shop on the corner. The old man who runs it is even now the same degree of ancient as he was when I first visited. It is a small, dark and narrow room with candy, cigarettes and not a whole lot else available for sale. There is often another elderly man inside with him when I stop in. One of them behind the counter and one on the customer side. They pretty much fill up the place. I usually feel that I am interrupting a conversation when I enter, but I also feel that they do not mind the interruption. It is gloomy because of lack of light but it is a pleasant place. The street outside is changing all the time, with new shops and building projects and scaffolding as close as right next door. I do not know how this shop has survived and not been squeezed out. It feels nearly invisible with all of the rushing and movement outside its door. I worry that no one goes in. My small very occasional purchases will not keep the shop afloat.
23 April Thursday
Em is limping less. We weighed her again. 19.1. Still a long way from 17 kilos. She still behaves as though we are starving her. The enameled pot on the floor beside the Rayburn is where we brush the crumbs from the toast which we make on the hot plate. When she is feeling very starving and hard done by, and wants to let me know, she goes to the crumb jar and snuffles around in it for a long time. She snuffles for much longer than there are ever crumbs in the pot.
MEDICAL HALL is a name for the pharmacy. I always feel that it sounds very grand. I am not sure if there used to be a doctor on hand at a Medical Hall, or if it was just a name to imply the serious nature of its interior and contents. Were all pharmacies called Medical Halls? Another thing to ask someone about.
22 April Wednesday
I was on my way to the hospital in Kilkenny and I was late and I did not know where the hospital was. I stopped at a petrol station and asked the girl at the counter for directions. She had no idea where it was. A postman came in so I asked him for directions. He gave me a direct and simple route to get there. Even I could not get lost and I got there on time for my appointment. As I was leaving through the main entrance about two hours later, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said hey, hello! It was the postman. He was delighted that I had gotten there okay and just wanted to tell me that.
21 April Tuesday
I managed to walk past Dessie’s without any dog action. I noticed that the pile of rock and soil and rubble which was pushed aside for his parking place is now topped with the back bumper of his car. He had it tied on with string for quite a long time. I am not sure if he just backed into the pile and the bumper fell off or if the string gave out and he threw it there just as a place for it to be.
20 April Monday
The coracle painted on the rock at the end of the boreen has been worn away by the ricochet of pebbles shot from the road.
19 April Sunday
We went to the Farmers’ Market in Cahir yesterday. It has been a while since we got there as we have been attending the Clonmel Market instead. Jim and Keith wanted us to explain how it was there and to find out what the competition was like. We tried to explain some things, but did not tell them that the organic vegetables are much more plentiful and better in Clonmel. That would make them sad, as they are the vegetable men in Cahir. We do love the friendliness of this market. The small physical space and the open attitudes of all the people make it a very welcoming place.
There is an elderly man who only started there last year. He usually has a few boxes of eggs and some potted plants. I asked if he would like me to save some egg boxes for him, otherwise I would just be putting them onto the compost heap. He said yes, I would be happy to have more boxes if you think to bring them, but both are nice things to do with an egg box. I used to take empty jam jars to Mary, the cake and jam lady. After a while she would pick through whatever I had brought and reject any that were not her exact kind of jar. Some days I was leaving with as many jars as I came with so I have stopped taking jars to her. She doesn’t seem to mind. She probably has a shed full of jars by now anyway. When we buy a jar of jam from her, the jar is carefully placed in an empty sugar bag. This same Mary is a huge fan of Grieg. She has made several trips to Norway. The trips are pilgrimmages. She goes to sit on Grieg’s bench and to hear Grieg’s piano being played. She knows every piece of music he has written and her eyes light up when she speaks of him.
17 April Friday
Em has been very stinky lately. She rolled in some manure out in the field. I gave her a wash and cut off some of the clumpy and horrible bits of matted excrement and hair. It all seemed better but there was still a whiff of something sort of dead about her. It was an occasional smell, only coming in whiffs here and there, so we thought it was most likely going to disappear soon. This morning I looked into her house and saw a dead crow in the corner. The crow must have zoomed in and knocked himself out as he hit the back wall. I can’t imagine that killing him, but I can’t imagine Em killing him either. She is only interested in birds like starlings and swallows which swoop and dive. She races on the ground and barks at them, but she has no interest in catching them. Maybe the crow was just killed by her smothering him. She has obviously mashed him into the corner like a cushion over the recent weeks. We found a dead bird in her house some years ago, but it was older and less smelly than this one. Simon scraped this one out and threw it into the ditch.
Another death: This one in the sauna and this one also a repeat. There was a dead mouse in the bucket of water the other night. Lucky for us, Simon noticed it just as he was about to throw a ladle full of both water and dead mouse onto the hot stones. The stench would have ruined the relaxation of the sauna. The last time we had a dead mouse in there was before we had a little grate over the floor drain. I don’t know how this one got in.
16 April Thursday
GOING TO THE ROOMS is what someone would say about going to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It sounds to me like an expression from the past but I am not sure that AA existed in the past here, or in how recent a past. I must ask about this. I should also get some information about the Pioneers. They are people who have taken a pledge to never drink. Often people take the pledge very young and never ever drink. I assume it is a bit mixed up with the church. Pioneers often wear a little lapel button, so you know who they are. I don’t know if there are meetings and such.
15 April Wednesday
A completely grey and drizzly day. The hills in the distance have disappeared. This feels like a day which will never clear so I will try not to let it get on top of me. I will just live with it. Or underneath it. We woke up in the very early morning to the sound of Joe’s cows chomping on grass in the field. It is a very nice sound in the dark. I did not want to let Em get into her aggressive protection mode with the cows. Rushing at them and prowling around what she considers to be her perimeters would be more strain for her leg. After breakfast, we put her into her enclosure and she accepted without too much attitude. She immediately disappeared into her house for her first nap of the day. I was delighted with the ease of it all. I looked out the window every once and a while, and stayed satisfied that she was resigned to her captivity. After an hour, I looked out just in time to see her escaping , not too easily, but more easily than I would like. She is in the house now, and the cows are clustered around the fence, excited by her pre-escape barking. Jostling right in the front is the very old cow which I followed up the track the other day. Her udder was full and drooping low, and her back was boney and she looked as though she might topple over at any moment. I spoke to Joe about her when we reached the farm. He said she is one of his oldest cows right now. She is about 11 years old. I should have asked how old a cow can get and still be a useful milker. Just the walk up and down from the fields to the milking shed twice a day must get too much eventually. But seeing this old girl jostling with the frisky young ones at the fence makes me realize she is tougher than I thought.
Simon went into town in the morning, and I thought I might go with him and do some errands while he went to the dentist and then we might go out to lunch. The more we thought about it the less it seemed like a good idea. The lunch options are bleak, and even the bleak choices cost more than they should. With the exception of the falafal shop in Irishtown, we almost always feel disappointed. Recently, we went to a small cafe with a bakery and a sort of cafeteria line to go along. Halfway down the line there was a huge tray full of dozens and dozens of slices of freshly baked soda bread, each one buttered. It did not seem to matter whether someone was buying a cup of tea or a sandwich or a full hot lunch, when the person got to the cash register, the woman there asked if he or she had got their piece of bread. A slice of buttered bread came with everything.
14 April Tuesday
Dessie’s dogs are all over the road these days. Dessie lives in the Mary Corbett’s old house, better known as the Murder Cottage. He has changed the place enormously in the year or so since he has been there. Mary would barely recognize it. After trying for months to sqeeze his car right up close to the stone wall to keep it off the very narrow road and doing various things like even clearing off all of the ivy to make the most of every teeny bit of space, he gave up. He had a friend knock down some of the stone wall and made himself a muddy parking spot. Then he cleared and made a vegetable patch, which has been covered in manure all winter. For a long time, he kept asking me if I was Canadian, but we seem to have finally got that settled. Often his little dog Titch comes racing out, barking like mad. It leaps out in front of cars and seems to have a death wish. I have rescued it several times. Dessie told me to just kick it. I said No, I don’t kick dogs. He said its okay, its okay, I do it all the time. Just kick it. It’s the only thing it understands. I said I would not be kicking the dog, now or ever. I said that there are other ways to train a dog. Now the other little dog which we all thought was a Pit Bull is growing up and growing taller and stronger. This is the dog which Dessie gave to his mother and which she gave back to him because she was frightened to have such a dog. It turns out that it is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier not a Pit Bull. Oscar, a very friendly Labrador from down the way, has been driven off by this dog. I spoke to Dessie about how agressively the Staffordshire is guarding the whole length of the road. I also asked if he had heard about Michael Kennedy getting attacked. He had heard, of course, and said maybe he should get a muzzle, because he did not want anyone to be afraid of the dog. He asked if I was afraid and I said yes, it is going that way as the dog gets bigger and bigger. He built a kind of pen for the two dogs with wooden pallettes. He said the Staff is never out and loose when he is not at home. Twice in this last week, the dog has been out policing the road while Titch the noisy but harmless little one is safely locked up. Dessie is not at home, and there is no muzzle in sight. I do not like where this is going.
11 April Saturday
Beautiful sunny day. Simon was printing away in the little shed on his pages for ONGLET. He called me to take pages and to interleave them. He was printing images and was worried that the pages might offset onto each other. The first one was a fine (slightly larger than life-sized?) image of his mother’s thimble. I was very happy to look at it 140 times as he passed each page to me. I had to hover around while he prepared the next image. I looked around to find a little job that would not make my hands dirty. I decided to sweep up some of the moss which had grown onto the cement. The ridged platform was once the floor of Willie English’s milking shed. Much of my sweeping was more like scrubbing to loosen the moss. Simon had trouble getting his next printing positioned, so I got a lot done. The second printing was of a clove (clou de girofle). It was a half-tone of a clove, and again, very pleasant to look at again and again. When he had more positioning problems, I read and re-read the text on the strip of wood along the ceiling edge of the shed. It is a home-made copy of Robert Barry’s ‘Marcuse Piece’ which reads: “A place to which we can come and for a while be free to think of what we are going to do.” This long white strip of wood was up high in the front room of workfortheeyetodo in Hanbury Street and then it came along to Tipperary with us. The vinyl letters are curling and some seem ready to fall off, but it is continues to be a good thing to re-find and to re-read.
10 April Good Friday 2009
As lovely a day as yesterday was foul. The countryside has that deep silence about it. Many things are closed as usual: Bars, restaurants, banks, schools, factories. Farms, of course, keep at the work of farming and supermarkets seem to be open. I saw a sign: THERE WILL BE BAG-PACKING IN SUPER VALU ON GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER SUNDAY IN AID OF SOUTH TIPP HOSPICE. Bag-packing is a way for various organizations to earn money for their cause or their project. At the pay out counter there will be someone there wearing a Tee shirt or a hat which advertises their good cause. We hand over our shopping bags to them and they pack up our purchased items for us. Then we are obliged to put money into their collection can. We, the customers, are a captive audience and I should think such collections are very successful as we can’t really say no to their packing our groceries, and once they have done so it is difficult to not pay something in return.
9 April Thursday
Wild all day rain today. It started last night with winds and noise. It has not stopped since. Sometimes it is like a billowing cloud of rain, moving to the left and then moving to the right. It’s a very fast, tumbling kind of cloud. The rest of the time, it is just sheeting down in hard diagonal lines. Simon wanted to continue printing this morning but there is a leak in the shed just above where he stands to print. We tried to figure out a way to deflect the rain, with a hat, with tape or even with an umbrella, but really it is just too miserable to be in a dripping shed working with paper. His self imposed schedule for this book is to print two pages a day. He will just have to print four pages tomorrow.
Yesterday was a glorious summer day. It is already hard to remember it. We ate a long, simple lunch outside. I had to wear my sunglasses because the light was so bright on my white plate. We just wanted to linger and linger over coffee, and it was difficult to make ourselves go back to work. Had we realized what today had in store for us, we would have stayed outside all day.
7 April Tuesday
Every rural place has bathtubs in fields. It is a way to get rid of old tubs and it is useful for drinking water for the cows. I like a bathtub in the landscape.
5 April Sunday
The big surprise this morning was to see Em trying to get INTO her pen. She wanted to get at the remnants of yesterday’s bone. I let her in and closed it up and put the bricks around the bottom on the escapeable side and she settled right in to work on the leftover bone. After a while I looked out and she was sleeping. Minutes later she was scrabbling at the bottom edges, and at the previously loose side. I thought I had her securely entrapped at last so I ignored it all for a while and then looked out to see one leg and her head out and herself completely stuck in an uncomfortable and immoveable position. On release, I brought her into the house again and she has gone right to sleep. That is as good as the cage I guess.
4 April Saturday
The boreen is lined with hundreds of primroses. They have really multiplied this year. There are none on the bit of track between the main road and the farm, and they only start well past the farm on the way down. That says plenty about the poisons and weed killers being used up there.
3 April Friday
I took Simon to the bus in Cahir and stopped at the butcher shop to get a bone for Em. At one o’clock, when she usually has a small lunch snack, I put the bone into her new cage. She looked at me in disbelief, but I outstared her and eventually she entered the cage and began examining her bone. It was quite a big one, so she was busy with it for an hour or more. I looked out the window often. I congratulated myself on being so clever. She would accept her confinement if it came with the promise of such tasty treats. I could not provide such fattening incentive everyday, but perhaps the mere possibility of a delicacy would convince her to stay put. Some time later, I looked out and saw her wandering across the yard sniffing at bushes. Another escape. This is a very badly made cage.
2 April Thursday
Another trip to the village with the big detour around to Ardfinnan . What is usually a quick jaunt has now become a very long trip. Because the weather is so fine, our world is overrun with tractors all out and about. They travel slowly, turning in and out of gates and often with big machinery attached. Some of the things are so big that it would not be possible to pass them even if the wiggly road allowed for it. There is no place for two of anything with them on the road. They are as big as the road. The slow journey was even slower as a result. They are promising to finish the construction work under the road on the village side of the the bridge by tomorrow evening. The structure of the underneath bit was eroded by water after just too many floodings. Apparently complete collapse was imminent. I needed to get to the shop to pick up a package left by Fed Ex, and I needed to buy chicken wire and some of the stakes that the farmers use for fencing. Simon did not want to do it, but I insisted that we make a small narrow caged area for Em outside her house. We had a few lengths of wooden fencing from our first plan to confine her. The vet originally said she needed an area no bigger than 1 meter 80, so that was what we hoped to provide. Her leg is much worse after the visit from our Japanese friends. She was in high spirits when they came and went right into her most hysterical hosting mode. They threw the rubber sandwich and she fetched and frolicked and had a grand time. They shouted and complimented her in Japanese and she was delighted with all of the attention. They loved it and she loved it and now she is limping like mad again. We just must fence her in if she is ever ever going to get better. We built the pen and we put her in it and she looked disgusted to be there. I worked on some weeding and small jobs nearby. I talked to her the whole time and said nice gentle cooing kinds of things to make her feel good about it all. She made no efforts to escape. After a while I went into the house to get something and within minutes she was in the house right beside me. She had just been humouring me by staying in the pen. Apparently escape was easy. Simon was delighted and very proud of her. I will have to work harder on this prison.
25 March Wednesday
Michael Kennedy is a farmer. He lives right in the middle of the village and he does his farming just outside the village. He was walking his small dog at 9 am recently and a huge Staffordshire Bull Terrier came rushing out from somewhere and tried to attack his dog. Michael is a tall man, and he is strong. He picked up his dog and he held it up over his head with both arms. He kicked the Bull Terrier again and again to try to get it to stop lunging up at his dog. The dog bit his forearm and would not let go. Finally he got his own dog’s lead wrapped around the neck of the attacking dog. He squeezed and squeezed until he killed the dog. Not many people would be strong enough to do that. Nor would they have the presence of mind to do it. He is wearing a big bandage on his arm. He was wearing his rubber boots when he kicked the dog and he said his foot has been hurting all week. It was like kicking a wall, he said.
24 March Tuesday
There are some nice things about living in a cold house. It is sometimes hard to remember them when it is really really cold. The room with the fire in the woodstove is wonderful to enter from the bigger cold room. The warmth is as welcoming as a hug. And I always leave a glass of water on the dining table before bed. If I walk by in the night after going to the loo, the water in the glass is absolutely perfect. Cold and refreshing.
19 March Thursday
We took Em in to be weighed this morning. 19.2 is better than the 19.7 which was her last weight, but I would like her to be dropping a little bit more a little bit faster. 17 kilos seems a very long way to go. She acts like I am starving her each time I present her with her supper. She is still limping off and on. There have been too many rushes out across the fields. The vet said it could take up to 6 months for complete healing, but he was talking back when her limp was barely noticeable. Now she is often regressing back to her three legged hop. Today the world outside still stinks so strongly of slurry that I have kept the door closed and therefore it was easy to keep her quietly indoors. Good for the dog but otherwise terrible to keep the door closed and the windows closed as it is another bright blue skied and sunny day. There is a cool breeze but the sun is warm. Unfortunately sitting or working outside is not an option.
18 March Wednesday
Slurry spreading in Joe’s fields has rendered the out of doors unbearable. The stench is awful. It is not the throat-burning kind of slurry smell. This is just your basic gagging smell with a headache that hovers in the brain. We started the day with the kitchen door wide open, and windows all open. I hung a laundry on the line. It felt like summer. But now it is summer and we are trapped inside, looking out at the perfect day. Em was annoyed as she loves cruising in and out without waiting for the door to be opened for her. The laundry can just stay out there until the smell of the slurry gets blown off it.
17 March Tuesday Patrick’s Day
An amazing hot and sunny day. We spent the afternoon attacking blackberry bushes on the banking and making a big fire to burn them and to burn lots of other prunings off the apple trees and other trees and bushes. A lot has piled up in five or six places even though it seems like the winter and early spring work has been erratic and weather controlled. Simon spent a lot of time tending the fire. Once he makes a fire he becomes reluctant to continue with work. The fire becomes the main work. I slogged away at the blackberries for too long and my arms are all scratched and bloody. Working in a tee shirt at this time of year was a treat but a mistake. We had hoped to finish it all, but it is a huge job and it is not easy to work on the sloping banking. Today is a national holiday and the world was very very quiet from our valley. We went for a pint. The bar was very quiet too.
15 March Sunday
A fox in the upper field drove Em mad yesterday. She raced up and down and barked like crazy. Then she stopped barking and sat down. She watched the fox from the yard. The fox sat at the top edge of the field and watched her. They both sat quietly for about fifteen minutes and I think they forgot all about each other while they enjoyed the sunshine. After a while the fox just wandered off into the trees and Em limped back to her house. The leg was badly overused. It is not fair to leave her free out doors as we never know when the fox or the horses might come and encourage her to race about wildly. The ligament damage is not having time to heal. I must get tougher about it all.
12 March Thursday
We went to Pa Byrne’s funeral this morning. There was a large crowd. The farming community and all of the immediate neighbours were there as well as many others. People really turned out. I was very surprised to learn of his death as it seemed sudden to me. I saw him so often to wave to as he passsed in his tractor, or to chat at the fence or to call out over the ditch. I didn’t remember the last time I had seen him, and I did not even know he had been in hospital. People said he had been unwell for a while. His fields are full of new lambs. He and Peggy worked so well and happily together. They always seemed to me to be the very best of friends. The priest at the service said something about them being sublime dancers. I never saw them dancing, but I like to hold this image of the two of them. Watching them in a field catching sheep showed a lovely kind of companionship and an ease of working together. The day was beautiful and sunny and dry and the procession of people walking behind the hearse up and over the bridge to the new cemetery was very moving.
3 March Tuesday
While I was out walking today, I saw a dead fox on the tar road just below Teresa and Seamus’ house. It is a very young one.
2 March Monday
I received my free seeds and free seed potatoes today from the Irish Seed Savers Association. I have been a member for many years now, but I have never taken advantage of the offer for free seed each spring. I have had quite a few apple trees at the special member rates. I like getting the old Irish varieties. It feels important to keep planting and growing them. Every year I ask for a Mother of Household which is an old Tipperary apple, and every year I am too late. Every year they plan to graft some more and they promise me one and every year I have not had one. Yet. As for the potatoes, I have been reluctant to ask for the potatoes as I hate the very floury potatoes which the Irish love. When we were first here I remember asking a greengrocer about the potatoes he was selling. He said that they were wonderful and that they would explode in my face. For me, this was not a positive attribute. I like waxy potatoes. Here, Waxy Potatoes are called Wet, and people sort of sneer when they speak of them. Most of the potatoes offered by the Seed Savers are of the floury variety, but this year I noticed some Rattes from France and another waxy one called Ulster Sceptre. I could have chosen three kinds, but I had no idea how many free potaoes I would get. I did not want to be inundated with potatoes to grow. Today I received two little paper bags in the post, each with five potatoes in it. Both of the varieties sent were not the varieties I ordered. Both of what I received are floury varieties. I don’t feel too threatened. Ten potato plants will not be an overwhelming crop.
28 February Saturday
Today is the first day this year that I have been outside to hear the Ardfinnan church clock strike six. The wind needs to be in a certain direction for us to catch the sound of the bells from there. It was still light and the sky was a bright blue with big pink clouds picking up the dropping sunlight. A beautiful evening. The bells play the Angelus. If one is watching the news channel at 6 o’clock, the bells ring and there is a minute of silence, or rather a minute of bells and just silence from the listeners. On the television, we are shown people stopping and crossing themselves and listening to the bells each with a thoughtful expression on his or her face. On the radio, there is just the sound of the ringing bells. In the bar, people usually stop talking and some of them cross themselves. I am always interested that the sound of the bells comes from the TV or the radio, rather than from real outdoor bells. Even as a non-participant, it seems important to be quiet and respectful of other people’s silence.
27 February Friday
The Murderer (from Mary Corbett’s House) was caught trying to escape from prison. He is serving a Life Sentence in Limerick Jail. He and his cell-mate, who is also a murderer from the area, were found to have a saw blade behind a poster in their room. They had been slowly sawing away at the bars of their window. In the newspaper, their methods were compared to those used in the film The Shawshank Redemption. These two also had hidden maps of Ireland and Germany. They have been now been put into separate cells. I am not sure who got to keep the maps.
24 February Tuesday
Weather permitting, I have been glueing ovals (15 per book) into my ALBUM OF INTERIORS. It took months and months for me to get Simon back to cutting the ovals out on the Adana. I just couldn’t do it myself. It is a height problem. And it took Stuart months and months to finish the binding. Now that I am on the job again, I realize that it is probably just as well that we have waited this long to get back to the job. I have been using the bench outside the barn to spray the glue on so that I don’t kill myself with the fumes. This wouldn’t have been possible even a few weeks ago because of the cold. Now I have a problem because the starlings are building their nests right above the doorway and right over the bench, as they do every year. After I got a few downy feathers stuck onto my ovals and a few near misses of bird droppings today, I set up a narrow table beside the stone wall across from the barn. It is a bird free zone, but still out of the wind. It is probably just as well that I am not spraying onto the bench as the feathers have already started to stick all over it.
21 February Saturday
Cold and crisp and sunny today. For the first time this year, we sat outside the kitchen door having a cup of tea in the afternoon sun. It has been a beautiful spring day, even if it is still only February. The cows started chasing after me as I walked on the track through Joe’s fields. They were all so young and frisky and light on their feet. They just rushed along with me for the sake of somewhere to go. Quite a crowd of them ended up all the way up at the barn and it was a good three hours before their milking time. When I walked through the other Joe’s farm on my way back down here, another very young crowd raced along beside the stone wall and then along the fence following beside me as if where I was going was someplace to be going.
19 February Thursday
The car is indeed as bad as the inspector threatened. Apparently there is a bit of brake cable that could go in a second. And that is just ONE of the problems. We have to decide if it is worth it to spend a fair amount to repair a 17 year old car yet again, or is it better to think about a new car. Old cars are very cheap right now. We should really have just one car, but with second hand cars, it seems one is always breaking down. It is difficult because we live in such a car-dependant location. I never had any fondness for this particular motor so I am not sad to say goodbye to it. I do worry what I will do with all of the cassettes that we have. That car was the only place left for playing them. It is sad to think of a lot of music that I don’t have in any other form. Compilations made over the years by friends and old stuff that I would never buy again, but I do like to hear every once and a while. Has everyone else just thrown all of their cassettes away by now?
18 February Wednesday
I took the little car to have its NCT test today. The whole system used to work like clockwork. Today I arrived fifteen minutes early but waited for 25 minutes past my appointed time to get seen. We were all crowded into the waiting room area. There were at least 6 people standing at any one time. My favourite part is when the inspector takes the money, car details and keys from the next person and then he or she goes out to fetch the car. They drive around the corner and into the building, tooting the horn as they go. It is very cheerful. I know they are just testing the horn but I think it makes everyone feel a little happy. Once the car is inside the testing area, there is a lot of revving of the engine. The sound is very loud in the waiting room. Everyone looks around and raises eyebrows at each other. One lady today said 6 or 8 times that her husband would never race the engine like that in a century. She seemed quite thrilled with the naughtiness of it. My car failed the test. The young man seemed very worried that I was driving away in it. He said that the brakes were really dangerous and that he wouldn’t let his mother or anyone in his family drive my car. I drove away (very carefully) and went to the garage to see Mike. He thought maybe it was not as bad as the test sheet suggested. I left it with him, and he promises to put it up on the lift tomorrow.
16 February Monday
Timmy the Postman died. It was very sudden. He had a stroke and was in hospital in Clonmel. They took him up to Dublin to have a stent put into his heart, but the Dublin hospital said that he had been brought on the wrong day, so they sent him back to the hospital in Clonmel where he had another stroke and died. I am sure the trip, even in an ambulance, did him no good. Why couldn’t they just do the procedure, wrong day or not. It is a long way up and down to Dublin. Everyone was shocked and saddened as Timmy the Postman was a youthful and energetic 60 year old. His stroke came as a surprise and his death came as a shock for the whole community. Timmy was the postman for Newcastle. We never really knew him except to wave to. John is our postman. He is often away for union business, so we then have Lee who does the route at top speed. When Lee is on duty, our post arrives at 8 am. Otherwise it could come anywhere up until lunch time. We still never fully expect to see any post on a Monday since it is just after the weekend, and often there is nothing on Friday because it is almost the weekend. On Saturday there is never any post, except for a few weeks before Christmas. We can depend on receiving post on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. Anything after that is extra. John has been arriving in a white van for the last week. His regular green An Post van got caught in a flooded bit of road a few weeks back and the water damage was serious. He says the green van should be ready by tomorrow.
14 February Saturday
Today is my birthday. There is no plan to go anywhere, especially not out for dinner. Valentine’s Day has become more and more commercial. There is no pleasure in paying of money for heart-shaped red and pink food in an falsely romantic setting. Simon shopped in the English Market to prepare dinner for us here. He cooked dinner on his own birthday too. It is a way to make sure that he gets the food that he wants. Tonight’s dinner will be lovely except that he is threatening turnips. I am not a big fan of turnips. These are beautiful small French navettes. I know they will be delicious, thinly sliced and buttery, but I just feel threatened by turnips. He printed out the same card for me as he did last year, but he crossed out the printed 2008 and added on 2009. It is a good bit of typography so I am happy to have it again. He is now thinking of making it up as an enamel placque to be brought out once a year. I would have loved to have gone to the sea for a walk today, but we just can’t imagine going there and not taking Em. If we did take her, we would have to park well out of view of the sea. She loves the ocean in a near hysterical way. It would be cruel to get her that close and then to deny her the mad racing about in and out of the water. It is okay to just walk locally today. (Each time we go for a walk now, we leave her in the house and tell her that we are going down to the barn to work.) And it is good to stay here because the phone keeps ringing and I have been having some wonderful birthday chats.
13 February Friday
The feeling of spring is permeating a little more every day. The light is lighter, the weather is milder and the days are longer. Someone told me that we are getting ten minutes more light each day. I believe it. It really feels like that much of a jump is happening. What I don’t believe is the Irish belief that the first of February is the First Day of Spring. Up until a few minutes ago, we were living in what looked like Switzerland. The Galtees, the Knockmealdowns and the Comeraghs were all heavily covered with snow. The land in between the mountain ranges looked quaint and tidy. It didn’t look like the Tipperary landscape we know. The disheveled quality was gone. The green fields did look like something on the way into the Alps. That is all gone now. There are a few lumpen snowmen melting in yards. Or a few lumps of what were snowmen. They are particularly bleak when they are surrounded by green grass and mud. The cows are out of their winter quarters during the daytime. They must be so happy to be eating grass again. I feel very happy for them. There are starlings nesting in the barn already. This is very early. Everything is happening and Em’s leg is much better.
7 February Saturday
A huge step backwards in the Emily Recovery Department. I just do not know what happened. Either she jumped out of the car in a terrible rush or at a bad angle, or maybe it was when she moved from the back of the car to the front seat, and back again. Maybe it was when she raced down the hill. She could have slipped on the iced over grass. She is limping again, using only three legs. It has not been this bad for 6 weeks. I feel completely discouraged. We have been giving her more and more freedom as she appeared to be healed. This is a terrible state of things. Even earlier today, as I took a walk, I was thinking about when she might be able to join me again. It seemed imminent, but I kept thinking we should give the healing a longer time than we deem necessary just to be certain. Every dog I meet on my walks greets me and then looks around or rushes around to find her. They still cannot believe that she is not with me, and it is almost two months now.
5 February Thursday
We stopped in at Nugent’s last night after picking up a book delivery at McCarra’s shop. It was early, about 6.00. We were talking with some people when the phone rang. There is a pay phone in the bar and even with the many mobile phones around, the pay phone gets a lot of use. Coverage for mobiles is often a bit dodgy with the mountains, or just generally in such a rural area. Usually when the phone rings it is someone looking for someone else and whoever answers calls out to ask if that person is there. If the person is there but doesn’t want to found they just shake their head and the one who answered the phone says no, he or she is not here. Often it is just someone being beckoned home because their tea is ready. I was the nearest to the phone , so I answered it. A man asked me if this was Nugent’s Bar? He asked if it was Newcastle? He asked if it was County Tipperary? I said yes to all three things. Then he asked me how to get there. I asked him where he was. He said he was in Dublin. I asked the few people present who would want to give directions and John, who lives in France, volunteered. He gave the directions from Trim, in County Laois (not Dublin) to Newcastle and then he handed the phone to Christy who likes to be introduced as the Mayor of Newcastle. Christy spends most days sitting in the bar, always on the same stool. Christy asked this man why he wanted to come to Newcastle from so far away. The man said he was coming down to paint the telephone exchange building, and some Eircom men had given him the phone number of the bar to get directions.
4 February Wednesday
One thing I have noticed about this New Austerity is the lack of new cars. It used to be a real sign of the New Year and a sign of the prosperity of the country to note all of the brand new cars which appeared at what seemed like the very minute that January began. This year I have not seen one single car with an 09 registration. This is a small thing but a telling one. The whole place is falling apart and it all promises to get worse. Listening to the radio yesterday, people were calling in to say what they were giving up as a result of their pensions, or their salaries, or their jobs getting cut. I was shocked to hear that so many were not going to pay for their rubbish removal any more. They will try to dump it at their workplace or in someone else’s bin.
3 February Tuesday
A few days of snow have been very beautiful in the morning but the snow doesn’t last, especially on top of such sodden ground. The snow on the Knockmealdowns has stayed all day and it looks beautiful. And the hills we look across at are perfectly delineated by their ditches and forested areas. The whiteness makes everything look clean and good and different. I steppped on a lot of snowdrops in the grass because they disappeared in the snow.
1 February Sunday
Clonmel is still all closed off. The floods from the weekends rain have made all five bridges impassable. I think at least 40 houses have been evacuated. This just keeps happening. There are lots of discussions about flood defenses and money and planning and this year there has been a lot of work done in a few places along the river. The problem is that too many things were built on the flood plains, and there is now no where for the water to go. Permission granted for all this building was a crime. Now the kinds of solutions that are being found involve building up and blocking off the river, both from the view and from the life of the town. The wood road, which we always called the river road, until we were corrected, is really a river road now. It is completely under water.
27 January Tuesday
A trial has begun in Cork. A man and his son were found to have hundreds and thousands of pounds hidden in a safe in their basement. One point five million, I think. The assumption is that this is the money from the big robbery in the North. The radio report says it promises to be a long trial. The Judge has offered everyone on the jury a free flu jab, as he does not want anyone falling ill during the lengthy process. He said that the evenings will be long and light by the time this trial comes to an end.
26 January Monday
Simon took the Volvo for its car test this morning. All of the men in the NCT centre left the other cars they were testing and they swarmed all over it. There is a concerted effort to get old cars off the road. Once a car passes all of the tests for emissions and safety things, they can only pick at small details. A car with more than 300,000 miles on the clock is not just a dinasaur, it is a Major Undesirable. The only things they could find wrong were a headlamp which was somehow less than perfect and the number 8 on the license plate. The top bit of the 8 was filled in with black instead of white. That will be corrected with some white paint, or some white-out as used for a typewriter. It seems a hundred years ago when I took my old Citroen van to be inspected and because it was registered as a commercial vehicle, it was supposed to have very heavy duty tyres on it. The garage where it was being fixed took the appropriate tyres off a Post Office van, and put them on my van. They told me to hurry right back after the test so that they could replace the tyres on the Post Office van. That was the old Ireland. The filled in number 8 is the new Ireland.
25 January Sunday
Another Sunday of horrendous, lashing, pissing, pouring rain. It has been going all night and all day. The boreen is not a road. It is a river rushing down. It swerves just short of the house and has drowned the herb garden. We have puddles ten inches deep in places where I have never seen puddles. The sound of the rain never stopping is making me crazy. Again.
24 January Saturday
We took Em over to Cahir to be weighed at the vets. 20.0. Not so good. She raced up and down the steps by the Farmers Market which was also not good. She is supposed to avoid all steps and climbing. I should have walked her around on the road. She has spent the rest of the day lightly limping. Ligaments take a long time to heal. Breda loaned me Sam’s ramp. He used it to get in and out of their van when he was quite old and crippled and blind and deaf. He enjoyed getting into the van whether or not they were going anywhere. He enjoyed it more if they were actually going somewhere and he looked all around as if he could see where he was going.
23 January Friday
We came off well with the electricity outages last night. Ours went off at about 10.30 and returned at 4 am. Most of the people in the village and down the valley had no power until 1 pm. Some people are saying that some swans got mixed up in the wires and that is what caused it. Cables are drooping down everywhere. Wooden fences are falling over everywhere. I don’t know if that is the wind or the extraordinary amount of rain that has just softened the ground. What could stand up for long in this water? Newcastle now has a huge series of lakes around it. The lakes are full of swans. Maybe they are the swans who are usually in Ardfinnan. Or maybe some are swans and some are geese. A lot of damage is still unrepaired since last Saturday’s winds. Paddy, down the road, lost the roof off his tool shed. It blew quite a good way from the building and into someone else’s field. All of his tools are destroyed. This is the same Paddy who has been going back and forth to Geneva to woo a young Phillipino woman. She is a lot younger than him. They are planning to marry next month in the Phillipines.
21 January Wednesday
We watched the Obama inauguration in Stanstead airport. It was not the best planning. We went into the bar and asked the manager if he could change the multiple TV screens to the inauguration instead of Skye sports but he said No. We went to the far end of the departure area and found a large screen tuned in to Washington D.C.. We all sat on plastic chairs and strained to hear above the noise of nearby construction work. Every once and a while someone consulted their watch or their phone and trundled away with their suitcase to catch a flight. Someone else quickly took their seat. Huge drilling interrupted Obama’s speech, but we caught a lot of it. I think I was the only one who cried. Coming home and finding the first snowdrops in bloom was a good sign.
11 January Sunday
It has been raining for almost 24 hours. I should be glad that it is mild and the bitter cold has gone, but this rain and the endless sound of wind in the ears is a bit crazy making. I went for a walk before lunch, just a short one, (without Em as is now normal, sadly….) up the boreen and around. I dressed in full waterproof gear with a wool hat under my hood. As I started up the boreen, I decided that I was glad to be outside after all. The rain seemed less pounding and the wind less wild when I was outside and in it. Of course, I was not thinking of how sheltered I was on the old Mass Path, surrounded by trees and high walls. When I came out onto the road at the top, the rain was suddenly ferocious. Rain poured off my waterproofs and onto the ground even as I rushed along. When I reached the corner, by the field of the Gloomy Donkeys, the wind nearly knocked me down. Getting from there to the turn down the boreen to home was a kilometre of very hard work. I am small and the wind was strong. I still feel completely beaten up by it. The rain continued to bucket down but I forgot it with the fight against the wind. The wool hat was a bit of a mistake.
The Gloomy Donkeys (now two of them and a baby in the field) looked as miserable as ever. They are something I am now just accustomed to, but I still don’t like them. What really shocked me the other day was seeing a Llama in the next field. Expensive, rare breed French donkeys are a surprise in Tipperary, but a Llama leaves me speechless.
10 January Saturday
We FINALLY finished the second edition of FORTY FUNGI. They are covered, wrapped in groups of five, boxed and stored in the book shed. It seemed to take forever to do them. Many pages of reporting in today’s Irish Times of the Young Scientist’s awards. My favorite project was the one done by two girls from County Offaly. They found a way to use Bog Moss as a salad crop.
9 January Friday
I am wondering how long we will continue to say Happy New Year to each person we see who we haven’t yet seen in the new year. I don’t remember how long it usually goes on. Or maybe I wonder this every year and then forget it again. There must be a cut off point when the newness of the year is not an issue anymore, and we just go back to saying Good Morning or Good Evening (afternoon) or Hello.
We spent a lot of time today finishing folding on the covers of FORTY FUNGI. The day being milder was a help. When the deep deep cold was upon us it was impossible to be down in the barn for more than an hour. Even an hour was hard, and sometimes I was so bundled up that I couldn’t work very quickly. It is a terrible mistake to let editions hang around for so long unfinished but in this case it was all interrupted by Japan. And we had to finish THE QUEEN OF FLOATS for Greville before we could go on to this. Two more things to finish now.
8 January Thursday
Today was the big day for Em to go back to the vet. The weight was the first thing to check. She was happy to sit on the scales: 19.7 kgs. Whew. Almost a kilo was great news, and Folke was very happy with her progress. There was no limp at all that I could see, but he wants her to stay on the diet and under House Arrest for another four weeks…..no fun in sight. He has a new vet who has come from Germany to work with him. She was sort of hanging around as he examined Em and he told her all about the torn ligament condition as he had first seen it and that Em had been Grossly Obese one month ago. I protested at that. On the way out, I got a huge box full of bubble wrap from Tommie Who Runs The Office. He keeps it all behind some display units and it sticks out above the shelves when he has too much. He is delighted to get rid of it in a useful way (ie not throwing it away) and I am always delighted to get it. I used to get the bubble wrap from Tommie the Framer as he got huge flat pieces that came wrapped around sheets of glass, but I don’t seem to get over to him since he moved his workshop. We post a lot of packages and since we have been getting bubble from these two Tommies, I don’t think we have bought any for 5 or 6 years. There are a lot of Tommies and Toms in my life here. As always, I feel that there aren’t too many different names being used in Ireland.
7 January Wednesday
The bitter bitter deep cold continues. The rooves and the ground are all white and frosty and the frost never melts all day. Every day I put some bowls of water out for the birds as everywhere where they usually drink is frozen. The house is really cold. Another reason why I hate all this stone and cement. I feel happy in a wooden house. Older people here are very suspect of A House Made of a Tree.
6 January Tuesday
Today is Epiphany but here it is called Little Christmas. There is a tradition for women to go out to dinner together to celebrate the end of the holiday season. No men. No children. Just women together celebrating the end of cooking and serving and cleaning and doing all of the holiday stuff that they do. I wonder if that is happening this year as the New Austerity settles upon us all.
I went back to the library today to return the books I took out just before Christmas. When I walked in, I was greeted by the same elderly woman with whom I had had a chat that day. She was returning her books too. We had both been looking at the table of recent acquisitions. She told me that she found it terrifying to think of going through the Christmas period without a supply of reading material at hand. She had brought her elderly sister with her that day so that she could take out four books on her card and four books on her sister’s card. All of the books were for herself. Her sister was blind and deaf, and sat quietly nearby during this conversation. I asked if she could have just brought her sister’s library card and not her sister since the sister obviously couldn’t look at or read the books. She said it was good for her sister to get out. She said “She is listening to us now even though she can’t hear it.”
1 January 2009
New Year’s Day. Em used the end of the year as an excuse to do a dash down the meadow when we went out before bed. That is the first time she has managed that since the restrictions were established. I couldn’t really get angry. She is just so sick of not being able to go anywhere. Her trips down to the village are her big pleasure. Barking hysterically in the car lets off masses of steam. She and I both went to sleep before midnight. I am waiting for the 20th of January for my New Year to begin.
26 December Stephen’s Day
No one here ever mentions a Saint’s day with the word Saint. They speak of Patrick’s Day and Stephen’s Day. In Newcastle it has become the tradition to have a Vintage Tractor Run for charity on Stephen’s Day. It started with a lot of ancient tractors being pulled out of the barns and cleaned up for the day. Now there is a lot of activity about using the old ones. A few of them get used to drive to and from the pub, on a pretty regular basis. Simon was trapped in the village as the tractors set off, so he watched the whole procession as they drove away, probably to Ardfinnan on one road and back via another road. He had gone down to collect Veronica as she wanted to go and spend the day with Tom Browne and the Ring-a-link bus was not working today. We offered to take her in and to collect her later. It would save her a lot of money in taxi fares. She was especially eager to get in as today there were big races on at Leopardstown and her job was to run down the street to the bookies and to place bets on horses for Tom and another man in a wheelchair. When Simon returned from dropping her off, he met the Tractor Run on its return loop, so he watched the whole thing again. There were a fair number of vintage cars in it and some kind of old tank too. I felt quite envious that he had seen the Run twice and I had missed it completely. When I took a walk around later (without Em!) I found a paper plate with the number 27 written in black marker. There were two little holes above the number. Simon told me these plates were tied with string into the radiator grid in the front of each tractor. I drove into Clonmel to fetch Veronica later. None of their horses came in.