31 December 2011 Saturday
We were walking along our usual morning route when Greg came along in the van and said hello. He asked where Em was. She was, at that moment, standing down in the stream waiting for me to throw her the stick. He said he was off to take Molly for a walk in the mountains. He asked if we wanted to go. I was not sure Em could do a big mountain walk but he said it was a gentle hour circuit and since we would start at a high place there would not be too much climbing. It was a mild morning so I was not really dressed for the mountain. I did not even have a hat. He said he had extra gear, so Em and I hopped into the van and he drove up the New Line toward Cappoquin. He loaned me some gaiters and a hat and a waterproof coat. Everything was too big except the hat, but none of that mattered. It was just grand to be up there. The ground was soggy and we walked through a stream and meandered through the wet moorland. Molly raced around like a mad thing but Em was staid and steady. I was so proud of her. Every time we think she is an old dog she surprises us again. There were lots of sheep scattered about the hillside, all with red paint markings on their backs, but both dogs politely ignored them. Just as we got back to the van, a steady drizzle set in. It was a wonderful walk to end the year. Em has been sleeping heavily and snoring loudly ever since we got home.
29 December Thursday
The nights are dark and they start so early. The skylight window in the big room attracts Em’s attention. She spends a lot of time looking up into the darkness and seeing her own reflection. We call the dog up there Canus Major. She looks up and then down and then up quickly as if to catch the other dog unaware. She worries about the dog up there. This activity can keep her busy for a long time. It is a regular winter activity.
28 December Wednesday
A collective term for a bunch of people is A Clatter. It might be one mostly used for families but not exclusively. What I like is that it suggests the sound of a group as well as the group itself.
27 December Tuesday
I found a glove on the side of the road today. I did not look at it very closely as I passed it but then I thought about it and I wandered back to take a look. Since Em is so hard of hearing now I need to stay closer to her when we are on the tarmacadam road. I can no longer just shout for her to get over and onto the side when a car comes. I keep saying to myself that I should remember to take the lead with me for when we get onto the road. Each day I forget so instead I do a more wandering kind of walk to stay near to her. If I had not been walking like that I would not have noticed this glove and I certainly would not have returned for a second look. It was one of the type that the man in the hardward shop told me are the current favourites for Block Layers. They have a rubbery waterproof palm area and a stretchy fabric wrist. The Block Layers can handle their materials well and efficiently with these very flexible gloves. I do not know if the thin rubbery surface is very good for brambley bushes and thorns. It does not seem that it would be strong enough for that kind of rough work, but I decided to take the glove along with me anyway. It looked new but it had already been run over at least once. No one else was going to pick it up. It will be useful for something as it is a right hand glove. The right hand is always the one that gets worn out first. We have loads of old left hands hanging around in the shed. A spare right hand will not go amiss.
26 December Monday Stephen’s Day
The days are so mild that I have seen some little pink flowers in blossom up the boreen. It is called Herb Robert. It is a delight to see but surely not normal for it to be flowering in late December. There is also a lot of light blue grey lichen on the ground. It must be being scraped off high branches by some animals or birds. I may collect a bag full of it. It is such a lovely colour. The colour holds light.
25 December Sunday Christmas Day
I feel sad every time I we walk past the house and Max does not come out to join us. Today, Coco came down the drive. He is still stopping by there each morning to greet Max. I wonder how long he will continue this ritual. He and Em sniffed each other and both turned as though to give Max another chance to appear. If I am in the mood to feel sad I can acknowledge an absence at almost every house I pass. There are not very many houses, but it feels like a lot of people and a lot of dogs are missing along the way. Max, and Maisie, and Mary, and Kelly, and Snoopy, and Teresa and Seamus, and Sam, Topsy, Partner and Syd. The years go by and each one who is gone gets replaced or at least remembered less often.
24 December Saturday Christmas Eve
A woman in the village wanted to know if I had heard some man singing. She could not remember his name but she said he was a truly great singer. She said he was like a mix between James Brown and Pavorotti.
23 December Friday
We stopped down at Rose’s for a Christmas drink. Everyone is very excited because she has installed a wood stove. The possibility of this has been a topic of conversation for several years. I understand there used to be stove there. I guess when the old one wore out it just never got replaced. This is a brand new stove and it is raised up on a little platform of stone. It sits on its platform about 12 inches (30 cms) off the floor. It is the kind of stove with a glass door in the front so the flames can be seen. By raising it off the floor the flames are more visible to people in the room. The wall behind the stove has all been faced with stone and there are two small rectangular places cut into the stone work on either side so that a glass or two can be placed there. Above the stove there is another larger inset area exactly where the picture of Paddy has hung since the year after he died. It is hard to describe this picture. It was done by Des Dillon in 2007. It is a sort of padded portrait of Paddy’s head and of one hand holding the harmonica. It is all covered in grey. I think it is rubbed graphite. The hair is very hair-like, maybe it is wire. The hair is good. It is a tribute to the man and his music and it was hung above the bench where Paddy always sat. Now the bench is gone and the stove is there but the portrait of Paddy with its little brass plaque has been accommodated by the stone mason. Everyone is pleased about the Paddy staying in his place. Everyone is pleased about the stove and the warmth it provides. Everyone is complimentary about the stone work. There is no longer a need to bundle up in an extra sweater just to go down to the pub for a drink.
22 December Thursday Winter Solstice
Yesterday there was a special Pre-Christmas Farmers Market in Cahir. Instead of the usual Saturday morning market they did one today from four in the afternoon until eight o’clock. We went at about five. We had worried that people might not come to the market in the evening but there was a good crowd and the place was busy. Several of the baked goods people had sold out of everything already. The extra lighting for the darkness was just getting set up so except for some candles and the normal lights for the car park it was a bit dark at most of the stalls. Most people were buying or asking for things which they expected to be there rather than actually choosing what to buy. It was not a matter of browsing. Tina Looby had a table set up to paint faces on little children. She was not really able to see what she was doing in the gloom but she was so cheerful about it all that I do not think anybody noticed or cared. It was terrifying to watch Pat and his assistant slicing and fileting and gutting fish with their sharp knives. The lack of light did not bother them as much as it bothered me.
Today is the shortest day. Tonight will be the longest night. We all thought it was yesterday. I thought the solstice was always on the 21st. Somehow it has shifted on the calendar, for this year anyway. Since every day at this time of year is a short day and every night a long night whether it is yesterday or today does not make much difference. What is good is the chance to now anticipate the days getting longer. In a few more weeks people will start to mention The Cock’s Step again. Then we will know that little step by little step, spring is on its way.
21 December Wednesday
The path down into the meadow has become really slippery. It is the bit where the corner is sharp and the hill is steep. The mud can be deadly. It is the exact point where Em often catches up with me and races by at top speed barking into the night. If I am going to slip and fall anywhere, this is where it happens. Tonight I knew it was very wet and very muddy so I decided to go around the opposite way. I walked down into the meadow on what is usually our path for the upward and return journey. I did not worry about Em as she often takes off into the far field before running down to join me. When I was all the way at the bottom and she had not yet arrived, I whistled for her. I whistled and then I shouted and then I whistled again. I made enough noise that I disturbed all the birds sleeping up in the fir trees. They all came rushing out, flying around and making lots of noises. I whistled and shouted some more and then I walked back up to the yard. Em was sitting beside the vegetable patch turning her head from side to side and looking dejected. I called again and she did not respond. We have been wondering about her hearing of late. Now there is no doubt. She is deaf. It is a sad thing.
13 December Tuesday
There is an E on a tree down below. I carved it into one of the birch trees last year. I know it is naughty and irresponsible to carve into trees but it was my tree and I wanted to do it. I thought that as I walked down the meadow each night with Em I would work on it a bit more. It was to be my little secret. I quickly found that it was not such a good idea to work on it at night because I had to hold the torch, so I could not cut. I just did not have enough hands. Running down the field with a knife in my hand did not seem such a good idea either. I found it was all much harder than I imagined. My E is very clunky. Originally I was planning to write my name. That would have been five letters. As it was so much harder than I anticipated, I reduced it to my initials as that would be only three letters and there would be no curves, only straight lines. Almost eighteen months have passed and I look at it every evening as I go past. There is still only an E on the tree.
10 December Saturday
Last night we received news that Max had died. We were completely shocked. He was a big healthy happy dog. How could he have a heart attack and be dead in just a few minutes? This afternoon we walked up to the house. Max was laid out on his bed in the porch. There were scented candles burning. He looked like he was sleeping. He had that straight legged lie-flat look that dogs often have when they sleep. I wept to see him like that. Em sniffed a bit and then she went off into the house. We sat down in the kitchen and we drank tea and we talked about Max. Another neighbour arrived and we all told stories with Max in them. He had been a rescue dog, so no one knew his exact age. They thought he was about eight. He had a few bad memories from his previous life. As a result, he did not like men with cigarettes, nor could he bear to be tied up. He hated going into sheds or any enclosed small dark places. He was lucky that in his life here he was able to roam free. He loved to come for walks with Em and I. Most days I would whistle as we got near to his house, but sometimes he was waiting for us at the end of the drive. Coco was his good friend and he came to visit Max every morning. There was never any animosity between them as male dogs. Dogs and people all loved Max because Max loved everyone. The family are going to bury him on Sunday morning out on the banking near to a place which they all love for its morning sun. They will plant some bulbs to mark the spot in the spring. I cried again when we left. I stroked him and said goodbye but I could not see for my tears. I am crying again as I write this.
7 December Wednesday
For a few years, I seemed to be off the list. I had asked to be taken off the list and I was pleased to not receive any further mailings. Now they have found me again. It is, of course, the time of year to get lots of requests from many charities. This group always tops their letter with the words Self-Help—not Charity. They are the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of Ireland (Representing All Mouth & Foot Painting Artists in Ireland). I always want to call them the Foot and Mouth Painters but of course that is the wrong way round. There is a list of names and most of them are Mouth painters. Only one on the list is a Foot painter and one person seems able to do both. They send a packet with six printed Christmas cards and envelopes and they ask that I buy the cards. If I send the cards back I shall feel like I am being churlish. If I buy the cards, I am stuck with some cards which I do not really like. Of course, I buy them. There are photographs of various people painting with their brushes in their mouths. It is quite difficult to imagine the effort involved. This year the enclosed letter was written (by mouth) by a woman who is paralyzed from the neck down. As I read the letter I realized that we knew this woman. I have come to realize that this is not uncommon in Ireland. It is completely normal. It is a small country. The longer you stay here the more apt you are to bump into someone you know, or someone who knows someone who you know. Twenty years ago, we taught a week long book course and this woman was one of our students. At that time she had a young girl with her who she called My Hands. She directed My Hands to do things on her project as she decided what she wanted done. Everyone in the class was severely disabled in some way and we were not in any way trained nor qualified to work with so many kinds of mental and physical handicaps. The people in charge just left us to it. They all disappeared. It seemed crazy and irresponsible to us at the time. In retrospect, it seems even more crazy and even more irresponsible. We were in a very small class room with a great many wheelchairs and endless crises. At break time, everyone rushed out and raced into the very small kitchen area where they drank coffee and smoked loads of cigarettes. We worked very hard and the students worked very hard. By the end of the five days, everyone ended up with a finished book.
4 December Sunday
The strong winds have knocked down lots of trees and branches. Every time I go up the boreen I promise myself that I will take some cutters and some strong gloves with me the next time. Every time I forget to do it. In one spot there are long tendrils of brambles which hang down and catch at my clothes and my face and my hair. I have to go down on my hands and knees to crawl under a large tree which has blocked the way. It is right at the point where there is a lot of mud and a lot of fallen apples. There are plenty of apples in place on the path again. The Large Apple section and the Small Apple section are in their exact same locations as last year but this year they are mushy and slippery, because it has been wet and warm. They are not like the hard rolling ball-bearings of last year, but if I do not pay attention they can be just as dangerous.
2 December Friday
I drove Simon into Cahir this morning so that he could catch the train up to Dublin. It was frosty and dark when we left the house. It was still dark when we got to Cahir. It felt like it was very late at night but it was not. It was early morning. One shop was open on the corner. I stopped so Simon could hop out and buy a newspaper. While I waited for him, I saw two men down the street. They were the only people in sight. As I watched, they came closer to where I was parked. I saw that they were window cleaners. They had finished one pair of shop windows and they moved along with their buckets and their extended poles to begin the windows of another shop. I watched them working quietly and carefully together. I watched them washing windows in the dark. I wondered how they could know if the windows were clean. There was no light outside and there was no light inside. If there were smears or smudges there was no way they could be seen.
Em and I went up onto the train platform with Simon. I was expecting the platform to be empty, but there were about twenty people all waiting for the train. Em went and smelled the legs of everyone present. Each person said hello and scratched or petted her. Then she came and sat down on the edge of the platform. I held onto her when the train pulled in. It was a small train. There were only two little carriages. There are always only two carriages. Simon got in with the other people and the doors closed and the train went away. Em looked and looked at the place where Simon had stood before he entered the train. She looked and looked and she could not see him nor could she see the place he had gone into. She found both his disappearance and the disappearance of the train disconcerting. He went in and the in he went into went away. She did not want to leave the platform without him.
1 December 2011 Thursday
I measure how wild and wet a day is by answering the question Can I go out to empty the compost? If it is really horrible, it is a job not to be considered. On a desperate day, I can squish the compost down no matter how full the bucket might be. On a desperate day, it is a job that can always be put off.
30 November Wednesday
The radio staions are promising not to overdo the Christmas music. They have joined together in a decision not to play any Christmas music until the 8th of December. The 8th is the traditional day when all of the country people go up to Dublin for the day to do their Christmas shopping. The day marks the beginning of the season, so now there is musical accompaniment for that beginning.
28 November Monday
If we are having tea with someone and the conversation is going along nicely, we might be offered A Hot Drop. A Hot Drop is that extra bit of hot tea added into the cup which is not yet empty. A Hot Drop extends the cup of tea and keeps the visit going a bit longer.
23 November Wednesday
It is the 23rd of November. It is grey and cold but I was able to pick a few flowers. Now they are in a jar on the table. Together they make a nice little bouquet. I think they will be the very last flowers of the year. I picked one pink rose, a few daisies, seven sweet peas, and some Lady’s Mantel. There was also a little clump of forget-me-not in bloom. It was growing out of a space in the stone wall. The tiny blue blossom would have looked lovely with the other flowers but it looked so bright and cheerful next to the grey stones that I could not pick it. I left it right where it was.
20 November Sunday
There is always a bit of land between a fence or a wall or a ditch and the road. In some rural counties, these edges of the road are scruffy and bare, but in Tipperary the verges are always lush and green with grass and weeds and growth. I assume that the land right up to the edge of the road is owned by the person who owns the adjoining fields. Maybe it is not really owned by anyone. Maybe it is an extension of the public road. This strip of land along the side of the road is called The Long Acre. The Long Acre is regularly used by the traveling community as a place to tether their horses for grazing. It is a delicate balance to give a horse on a rope enough length so that he will be able to reach plenty of the grass around him, but not enough to let him get out into the road and get hit by a motor car. The Long Acre offers free grazing with a modicum of danger.
5 November Saturday
I sewed up some copies of my new book. I am using up a lot of old cover material as stiffeners under the wrap around cover. It means there will be different colours for different books but no one will know that unless they see more than one book. They will not notice at all unless they are careful lookers. They will also not know which cover material came from which earlier publication. I like this using up of extant materials and I like the hiding of a thing within another thing. Some of what I am using is the brown from the cover of GIFTS FROM THE GOVERNMENT. I am also using a green left over from WITH MY LEFT HAND. The printed titles of each these will be on the outside of the book but underneath the cover. I am also using a purple printed page from Simon and Bill’s book SOME MORE NOTES ON WRITING AND DRINKING. There are also some printed proof pages from Tim Robinson’s print THE VEGETABLE PLOT AT L8511. I won’t know until I use all of this stuff up if I need to look for some more materials. We have a copy of a book called ART by Eric Gill. It was produced by John Lane The Bodley Head in 1946. On the collophon page there is a little emblem of an open book with a lion on top of it. Inside the drawn book image is printed Book Production War Economy Standard. The cover of the Eric Gill book is a yellow paper wrap around cover with the title and author’s name printed in black. Inside the cover paper is printed, in green The Shorn Lamb and it is part of an edition of The Works of William J. Locke. If you did not remove the wrapper you would never know that the cover had had a previous existence. I love this cover for its wartime austerity. I am happy to think of my own re-using of materials sitting in such a fine tradition.
1 November 2011 Tuesday
Yesterday there was torrential rain and terrible wind all day long. The rain never stopped and the wind never stopped. I have seen a lot of rain since I have lived here but I do not think I have ever seen rain like this. Today it is raining still but not with quite the ferocity of yesterday. Both today and yesterday we have been printing in the shed. We are printing words for my book SOME MORE WORDS FOR LIVING LOCALLY. Each time we had to run from barn to shed or shed to house we were racing to get through the rain. It is difficult to walk slowly through this kind of downpour. Running seems essential. Wearing a hat or a coat does not help much as the wind whips everything around and the minute we go inside we are dripping onto something. All morning we were getting phone calls from Seamus, the Eircom man, who was tryng to repair our telephone line. He was up the road, out in the rain, sawing at bushes and branches. He said the branches had rubbed the cables and torn a coating off them and that is why we had no service. He would telephone Simon on his mobile and then one of us would run into the house to try to phone him back on the land line but then it would not work so we would have to go back out and call him from the mobile. These calls went back and forth and back and forth for several hours. Once we thought it was repaired but then it was not. Finally it was fixed and Seamus was very very wet. He left to go and see to some cables that had come down in the wind up near Ballinamult. He told us he would phone again tomorrow to check and see if it was still working. So far so good. After eleven days, it is very nice to have it working again.
30 October Sunday
There was a yellow bucket sitting in the herb garden. I had been using it some days ago while clearing weeds and small rocks. The job was not finished, but the bucket was left there. Then it filled with rainwater. Today I was passing and I thought I should empty the water out and then take the rest of the stuff and dump it. When I tipped the bucket, out flowed the water along with three dead rodents. I do not know if they were large mice or if they were young rats. They were a bit swollen and horrible from being in the water. I do not know why they all ended up in there unless they jumped off the stone all into the bucket one after another. Once again I have a small mystery concerning three dead rodents. I am not sure if it is that they are again three in number or that they are again rodents which worries me more.
28 October Friday
I went to collect Simon off the bus in Ardfinnan. I went a bit early to walk with Em along the river. There are always several groups of ten or fifteen geese walking along in the field or swimming. Em is not very interested in them, nor are they interested in her. They are lovely to see, but the area all along the bankings gets very slippery with the huge amount of goose droppings. At one point Em decided that she just had to swim so she hopped off the banking and into the river. She chose a steep drop off point and when she turned to climb back up she could not do it. The mud was slippery there. It was too steep and there were reeds tangling around her. She did not bark or whimper. She just kept trying and trying to scrabble up. The more she struggled the less possible it looked. I squatted down and tried to pull her by her front legs. My squatting position gave me no leverage. I only just caught myself from toppling into the water. The only thing I could do was to lie down flat on the ground and to pull her hard using her front legs and her long hair to lever her out. I got her up and out and she took off at speed to go back over the bridge. She stopped and waited for me at the far edge of the field. I was soaking wet and completely covered with goose !@#$%^&*.
27 October Thursday
As of yesterday at two o’clock in the afternoon, the presidential candidates had to stop campaigning. National radio and television stations stopped discussing the campaign. No more predictions and no more plugs and no more dissections of strategies or performances. There was a complete moratorium on all discussion about the election. Until 7 o’clock this morning when the polls around the country opened, it was as if the election were not happening. The only thing we have heard is that after the polls close at 10 0’clock tonight, the results will not be known until Saturday at the earliest.
25 October Tuesday
Today was blue sky beautiful. Em and I went up the boreen and collected drops from Johnnie Mackin’s old orchard. With all the wind and rain a great many apples had fallen and they landed gently in the long grass. Since there were so many, the insects and animals had not yet had time to get at them. There were plenty for me and plenty for them. I filled a big backpack and left it at the edge of the path. We continued as far as the road where Coco came out to greet us. Most times of late, Coco just barks at us from the back yard while he gently bounces up and down on the trampoline. He is happy to stay there. I turned Em around after the visit and the sniffing and we went back down. My pack was so heavy I could not walk straight. At lunch, we listened to the news of all the devastation and the deaths which the heavy rains have caused in other parts of the country. There was the equivalent of a month of rainfall in eight hours. Everyone was taken by surprise. It was hard to believe it all as we sat here surrounded by sunshine. Now darkness has fallen and the rain is back. It is raining so hard it is impossible to even tell which direction it is coming from. Our telephone is still dead.
24 October Monday
Thursday is Polling Day. My voter registration card arrived this morning. We are choosing a new president and also deciding on two referendums. This is my first time voting in a national election. Up until now I could only participate on very local issues. Now, as a citizen, I have full privileges. A few weeks ago Simon recieved a notice about his postal ballot. He went into the council office and said that he did not need an absentee ballot as he is here now and he will be here on the 27th to vote. Last February when there was a General Election he did need one as he was going to be out of the country on election day. He had to get a special paper and he had to go to the Garda Station to get his identity validated and then the paper was sent to him here so that he could fill it in and return it. Now the council told him that since he had an absentee vote earlier in the year, he had to have one now. One is not allowed to be absent and requiring a postal vote for less than a year. This seems mad. He had to go again to the Garda station and again have someone sign a paper saying that he is himself. Then the ballot papers came by post to the house and he voted and posted them back. Why this absurd insistance that you remain absent for a year? And if you are absent for a year, why on earth would the ballot be sent to your own house? Surely you would not be there to recieve it.
23 October Sunday
Unbelievable lashing, torrential rain all day long. Even for here it has been unbelievable. We drove up into the mountains to have lunch with a friend who lives in a wonderful crumbling castle. It was cosy and dry inside but the sound of the rain on the roof was incessant. As we drove back home the water was rushing off the mountains and hills and down the roads. It felt like we were in a paddle boat on a deep and rushing river. There were no puddles on the road. The road was just all water. It was hard to see where the road ended and if there was any land at all on either side. The car window had been left open a tiny bit while we were visiting. I found myself sitting in a huge puddle of my own as I drove. My feet were splashing in water as I used the pedals. I was completely soaked from the waist down by the time we got home. The phone is dead. The winds and the rain continue.
22 October Saturday
Saturday is trailer day around here. Many vehicles are out and about pulling a trailer. The trailers might be the kind that have a horse or some cows or some sheep. They might be those little trailers with one small window and a peaked roof with racing greyhounds inside. They might be open trailers filled with firewood. They might be full of stuff for the dump and the recycling depot. Sometimes there is a cement mixer and other working equipment. Saturday is a busy day. There are a lot of errands being done and there are a lot of jobs being done. Many things that need a trailer seem to be done on Saturday. Driving without a trailer on a Saturday can make a car look naked.
20 October Thursday
In the morning, I put on my boots to take Em for her walk. It is not just her walk. It is my walk too. The putting on of the boots gets her excited. Some dogs get excited when they see their lead but she rarely goes on a lead so her excitement is for boots. I always tuck my trousers into my socks before I set off. The tucking in lets her know that I am ready. It is sort of the last thing I do before we leave. The boreen might be muddy and the tucking in is mostly just a mud deterrent but I am so used to doing it that I do it even if the world is dry. The boreen goes both ways past the house. One way is out and up to the farm and then on to the outside world. That is the direction that is driveable. The other way is only walkable. That is the boreen too. When I say I am going Up the Boreen, I could be going either way. When I arrive home, I do so by coming down the boreen. Any arrival is always Down the Boreen. I rarely remember to untuck the trousers from my socks when I get home. It is not unusual for me to spend the rest of the day with my trousers tucked into my socks. That is even the case if I change out of my boots.
19 October Wednesday
It is sad to see Teresa’s house empty. There are many people keeping an eye on it. Maybe there are even as many as did so when she was ill. Some weeks ago, I stopped with my clippers and I deadheaded the rose bushes. Now I see that I should do it again. The roses keep blooming and they keep dying.
17 October Monday
There was a message on the answer phone asking us to be on the look-out for a Freisian Heifer who had escaped from someone down the road. I was pleased that anyone thought we would recognize a Freisian Heifer from any other kind of cow.
15 October Saturday
On the plane, I sat beside an older man wearing a baseball hat with a very long bill. He sat silently and completely still. He stared at the screen on the seat back in front of him. The screen showed the progress of our plane as it travelled across the Atlantic. After our food was delivered to us and we had eaten and the trays had been taken away, he turned to me and told me that he had made the trip in order to pay his American taxes. He told me that he had lived in Boston for 35 years. He had driven a truck for a living and he had bought a house. He was now 70 years old. A few years ago, he sold his home in Massachusetts and he went back to Ireland. He had a house built for himself in Sneem, County Kerry. The house had cost him 350,000 euro. It had 4 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms. He had no immediate family, so he said he was spending his money as he liked. There were some distant relations who were eager for him to economize. He thought they just wanted whatever might be left when he dies. In Sneem, he lives 20 steps from the pub and he has a stent in his heart. His doctor tells him that he drinks too much. He gets a little exercise because he has a small yard out front. The walls and a few flowers keep him busy. He does not bother with the land out back. After he finished telling me all this, he turned back to the screen and he did not speak again until we landed at Shannon. Then he said Good Morning and Good Luck.
27 September Tuesday
I was walking up the boreen with Em. I looked down and saw what I assumed was a little dead mouse. I almost stepped on it. It was a very small and very young creature. It was grey, like a mouse, but it had a long nose, almost like a little snout. I decided that it must be a baby shrew. They always look a little bit prehistoric. Ten steps along there was another one and a few more steps along there was a third. If some other animal had raided their nest, I think they would have eaten the babies. I could not see any signs of blood or wounding. It was just three dead shrews all in a row on the way up the track. Maybe they were running away from something or maybe they were just running. Cause of death unknown.
24 September Saturday
The village has been divided. The council is doing some work on the little bridge which goes right through the middle of the thoroughfare. They have closed the road to all but pedestrian traffic. People in cars are trapped on one side or the other. It is not possible to get petrol nor to get a tyre repaired if you come in from the wrong side. It is not possible to go the post office or the hardware shop if you come from the other way. People who are on the opposite side from the side we enter from have a very long roundabout journey by car just to get to Clonmel now. There are routes through Ardfinnan or up and around on the mountain roads just to get to places which are usually very close. It is all a bit confusing and since there was no warning a lot of people are very angry. There is a lot of walking up and down that road which is nice to see. People park on one side and walk along to get to the things on the other side. People seem to be very sociable even if it is only to complain. We are told that the repairs will be finished in three weeks but everyone is grumbling that it probably means that it will not be done before Christmas.
22 September Thursday
Hector, the golden retriever, was in the way as I was driving out this morning. He looked at me and at the car and he did nothing to get out of the way. There was not really enough space for him to squeeze between the car sides and the bushes anyway, but he did not even look like he would try. I got out and went to talk with him. I saw that he had a chain attached to his collar. The chain was long and it was attached to a wooden post. The post was big and heavy and he was obviously tired from having pulled it along for as far as he did. He had escaped from being tied up by pulling the post out of the ground and away with him. I picked up the post and carried it with both arms. It was taller than me and it was very heavy. It was awkward to carry. Hector walked calmly along behind me still attached to his chain and therefore to the post. As we got closer to the farmyard he got excited and started to run home. Our positions were reversed. I had to run in a staggering kind of way, barely able to keep up with my heavy burden.
21 September Wednesday
There is still a lot of stuff to collect: Blackberries, wild damsons, blotcheens, several kinds of rose hips, apples, elderberries, and field mushrooms. Everything is plentiful but there is just not enough time to get it all. The picking is only one thing. Once the picking is done there is the need to do something with it all. Freezing things or making jams & cordials is time consuming. I waver between feeling I should use every single thing and not waste the bounty, and wanting to get some other things done. I have taken to carrying a bag when I walk with Em. If she is slow and lagging far behind I can stop at any moment and pick blackberries. They are everywhere. I come back from each walk with a good supply.
19 September Monday
There was a dead bird on the step outside my room this morning. It must have flown into the glass door at speed and knocked itself out. I looked at it carefully and Em snifffed it carefully. Then I went to find a little shovel. I took it inside for identification. I looked it up and decided that it was a goldfinch. Simon confirmed that and, more specifically, that it was a female goldfinch. Female Goldfinch, dead in my doorway. It was one way to start the week.
15 September Thursday
The radio is full of news about the upcoming Ploughing Championships. Every time I listen there is some reference to the upcoming event. There are discussions about the traffic problems that there will be all around Athy. Every year the event takes place in a new location so every year there are new issues about parking and traffic and access. There are also discussions about farming problems and about farming issues to be addressed at the event. There are loads of things that will be happening besides the different kinds of ploughing competitions. I know that Shirley will be there with her little engraving van, inscribing beer mugs and coffee cups and dog tags or whatever for whoever wants something engraved. Every radio station is promising to broadcast some special programmes from the event. There is talk about mud and rubber boots and new equipment and counselling for failing farmers. It is still a week until it starts but already the name of The Ploughing Championships has been shortened to The Ploughing. I have been asked several times if I will be going to The Ploughing this year. I know who is going and I know who has not decided yet.
14 September Wednesday
One good thing about the onset of colder weather and chilly nights is the diminishing possibility of stepping on a slug when I get up in the night with bare feet.
13 September Tuesday
The winds are less strong but it is still breezy. I thought it might be a perfect day for drying laundry but there is still a strong enough wind to flip the clothes around and around the line until they are no longer blowing in the wind. I have been to untangle them a few times but now I will just leave them and hope the sun dries them even in their wadded up state. Most of the older places around have a stone shed of some sort which is used for many things. One of the uses is for drying laundry. The shed is usually open on one long side, so that the wind can come in and blow around but the roof keeps rain off. This way women were able to get their clothes and sheets and stuff mostly dry even in the wettest of weather. No one built a shed like this for the new houses. Some people have a garage which usually houses anything except a car. Some people just have a small wooden shed for garden tools, and maybe their stuff for recycling There is no need for a drying line in an open shed anyway as I think most people have clothes driers.
12 September Monday
The promised wild winds are upon us. The news is full of trees, and branches and chimneys falling down. Big lorries are being blown over. We feel very protected down here in our valley but walking out with Em this morning was dangerous. We had crab apples beating us on our bodies and our heads as we struggled up the boreen. Up on the road the wind was coming at us from all directions and so were the horse chestnuts. We were rained upon by conkers. Em was confused by it all as she did not understand where they were coming from and why she was being attacked. At one point I could hardly walk upright with the wind pushing at me. Em had her hair all blown back from her face so her head looked small and fox-like. She did not look like herself. The ceaseless sound of the wind is making me crazy.
10 September Saturday
The fig tree really suffered with the cold over these last two winters. This spring I was sure we had lost it for good. I broke off a lot of dead branches. They were too dead for me to even need a saw. A few very pathetic but hopeful ones remained. It took a while for any leaves to form. A few hard little figs appeared over the summer but they never reached maturity. Today, I snooped around under the big leaves and I found one perfectly ripe fig. We cut it in half and ate it. It tasted of warm places. It was perfect and not at all woody. One Fabulous Fig.
9 September Tuesday
Autumn Bliss. This is the name of my raspberry variety. I spent years waiting and waiting and waiting to put in some raspberries as I could not decide on the right place to put them. I wanted to build a cage so they would be protected from the birds. I waited so long that I sort of forgot about it every year until raspberries were in season. Then I always felt cheated not to have enough of them to eat. Last year, I put in a just a few bushes. I put them in an easy place. It was where the extra roof slates have been stacked for years, so I did not have a lot of heavy work turning over the soil. They are near the washing line and on the way to my room. This is good because it means I pass them often and I do not have to remind myself to keep an eye on them. For three weeks now, there have been increasing numbers of berries. Everyday I stop and I eat them right off the bushes. As I pass from different directions I see different berries. Some are not ready to eat in the morning but they are ready by the end of the afternoon. Usually there have not been enough to share. When there are a lot I take some inside and give them to Simon. I have told him to keep an eye on them and to help himself but he never eats any unless I present them. The autumn part of this bliss is that many of the birds have headed south so there is not too much competition for the eating. I believe this will go on right through October. Raspberries are my all time favorite fruit. I cannot understand why I waited so long to have my own supply.
7 September Wednesday
It is the season of the Dying Wasp. They are everywhere. They are on pieces of fruit, on the handles of doors and on cups and on pots. I find them everywhere in odd places. They are on the leaves of the basil plant in the window. They walk slowly up the glass of the windows. Mostly they just sit, barely hanging on. Barely standing. Barely walking. Not a lot of flying. I will be glad when this mass dying is over for this year.
5 September Monday
The outcome of the final was bad for Tipperary. Everyone around here is very subdued. I asked the postman if he had been up for the match. He had not. He had had tickets but he gave them to a woman and her son because they were desperate to go. He said it was disappointing for everyone who had made the journey and watched the game in the rain and the cold. Most people left very early in the morning in order to beat the traffic. They left so early that when they got to Dublin, they went out for big breakfasts. The match did not start until 3.30. I do not know what they all did all day. Tonight there is a huge parade and party in Kilkenny to celebrate the re-taking of the Liam McCarthy Cup. The winning team will arrive from Dublin on the train and then they will be driven through town on a double decker bus while everyone cheers. One man muttered that all we can hope for now is more rain.
4 September Sunday
Even on a rainy day the stream has no water in it. Em still insists on running down the slope and waiting for me to throw a stick down for her. The stick just rattles as it lands on the rocks. She grabs it with all the enthusiasm she used to use for splashing about in the water. There has been rain but it never seems to fill up the stream. I wonder if the flow has been stopped somewhere further up. The land is dry. It is deeply dry. We have had a dry winter and a dry spring and now a dry summer. The cold and grey of the summer makes it feel like it has been a wet summer but that is an illusion. It has just been dreary and cold. Grey and rainless. What rain we do get is never enough.
30 August Tuesday
The big All Ireland Final has come around again. Just like last year, the game will be played between Tipperary and Kilkenny. Just like last year, there is a fierce rivalry between these two neighbouring counties. On Sunday afternoon there will no doubt be more people from these two counties up in Dublin than there will be left down here. A woman I spoke to has to go to collect her elderly sister-in-law. The sister-in-law is inside in Kilkenny city living in a residential home. She has to fetch her out of there, over the border and back to Tipperary for the final. The sister-in-law is afraid that she will not be allowed to cheer for her own side as long as she is in Kilkenny. She does not want to be the only one cheering for Tipperary, in enemy territory, so to speak.
27 August Saturday
I have come to think of our walk in Cahir Woods as our Urban Walk. There are many things to make it feel different from any other walk that I take with Em. To begin, it starts in a car park. Simon drives us down and into the wood. We hop out of the motor, and he drives away. The early part is on a tar and gravel path which is two metres wide. The path follows the river on the left and there are huge trees and big rock formations on the right. It is always cold in that part of the wood in the morning. It takes time for the sun to heat things up in there. We come out of the wood into an open space with a field on the right. At this point, the river has moved sharply away from the path and it is no longer visible. Sometimes the field has a few cows in it and sometimes there are a few horses in it. The higher field on the right never has any animals in it but once a year it is filled with little Boy Scouts and tents and camping activity. Further along there is a golf course on the left. It looks like all golf courses. Both sides of the path are lined with enormous old chestnut trees. Then the path goes into woods again. This is a very dense wood and the path here is no longer tar and gravel. It is just soil and leaves. There is a sign with hand drawn and coloured images of local birds, and their names. It is the kind of sign which helps people to be out of doors. At the end, three different paths diverge. Each of the paths brings us back to the river. Each of the paths bring us to the car park at Cahir Castle. When we arrive we are right in the middle of the Farmers Market. There are people and conversations immediately. Em knows everyone and everyone knows her. She rushes around to the stalls to see if anything edible has fallen onto the ground. Starting and ending our walk in car parks would probably be enough for me to think of it as Urban. More than that is the fact that while I am walking, I see people I do not know. Some days we see tourists who are walking down to see the Swiss Cottage. Some days it is just other local people, people both with and without dogs. There are people in exercise clothes and people with headphones. It is mostly just that they are people who I do not know which makes it all seem Urban. As if that were not enough, there is a tiny pink graffiti on one tree and on some rocks too.
24 August Wednesday
The car mechanic always reminds me that I am not from here. It has become a bit of a game for him. When I say Two Thirty, he says Half Two. Then I ask if that isn’t what I just said? He says No, you said Two Thirty. Here it is Half Two.
21 August Sunday
After she has had her walk down the meadow and she has eaten her little night snack, Em has taken to going back outside. She likes to lie by the back door with her head moving slowly from side to side. She looks out into the darkness and gives the impression of being ready for immediate action. I call this doing Night Dog. It is ironic as she often spends most of the day sleeping and not paying attention to anything or anyone. As Night Dog she is alert and ready. When I go to the door to see if she is ready to come in, she turns to look at me and then she shows me the whites of her eyes and she goes back to looking out at the night.
17 August Wednesday
I am now an Irish citizen. I do not feel any different. I did not really expect to feel any different, but I remind myself that now I am
IRISH + EUROPEAN.
The ceremony took place at the Garda training college in Templemore. It was a larger event than I anticipated. There were 300 people there from 53 different countries. I sat beside a young man from Eritria and another from Brazil. A family from the Sudan were beside us. Those seeking asylum paid no money for their citizenship. The rest of us did. There were many tears. For so many of these people, it is the first time in a long time, or maybe ever, that they have had rights and the possibility of a passport which will give them the freedom to travel in safety. I did not expect to be so moved by the whole thing. We were separated from our one guest each. We sat on blue chairs up front and our guests sat further back in the gymnasium on black chairs. We had red ribbons around our necks. The guests had black ones. We had to wait quite a long time for the ceremony to begin, so the Garda Brass Band played various tunes, mostly a medley of Beatles songs. The assembled people kept jumping up and taking photos of each other with their new Certificate of Citizenship held up in front of them, and even of all of us in the crowd. Our certificates were given to us in a clear plastic envelope and every single person held their envelope up in front of them for the photos. I did not see one person taking the certificate out of the envelope to be photographed more clearly. After a little while, and because the wait was so long, everyone started rushing up and having their photos taken on the stage. We were all wearing little enamel pins of the Irish flag. The woman who presented them to each of us told us that the Minister wanted us to wear them during the ceremony. She made each request sound very personal. The Minster would like You to wear this pin. As a group, we had to swear fidelity to the Irish state, and we had to listen to a little speech and then we all filed out and went into the huge cafeteria used for feeding the Garda trainees. There was a table set up with tea and scones and some cakes but the serving of the tea and cakes was a bit of a mess and they ran out of things to eat before everyone had had any. We have all lived here long enough to know that many organized things are bit of a mess. There were several ladies marching off to a kitchen somewhere far in the back and returning with a pot of tea which only served about 7 people. Then they had to make the long trip again. No amount of tealessness stopped the cheerful atmosphere, the endless posing with certificates nor the phone calls to family and friends who had not been allowed to join in. As we drove away, everyone in the other cars or walking or waiting for the bus, waved like mad to each other. We were all the best of friends for the day. We all felt happy.
15 August Monday
I saw a sign as I drove through a village. There was an upcoming dance being advertised and the band playing was called BACHELORS IN TROUBLE.
11 August Thursday
Em and I are varying our walks. One day we do the short Perimeter Walk and one day we do our usual Around Walk. This variety seems to agree with her and we are making better speed on the longer walk. Today I was caught short and I was desperate for a pee. I tried to walk faster but I soon realized that I was not going to make it home. There was too far to go and I just could not wait. I hopped over a gate and squatted down out of sight behind the ditch. Em wiggled under the gate and came and squatted exactly beside me. We peed together. It was a very companionable moment to share with my dog. It is not the first time I have been caught short and it is not the first time that she has sat down beside me. It is not the first time I have marvelled that she knows exactly what I am doing and that she choses to join me.
10 August Wednesday
Last week in the paper there was a front page story about a local man who was arrested for sexual assaults on young children over a period of thirty five years. The area where the article was printed was underprinted with a soft gray to make it stand out from the other pieces. The article was very diplomatic. It did not mention the name of the village where the man lived, nor did it mention the name of the man. This is all to protect the victims. The article did tell the age of the man and it described him as a pensioner who cannot afford to pay his bail so he is being kept inside in the jail. It described that when he was picked up by the Garda, he was dressed in an open-necked shirt and a dishevelled pin-striped suit. It is a pretty specific portrait and locally we all know exactly who is being described. Everyone is being very discreet and everyone is quite actively not discussing any of this. No one knows who the victims, both male and female, are and no one wants to make it worse for them. It is the biggest story not being discussed.
9 August Tuesday
When we walk through the farmyard up above, Em always goes right to the side beside the wall of one of the stone outbuildings. There is a concrete channel going along the wall there. It is 17 metres long and it almost always has some water flowing down through it. It is a rare day when there is no water in the channel. Sometimes the water just looks like it might be rain water off the roof and sometimes the water looks filthy and horrible. Em does not care what the water is like. She always steps right into it and walks that distance with her feet in the water, and her side rubbing snugly against the wall.
8 August Monday
Every year in August, there are two weeks which are traditionally the holidays for tradesmen in the entire country. All of the bricklayers, blocklayers, plasterers, carpenters, roofers, decorators, plumbers, joiners, electricians, etc etc etc have the same two weeks off. The timber yards are closed. Many hardware and plumbing supply places are closed. I think the idea was that if everyone had the same time off then no one would miss the work or hold any one elses work up. I think this is that two weeks. This year it is particularly difficult to know because all of the building work has already stopped all over the country. Since so very many people have no work, there is not going to be the same sense of a holiday. The quiet has been here for a while.
7 August Sunday
The fourteen blackthorn sticks are back on the wall. I am very happy to see them again. We took them down once a long time ago and they went to be in an exhibition in Limoges. Then they went to the museum in Japan. When they returned, they spent a long time just wrapped up in bubble wrap. Now they are back and they look exactly right where they are. They were Willie English’s sticks and now they are back in what was once his home. They look like this is exactly where they belong, although I do not know what Willie himself would think of his out of doors sticks being presented like this inside the house.
6 August Saturday
The various towns and villages around are working hard to get everything looking good for the yearly Tidy Towns Competition. It is always something to pay attention to. Some of the towns do the same things in the same ways and with the same coloured floral arrangements and hanging baskets every year. Some places get to painting buildings and houses. Some places paint the outdoor benches and the flower boxes as well as the buildings. Somtimes the paint is provided by a local business. Some places get very experimental and some do very little at all. On the road to Cahir, there is a low stone wall that sweeps around a long corner. On the side of the road where the wall is there is a field directly behind the wall. On the opposite side of the road there are six or seven houses. Someone has organized fifteen or sixteen wooden flower boxes along the wall. I have tried to count them as I have driven past but it is hard to keep my eye on them and to count while driving. They are spread over quite a long stretch and all have matching flowers in them. The strongest presence seems to be a lavender petunia. It is interesting to see these boxes where they are because the usual emphasis on the Tidy Towns displays is usually in the center of the village. This display is well outside the center of Ardfinnan. Will the judges even go that far to find it and to include it in Ardfinna’s efforts? I do not know when the actual judging happens but later on the results will be on the television. The whole competition is usually sponsored by the supermarket chain SuperValu. It pits towns, cities and even little hamlets against equivalent sized places all over the country. The TV coverage is the only way that everyone can view each others efforts.
5 August Friday
Sometimes I am waiting for the news to come on the radio and when it does it is all in Irish. I am often surprised by it, but I never get any better at understanding it. I can hear words and names but unless I already know what might be being discussed, I do not know what I have heard. I have been waiting. I do listen. But when it is over I know no more than I did before I listened.
4 August Thursday
A few years ago we made a visit to Corn Close in Dentdale. Jonathan Williams and Tom Meyer lived there for many summers together but that was the first time we had been there since Jonathan died. It felt very strange to be in the house without them. We were remembering many past visits and feeling awkward and sad to be surrounded by so many familiar things but without the familiarity of the people. Simon sat at Jonathan’s desk for a long time. He looked out the window and he looked at the wall. He fidgeted with Jonathan’s cigar cutter. Just before we left the house he made a little rubbing of the cigar cutter with a soft pencil. Quite a long time later he found the little rubbing and he had some blocks made and he printed the rubbing onto a piece of heavy card. He printed with one colour that looked like graphite. The second printing, which was of the cutting part of the cigar cutter, was done with silver ink and thermographed. I helped with that. Then he came back and cut out a hole in every card exactly where the cigar would have gone into the device to be cut. The cards, printed and cut, sat around for a long time as Simon was not happy with the poem with which he wanted to finish the small tribute. At some point he decided to desert the project. That was how unhappy he was with it. The printed cards were relegated to the stack of spare paper and eventually I started using them for shopping lists. Today I was standing in line at the shop. I was waiting to pay for my goods and I was trying to think if I had forgottten anything. A little boy came up and asked if he could have a Go. He saw me twirling and twirling the thick card on my finger. My finger was pointed straight up in the air. The card just flew around it. He wanted to try it too.
3 August Wednesday
I took Em on the old Perimeter Walk this morning. I wanted to see how she would do on a short and gentle walk after a few days with no walking. We went up the steep field at a good speed. We had not been up there for a long time. There are a lot of passages into and out of Scully’s Wood. It is a busy area for foxes. The sniffing and investigating kept Em busy. I was glad to be on the perimeter to see how many heavily laden blackberry bushes are lining the field. When they ripen, it will be a fantastic picking place. The bushes are hanging low and the access for picking will be easy. I was happy to look across at the view from up there too. It always amazes me how high that top corner is. Paul’s cows were walking from their morning milking back up and toward a far field. In the distance, their long drawn out single file of black and white markings looked like a moving perforation in the landscape. Em and I followed Joe’s fences and ended up low down near the stream. Em was very busy with all of her smelling so I did not see any of Sunday’s slowness. I do not know if this means she is better or if she just rallied for the new route.
2 August Tuesday
When the postman arrived this morning, he announced that the hedge cutting had begun. It was a pleasure to hear him relay this news. Every day we have been apologizing to him about the impossible state of the boreen. Everyday we have assured him that the cutting will be done soon. Everyday he has listened but he knows that we have no more control over when the cutting will be done than he does. All any of us could do it hope. And wait. Everything has been waiting until there was a gap in the silage cutting. So today, when he said that PJ was in the upper half of the boreen with the machine, we were delighted. He dashed off and away quickly so that he would not be trapped by the tractor and its apparatus. The anticipation of the hedge cutter was great. First the news from the postman and then the knowledge of this long awaited activity finally happening. About an hour later I heard the sound of the cutting approaching. It is a combination of cutting and ripping, and tearing and crashing. It is pretty violent to hear even from afar. When the tractor got all the way down here I went out and waved. It was Ned in the driving seat, not PJ. The postman made a common mistake. They do look alike these brothers, especially from a distance. High up in the cab of a tractor it is an easy mistake to make. Ned had his dog in the cab with him. He waved to me in return and then he went back up the track. He went up and down and up and down and up and down. I do not know how many times he went up and down the boreen. He had to cut the tops and he tried to cut the sides as best he could. It is difficult to cut the sides because it is all so narrow. The cutting part of the machine cannot get enough space to get at the sides. We will probably have to do a little trimming ourselves later but at least the major job is done.
1 August 2011 Monday Bank Holiday
I met an older woman down at the shop who asked me how my dog was. I had not seen this woman for a long time. Whenever we see each other we always ask about the others dog. I told her about Em and her slowness and my concerns. She told me that her old dog had died. She said that losing her dog had made her feel like the back wall had fallen off the house.
31 July Sunday
Em was terribly slow walking up the boreen today. By the time we reached the tarmacadam road at the top, I decided to turn around and to go straight home again. She did not seem to mind. Usually turning around upsets her. Today, she just turned and continued in the same slow way all the back down. I do not know if there is something wrong. She does not seem to be limping anymore but there is no gusto and busy-ness in her movements. Maybe it is arthiritis. Maybe it is age. When we got home, she lay down to rest and to clean the millions of little sticky balls out of her fur. I went back out and took my walk without her. I feel very sad about a future full of walking alone. I feel sad about a possible future of walking without Em.
28 July Thursday
There is a sign at the recyling depot. It is a printed sign near to the bottle banks. It reads NO CERAMICS AND NO DELPH. Once this would have confused me. Now I know that dishware, that is china plates and cups and bowls, are all called Delph. This is an evolution of language from Delftware, which is the blue and white patterned china which was prevalent for many years. Delft originally came from the town of Delft in Holland. Now everyday china comes in many more colours and patterns and combinations. Now china dishes come from many places. But here, china is called Delph and after supper or after breakfast or after dinner it is always important to wash the Delph, to dry the Delph and to put it all away before the next meal requires its readiness.
26 July Tuesday
I keep a pen in the kitchen. It is tucked just inside the shelf where I have the ongoing list for shopping. The pen that has been there for the last year is a pink pen. It has a cute picture of a puppy on the removeable top. It has little white polka-dots over whole pen, top and bottom. I got this pen when I donated some money to The Irish Blue Cross, an animal welfare charity. I hate this pen. It is the perfect pen to leave on the shelf because I know it will always be there. Simon is terrible about picking up pens and walking off to some other part of the house or the world with them. This pen repulses him so it is safe. I always keep a few pens in the car for making notes and lists, or for leaving messages for other people. These pens also have a tendency to disappear. I can take five pens out to leave in the car but in a week or two there will no longer be anything there to write with. Again, I have the dilemma about a pen which is dependable and which writes smoothly but which is not desirable. I know banks have this problem and so they put their pens onto little metal cords. The postmistress has her pen tied onto a long and frazzled and grubby piece of string. My latest car pen is a biro with green ink. I hate green ink. I hope Simon does too.
24 July Sunday
Some of the EU countries have the same images on the obverse of all of their Euro coins. The Irish coins have a harp on every coin. It seems a little boring not to use the chance to have different things on the different denominations. Some of the countries do have varied images. The one we like the most is on the Italian 20 cent coin. This has Boccioni’s UNIQUE FORMS OF CONTINUITY IN SPACE on the back. The futurist form is of a man as if he is walking in the wind or as if he is walking very fast. We try to look at our change whenever we get 20 cent pieces. We have been collecting these Boccioni coins for six or seven or maybe eight years now. We started in the early years of the Euro. So far we have twelve. They are lined up and stuck to the edge of a shelf with blu-tack.
23 July Saturday
Last week a chimney sweep came down to see about cleaning our chimney. He looked at our woodstove and he asked questions and then he said it would have to be done From the Top Down. Since it was raining he said he would not even consider going up onto the roof. He told us a great many dire things about the kind of chimney arrangement we have. He told us that we were foolish to have not had the chimney cleaned even once in 16 years. He said he would phone next Sunday and arrange to come by on Monday, if the weather was dry. When Simon eventually phoned him back he said he could no longer do chimneys From the Top Down. He had had one fall a few years ago and he did not want to climb anymore. He gave us the name of another chimney sweep who was happy to work From the Top Down. Today two men arrived. One was very young and one was older. The older man said he had broken his leg fourteen times by falling off roofs over the years. He no longer did From the Top Down. He said that is why he had the young lad with him. He was fearless about climbing. He was happy to do it. The young one went up his ladder and he shoved brushes down the chimney while the other man was inside the house. They shouted back and forth to each other. The man down below had an enormous vacumn cleaner. I thought that the room might get very dirty with the soot being pushed down, but he mostly used a little opening at the bottom of the brickwork. He had a sealing device that kept the soot being sucked right into the machine and not into the room. The room was left very clean but smelling like some horrible cleanser which he used on the floor as well as on the inside of the stove. The whole time the vacumning was being done the young lad was walking back and forth on the ridge of the roof. He pulled weeds out of the other chimneys which we are not using. He shouted down advice about how they should be sealed up to get keep the damp out. He was extremely tall and skinny. He walked around as if he were on level ground. It was terrifying to watch him. Before they left, the older man told us that back in the days when he still did From the Top Down, an elderly lady asked him to paint her chimney while he was up on the roof. She gave him a gallon of paint and he painted and painted and was shocked at how much paint the chimney seemed to be absorbing. The quick paint job was taking him a long time. She came out of the house and said she was worried. He thought she was worried that he was using all of the paint. She said yes she was a little worried about the paint but she was more worried that if he fell he would break her slates and she would have a hard time getting similar ones to replace the breakage.
21 July Thursday
The summer sound of haying and cutting silage is coming from all directions. The sound comes first from one set of fields and then from another set of fields. It goes on and on and into the night. We are still waiting for Ned to come and cut our very overgrown boreen but he is out doing silage so we have to wait until that is done. It is too much for him to change the cutting tools on his machine and then to change them back again. We just have to wait. After the silage. We must wait till after the silage. Some of the cutting goes on very late into the night. We go to bed and the sounds are still coming over the hills in the distance. The silage is being cut and baled up in the darkness. There are so many different kinds of machines on the job. Many of them are met on the road while driving or while walking. As always, this is a dangerous time of the year because the machines are so big and they take up the whole road. I am very interested in one machine I have seen working. It has long dancing things like fork fingers. The things move in a rapid circles low and parallel to the ground. They twirl the hay. It is beautiful to watch them. I do not know exactly how it all of it happens but I always observe the yearly silage operations with great interest. I never see all of the stages in a linear fashion but eventually I do see all of them. One day I see huge golden bales scattered over a field. A few days later those bales will all be lined up in two or three tidy rows waiting to be collected. Pretty soon all of the bales will be gone and I will not remember exactly when I saw them last.
19 July Tuesday
Now is the moment for meadowsweet. The meadowsweet is everywhere. It is especially plentiful and very visible all though Cooney’s wood where so much tree clearing went on earlier in the year. The white blossoms look like fluffy flags.
18 July Monday
These days of endless grey and chill are very discouraging. There is never as much rain as is threatened. I would prefer to have more rain just to get it over with and then for the skies to be bright and the days to be warm. The vegetable garden is still suffering. The few days of glorious summer last week were not enough to make my courgettes take off. The plants have stopped growing while still in quite a small state. We are usually overrun with courgettes and wondering how to give them away and how to eat them in yet another way. This year they are tiny and even before they get big enough to eat they go all mooshy. I do not even know why I am bothering to write about them. Sadly, I think growing vegetables in this country without a poly-tunnel is probably a waste of time.
17 July Sunday
It is quarter past seven and we just finished the green lines. At first we wanted them to be very thin. We wanted them to be almost not there at all. They are not as thin as we first decided they should be. I am not sure if this is the result of technical issues, or just the actual doing making the solution decide for itself as we went along. We decided that it is more reasonable for fields to possess small undulations and to not always be seen as a perfect line. Our fields are green and bright and ever so good. Simon dipped each card into a shallow trough of paint while I tapped off any excess paint. I lined the cards up on the edges of my tables and the plan chest and the window sill. I lined them up so that the green edge was dangling in space and not touching anything. I used some box tops and some lengths of wood too. I was running out of places to put the cards and we were running out of paint and then we ran out of cards so it all ended perfectly. We shut the door and left all of the cards with their green edges drying. Tomorrow we will slip each card into its envelope before packing them up and taking them to the post office.
16 July Saturday
We have been printing my sister’s wedding invitation today. It took us a while to get ready to print. We could not find the rollers for the Adana. We could not find them anywhere. Neither of us could think where or how we could have lost them. Finally we remembered that we had put them in the refrigerator during an unusually hot spell. Simon was afraid that their light rubber would melt. We printed the invitation with blueberry coloured ink on blue card. My sister and her partner have a blueberry farm. I am thinking about a bright green line across the bottom, with acrylic paint, as the whole event will take place in a field. I shall do a test and we can decide. Right now we are taking a break for a cup of tea. Simon has rushed in to watch a bit of the Tour de France. The riders are in the mountains today. The roads are lined with cheering spectators way out in the middle of nowhere. When our tea is finished we will go back to the shed to print the envelopes. We have to choose our moments to dash out in between the downpours.
15 July Friday
When we first came here, every Friday the frozen fish down at McCarra’s shop would all be taken out of the deep freeze and lined up in rows on the top of the freezer. Most of it was so frozen and white looking with ice crystals that it was impossible to tell what kind of fish it was. I think a lot of it was smoked fish. This was a normal thing to see every Friday and I do not know when exactly it stopped. These days, I guess people are not feeling the same pressure to eat fish on Friday and even if they do eat fish on Friday, they have more choices about getting it fresh. And if they do not get it fresh many people have micro-wave ovens so the frozen issue is not so important. I enjoyed the fact that placing all of the fish outside of the freezer was a job that needed to be done on a Friday morning.
13 July Wednesday
A friend’s elderly mother has been suffering with Alzheimer’s for several years now. It just gets worse and worse. It will never get better. It is difficult for the family to stand by and to feel so helpless. Last week the mother started weeping. She was desperate to see her own mother, who was, of course, long dead. She simply would not be consoled. The weeping went on and on. The only option was to try to distract her from this impossible idea. My friend took her mother in the motor to the car wash. The suds and the water and whirling brushes were all very exciting from inside the car. The car wash proved to be a perfect distraction.
12 July Tuesday
Simon has become obsessed with the Tour de France. It is on the television every afternoon for a few hours. He takes his coffee in after lunch and continues to sit watching well after the coffee is finished. He sits with an Atlas Routier de France beside him on the table or on his lap. He follows the cycling route on the appropriate page. He is completely involved with the team strategies and with various individual cyclists. He speaks of the riders by name. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who follow the race throughout the French countryside. They sleep in tents and caravans and move along the route each day to be at special points for the next days racing. For Simon, sitting here in Tipperary, it is just a matter of turning the page. This will continue until 28 July.
7 July Thursday
The swallows have made a nest in the tool shed. Simon found them annoying. It was tiresome to have bird droppings on every single thing in the place. He boarded up the gap above the door where they were entering and exiting. I was worried because if the eggs or even the babies were already in the nest inside the shed, the mother would no longer be able to get to them. Or else the mother might be trapped outside while the babies were trapped inside waiting to be fed. Simon took the board off and now we are learning to live with the mess. The young ones should be off and away soon. We hope. The bigger challenge is remembering to bend from the waist immediately upon opening the door. The mother dives directly at whoever opens the door. It is essential to duck. Then she swoops out and away. I do not think she wants to attack. She is protecting her born (or unborn) young. She is just warning us.
6 July Wednesday
Em has taken to eating her supper lying down in the kitchen. She only does this if the door is open. Then she positions herself so that she can look out and perhaps spot the cat coming down the track. She eats in a slow and desultory way, keeping her dish near to her face but not feeling any need to rush. She does not gobble while on this watching duty. It is not quite dining al fresco. The open door is her own version of a television and the eating while watching is her TV dinner.
5 July Tuesday
Whoever I meet out walking or even in town, the first topic that comes up is the collection that took place at Teresa’s funeral. I was correct to think that it is not a normal thing. Most people are outraged by it. They are upset too for the bereaved family. They are upset for people who had no money and who might have felt embarassed by it. Most people have a best suit but it is not the suit in which they keep any money in the pockets. Everyone is talking about it. Not one person has mentioned the plastic colanders. These must be what is normally used for collections at a regular mass so they do not even notice them. For me, they were astonishing. They were the very first thing I mentioned when I got home.
3 July Sunday
Teresa’s funeral was today. I was driving to the church in Grange but as I neared the house I saw a group of people waiting in the road and on the lawn of her house. I pulled over and got out and waited quietly in the sunshine with everyone else. The six men carrying the coffin from the house could not fit through the opening of the gate while they were on each side of it. Another man stood in front and helped to lift it higher and over the opening while the men squeezed through and got back into their positions and then they carried the coffin to the waiting hearse. Everyone followed in a long slow line of cars all the way to the church in Grange. The church in Grange is much nicer than many of the churches around here. It is not as bleak as most of them. I had not been there for a long time. The sunlight was pouring in. The church was full. It was a lovely turn out for Teresa. There was a woman singing up in the balcony at the rear of the church which was very nice. It was not quite the same as having hymns where everyone joins in but it was beautiful nonetheless. Everything proceeded as normal. A lot of kneeling and standing and sitting and more kneeling and repeating. I mostly just sat. The singer was singing another song as two men came up the outside aisles carrying plastic colanders. These were brightly coloured colanders as used for draining vegetables. They passed these down the rows of people and money was thrown in. I had no money with me. I only had my car keys. I have never seen a collection taking place at a funeral in any kind of church anywhere. A neighbour nudged me from behind and offered me her purse so that I could put something in the colander. I refused as I felt this was not right. I was even more convinced that this was not right when a bright orange colander were passed to the grieving family who were sitting in the front rows, sobbing and sad.
2 July Saturday
We walked up the road to Teresa’s house at 7.30. It was a beautiful evening and we were pleased to be out in it. People were gathered in the house and in the backyard. Someone led us into the living room where Teresa was lying in her coffin. A young woman left as we came in. She said she was just in there as she did not want Teresa to be alone. There is not much pressure to stay in the room for long. I did not like seeing Teresa in her lavender outfit and heavy make up. I did not like seeing her dead. We went back outside. Eventually the priest arrived and a great many people squeezed into the room and the hallway while the various prayers were said and repeated. We were outside and far away enough to not hear any of it. We just stood in a loose group of people who all looked down at the ground or up and across to the Knockmealdown mountains. The early evening sun was glorious. After that part was over people ate and drank and talked. Many of the men were wearing short sleeved shirts and it looked like a perfect summer evening. There were three little open sided tents with chairs and tables and then a larger white tent with long tables full of sandwiches and cakes and more chairs. Down below the potato patch, there was another large tent which Teresa’s son had put up. He and his wife and their three children had been sleeping there ever since Teresa died on Wednesday night. I think there are a great many people staying in the house. We walked home again silently at ten o’clock. The sun was still bright and everything was still.
30 June Thursday
The bushes and brambles along the boreen are so thick and so strong now that they are pushing the side mirrors back as we drive through on the way home. And once again, it is nearly impossible to walk except down the very middle on the grassy bit as the thorns just grab at my clothes and face. The postman is not the only person complaining.
28 June Tuesday
I stood behind a woman at the shop while she was paying for her messages. She was talking about how useless her adult son has been to her since she was widowed. She said I would have been better off if it had been a lamb I’d given birth to all those years ago. At least then I could fatten it up and eat it.
27 June Monday
We still have our Parish Pack. I cannot decide what to do with it. I was told of its arrival before it actually came. It is the brainchild of the new parish priest. His name is Father Bobby Power. His area covers Ballybacon, Ardfinnan and Grange. I said that as we are not Catholics, it was perhaps not relevant to us. The woman telling me about it assured me that it was non-denominational. She said that it was just the new priest’s way of introducing himself to everyone in the parish. The fat envelope arrived and it contained two colour images in ovals. One is of Jesus with a heart in his hand and Sacred Heart printed below it. The other is Mary, I think, also with a heart in hand and the words Immaculate Heart printed below. We also received a set of rosary beads, and a folded and laminated card with all sorts of instructions of how to use the beads and do litanies and other things. Far from being non-denominational this is a Propaganda Package. I am both fascinated and repulsed by its assumption that it is welcome here. Also included is a Parish Directory which mostly lists various religious events throughout the year and a bit of history about the diocese. There is a green census form which asks various questions about people in the house and about everyones participation in various local activities, mostly religious ones. We have the choice to return the form in an envelope marked Confidential to the Parish Office in Ardfinnan or to wait and perhaps someone will come to collect it. Everything is back in the original envelope. There is not one single thing inside that I want. I have no interest in filling out this green form. I debate daily whether I should return the entire thing to Ardfinnan, or whether I should just throw it all away. Eventually, I shall become tired of seeing it on the table and a decision will be made.
25 June Saturday
Em is walking a lot slower on the way around. As always, she is busy with many smells and examinations but her walking is not as fast as it used to be. Maybe her explorations of things along the way is just more thorough. It is hard for me as I like to walk with a good pace. In the boreen I have to walk more carefully and slowly, but on the tarmacadam road, I walk really fast. When I turn and look back, she is far behind me. I hate to just stop and wait for her so I sometimes walk back in her direction. This is confusing. She thinks this means we are turning around so she stops and turns herself and then she is walking further away from me with me in the rear. My newest solution is to walk towards her but in a curve. I walk the curve of the road’s width and then I make my curve into a large circle. If she is very far behind, I might get in five or even six circles or ellipses before she catches up with me. When I do too many of these loops I can get a bit dizzy but at least I do not have to stop walking. The more I elongate the circle the less dizzy I get. She now recognizes that this is just something I do along the way and it does not stop her forward movement. When she is slow I call her a Slow Poke. Simon calls her a Slow Coach. I like the expression Slow Coach so I am trying to say that. It does not matter what we call her, she is still walking at her own speed.
23 June Thursday
I wonder if when the Queen of England visited last month she noticed the pillar boxes. All of the boxes for depositing ones post to be collected at various times by postal vans are tall and cylindrical. They are made of cast iron and they were once red. They were installed by the British during their occupation of Ireland. I think the earliest ones date back to about 1852. As they were installed around the country they would have the initials of whoever was on the throne at the time. The letters were cast along with the rest of the cylindrical shape. The monarch of the day is not separable from the box. Some of them reference George V, others Edward VII and some have VR for Victoria. I assume that all of the countries which were the Former Nations of The British Empire must have similar boxes. When the Irish achieved their independence, they painted the boxes a bright green. It would have been expensive and wasteful to destroy and replace them all. Some other cast iron boxes for collection have flat fronts and they are embedded in walls. These have also been painted green. As well as these green boxes there are a variety of private post boxes for home delivery. Many people have dark green boxes which have a curly hunting horn in black on the front. This used to be the symbol for the German postal service. The post horn was used by hunters but it was also used by the postman in rural places to announce his arrival with letters and news. These German boxes are very popular in both in the country and in towns. Occasionally, one sees an American aluminum mail box with a little red flag to be raised when there is something inside. I do not think there is such a thing as an Irish post box. There are just adaptations.
22 June Wednesday
I have searched out my copy of the Blandford Colour Series Pocket Encyclopaedia of Wild Flowers. It is a hardcover book which I bought in 1974 at Inverewe Gardens in Scotland. I wrote that and my name on the inside cover at the time of purchase. For many years, this book has been full of flowers which were being pressed between its pages. That is probably my excuse for not using it to identify wildflowers and grasses. Today I took all of the dried flowers out and placed them in a book with blank pages. What am I saving them for? Now I have no excuse not to use this book for reference. I have already happily learned to differentiate between two kinds of vetch. The inner flap promises 667 flowers in colour.
21 June Tuesday
Today is the summer solstice and it does not feel summery at all. The day is cold and windy. It does not feel vaguely like summer. It feels like a day to light a fire. It is the longest day of the year. Everyone here is moaning and complaining. They are in a panic that the days will be getting shorter and the nights will be drawing in and the winter will be coming. The consensus is that the advent of winter will start immediately after the solstice. The weather is making us feel like we have already missed our summer. People are mourning the passing of the summer, even while it is only June.
20 June Monday
The rain has been heavy and constant. Everything is soaked and squishy. It is cold and windy and horrible. These are not lovely mild summer rains. These are November rains. The farmer told me that even if it rained all day every day for a week, it would not make a dent in the water needs of the nation. The winter was dry and the spring was dry. The earth is just so deeply thirsty that it will take a lot of rainfall to turn things around. I know we need all of this rain but I still wish it would stop.
19 June Sunday
Here are two local expressions which I love:
Fresh as a bee.
Mad as a brush. (Mad in this instance meaning crazy, not angry nor annoyed.)
I cannot hear them often enough.
18 June Saturday
Today I was stopped by a neighbours child. She wanted me to see the shiney little cross hanging on a silver chain around her neck. She told me that she recieved it as a gift for her Holy First Communion. She then stood up tall and with the help of her fingers she listed off her other gifts. She told me she got six Fifties, and nine Twenties, and seven Tens and a Fiver. It took me a few minutes to recognize that these were amounts of money. The word Fiver is what gave it away. I was a little bit horrified and I did not know what to say. I thought the ritual was supposed to be about religion but she never mentioned anything about religion. Her interest was only concerned with acquisition. I guess that is probably a normal kind of kid thing. I told her she was a Very Lucky Girl. She said, I know.
10 May Tuesday
My father is dying. He is dying as I sit here. He is dying all day. The phone calls go back and forth. I am so far away. There is nothing I can do. The rain has been on and off all day. It rains very hard and then it stops. The sun comes out, and then it clouds over and it rains again. I am here and he is there. Joe came along on his tractor to gather up the cows. From this far field to the milking shed is almost a kilometer. I guess that is about 3/4 of a mile. Cows walk very slowly. They walk steadily but they walk slowly. It takes them a good while to walk that distance. The cows walked all the way down there and they were lined up and milked in turn. Now they have made the long slow journey back to the same field. The cows have returned and my father is still dying. All of his medication has been stopped. There is morphine to make him comfortable. The rain starts again and then it stops again. When the sun comes out there is a rainbow. I know the rain will start again soon. There is nothing I can do. There is nothing anyone can do. It is all happening so fast. It is the slowest thing I have ever waited to have happen.
9 May Monday
Em now has a yellow box. The box is a plastic delivery box with lots of air holes cut through it. Breda loaned it to us. She suggested it because she used to use something similar when Sam got old. We keep the box in the back of the motor. When Em is getting into the car I put it down on the ground and encourage her to use it to step up and into the back. She is getting used to it for getting in, but she is less willing to wait for it to be put down when she is ready to exit. Her age is starting to show when it comes to jumping. She is a good jumper when she is running. A running jump has momentum going for it. A running jump is often in pursuit of something so that is incentive in itself. A jump from standing is much more difficult. The yellow box is slowly becoming part of the ritual of going for a ride. Today she rushed to get out of the car and by not using the box she fell flat on her head. She was shocked and embarassed. I am not sure if dogs get embarassed. She was definitely shocked. She went right into the house and lay down quietly for a long time.
8 May Sunday
The last remaining wood pile from the clearing of Cooney’s wood was a high one. Now the various greens of grasses and weeds are growing up around it. Things are growing so quickly that the pile looks smaller and smaller every day. The boreen is getting narrower too. The cow parsley is fluffing up all along on both sides and on a wet day, we are again driving through the world’s longest car wash. The primroses are barely visible. The violets and the celadine are over, or if they are not actually over, they are overwhelmed by the nettles and the honeysuckles and the wild roses and the ferns and the sticky plants and the railway plant and the other little purpley one which I do not know the proper name for and I do not even have a shorthand name for. When oh when will I ever make the effort to learn the names of all these things.
6 May Friday
This morning is beautiful with a kind of watery sunlight spread over everything. The sky looks too white to be sunny. The white looks a lot like the white of skimmed milk, or of milk diluted by water. But there are big areas of dark green on the fields where trees are throwing out shadows on the bright grass. After two solid days of thrashing and lashing rain, this tentative sunlight is very welcome. All of the greens are greener than they were and the ground is squishy underfoot. After so many, many weeks of dry, hot weather the soil was hard. The growth of everything had slowed down. Now things are growing even as I watch. Spring has arrived for the second time. The birds are noisy and busy. I am glad to hear the sound of The Telephone Birds. As with all of my bird identification problems, I do not have the proper name to give these birds. I am not even sure what the bird who makes this noise looks like. I call it The Telephone Bird, but in these days of so many different kinds of rings on so many different kinds of telephones, this one sound might not be so distinctly a telephone sound to anyone else but me.
5 May Thursday
Notice in the paper: A golden male Labrador has relocated himself in the Kilmoyler area when he wandered in through the gate of a family home. The dog was wearing a leather collar which looked to be made from a leather belt. If you are missing a dog of the above description please phone.
4 May Wednesday
It is raining hard today. This is the first rain in many weeks. We desperately need it. She told me that she was glad they had taken a day while the weather was holding fine. She told me that she and her husband had had A Farmer’s Day Out. I asked what A Farmer’s Day Out was. She said that for the farmers in her parts, it was Fish and Chips down by the sea in Tramore. Last year they had never gotten down there even once so she was glad they got it over with for this year.
3 May Tuesday
John Wall is the fishmonger in Clonmel. His sign reads JOHN WALL FISH SHOP Wild Salmon A Speciality. His shop is very small and very cold. It is also a bit dark. We do not go to his shop very often these days as we prefer to get our fish from Pat at the market. Pat has all of his fish out on ice and it is easy to look at things and to ask questions. Pat loves to talk about fish and he loves to talk about different ways to cook fish. John Wall, on the other hand, does not display his fish. He has a glass fronted case but it is usually empty. When you enter his shop he greets you and he asks you what you want. If you respond by asking What have you got? He repeats What do you want? All of his fish is kept on ice in boxes in the back room. This saves him the trouble of moving the fish out of the boxes in which it arrived. It saves him the trouble of presenting it for the customers. John Wall is old so maybe he finds it all just too much trouble. There is another man, also old, who stands beside him behind the counter. This man does not fetch the fish from the back, nor does he wrap it up. He only takes the money after John Wall retrieves the fish and shows it to the customer and weighs it and wraps it.
2 May Monday Bank Holiday
Maurice The Gloomy Donkey is gone. He has not been in his meadow for a week or so. The gate is open. Maybe he has been taken back to join the other donkeys. Maybe he has been sold or traded or given away. Maybe he is being used for the function of reproduction. He has been so unpleasant, I do not miss him. Em never even turns her head towards him anymore as we pass. I note his absence but it is not easy to care.
1 May 2011 Sunday
I have been compiling a list of abbreviations of names here. Sometimes I know exactly what name is being abbreviated and sometimes I cannot tell. The phone book is full of little mysteries. Michael is always Ml., and Patrick can be Pk., Ptk., or Patk. Thomas can be Thos. or Toss. I like Mce. for Maurice, and I like Mce.Snr. too. Mossy is a nick name for Maurice, so sometimes that is used. There are Jos. and Joss. and Jas. and Richd. and Robt. and Danl. and Jerh. Mgt. is for Margaret, which I would never have guessed, nor would I have known Vict. was for Victoria. Mo. and Lar. and Batt. and Edwd. I am still not sure what Cors. stands for.
29 April Friday
The Murder Cottage has been given a new name. The name is THE WHITE COTTAGE. This new name is written on a stone. The stone is large and roughly triangular in shape. It is a large flat stone. The surface of the stone has been painted black and there are sparkly gold bits in the paint. The words are not painted but they are stuck on with some thick plastic or rubber letters. The letters are small. They are only about an inch or maybe an inch and a half high. The words, all in capital letters, are in three lines. The top word is THE and that is red. The second word is WHITE and that is white. The third word is COTTAGE and that is green. The new name stone is leaning up against a fir tree on top of the stone wall. It is only visible from one direction and even then, it is not Very visible. For someone passing quickly in a motor, I do not think it will be noticed at all. Will we all learn to call the house THE WHITE COTTAGE now? It has been The Murder Cottage for quite a while. And before that it was Mary Corbett’s Cottage, or Sean and Mary’s. I think most people will have trouble using a new name, but maybe because it is literally written on a stone, this new name will catch on.
28 April Thursday
The swallows are back! Their arrival is an exciting sign. As always, they are dashing madly back and forth to rebuild their nests in the roof of the book barn. They are so busy it is hard to believe that this is their first day back. It is hard to believe that they were not here yesterday. It is hard to believe that they were ever gone.
27 April Wednesday
I was driving up the narrow road. Far up ahead I could see a cow weaving from side to side. Then I noticed a farmer walking along in his high rubber boots beside the car. I rolled to a stop and wound the window down. He ignored the window and got into the car beside me. I said you have a escapee. He said yes. Very slowly, I drove up towards the cow. She started to rush away but then she suddenly veered left and into the space of a gate. I pulled the car up and just a little beyond her and then in at an angle to cut off further escape in the wrong direction. The farmer said Thank you and got out of the car and went after the cow. I continued up the road. I could see them both in my rear view mirror. The cow was running far ahead of the farmer again, but now she was running downhill and in the right direction.
26 April Tuesday
After only just learning the word piseoige, it appeared again in a conversation yesterday. This time it was accompianied by the offer of a hare. Our friends have a hare in their freezer. They had been given the hare but they did not want to eat it. They had offered the hare to various other people but not one person wanted to eat it. We asked why no one wanted it. The superstition is that the hare is considered an animal with magical powers. I could not be sure if the superstition included that because of its magical powers it should not be eaten, or if the idea of magical powers just put people off. We described various rich and delicious hare dishes from different cultures. We said perhaps the magic of the hare will be passed on when it is eaten. None of our enthusiasm had an effect. The real power of the hare was such that the Irish were not going to eat it. Simon said we would be delighted to take their hare off their hands. We will have to be careful who we invite to eat it with us.
24 April Sunday
We had our own little Easter miracle this morning. Oscar came running down the road to greet Em and I. I had not seen him for weeks and weeks. I had not seen him since well before I went away. I feared he might have met with a road disaster. I was delighted to see him. He was delighted to see me and he was delighted to see Em. She did not care whether he was there or not. She ignored him as he leapt up and down all around her and all around me. Oscar is big and black. He used to sit up on the wall around Ken’s house when Snoopy was kept prisoner in the upstairs room. Since Snoopy left for Ardfinnan, Oscar never sits up on that wall anymore. I call him Oskar Kokoschka, though I think his surname is O’Loughlin. Today he walked down the boreen with Em and I, and after a sniff around, a sleep in the sun and a drink of water, he went back home on his own.
23 April Saturday
A pitcher full of wild garlic sits on the table. The flowers are bright and white and they look like exploded stars against the soft green leaves I can never decide which smells stronger, the leaves or the flowers. I like seeing them and smelling them here inside the house but mostly I love walking through them outside. Then their tasty smell is on the walk with me.
21 April Thursday
I’ve learned two different springtime piseoiges in the last few days. First though, I had to be told that a Piseoige is the Irish word for superstition. One of these is that if you bury a hard-boiled egg in the soil of your neighbours potato patch before Easter, your neighbour(the victim) will have a wretched potato crop. The crop of yourself (the perpetrator) will be blight-free and plentiful. I do not know if the hard-boiled egg is supposed to be still in the shell or if it should be peeled before it is buried. The second piseoige is that it is bad luck to pick primroses and bring them into the house before Easter. This one was explained to me as we were marvelling at the hundreds of them growing down the boreen this year. With so many growing wild, it has never been a flower I thought to pick and bring into the house anyway.
19 April Tuesday
The census woman came down to collect the census form today. According to the instructions, all of the forms were supposed to be filled in on the evening of Sunday 10 April. She said that a lot of people have still not filled theirs in yet. She said that there was no worry in it and that they would surely have them done by the end of the month. I asked if that did not defeat the idea of everyone doing it on the same day. She said there was no harm in it and she felt that the same month was nearly as good as the same day. I did not tell her what one man said to me about the census. He said They only want to know Yes or No, so whatever the question, it is best to say No.
18 April Monday
I had not seen the postman since I returned from America. When I went out to collect the post this morning, he welcomed me home and he asked me about my father. I was touched that he remembered the reason for my trip. When I said that dad was not doing very well, I got choked up. I said that dad was actually terrible and that there was no chance for him to ever get better. He squeezed my arm. He spoke of losing his own mother and he said to me: You will never get over it.
16 April Saturday
Em and I walked the river path in Cahir today. We saw the Ancient Old Man and his Ancient Old Dog. I was pleased to see them. I always think seeing them is a good sign. The Ancient Man told me again that the Ancient Dog is not his dog. His daughter bring the Dog to his house every morning while she goes off to work. She brings the Ancient Dog to the house to keep the Ancient Man company. She brings the Ancient Dog to the Ancient Man so that they can keep each other company. The Man goes out for a very long walk every day. He goes for his walk whatever the weather. Sometimes the Dog does not want to go with the Man. On those days, she climbs up onto the chair and she refuses to go with him. On those days he goes without her. He told me that this was the third day in a row that the Dog had come along with him. She was very far behind him on the path, but as we stood still and talked, the Ancient Dog caught up with the Man. The Man said he often meets her on his way back and by then she is pleased to just turn around and walk toward home. I worry about the day when she can simply not walk any further. I worry about the Ancient Dog giving up halfway through their walk. I worry that the Ancient Man will need to carry the dog home. I do not think that he is able for it.
15 April Friday
The lower meadow is full of sheep. There are many little lambs. The grass is so long that it is bending over. The grass is so long that the baby lambs are nearly not visible when they are standing up. Hundreds and hundreds of dandelions make the meadow into a madly yellow polka dotted place, with lambs.
30 March Wednesday
We save all of our paper off-cuts. I always believe they will be useful for something. I have had to concede that there are just so many long narrow pieces of paper that anyone can use. Does anyone need this many bookmarks? There were so many of these off-cuts collected on one shelf that I decided the shelf would be better used for something else. Each tidy pile of hundreds of strips of paper was held together with two or three elastic bands. I gathered all the piles together and tried to think what I should do with them. Of course, I could take them to the paper recycling. Then I thought to offer them first to the day care centre in the village. I stopped there this afternoon after going to the post. I showed them to Marie with an apology as I realized that most of the paper was white and and there were some shades of brown. There were not many bright primary colours to excite little children. She gasped and said Oh my god, no, they are perfect. We are just making birds nests. These are perfect. Perfect.
29 March Tuesday
Ever since I wrote that the local daffodils are all in straight lines, I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of sweeping swathes of blooms proving me wrong. Most of the very large areas are in parks and in front of hotels or on large areas of ground, but nonetheless there are a lot of glorious and generous groupings. I am delighted to be wrong.
28 March Monday
I spoke to an older man down in the village. He tried to tell me a long and rather complicated story but he kept forgetting big portions of the plot. Getting confused made him angry and that made him get more confused. When he could not remember the name of a woman who was essential to the narrative, he attempted to describe her. He hoped that his description would help me to come up with her name. He finally said, You know her, of course you do, she is a small woman. Like yourself, she is Low to the Ground.
27 March Sunday
Last night we moved the clocks forward an hour. Between 8.30 and 9.30 on Saturday evening was proclaimed Earth Hour. Everyone everywhere was asked to turn off their lights for that hour. We planned to eat dinner during that time. We got the food ready by candlelight and lit the dining table with candles. It was very pleasant to sit quietly. It felt darker and quieter than usual. We often eat by candlelight, but there was not even a light coming in from the kitchen. This darkness felt darker and softer. When Em could wait no longer, she started to nudge me and when I could stand her nudging no longer, I took her down into the meadow. I decided to walk without even a torch to guide me and I thought for sure that all of the lights on houses across the valley would all be turned off. I went out into darkness expecting total darkness. I expected that everyone would be participating in the one hour with no electric light. I think maybe a few houses were dark and I like to think they were participating but maybe they were just not home. Several houses were all lit up with their outside lights as usual and they probably were not home either.
26 March Saturday
Em had a small bone at lunchtime today. As always, she takes it outside. She goes to the exact same place on the grass where she always goes to eat a bone or any special treat which demands some time and concentration. With a bone, she drops it onto the grass and then rotates her head very slowly in each direction. She looks around for several minutes just to be sure that no one is going to steal her bone. Maybe I am wrong about this. Maybe it is not about being robbed. Maybe she would like someone to see that she has this treasure. Maybe she would like to feel their envy and to feel that she has to protect her bone. Maybe she is longing for an audience. Once she settles into the eating, she does not look around again. Sometimes I tease her by going and taking the bone from her. She does not snarl or lunge for the bone. She is gentle. She trusts me. She just watches the bone and looks at me with a terrible sadness and confusion, which of course makes me give it back immediately.
25 March Friday
We put a new bridge across the swampy mud down below. It is just a pallet and it is a little bit dangerous to walk over as the gaps between the boards are big. Em does not walk over it. Nor does she bother with the old plank which is mostly submerged in the mud. She just goes right through the mud as usual. These mornings are cold and foggy. I am back to needing a hat and gloves. By mid-morning the sun burns the fog off and then it is hot and beautiful. By late afternoon the cold is moving in again and the nights are very cold. Everywhere looks like spring but the temperatures keep it all a bit confused. There are buds and blossoms everywhere. Some plants have had buds in position for weeks now. They never open. They are frozen in some sort of Bud Ready Position. The boreen is lined with primroses both on the way down and on the way up. The chives have gone crazy. Their bunches are big and spreading. Did I ever mean to have so many chives? Have they always been so early and so plentiful? I have a few questions about chives. And the birds. The birds are making so much noise.
23 March Wednesday
We said good bye to dear friends yesterday. After fifeen years in Ireland, they are leaving and returning to Germany. I am happy for them as I know that they are making the right decision. I know that we will see them again later, in their new home and in their new life. I am sad for myself as I will miss having them in my life here. It is not as if we saw them every day or even every week. We just knew that they were there in County Cork. We knew that they were looking at the sea every morning while they ate their breakfast. We knew that two dogs from the neighbourhood arrived on their porch every day to join in with their dog Clara for a walk. We knew a lot about their life there as they knew a lot about our life here. We did not know everything. We liked the shared interests in our various activities. It is not so easy to find new friends as one gets older. It is one kind of thing to find comfortable relationships due to proximity. I think most of these are just acquaintances. It is another kind of thing to find real friendships. So many people are disappearing from our lives. There are so many illnesses and so many deaths. I know this is a part of getting older but I do not like it. Early this morning, Michael and Monika boarded the ferry to start them on their journey to their new life. I have been thinking of them all day. By tomorrow night the new life in Munich will have already begun. Clara will enter their new home and she will find some familiar smells and familiar furniture already there. She might notice that the cat is not there and she will certainly know by the smell that the sea is not outside. She will no longer be a dog who roams free with other sociable dogs who come visiting on their own. She will become a city dog who walks on a lead.
22 March Tuesday
In a newspaper report from the courts, the judge let a man go free ‘on condition he be of good behaviour’.
21 March Monday
After all these weeks, the smell of something dead and rotting still lingers in my studio. It might be a new dead thing or it might be the same old dead thing. It is not too bad as long as I can leave the door open but the weather remains normal for March. Normal means a sunny and bright afternoon accompanied by a sharp and bitter wind. The cold wind forces me to close the door and then I am trapped inside with the smell. I have a little device which uses a candle to heat some lavender oil diluted with water. The lavender scent does not remove the smell of decay. It only covers it up. Today the afternoon sun was bright and it was not too cold. I had the door open and everything was pleasant. I heard Joe going back and forth on his tractor in the fields. After a while the stench of fresh slurry filled the air outdoors. He was spreading slurry and the slurry was spreading its smell. I could not keep the door open any longer. The smells inside and the smells outside were all horrible.
18 March Friday
Some years ago I was told that the paper-like cloth of the tea bag is made to be strong so that it does not fall apart quickly in hot water. Because of this strength it takes a tea bag a long time to break down. Ever since I was told this, I have torn my teabags before I throw them into the compost bin. I am so conditioned to tearing the cloth of a teabag before I throw it into the compost that I do this automatically even when I am in a city and nowhere near a compost heap.
17 March Thursday Patrick’s Day
This is not a holiday I am paticularly fond of. The all day deep quiet of the countryside is the best bit. I never go to the bar on Patrick’s Day. I cannot stand the implication that everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Since I am American, everyone here assumes that I am Irish, and I hate explaining time and time and time again that I have no Irish blood in me. Not a drop. There is the assumption that all Americans are Irish. I know that I sound churlish when I point out the fallacy of this idea. If I explain the seven different nationalities mixed in my blood, and if I explain that all Americans are of mixed nationality and that the Irish are just one among many people and that they are not even the biggest proportion of the peoples of America, no one really listens. It is a conversation I now try to avoid. What I do like about this day is the 6 o’clock news on RTE. I love the coverage from all around the country of the various small parades. I love the homemade floats and the plowing machinery and the tractors and the boats on wheels and the small children in wiggly formations. My favourite marchers this year were a swim team in Waterford’s parade. The team was a group of little boys, aged about nine, ten and eleven, I think. They flapped down the street wearing flippers on their feet and with their arms swimming along through the air in what looked like a crawl stroke. Most of them worked quite hard to roll their heads and practice rhythmic breathing as they swam up the street.
16 March Wednesday
Teresa is much better. I do not know if she is cured completely but she looks much, much better. Her two sisters from England have been taking turns staying here instead of both staying all the time. That seems like a good sign. The family from Fermoy have started to dig two vegetable patches out back. One whole plot is just for potatoes. The other one will be for Everything Else. This is a fine project. They will be able to come up and spend time and do things for Teresa but they will also have the activity of the garden to keep them all busy. Seamus is pleased that they are doing it, but he keeps mumbling how much he hates gardening. He is off to Fermoy himself tonight. He has been invited to judge a singing contest. And tomorrow he will spend Patrick’s Day in Fermoy. When I spoke to him he was very excited to get on his way.
15 March Tuesday
The Bottle Banks down in the village are in the car park next to the church. It is often tricky to arrive with a load of bottles and jars for throwing into the recycling containers and to find the car park unexpectedly full of cars. If a funeral or some sort of church service is going on, it feels rude to start smashing the bottles. It is not a job which can be done quietly. I really hate driving back home with all of my rattling glass. Em loves going along for the Glass Crash. She likes the car park when it is empty. She follows smells all around the perimeter of the paved area. Then she goes up onto the grassy area by the stream where there are a few picnic tables. There is a lot of smelling to do as this is where many local dogs come to walk. In good weather there is also the possibility of dropped food. If I stop with just a small number of bottles to smash, I am finished too quickly and she has not had time for her full circuit. On these occasions it is difficult to get her back into the car. This is my excuse for leaving the bottles and jars to really add up and then I take a huge load down and Em has plenty of time for her investigation of the village smells.
14 March Monday
Today is the first day that the cows have been back in Joe’s field. Many of them were young and very frisky but some were just quietly and busily down to the work of eating fresh grass. Em has been keeping an eye on them all day. She positioned herself very flat in the grass right at the edge of the field and under the fence. Her nose is in the cow’s field and the rest of her is safely on our side of the fence. There is an enormous black and white bull who has been coming close and watching her all morning. As he hovered nearby to watch her, he was a massive presence in the long horizontal window of the book barn. I stood at the table pasting pages and the light seemed to be sucked out of the room. Maybe it was because he was so black on the side which faced me in the barn, but I think it was because he was just so big. It was the first time I have ever had my working light blocked by a bull.
13 March Sunday
Simon moved the small printing press from the book barn back up to the printing shed. He moved it down to the book barn in the first bitterly cold days of December. It was simply too cold to do any work up in the printing shed. By the time we got it ready for work with a halogen light to provide both heat and light, and extension leads coming from the window of the big room in the house and the ink left somewhere for at least an hour to allow it to warm and soften up, it was already getting dark and so much preparation work had been done that the work of printing seemed like one chore too many. Moving the press down to the book barn for a few months was an easier option. Now that spring is here the press has migrated back to its warm weather home. A form of transhumance.
12 March Saturday
Daffodils are fully up and there are buds ready but most of them are not in flower yet. Every year I intend to plant some early flowering bulbs but then, every year I forget, and my blooms are all a bit later coming up than everyone elses. This means that my daffodils are still flowering long after most of them are long gone. I get to enjoy them all. Ideally, some early ones and some later ones would provide a long and beautiful growing season. Perhaps this year I will remember but chances are that by the time the autumn arrives and the time to plant bulbs is upon me, I will again be thinking of something else that needs to be done. At least my daffs are in big amorphous swathes and not just in some straight lines along the edge of a fence or a bed. Everyone around here seems frightened to have their blossoms in clouds and clumps throughout grassy areas. Everything is controlled about the growing of local daffodils which I guess allows everyone to mow their lawns like mad well before the daffodils have died back.Or maybe there is not such a love of the word Swathe. I love the word Swathe. For me, regimentation takes a lot of the pleasure away from the yearly arrival of daffodils. I like being surprised by them every year. I especially like how the areas of blossoms make me walk across the garden in different routes. Getting across to the sauna is especially circuitous.
11 March Friday
The stream down below is very full. The rushing sound of the water can be heard from the top of the meadow. I love the stream when it is full and deep and noisy. The only problem is that the overflow area around the stream has become extra muddy. My plank bridge has sunk deeply into the mud. Em does not even bother to walk over the plank any more. She goes right through the deep mud. I would say it is knee deep on her but she does not have knees. Halfway up her leg is the way to describe the level to which she sinks. I shall look around for a new something to use as a bridge.
10 March Thursday
The starlings are back. They are beginning to build their nests in the barn. It seems very early for this activity but I think that I think this every year.
9 March Wednesday
Today is the first day of Lent. It is also Ash Wednesday. I have not seen many people today but everyone I saw had a grey smudge of ash on their forehead. I think the idea is that one leaves the ash smudge on until it wears off naturally. I think it is not to be washed off. In theory, everyone who is Catholic is supposed to give something up for Lent. Forty days of abstinance from a chosen something. When St.Patrick’s Day comes along it is right in the middle of Lent. Everyone is allowed to give up giving up for that day. If chocolate was given up, it can be eaten on Patrick’s Day. If alcohol was given up, it can be imbibed on Patrick’s Day. Little wonder that this is a popular holiday.
16 February Wednesday
Every tree has buds at the end of the branches. The daffodils are pushing up green everywhere. It is hard to walk across the grass as they are popping up throughout the grass, but they are still green and I do not want to step on them. I know that their swathes are in the vicinity of the snowdrops and mostly that helps me to steer clear. From year to year I do remember where they are but then I am always surprised by them again. The tulips are sending up leaves. The sorrell is up and its leaves are large enough to eat. Mint is showing tiny leaves. Everything is happening everywhere. The birds are eating more than ever. I can barely keep their food supply stations filled. Even when the day is grey and gloomy, it is difficult not to feel good about absolutely everything.
15 February Tuesday
Making a postcard with my airplane drawing printed on it was an extra. The airplane block had been made for my concertina book. We have made six printings of the same airplane moving across six painted pages of sky. I love the airplane so much that I could not stop there so we printed the same airplane onto some blue card. What a card. What an airplane. I cannot wait until they are dry.
14 February Monday
Simon cannot whistle. I can whistle and I use my whistle often. Em stops wherever she is when she hears my whistle. She turns her head towards me, or runs to find me and she waits to see what is happening next. Max hears my whistle and rushes down his driveway to join us for a walk. Simon hears my whistle and responds too. If we are in a crowded place out of doors, he hears it and comes to find me. Sometimes I use the whistle even in a supermarket or a large shop if I have lost him. I have always wanted to be able to make a very loud two-fingers-in-the-mouth kind of whistle but I could never learn to do that. Now I am pleased with my whistle. It is not piercing, but it is efficient. When I whistle in public most people do not realize that the sound has even come from me. If a whistle can be quiet, then that is exactly the kind of whistle I have.
13 February Sunday
The smell of Rodent Rot is much worse. It is horrible. I was only able to stay in my room for about twenty minutes today. Simon thought I was exaggerating. He went in there to prove that it was not so bad. He could not stay at all, and certainly not for twenty minutes. I do not want to imagine the state this rotting body is in, but I hope it is moving rapidly towards desiccation.
12 February Saturday
There is a new Drive-In Movie Theatre in Cork. When it opened a few months go, it was proclaimed to be the biggest Drive-In Theatre in Europe. I am not sure but what it might also be the Only Drive-In Movie Theatre in Ireland. Among the things it offers are a system of awnings which cover each motor car. Once the motor is under the awning it does not matter if it starts to rain as the awning will keep the rain off the motor car. The awning means that the driver never has to turn on the windscreen wipers. Windscreen wipers would be a serious detraction from film viewing. The outdoor screen is huge. These days many people have large flat screen televison sets in their homes. People can sit on their sofas and watch film action which is as large or larger than a real life. If four or more people go to the new Drive-In Theatre they will be squished into a motor car together. The people in the back seat will be straining to look around the heads of the people in the front seat. And everyone will be looking through a windscreen at a great big screen down the hill. I think that looking through the windscreen will reduce everything back to the size of a smaller television than most of these people have at home. I have not heard much about the new Drive-In since the excitement of its opening. I wonder if it is getting much business.
11 February Friday
Something has died in the walls or underneath the floor in my studio. It is giving off an interesting brown smell. With all of Tipperary out there why did this mouse or rat or whatever it is have to crawl in here to die? I have spent two hours working in here and now I realize that the interesting brown smell is making me dizzy.
10 February Thursday
Em skirts wide when we pass the home of the two dogs who attacked her. She skirts wide and she keeps me between herself and their gate. If a dog could walk on tip-toe, she would be walking on tip-toe. She is eager to pass quickly and unobtrusively so that her presence is not noted. Susie and Shep are waiting and they rarely miss her. If she is lucky, by the time they begin to bark, she is well past their gate. By the time they begin to bark, she is down the road and no longer in tip-toe mode.
9 February Wednesday
It is quarter past six. There is a soft, soaking drizzle of rain coming down. I just walked between two barns and the house and back again. There is enough light that I can see to walk without a torch. There is not a lot of light. It is almost dark. But there is enough to still see colour in the grass and to recognize the clumps of snowdrops in the grass. It is not dark enough to worry about stepping on the snowdrops. I can see the snowdrops in the grass and I can walk around them. It is quarter past six and there is this much light even on a gloomy wet day. Even with the rain, it can feel optimistic.
7 February Monday
The national election is in full swing. Posters and signs are everywhere. Our local TD has left his party and is running as an Independant. He is hoping to distance himself from the destruction his party wreaked upon the country while in office. His vans are everywhere. They are all covered with pictures of his head as well as his name and his slogan. Because the vans seem to be everywhere, there is the impression that Mattie himself is racing around the countryside and that he is everywhere. We know that he has an enormous family and an enormous extended family. These vans are being driven by many different people. The vans are being parked here and there, always in highly visible spots. They work as mobile signage. Mattie himself is not everywhere, but his name and his face are everywhere. One bit of election advice is that you cannot win an election in this country without going to funerals.
6 February Sunday
Tom Cooney has new gates. They have been a week or so coming. I walked by one day and I saw that his very large gates had been cut off from their cast iron hinges at the place where they joined into the cement pillars. This was a big job as they were well attached and made of thick pieces of iron. The gate hinges had been cut but the gates were still there and they were leaning against the pilars. There was a piece of blue rope tying the two pieces of the gates together in the center. The rope seemed silly as the gates could just be pushed away by a strong person. A bit of rope was not doing anything. These are very large gates. When the two parts are open they are big enough to allow huge farm machines to go into the yard and deposit hay bales or whatever they need to do. I think that each gate is about ten feet, or three and a half metres long, so the whole opening must be about seven metres, or twenty feet. These are Very Large Gates. After seeing the gates leaning against their pillars for a day or two, I walked past and saw that the gates were gone. They were completely gone, not just leaning over against a building or lying on the ground somewhere nearby. They were gone. The open space looked enormous and naked without them. I kept meaning to mention the cut-off hinges to someone. I meant to ask about the leaning gates, and then I meant to ask about the missing gates, but there was never anyone to ask and by the time I finished my walk I had always forgotten about both the gates and then the lack of gates at Tom Cooney’s farmyard. Today there are new gates. The new gates are not made of cast iron, but they are made of some heavy aluminum alloy. The vertical bars of the gates are made of square lengths of the metal so they are fairly thick but they do not have the fine appearance of strong cast iron. The top of the gates enclose a horizontal area of curlicues. I hate these curlicues. They look all wrong for the kind of gate this is and for the kind of job this gate is doing. They might be all right for a gate on the way into a school yard or maybe into a home. No doubt Tom Cooney is happy with these gates and whoever made these gates for him is proud of their work. It is none of my business. I know in a short while I will stop seeing the gates as things that loom awkward and ugly and they will just be Tom Cooney’s gates.
5 February Saturday
Wind. Wind. Wind. It feels like these loud winds have been here forever. I think it is actually only three days. The sound is constantly in our heads. We can hardly sleep for the sound. Now we have heavy rain along with the winds. I am back into my supply of rubber shoes. Actually I am never far from my supply of rubber shoes. Some people have lots of designer shoes and boots. They have party shoes and city shoes and country shoes. I have lots of rubber footwear. I have very rough rubber boots to wear in the garden, and I have tall rubber boots to wear when walking through fields. I have rubber clogs in three of four different styles. Some of these rubber shoes I would wear if I were going to the shop but some of these rubber shoes I would not wear anywhere but here. There is one pair of rubber clogs which I only wear back and forth to the sauna once a week. It would be great if I loved rubber but I do not. I appreciate rubber for its usefulness. It would be awful if I had only canvas or leather shoes. There would be long stretches of the year when my shoes would never be dry. The trouble with rubber shoes is how very hot the feet get while wearing them. I wore my tall rubber boots to yoga class one wild and wet night. The women at class were aghast that I would appear in town wearing muddy rubber boots. I think everyone in modern Ireland now lives in houses surrounded by tarmac and gravel. The aspiration is to never have mud on one’s shoes. I do not know if this is just a practical consideration or if this about not looking like one’s grandparents.
3 February Thursday
A man came by to cut down Teresa’s apple tee. She said she just could not bear the mess of the apples all over the ground. She just had to have the problem of that mess eliminated and she had to have it done now. She was on a mission about some kind of housecleaning and she was not going to be deterred. I reminded her of how beautiful it was when the huge old tree blossomed every spring. One of the sisters said Yes, but it does not last long, does it? Any old wind comes along and it is all over. The man was revving up his chain-saw as I left. As I write this I know that the tree is gone. The tree is now cut up into pieces to be dried for firewood. The pieces are already piled up in the shed. There are no other trees in Teresa’s yard. There are bushes and shrubs, and there are mature trees around the edges of her land. There are no trees like that old apple tree. I shall miss it.
1 February 2011 Tuesday
Saint Brigid’s Day. On the radio and in conversation and even in the newspaper, today is heralded as The First Day of Spring. There is no talk here of the groundhog seeing his shadow or not seeing his shadow. There is no talk of that shadow sighting being the harbinger of an early spring nor of there being a guaranteed six more weeks of winter. Here the first day of February is The First Day of Spring. Yes, we have snowdrops up and blossoming everywhere and yes, we have an inch or two of daffodil showing through the soil. Yes, we have tiny buds appearing on branches, but it is still very cold and the days are still short and it feels much too early to call this spring. I am alone in thinking like this.
29 January 2011 Saturday
We are all worried about Teresa Murphy. I stop by many mornings as Em and I walk past. I speak to whoever is in the kitchen. Sometimes it is one of her two sisters or sometimes it is Seamus. Sometimes it is Teresa herself. The early prognosis of the cancer was that it was discovered too late and that Teresa would not live until Christmas. Her two sisters came over from England and one of the sisters husbands came too. Her son and daughter-in-law from Fermoy drive up often. On Christmas Eve they came with their three children and everyone slept over in sleeping bags all over the house. They lit Chinese lanterns in the back yard and sent them up into the darkness of the night with wishes tied to them. On New Years Eve, the family came back and brought their sleeping bags again and everyone danced a Conga line through the house. The sisters and the husband are there to try to make life easier and to try to make life fun. In early January, Teresa got a new wig and she looks very youthful and lovely with it. Sometimes she looks so good, we all forget that she is ill. Sometimes she cannot get out of bed.
27 January 2011 Thursday
The men who are clearing Cooney’s wood have finally come back and they are dragging the felled trees out and cutting them up into lengths of about two metres. These are not big trees but there are a lot of them. The piling up of the young trees is on the flattened out area where the rubble from Maisie’s house was dumped. One day when the men were not there I climbed over the fence to try to find my collection of pieces of Maisie’s green wall. There has been so much heavy movement on top of my gathering that I could only spot a few pieces. The trees are being piled up on both ends of the area. Every few days a lorry comes and takes away a load of the trees. Whichever end has been cleared then gets filled back up again. The men are working hard. Today, as I walked past, they were taking a break. All three of them were leaning against one car. They were very quiet. They were drinking steaming cups of coffee or tea from their flasks and they each had a newspaper spread out for the reading on the bonnet of the car.
26 January 2011 Wednesday
The lean-to has collapsed with the weather. This is not the big lean-to but the extra lean-to which was built onto the side of the big lean-to a year or so ago. At that time we needed more storage space for the firewood. Now the extra lean-to has been emptied of firewood. In the order of firewood rotation, it was time to use that supply. Perhaps the wood was holding the little lean-to in position. Now it has collapsed and I do not see any reason to rebuild it. For now, it is just pieces of wood and an old window.
25 January 2011 Tuesday
Yesterday, in the distance, I saw a field full of white plastic bags. They were not very big plastic bags and they seemed to hold a tight small bundle and then a tied off bit, with a bunch more plastic at the top. The bags seemed too small to be of any use to a farmer. They would not carry much. I thought perhaps they were holding something heavy and that their job was to be weights, but they were not weighing anything down, they were just scattered around on the grass. Then I thought that they might be some sort of quiet crow scaring device. The usual crow scarers sound like a gun shot and they go off at irregular intervals to startle the crows. The intervals can be anywhere from three to ten minutes apart, maybe more. They can be very annoying as some dogs bark every single time they hear the sound of the shot. Sometimes the crow scarers are hooked up to keep scaring all night. There is nothing more disturbing than falling asleep and being woken up to the sound of a gun shot in the distance. Anyway, as I got closer to the field full of white plastic bags, I saw that they were not bags but birds. They had seemed small as plastic bags but as birds they were big. They looked like swans or maybe geese. I met someone further up the road and asked if she had seen these birds. She said she had counted ninety-three of them the day before yesterday. She said someone else had seen one hundred of them. She told me they were Whooper Swans. She pronounced it Hooper but now I learn there is a W at the beginning. The swans are traveling in large flocks and they stop to eat wheat or whatever they can find in pastures and near water. They graze in one area for a few days before they move on. They settle onto several fields and eat away. They were beautiful to see. Today I saw them again. Maybe they were the same group or maybe they were different. How would I ever know. By going closer, I could see that they each had a very nice yellow beak with a little bit of black on the end. I do not know how anyone could count them, as they are constantly walking around while looking for things to eat. They made a deep honking sound as they wandered. The group I saw was no where near one hundred. Maybe there were fifty, but I did not even attempt to count.
23 January 2011 Sunday
I am rushed out of the house in the morning so that Em can get on her way for her walk. I have just realized that while I think of this as a walk, she thinks of this as work. She has places to check and things to examine and she does each job in the same order every day. The first thing is the single fat blackberry branch that hangs out and over our path right at the bottom of the meadow. Every time I see it, I think I should bring the clippers and cut it out of the way. Instead, I step over it. Em sniffs it very carefully. Some days I can see a little bit of hair stuck on the thorns. This might be from the fox, or it might be from another dog or even from one of those horrible wild cats. Then we walk down to the swampy area which might be wet and muddy or it might be frozen solid. We have both taken to walking over the little plank which I carried down there one day when the area was particularly muddy. Em does not need to walk over this bridge but this is now part of her official route. As we climb up the boreen, there are places where the badgers have dug paths and places where the fox crosses over. There are pheasants to flush. Further on, there are dogs to greet and dogs to ignore. There is the swim to be swum and there is the stick to be carried. All of this is work. I should no longer be surprised when she arrives home and sleeps for an hour.
22 January 2011 Saturday
The Man from Donegal was right. The cold is deep and hard and it shows no sign of letting up. I am now wondering if we should be worried about the water pipes freezing again. I have a supply of filled bottles and containers. These are my insurance but mostly I assumed that if I were well prepared, it would surely not freeze again. In the midst of this icy weather, the farm work continues. Farmers all around us seem to be on a scheduale to spread slurry this week. It is odd to see the tractors racing over white and frozen fields and to see the slurry spraying out but not to be able to smell it. Not smelling slurry is not such a bad thing. And today our whole world is very white. There is a freezing fog sitting low over the land so there is little visibility in any direction. Every branch is covered with a furry coating of ice. Even the utitlity cables look like fuzzy lines through a sky which is barely blue and barely grey but not really white either. The cables read as bright white lines drawn through a pale background.
20 January 2011 Thursday
We recieved a gift of a Canadian bird-feeder. It is a very fancy bird-feeder and it is especially made to keep squirrels from stealing the birds food. We do not have any squirrels around here, but if we did this squirrel-proof bird-feeder would defeat them. It is like a Rolls Royce compared to the motley selection of devices I have built and acquired to feed the birds. My old colanders and that little triangular plastic thing for the corner of a sink look droopy and crooked and sad compared to this shiny new Canadian apparatus. Every year we seem to have more and more bird feeding stations and more and more kinds of bird food and more and more birds coming to eat. Every year I think that this will be the year when I really learn who is eating what food. I shall learn which birds are which. I shall learn which birds bully which other birds in order to take over the food supplies. This winter is slipping by and I am still no wiser about who is who.
19 January 2011 Wednesday
When I came out of the shop there was a group of very small children being lined up on the sidewalk. Two women from the Day Care Centre had the children pressed up against the car. They were all reaching out and stroking the glass and making cooing noises through the window. Em had climbed from the back of the car up and into the passenger seat. The children were talking to her and patting the window as if she might feel their pats. Because I had parked so close to the curb they had a little height from the elevation of the sidewalk and they could look her in the face. She kept her head very close to the window and watched them quietly as they played at stroking her. When I saw what was happening, I offered to let Em out of the car so that the children could pet her. One of the woman said No No, don’t even think of it! They would be terrified to see her in person. This way is better. It is like she is on the television.
18 January 2011 Tuesday
For a few years it was all about The Man from New Zealand. Everyone quoted him and his weather predictions. If he said things would be dry and warm, everyone was pleased and he was spoken of with great admiration and familiarity. He was nearly a saint. If he predicted dreadful cold and wet summers, he was quoted as a harbinger of doom. Whatever he said carried an air of inevitabiltity. His predictions were not to be questioned, and his voice was given more credence than anything from Met Eireann or anyone more local. I never checked his website. I think a lot of other people never looked at it either. They all just repeated the received information of the day as truth. For a long while now I have not heard anyone speaking of The Man from New Zealand. Now it seems to all be coming from The Man from Donegal. And The Man from Donegal says we are in for another bout of hard frost and deep, deep cold.
16 January 2011 Sunday
The days are lengthening. Everyday is longer than the day before. We all remark that there is a bit of a stretch in it. The light seems to be changing faster and faster. The shortest day of the year is the 21st of December but locally the visible lengthening of days is measured from the 6th of January. They call this The Cock’s Step. Every little amount of each days extra daylight is determined by the length of his step. I understand that there is one minute and a half of extra light every day. I do not know exactly how this translates into the distance of The Cock’s Step, but I assume he is rushing and then his steps would naturally be elongated.
14 January 2011 Friday
On returning from Paris, we found five dead birds tied to a stick. The stick was wedged up against the kitchen door. We examined them to see what they were. There were two small ducks, a large mallard and two pheasants. We moved the stick to lean against the bench so that we could get into the house. During the night, we heard the stick crash to the ground. The birds were being attacked by two wild cats. Luckily the necks had been well fastened to the stick with heavy twine, so the whole group was easy to pick up and transport to the shed. One of the cats ran away. The other cat was angry to be interrupted and robbed. Surrounded by feathers and bits of torn flesh, it stayed nearby and hissed at us. The next day, the man who shot the birds called by to make sure we had found them. He told us how long they had been hanging. We thanked him and he promised to bring more when he shot more. This afternoon, Simon spent a few hours plucking, cleaning and preparing them at the table outside. I thought Em would be fascinated by the smells and the buckets of feathers and innards and the raw flesh. I thought she would sit as close to Simon’s feet as possible in the hopes that he would drop something for her. Instead, she refused to stay anywhere near the activity and she came inside for a nap.
5 January 2011 Wednesday
We have three enamel bread tins. None of the tins are new. One of them is white with a white lid. This tin is rectanglar in shape. It is 250 mm tall. It has the delicate black letters BREAD embossed on one side. It has black handles too. This one is the one in which we keep our bread. It stays on the shelf in the larder. There is another one, white with a blue top and very thick black letters for the word BREAD, which I keep under the table outside. This one has more chipped enamel than the one in the larder. It is also rectangular but much taller than the other one. It does not have handles, just indentations in the metal sides for ease in moving it. We keep washed and squashed metal tins in this one. When it is full we take it to the recycling depot. Everytime I go the man there asks me if I am throwing away the bread tin too. Every time I say no. The third bread tin is a strange old-fashioned green colour with funny little handles which are black and a handle on the top which is black. This tin is round and taller still and it has no writing at all but what else could it be but a bread tin. This tin is on the floor of the tool shed. It has five jars of sour dough mothers inside it. I am not sure if the mothers are still active and good but we know exactly where they are when we are ready to check.
4 January 2011 Tuesday
I went into town today to do a few errands and mostly to get the Motor Tax taken care of for the new car. The whole of Clonmel was heaving. There were cars and people everywhere. Everyone else had decided to come in to town to do a few errands too. Shops and offices were open but the schools do not re-open until the tenth. Everyone was tired of being trapped by the weather and the holidays and their families. The Motor Tax office was full of people. They were standing and sitting and there was no more space. The wait was long. When I finally got my turn, I had to leave and take my form down the street to the Garda Station because this car had not been taxed since August. I needed a Garda to verify that it had not been driven in that time or at least that it had not been driven by me. There was a small crowd at the station but after a very short wait, the officer on duty signed and stamped my form. He asked for no proof that the car had not been driven. My next wait at the Motor Tax office was not as long as the first wait but it was not as short as the one at the Garda Station. The whole thing took me one and a half hours. Now the motor is legal. I wonder will anyone notice that this is a new old silver Volvo or will they just think that it is the same old silver Volvo?
3 January 2011 Monday
I saw Oliver Hackett as I walked today. He was in the white truck which he uses to deliver blocks and bags of coal and bags of turf. He stopped in the road, and I opened his passenger door to wish him a Happy New Year. For a while, he was a bit bad tempered with me. He had been convinced that I was English just because Simon was English. When I corrected him one day, he refused to believe me. He was angry with me, not for being an American, but angry because he had been wrong. I do not know if he felt like he had been tricked or if he just did not like to be wrong. Anyway that was a long time ago. We discussed that fact that he had not delivered any firewood to us this year. He knew that we had quite a good supply stored up so he had not expected to hear from us until the spring or at least February. I asked how he was and he said he was not very good. He said he had terrible pain in his leg and his groin and his hip. He pointed to an aluminum walking stick on the floor of the truck and he said I cannot walk without that any more. He said I have crutches at home too but this stick is just for going out. I asked if he was able for driving at all. I said Isn’t the clutch difficult with a bad leg? He said I can just about do it but I won’t be doing it for much longer. He said there are a lot of jobs I would have done if I had known things would be going like this. There are things I would have done but now I cannot be doing them so they just won’t be done.
1 January 2011 Saturday New Years Day
Two women in the shop were discussing which kinds of newspapers are the best kind for getting the fire started. One of the women confessed that she had taken to using firelighters in recent years but what with money being tight she was going back to starting the fire with paper and sticks. They both agreed that the colour supplements were completely useless and that any kind of shiny pages were not very good either. One of them swore by the Irish Independant and the other preferred the Nationalist. The Irish Times and the Times from England were about the same in terms of flammability, but neither of the women bought these papers often. South Tipp Today was reliable, and especially good because it was free.