14 August
When a shop or a restaurant or even a country is very expensive, it is said to be A Savage Dear Place. An expensive object is the same: A Savage Dear Car. A Savage Dear Clock.

15 August
This morning Em and I walked up the boreen. There was water rushing down toward us. We were walking up a river bed. It was not a river but it was like a river. There was water rushing down so we slipped on rocks and squelched in mud and just generally had to struggle all the way up. The vegetation was also a struggle as so much has fallen and been blown over. A lot of big branches are broken. We crawled and squeezed through a lot of tight places. We took turns getting caught on brambles. When we got to the top and walked out onto the road, I looked at Em and she looked at me. We had had a wonderful time.

16 August
As I passed the washing line, I stopped to pick up the clothes pegs which had blown out of their container. They were scattered in all directions through the long wet grass. I was surprised to see how far they had been thrown. The winds have been vicious. The grass is long because it is too wet to cut. The grass cannot be cut because it is never dry enough. The longer it gets and the wetter it gets the more impossible a job it becomes. We do not even think about cutting the grass anymore. It has been raining for days. It has been raining for weeks. It has been raining for months. Early on, they said it was the worst summer in living memory. Then they said it was the worst summer since 1867. Now they say that this is the worst summer ever. They are right. My raincoat has lost its ability to keep out the wet.

17 August
We nearly lost Em today. We went to do the gentle loop walk just outside the village. Em rushed off ahead as she usually does. She always wants to get into whatever water is available. I was about to start a search for a stick to throw for her, when I remembered how fast the water has been rushing down from the mountains. Everywhere is swollen and everywhere is flooded and all rivers and streams are overflowing. I ran to get to her before she got to the stream. I got near just in time to see her grabbed by the fast moving current and flipped over onto her back and carried away. Simon ran downstream to where there was an opening in the undergrowth. He hoped that if she was swept along he would get there in time to grab her as she went by. I waded into the stream and found her a little way down. She was caught in some bushes. She was struggling to keep her head above water. The water was up to my waist. It was hard for me to stay standing. I got one hand onto a thin branch and one hand onto her collar. I pulled and stretched and pulled some more and finally I got her near to me. Eventually we got to a place in the banking where I was able to push her up and out of the water. I had a lot of trouble getting myself up and out. By the time we got home I think the shock of it all hit me. She is fine. I am fine. I have burst into tears several times just looking at her and thinking how close we came to losing her. Someone told me that I had Need of a Glass of Brandy. I did not have one but probably I should have.

18 August
A sunny day. After so much wet and grey it does not feel like summer but it feels good. Everyone is cheerful. We can speak of nothing else.

21 August
Clonmel is a great Going Home For Lunch town. If you are on the road at one o’clock it can be very shocking to witness all of the traffic. People jump into their motors and race home even if they live ten miles away. By the time they get home there is not too much time left because they have to eat and then rush back to their jobs. There is usually a mother or a wife or a girlfriend waiting with The Dinner, but even so it seems a very rushed way to take a break. The traffic around two o’clock when they are all going back to town. is equally frenetic.

22 August
The blackberries are ripening. I can pick some here and there as I walk. I can pick a hand full but I cannot pick a bowl full. As with all growth this summer it is amazing that the berries have not rotted before they had a chance to ripen.

23 August
There is such a lot of fear about mint in the garden. No one wants to plant mint because they are told that it will send out runners and take over the whole place. Everyone believes this. Mint gets planted in pots. That way it cannot invade. I am not worried about my mint taking over my world. I put some in over at the corner of the round topped tool shed. Every summer it grows into a fine big bush. Yes, the mint has spread but when we pass nearby with the mower we can just mow over anything that seems excessive. It is difficult to get to the hose and the outdoor tap now without walking through the copious mint growth. This is a nice thing. I look forward to using the hose so that I can breathe the minty air. Unfortunately, this summer it has been too wet to need the hose. I have to make a special detour to rustle the bushes and get a good whiff of mint.

24 August
There was a small notice in the paper from a man in a nearby village. The notice was in a little box with a black line around it. Underneath the man’s name and the name of his village, it said that he hereby apologised unreservedly and sincerely to the people he has caused anguish to, with his actions of circulating ‘comments’ on a certain day this summer. He said that the comments were complete falsehoods without foundation or truth and he regrets the distress and hurt that he has caused to these people and their families.

25 August
The Ancient Man was looking behind a big tree as I approached from a distance. As I got nearer, he went behind a second tree. Then he walked a bit and went behind a third tree. His Ancient Dog sat still in the middle of the path. His Ancient Dog is always pleased for an excuse to sit down. I said hello and he said hello. I asked if he was looking for something or someone behind the trees. He said that he had tired of carrying his big multi-coloured umbrella. He has been carrying it all summer. Almost every day he has needed to use it at least once. Since it was not raining and the sky was clear this morning, he hid the umbrella behind a large tree to collect on his return along the path. Now he had forgotten which tree.

28 August
Selling raffle tickets or selling sponsorship for some kind of walk or run or tractor ride or any other charity event used to be easy. A piece of paper could be left in the shop and it would be signed and filled up in no time. Now it is difficult to expect people to put money out for any of these events. The piece of paper left in the shop might remain unfilled in for days and days. It is difficult to ask people directly to contribute because they feel awkward having to refuse. It is considered bad manners to put people on the spot. There are a lot of people pretending that things are okay when they are not okay. If you ask someone to sponsor a charity run, they cannot refuse even if they are in dire financial circumstances. They have been put in the position of looking churlish if they refuse. So when someone sidles up to you, very near, and quietly asks you to sponsor a person doing a walk for a charity, you know that they have carefully considered if it is okay for you to be someone to ask. You know that they have considered your situation as best they can in order not to offend.

31 August
My berry picking has become an evening activity. I try to go out and pick some berries just before the light starts to drop. I can gather both a good bowl of raspberries and a good bowl of blackberries in a short time. By collecting them at dusk, I am guaranteed berries for breakfast. I think that a lot of the birds have left. I do not know if they have headed south already but they do seem to be gone. The raspberries are safe from attackers. It is nice to know that everyday there will be freshly ripened berries. It is nice to know that the freshly ripened berries are waiting for my arrival.

1 September
For years and years, I have always been pressing flowers. I have never done anything with the flowers after they were pressed except to enjoy finding them much later in books. Lately, I have been carefully removing the well-dried flowers and leaves and gluing them down on card and using very thin strips of brown paper tape to ensure their safe position on the card. I am so pleased with my results that I am pressing more and more kinds of vegetation. I wonder if what I am pressing now will disappear into a book for years and years or if I will continue to glue and tape. I think the very thin strips of brown tape are a huge part of what I love about this activity.

3 September
We drove up from east Cork. It was such a beautiful day that we decided to drive through Tallow and Lismore and then over the mountains before dropping down the other side and into our valley. As we neared Tallow we were sent on a detour by uniformed Garda. We came to another detour and then another detour. At the last one, there were people getting out of their cars and walking over the bridge into Tallow. The Horse Fair was taking place. The Garda were stopping people from driving into the town. Most people at the horse fairs are members of the Travelling Community and the Garda were trying to keep them from bringing their weapons into the town. There are always a lot of fights at these horse fairs. If someone has to walk into town, at least he will not have a scythe or a pitchfork with him if he gets into a fight. He might have a knife but it is not easy to walk into a town with a heavy stick or another large and unwieldy weapon in your arms without looking like you are anticipating a fight. Leaving the cars means leaving the weapons. When we finally got around all of the traffic and arrived in the village near home, we pulled up behind a car. It was just a regular car. It was not a big car. A woman and a child got out of the passenger side. A man got out of the driver’s side. In the back seat there was a small pony. The pony was in the car horizontally. His head and his nose were pressed against one window and his tail and his bottom were pressed against the other window. His feet were on the floor. He was not on the seat. He filled the width of the back seat exactly with his body length. We assumed he was a purchase from the Horse Fair.

7 September
A week of glorious sunshine. Everyone is cheerful. It is the weather we have waited for all summer. The evenings are cool and the mornings are wet with dew and chilly, but the days are beautiful. It does not matter if the jobs we do are indoor jobs or outdoor jobs. With the doors open and the windows open there is easy movement between buildings and between actions. Em settles herself somewhere in between so that she can keep track of where we go in and where we go out of, but she herself does not have to move. She just opens her eyes occasionally to make sure that we are not too far away.

10 September
A drizzly soft and grey day. It has not been unpleasant but no one is ready to give up on the warm and balmy days we have been enjoying. No one wants to believe that this is the end of the sunshine. No one wants to believe that this is the end of the summer we never had but since we had a little we are willing to forgive the rest. We are almost ready to believe that we had a summer.

26 September
The National Ploughing Championship is on. This year it is in Wexford. Every year it moves to a different location around the country. Every year the radio and the news are full of stories from The Ploughing. Every year people are discussing whether or not they will go to The Ploughing, and who they know who might be participating. I suppose in Dublin and Limerick and Galway, no one mentions The Ploughing, but in these parts it is a highpoint of the year. Besides the competitions for different kinds of ploughing, there are lots of things on show. There are exhibitions of Farm Machinery, and Bio-Energy and Business Plans for Farmers and Animal Husbandry. There are competitions for Livestock Breeds, Sheep Shearing and Sheep Dog Trials. There are lots more things but since I have never been to The Ploughing, I only hear about some of the activities. There is a lot of food both on sale and being given away. There are samples to taste and ideas about production and marketing. This year Flahavans, who produce oats, are making and giving out bowls of porridge from early in the morning all day long. The reports say that this is the coldest year ever for The Ploughing. It is unseasonably cold, so everyone is bundled up. People are happy to wait in long lines for a free hot bowl of porridge.

28 September
As always, when we have been away, Em returns from her stay at the farm with a large number of clumpy bits in her hair. Sometimes these clumps are just tangled hair, but more often they are the gathering of hair around something horrible. I think the main culprit is cat shit. There are always cats in the barns, and the cats and dogs are all happy to leap and play in the hay. Sometimes a few days back at home with a lot of rolling in the grass and swimming in the stream is all it takes for Em to return to her usual sweet smell. Sometimes I have to get out scissors and I need to cut out the wadgy bits. The cutting and brushing can go on for days before I get everything smelly out of her hair. This is one of those times.

29 September
Already I need a torch when I walk out into the night with Em. I need a torch and I need a sweater. Soon I will need a jacket, then a scarf and then a hat, and then boots. The early darkness and the need for a torch are the first signs heralding the onset of winter.

1 October 2012
I was at the doctor’s office today. The practice has recently moved to a new building. There are several doctors sharing the building and there are two different waiting rooms to accommodate the patients. There is one reception desk which takes care of everyone. After seeing my doctor I was told to go and wait in the waiting room while some papers were prepared. I sat in the room with one young woman and her small child. The child was busy watching the fish in an enormous fish tank. It is much nicer to have a fish tank than the noisy television set which was in the waiting room of the old practice. There is an intercom in the room and every so often a name is called for someone to go into a doctor’s office. When the announcement is over, the intercom returns to the quiet playing of the local radio station. None of the names called were for myself nor the young woman nor her child. Those people must have been in the other waiting room. After a few names were called, we heard the sound of a man moaning. I thought it was something on the radio. Then the moaning became louder. It was a young man, not a child. He might have been in his late teens or maybe he was in his twenties. He was not an old man. He moaned louder and then he screamed and then he begged for someone to stop. He screamed and he screamed louder. The young woman and I were transfixed by the sounds. We stared right into each other’s eyes. The sounds were terrifying. We heard a voice saying ‘It is alright now, we are nearly done. Stay calm.’ The man screamed again. Actually the man never stopped screaming. The screams just had different volumes and different intensities. The child turned from the fish tank and then he screamed too. I ran out and told the receptionist that I thought her intercom was broadcasting someone’s painful procedure. She could hear the screams coming from the open door of the waiting room. She screamed a small scream herself and she ran to turn it off.

3 October
There is a small house in the middle of the village. It has not been lived in for as long as we have been here but it is always very well taken care of. It is regularly repainted with white paint. For a long time the window frames and the door and the metal gate were bright yellow. This summer the house was repainted and now all of these trims are bright red. The one window in the upstairs of the gable end of the cottage was replaced a long time ago with a piece of wood. The window panes and a sheer lace curtain have been painted in place of the absent window. The painting is well done. I admire it often. It is realistic and so natural looking that I wonder how many people realize that they are looking at a painting and not at a real window.

4 October
When needing to get rid of an old car which is too old or too undesirable to resell, it is no longer possible to just take it to a dump. A man from a scrap yard used to take cars away for people. Sometimes the people would pay the man to take the car. Sometimes the man would pay the people in order to take the car and use it for parts. Now the car must be taken to a registered car dismantling yard and the destruction of the car must comply with Waste Management Regulations. The owner of the car must get a special form called a Certificate of Destruction. The owner’s copy of the Certificate of Destruction is green. Another copy goes to the Motor Tax office, but I cannot remember what colour that copy is.

5 October 2012
Today I brought the last of the sweet peas into the house. The blossoms are bright pink. They have the quality of both silk and paper. I want to enjoy them for as long as possible, because after they die I shall have to wait until next year for more. I hope they last for more than a few days.

7 October
It has been a sad year for gathering things to eat from our immediate world. I cannot bring myself to use the word foraging. The garden vegetables were a complete disaster. Things like courgettes, which usually overwhelm us, just rotted and the few that did not rot produced few and tiny courgettes. The apples trees had barely anything on them after the wretched spring and summer. I found few apples between eight trees, and most were disappointing to eat. There were no pears, no plums, no wild damsons, few blotcheens. Sloes are not visible anywhere. Usually there are thousands all through the blackthorn hedges. How can such huge quantities of sloes be absent? Blackberries can be found with careful looking but what I find are rarely worth the effort needed to pick them. It is a bad year for us, but it is even worse for the birds.

9 October
It is good to walk along and to hear leaves crunching underfoot. Up until now the walking over fallen leaves has been a wet and slippery affair. I could not hear Em walking ahead of me or behind me. With her deafness, she cannot hear the leaves swishing and crackling as she walks, but I like to think that she is enjoying it all as much as I am.

11 October
The debit and credit card machine at the shop has been a problem for a long time. The slightest movement caused it to lose its connection and to cancel any transaction it was in the middle of. Various techniques have been tried to keep it from wiggling loose. The latest solution has been to attach it, with screws, to the exact middle of the display of sweets. The machine has been placed between the Turkish Delight and the Maltesers. This position is a bit high for me. It is at my eye level. For most people it is in a good position to look down at as they tap in their numbers. I inquire regularly if this new location in the middle of all the candy has caused an increase in the sales of sweets.

13 October
One of the big ash trees near to the barn has been felled. We watched it fall in a perfectly placed drop. It has been on a list of things to get done for a long time now. Today the man with the chain saw came and cut it, along with a few other dead or unwanted trees. With his chain saw and his son, he managed to down them all in a crazily short time. The fallen trees and limbs are in large pieces, piled in several locations. Now everything needs to be cut up into wood-stove sized pieces and stacked. The gap left by the big tree opens up a new vista down the valley. Once again we can see the bell tower of the Church of Ireland in the near distance and the hills beyond in the far distance. Because the new view is seen between two other trees, it is about looking through rather than just looking at. And because the new view is visible from the kitchen window, it is a view through and through again.

16 October
A long driveway or entrance to a house is called an Avenue. I do not know how long the drive must be for it to be an avenue and not just a drive. I also do not know if it must be tarred to be called an Avenue. I do know that not all entry roads to houses are called Avenues, so I do not know if calling one’s entrance an Avenue is an affectation or if the length determines the name.

19 October
I spoke to a woman who was going to send me something in the post. She was going to put it into the post today but then she stopped herself and said, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that. I don’t like things to sit in the post office or in a box all weekend.’ She wanted to wait until Monday to send it. If she sent it on Friday, I would have it on Monday. If she waits until Monday, I have to wait until Tuesday to receive it. With no post office activity on Saturday, things are slow enough here but an unwillingness to trust things to the post office over the weekend makes the movement of things even slower. This is not the first time this has happened. It happens a lot.

20 October
There is an excitement about bunches of carrots coated with large clumps of garden soil which I do not understand. I never go to the market without hearing someone exclaim about the presence of Dirty Carrots. If someone points them out to me, I disappoint them with my lack of enthusiasm. The times when I do come home with these enormous carrots and their falling off quantities of soil, I find the carrots fibrous and unpleasant. To me, they are like carrots I might feed a donkey. They have no sweetness and they have an unpleasant texture. I keep thinking I am missing something when I hear the delight which greets Dirty Carrots. I do not mind a lot of dirt when I peel or scrub carrots, but if I end up with a sinkful of mud and then I have a carrot which I do not want to eat, I fail to see the point.

21 October
We went down to the village to get the papers and to take Em on the little loop walk. On Sunday we have to be careful where we park as we could find ourselves trapped into a place by everyone arriving and parking at the very last moment and rushing in to the church. Some Sundays there is a Mass in the village and some Sundays there is not. On the Sundays when Mass is not there, it is over in Fourmilewater. I speak of people going to church but they do not go to church, they go to Mass. They go to the activity, not to the place.

22 October
More and more petrol stations are closing. There are huge gaps between places where one can get fuel. In Ballyporeen, the pumps have been gone for a few years now and planters have been placed on top of where they were. There is no longer a station in Clogheen and now another has closed in Ardfinnan. With the price of fuel going up, it seems unfair that people have to drive longer distances to get some fuel just so that they can use most of it up to drive themselves home.

23 October
There are wool gloves in the pockets of my rain jacket all year round. I never take them out. They are there just in case. I do not necessarily wear my rain jacket every day and I certainly do not need gloves every time that I do wear the jacket, but I need gloves often enough that it is best if they stay right there in readiness.

25 October
Annie returned our map. I had forgotten that we loaned it to her in the summer. She had some questions about place names so we took her the Ordnance Survey map for her area and pointed out the places she was asking about. It was not a new map and it had been folded and unfolded a great number of times. It was torn and shabby but she did not mind. She was pleased to be able to study the locations on paper so we left the map with her. She is unsteady on her legs and cannot walk much and she is too old to explore the actual places any more, but her eyes are good so she has enjoyed tracking down people and fondly remembered spots with her finger and a magnifying glass. When I visited today, Annie returned the map to me. She had spent a long time making careful repairs with strips of clear tape. Every fold has a strip of tape along it on both sides of the page. It is now an enormous unwieldy thing. It will never again fold up small enough to fit into a pocket. She had such a good time repairing it that all I could say was thank you.

26 October
The county council have sent a digger and a truck to scrape the middle of the boreen. The grass has grown so much over the years that each time it dies back it makes more soil and then more grass grows. The grass itself is not so long but the area where it grows is both high and wide. Cars, especially those low to the ground, get rubbed and dragged hard along on the bottom as they come down the track. Sometimes it is difficult to find enough space to roll the tyres along on either side of the grass. The place to drive has been taken over by the thick grass in the middle. So far the council men have come twice. They scraped up the grass and the soil and filled their truck with it all, and then they drove away to empty the load somewhere. They have come twice at one week intervals and have finished two lengths of maybe a fifty metres each time. They usually come just before lunch, and they do not return after lunch. It will take many weeks for the job to be completed at this rate. What is left behind is a muddy mess. If they keep working at this slow speed, the first cleared areas will be growing grass again before the final lengths are finished.

27 October
The doctor told me not to worry. She assured me that it was Nothing Sinister. She said we shall wait for the tests but we both can sleep easy because it is Nothing Sinister. The more often she used the expression Nothing Sinister, the more I believed her.

28 October
The clocks changed last night. The changing plunges us into a darker darkness. It is always at this time of year that I miss street lights and urban illumination. Walking across from the barn as early as six o’clock is now a walk which requires a torch, and there are many weeks to come before we get to the shortest day.

29 October
The moon is full but the world outside is not bright. Some things have a bright clarity about them but mostly it is just dark. On some full moon nights I can walk up and down the meadow paths without a torch. Tonight is not one of those nights. Em never seems to care if it is dark or bright. She rushes out with confidence into the night. Do dogs have the same vision in the light as in the dark?

30 October
With Em walking so slowly these days, I have taking up Cow Counting. When I come up near to a field full of cows, I try to count them rapidly. They are always moving around. Sometimes they move because they see me but more especially when they see Em. I count a herd three or four times in quick succession. I always come up with three or four different numbers. If I ever find myself getting the same count three times in a row, I will be delighted. This is a good method to amuse myself while accommodating Em’s slowness. My next problem will be keeping warm when the walking is slow.

31 October
At this time of year, the hunters appear. They just look like any men out in the fields or forest but they have guns and dogs with them. They walk with their guns broken open over the forearm which is both safe and reassuring. They never wear bright clothing which I find a bit worrying. The cars or trucks with hunters in them usually have a gun on the dashboard and a pile of cartridges on the seat. The cartridges are bright red or yellow. This must be the correct sort of shot for shooting birds. I try to wear bright things when I am walking up the boreen. I talk and sing and generally make a lot of noise. I whack at bushes and trees with a big stick. I am alerting any hunters to my presence. I am also alerting any birds.

1 November
There is a cement wall with raised letters that I see on the way into town. The letters read THE FAMILY THAT PRAY TOGETHER STAY TOGETHER. Each capital letter is about 9 inches tall. The wall is white. The top of the wall and the letters are bright blue. They are a bright, light blue.. It is the same shade of blue which is always used for religious shrines and holy places all over the county. Repainting every few years keeps the blue bright and light. Inside the wall there is a statue of the Virgin Mary with a blue neon halo around her head. The blue of the light is the same as the painted blue.

2 November Friday
A Double Possessive is regularly used here. It is used so much that I think it is never not used. No one will say My Mother when they can say My Own Mother. My Own Car. Your Own House. His Own Cow. Her Own Leg. It makes ownership very specific and not something to be argued about. It makes ownership irrefutable, especially because the word OWN is the word which is emphasized.

4 November
We have mice in the kitchen. They are eating barley and scattering it around. I set traps and I killed ten of them in ten hours. Most of them were babies so I think I might have destroyed the entire family. The hole around the waste pipe has been filled in. I think that is how they were getting into the house. I was going to fill the hole in with cotton wool and cover it with duct tape. Luckily Peter came by and quickly filled it with cement. He said the cotton wool would have pleased the mice as they would have been happy to use it to line their nest. I am so proud of my mass mouse extermination that I had to write it down.

5 November
Tyres appear often. Re-using is a form of recycling. If you have a lot of tyres you have to find something to do with them. Some tyres are lined up on the ground at the end of a place to park the car. The tyres are there to stop the cars going too far into a field or onto a lawn. They are something soft to bump into. Tyres hanging by strong ropes against a wall are also practical for car parking. It is more pleasant to bump the front of the car into a tyre than to scrape it into a cement wall. A tyre on a rope makes a nice swing. Farmers use hundreds of tyres to hold down the black plastic with which they cover up on their huge heaps of silage. Black tyres on the black plastic mountains look like polka dots. Sometimes 5 or 8 tyres are piled up on top of one another and cement is poured down the middle. This might become a fence post or just some kind of strong vertical thing whose purpose I do not understand.

6 November
Em is working to keep me in her sight all day long. This means she follows me from room to room and back again. She is exhausted by all the following but since she cannot hear me moving around she needs to see me in order to know where I am. I get exhausted too because I am always bumping into her. I change direction more quickly than she does. She sits next to me and presses herself against me. If I am standing she is near to my feet. When I move, I trip over her. When she gets really tired of all of the movement, she collapses somewhere and goes to sleep for a short while. It is both heartbreaking and annoying. When we go out walking, she is fine because she knows the route and she knows her role in the walk. She knows all the places to smell and examine and chase. She only needs me to go along with her. The walk makes for a different kind of fatigue. After a walk, she arrives home, cleans off any mud and muck from her legs and feet, and falls into a heavy sleep. After a walk, I have a good hour of freedom from the following.

20 November
It is not unusual to stop down at the shop and to see a car parked in front of the church with no one inside the car but with the engine left running. When I see this, I wonder if the driver has dashed into the shop to get something or if the driver has dashed into the church for a quick prayer. I never wait around to find out. Today I was walking into the shop and an old man who was standing and smoking outside said hello. The man then jerked his head toward a car with its engine running in front of the church. He said, That man there is a millionaire. I know he is a millionaire. With the price of petrol what it is, that man must be a millionaire to leave his motor running like that.

22 November
This is my third day with a bad sore throat. I walked as far as the farm with Em which was not enough of a walk for her but it was exhausting for me. Following advice from a friend, I boiled up some carragheen moss and made myself a sort of tea. I left the carragheen in the pan in case I wanted to make a second cup. Even with copious amounts of honey stirred in, it tasted terrible. I would love to say that this seaweed tea tasted of the sea and that it tasted like wonderful minerals and goodness. There is no chance I will be having a second cup, but the compost heap will no doubt benefit from the plethora of minerals.

23 November
Anything Strange? This is a regular question not unlike being asked What’s Happening? or What’s Up? I never hear it asked anywhere else. Or perhaps it is just that no one asks it of me anywhere else. For a long time I thought my answer should be about something very exotic or special. Now I know that it is just the first part of a conversation of local news. It can be about anything at all.

28 November
I walked down the meadow with Em tonight. I have barely been outside all week so she has been taking both her morning walks and her evening walks with Simon. She has only gone as far as the vegetable patch with him each night, but tonight she raced down the path and I went along behind her. The moon was full and the sky was clear and frosty with cold. I was glad to be out in the brightness but I was more glad to get back inside.

29 November
I am better but I am not all the way better. I thought I would be better today. I should be better today.  This is a bad cold. I am coughing less and sneezing less and blowing my nose less, but I am still coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose.  I am tired of thinking about it and I am tired of living with it and I am tired of talking about it. I was warned by someone who said: I hope you do not have what I had because mine went on and on and on for weeks.  I am on my 11th day since the sore throat started. I have had enough.

30 November
The shop has made a new display just inside the door. The shelves are full of the sorts of things that people might be looking for on Sunday or in the evenings when the hardware shop next door is closed. Some of the items, like motor oils, are things we might need at any time, but many of them are seasonal. The display is full of things like firelighters, manufactured firelogs and bags of sticks. There are several choices of mouse traps and rat traps as well as a variety of poisons. ENDORAT Rat Killer is a favorite. The shelves display de-icer, anti-freeze, reflective arm-bands and belts, batteries, torches, and hot water bottles. It is an impressively wintery selection. I feel they have thought of everything.

1 December
I took Em around for the walk this morning. It was the first time I have been Around since my bad cold. I still felt weak but I went along knowing that she is slow these days, so I can be slow too. It was a nice quiet and exploratory walk. Everything was familiar and everything, as always, was completely new.

2 December
Simon stopped in the chemist during the week. He wanted to buy me a bottle of Tonic. There is a great belief in Tonic here. I do not know exactly what is in a bottle of Tonic but each chemist makes his or her own and people swear by their own version. The Tonic always comes in a brown glass bottle with a little plastic spoon for measuring out a dose. Three times a day after a meal is the usual dose. The chemist told Simon that pharmacists have now been banned from producing their own Tonic. The chemist was upset. He was disraught. He said that he had made people happy and healthy with his mixture of vitamins and iron and whatever else for years. Now he could not give out a Tonic without a doctor’s prescription. He could not believe he was no longer allowed to serve his own mixture at his own discretion. In spite of this new law, he prepared a bottle for Simon to give to me. The chemist said that the next time I go to the doctor, even if it is several months from now, I should get a written request for the Tonic and deliver it to him retrospectively. He said that should cover him.

3 December
I went on-line to sign a national petition this morning. After I signed, I looked at the names which were popping in. Each time a new person signed, their name was recorded and then moved down the list as someone else signed and then someone else after them. There were four names at a time on the screen. I was surprised to see the name of someone I knew come up on the list. Because of this never ending cold, I was still not feeling very well nor very energetic so I sat and watched the names pop up and then disappear as new names came up. I sat and stared at the screen. It was hypnotic. I became obsessed with the names and with the number of people signing and with how many times the goal of how many names were needed changed. The number got bigger and more and more people came on to sign the petition. I checked in and watched the signing off and on all day. I was delighted to see how many people were making themselves heard and I was delighted to see how many of the names I knew. Some of the people I knew well and some only a little bit, but Ireland is a small country. It should not surprise me to find people I know on such a list, but it does.

4 December
I like the sky at this time of year. I love the dawn and I love the sunsets when there is a lot of pink and red and orange in the sky. The clouds are beautiful when lit up by the colours. It is a bleak time, but if you are out of doors or looking out a window at the right moment, there is colour in the countryside. It is just a pity that the hours of daylight between sunrise and sunset are so very brief.

5 December
A man I do not know looked carefully at Em today and asked about her age. He was impressed to find out that she is one month short of fourteen, and that she looks and moves in such a youthful manner. He said: She’s Good To Go. I hear this expression said a lot and I never know if it means that she is healthy and well able to be going along with me, or if it is good of her to join me.

7 December
When a child is misbehaving, he or she is said to be Bold. They might be said to be Very Bold. No one says they are being Naughty or Bad. Naughty is just not a word that gets used. Dogs might also be called Bold, as might adults. It is not just a word for children, it is a term for unacceptable behaviour.

8 December
The Egg Man at the market apologized because he had no large eggs today. He only had medium ones and small ones. He said that his chickens have been unhappy with all the rain. He said they do not mind the cold so much but they do not like the rain and when they are wet day after day they tend to lay fewer eggs and smaller eggs. He is hoping for a cold snap to get his hens back on form.

9 December
Paddy McGarry died last week. His nephew phoned to tell us the sad news. He promised to let us know when the funeral would be but he said it would be a while because Paddy died in London and they had to go through official channels to bring the body over to Birr in County Offaly where the family was from and where the funeral would take place. I gave the news to Rose and she told a lot of other people as I knew she would. Today I spoke to Paddy’s wife and she said the service had taken place yesterday. We all missed it because the nephew had forgotten to let us know. Rose was very sad as she had promised to organize a bus to take people up to Birr for the day. All of the seats had been reserved right away even though no one knew what day it would be. They all thought that much of Paddy that they would take the day off whenever it came along. Paddy was a good builder and a good man. He could tell a story well. All week I found myself remembering Paddy stories. I loved the one about him courting a girl when he was young. He had to sit down and speak with her father one Sunday afternoon. He knew it was an important conversation. Every minute that he sat there across from the father and in front of the fire, he was aware that he had big holes in the soles of both of his shoes and that he had grey cardboard stuck inside so that his feet inside would not get wet too fast. He spent the whole visit trying to keep his feet flat on the floor so that the father would see neither the holes nor the cardboard.

10 December
There is a new shop within the shop. The small side room which has had multiple functions over the years has been transformed. It is now a Christmas shop. It is full of decorations and wrapping papers and possible gifts. It has displays of candles and picture frames. Most of the items have been in the shop all year long but now they have been gathered together and suddenly the candles look like gifts not just like candles. This room used to hold two photocopy machines and a computer and printer with a chair and coin-accessed internet, as well as a bookcase full of books which people donated and left on the shelves. Other people took books and left money for them in a bucket with a rectangular hole cut in its lid. There was also a table in the room where we could have a cup of coffee or even a lunch from the take-away counter. It was very crowded with all that stuff in there. The table remains now as does the computer. The photocopy machines are now behind the counter in the front of the shop. I have no idea where the books have gone.

12 December
Today has been one of those bleak grey days when we never know what time it is. In the morning it could be afternoon. In the afternoon it could be morning. There is no sunlight promising to break through. There is no sunset. There is nothing but grey and darkness and a soft drizzle throughout most of the day. There is nothing cheerful and no sense of promise. People are already talking about the upcoming shortest day of the year. They are already consoling themselves with the promise that once that day passes the next days will get longer and then the spring will follow soon. On a day like today it feels like it will always be like this. It is a dreary thought.

13 December
I stopped up in Grange at Frank’s shop. I do not go to his shop often because I do not go to Grange often. There is not much reason for me to go to Grange as there is only the church and the school and Frank’s shop. There is almost nothing to buy in the shop. When I go in I walk up and down the two short aisles and I look for something to purchase. I often select grease proof paper or bananas or biscuits. Milk. Lemons. Light bulbs are beside cakes which are beside school notebooks. There is always something to buy but there is not much of anything and the few things that are there are spread out on shelves with a lot of space in between them. Today as I drove by, I stopped and gasped. The windows had been covered with little puffs of cotton wool. Every puff was about two inches from every other puff and the windows and the door glass and the glass above the door were all dotted with this cotton wool snow. It looked fantastic. I ran in and complimented Frank on the festive quality of it all. I asked him what he had used to stick the cotton wool onto the glass. He said he had made a wallpaper paste solution. I was surprised that it stuck onto the glass. I was amazed that the cotton was not sliding down the glass. We discussed his method for a while. He was pleased with his results. We stood there together quietly in the nearly empty shop and looked out through the big windows at the empty road, but we were looking out through the idea of snow so it was wonderful. I bought ginger biscuits and cream crackers and a KitKat before I left.

17 December
I have had five mousetraps set ever since the big massacre. Every morning I check them to see if there have been any victims. It has been several weeks now without a single death so today I removed two traps. Three is plenty as they are in strategic locations. With three rather than five, I still have the daily dilemma of whether to check the traps before or after I eat breakfast.

18 December
I stopped at the library to return two books and to take out two more. I still had two at home which I had not yet read. Borrowers are only allowed four books at a time. I asked the librarian if the library would be open over the holiday period. She told me they would be open on 21 December and then on the 28th and the 29th but not again until 2 January. She said no one ever came in over the holiday week so they no longer bothered to stay open. She explained that they did not mind if people were late with their books or even if they took extra books. She said We just let everyone take as many books as they need to get them through the holiday and if they are late returning them, we turn a blind eye. So instead of taking two books, I took four and now I have six here ready to be read. I am prepared.

19 December
Em is showing her age. Her huge fluffy plume-like tail has gone scrawny and limp. Her neck is thin. She still pushes at the back door to let herself in, but most times she does not have the strength to open it all the way. Sometimes she opens it enough to stick her nose in and sometimes she just scratches and hopes that we hear her. Since she cannot hear her own scratching, I do not think that she fully believes that we can either.

20 December
It has been misty all day. This whole world is covered with a soft damp fog, so we cannot see very far in any direction. It is mild. There is a bright green feathery growth coming out of the dark brown wet and shiny leaves along the path. The brightness of the plant suggests springtime, but it is winter now. It is not spring. There were cobwebs all across the path as I walked through the trees with Em. Some were illuminated by tiny drops of water but most were invisible. As I walked they glued themselves onto my face. If it were night, it would be frightening to have these cobwebs all over my head but in this grey misty daylight, they are not frightening, they are just wet and sticky.

21 December
I met Tommie coming around the corner just after the bridge. We were both in our cars. I raised my hand in a salute but he did not return my greeting. He had a look of complete terror on his face. He looked like he did not know if he would get around the corner or not. I do not know exactly how old he is but he has been looking fragile of late. His face has been sinking in upon itself and his skull is prominent. It is hard to think of this frightened Tommie on the corner with the Tommie who used to stop at any time right in the middle of any road. He would turn off his engine and begin a conversation as if there was never a chance of another car coming along and needing that length of road.

22 December
Another crazily mild day, but this time without the mist and fog. Over the last few weeks, we have been filling water bottles and containers and stockpiling them to be ready for a sudden heavy frost such as we had two years ago. The water from the well was frozen then and we had a difficult ten days living without running water. With the weather we have been having so far there is no chance that we will be losing our water. We may never even need mittens. I will keep the containers full just in case. It is a kind of insurance.

23 December
One day last week, the shop had eight Christmas wreathes stolen from out front. Today, they had six Christmas trees stolen.

24 December
I made some notecards for my mother and sent them off to her as a gift. She loves new notecards and she has a large number of boxes of them in her desk. She writes a lot of notes to people and she likes to have the right notecard for the right occasion and for the right person. My mother keeps a list of whom she has sent which card to within each box of notes. She does not want to send the same card to someone twice. I chose flowers from my selection of dried vegetation and glued one blossom onto each heavy folded card. I used my method of the small strips of brown tape to secure the stems. I am a little bit worried that my mother will not really like these cards with the brown tape and that she will feel that they are a little bit rough looking. What I know she will like are the very fine thick envelopes which accompany each card.

27 December
No one drives on the left-hand side of the road. No one drives on the right-hand side of the road. On these tunnel-like roads, we all drive right down the middle. When we meet another vehicle, we adjust to accommodate one another. The roads are narrow and there is no line painted in the middle. This winter, it is damp and unseasonably mild, so what we have is a green smudge of moss down the centre. It is an elusive amount of greenness. It is just a glow on the dark wet tarmacadam.

28 December
A woman was telling me about someone who was extremely personable, friendly and open. By way of further describing his manner she said: He’d be as interested in the next person he met as he had been in the previous one.

29 December
To Pass Out means to overtake in a car. It does not mean collapsing into unconsciousness.

30 December
Maud and Peter stopped at a supermarket. They were thrilled to find whole pineapples on sale at 25 cent each. At first they thought there must be a mistake but were told that with the holiday week it was important to sell off all fresh produce. They filled their trolley with pineapples. When they got to the till to pay, the young girl there was confused as how to ring up the sale price for the pineapples. She did not want them to be embarrassed or confused later when they looked at the receipt so she asked in advance if they would mind if she charged them for thirteen lollipops because that was the only thing she had listed for 25 cent. They are delighted with their receipt and showed it to us. The items purchased are listed here: Avonmore Milk. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop.Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Lollipop. Broccoli. Red Onions.Onions.Peppers.