31 December Friday New Years Eve 2010
We had a delivery of the post today. And we had a delivery yesterday. Before that there was a delivery on Christmas Eve. Now there will be no delivery until Tuesday 4 January. That will be four deliveries in 12 days. Even without the difficult weather, this country takes its winter holidays very seriously.
28 December Tuesday
Yesterday morning the waste pipes thawed and by this morning we have water flowing through the taps again. Eight or nine days was long enough to be without running water. We are delighted by how easy life has become. The whole morning has been taken up by reorganizing all of the buckets and big containers. I am refilling a lot of things as we hear threats that the weather will return to the deep cold in ten days. We might as well be ready. Meanwhile both the kitchen and the bathroom feel so much bigger without all of the lined up water containers.
26 December Sunday Stephens Day
We have been attending our own little Michael Haneke Film Festival as a distraction from the cold and the enforced isolation. It is depressing to watch one of his films after another, but we are making no attempt to stop. There are 10 films in this boxed set and we plan to see them all. Our other schedualed activity is chess lessons. We have started these lessons several times over the years but they have never lasted for long. Now we are so cold that it is not even possible to go to work in one of the barns. We are trapped so it is a good variation in amongst our survival activities. Simon hates to play games but he loves chess because it is about strategy. I love to play games and since this is the only one he is willing to play, I am working hard to learn it quickly. So far I keep forgetting how very useful my Queen is. This is good for Simon and not so good for myself.
24 December Friday Christmas Eve
The Council came and filled holes in the road yesterday. I have been trying to get them to come and do this since last winter. The track is still rough but compared to two days ago it is wonderful. This morning, we walked a mile and a half to a neighbours house to take showers. We took clean clothes and towels in our backpacks. We admired the hole filling as we walked up the boreen and then we admired it all again as we walked back down again a few hours later. The cold is not letting up at all. Our lives seem to be about nothing but survival and staying warm. Now the out pipes have been frozen for a few days too. Everywhere we have water in buckets and containers. There are ladles and small and large pitchers. There are bottles of bought water and there are water bottles filled with tap water from other taps than our own. There are different waters for different jobs. Everything, even washing a few dishes is a complicated job. The water needs to be decanted into a kettle or a pot and heated on the stove. Then it is poured into a small dish pan and a bit more is poured into another small dishpan. Things are washed and rinsed and then the water must be thrown outside. It is terrible to go outside with wet hands to empty the water. It is best to dry ones hands and put on mittens before doing even this very quick job. We are trying to use as few dishes as possible. Two water glasses sit on the big table. There is one for each of us. We have used these same two water glasses all week. We will continue to use them. I keep thinking of the farmers all over the country who are having a terrible time getting water to their animals. Their tasks are enormous compared to our small issues. In the middle of our own small issues I cannot really imagine their problems. Selfishly I can only think about the most immediate things, and right now everything is an immediate thing.
22 December Wednesday
The walk up the boreen is very icey. There are waterfalls frozen in formation all the way up and it looks very beautiful but it is very hard to walk up along and over it. The stones are covered with ice and the muddy places are frozen hard. It is difficult to find a foothold. Even Em with her four legs is slipping and loosing her balance. Up in the area of the Large Apple Walk, it is all a bit sheltered and less icey. The apple flesh has been eaten by birds or rats or both. The apple skins are shells which have been completely hollowed out. These shells sit like beautiful delicate porcelain bowls scattered on the old leaves. Em and I step carefully through them which is a pleasant change from just trying not to slip and fall on the ice.
20 December Monday
While standing in the library waiting to have my books checked out, I listened to the librarian talking with the woman in front of me. The woman was talking about the problem of reading heavy books in bed. She said that finally she had given up on large and cumbersome books in bed. She had taken to reading only certain kinds of smaller books in bed. She asked the librarian if she had the same problem. The librarian said that when she went to bed, she turned off the light and she went to sleep. She never read anything in bed. The woman and I looked at each other. We were not quite speechless but we both had a look of surprise on our faces. The woman asked me if I read in bed. I said Indeed I do read in bed. Bed is my very favorite place for reading. The librarian said that she has a small table in one corner of her kitchen. She has a good lamp on the table and her ashtray and she likes to sit and smoke cigarettes and read. She said that she likes to smoke almost every minute that she is reading. She said sometimes I do not know if I read while I smoke or if I smoke while I read. I have noticed that sometimes my library books smell like cigarette smoke. It is usually things like thrillers and mysteries that have the strong odour. I am never very happy to have this smell in the bed with me. Often I can still smell it even when the book is closed and the light is off. I have considered having a good sniff of my chosen books before I leave the library but I always forget to do it when I am there. Now when I next get into bed with a smokey book, I shall just assume that it was recently read by the librarian herself. I shall picture her sitting at her little table smoking and smoking endlessly while she reads for hours on end.
19 December Sunday
The water pipes froze last night. I was expecting this to happen as this hard deep cold has gone on for so long. I filled some extra buckets last night before going to bed. As much water as we put aside when we have running water, it looks like nothing when the water is no longer coming out of the faucets. There is still water in the tank so we are trying to use that sparingly. This cold is so deep and penetrating that the house never really feels warm.
18 December Saturday
The Liam McCarthy Cup is still doing the rounds of the county. Tipperary is a big county so it looks like this cup will be able to travel all year and it will still have more places to appear. We regularly see photographs of it in the newspaper. One week it will be shown at a school surrounded by students. The next week it might be at a sporting event. This week The Liam was being held up proudly by the Chinese family who run The Emerald Garden Restaurant. No one here would say that they saw this photograph in the paper. They would say that they saw it on the paper. If they read an article, they read that on the paper too. Sometimes, it is just: It was on the paper.
16 December Thursday
We went to fetch the new car at Mike’s. He has had it at his garage since Tuesday. On Tuesday, he and Simon went together to Tipperary town and met a man in the supermarket car park. The man was on his lunch hour. They looked at the car and they all discussed it. They made test drives and then Simon bought the car. The car is not new. It is a 1995 Volvo but compared to our 1988 version, it is New. This one only has 170,000 miles on the clock. Ours has close to 400,000. These cars do go and go. It was extemely cheap because no one wants to bother with a car this old. Even though it was cheap, Simon talked the price down a little bit. This was all part of the accepted behaviour. After he paid the man the agreed price, the man took 50 euro out of his pocket and gave it back to Simon ‘For Luck’. This is also agreed behaviour. Today, Mike demonstrated all the details and differences of this new model. The former owner had typed up little labels. These labels were stuck down on various parts of the immaculately clean engine. Each label identified when a new part had been installed and was followed by a number like 140K. This was his code to say, for example, that a new fan belt had been installed at 140,000 miles. I should make a list of all of these labels before life down this rough old track changes all of the clean labels and the clean engine forever.
15 December Wednesday
I was told today that a surefire cure for arthritis is to soak raisins in gin for one week. After that, eat seven of the raisins a day. I want to believe this cure. I have my raisins soaking already and they will be ready to start being eaten on the 22 December. The raisins I used were a very old and dried up bunch of raisins. I hope they are not too old to do the job. I would dearly love for my left thumb to feel as good and to work as well as it used to.
14 December Tuesday
A band made up of thirty five little boys in red and white Santa Claus hats played their instruments for passing shoppers in The Market Place. In three positions near to the band were pairs of boys also wearing the red and white hats. One of these boys held a huge plastic margerine bucket with a slot cut in the top. He shook the bucket so that we passersby could hear the sound of the coins inside it. He shook the bucket to encourage us to put money into the bucket. The other boy waved a tambourine at people and hit it against his hand or against the other boy at intervals. Each pair of boys were a bit shy about approaching people. They stepped back a few steps when anyone came to put money in their bucket. I would guess that they were all nine or ten years old. The bands version of O Tannenbaum was the worst I have ever heard. The teacher kept conducting and the boys played with enthusiasm, but the music got no better.
10 December Friday
We drove the little car over to Mike today. We drove very slowly. The car got very hot and overheated. It is all much worse than we thought. It took Mike forty minutes just to get the bonnet open. The radiator is completely destroyed as are a lot of other parts of the motor. It has been declared dead. It is not worth spending the money to repair it. The country is full of second hand cars. Everyone is selling and no one is buying. In this case, repairing is not a viable option . Mike drove us home in his Jeep. Once here, he towed out the big Volvo, which has been paralyzed in position by all of the ice for ten days. The whole exhaust system had been ripped off too. He fixed that and now we will leave it parked up at the farm until this ice melts or breaks up. Most of the roads around are quite clear now but our ice is not giving up.
9 December Thursday
Talking to other neighbours while out walking, I found out more about Susie and Shep. I had decided that they were the gentlest and most cowardly pair of sheepdogs ever. They are, in fact, a vicious duo. They build up a grudge against a passing dog and then attack whenever possible. Coco is one of their targets. Now I guess Em is too. Max is too big to attack and anyway they have known him since they were puppies. I am astounded at how completely I could misunderstand the charactor of the two of them. I have the same feeling about Maurice. All the time I thought of him as yet another Gloomy Donkey. Now I think of him as Malevolent, not Gloomy. When I pass his meadow, I call out Hello Maurice- You Beast! Sometimes he acknowledges my greeting and sometimes he does not.
7 December Tuesday
We walked our usual walk today. As we went past the gate where Susie and Shep live, I saw that the gates were wide open. Most times, this suggests that the two dogs are hanging well back and peering at the road from behind some of the trees. There are dozens and dozens of trees there. The yard is a densely planted forest. The owner intends to grow all of his own fuel eventually. His plan is a a constantly thinned forest making way for more planting at the same time as some larger trees continue to grow and grow. The dogs have only ever been barking and brave when they are behind the gate. Today was the exception. They rushed out of the yard and attacked Emily. She was on her back in seconds and she was struggling hard to fight off the two young dogs. She is old and and they are young and there were two of them so they were much bolder. Max, who was walking with us, and who was the biggest dog by far, barked and barked and jumped up and down. He did not help with the attack nor did he try to see off the attackers. He just barked. I shouted and then I whacked the dog nearest to me. I kept shouting and ordering them home and eventually they rushed back into the trees. Em ran down the road with Max rushing behind her. He was gleeful and she was shaking. When we got home, I found only one small bit of torn flesh, so the battle was not too bad. I think I am more upset than she is. We have never had a fight in all of the years of walking we have done around here.
6 December Monday
Last night, I heard on the radio that rats are suffering in this cold. They are desperate to get inside. They want to enter houses, barns, rubbish bins, anywhere at all to find food and warmth. The programme made the threat feel so real that I panicked. After brushing my teeth, I put the plug into the bathtub. Just in case.
5 December 2010 Sunday
Walking through the crunchy snow in a dressing gown and little rubber clogs was terrible tonight. My shoulders were hunched up as high as was possible up around my ears. I was wishing that I had worn a wool hat and a scarf and a coat and socks. I was wishing that I was fully dressed. As I entered the sauna, the heat took my breath away. Very quickly the short painful journey was forgotten. The outdoor tap is frozen so there was no chance of a cold shower. I did love strolling back across the yard, with the torch and the very dark night sky, crunching again, but not feeling the cold.
4 December 2010 Saturday
The roads are still coated in ice. We understand that the bigger roads are clear and safe but that is not much good to us because we cannot even get out the boreen. The track through the farmyard is sheer ice. The roads where I walk with Em are treacherous. I feel safe if I am walking with a stick, but even then I stay on the edge. I try to keep at least one foot in the snowy bit of the grass. As I was walking along today I saw someone elses footprints in the snow. That would not be so unusual, but what was unusual was that these footprints looked like those of someone who was wearing high heeled boots. These boots had a long pointy toe and a very small heel. The most terrifying thing was the complete lack of tread on the sole of the boot. I could barely stop myself from falling while wearing heavy boots with good rubber soles and good traction. I could not believe this person could have made any progress without falling. Even in the middle of a town these boots would be inappropriate in this weather. Here there are no sidewalks. The footprints continued for quite a long distance. Every time I thought they had disapppeared, there they were again. After a few dozen metres they stopped. There was no sign of a fall, nor of a stick. Probably the person got offered a ride.
3 December 2010 Friday
There is so much work to do just to keep warm in this old house and to keep the snow cleared and to keep the ice from forming and to keep the wood piled up inside and the fire going and the fresh water put outside for the birds and the various food and seeds for the different birds and to get the cars started each day so that the batteries do not freeze. There are the heaters to turn up during the day in the book barns and then the work we try to do in the barns but that is getting more and more difficult. I have been carrying trayloads of paper up to the house and then, after I have folded the pages, I creep back down to the barn for another load. It is a slow way to work but it is easier than trying to fold paper accurately with frozen fingers. Today I managed to stay down there while I collated all of the folded pages of MENDING into their two sections. It was only possible because I was moving fairly fast around the big table. There is no chance that I will be sewing these books in the barn. When I am ready to sew, it will involve a new set of transportation up and down between the buildings.
2 December 2010 Thursday
Simon drove down to the village this morning. He was nervous about driving over the hump-backed bridge but it was gritted and felt safe. When he left the bridge and got onto the straight, flat stretch of road the car slid out of control and he smashed into the stone wall. Then the car kept sliding around and he smashed into the same wall with the opposite end of the car. Both ends are a mess but the motor still works. He was able to drive home but was very shaken by it all. Since the entire country has no money, it is not a surprise that the county council has no money to spend for spreading sand and salt on the roads. In many ways this unexpected early winter weather is a great distraction from the ongoing discussions of the desperate economic situation but in other ways it just points out the ongoing inefficiency and the lack of planning which created the mess in the first place.
29 November 2010 Monday
The bitter cold and the icy roads and the snow are showing no sign of letting up. I brought all of the onions in from the shed. They are hanging in the pantry where it is not warm, but it is not as cold as the shed. I could not bear the idea of them all being frozen. We also picked the very last bit of fresh tarragon out of the snow. It tastes like a wonderful and exotic treat in this cold. The new wood stove is fantastic. We are wondering why we waited so long to replace the old one. It is still far too cold to be happy but these small pleasures help us to keep going.
27 November 2010 Saturday
Today was Tom Browne’s funeral. It took place at the church in Fourmilewater. I had never been inside that church. It is a large building and looks larger because of the way it sits on a slope which leads down into the graveyard. We sat next to a radiator because the day was so bitterly cold. The radiator was warm but its heat did not radiate much. The inside of the church was painted pale yellow, except for the end wall behind the priest, which was painted pale green. Along the walls there were light fixtures comprised of two fluorescent tubes inside long rectangular plastic covering devices, not unlike what would be found on the ceiling of an office or a shop. These lighting units were hung vertically, placed between stained glass windows and at intervals up around behind the altar. Each unit started about eight or nine feet from the floor. I had a lot of time to look around as I do not participate in any of the kneeling and prayer repetition and responses which keep everyone else busy. As usual at these Catholic funerals, there was no singing and no music of any sort. At one point the two altar girls rang some bells in response to something the priest said. Through one very lightly coloured window, we all kept an eye on the snow which was falling faster and thicker all through the service. The priest placed various tools on Tom’s coffin: a plasterers float, a trowel, a dusting brush and something else. Then he said he would cut the prayers short so that we could get Tom buried before the snow got worse. Once outdoors the bitter wind and driving snow forced everything to be shortened again. People jumped into their cars and many just raced home to beat the storm. We went along to The Hidden Inn, where there were fried chicken legs and little sausages and hundreds of small triangular sandwiches on white bread all waiting to be eaten. Copious quantities of hot tea were drunk. I had three cups in quick sucession. Everyone was frozen to the bone. After the tea, people moved on to pints of Guinness or glasses of whiskey or brandy and quiet toasts to Tom. There were many older men there who had worked with him over the years. There were a great many discussions about his strength and his gracefulness and his skill in his trade. One man said Tom Browne could draw out a dolphin in plaster without even thinking about it. Everyone found it funny that the tools on the coffin were all brand new. Everyone knew that Tom had never had new tools. He had fixed, repaired and improvised with what he had and with what he found. We did not stay for too long. I wonder if many people did. There was none of the music or boisterousness of some other funerals. Tom’s absence over the recent years had not meant that he was forgotten, just that his non-presence was already a norm. The threat of the snow and the cold was not much incentive for people to linger.
25 November 2010 Thursday
Tom Browne died last night. He was in The Cottage Hospital in Irishtown. The Cottage Hospital is not really a hospital. It is a residential care home for the elderly, but everyone calls it The Cottage Hospital. Tom had been resident there for most of the last three years after several strokes rendered him helpless. He spent some weeks down in Waterford recently after it was found that he had cancer. The radiotherapy was much too much for his already weakened system. He was sent back home to The Cottage to die. Strong amounts of morphine kept his pain down. We saw him a few weeks ago and he knew us but he could not follow a conversation for very long. I marveled that his dark brown hair was still dark brown with not a bit of grey or white in it, even at the age of eighty. I always thought that Veronica must have been dying it to keep him looking younger, but I was wrong. He was very proud to have his model houses and his projects in the book we produced. He kept a copy of the book on display near his bed all the while that he lived at The Cottage. He liked people to comment upon it. He liked to explain how he made things.
22 November Monday
I was driving down to the village this afternoon when I was obliged to stop for a big lorry which was parked diagonally across the road. I turned off my engine and waited while two men drove a few cows up a ramp and into the back. They shouted and waved sticks in the air but mostly they waited while the cows took their time. The back of the vehicle had slatted sides and an open top. I could see two heads raised up and moving around as the cows sniffed the air. Dvorak was playing on the car radio. It was a sad piece with a violin. I waited for the last two cows to get loaded and I felt depressed about this probably being a ride to the slaughter house. I like meat. I have no problem with eating meat and I think it is good to know where meat comes from. Living here and surrounded by farms, it becomes easy to stop thinking about where many of the cows and sheep are eventually headed. I drove slowly down the hill behind the lorry. There was a thin stream of excrement dribbling out and onto the road. Maybe these cows were just being moved to another field on another farm. Wherever they were going I felt less sad knowing that they had a roofless ride. They were not shut up in a dark place while they were being moved and they had a soft drizzle of rain on their heads.
21 November Sunday
We heard the loud sound of a flock geese passing in the sky. Looking up, we expected to see them moving in formation, but we saw nothing. It took a few minutes to recognize that the sound was not geese at all but instead it was a cow bellowing in the field above.
20 November Saturday
Everything here is done at the last minute. On Thursday, I got a message asking me to gather up books to take to a sale for fundraising. Everything at the sale would be priced at two euro. I thought it would be a good idea to sort out some things to take along for this good cause. Then I saw that the things donated must be delivered by the next morning which was Friday in order to be ready for the sale which was on Saturday. Why couldn’t I be given more notice? That way my gathering together of stuff could be considered and efficient. When announcements are sent out for exhibitions, the theory here is to do it at the last minute because if it is done too far in advance, everyone will forget about it and then they won’t come to the event. If no one can plan in advance for something that means everyone is always dropping things for something else more immediate. Death here is always demanding. If someone dies today there will be a wake tomorrow and the funeral will be on the next day. That is an immediacy which does not allow for any questions.
19 November Friday
We stopped in at the pub. Rose had been waiting to give me 58 euro. She had been saving it in a glass until I next came in. I had won the little lottery which they do there every week. It is predicated on the bonus number for the big national lottery. We do not usually buy chances on this but someone had convinced us to participate as they were lacking enough numbers that week. If they did not get enough numbers it would be a very small prize for anyone to win. The chart with the numbers is ruled out on a piece of cardboard. The cardboard is cut from the inside of a cereal box. It has to be drawn on cardboard rather than paper as it gets passed around a lot and some people spend a long time deciding which number they will choose. A name is written in the little box beside the chosen number. My winning number was 2.
There was an old man sitting at the bar. I had never seen him there before. He introduced himself as Mick. He had enormous ears sticking straight out from the sides of his head. He was down for the weekend to visit his niece. He had ridden on the bus from Carlow and she had collected him in Clonmel. When the bells for the Angelus began to ring on the television, he took off his flat cap and put it tightly under his arm. He said Now it is time to pray. He closed his eyes and his lips moved silently throughout the bell ringing. When the bells stopped he stopped and he put his hat back on his head. He continued to tell me things about himself. He told me that he Took Himself Off The Road after he had a run in with a tractor. That was some years ago. He no longer drives at all but he enjoys taxis and he loves sitting high up in the bus. It was good to hear him ramble on. There are so few of these kind of old men to bump into these days. They are either afraid of the drink driving laws or they are without money to come out for a pint or they are dead. He was not at all interested in my 58 euro win. In fact he was not interested in me at all. He was interested to do all of the telling himself.
18 November Thursday
With all the trouble that this country and this government are in, I was surprised to get my free stamp at the post office today. The yearly Christmas gift of one free stamp when one buys a book of 55 cent inland stamps has not come under the attack of the new budget, or not yet anyway. At 13 euro 75, 26 stamps for the price of 25 feels like a real treat.
17 November Wednesday
I have never had a chance to get to know Susie and Shep. They are sheepdog siblings and they are always behind a gate. They bark wildly at Em when we pass but they do not bark much at me. Their predecessor was Kelly. She was also a sheepdog and I really loved her. There was no gate on the drive when Kelly was alive. When we passed, she would come out of the yard and she and I would sit down together on the grass and chat for 10 minutes or so. Em always ignored Kelly and Kelly ignored Em. I stroked her, and then said goodbye and she ran back into her yard and Em and I continued our walk. A few years ago, Kelly died suddenly. She had been poisoned. No one ever found out why. It was shocking and horrible. Susie and Shep arrived many months later. When I walked by today, Susie and Shep barely had time for us. That was odd. Then I saw that they had a cat trapped up a tree. It was a tall tree but it was young and the bare branches were not very substantial. The cat was shaking and the tree was shaking. I did not know what to do. I did not know if the dogs would become brave and maybe vicious if I let myself into the yard. Finally I just did it. I let myself in the gate and made Em stay outside. The two dogs were so excited about the cat that they barely registered my arrival. They stayed poised with their noses in the air keeping the cat in the tree, fearing and hoping it would fall out of the tree. I got one of them by the collar and started to lead him or her down the drive. The other dog was torn about staying with the cat or checking out what we were doing. Finally it decided to come along with us and I put them both in their pen where they barked with excitement. The cat had not used their absence as an opportunity to escape. It was terrified. I talked it quietly down branch by branch. It was very slow work. All the time I was working on the cat rescue, Em was trying to squeeze herself through a narrow opening in the gate. There was no chance that she would ever fit through it. Even the cat did not consider her a threat. I finally got the cat to a place where I could reach and I took it out of the tree and across to the bushes separating the yard from the neighbours yard. I put it on the ground and sent it off to where I think was home. Even if it was not home it was at least away from the dogs. I let Susie and Shep out of their pen and they raced back to the tree. I let myself out and left them there still searching the upper branches for the cat. This was my first cat rescue ever.
16 November Tuesday
The Large Apple Path is more slippery than ever. It smells like a cider press as I struggle along it. In contrast, The Crab Apple Path is not breaking down at all. That section is still wildly precarious for walking and for balance. The colours are good. The colours are so exciting they look like it has all been planned. The crab apples themselves are bright yellowy green and they are scattered among leaves which are brown and yellow and gold. The leaves are all very small. They pile upon each other delicately. On top of the leaves are hundreds of bright red holly berries. In among all of this, there are stones covered with bright green moss. The moss is so bright it is nearly flourescent.
10 November Wednesday
This has been a big year for horse chestnuts. Every time I walk out I bring some home and put them in a bowl. I love how shiny they are. In a few days they lose their shine but I am always bringing more so the ones on the top of the bowl are always lovely and bright. On the road up by Maisie’s old house, so many have fallen and so many have been run over and stepped on that the road surface is completely covered with a gritty chestnut meal. The tarmac has been obliterated.
9 November Tuesday
I have never been able to understand exactly when people here use the word ‘so’. Someone might say I’ll ring you later then so. They also might say the same sentence without the ‘so’. When is it used and when is it not used? Is there a logic to it or is it just an occasional thing? I think that the use of ‘Now’ is always at the beginning of sentences. That is a way to begin the act of speaking. ‘So’ seems to come at the end. I shall try to pay more attention and see if I can define this. I do not think it is just Tipperary. The more I think of it the less I understand it. I rather wish I had not brought it up.
8 November Monday
The huge and terrible rains and flood were not so huge and not so terrible. There was plenty of rain but it did not wreak the terrible destruction which was threatened. We spent all day Sunday anticipating it. The morning was glorious with blue skies. The afternoon just got steadily greyer and greyer. We managed to get the structures for two new compost heaps built in the afternoon. These we made from the pallets that Dessie gave us weeks and weeks ago. At five o’clock the rain started, exactly when the weather people had predicted it would start. Then it just rained and rained and rained and rained until morning. Em and I walked out in the morning in a gap between heavy showers and not so heavy showers. The water has done a lot towards breaking down the Big Apple Path. It is mushy and it smells lovely. The Crab Apple Path is less damaged. They remain very hard and dangerous, these little crab appples.
6 November Saturday
I have just found out that the Gloomy Donkey is named Morris or Maurice. I think it is probably Maurice. I never thought of him as having a name. While I have been worrying about this Gloomy Donkey being lonely, I am now told that he has taken to biting people. The reason he is alone in the meadow is because he killed his baby and began attacking his wife. I have less reason than ever to stop and talk with this creature. I am curious to know why he is so mean.
5 November Friday
There are huge floods predicted for the weekend. Galway city and other places are in sandbagging frenzy. These floods are anticipated because of some high tide action which is going to occur at the same time as torrential rain. So far Sunday night is promised to be the worst of it all. It is not much fun to look forward to. Last week we had many hours of heavy rain. There was loads of it in a very short time. There were flash floods and traffic was diverted all over the place. That was all without this predicted high tide activity. The tides make the rivers run inland at speed instead of out to sea as they usually do. A woman I do not know stopped me in the village and asked if I own a cat with a red collar. She and her daughter saw a cat with a red collar up on the stone side of the bridge and then they saw the cat jump off and into the swollen rushing river. She was not sure if the cat jumped or if it got blown right off by the wild winds. Cats are smart. I do not think it would have jumped.
4 November Thursday
Yesterday the electricity went off at about 4 in the afternoon. I went and checked to see if the farm had lost their power too and they had. They have a generator for the event of a power loss but it was not wired up for some reason. I talked to the ESB men who arrived looking for a break in the cables. By the time I walked back home it was quite dark. I tried to get on with some things but it is amazing how much we expect everything to go on as usual and without electricity it just doesn’t. Water does not even come out of the faucets if the electric pump does not work to bring it from the well. We gave up doing anything and went down to the village to see if the lights were off there. On the way we checked up on a few elderly neighbours to make sure that they had candles and torches. The lights were off everywhere and as we looked across the hills, we could see that everything was dark for as far as we could see. That is quite far. Everywhere was very very dark. The only lights we saw were the flashing yellow lights from the trucks of the ESB in different distant locations. We went into Rose’s where a few people were sitting at the bar drinking things that came in bottles because of course the pressure pumps would not work for the draught drinks. There were a few candles lit on the bar and there was quiet conversation. A few songs were sung, again, very quietly. It was nice. One man had come down from way up the mountain. He knew that if it was just his own house without power, he would have to wait for some days to get it repaired, but if it was out everywhere it would be repaired quickly. He just had to come down to find out. At 7.30 or 8 o’clock the lights came back on and so did the television. A football match was on and together with that noise, the flourescent lights turned the bar into a completely different place. We came home and ate dinner by candlelight.
3 November 2010Wednesday
The walk up the boreen is a struggle now. At the best of times the old Mass Path is really no more than an old stream bed. With all of the wet fallen leaves the rocks are now quite slippery and because the rocks are mostly loose one slip of the foot usually means another slip. Up near the top there is a section about three metres long which is completely covered with crab apples. The crab apples make for dangerous walking. I imagine it is not unlike walking over ball bearings. Further up from the Crab Apple Path there is the Large Apple Path. This is a more narrow section, heavily overgrown with brambles and tall stinging nettles. There is a lot to pay attention to in this section of the walking because of the attacks from the thorns and the nettles. I need to look up and all around as I walk but it is essential to look down at the moving rolling apples. The large apples underfoot are really dangerous. There is not one single place to put a foot down on flat ground. Luckily the big apples are starting to rot. This is making things slippery but less of a balancing act. Hopefully the crab apples will soon start rotting too.
31 October Sunday
Tom is in the hospital. He has cancer and is not doing well with this on top of his many strokes His wife rang to see if we had a bottle of Guinness that she could take to him. The hospital had phoned her and asked her to bring in a bottle in the hopes of stimulating his appetite. I was quite surprised by this as a request from a hospital but apparently this is not an unusual procedure when a patient is not eating. I gather that it was more normal in the past, but that it is still a useful method when someone remembers to try it. Unfortunately, it is not possible to buy a bottle of Guinness anywhere on a Sunday morning so I do not know if she found a bottle, nor if it worked to stimulate his appetite.
30 October Saturday
Last night I walked down the meadow with Em. Something felt odd. I decided it was just the slippery wet grass with the lumpy ground underfoot. When we returned to the house I saw that I had pulled my rubber boots onto the wrong feet. That explained my feeling of not walking in a straight line.
29 October Friday
Having no children in the local school system, I am often surprised to see kids suddenly everywhere in the middle of the day. I never know in advance when a half-term holiday is coming. One way I have come to recognize that it is half-term is when I see children driving around in delivery vans and trucks with their fathers or brothers or uncles. They seem to delight in sitting up high while driving through the countryside. Some of them are very eager to help. They run in and out of shops carrying bread or boxes of fruit and vegetables. Others just sit in the vehicle and wait for the journey to continue.
27 October Wednesday
I drove to Tipperary town yesterday to take some papers to the accountant. Mostly we send things to him by post but since we are late with our tax forms, it seemed wiser to deliver them by hand. I had not been to the office for many years. I was a bit embarasssed by Simon’s lumpy, taped together parcel of papers. I wondered why he had not put it into tidy folders or into a box. As soon as I walked in the door and put the parcel on the counter, it looked just right. The conspicuous consumption behaviour of the Celtic Tiger years never touched this business. The two story building was once a home and it still shows evidence of family life. The receptionists office was once a kitchen and it has all of the kitchen cupboards intact and in use. There is a worn linoleum floor and there are worn formica counter tops. The stove has been taken out and replaced by another cupboard. A sink and a small refrigerator are in place, no doubt useful at lunchtime and for the making of tea and coffee. The hallway has floral wallpaper, as does our accountants upstairs office. It appears that he is working in a bedroom. Enormous piles of papers and folders are on every surface and piled high on the floor all around his desk. The last time the room was wallpapered, a space was left for a standing wardrobe. The wardrobe is no longer there so another older floral patterned paper shows in that vertical rectangle. Also missing is the bed.
26 October Tuesday
A wet day. Simon was finally able to meet the delivery truck in a car park. Together he and the driver shifted the 28 boxes of books from the truck to the old Volvo in a fine soft drizzle. He drove home carefully hoping not to need to brake suddenly as the rear door of the Volvo does not work on its catch anymore. A sudden stop would mean boxes on the road. He then moved all 28 boxes down to the book barn using a wheelbarrow with a flat tyre. This involved a number of trips, all in a fine soft drizzle. We later learned that the other part of the shipment had already been delivered in New York four weeks ago. No doubt no one at that end had to unload and load themselves, nor would there have been any wheelbarrow activity.
24 October Sunday
The Gloomy Donkey is back in the meadow. He has been there for some weeks now. The llama has been absent from both fields for a long time. The donkey looks lonely and spends a lot of time leaning up against the bushes. At first I thought this was a way for him to shelter from the wind but now I see that he is pressing himself there on calm and warm days too. I wonder if it is a way for him to feel less lonely. He responds to my voice when I speak to him but I cannot get myself too interested to talk to him about much. Em has absolutely no interest in him.
22 October Friday
I was at the supermarket today and I went into the sheltered unit to return my trolley and to get my euro coin refunded. Between myself and the trolleys there was a small elderly man sheltering from the wind while having a pee. He waved to me with his free hand and said, No worry! I’d be nearly done!
12 October Tuesday
I am back to needing a torch when Em and I walk down the meadow at night. The days are closing in earlier and earlier. I tried to walk down without the torch on last night. I soon walked off the path and into the long wet grass. Em does not seem to see any differently in the day or the night. She races off barking and oblivious, led by smells.
10 October Sunday 10-10-10 Everyone is excited by this very beautiful line-up of numbers.
I have received three notices from the Warden at the Embassy in Dublin this week. Each notice tells me to be wary of crowds and of terrorist threats. It is obvious that they do not know where I live. Ironically, an article in yesterdays Irish Times said that the Irish are very safe from terrorism in far away places. It said that terrorists want their hostages to be British or American. The Irish are of no use to them. The only problem the Irish face in an attack situation with guns or bombs is that they always run right toward the noise and commotion instead of in the opposite direction. This eventually gets them involved. Sometimes it gets them into big trouble.
8 October Friday
The wind has been wild since last night. I need a latch on the inside of the door in my room. It is not a straightforward door. It is one of our homemade jobs. I can only close it securely from the outside. This is fine in the summer as I like to leave it open anyway. When the wind is strong like today, I simply cannot keep the door closed. It blows open and papers go flying everywhere. I have tried various rocks and bricks. I have tried a big wooden butter box. All of these things work for a while but a big gust of wind will still push the door open. Whatever solution I find eventually becomes a problem as I have to move everything again as soon as I need to leave the room. I have tried to convince Em to lie down and sleep in the little well space of the door so that she can hold it closed for me. This is not a good solution as she is easily distracted. I only think about this problem when it is terribly windy. When the wind dies down I will forget about it until the next time. I really must fix it before the next time.
7 October Thursday
I cut through the car park of the old Crazy Prices store in Clonmel. As I walked I saw a truck with a big white sign with red letters advertising CASH FOR CLOTHES. I thought about this as I did my errands so when I returned I went over to the truck to see what it was about. How is money being made with Cash for Clothes? It was yet another sign of the New Austerity and Hard Times, but I could not quite read it. There was a man sitting on a plastic chair inside the truck. He was drinking a cup of coffee. There were big black plastic sacks piled up behind him. They looked like they were stuffed full of clothing. I asked if he was really paying for old clothes. He said yes. I asked him how he paid. I was imagining something like a set price per garment. Like 5 euros for a coat, etc. He said he paid 50 cent a kilo. I said but you do not have a scales here. How do you know how much things weigh? He held out his hand and said this is my scales.
6 October Wednesday
The stream is just about dried up. The place where Em goes for her stick throwing has a little pocket of water but it is not flowing. The remaining water is stagnant and it smells. The flow seems to be blocked from further upstream. Now the woodcutters who are thinning the trees in Cooney’s wood have dropped trees and branches all along and across the stream further down. If the stream does start flowing again these branches will surely clog it up. The cut trees are strewn everywhere. The forest floor is a mess. So many trees have been taken down. I am disturbed by it all. The light and space is certainly good for the future of the trees which remain. The gaping holes and the mess below have changed the lovely wood with a stream through it into a scene of devastation. The woodcutters are not finished yet. I hope that part of their job will be to clear some of the mess. The way it is now it would be very difficult to walk through the trees the way we used to. I shall hope for a good clear up. I look forward to walking through the cleared wood to see how it has been changed.
4 October Monday
Most of the day was spent sewing up books. This book needs to be finished and shipped out by Wednesday morning so we have been working hard to finish it. Once I got myself going, I counted to see how fast I was sewing. I did 30 in half an hour but I could not double that to do 60 in one hour. It ended up being more like 50 an hour. I had to keep getting up to let Em in and out of the barn. She could not decide where she most wanted to be. At one point I had to break off from my sewing to help Simon to print the covers. I could not get a count going on that job. We just had to do them all. Tomorrow when the ink is dry, we need to glue on the covers, and then fold in the flaps and tip in two images and then we can pack them. Everything needs to be done 300 times.
2 October Saturday
The Toothpaste House just up from Booding Bridge has been painted. It is now white. The minty blue-green colour which glowed from across the valley is gone. Of course toothpaste comes in white but we would never name a white house The Toothpaste House. This house is low and not too long. From here, its old colour sat on the hillside just like a line of toothpaste on a toothbrush. Now that it is white, it is just another house.
1 October Friday
The elderberries are really rampant this year. They look so beautiful with the bright black clumps of berries on their long red stems. Seeing a tree heavy with these colours just beside a bunch of bright orange rose hips is lovely. The blackberries are everywhere in the hedgrows. They are shiny black too and surrounded by the still unripe versions of themselves which are red. All this bright colour and and loads of wild honeysuckle still blooming. All this bright colour before the leaves have even started to change.
30 September Thursday
We woke up this morning with a cow in the yard. This made us certain that we were no longer in London. We dressed fast and ran outside. The cow was surprised to see us. She took off down the path into the meadow. How did a cow know to stay on the path? It is just a mowed path through the long grass but it is still a path. Simon and Em ran after her. I tried to figure out whose cow she was. Did she come through Joe’s fence or did she come down the track from the farm? There were no visible breaks in the fence so I decided she must have come down from above. There were at least four huge pats of manure spread around and many hoofprints so it looked like she had been here for a while. Maybe all night. Simon came up from the meadow and said she had taken off up the boreen. That sounded dangerous as it is rough and rocky on that track. She could easily break a leg. I phoned to report the escapee and then suddenly we saw her racing through Joe’s field. She had rushed out over the banking at the bottom of the meadow. The fence was broken there so that was how she had arrived too. Simon and Em took off in pursuit again and drove her back toward the other cows. They were all in a field about three fields away. I phoned again to de-establish ownership of the cow and then phoned Joe to say that Simon was driving this cow back to join with the others. I said she wouldn’t have come all the way over here by herself, would she? He said Oh, she would if she wanted to.
29 September Wednesday
The sky is heavy and grey and dark. There is a strange quality of light through the darkness which makes the grass glow. This shade of green is one that I have only ever seen here. It is luminous in its brightness. The luminosity is not beautiful. It is somehow creepy and garish. If it were painted in a picture it would look wrong. If it were photographed it would look wrong. Maybe that is why it looks so wrong now as I look across the fields. It is an impossible colour.
20 September Monday
We have a local phone book which is years out of date now. This book was put together by a local group, Newcastle Foroige, as a fundraiser. All of our numbers have had a 61 added to them and now everyone has mobiles so it is hard to know where to start in re-listing alot of these numbers and many of the local addresses. The people do not move house very much but the numbers are all different. The book is so tattered and the blue cover is no longer attached. I heard a woman in a shop complaining that her address book was all filled up on the M and the O pages, and that she had never yet found an address book to accommodate those letters properly for the Irish. That is another problem to consider.
19 September Sunday
Em and I took the reverse route this morning. We went up the boreen to the farm instead of using that route for our return as usual. She was confused for a minute by our change of direction, but then she was distracted as we met the fox around the first corner. We were all surprised but he was the quickest and he was gone almost before we could register his presence. The reason I went that way this morning was because during the last weeks of Snoopy’s incarceration, Em had taken to dropping her stick in front of the house there. Instead of carrying each stick from the stream all the way back home, she left each stick and walked home empty-mouthed. It very quickly became her pattern and I have no idea why. Maybe she was just distracted by my attention to the sad state of Snoopy. Maybe it was a gift. Today, I collected seven sticks that had been left there and took them back to the stream area. I have placed them in my little supply spot and now we will have seven days of guaranteed sticks awaiting us. We are recycling. When we walked down through Johnnie Mackins place at the top, I stopped and picked a backpack full of apples. I got quite a variety of sorts. Johnnie used to graft different apples on the stock of different trees so there are some odd mixes up there. The russets won’t be ready for another few weeks but the other apples growing on the same tree are ready now. Every autumn that old orchard demands constant attention, and I still have not figured most of it out.
18 September Saturday
There is a lot of crossing of oneself as people pass churches here. I see people doing it while they drive. They do it when they walk. Today I saw a man crossing himself while he was driving and talking into a mobile phone at the same time.
17 September Friday
This morning, we made a label for the wild damson jam. We ended up with twelve jars after the making yesterday. The jars are all different sizes so it is hard to know exactly how much we made. The colour is a beautiful deep purple. Simon printed up a label using the same colour. Eating it on toast this morning was enormously satisfying. And lining up the jars with their labels makes me feel wealthy.
16 September Thursday
Irishtown is the part of Clonmel that is outside the West Gate. When the English were in power here, the Irish could work in the town during the day but they had to go outside at night. Only the English slept safely inside the gates. The houses and shops in the area outside the gate are still spoken of as being in Irishtown. There is a house a few blocks down from the gate with a big front window. I assume this house used to be a shop and that is why there is a large window. For several years there has been a dog who sat in the window. He sat in the window on a large sill which was once probably for displaying. A curtain behind the dog provided privacy for the people in the house. He watched people pass on the street. Sometimes he barked, sometimes he slept and sometimes he would not be there at all so he was probably hanging around in another part of the house or maybe he was out for a walk. The dog was small and fat and old. He was some sort of mixed breed, and brown in colour. I cannot even begin to describe what he was, but he was not attractive. He was very much a part of that walk up that side of the street in Irishtown. If I saw him or if I did not see him was not important. What was important was that I always looked to see if he was there. Today we walked past the house and there was a small wooden box on the window sill. It is the length of a shoe box but it is more narrow than a shoebox. The box is nicely sanded and finished with some matte varnish and there is a little metal plaque on the top with the name ROBBIE engraved on it. The box is not big enough to actually be holding the dog, so we assume that it is holding Robbie’s ashes.
15 September Wednesday
I went down the meadow to pick plums this afternoon. It was a much needed break from hand colouring boats and from folding pages. I put on my Plum Picking Pot. The Plum Picking Pot is a large black plastic plant pot with a thick blue rope threaded through two of the holes on the bottom. The rope is knotted up high and I put this on over my shoulder and diagonally across my chest. The pot rests on my hip and can be pushed behind me or pulled to be right in front. I made this apparatus about ten years ago and I get it out every year for the plum picking. It is perfect for the job as it leaves my hands free. The wild plums, which are called Blotcheens, are a yellowish colour with a mottled reddish tone over the skin. These grow up on a banking so I have to do a lot of climbing and balancing and reaching and stretching to get them. It would not be possible to pick any at all if I had to hold onto a bucket or a basket. Em came with me as she always does. Each time I stopped to eat a plum, she waited for her bit. I only give her plum portions without the stones as she swallows the stone and all if I give it to her. She could easily be eating plums all day long as they are all around on the ground, but she only likes them when they are handed to her. After I filled the pot twice, Simon said we should pick the wild damsons up the boreen too. They are hanging low and there are lots of them this year. They are deep blue almost purple. Em and I went up there and I filled the pot quickly. Since these are not so good for eating, we decided that we should make jam. Simon went back up with me and he reached up for the very high branches and we filled up again. We had to stop several times to shelter under branches as there have been little rain showers all day long. None lasts for more than a few minutes and the sun comes out in between each shower. Now we are committed to jam making as we have so many plums. We can eat the blotcheens while we make the damson jam. I must now go on a hunt for empty jars.
14 September Tuesday
There are thousands of butterflies in the garden. Perhaps there are millions. I have never seen so many butterflies in one place. I have heard of this kind of swarming but I have never seen it before, and I have certainly not seen it here. These are all the same kind of butterflies. Simon tells me that they are Red Admirals. They are on flowers and bushes and even on the grass. Every day they appear with the sunshine and then they disappear by sundown. Every day I think it will be the last day for this magic. Em was sleeping in the sun yesterday and she was surrounded by a crowd of the butterflies all around her. She looked like a celebration.
13 September Monday
The excitement about the All Ireland win seems to have calmed down a bit. For quite a while there was little talk of anything else here. First there was the bringing of The Liam (which is how one speaks of the Liam McCarthy Cup) to Thurles and then it went to Mullinahone where the team captain is from. I think the cup gets filled up along the route and people drink a celebratory sip or gulp from it. This is a way to personally savour the win. I do not know how many places The Liam has been taken to. It might still be travelling around. Tipperary fans are now buying and wearing Blue and Gold T-shirts with the 2010 championship information on it. We heard that a woman in Kilkenny had ordered one thousand Amber and Black T-shirts printed with the words: Five in a Row. This was in anticipation of Kilkenny winning The Liam. I wonder what she will do with these shirts now. Rose said that the day of the match was very quiet in the bar. I assumed the place would be packed down there but she said No, most people went up to Dublin for the match. She said it took several days for people to make their way back home. She said many people were confined to the public houses. There seem to even more of these little yellow and blue yarn things. They are braided lengths of yarn, maybe a foot long at the most, and 8 or 10 pieces of yarn thick. They are tied onto mirrors, hats, backpacks, handbags and worn as headbands. I think they are made by mothers and grandmothers as an inexpensive way to show your county colours. There were lots of these around before the match, but they have proliferated since the big win.
12 September Sunday
I lifted all of my potato crop as there seem to be some little holes in many of the potatos. I do not think worms or bugs are still inside but I think the potatoes will be better out of the ground. Usually we just leave them in the soil and dig them as we want to eat them. I dried them off on the outside table for the day and have now put them in a big barrel. This is an experiment and I hope it works. The onions are now all tied in groups of three or four and they are hanging in a row in the shed. There are fifteen bunches. They are so beautiful that I have been walking into the shed all day just to admire them again and again. The smell is wonderful. It fills the whole shed.
11 September Saturday
This mornings weather forecast promised a day that would be light and breezy, sunny with rainy spells which might be squally and some heavy. This covers just about everything, except snow.
10 September Friday
Oh, Good News! Snoopy is alive. Snoopy is alive and living in Ardfinnan. He has been spotted by someone over there. Kenneth has been walking Snoopy around the village on a lead. He has put a very large dog house into the very tiny backyard of the house which he shares with his new wife. Now Snoopy is in residence there too. We are so stunned and happy happy about this. I can now pass Ken’s old house without a sinking sick and sad feeling. We are all so pleased that Snoopy has a life without loneliness again. It is a terrible pity that it had to take so long. Snoopy has a life.
9 September Thursday
THE BOOK REMEMBERS EVERYTHING is on its way. The whole lot are traveling by ship from China to Rotterdam. From Rotterdam the books will be put onto another ship heading for Dublin. After they clear customs, they will travel by road to Kilkenny and then on to us here. This journey will take some weeks. With the world and everything in it moving so quickly, I find it reassuringly old-fashioned to have this element of time involved in the production. We even know the name of the ship: MOL MAXIM. Of course, Fed Ex or some courier could do it faster, but with Fed Ex we would not know the name of the ship doing the carrying.
8 September Wednesday
VICTUALLER is the name written over most butcher shops. It looks like a very old fashioned word, and it always looks very meaty to me. I never say it as I just cannot get it to work in my mouth. I rarely hear it said so there is no chance for me to get used to its sound.
7 September Tuesday
Tom Cooney’s hay shed is filling up. He has one third of the place full of big rectangular bales of hay. One half is full of big round bales. There is still a little more space in there. I hope the third installment is a different shape or scale. He must be pleased to have got all that hay under cover before the big rain. Em and I walked and I looked for someone to talk to about the Snoopy situation. It is normal to see no one on my walks, so this was a normal day. In the afternoon I spoke to Teresa on the telephone. They are convinced that Snoopy is gone. They think that my letter was the final push that Ken needed and they are glad that something has happened. They were so worried that Snoopy might have to go through another lonely winter. It has been a year since his incarceration. I remember how angry we were over the holidays when the roads were impassable and no one had a key and we worried if Snoopy would starve to death. He threw himself against the upstairs window in a frenzy when anyone passed. He barked so much that he went hoarse. Ken did not seem at all bothered. And that was nine months ago. So I am glad that the situation has been resolved but I feel terrible that Snoopy might well be put down as even if he was taken to the dog shelter there are just too many dogs being dumped there in these hard times. He is too big and goofy to appeal to many people. When people are feeling poor and trying to economise, no one wants a large hungry dog to feed. He may well be put to sleep. Hi dulled eyes and scruffy fur and bleeding sores would do nothing to make him look desirable. He may be dead already. I waver between feeling like a killer and feeling like I did the right thing in the face of such ongoing neglect. I feel deeply sad and such relief all at the same time.
6 September Monday
What rain we had last night! I wonder if this was the tail end of Hurricane Earl? It was as though the three or four weeks of no rain at all came down in 14 hours. The wind was wild and ceaseless. The rain lashed down and because of the wind it kept changing direction. The leak in the chimney was activated and water ran down the wall. This happens very rarely and only when the rain is particularly awful. There was thunder and lightening and today everything is squishy and there are huge puddles on the roads and on the fields. I do not think the very dry land can absorb so much water so fast. Em and I set off to walk this morning in a moment of weak watery sun. We got wet walking up through the overgrown bushes and we got wetter when the skies opened up again. We were completely drenched by the time we got home. No sign of Snoopy.
5 September Sunday
The first Sunday in September is traditionally the day for the All-Ireland Hurling Championship Game. I am usually able to ignore this as I do not understand the game of hurling. Years ago, I was severely reprimanded for called the wooden implement that they use a stick. It is a called a hurley. It is flat and short with a rounded end. It is kind of like an abbreviated hockey stick. This year Tipperary is in the finals and the entire county is decorated with gold and blue flags and banners and bunting and shirts and scarves. Every shop and many houses have something blue and gold on them. There are signs everywhere that say UP TIPP! Cars have flags on the antennas and attached to the windows. People of all ages are wearing the same slippery jerseys as the players wear. This game has been hotly anticipated as it is against the neighbouring county of Kilkenny. Kilkenny has won for the last four years. They want to win five in a row which will be some kind of record. The entire county of Kilkenny is ablaze with amber and black. There have been border skirmishes. Kilkenny people come over the border at night and paint out Tipperary flags and change them to Kilkenny colours. There have been songs and chants being invented every day. Even the Farmers’ Market was taken over by the Tipperary colours yesterday. With all of this mayhem, it was difficult not to watch the match today. I have a terrible time trying to understand what is happening. The game is very fast and very rough and the players have very little protection. They wear helmets which I gather is a recent developement. Their legs are bare. They say it is the fastest game in the world. The women’s version is called Camogie. I do not know if it is as rough nor if they are as unprotected. Sometimes the players run with the ball in their hand and sometimes they balance it on their hurley while they run along. This looks very difficult to do. Points are scored by hitting the ball up and over the goal or directly into the goal. The expression ‘puck it out’ or ‘puck out’ is one among many which I have not understood. The goalie appears to have a bigger hurley than the rest of the players. The Tipperary team won today. As the cup was being awarded two groups of people came out onto the pitch with two huge rectangles of fabric. One piece was yellow (gold) and and one piece was blue. There were about 16 people for each piece of fabric and they stood with the two colours horizontal to the ground and they flapped the fabric gently. The 16 people were not standing at all close together. These were enormous pieces of cloth. This was a flat representation of the Tipp flag. Tomorrow night there will be a huge parade and party in Thurles. I expect it will be several days before anything gets back to normal in the county.
4 September Saturday
I am very worried about Snoopy. The window upstairs is sometimes open and sometimes closed. Snoopy does not look out even when called. He is not in the yard on his rope. This has been the situation for several days now. Is he gone? Is he still there and very ill? Has he been taken to the vets to get his legs seen to? I hope my letter did not make Ken do something drastic. I am glad that something is being done. How I hope it is something good.
2 September Thursday
I wanted to get back to work on my Green Room. I thought I would stop and clear all of the weeds from directly around the green shards and make a good photograph of the greens being overtaken by the green vegetation. I was not sure that I could get the camera directly over the area to get a straight down shot with no parallax. Since there is nothing to stand on and since I am short, I thought I would just do the best I could. I thought a lot about how to do this as I walked down the track with Em. When we reached the site, I was surprised to see the whole stretch of rubble covered with leafy branches. The wood cutters were in Cooney’s wood and they were thinning out trees. This must be the job of the painted yellow and white stripes from last year. The sound of chainsaws was not too loud. They were deep into the wood with their cutting. I do not know why some of the branches were spread out and piled up on the rubble surface. They cannot be dragging everything all the way out of the wood just to pile it up there, but that looks like exactly what they are doing. I wonder if I will ever see Maisie’s Green Room again.
1 September Wednesday
When a registered letter comes, the postman does not ask us to sign for it. Instead he just signs for it himself and drops it into our plastic post box. Sometimes he asks us a few days later if we got that registered letter which he put into the box. Most times he never mentions it at all.
31 August Tuesday
The boreen has been so clear and wide since the ditches were cut. On the whole, this is a very good thing. At first I was only disturbed that I could not smell the wild honeysuckle. Now I am annoyed that there are so few blackberries to collect on the way down. At this time of year, I depend on large quantities of available berries so that I can pick some on the last bit of the walk home. When I arrive with a handful of berries they can go right onto my cereal or into my fruit drink. Now I have to detour up into the field to pick my portion, or else I go out later with a container for more concentrated picking. I should not complain. There are huge amounts of berries to be picked in every direction. I cannot pick enough of them. I just enjoy the berries being so close to me in the boreen that I have no choice but to pick them.
30 August Monday
There has been a spider in the bathtub all week. It is a huge spider. I call this a Wood Spider but I do not know if that is its correct name. It is very large with a brown body and thick brown legs. It is about 4 inches wide counting the legs. This spider can stay very still in the tub all day long. Sometimes it is there for two days. Then one of us collects it up in a cup and we take it outside. The next day, the spider will be back. I am certain that it is the same spider. We think it climbs in and up the drain of the tub. Today he has a companion or a spouse with him. There are two spiders in the tub. I never see movement and there is never any sound. They are just together at opposite ends of the tub. Quietly.
28 August Saturday
It has been a fine summer. As a result of the great weather, the pigeons are really fat. The pheasants are really fat too. All of the birds are feeding off the fields of corn and grain. The fields are beautiful in their just harvested state. Their colour is golden and bright. Many of the big round bales of hay are still scattered around waiting to be gathered up and put under cover for the winter. It is scary to meet a tractor racing down the road pulling a large load of bales, but while the bales are still in the field they look beautiful. They give the landscape a different sense of scale. It is not a human scale, and it is not the same as the very same field when it is full of cows. The bale scale is seasonal and it is a thing in itself.
25 August Wednesday
Snoopy is still living his life as a prisoner with no fixed scheduale and very little human contact. We are very sad and worried about it all. Teresa has written several letter to Ken. I have written one too. It is impossible to reach Ken by phone as he has had the phone in the house disconnected and has changed his mobile number. He avoids me if I am walking down the road when he arrives at the house. He dashes into the house or into his car and drives away. He knows we are all angry and upset about his treatment of his dog. The running open sores on the front of Snoopy’s legs was the last straw for me. I do not know how he got these wounds. Maybe they are from him rubbing endlessly against something or maybe he has gnawed at his legs because of fleas and now they are infected. Whatever the reason, any caring animal owner would notice and try to help to heal them. Not Ken. Day after day the sores look worse and more infected. I wrote about them in my letter. I have threatened to call the animal welfare people if something is not done for Snoopy soon. I hate seeing this loving pet being trasnformed into an abused watchdog. The confusion and lonelieness were bad enough but now there is physical pain too.
23 August Monday
Em still smells of the sea. The saltiness of her daily swims in the sea out in Kerry have returned with her. I know in a few more days she will smell of the long grass again. I like her smelling of the sea or of grass. Unfortunately, the slightly fetid odour of the stream will soon be her underlying odour. When the rains come again, the stream will smell fresh and good, but for now it is horrible in its near stagnant state.
15 August Sunday
I am giving up on the Green Room. The weeds are winning. This morning I spent more time pulling out weeds than I did finding more pieces of green painted plaster. Each time I have stopped there this week, I find fewer and fewer pieces. I have resisted bringing a tool to make the finding easier. The area of pieces which I have laid down looks very fine. The pieces hidden away in the rubble will remain hidden and this little area will remain my little memory of Maisie. When things die down in the winter, it might reappear. No one but myself will stop to look at it, but I will know it is there.
14 August Saturday
An Update of Garden Edibles
Potatoes-lovely and not at all floury. We could have started eating them weeks ago, but I was so late putting them in, I thought I had to wait and wait for the eating.
Courgettes-prolific as ever, we struggle to eat them all when they are small and tender.
Cavolo Nero-decimated by the white cabbage fly which looks more like a moth than a fly. The plants look like skeletons with skeletal leaf shapes. Why don’t I just pull them out?
Sprouting Broccoli-one huge plant, one small one, everything else was massacred early on. More Brocolli and Cavolo Nero doing well in seed trays to attempt some more plants for winter production. I have noticed that the cabbage fly disappears with colder weather. I hope that is the case this year.
Onions-looking good, sitting up on top of the soil. I am waiting for their leaves to droop. The scallions have sort of disappeared, but maybe they will surface too.
One bean plant has resurrected itself. All of the others were slaughtered by slugs. I think I planted them out too soon.
Berry bushes in varying states. Blueberries look dead.
Apples and plums-ripening
Various salads and rockets and leaves- ongoing, productive and good. Radicchio coming along well, but none eaten yet.
Sorrell, chives, tarragon, parsley, dill, coriander, oregano, thyme, mint, rosemary, sage, fennel- all lush and plentiful.
12 August Thursday
We spoke to a dentist who was driving a bright red sports car. It was a two-seater with a convertible soft top. In the course of conversation he told us that he did not like to drive fast. He said that the only reason he had a sports car was that he did not like to have empty seats behind him when he drove.
10 August Tuesday
An old man from the Nire came into the bar. As soon as he arrived, Rose was busy trying to organize a ride for him. Someone had dropped him off and she knew he would never leave unless she got him going on his way. He had not even finished his pint of cider when she had a ride waiting. He quickly purchased a Naggin of whiskey to take with him. This was a new word for me. A Naggin is a quarter bottle, usually of whiskey but it might be brandy. This fellow, John was his name, slipped it into the voluminous pockets of his trousers. It was just the right size to fit into the pockets of that kind of trousers. I had not really felt like stopping in for a drink at Roses’s, but the word Naggin makes me glad I did.
9 August Monday
As I walked up past Michael O’Connor’s house, I saw his brother Johnnie loading up a trailer outside the door. I stopped to speak as I had not seen him, even to offer my condolences, since Michael died last winter. He knew that Michael called me American Lady, so he greeted me like that himself today. He told me he was there to clear out a few more things while he waited for the auctioneer. The house was already very empty. Johnnie told me how he and his wife had painted and fixed up the place 17 years ago for Michael when he moved back from England. He told me that they had been 2 of 9 children. He spoke of various deaths and of the order of the siblings and about who was left. There was a photograph of a much younger Michael in a group of people on the wall near the door. He told me various stories of Michael over the years. He said that Michael had never gotten his driving license but that he had taken lessons in England. He got to the point of actually taking his test. He drove around for a while doing whatever the examiner asked him to do. When they passed a pub which Michael knew well, he pulled up to the curb and said We’ll have a drink here then, shall we?
8 August Sunday
I went down to the village to get the newspapers. Ever since they stopped performing Mass there on Sunday morning it is always quiet on Sunday. All of the chatting and visiting takes place outside the church in Fourmilewater now. Today there was an unexpected buzz. I thought it was just because of the sunshine and the warmth. Then I remembered that today is Vintage Day. The last two years have been so wet that the event had to be cancelled. Today’s good weather makes the excitement that much greater. People were gathering with their machinery. Several very old tractors were making their way up to Michael Hallinan’s field. One older man had a FOR SALE sign on his blue tractor. A huge lorry was arriving with a big threshing machine on the back. I say it was a threshing machine, but I only think it was a threshing machine. It was enormous and it had something to do with farming and it was being unloaded for the event. That is all I know. There were a lot of young men in front of the shop. They had cars with fancy wheelcovers. I assume they were there for the vintage day too. They all looked very young to me. Perhaps they are consider their cars to be vintage. It was only eleven o’clock when I went down and the event does not even start until one.
6 August Friday
Today we had a postcard from Lake Winnipesaukee. Yesterday we recieved one from Helsinki. It used to be so normal to get a good variety of postcards from other people’s holidays. It was a nice way to experience someone else’s summer vacation. It meant that they were relaxed and that they had time and that they were thinking of you. Most holiday cards do not say much. It is just the card itself that is the point. A lot of places do not even sell postcards now. They say that no one buys them any more. It is a little bit of a job. You have to buy the card, and then you have to write something on it. Then you have to have the person’s address with you and you have to find a post office and buy a stamp. I guess most people just mark their trip with various electronic means and no one has to miss a moment of anything. Right now, we have four picture postcards of four different places spread along the windowsill. I have instant contact with four places in the world as I sit here in a valley in Tipperary. And I feel happy both to be remembered by people and reminded of places.
5 August Thursday
There was a wide swathe of grain on the corner of the road coming down from Tullaghmelan. It was a beautiful golden colour. It was thick on the ground. Em and I walked through it very slowly. It was like walking on a sandy beach. We walked through it and then we turned around and we walked through it again. The grain fell off the top of a trailer as the tractor went around the corner. The trailer must have passed very recently as there were no tyre tracks through the grain. Our footprints were the only disturbance. I see a lot of grain spilled by the roads here and there. This was the biggest spill I have seen. In a few days it will all be pushed and blown about, and the beautiful swirl of it will be completely gone. Everyone is busy getting the harvest in now and everyone is in a hurry. The tractors and the machines race up and down the roads and in and out of the fields. As the machinery gets both bigger and wider, August becomes a dangerous time to be on the road.
2 August 2010 Bank Holiday Monday
I was back in The Green Room this morning. I feel very discouraged with my lack of progress. I do not want to begin a major job of removal. I do not want to play archeologist. I do not want to actually dig up the flattened down rubble of Maisie’s old house. I just enjoy the collecting. I was eager to spread out my green surface before the vegetation took over. The vegetation is winning. Everything grows so fast here. One year we had weeds growing up out of the damp floor mat inside the van. Compared to that this arrival of weeds in an inhospitable area of old cement and plaster and stone is not much of a challenge. Maybe this Green Room I have in my head never was a room, but only a Green Wall. Maybe it was a section of a wall and not even a whole wall. Maybe my collection of the greens is not so far off the original size of that wall which Maisie painted green. I am trying to reassure myself but it is not working. I shall try to find out if anyone remembers the colour green inside her house.
31 July Saturday
There is a new batch of very young cows in Joe’s field. As a group, they are trying out their new voices. They make deep moaning and bellowing sounds. Today when I heard one of them from over the bushes, I thought it must be the bull making such a noise. To see a tiny calf with such a big sound coming out of his mouth was a shock. Once one has made that noise they all have to try it. They will grow into these sounds. As they get bigger the sounds will be less surprising both to me and to themselves.
30 July Friday
Another grey and overcast day. Everyday has been grey and overcast. It has not been cold but it has not been hot either. Some days have had rainy intervals off and on throughout the day. Some days have had a few short intervals of sun. Mostly the dullness has just felt oppressive. Every day at about six o’clock the sun arrives. Then the sky changes from grey to bright blue, with or without white clouds, and the evening is glorious. The light is extraordinary. It is all utterly beautiful. We sit outside and watch the birds diving and swooping. Every evening we sit outside and we forget that the whole day was not as beautiful as the end of it is.
29 July Thursday
The ditches of the boreen have been cut from the road right through the farm yard and all the way down here to our house. Ned Shine was the man on the cutting machine. He had his dog in the cab of the tractor with him. He made three trips up and down. The sides are cut well back and the tops are cut well down. Instead of walking down the lumpy grassy middle and being whacked, slapped, stung and stabbed by various bushes and branches, I can now walk along in one of the outer tyre tracks and I am free from all attack. The sad thing is that the sweet smell of the wild honeysuckle is gone. The honeysuckle has taken a beating.
28 July Wednesday
I have done a few more days of collecting for the Green Room. That is how I think of the pieces of green from the rubble of Maisie’s house. It is getting harder and harder to find the pieces of green and I fear that without a better tool, I will very quickly be finished with the collection process. I use whatever stick I have with me. It is usually the stick which Em is waiting to have thrown to her in the water. I can see a few large and thick pieces stuck firmly between other rocks and rubble. I cannot get them out by hand nor with a stick. I need a shovel or a spade or a crowbar if I am going to free these pieces. Most of the greens which I now retrieve are no bigger than a coin. In the beginning I could double the area size of the green pieces each time I stopped at the site. Now, with such tiny pieces, and even these becoming harder to find, I am lucky to add a narrow strip of colour down one side of my area. The dream of laying out the whole room has changed. Now I hope to maybe get enough pieces to equivalence one wall.
26 July Monday
I returned my library books today. I placed the books on the counter and I apologized because the books were late. I asked how much I owed for them. The librarian said I owed nothing at all. I said They are four days late, I must owe something. She said No No, you are grand. There is a one week grace period. You are grand. All this time I have been rushing to return my books promptly after the three week loan period , and all this time everyone else has known that the date stamped in the front of the book doesn’t really mean anything.
22 July Thursday
Damp and grey and wet and cool. It does not feel the way I would like July to feel. Em is happy as she does not like warm mornings. She prefers this damp coolness. She is an Irish dog. I stopped again at the flattened area of what was once Maisie’s Mountains well after it was Maisie’s House. The area of rubble had been so firmly evened out that I felt certain that it would be years before anything grew there. Last week as I walked around on the hard surface, I saw that small bits of grass and weeds were already growing through the rubble. I began to pick up the pieces of Maisie’s green painted wall. These pieces are just clumps of concrete with a skim of plaster on the flat surface. The green paint was painted over an earlier shade of green. The first green looks much greener than the second green. I gathered up a number of the pieces and placed them in a group green side up in the middle of the flattened rubble. Today I returned to this job and doubled my area of green pieces. Most of the bits are small. The largest piece I have found so far is no more than 8 inches across. All the time I was wandering about and collecting the pieces of green, Em was waiting for me down in the stream. She did not bark. She just waited. She stood in the water quietly looking up at the place from which I throw the daily stick. Every once and a while I called out to her and I said that I would be there soon. She could have come out of the water at any time and joined me on the rubble surface, but she has had no interest in that area since the mountains were flattened. I am becoming obsessed with this area. I wonder if I can collect the whole green room. I wonder if I can collect the whole green room and lay it all out on the rubble before the surface is overtaken by green vegetation.
21 July Wednesday
When I am out walking in the morning, it is normal to meet John the Post. Sometimes he just waves, and sometimes he stops to chat. If he has not been to our house yet, he gives me the mail. If there is a small packet or parcel, he asks me if this is alright. He asks if I can manage to carry the parcel or will it ruin my walk. I always say it is okay because he never gives me anything that is too large to carry. Today I took a few things from him and then he started to drive down the hill. He did not accelerate. He just rolled along in his van and I walked along beside him and we continued our conversation through his open window. We moved along like this for a good distance until another car came along and we had to move. We were taking up the whole road.
20 July Tuesday
Someone has moved into the Murder Cottage/Mary Corbett’s house/Dessie’s. The signs are down. Has it been sold or has it been rented? There is a blue car outside and there are some plants in big pots placed around the yard.
18 July Sunday
One day last summer, Simon came up from the barn with the tall wooden stool in his hand. He asked me if I minded him giving it to Maud. Maud was standing right beside him when he asked. I felt that I had no choice but to say okay. It was not as if the stool were valuable or extremely special in any way. It was a very tall and narrow stool with a seat that was too small to be comfortable for most people.
We got the stool along with a bunch of other things from a reclamation yard in Cork when we were first working on this house. We bought a big old Belfast sink which was badly crazed. We bought some wooden chairs. I do not remember all the things we bought. Simon saw the tall stool and asked the man how much it would cost. The entire seat was cracked into two pieces. It looked like a complete loss. It looked like something that would take more trouble to repair than it would ever be worth. It looked like if it was repaired it would still never be right. The man was amused that Simon wanted it so he threw it in with the rest of the purchases for free. It seemed silly to take it. It seemed even sillier once we got home. The whole house, and all of the out-buildings and the land were a mess. Everything was a mess and everything needed enormous amounts of work. A broken stool was a distraction and a totally unnecessary job to add to everything else that needed to be done. That is probably why Simon decided to do it. He fixed the broken seat with some strong glue and clamps and then with some kind of filler. The finished seat had a nice light stripe through it to define the repair. For many years, it stayed down in the barn just inside the door. When we were showing books or discussing a project with visitors, someone would end up perched upon it. It was obvious that no one was comfortable on it. Most of the time, we just put things onto it in order to remember to take them up to the house.
Maud took the stool away. I felt sad about it for a while and then I forgot about it. Today a message arrived. It was a photograph of her new piece. The piece is called Rumpus Room. The stool is in among a gathering of things. There is something circus-like about the grouping. I think Maud is enjoying the sound of the words Rumpus Room and making what she thinks the sound might look like. In Ireland, I have noticed that houses do not have basements. Without a basement, there can be no rumpus room because the basement is where a rumpus room is always located. Maud’s version of the words has made them into what she wants them to be. It is a fantasy place and there are fantastical things happily together in her fantasy place. It is nice to see our stool there.
17 July Saturday
The Dulux Man was very sad to tell us that his dog is now going blind as well as being deaf. He is extremely depressed about this. Every year he and his dog have entered the dog show at the Cahir Fair. Every single year that he has entered, he and his dog have won three prizes. This year he felt he could not enter the Tree Run. The Tree Run is when the owner tells his dog to run to the tree and back and the dog does exactly that. His dog could neither hear the command nor see the tree. He said the dog was Not Able For It. I do not know what the other categories were but he was most disappointed about the Tree Run.
11 July Sunday
I like that what I call The Yellow Pages are called The Golden Pages here. The telephone book is made of the same thin newsprint sort of paper and the shade of yellow is the same as it is in other places but here the pages are Golden. It makes them sound special.
10 July Saturday
Lashing pelting wild rain. All day rain. We have not had this weather for a long time. Actually we had this exact weather yesterday too but before that we had not had this weather for quite a while. There were discussions about drought and worries about crops. There was a lot of brown visible in the countryside, in places where we usually only see green. There was even talk of water rationing in the cities. This afternoon, I emptied the lake on the top of the post box twice as I ran up and down to my room. It has no doubt filled to overflowing again by now.
9 July Friday
Tomas O’Dwyer got married today. He and his wife drove off to their reception in a tractor. It was not his own tractor but a fancy one belonging to a friend. Or this is what we were told. We went into Nugents for a drink and as we sat there talking the room filled up with young men and women. The smell of aftershave and perfume was strong. There was a lot of hair gel and everyone was wearing their fancy clothes as opposed to their usual Friday night after work gear. Ironed shirts and pressed jeans. High heels and glittery dresses. Everyone was drinking and waiting. They were all pretty early, but the waiting was part of the ritual. Eventually the McCarras bus would come to collect everyone and take them into town for The Afters. The Afters is what happens After the church wedding ceremony and After the dinner and After the speeches. The Afters is the party which celebrates the marriage and everyone is invited to The Afters. Most times it is in a large venue like a hotel, but sometimes it is in a big tent set up for that purpose. There will be a band and dancing and a pay bar. It will go on until the early hours. It will go on until the bus comes to take them home. We left before the bus arrived so I do not know how much longer they all spent arriving and gathering and drinking and readying themselves. I should think some of them were going to be ready to pass out before they even got to the party.
8 July Thursday
At this time of year, there are a lot of insects in the house. They are everywhere with the warm weather. There are moths and spiders and flies and bees and lots of variations of each. The kitchen door is always open and the bees come right in. The honeysuckle is right outside, growing up and around the door. They drone about indoors in a lazy way for a little while but they always end up going back out to the fragrant blossom. The flies are the most potentially annoying but they mostly fly high up near the ceiling or bounce off the windows. They buzz about and then they too continue off somewhere else, or else they die. I sweep up a lot of dead flies. We have no screens on the windows. No one here has screens on their windows. I think that is more a characteristic of places that have a lot of mosquitoes. The windows are just open and the bugs come in and the bugs go out. None of these bugs are biters. We live together quietly.
7 July Wednesday
There are always small pieces of metal wired onto gates. These pieces of metal were once part of something else. They might have been part of a can or a metal box. The rectangular pieces were cut out and pounded with a hammer or a mallet until flat. Even if one side of the metal had words imprinted on it, the other side would be blank. That is the side that is used for a message. The words LANDS POISONED or LANDS PRESERVED or some other important message is painted on the metal with enamel paint. It is usually enamel paint or some kind of out-of-door paint which will stay on the metal and will not wear off with the weather. Whenever these signs are made, I think the effort has gone into the finding and flattening of the metal, and perhaps in locating the tin of paint. The brush gets very little consideration. This is obvious as the brush used is almost always too big for the size of letters to be painted. And enamel paint is difficult to manipulate at the best of times. Either two or four holes are made with a nail pounded into the corners and when finished, the sign is wired onto a gate. With this method the sign is guaranteed to last, in place, for a long time. It is not uncommon to come across a shiny little piece of metal on a gate with the words worn away. The small piece of flattened metal will remain long after its message has disappeared.
6 July Tuesday
I meet Michael almost every other morning now. Simon and I take turns taking Em up the boreen and around. She is happiest with this regular short walk and a swim. The one of us not going with Em is free to go the longer route around the fields and up Flemingstown way. Most days when I go the long way I meet Michael. We seem to be on the same time clock these days. He is on the way to help Joe with the cows. Somedays he is in the tractor and somedays he is in his car. If he turns off the engine, we are going to have a long chat. Sometimes another vehicle comes and that puts an end to the conversation but sometimes we spend 15 or 20 minutes before continuing in our opposite directions. Today the subject came up of people having to give up driving when they get too old to be safe on the road. He called it Taking the Father Out of The Car. We spoke of someone who is now 86. He no longer drives at night and he does not drive very far from his home. He drives very slowly and that annoys other drivers. We are thinking that he might have to give up driving soon. We spoke of various other local people who have had to give up driving and we spoke of the sense of no longer being in control of ones own life and movements. We spoke about the loss of independence. Michael said it was a terrible decision to have to make for someone else.
5 July Monday
There was a young woman in the shop. She was quite overweight, but she insisted on trying on a very tight dress. She was going to a party and she wanted to look terrific. She spoke in a loud excited voice so that everyone in the shop knew all about it. She went off to the dressing room and before long we heard her shriek. She said, I can’t go out like this! I look like a cat in a sock!
2 July Friday
The Twelve Mountains of Maisie have been flattened. The area is now a hard surface with the bits of recognizable rubble all evened out. There are visible chunks of a wall that was once painted green. It was certainly an inside wall. It must have made for a very dark room. There are not too many other colours visible. Everything is cement grey or brown and a very dreary looking white. Somehow the overall colour feels light, so the new flat area is more like an interior space rather than the dark ground of the out of doors. The two big cubes of concrete have been pushed off to the side by the trees of Cooneys wood. They were not crushed. They look like large dice.
30 June Wednesday
For the first time in 18 months we took Em to the sea. She went completely mad and ran and ran and ran in and out of the water. Her eyes were those of a deranged animal. She was so wet and covered with sand and seaweed and barking hysterically that she frightened several small children. By the time we got home she could barely walk. I was worried. We had let her overdo the running. Her exhaustion was complete, but after a bit of rest, there was no sign of the old limp returning. The hill farmers from the Comeragh Mountains used to take their sheepdogs down to the the sea every year to sooth or maybe to toughen their feet in the salt water. I love the idea of a truckload of sheepdogs going for their yearly outing to the seaside.
28 June Monday
The airplane on the small round-about at Cork Airport is made of hedging plants growing around and within a metal stucture in the shape of an airplane. There is a stripe of red metal or maybe plastic running along each side to give the plane a realistic touch. The red stripe has little white rounded shapes along it. These are representations of windows. Sometimes the plane is very neatly clipped. At these times it looks sharp and airplane-shaped. Today it looked in need of a trim. The very soft shape made the airplane appear blurry. In this untrimmed state, it is out of focus and almost not readable as an airplane.
Waiting inside the new Cork Airport made me miss the old Cork Airport. The old building had fish tanks scattered about the interior. If one was waiting for a delayed plane, there were always fish to watch. The tanks were built into the walls at various locations throughout the building. There was a fish tank near the cash machine, which made waiting in that little line very pleasant. The most distracting tank was the very large one in the middle of the luggage carousel. We were all less apt to feel annoyed when the luggage was slow to arrive because we could stand and watch the fish. The fish had a calming influence. I assume the person in charge of the airport must have had a love of fish. Since a lot of people come to Ireland to go fishing perhaps it was also a gesture or a suggestion toward that activity. Unfortunately the newly designed airport includes no accomodation for fish and fish tanks.
25 June Friday
John the Postman always has an apple in his van. Sometimes when I see him, he is eating it and sometimes it is just waiting to be eaten. He leaves it sitting in the box with the letters which he has not yet delivered. I am wondering if he leaves his house each day with a large supply of apples for the mornings delivery route, or if he just takes the one.
24 June Thursday
If something is to be done later, or if it is just being put off, it is said to be Put on the Long Finger.
21 June Monday
Over the last few days there has been a lot of noise from up at Maisie’s old house. A digger has been working long hours to move all of the rubble from the old house. It was all in a huge pile out back by the sheds, and the digger seemed to be sorting it. We noticed it every time we passed on foot. We could hear the machinery working all the way down here when the wind was coming from the right direction. This morning we saw that there are now twelve small mountains of rubble down near Em’s swimming place. Twelve Mountains and Two Very Large Cubes of Concrete. The mountains are made up of the knocked down house materials. There are very few stones among the rubble. The large stones are still up the hill in the big pile by the sheds. This pile is a good distance from the new house. The digger spent those days carefully sifting and sorting and separating the stones from the rubble. It has all been transported quite a distance down through the fields to get to where it is now. Em and I walked in between the mountains. They are all the same size and they are all equally spaced. It is a tidy little installation in a very odd location. I guess it is the furthest point in the fields and therefore the least useful for growing things and for moving farm machinery in and around.
16 June Wednesday
I sometimes chat with Michael in the mornings when I have walked up and through Joe’s fields. In the past, when I commented about how beautiful the land looked in a certain kind of sunlight or on a particularly frosty morning, he would always tilt his head and look at me curiously. He said: I am a farmer. I look at land for its usefulness or its fertility. The land is work. Beauty is not really a word I think about when I look at land. Then he would always tell me that he was not really from these parts. He has lived here since he was a young man, but his Home Place was down the way. It is only about 3 miles from where he is now, but that is Home and this is just where he is now. Now is going on for 60 years but it is still not the same as the Home Place. Today he surprised me. He announced that this is a very beautiful part of the world. He told me that he has travelled a bit in his life so far. He has been to Britain and to France and to Rome. He has also been to Croatia. He said that he appreciated how pleasant other places were but now he can see that this place is very beautiful and very special. He said that he never really knew how lovely it all was until he started working for the government. I did not know what he meant. Working for the government was his joke about getting a pension.
15 June Tuesday
The chives are growing like mad this year. They have spread and we now have a large area full of them and their purple tufty flowers. Each time I go to cut some for eating, I come back with a handful of the stiff stems with flowers too. It is not possible to cut any chives without getting the flowers so the little jug on the windowsill is always chock full of the flowers which come along but not to be eaten.
14 June Monday
My archive of printed books and cards are packed up in a plastic box which boasts that it holds 35 litres. I think of a litre as a liquid measurement. I wonder how many books it will take to equivalence 35 litres.
11 June Friday
THE PURE DROP in Ardfinnan is being painted. It is now becoming white and a brilliant shiny red. The name of the bar comes from Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” though I do not know if anyone there knows or cares about that reference. The name has been repainted in big red letters on the side of the bar facing the car park. Since it is located at a little round-about we have often used The Pure Drop as a signifier when giving people directions. It is only recently that we realized that the name of the bar is not visible from the road if you are driving from Newcastle or from Ardfinnan or Cahir. It is only visible if you are driving from the direction of Clonmel. So we might say to take a left at The Pure Drop but a driver will never know when he or she has arrived at The Pure Drop. In future, we may instead mention the round-about as The Only Round-About in Ardfinnan.
9 June Wednesday
Simon went down to have a pint last night.While he was there there was a huge rain storm. Everyone who was in the pub was trapped in the pub. Several inches of water rushed down the street. There was thunder and lightening. The lightening knocked out the TV. Everyone who wanted to leave had to wait for a pause in the storm and then they rushed out to their car or their house. Some people just used the rain as the excuse to stay longer and longer. Simon came back all excited to tell about it. He had been through something Big. It was just a few miles away but here I was having had only a few tiny spots of rain and no drama at all. It was hard to share his excitement. It continued to rain all night and this morning there is a gray pall over everything. The drizzle is ceaseless.
8 June Tuesday
The cow parsley is starting to go. It does not feel like it has been here for long enough. The big frothy blossoms are looking less frothy. There is more green to be seen through the skeletal flower heads. The boreen is still densely full of them, but they are looking less robust. It is now full of lots of other things. The honeysuckle is here. The ferns are fine. The ferns, this year, are very fine. The route down from the farm is getting more and more narrow. The central bit of grass is clumpy and uneven to walk upon. The sides are so overgrown that is it difficult to walk down in either of the tyre tracks as the nettles and brambles grab at me as I walk. Now this end of the boreen requires long-sleeved shirts as does the other end. The boreen on the way up to Johnny Mackin’s is closing in on the passage of a single body. The boreen back up toward the farm is closing in on the passage of a single vehicle. We already need to close the car windows before driving up or down.
7 June Monday
Michael O’Connor is dead. He has been dead for three months now. Maybe four. I commented to Tommie about the small car that is parked in Michael’s yard. For as long as I have lived here, Michael has never had a car. He had a bicycle, but not a car. In the last few years, he never even went out on his bicycle. He stayed inside his gate and in his yard and he just walked about a little bit. Tommie told me that the car was there as a decoy. He explained that it was there so that no one would know that the house is empty. He told me that this was the function of a decoy. He told me this as though I were stupid.
5 June Saturday
When we go to the market in Cahir, we always park down by the river. In the last few months, we have met the same man every Saturday. It does not matter if we arrive very early in the morning or if we arrive towards noon time. He is always just arriving himself and he is getting out of his car as we walk up the hill. Each time he sees us, he admires and comments about Em and he wants to know how old she is. He then tells me about his own old dog. He tells me that his dog is 16 years old. He tells me that his dog is going deaf. In the time that we have been having these conversations, his dog has gone completely deaf. His dog is a sheep dog. He can see that Em has sheep dog in her but that she is mixed with something else. Every time I tell him that we do not know who her father was. Every time I tell him that we got her from the daughter of Mr. Fitzgerald, the local man who sold us our washing machine. He is also the man who repaired the washing machine later. He knows Mr. Fitzgerald and tells me this each time. He always tells me that Em reminds him of the Dulux dog on television. It is just that that dog is cute and black and white, and Em is cute and black and white too. They are not the same kind of dog at all. We have the same conversation every week. The only change is in the condition of his own dog. Otherwise the entire conversation is exactly as it was the week before. I have taken to calling this man the Dulux Man. Simon has taken to walking quickly up the hill and away as soon as the conversation begins.
4 June Friday
I am worried about Snoopy. We are all worried about Snoopy. Ever since Ken got involved and now married, he has been living over in Ardfinnan. He keeps Snoopy locked up in his house here most of the time. When he comes and lets the dog out for a few hours, he puts him on a rope. The dog is alone day and night. This dog was happy and lively. He would bark and leap and protect and play, depending on the situation. In these days since his new captivity, he sat and looked out the upstairs window and when anyone passed he barked and jumped up and down. His head got tangled in the curtains in his excitement. Now he is quiet. He watches us walk by and doesn’t do anything even when we call his name. We think he is depressed. It is cruel for him to be alone so much of the time. I do not know what to do. I do not want to be a busybody but I really object to this treatment of what was once a much loved companion. I know other neighbors are concerned. Teresa and Seamus have made their anger and concern known to Ken. It is time for me to do the same.
2 June Wednesday
When I use the word ABROAD, I am thinking of far away places. I am thinking of a place usually overseas. I am thinking of a foreign place. Here the expression is used quite freely to describe someone being out and about. A farmer might be Abroad in the field. Or someone might be Abroad in the yard. They might just be Abroad, which suggests that they are somewhere other than at home, but definitely not overseas.
1 June Tuesday
Dessie’s house has been painted both inside and out. There are two signs up outside. One sign is facing in one direction and one is facing in the other direction. Whichever way you are passing, you can read FOR SALE OR TO RENT. We are interested to see who will next live there.
31 May Monday
I was told years ago that the house on the corner down by the big tree at Knocklofty was inhabited by someone who sold guns. I never knew if this was true or not. I would think of it every so often as I drove by. I never saw anything that made me believe that it was true. I never saw anything that made me believe that it was not true either. I would study the gate or some aspect of the building and it’s surrounding walls. I always felt that it was a very odd place from which to be selling guns. It is both too isolated and yet located right on a well used road. There is no sign to advertise guns for sale. Today as I drove by, a man walked from the house across the road to his parked car. He was carrying a long black zipped up case which looked like the shape and size of a rifle or shotgun. He was carrying a cardboard box of shells or bullets or cartridges. I know nothing about guns but that is what I decided that they must be. I am not sure that I know any more about the true nature of this house but it was quite a sight on a Monday morning.
30 May Sunday
The llama is back. I am not certain that he was ever really gone. He is just in a different field. This is not a field that I usually walk past. I will have to go out of my way if I want to continue my conversations about Peru with him. I do feel that he knows me now, and that he recognizes my voice. This is probably ridiculous. More likely, he is just bored and the sound of any voice is a change from his lonely isolation in a field in Tipperary. Still, I am happy to see him again.
29 May Saturday
The Cheese Lady was going to be away today, so we were invited to fill in for her at the Farmers Market in Cahir. We set up a small selection of Coracle books. Pat O’Brien loaned us an awning which was wonderful. It was like a little room. People could stand inside and under the awning while they looked at the books on our table. They were out of the soft drizzle and the books were out of the soft drizzle. Most of the time it was not raining. We had a thoroughly pleasant time. It was nice to be on the other side of a table at the market. It was nice for us to be able to show what we do to the people whose produce we buy every week. There was a lot of interest in the books and a lot of good conversation. Usually Em loves the market and all the possibilities of dropped food. She loves the attention and the petting. I think she found four hours of scoping for things to nibble just too much hard work. She ended up sighing and sleeping under our table.
28 May Friday
Siobhan wants people to close the gate when they walk through to the backyard. She does not want her dog to escape out onto the road. She has been looking for a sign to put on the gate but she can’t find one that doesn’t use the word SHUT. She feels that it is rude to say SHUT THE GATE or even PLEASE SHUT THE GATE. She is looking for a sign to say exactly that but she wants it to be more gentle.
27 May Thursday
Today was the day for the Used Clothes Collection Drive. This drive happens once or twice a year. A local club collects clothing, household textiles and footwear (paired) for homeless orphans in Kenya. They used to announce this request with a large plastic bag and a piece of paper describing the pick-up points, delivered by the postman. Now we just receive the piece of paper. We have to provide our own plastic bag. The first time I received this invitation to participate, I took it very seriously. I identified clothes and shoes that we did not need or want any more. I polished the shoes and tied them together with their laces. If they had no laces, I put elastic bands around them to keep each shoe together with its partner. I ironed clothes that were clean, but which looked rumpled, and I folded them all into neat piles. On the day of the pick-up, I placed everything into several black plastic bags and I taped the packages up into tidy rectangular bundles. I drove to Ardfinnan at the time listed on my piece of paper. There was a long truck waiting near the Community Centre. As I got out of my car and walked over with my bundles carefully held in my outstretched arms, a car came rushing up and it stopped right in front of me. A woman leapt out, and without turning off the motor, she heaved an enormous black bin bag into the truck and drove off before it even landed. Her bag had been neither tied nor taped shut so the clothes and things were stewn all over the floor of the truck. It was not just her stuff all over the floor. The man who stood in the truck was knee deep in textile detritus. I was shocked by the carelessness of it all. I wanted to say something to the man in the truck but I was speechless. He did not seem to notice that there were clothes all over the floor and that he was stepping on them as he moved about. He did not seem to notice that my bundles were tidy and that I placed them carefully into his arms. Since that first time of taking things to the Collection Drive, I am no longer shocked by the extreme slovenliness of the operation. On a day like today when I failed to get things organized to donate, I no longer feel guilty. When I do get there on the right day to make a donation of our used clothing, I look at the mess in the truck and I wonder if the orphans in Kenya dread these deliveries
25 May Tuesday
This morning, I passed young calves out in a field of tall grass. The grass wasn’t so tall but it was thick. The calves were so tiny and their legs were so undeveloped, that they were having real trouble navigating their way through the field.
22 May Saturday
Simon made an experiment with cooking rhubarb in the sun. He put the chopped up pieces in a plastic bag along with some elderflower cordial and some ginger and a bit of caster sugar. The bag was sealed and left out on the table in the very hot sun. We left it there while we sat gluing books into their covers in the cool barn. By the time the sun lost its heat, we still had a lot of books left to glue but the rhubarb was cooked.
21 May Friday
People from outside Ireland do not trust our address. They ask again and again for us to confirm its veracity. Six lines. One word per line. No numbers. It looks more like a shopping list than an address. Sometimes we make up a post code just to make people feel better.
20 May Thursday
The boreen gets more closed in every day. Weeds and nettles and cow parsley look like they are doubling every day. Everything is growing extra fast after so many weeks of the cold and no growth. It is not possible to walk up through there without wearing long trousers and long sleeves. It is already too hot for long sleeves. Em is walking well now but even after this, our shortest walking route, she lags behind after her swim. This is no longer a problem with her ligament. I think this means that my dog is just getting old and slowing down.
18 May Tuesday
I went up to Johnny Mackin’s old orchard to pick some apple blossom. I gathered a huge bundle, as much as I could carry down the boreen. As I reached up to cut the blossoms, I seem to have knocked loads of insects down my shirt. Ever since I got home, I can feel the bugs walking around on my back and my stomach and my breasts. They are not biters, they are just walkers. Even as I sit and write this, I wonder why I do not just go and change my shirt. Instead I keep flapping it and hoping that the bugs will just leave so that I can get on with the things I am doing without being tickled.
14 May Friday
Dessie is gone. He has cleared absolutely everything and moved out completely. The elaborate fences that he made out of pallets and attached to the fence have been detached and taken away with him. He told me many times that he made them and attached them with a special method in order to be able to take them with him when he moved. He said he would leave them with the house only if the landlord paid him for them. He remembered to take the Christmas bulbs and the Christmas lights off of the spruce tree. He took all of his odd bits of equipment and everything that was laying around outside. The paving slabs made from casting several sizes of buckets are still in the ground. On the iron gate there remain a series of old fire screens which he wired on in the early days to keep the puppy from escaping. The place no longer looks like a garrison in the Wild West. It just looks like a small empty white house in a field. I wonder if we will all revert to calling it the Murder Cottage, or will we speak of it as Dessie’s House? Hardly anyone mentions it as Mary Corbett’s Cottage any longer.
5 May Wednesday
As we walked up the boreen in the sun, I saw an explosion of feathers on the ground which told me that a pigeon had been eaten by the fox. There was nothing left but feathers. A few meters up the track I saw the wings of the bird spread out in a beautiful perfect line. They were exactly in the position that they would be in if the bird was still there in the middle of them. I admired them for a few minutes and then continued up the hill. Em did not come with me, nor did she answer my whistle a little later. When I went back down to find her, she was just finishing her licking and chewing on the remnants of flesh that the fox had left on the ends of the wings. I was shocked that she had ruined the lovely birdless wing tableau. Sometimes I just forget that she is a dog.
4 May Tuesday
The llama is gone. I walked by and immediately noticed that the field looked cleaner. The scattered hay was gone. The various buckets and water containers were gone. It was so tidy. It almost looked as if the grass had been cut. There was no one around to ask. I have made a point recently of asking anyone I speak to around here about the llama. Most people have little or no interest in him. Without exception, they mention that he is mean. They also mention that he spits. I have never been spit at by him. I wonder if he has been returned to the group of the other llamas in their meadow elsewhere. I wonder if I will ever find out where he has gone.
3 May Monday
None of these roads are wide. Today a farmer parked his car on the side of the road to go into a field and check on his cows. While he was getting things out of his car, a tractor came along pulling a big trailer. Then a motor car came from the opposite direction. He hooted his horn as he wanted to pass. Then he realized that he knew the farmer or that he knew the man in the tractor. He got out and greeted the two of them. Then another tractor came along behind the first tractor. He stopped too because he had no choice. Then he got out and talked to everyone else who was gathered there. Em and I just continued around them all as we were small enough to pass. We greeted everyone as we went and then we continued on our way.
2 May Sunday
Sometimes I spend so long listening to the Irish language radio that I forget that I do not understand it. I cannot tell anyone what I have heard, but I feel sure that I have understood it.
30 April Friday
Plain Crisps here are cheese and onion flavoured crisps. Salt and vinegar flavoured crisps might be considered plain too. Neither of these are plain to me. What I would call Plain Crisps are called Ready Salted, and they are rarely available. And since what I once called potato chips are here known as crisps, I now know to speak of French Fries as chips.
There has been cold rain and hot sun intermittantly all day. Each time the rain stops and the sun breaks through there is another beautiful rainbow across the far field. Each rainbow is a distraction from whatever I am doing. I have lost count of the number of rainbows today.
29 April Thursday
The low point of the boreen is in havoc. There are huge clumps of sticks and branches and rubbish and rubble which have been swept down the stream all winter. The sticks completely clog up the flow of the stream so it has all gone sideways and there is a huge swampy mess of mud where the path used to be. The sideways flow creates a new smaller stream leading into the muddy morass. One of the cement culverts which allowed the water to pass under the path has caved in with the pressure. The other one is too clogged to let anything pass. A few trees have fallen down too. We can walk through the mud and around the branches, but it is not very inviting. The only good thing is that there are a copious number of wild irises growing out of the mud. There are many more than we have ever seen down there. The yellow flags will be a welcome distraction to the wreckage.
28 April Wednesday
I was in a ladies room in town and I noticed that the rounded toilet paper dispenser was fitted with an ashtray on top. As a sign of a time already long gone, it was quite a startling sight.
27 April Tuesday
How I love to see Pigs Ears written on my shopping list. We buy five or six of them at a time and then we cut them up into small pieces for Em. The garden shears are strong enough to cut them but it is very hard work. They are tough and the edges of the ear and the gristly bits make the cutting difficult. I am getting better at choosing ones which might be easier to cut, but the nature of ears means that they will never be easy. As a result of the laborious nature of the job, sometimes Em receives an extremely tiny little sliver. I do not think she minds. It is just the ritual of getting a treat that matters.
26 April Monday
Em is much better. The only time we see a bit of the limp is when she first gets up in the morning. A little early morning stiffness is not anything to worry about. I am still taking her for shorter rather than longer walks and the boreen is just such a varied place for smells and exploring, I do not think she cares to go anywhere else anyway. Today as we walked along, Max joined us. He went for a swim in the stream with Em. Further down the road, near Ken’s house, Oscar joined us and they both came all the way down the boreen and home with us. Em never dropped her stick and they never tried to take it from her. Oscar turned and went back home immediately upon arrival. Max stayed for a while, drank some water and then he continued up the boreen back to his own house. Em did not seem interested either to have them with here, nor to have them leave again. For many years she had Syd hanging around, so I guess she just takes male companionship for granted. The difference with Syd was that he would never go home. We used to try all kinds of tricks to sneak away over Joe’s fields when we thought he was not around. We did lots of things to stop him from following us on walks, but he always figured everything out. Sometimes he would rush to meet us from the opposite direction at great speed and with great joy. When I sent him home at the end of the day, using my very stern voice, he would just go a little way up the road and lie down there. He was staying within earshot so that he would hear the car keys, the door, or any sound of food or cooking or walking or outdoor activity. Any of these sounds were enough to bring him dashing back into visible space. What he did not realize was that we could see the curve of his bottom just around the edge of the book barn, so we knew he was there waiting and listening even while he thought we could not possibly know that he was there. In the year after his death, Simon made a little plaque using two old tractor windows fitted into an oval wooden frame. The letters etched on the glass are in black and white, because Syd was black and white. Three times the name Syd is written and then the date of his death and the words, very small: He Lived in the Fast Boreen. This is fixed to the stone wall of the barn, quite low down. The white curve of the frame shows just a little bit around the corner of the building. From the kitchen door, we can still look out and think that Syd is lying there, and that it is his hip that we see. We can believe that he is just waiting for a single sound to bring himself rushing back into our lives.
25 April Sunday
We saw Dessie as we walked by the Murder Cottage. He was in his car and just about to drive away with a large horse box connected to the back of his car. There was manure all over the road which he had shovelled out of the horse box so that he could fill it with some stuff to be moved to the new house. He said he had changed his mind and that he would give me some of the pallets after all, as he had many more than he needed. He gave me long advice about which ones would be right for my compost heap and then he told me where he would leave them for me to collect. I reminded him about his Christmas decorations from Budweiser and his lights on the spruce tree and he said, Don’t worry, I am not gone yet.
24 April Saturday
We drove over the Knockmealdowns on the way home from Lismore last night. It was dark. I was a little nervous as I always am when driving over the mountains in the dark. It is extremely dark up there when it is dark and there are many places where it would be easy to plunge off the road and to fall a long distance. As we came out of the wooded area into the higher parts of the mountains, we saw a red glow off to the left. Then we saw another red glow far off and up on the right. We thought this must be the burning of bracken which the hill farmers do yearly to keep the growth under control. It seemed very strange for it to be being done at night, especially on such a very dark night. There might have been a moon, but there was little light. Maybe it was cloudy. We kept coming across more and more small areas of flames, some quite close to the road. We had to close the windows as the smoke was choking us. We drove up and around one bend and saw a burning area straight ahead of us. The fire was right down the banking and on the side of the road. The already narrow road was suddenly a single lane road as the fire had engulfed half of it. I slowed down and did not know what to do, and then I accelerated and rushed through the fire. We could feel the heat right through the closed windows and the side of the car. I am still not sure if it was stupid or brave to drive right through the fire.
23 April Friday
Yet another flat tyre. We seem to have had dozens of them in the last months. It is the huge thorns on the blackthorns which keep puncturing the inner tubes. Simon put the spare on and I took the car and the tyre and the dog down to Anthony. While he was repairing and replacing, Em and I did the Waterfall Walk. I had not done this walk in a long time. It was lovely and quiet. Em had a swim. We saw young calves and baby lambs, and violets. The last bit of the walk is down the road. It is a quiet road with very little trafffic on a Friday morning. The stream runs parallel to the road all the way down and into the village. I found the sound lovely but Em was in a state because she could hear the water but could not get at it for another swim. The road is called the New Line. It is not a new road, but it was named that when it was new. Everyone called it the New Line then, and it has just never been changed. Em has a little sheepskin bed in the big room. We call that her New Bed, as opposed to her regular old bed. The New Bed is no longer new any more than the New Line is new.
22 April Thursday
We were coming back from our walk and as we approached the farm there was a cow who had just finishing giving birth to a calf. It was all a bit bloody and messy. The cow was trying to clean her baby but she was frightened to see Em. She was torn between doing the right thing for her child and protecting it. Em was just busy trying to get on the far side of us to put as much distance as possible between the cow and herself.
21 April Wednesday
There are planes in the sky again. We cannot hear them but we can see their paths. The gap in the Icelandic ash is allowing things to get back to normal. I asked the postman what was happening to the post. We have only had a tiny bit of mail this week. We have received a few things from here in Ireland and a few things from Britain. Nothing is arriving from any further away. He said if this went on much longer, they would start sending things by boat from America and mainland Europe. He said they are expecting a real deluge once things get going again. These days they have renamed Monday “E-Bay Monday” in the sorting office as there are always so many packages to be delivered on a Monday. He said they are now expecting a whole week of E-Bay Mondays.
20 April Tuesday
Dessie has taken to driving his car way back into the field while he is working on his wood jobs. He turns the radio on in the car and opens all the doors so that he can hear it while he is working. He keeps it at top volume. It cannot be easy to hear it over the noise of power tools. I went out there and asked him if I might have a few pallets but he said no. He feels that he probably needs all of the ones he has collected. He is cutting some of them up into small pieces for kindling. He says he will sell this kindling to a wholesaler. The other ones he is taking apart to provide fencing for his new house. There must be about 80 pallets piled up in the back. There are quite a few more in various states of deconstruction. He told me that they are no good for making a compost heap structure anyway as they will rot down too soon. As I left, I took a good look at his Christmas tree decorations. Most of the large bulbs have Budweiser written on them. They must have been some kind of pub decoration. Maybe he does not care about those, but I would think he would want to re-use his lights at his new house, if he ever does actually move.
19 April Monday
Em is always on my left when I open the kitchen door to let her out. If I do it wrong and I am on the left and she is on the right, she looks up at me and waits for me to move into the correct poisition before she goes outside.
18 April Sunday
We were supposed to have guests this weekend but since they could not fly from Britain, we have no guests. The day felt free in a nice way. Simon used the afternoon to install his old Mirroir poem in the bathroom. He repainted the wall white, and used dark grey letters. Since the poem uses reflection, we have the forward and backward version of the poem on the wall, and then we have the forward and backward version of the poem again in the big mirror. It is wonderful. Somehow the pebble and the ripple ripple ripple at the end works better than it ever has. I love it everytime I walk into the room.
17 April Saturday
I found a dead song thrush on the step outside the book barn. It must have knocked itself out by flying into the glass. I am glad I saw it on the way into the barn and not on the way out of the barn. I would have disliked stepping on it and its position made it inevitable that I would indeed step on it. The early morning birdsong is glorious this year. It is still very cold to leave the windows wide open, but we do it anyway because we like being awoken by songs at dawn.
16 April Friday
I made a big Acquisitions Mission in Tom Cooney’s wood this morning. My supply of sticks for Em to fetch in the stream had really dwindled. At first I thought other dog owners had just taken them for their own dogs. Then I realized that my storage spot on the top of the wall was a bad spot. With just a small bit of wind, the sticks were being blown off the wall and into the stream. They were not being stolen by other dogs. I worked away in the wood for a while collecting my new supply. No more trees have been cut down, but there are still a lot of the painted dots and lines on various trees. I have still not found out which mark and which colour means what. It is tricky walking in between the trees as there are lots of drainage ditches cut through the land. The ditches are cut diagonally in the wood so it is easy to fall into one when looking for good sticks and branches. I fell a lot. Em was delighted to extend her swimming time and I am delighted to have a great new supply of sticks in a good safe spot. That should last us a few weeks.
15 April Thursday
I keep thinking it is time to empty the big basket and to put away the winter hats and gloves and scarves. Every time I start to do it, we have another frost predicted for that night. We have been having a frost almost every night. And the mornings are cold.
14 April Wednesday
I spent a few hours in Cahir this morning while Mike gave the car a check-up. It was cold. As I walked over the bridge, a woman wearing a heavy coat and mittens and a woolly hat nodded to me and said ‘Back to the caps again!’ There are not many errands that I need to do in Cahir. About half of all the shops are now empty anyway. Some have signs saying they are For Rent. Others are just empty. I bought a newspaper and took a free copy of South Tipp Today. I read both of them while I drank a coffee and ate a fruit scone. Then I went to the SuperValu and did some grocery shopping. I did not want to buy too many things as I knew I had to carry everything up the hill to Mike’s garage. While there, I noticed another sign of the New Hard Times. The majority of products on the shelves were lined up along the front edge. Instead of an entire shelf being as full as it looked, it was very empty and dark behind a precarious single stacking. I went around and checked quite a few products to see if this was the norm. It was. On the way back up the hill, I noticed a charity shop. Since I was still a bit early for picking up the car, I went in to look at the books. I found several things that I would not mind reading, but I saw no prices marked on them. I asked the girl at the counter how much the books were. She said ‘Oh god, you can just take them.’ She gave me a paper bag and told me to fill it up. After I had found six books, I went back to the counter and asked again if I could pay for them. She said no because she has too many books. Many of her customers are Foreign Nationals. They do not want to buy books in English. They are shopping for clothes and household things. She said if I have some things to bring in one day, she would appreciate it but right now she is just desperate to get rid of the books.
12 April Monday
Two little girls named Ivy and Dora were visiting yesterday. They spent a long time collecting sticks for Emily. They eagerly offered them to her one stick right after the other. She finally chose one long one and went away from them to lie down in the shade for a chew of it. The girls piled the rest of the sticks outside her house. It now looks as though the dog is planning a huge bonfire.
9 April Friday
As the entire country has stopped buying new cars, the used car market has also suffered. There are a lot of people buying much more expensive cars than they would have been able to afford before. Every single car for sale is cheaper than it ever was. There are a lot of people driving BMWs, Mercedes and Saabs. I have been interested to see how ordinary these cars are becoming. All of the show-offy kind of specialness is missing. More than once I have seen a farmer parked beside a field with the boot of his BMW open. Inside the boot are all of the things that farmers carry around because they will surely need them. Things like wire fencing, and rope and pellets for cows and big pitch forks and buckets. A BMW is now a useful car because it has a good amount of storage space.
6 April Tuesday
Wild winds and rain all night. I kept waking up to the sounds of the gales. Today there is water everywhere. Every field has puddles and ponds. I am surprised that there is not more destruction visible after the strong winds. The water streamed down the boreen all morning as if it is was part of a river and not running down a rough road. As I write, it is afternoon and the sun has come out and everything is bright and a bit exposed. Things have been looking so dead and grim. Now they are looking dead and grim and drowned. Inside, here in the big room, the colour yellow is illuminated by the sun. There are daffodils and pears and bananas and chysanthamums. Even the old yellow rotodex joins these yellow things in looking cheerful. Outside the window the small forsythia is in bloom. It reflects light and bright back into the room. This is more than just a promise of spring. I think this is spring, even though it is extremely soggy underfoot.
5 April Monday
Em went charging down the meadow in the dark. She has hardly been anywhere lately so I cannot deny her this pleasure. Even if I wanted to stop her it is too late. She made sure that she was off and barking before I was close enough to say no. Her leg is much better but I am only taking her for the shortest of walks. Until tonight, she did not even get the meadow walk at night. The limp is mostly gone, but I have watched it return too often. I am trying to stay vigilent.
3 April Saturday
Good Friday in Limerick was a big news event. There were reporters from the USA and from the BBC as well as from the Irish press. The mayor was on hand to open the first pub and to raise the first pint. Bus loads of people arrived from as far away as Donegal. People were queuing down the street for up to two hours before the pubs opened. There were priests handing out leaflets and encouraging people to go to mass instead of going to the bars and the match. Many places, not in the city center, reported that it was just like a normal day. No big crowds and no big fuss. The Leinster team won so the celebrating was less effusive than it might have been if Munster had won. Discussions continue on the radio about whether it was right to open at all and what precedent has been established. In a few days it will all be forgotten and maybe next year the discussion will begin again.
31 March Wednesday
The decision has been made. Bars and Public Houses in Limerick will be open on Good Friday between the hours of 6 and 11.30. This is to accomodate drinking by sports fans who will flock to Limerick for the big match. The rest of the country must observe the usual abstinance. There is still a lot of discussion about whether this decision is right or wrong. One young man in the pub was speaking loudly against this deviation from the old ways. I suggested that maybe increased separation between Church and State was timely. He said that Good Friday was a day for people to have parties and to drink at home instead of in bars. I thought that the purpose of not selling alcohol is to force people to refrain from drink on that day, as decreed by the Catholic Church and through them by the Irish Government. If one believes this ban is correct and a good thing, then why is a drinking party at home the inevitable result of the ban? There are aspects of logic here which I will never understand.
30 March Tuesday
Wild rain and cold and gale force winds. There is snow in a lot of places. There is snow on the Galtees, and there is snow on the Knockmealdowns. There is snow on the Comeraghs and there is snow in Dublin. It is hard to believe that we sat outside with guests on Sunday and we ate a long and lazy lunch in the sunshine. It is as if that memory is for a different place.
29 March Monday
I need to make a new side for my compost heap. Actually I need to make a new pair of compost heaps. To make these, I must get some more pallets. It is nearly impossible to live in the country without pallets. They are useful in so many ways. We always put them on the ground when we stack firewood. That way the wood is held up off the ground and out of the damp or possible flooding. Farmers use them to block a broken fence or a broken bit of the ditch so the cows or sheep cannot escape. A pallet can become a gate. Dessie has three huge piles of pallets in his backyard. He has regularly deconstructed them and used them as building materials. I wonder if he is going to take all of the pallets to Burncourt with him. It will mean a lot of trips with his little trailer. I shall ask him if I can have either two or six of them. I must also remind him not to forget his Christmas decorations which are still up on the big spruce tree out front. Since they all face the road and not the house, it would be easy for him to forget them.
25 March Thursday
A bright morning turned into a wet and windy afternoon. I put on full waterproofs and went for a walk (without Em) at the end of the afternoon. Once I was outside, it was much less horrible than it sounded when I was in the house. I looked around in the old orchard up at Johnnie Mackin’s. There are more daffodils out up there than there are down here. The ground under the apple trees is covered with wild garlic. The smell as I walked about was lovely. I filled my pockets with a few handfuls of the leaves. This is foraging. Foraging is the new word. I read it everywhere. Menus do not just mention a herb like mint. They announce that the mint has been Freshly Foraged. I do not think that you can walk out into your garden and pick some mint and call it foraging. If you knew where that mint was and if you were probably the person who planted that mint, you were not foraging. You were just picking. You might call it harvesting but even that is a stretch.
24 March Wednesday
I found a little manila envelope in my notebook. It has the word HOME written on it in brown marking pen. When we were away just now, I had put the house key, and some euros into this envelope as they were things I would not need during the trip. Each time I saw the little envelope, I felt happy. Now I find it again. It is empty and its function is redundant. I am at home, but I cannot yet throw it away.
23 March Tuesday
Em is still limping but she is no longer on the rope. The diet and the restricted movement continue. Every once and a while she rushes off across the field but mostly she just stays quiet. There are no walks and she has stopped getting excited when she sees me putting on my boots. She knows she will again be excluded from this walk.
22 March Monday
Against my better judgement, I have become fond of the llama in his field. I still think it is unnatural for a llama to live in Tipperary, but I have taken to stopping and talking to this llama as I pass. He runs to greet me when I call, so I feel that he knows my voice. This is probably false. He might just run toward any voice. His eyes are very sideways on his head. He turns his head this way and that as if trying to look in the direction of my voice. I have spoken to him about how disturbed I am about his presence in a meadow in Tipperary. I have talked to him about his isolation. I have described The Gloomy Donkeys who were in this same meadow before he arrived. Most recently, I have been talking to him about Peru. I do not know much about Peru, but I fear he knows even less than I. I mention words like Lima, and the Andes and Macchu Picchu because I feel these words are in his brain somewhere. I keep meaning to look up a bit more about Peru so that I can tell him more. I was talking to Breda about this lonely llama. She told me that there is a field not far from here with a whole group (herd?) of llamas, but this llama had to be moved away from the rest because he is so bad-natured and he is a danger to the others. This changes my feelings a little. This is a lonely llama with a bad reputation. I still worry that he is lonely, but I am glad that I have never tried to pat him. I was never certain that he would not bite. Now it seems certain that he will bite.
21 March Sunday
Yesterday, we sat outside in the first warm afternoon sun. We drank tea with friends who walked down the boreen to visit. The heat on our backs and faces and arms was wonderful. The little girl was happy to throw things again and again and again for the two dogs to fetch. Em and Figo, the visiting dog, were happy to fetch endlessly. What could be better? We were delighted that Em was so completely healed and strong again. By bedtime, she was unable to put her bad leg on the ground. She had become a very shaky tripod. We were so foolish and irresponsible to let her do all of that joyful running. Today she is back on the rope. She is very annoyed. She is sighing heavily, and often, and sleeping under the rosemary bush.
20 March Saturday
I have not seen Dessie in a long while. A neighbour told me that he had changed his mind, and that he was not moving to Burncourt after all. I do not believe this. There is increasing evidence that he is slowly removing himself from The Murder Cottage. The long platforms built for his potted plants have been taken apart and taken away. The pots are gone too. The grow bags and the structures to hold them up and the pots that were balanced on the stone wall are gone too. There is still a lot of stuff around. All of his specially made fences, which were designed in anticipation of this move, are still in position. I know that he has only to remove the wires and various holding up devices and he can easily load them and take them away. His special metal table which he uses with clamping devices to cut up found wood and palettes both for his firewood and his fences is still in position. And the house seems to be full of things too. This is not going to be a fast move but he is definitely going. Dessie made paving stones cast from cement poured into the bottom of a bucket. He made a little path from the gate to his door with these homemade slabs. I wonder if he will leave those where they are, or if he will take those too.
19 March Friday
There is some cutting going on in Tom Cooney’s wood. The wood is planted with deciduous trees. The trees are still young trees, but they are big enough now that they are shading the ground below so there is very little undergrowth. It makes for a lovely dappled wood. The wood runs along side the stream. It starts at the point where Em goes for her swim, and follows the stream all the way down to our meadow bottom. It is a long, long narrow wood and it appears that it is time for some thinning. While I was recently scrabbling about for a supply of throwing sticks, I noticed that a number of trees had a thin line painted around them. Some lines were painted with white spray paint, and some lines were painted with yellow spray paint. Each line was about a meter and a half up from the ground. Some trees had a yellow dot too. Now, as I walk past or through the wood, I see areas where the trees have been felled. It seems that there are little circular groups being cut rather than every third or fourth tree. I always thought thinning was an attempt to allow more air and root space for the trees left behind. This clearing of small areas is odd. I would like to ask someone but I never seem to be passing when anyone is there and cutting. The other thing I want to ask about is why the trees are being cut off at this one and a half meter height. That is a lot of tree to leave. It is too much to call a stump.
18 March Thursday
We are still in a terrible quandry about our concertina card which arrived the other day from the printer. It is a third version of Simon’s text from Brancusi saying that ALL FURNITURE IS SCULPTURE. This was to be accompanied by my drawing of a long bench. The bench was to be very, very black. The printer had the wrong kind of block made so instead of being black, and strong, like a silhouette, it is a dull grey and as dead as can be. Simon coloured one bench in with a marking pen and we see it as we would like it to be. The printer does not want to reprint it. He says his legs and knees are bad. He is finding the letterpress printing too hard. He is thinking of closing his business down at the end of the month. We are shocked and saddened. We have worked together for so long, it does not seem possible that he might ever close. We worked with his father too, for several years before he died. We thought the weathering of these difficult economic times so far meant that he had survived when so many other printers have closed down. We thought that he was safe now. We never thought of him having physical difficulties. We are torn between our sadness for him and his situation, and wanting our bench black.
17 March Wednesday
We have spent the day ignoring the fact that it is St.Patrick’s Day. The post office and the banks and the schools are shut. It is a national holiday. Every year it gets bigger and bigger and more and more international. It is not even a day anymore. I have heard it called the St. Patrick’s Week celebration. The large towns have huge parades and there are groups from all over who come to participate. The State Troopers from Massachusetts have a large contingent in Limerick. Who is maintaining law and order during the floods, wild winds and devastation in Massachusetts in their absence? In Dublin, there is a Brass Band from Switzerland, and there are Baton Twirlers from Texas, and Gymnastic Teams from Japan. In Tipperary town, there is a Bacon and Cabbage Ceili. What in the world is that? In Clonmel, a jug of water will be carried from St.Patrick’s Well to the altar of a church in town for Mass. These are just a few of the things about which I know. Without trying to find out about any of it, the information just gets into my life. There used to be small parades of tractors, and scouts, and teams and homemade floats in small villages. Of course some of these still exist, but they are mostly eclipsed by all the big stuff. I liked it best when it was little and local.
16 March Tuesday
I saw my first primrose today. Still no daffodils, although the buds are more evident. Poor Em is on a rope which is just long enough for her to go in and out of her house and as far as the kitchen door. She was racing up and down the meadow and has damaged her leg again. I am hoping this is not a bad injury. I am hoping that the ligament is not actually torn again. I am hoping that a day or two of restricted movement might be enough to heal her. She is shocked and upset to be on the rope. There is no dignity in it, especially as Joe’s cows are in the field. She longs to be chasing them and protecting everything that is hers.
15 March Monday
There is a big discussion on the radio and on the television and in the shops. A big match is to be played in Limerick on Good Friday. This kind of scheduling is apparently unheard of, but because it has been already scheduled it seems that it is now very difficult to change the match to Thursday or to Saturday. The dilemma involves the long standing ban on drinking on Good Friday. All bars and restaurants are forbidden to serve alcohol on Good Friday, as are shops from selling it. How can there possibly be a big sporting event if people cannot go to the bar after the match? And what about all the people who do not travel to the match but who go to their local bar to watch it on television? The people who want the laws altered are the publicans (of course), the fans, and those who are aware that between the smoking ban and the drink driving restrictions, bars have been closing down in huge numbers all over the country. It seems cruel not to let them have this one day of probably enormous revenue when times are so hard. Those who do not want the ban lifted for the day are, of course, the Catholic church (who are already on very shaky legs these days), and people who still believe that this ban means that people won’t drink just because the church says so. Unlike in the old days, it is now normal for people to drink at home. One order of priests near to the stadium are threatening to picket the match if the law is altered. The discussion goes on and on, back and forth. If the ban is lifted for the day in Limerick, what about other people in other parts of the country who also might want to watch the match in their local bar? If the ban is lifted for this year, what happens next year? If the ban is lifted for only a few hours around the time of the match, can it then be back in place for the rest of the day? There are so many serious problems facing this country right now, I fear this issue about the leftover authority of the church is just a distraction. I am very interested to see how it is resolved.
11 March Thursday
The nights are very cold. Temperatures are below freezing and it takes all morning for the frost to melt off the barn roof and off the fields. The water butts are frozen every day. Apparently this has been the weather for the whole time we were away. Very little rain. There is not a daffodil in sight. The snow drops have had a good long run and they look so lovely on their own. I have always planted snowdrop bulbs in loose clumps in the lawn, along with daffodils, and I got used to seeing them like that. I never appreciated how splendid they are as large white swathes across the grass. I must remember this for future plantings. That, of course, is assuming that the daffodils have not been permanantly damaged by the weather. Lots of well established plants are dead. Not just here but everywhere. The deep cold and this continuing unseasonable cold is wreaking havoc. Every palm tree in the country is dead (they say). I have never really gotten used to the palm trees of Ireland. They always look wrong to me. With the Gulf Stream and the ordinarily temperate climate, they thrive here. What is the past tense of thrive? Maybe I should not rush to seek the past tense of thrive. Maybe they will return to life when the weather warms up. Amidst the devastation, and these strangely brown fields, the afternoons are beautiful: bright, clear, sunny and mild.
10 March Wednesday
When we fetched Em the other day, she had put on weight again. It was not as bad as it was before the big diet, but the extra weight was noticeable. This time, she had discovered the Milking Parlour. She made lots of extra trips up through the farmyard to lick up any milk available. It took a while before anyone knew what she was doing. She has always loved milk and any dairy products but I believe they are not really good for adult dogs. Since there were no other dogs staying down in the barn, she made herself completely at home in the house. Very quickly, she was sleeping on the rug beside Alma’s bed. When we put Em into the car to leave, Alma cried. We felt like we were stealling her dog from her.
9 March Tuesday
Em and I went up the boreen today. We saw a few cars parked outside the old graveyard at Tullaghmelagh. It is a narrow bit of road and it is almost impossible to park and be off the road there. It is unusual to see even one car there. We continued down the road. Just as we reached the gate for the llama’s meadow, a hearse came around the corner, very very slowly. I held onto Em as it passed. It is normal here for people to stop what they are doing and to stand quietly to watch a funeral procession, crossing themselves as the hearse goes by. I am not Catholic so I do not cross myself but I thought it polite to stand quietly as the car passed. I was not expecting 38 cars to follow the hearse. I stood there and Em stood there and every person in every motorcar passed very close to us on the narrow road. I could have touched each car without even stretching my arm out straight.. Instead I had to wave or nod to each car and its occupants, as they all waved and nodded to us. Everyones’ face lit up at the sight of Em. The llama, behind us, was in a state of high excitement. It is rare for so many cars to pass. He raced back and forth like a mad thing. It took a long time for the vehicles to pass as they were driving so slowly. The llama did several lengths of his meadow, and I ended up kneeling on the grass, nodding and waving and holding Em by resting my other hand on her back. Most of the people in the cars were older, which perhaps explained their delight with Em. Even without seeing all of them, I would have known that the person being buried in the old graveyard was elderly as there are never any new graves dug unless there is already a family connection. I have no idea where all the cars would have parked up there. I guess the road was just completely blocked until the burial service was complete.
8 March Monday
Five weeks on the road in America was too long. Too many different places. Too many different committments. Too many different people. Too many different beds. It is good to be back home. It is good to not talk. It is good to be neither a guest nor a customer. In between my exhaustion, and the jet lag, there is so much to notice. It is lucky for me that I only write about here and not about elsewhere. It is lucky for me that I only write about here when I am here, and not when I am anywhere else.
30 January 2010 Saturday
A long time ago, we all filled in forms down at Nugents. It was some kind of promotion by Guinness, and Rose was eager to get as many forms completed as possible. It would somehow reflect well on her pub to show that she had a huge crowd of customers. I did not want to fill one in as I do not even like Guinness but she said that did not matter. Everyone filled them in and some people filled them in for other people who were not there, or for other people who could neither read nor write. Everyone was promised a free pint just for filling in the form. As a result of this form filling in, we have received mailings from Guinness ever since. At Christmas there is a free pint in the post. This summer was the 250th anniversary of Guinness so the printed note said: Erica! There is a free pint of Guinness Draught waiting for you in Nugents. At the time coming up to our birthdays, there has always been a card with A Birthday Pint Waiting for You at Nugents. Since I do not drink Guinness, Simon always has my pints as well as his own. A lot of older men have been rushing into the bar this month, complaining to Rose that they did not receive their Christmas Pint from Guinness. Another sign of the new Austerity. I suppose the birthday pints will disappear too.
29 January 2010 Friday
Em and I walked around this morning in howling wind. Each time I reached a turning or a rise in a hill or a dip in the land, I thought the force of the wind might drop. I thought that instead of me striding against the wind, it might hit me from a different side and maybe even push me along from behind. No such luck. It was against me the whole way. Even Em seemed to be struggling with it, and she is a lot closer to the ground than I am. When I looked back to see her straggling far behind me, I put on the big, gruff voice which I only ever use to demand Give Me That Stick! This is my method to make her accelerate. It works every time. It works if she is very far in front of me, or if she is far behind me. It only works if she is carrying a stick. Today she had a small stubby stick which looked very much like a cigar coming out the side of her mouth. She picked it up as we left the yard and she carried it the whole way without ever once being distracted into dropping it. Later, I heard that the winds had been so strong in Cork that the B had been blown off the sign for the Butter Museum.
28 January 2010 Thursday
The stream down below is so full and so loud, it sounds as though we live above a huge and roaring river, instead of a tiny meandering stream at the bottom of the meadow. We still can’t walk through the big lake to go up the boreen.
25 January 2010 Monday
The Public Service Announcements come on the local radio station after the news. I used to wonder how everyone knew when someone had died. I assumed there was an amazing network of people telephoning each other with the news. Every time there is a removal, the street in front of the church is full of people by the time the hearse arrives. Finally I learned that everyone listens to Tipp FM. The name of the person and where he or she died is read, then there is an added note of the townland from which the person came. For married women, the maiden name is read too so that the family she came from can be known. Sometimes the visiting hours are at a funeral home, but often they say He will repose at home until being taken to the church, for arrival at 8 pm. I am especially fond of the expression He will repose at home. People can go to pay their respects at the funeral parlour or they can just go to the person’s own home, or they can await the arrival at the church. A lot of options get listed in the very brief radio announcement. In the village here, the funeral is always the next day, and it is always at 11 am.
24 January 2010 Sunday
Snowdrops are popping up everywhere. Even though I basically know where the bulbs are planted, they manage to arrive as a surprise every year. Yesterday, we had to zig zag our way through them all the way to the sauna. Luckily, there was enough white bud showing in the frosty grass so that my lantern was able to light the way without me stepping on a single one.
23 January 2010 Saturday
Last night we went down to Rose’s for an early drink. By 7.15, the whole place was filling up with people in anticipation of the big Rugby match. Munster was playing someone in a final. I have forgotten who it was already (Northampton?) but it was big and important. A load of local people had gone off to the actual match in Limerick. We said hello to a lot of people as we finished our drinks and prepared to leave. The pre-game discussions were already up on the television screen, as was the little white outline drawing of a pint glass in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. I always look for the glass. Rose had told us about this little drawing a while ago. When a pub or a restaurant has a subscription to Sky Sports, this little icon comes up on the screen whenever the station is being aired. It’s presence means that the venue has paid it’s Special Entertainment Charge. Without paying the fee, which I understand is very high, the venue has no right to be showing the station. The idea is that the venue is probably raking in the money with the extra audience brought in to watch the match. A spy, or inspector, for Sky Sports can walk into any bar during a sports event and if the little white glass is not on the screen, they will fine the bar. The fine is very high. To get around the punitive fines and exorbitant charges, some landlords have taken to painting the little pint glass onto their own screen with Tipp-ex. Somebody has even designed a tiny stencil to make it easier for those people who might not be very good at drawing.
21 January 2010 Thursday
Simon went in to the Turkish barber in Clonmel. He asked for his hair to be cut very short. The barber said, It is a brave man who cuts his hair short at this time of year.
20 January 2010 Wednesday
It has been difficult to work down in the barn this winter. Even now that the weather is warmer, the inside of the barn has held a hard deep cold. We were silly not to get the heat sorted out earlier. Now the walls are holding weeks and months of cold. Each time I go down to do something, I wear an extra sweater and a heavy overshirt or coat. I wear a hat. I wear a scarf. I stand on heavy floor mats. With all of this extra protection I still do not last very long. We keep bringing jobs up to the house. It is easier to rush up and down, and inside and out, with the cutting mat and straight edges and this and that, than it is to stay down there. The big room up in the house has the huge table and good light and warmth. I would rather make twelve trips back and forth than stay down there for one hour. I long for spring and the wide open door and the birds diving in and out. There is a long wait before that will happen again. It is only mid-January. It is too early to be fed up with winter weather.
19 January 2010 Tuesday
When I ask Alma how she is, she always answers “There’s no fear in us!”. When she asks how how I am, she says ” So, there’s no fear in you?”
18 January 2010 Monday
Em has taken to Walking the Houses. Tommie always used the expression Walking The Houses. He would come up here when we were away and he would take long and purposeful strides as he walked around each building. He was checking to be sure that all of the doors were shut and all of the windows were unbroken and securely closed. He was checking to see that all was as it should be. He once showed me exactly how he Walked the Houses. He wanted to let me know that he took his responsibility seriously. When Em Walks the Houses, she only goes around this house. She sniffs at everything all along the way, and inspects the bird feeding areas to see if anything good has dropped down to the ground. Sometimes she races very fast all around the house, stopping for nothing and looking at nothing. Other times she runs very fast all around barking like mad and turning her head this way and that as she goes. I love looking out a window and seeing her race past. This is all quite new behaviour. It is just since the very cold weather. She does not circle the barns in the same specific and choreographed way. Throughout the day she rushes around a lot in all directions and down the meadow and out into the big fields, so all areas are covered, but it is not the same. It is not Walking the Houses. It is just Walking the House.
17 January 2010 Sunday
There is a piece of white cardboard beside the petrol pumps at O’Dwyer’s. It is nicely printed out by hand in clear big black letters. At the top of the card are the words: EMERGENCY NUMBERS. It lists all the telephone numbers one might need for the Fire Brigade, the Garda, local doctors, and the ambulance. The first number on the list is for the priest. Things have changed a lot in this country and the relationship to the church has changed enormously, but in certain kinds of emergencies, I guess the priest is still the first man to ring.
16 January 2010 Saturday
Several places locally have signs out front advertising Dental Repairs. These are often houses in the middle of the countryside. I presume there is a workshop in the shed or in a spare room. If the sign states While U Wait, there must be a waiting area where the person in need of repair can sit quietly while they wait for their dentures to be fixed. Maybe some people drop off their teeth and return later to collect them. Maybe they have a spare, older set at home or maybe they are happy to spend the day toothless. I never see one these repair places without thinking of an arranged meeting with elderly friends at a pub some years ago. They wanted to buy us a lunch in order to thank us for something we had done. They thought it would be more special if we ate out somewhere. Mostly, I think the woman was longing to be somewhere other than at her own table for a change. The food was the usual sort of fare in these places: Some kind of roast meat and roast potatoes and boiled potatoes and mashed potatoes, along with a selection of overcooked vegetables. While I was reeling in shock at the enormous mound of food on my plate, the wife nudged me. She wanted to explain why she was removing her teeth and placing them in her handbag. She wanted to explain before the teeth were out of her mouth. She said that the local man who did dental repairs charged too much, so her son had done her repairs for her. He used Super Glue, which I am sure was never intended to be inside a human mouth. The repairs were so thorough that although she was happy with the fixing, she was unable to eat anything at all with her teeth now.
15 January 2010 Friday
My various bird feeding devices have had uneven success rates. Several of them just blew away in the big winds the other night. One became a container full of a sodden porridgey mess, as I had failed to think about drainage when I made it. The ones on the table were visited by a rat. I watched the rat climbing up the table leg as I stood in the kitchen. That was disturbing. Now I am trying to provide only hanging options for birds and nothing at all for rats. I went looking for birdfeeders in the village and thought I might copy their ideas or just buy a good strong feeder if the price was right. Kevin told me that he has not one birdfeeder, nor any bird food, nor seeds, nor peanuts. He told me there is no bird anything available to buy. The whole country is feeding birds. This is good for the birds. I came home and made another hanging thing from a small square wooden cigar box. I drilled a few holes into the bottom of the box . It hangs from three points so it should remain stable. My other successful one hangs at a dangerous tilt as it hangs from only two points. The birds are able to perch on it’s sides without the whole thing tipping over. It does not look very good but it works.
14 January 2010 Thursday
I took a quick look at my library books and I panicked when I thought they were overdue. I saw January 10 stamped on the insert. They actually read 26 January 10. I am not used to this 10 yet. Without fail, each time I write the date on a check or on a letter, I write 2009. I am now trying to write 2010 as often as possible to make it normal for myself. 2010.
13 January 2010 Wednesday
It seems impossible, but Ireland is running out of water. All through the very deep cold, people tried to stop their pipes from freezing by leaving their faucets running. I do not know if the faucets were left just dripping or if they were on full force. This excessive use has been exacerbated by many burst pipes within the system. These leaks are added to the already old and leaky pipes of the various water supplies. Quite a number of cities and councils have been both begging and demanding that people stop leaving their water running. They are asking everyone to reduce their water use in as many ways as possible. None of the requests and orders have achieved much, so now the water is being turned off from 10 at night until the morning.
12 January 2010 Tuesday
The water is working again. A torrential rain came and melted all of the snow and most of the ice and it was obviously enough to convince the well to start flowing again. I met an elderly man who was walking along carefully with his stick for support. He was very cheerful. He said, Isn’t this a Fine Variety of weather we are having!
10 January 2010 Sunday
The pipes are still frozen. Greg and Breda walked from their house pushing a wheelbarrow with two large containers of water. It was wonderful of them to do this. The trip took them about 40 minutes as the road is so icey. On a normal day, it would take 25 minutes to walk from there to here. We still cannot drive in nor drive out. We brought in a few more loads of firewood. There are always two piles stacked on either side of the wood stove. Now we have made large extra stacks at either end of the sofa, just so that they are warming and drying in advance of us needing to use them. The cold from outside is so deep within the wood that the piles are still radiating cold after several hours. It is too cold to sit on the sofa at all now. The house is not so warm, so maybe this is no surprise. Our refrigerator broke at the beginning of December, but it has been so cold, both inside and out, that we have not yet needed to replace it. For quite a while we were bringing the gas canister for the cooking stove in every night so that it would not freeze, but we gave up on that and now we just use the Rayburn.
8 January 2010 Friday
Our pipes are frozen. We have been expecting it for so long that it is not really a surprise. The surprise is in how much of an inconvenience it is. A milkchurn full of water was delivered from the farm above. We have the churn standing in the kitchen with a ladle hanging inside it. Simon has calculated that it takes exactly twelve ladles of water to make a pot of tea.
6 January 2010 Wednesday
With all of the snow on the ground, everything looks very different. We are used to seeing our lives here against a constant backdrop of bright green. I was looking out at the book barn today and noticing the smattering of white which is spread over it’s stone walls. This white is the remnants of a lime wash from long ago. When Tom Browne was working on the barn he took out a small window which was in the center of the wall and just under the roof. We had decided that we did not need this window. He filled the space with stones. He worked hard to make certain that the stone work fit in with all of the stone work around it. He was bothered that the stones which he used had none of the lime residue that was on all of the rest of the wall. He told us to take a little white paint, on a sponge, and to dab it carefully over the new stones so that they would blend in with the others around them. He said not to use too much paint. I promised that I would do it the very next time I had the paint out for another job. It is years ago now and I have still never done it. Tom Browne is sitting in a wheelchair in the Cottage Hospital after his many strokes. He has been there for several years. As I look at the barn and see the white of the snow and the white of the old lime wash, it all looks very beautiful together. The area where I never added the paint stands out a mile. Maybe it is just my eyes that notice this. Tom Brown would have spotted it right away. Tom Brown always had an eye for detail. He was right about this.
4 January 2010 Monday
It is still cold. It is very, very cold. We are quite pleased with the bright blue skies and the hard dry cold, but not everyone is so happy. When it is icey, the roads are impassable. When there is snow falling, the roads are deadly. No one has snow tyres. There are four snowplows in the entire country. There is not enough grit to put down on the roads. Absolutely every issue is a terrible surprise and absolutely every issue has not been prepared for as these issues are rare here. A lot of people are losing their electricity. Other people have frozen or burst water pipes. We are kind of surprised that our water has not frozen. I have filled buckets and pans of water and they are everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. The ones indoors are mostly in the way. I try to think of them positively. I try to think of them as insurance. My mother speaks of her always accumulating pile of books to be read as her insurance. We will be happy for this saved water if the well freezes up on us. I put little bowls of water on the outdoor tables for the birds everyday. The farmers have much bigger problems trying to keep water in a liquid state for their cows and their sheep. Peggy Byrne ripped a finger open as she attempted to hack into a water trough for her calves with a pickaxe.
2 January 2010 Saturday
The weather woman spoke tonight of snow and storms impinging on the northwest coast of the country. I was surprised to hear her using the word impinge like that so I went to look it up. The dictionary defines TO IMPINGE as to strike or to encroach. It still seems an odd word for an impending snow storm. There is a lot of language here that souinds to me like it comes from another time. People often use the word AVAIL. i.e. There is a new fruit and vegetable shop in town and you should be sure to avail of its many choices. This is not a word I ever heard in everyday conversation until I came to live here. I am glad that there are so many surprises.