The Pouring of Tea
12 December Friday
I watched four men at a nearby table. They had an ordinary metal pot of tea to be shared out among them. I was seeing something that I had seen many times before. One man lifted the pot and offered tea with a word or a little nod of the head to each person before he poured it. If there had been a woman present at the table, she would have done the pouring but since there was not a woman the men did it for themselves with the same formality and politeness. It never matters if they are workmen with heavy muddy boots or if they are men in tidy suits. The pouring and the drinking of tea is a gentle sharing between Irish men. There is ritual and there is a kind of reverence for the ritual. This pouring of tea and the drinking of tea together is not like tea shared anywhere else.
11 December Thursday
There is a line-up of cows eating in Joe’s field every other day when I pass. The field slopes down and away from the track. The area closest to where I walk is covered with short stubble and the earth has been all mushed up by the feet of the cows. Each time the single line of cows is there they are farther down the hill and farther down the field. The cows are eating some kind of leafy dark green vegetation. I call it The Kale Eating of The Cows but really I do not know what it is they are eating. The fence wire which stops them from moving all the way down the hill keeps them in their line and keeps them from eating too far into the field. Since I do not see them in this field every day, I do not know if the eating of this leafy crop is rich and therefore they get enough iron or whatever by eating it every other day. Or maybe they are there every day and I just miss seeing them. From where I am walking all I see is a lot of cows from behind, one beside another, with their heads down. The chomping cows go lower and lower down hill as the area of stubble gets larger. The stubble and the messed up earth which they leave behind show how much they enjoy this eating. They leave nothing green in their wake.
10 December Wednesday
I spoke with an older woman who told me that she hates buttons. I thought that her dislike of buttons was a result of her age. I thought possibly she had arthritis or some other stiffness in her fingers. I thought that her extreme dislike of buttons might come from an inability to do and un-do buttons. I asked her as diplomatically as I could if perhaps this was the reason for her strong dislike of buttons. She assured me that neither age nor pain had anything to do with it. She said that as a child she had no opinion one way or the other but as an adult she has always hated buttons. She said she has hated buttons for as long as she can remember.
9 December Tuesday
The charity shop run by the organization of St. Vincent de Paul has been re-branding itself perhaps to make it look more trendy and more like a regular shop. First there was the logo which appeared a few years ago. SVP was written in a connected text with lots of lines through it. The multiple lines were to suggest speed I think. Now the SVP is still on one end of the sign but bigger letters announce the shop name as VINCENT’S. It could be just the usual shortening that seems to happen with each saint’s name. St. Patrick’s Day is just Patrick’s Day. Stephen’s Day is never St. Stephen’s Day. It is just Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas. Since every single day is attributed a different saint in this still very Catholic country, it is redundant to bother to say the word saint. I do not know if the name VINCENT’S will get a new crowd into the shops or if it will just make the regular crowd feel more glamorous.
8 December Monday
There are always too many jobs to do to prepare for winter. There are the jobs which I know have to be done and there are the jobs which I write down on a list so that I will not forget them. The list gets long and then it gets longer. The more I think to put on the list the more other odd things appear. It is, of course, too late to prepare for winter. Winter is already here. Still there are enough jobs not done that there remains the illusion of preparation.
I should fill some empty bottles and the large plastic containers with water just in case the pipes freeze at some point. It is best to do this before the advent of long-term freezing weather. I should bring in more fire wood. Bringing in firewood is a constant. It is never done. It always needs to be done again. I need to fill the bird feeders and I should lay in a good supply of seeds and food for them. I should gather up all of the terra cotta plant pots and put them under cover so that they don’t get full of water and then freeze which makes them crack. The plants to stay in pots over the winter need to be carried into the book barn. I need to get Simon to help me to carry the big ones but I should empty the windowsills so we have room to put them into positions.
I should ring Martina O’Gorman at the office of public works and ask her again to have someone come and fill the very deep potholes in the boreen. It usually takes three or four phone calls to her before anything happens. This will only be my second call. I need to cut down the raspberry canes although I guess that might wait until February. Most of these jobs are the jobs to be done when there are a few hours with weather that is neither too cold nor blustery nor weather that is too wet. The mornings are too frosty and the afternoons are short. There is a small window of time to get out-of-door things done at this time of year. The days are not long and darkness comes early. Just because the weather is okay and maybe the sun comes out, it is not always the exact right time to drop whatever else is being done in order to do a few hours outside.
Someone told me today that wood ash from the stove must be scattered at the base of the lilacs. I have always dumped ash under rose bushes. Maybe now I will vary the location of my emptying. There will be plenty of ash to go around.
I should do another round of mouse poisoning. I try to put traps in the house but in both book barns I have been resorting to poison. Finding corpses is never pleasant but the squished version of mice in traps gets depressing. Tommie told me that if you have rats you do not have mice. And the reverse is true. If you have mice you probably do not have rats. The lower barn has large shits in one corner so I fear that there might be rat activity there. There is already the smell of a dead something down there. We are filling some gaps where the floor meets the wall with self-expanding polyurethane builder’s foam. The rats might eat through it but if we are lucky they might be annoyed and just give up. One method I have been told is to put broken glass down under a porch or in a similar place where rats are known to congregate. Once a rat cuts his feet on the glass and the smell of blood is in the air, the other rats attack him and kill him. Compared to that kind of death, poison seems almost gentle.
I wanted to direct the growth of some of the fruit trees. Tying a rock or maybe a brick with a rope and tying the rope to a branch over the winter is a way to condition the branch to grow low and to stay low for the future. We should have pruned the apples trees after they fruited. They might have to wait till February now. Figs need to be snapped off their branches, leaving only the tiniest little ones. I should have done that in November but it is not yet so long after November. Even as I write these things here, I know I am not thinking of all of the jobs and even while I write them I know that this is a form of stalling. Lucky for me it is very dark outside now and wildly windy so there is no chance of doing any of these things that I am thinking need to be done. All of my Should Do jobs can be done later.
7 December Sunday
Everyone has spoken of the absence of Cocoa. First one person said something and then someone else said something. We are all sort of asking each other even while we know. We are noting Cocoa’s absence. No one has seen Cocoa for a long while. I keep thinking that I will bump into PJ as I walk out the end of the boreen and just ask about his missing dog. For a while, I thought Cocoa might be in the big shed or just sleeping under a table when I walked up near the house. I expected him to appear. In truth, he has not been interested in me since Em stopped walking up the track with me. Cocoa has always been a traveler. It was not unusual to come across him way down in the village or off on a road in any direction. Sometimes when I have seen him far from home, I stopped and he jumped into the car and I took him home. Sometimes I have just rung PJ to say where I have seen him. Since Cocoa is a spaniel I think he is by nature a dog who likes to follow a scent and the scent he follows often takes him far. Donal is the one who used the word Traveler to describe Cocoa. It is a good description but now we all fear that his traveling has taken him away for good. He has been gone for too many weeks now. No one expects Cocoa to reappear.
6 December Saturday
There is a smudge down the middle of one length of the tar road. It is a green smudge and it appears every year about now. The smudge is made of a very low growing moss. In places it does not look like vegetation but more like a bit of colour which has been wiped onto the surface of the road. The vehicles which travel on the road straddle the middle with their tyres. The center bit does not get touched very often. If two vehicles meet and they each move over to their own side they still do not really spend much time in the middle of the road. The smudge just stays where it is and in this bright eerie light of a grey day, the smudge glows as if it is lit from below.
The Bed Push
5 December Friday
There is a Bed Push schedualed for Saturday. People are planning to push a bed along the road from Goatenbridge to Ardfinnan. Or maybe it is from Ardfinnan to Goatenbridge. I assume the people pushing the bed will take turns. I do not think one person will be doing all of the pushing. I wonder if the bed will be fully made with sheets and blankets and pillows or if it just be a bare mattress on a frame. I trust the bed will be on wheels. The Bed Push is in memory of a young boy who died a few months ago. He had had heart problems since birth. Last spring he had an operation. Everyone was pleased to learn that the operation was successful. Sadly something was not right and a few months later the boy died. He was only about 12. So now there is to be this Bed Push in his memory. Hanging beside the small poster there is a form. People are invited to write their names and to pledge some money. I do not understand what the money is for nor how this boy’s memory will be helped by pushing a bed for 8 kilometers. Maybe there are large medical bills and the fundraising is to help the family with the expenses. Maybe the fundraising is for the hospital where he spent time. Maybe it is the boys birthday and it is a way to ensure that he is not forgotten. I spoke to several people and no one seemed to know what was going on. We all agreed that the death of such a young boy was a tragedy. We were also in agreement in our hope that it will not rain on the Bed Push. We noted that things are slow enough along that windy road what with tractors and farm vehicles. Getting behind a bed being pushed by people will slow things down to a crawl. The road from Ardfinnan to Goatenbridge is a road to avoid tomorrow.
4 December Thursday
The stream down below flooded during the recent heavy rains. The water in the stream came up and over the crossing area. The vegetation is all lying down flat and some plants have been pulled right out of the ground by their roots. The exposed parts of the nettles, wild irises and long grasses are all pale and sickly green, unlike the dark and bright green of their higher parts. The pale whitish green bits are the places which were not exposed. Maybe they were underground. There is not a plant still standing upright. The two pallets which we were using as a bridge to cross over the swampy places have been thrown a few metres away by the power of the rushing water. Now there is no chance to not go through swampy bits. Everywhere is a swampy bit. Everywhere is wet and both the water and the mud are deep. The only way to cross if we want to walk up the Mass Path is to sink in deep and get wet. How wet we get depends on the height of our boots. All of the plants are stretched out from left to right which makes the whole area look like it has been combed with a huge toothy comb.
3 December Wednesday
The Village Lottery has still not been won. The jackpot is now up to 9650 euro. Every week it creeps up a bit. People are only buying tickets for one euro a chance and some of the money has to go to the GAA organization which does the organizing. I do not know how the funds get divided. Maybe it is half and half. Every week a few people win the Lucky Numbers. That keeps the excitement building. It keeps everyone involved. A Lucky Number might be 10 or 25 or even 75 euro depending how many people have to share it. As it gets closer to Christmas and the jackpot gets bigger, more and more people are buying their tickets and hoping to win.
The Short Baldy Irishman
10 November Monday
There are several words which are consistently said with a Y at the end. One is Roundy. Roundy might be used when someone is speaking of a pair of Roundy Eyeglasses. They would not say Round nor Rounded. They would not say Circular nor Oval-Shaped. They would always speak of Roundy which maybe makes things sound more Round. Another of these words is Baldy. No one speaks of a Bald-Headed Man nor of a Bald Man nor a Bald Head. I was reminded of this today when someone described himself by saying: “I’m the short Baldy Irishman with glasses and a white beard” just so that those who did not yet know him would be able to recognize him easily.
9 November Sunday
The Village Lotto Jackpot is now 9050 euros. Everyone was excited when it reached 7000. Now the anticipation of a winner is even higher Everyone comments on the amount and then adds that it would be a grand thing to win the lottery just before Christmas. They are excited for someone to win it but at the same time they are also excited by the idea of it getting as high as 10,000 before someone wins. There is a lot of discussion.
8 November Saturday
Being in a doctor’s waiting room with nothing to read is my idea of hell. There are always some people staring off into space. Some fiddle with their phones. Sometimes there is a noisy television set or else people just look at each other. Today a woman was telling her daughter not to touch the magazines as they hold the germs of all the sick people who have come through the waiting room. Not everyone has something contagious when they go to the doctor but that did not seem to occur to her. She did not call the magazines magazines. She called the magazines Books. She said the only thing more disgusting than the books at a doctors office were the books from a public library.
7 November Friday
Today was a fine day for the dump run. We transport our stuff to the dump about once a month. No one would ever drive down here to collect it. There are so many things to gather together from the lean-to and the house and from the different barns. There is cardboard and paper, and the clear plastic bags with clean and dry recyclables. I put a lot of the newsprint aside for the dog sanctuary but the shiny magazines and other paper are no good to them. There is the black bag with horrible things. There are food tins and empty jars and bottles for separate recycling bins. There are plastic water bottles. By doing all of the things separately we do not have to pay to put a lot of things into the clear bags. It is a time-consuming job. It is largely a matter of consolidating. It is nearly enough to call in the Army Corps of Engineers. No matter how recently we have been to the dump, the load always fills the entire car. At least on a clear, dry and not cold day it is not a terrible job. It is just a job. Arriving at the recycling depot is better in good weather too. The man in charge was marveling about this still fine weather we are having. He said it is so mild that he had a butterfly in his sitting room. He did not want to put it outside because he knew the night chill would kill it. There are still a remarkable number of spiders around too. The thing that really excited him as a sign of the unseasonable weather was that there was A Fly in His Kitchen. He repeated this three times, with delight.
6 November Thursday
Various dogs come to visit. Each one runs around sniffing and peeing and examining things. I have been thinking that each dog is arriving and discovering the residual smells of Emily. I should probably accept that Em’s odours are now long gone. None of her canine friends are savouring her memory. What each visiting dog is smelling is the signs left by the last visiting dog. Thor and Molly, Walker, Oscar and Ruby. Each dog delights in the scent of another dog.
5 November Wednesday
Maud told me of a woman who passes by her house in Cork several times a day. The woman never passes without rubbing the number thirteen on the door. She said it is her lucky number and she dares not pass the house without making contact with what she considers Her Number. It is the number she uses for any lottery or raffle that she enters. She sticks with the same number knowing that it will come good eventually. I cannot not remember if their number is made of brass. If it is, all of the daily rubbing by this hopeful woman will be keeping it nice and shiny.
4 November Tuesday
I just finished sewing up a book with red thread. I tossed the little leftover pieces of cotton onto the compost heap. Some of the pieces will blow away. Every year in the spring I see nests being built using the tiny bits of thread which we have used for our most recent book-making. If this red lasts the winter there will be bright additions to many nests. I can recall different books when I look at spring nests.
3 November Monday
Thinking about which county Knocklofty Bridge is officially located in sent me to look for the postcard Coracle produced a few years ago. It is a reproduction of a painting done in 1940 by Johnnie Mackin. Johnnie’s abandoned house is just up the Mass Path. I walk through his land most days. I pick apples and pears from his orchard.
Johnnie had a big reputation locally as an inventor. Most of the things he invented had already been invented but that did not bother him. Once he invented a gun. When he went to see how it would shoot, the gun backfired and the bullet lodged into his head. The bullet did not kill him. He spent 6 months in bed being cared for by his mother and his sister. He would not go to the hospital. He died decades later at the age of 88 with the bullet still embedded in his head. While he was recovering from his gunshot wound, he taught himself to paint. Many of his pictures were of religious subjects but sometimes he painted the local and non-religious world. The paintings were done with house paint so they have not lasted well. We thought we should reproduce the painting before it self-destroyed.
The text on the back reads: One of the first service buses crossing the River Suir on the border of Tipperary and Waterford. The donkey and trap carry the artist’s mother and their dog and flour brought from Clonmel, as well as a bottle of Guinness for Jimeneen English, standing by the water pump opposite his lime-kiln.
It still does not answer the question of which county claims Knocklofty Bridge, but it is nice to show this card.
2 November Sunday
I am so pleased that we are able to walk up the Mass Path again. Every day I enjoy it. There is still a lot of ducking under branches and fallen trees, but it is now passable. Most of the brambles and nettles are dying back. The remaining apples have fallen and the small yellow crab apples and the larger russets are all over the path in two different places. They make the walking treacherous and a bit exciting. They offer a surface not unlike spilled ball bearings. Stones covered with slippery moss make other obstacles. Over all I find the hazards to be an important part of the climb.
31 October Friday
When I drive over Knocklofty Bridge in the direction of Clonmel, the first thing I see once over the bridge is a sign saying You are Entering County Waterford.
When I drive over Knocklofty Bridge in the direction of Ardfinnan, and away from Clonmel, the first thing I see once over the bridge is a sign saying You are Entering County Tipperary.
The River Suir is the border between the two counties. I am unsure who claims ownership and responsibility for the bridge.
30 October Thursday
I need to chose my days carefully. A windy day is a bad time to empty the ashes from the wood stove. I have never found a better method than to scrape the ashes from the top part of the stove so that they fall through the grating into the bottom pan. Then I ease out the flat pan with its little handle and I walk carefully and very slowly to the back door. There are three rooms to walk through and at any moment a draft or trip of the foot could send ashes flying all over the place. I used to try to empty the ashes into a bucket placed just beside the stove, but that seems to spread them a lot. It makes a mess. A gentle easing out and slow walking is my preferred method. It is always tricky to open the kitchen door. I like it if someone else is around to open the door for me. Otherwise I have to put the tray down carefully, open the door and then proceed outside with the same slow steps. I always take the ashes to dump at the foot of a rose bush. I was told years ago that wood ash is good for roses. I do not know if it is true. I do not know if my climbing rose benefits from the copious amount of wood ash it receives. It is convenient that the rose is located in a straight line from the kitchen door and that it is far enough away for the ash not to blow back. So far my slow walking method has never failed.
29 October Wednesday
I love my head torch. I love the way that I can angle it to project higher or lower on its elastic strap. I love the perfect circle of light as I move out into the darkness. I can pick apples off the last producing tree even when the night is pitch black and moonless. I have two hands free to do whatever I want to do. I thought about getting a head torch years and years ago. I wish I had not waited so long. I would have loved this perfect circle of white light to have been part of my evening walks with Em.
28 October Tuesday
Veronica went for hospital tests after fasting overnight. She had to wait all day long for the tests to be completed. At 5.30 she was given what she called a Fairy’s Cup of Tea and a Fairy Scone. She said she felt like she was being fed in a doll’s house. She had never seen such a tiny scone. She had never seen such a tiny cup. She was still grumbling about this miserable scone two days later. She said It was so small it wouldn’t fill the holes in your teeth.
& Again, The Man Who Waits By His Car While His Sister Walks the Dog.
27 October Bank Holiday Monday
Twice in the last week I have seen the siblings. He stands leaning against the front of his car and waves aggressively at each car that passes. Not many cars pass so he puts a lot of energy into the wave. Perhaps I should call it enthusiasm rather than aggression. He takes a step out into the narrow road just on the off chance that as a driver you might not see him. This means that not only do you see him but you have trouble not hitting him. The sister is not far down the road. The dog cannot escape these mad people. He is held tight on the lead. She allows him about a foot of length on the lead and he has the big black cudgel held inches over his head each time a car comes along. There is no chance that he can forget anything. His life looks like hell. The sister stops and holds the beating stick over the dog’s head and watches each car as it passes. The brother smokes his cigarette without using any hands and he waves manically. On the trip down to the village I felt so annoyed that I did not salute and I did not even turn my head. On the return trip, he stepped out into the road even more dangerously than usual. I nodded. I did not salute. Seeing them twice in one week makes me cross. Wondering why they choose this busy patch of road for a dog walk is one question Why I let them annoy me so much is another.
25 October Saturday
I can hear winter rodents in the walls. They are either in the walls or under the floor. Sometimes they are noisy and working or just generally scrabbling about. Every year we think there is no way for a mouse to get in. Every year the mice find a way in.
24 October Friday
She is very ill and will need some chemotherapy or some radiotherapy or maybe both kinds of therapy. She has also signed herself up as being willing for some medical trials because she knows there is not much hope for her anyway because her illness is very advanced. She feels she might as well be useful as research. Maybe it will help someone else. Her niece is furious with her and says she has no right to be a human test tube so she has turned off her phone most of the time as she does not need or want the niece shouting at her. Because her phone is so often turned off, it is not easy to phone her and we have to wait until she turns it on again. She was glad to hear good things said about the radiotherapy being done in the hospital in Clonmel as that is where she will have to go because Waterford is just too far and she will need to be in and out a lot and often. Her Home Help has been the best person to advise and reassure her about the hospital and their competence. She always speaks of her Home Help as My Home Help. She never says a name so I do not know the Home Help’s name. Her Home Help has told her to eat lots of garlic and local honey as these things are especially good for fighting cancer. She does not like garlic so she thinks she will double up on the amount of honey she eats. I think it is very late for these solutions but when she is on the telephone she speaks a lot and very quickly so I do not have a chance to tell her anything she does not want to hear anyway.
23 October Thursday
My old hat is not even my hat. It is Simon’s hat, but it is so old and faded and beaten that he never wears it. It has a bite out of it on the brim. Some visiting dog did that. This is a hat from far away. It is made of felt. It is called a Crusher because it is made to crush up and stick into your pocket if you are out wearing it and then decide that you do not need it. These hats used to come in two colours. Maybe they still do. One was a day-glo orange. The orange is preferred by hunters when they are out deer hunting. The hat makes sure the hunter can be seen. This hat which I now think of as my hat was once a forest green. It has faded and it is pretty much not a colour. It is just dirty looking. This hat has become my preferred walking hat. If it rains when I am out the hat will keep the wet out for a while. Not forever, but for a good while. It also has a bit of warmth. Each time I wear it, people comment on it. They are not commenting because they like it. I think they are commenting because it is a sort of surprising thing to be out in the world wearing. If I were an old farmer it would be okay but I am a woman and not a farmer and it is not really okay. People who comment on it are always a little bit embarrassed for me. I am not embarrassed. I like my hat. I like that it reappears every year just now as the weather changes.
22 October Wednesday
There was a diagonal stripe on the road. It was several feet wide and was made up of purple and black and bluish marks. I looked at it and I looked at it again and I thought about it as I walked by and over it yesterday. I could not figure out what caused this colour nor its odd angle and width. I thought about it again today as I walked by. I think I passed over this stripe of splotchy colour three times before realizing that it is made up of bird droppings. The birds sit on the electricity cables crossing the road overhead. They sit on the cable and they excrete all of the blackberries they have been eating. A simple solution to my question but it took three days for me to get to the answer.
21 October Tuesday
I thought we would be blown away last night. The promises and threats for the encroaching hurricane announced that the entire country was in Yellow Alert. I gathered up a few things that I thought might go flying around outside. As I was coming up from the barn I cut off a single rose bud which was just about to blossom. I knew I would prefer to watch it open up indoors rather than have it beaten to death by wind and rain. I also picked the very last sweet peas of the year. I woke up off and on all through the night. The noise of the wind was mighty but there was no rain. This morning I expected to see branches down and lots of chaos but there was very little damage. Leaves and small branches were scattered about but the big promised storm seemed to miss us. It missed us or maybe it got weak before it got as far as here. The mountains protected us. I could not help but feel a little disappointed after so many dire warnings and the excitement of the radio announcers. If there had been terrible devastation I would no doubt feel ashamed. The day dawned bright and mild and breezy. The hedge cutting man and his machine made more trouble than the storm. There were stones out of the wall all the way down the boreen from where he bumped into it. Some of them were too big for me to lift so I had to leave those for Simon. Clearing them away made plenty of work. We did not really need the mess of a hurricane.
19 October Sunday
We took the X51 from Galway. It was fast and it traveled on the new motorway, so it was a smooth journey. There was an old man sitting in the front seat behind the driver. He fell into a deep sleep as soon as the bus started. He slept the full hour and a half . He woke up as we pulled into Limerick station and he was the first one off the bus.
We went into the station café for tea and toast while we waited for our connection. The old man came in soon after us. He ordered a piece of apple pie. The counter lady poured cream over it. He took the pie to a table and ate it fast. He ate one bite right after the other without stopping. He finished the pie and left his plate on the table. The man then went up to the counter and ordered a big slice of layer cake. The counter lady held up the jug of cream and he nodded. She poured a lot of cream onto his cake. He came over to our table and asked if he could join us. He sat down and began to eat his cake with the same undivided attention with which he had eaten his pie.
He had a short sleeved tee shirt and he had no bag with him. It did not seem that he was going far. The weather was too cold for a tee shirt and no jacket. He sat down with us when there were a lot of empty tables so I knew he wanted to talk. He asked if we lived in Limerick. I said no and I asked him if he lived in Limerick. He said no. He said he lived in Galway. He had just come over on the bus for a slice of cake but the pie looked good, so he had a piece of pie first and now he was having cake which is what he came for. He told us that he was retired and that he used to be a farmer. I asked if he missed the farming and he said no. He said he did not miss the farming but he did miss his wife. She had been a teacher and she died two years ago in December. He said the hardest thing was losing your life partner. Losing your partner and living in retirement had a way of making life empty.
He said he enjoyed his travel card. Every person in the country over the age of 65 has this card. The card allows them to travel on buses and trains for free. They can take someone along with them too. Two people can travel for free. He enjoys the freedom of his card but he would like it better if his wife could travel with him. Today he had ridden for an hour and a half to get to Limerick. He ate pie and cake and soon he would be on the bus back to Galway. That would be another hour and a half. Riding the buses was a way for him to pass the time.
We said goodbye and went out to wait for our connecting bus. We watched as he came out of the station and climbed back on board the X51.
17 October Friday
You Know That Kind of A Way. This is said in lieu of You Know What I Mean. It is said often and it seems a way of not expressing what one means very well and just hoping that the listener knows enough about what is being discussed.
16 October Thursday
I like being out on the road. I like the possibility of seeing who I might meet. I am not necessarily wanting to meet anyone, but there is something nice in knowing that if I walk out and if I do meet someone that someone will be someone I know. As with the man in the red fleece last week, an exception is possible, but it is rare.
Today I met Sean while walking. He is still recovering from his treatments and he has been walking out most days to build up his strength. After months and months, he is looking well and getting stronger. We walked together. When we got down near the road we call Neddins, we heard the sound of toenails clicking and hitting the road. Oscar rushed out to greet us and was excited to see two of us. He licked and leaped and pranced around and then we all three continued with walking. We reached my turn to go down the boreen and home. Sean was continuing to the cross at the top of the hill. We stood in the sun while we said goodbye. Oscar looked back and forth at each of us. He was torn and he rushed first to me and then to Sean and then to me again. He did not know who to go with. He did not know who would give him the best walk. Finally he decided on Sean who would definitely give him the longer distance. I was glad to watch the decision making process. Oscar is loyal and loves us all. I like to watch him share his love.
15 October Wednesday
The bridge into the village is an ongoing worry. It is an old hump-backed stone bridge. Every so often someone announces that it is about to collapse. Someone always says the bridge will cave in any day now. Ten years ago some work was done underneath it and the report then was that collapse was imminent. We all feel worried for a while each time this discussion comes up. Then we forget about it as we drive or walk over it every day. When the bridge collapses there will be a great many of us who will not be able to get to the village without a very long detour. As the fears build up people discuss the idea of a temporary bridge or of a little boat to take people over the river. Discussions about how we will deal with the collapse of the bridge can keep a lot of people talking for a long time. It is never a matter of IF the bridge collapses. It is always WHEN. I am back in a worrying phase about the bridge. I really do not want to be the one driving over it when it decides to let go. I look forward to forgetting the scary rumours once again.
13 October Monday
Every morning starts with a dense fog. Today the postman came down and said there has been an accident on Knocklofty Bridge. The road has been closed and all movements are being made difficult by detours and by further fog. We cannot see over the valley. We cannot see past the fence into the field. Everything is wet with heavy dew. The heavy fog holds everything in silence. I went out to pick my breakfast raspberries today wearing the high rubber boots. My sleeves got soaked immediately just from the water on the leaves. By lunchtime everyday, the fog burns off and each afternoon is hot and bright. Mornings are for hats and waterproofs and the afternoons are tee-shirt weather. There is a manic feeling that every single job which needs doing before winter comes must be done in these four or five bright hours. No matter what else needs to be done the dry sunlight hours are for out of door jobs.
12 October Sunday
Simon and I took a working walk up the Mass Path. He carried a big saw and a small saw. I carried a small saw and clippers. We worked at clearing away a dead tree which fell and has been blocking the way. A few weeks ago the lower level was cleared of nettles and brambles and thin branches but this fallen tree has made further passage up the hill impossible. If we had had a chain saw it would have been a really quick job. With hand saws, it was slow and complicated. We were tangled up with brambles and branches. I worked away at one big branch which came down hard on my head. We both ended up bleeding and slightly beaten. We did get the tree cut and moved but then as we went up towards Johnnie Mackin’s there were more sections all closed in with brambles and vegetation and hanging tendrils of thorns. At that point we gave up and decided to continue the struggle tomorrow.
11 October Saturday
Hay and straw has been baled up and stacked for the winter. Every single barn and shed everywhere has enormous piles right up to the ceiling. The sheds are open on one side so that there is air to circulate around the bales. Some bales are still outside. There is a big stack on the Cooney’s corner on concrete slabs so it is off the ground but it is still out of doors. It looks like a building. It is six bales high and seven bales long by five bales wide. The bales on the front of this bale building look like structural columns as they are the cylindrical rather than the rectangular bales. As a building it is domestic in scale. It is a golden house in the end of afternoon sunlight.
10 October Friday
The trees are still laden with apples. The very warm weather and the craziness of the whole growing season all the way back to last spring means that the different varieties have all ripened at abnormal times. I do not understand it at all. We are a bit overwhelmed. I have boxes of apples picked and stored in different places. The mice have found some. A lot of them are not as great for eating as they usually are. We have started to make applesauce with a combination of different varieties. We have started to make applesauce to defeat the mice. The applesauce is delicious. I have frozen some and I have taken bowls full to different people. I saw Tommie and I asked him how Margaret was. I asked him if they liked applesauce. He said that she liked it and that he loved. it. I told him I would bring some down later. He said “If I know you are coming, I will be In Residence.”
9 October Thursday
I needed to clean out the car before taking it in for inspection. I use the excuse of the NCT test as a reason to give it a thorough interior cleaning once a year. This level of cleaning is not expected. It is my own requirement. The outside of the car is more important especially the inner wells around the tires. The wheel wells of this car always have a good three inches of caked in mud and soil just from our daily driving up and down the boreen. If we were to take the car in with all that mud they would refuse to do the test. We would have to pay for the refused test and then we would have to re-book it, return mud-less and pay again.
I had been to the dump, so I was unloading the various re-cycling containers. I thought it a good idea to do the dump run before the cleaning. I had both the back and the front doors open. A big yellow Labrador arrived as I was making trips back and forth to the shed. He followed me around for a while and then he jumped up into the back of the car. He sniffed around inside and then he moved up and sat on the passenger seat. He looked out the windscreen. I have never seen this dog before. I expected to see someone walking down the track. I expected to see someone who would call this dog by name and who would continue on their walk and take the dog along. He was not a young dog. He was an older dog with that heaviness that Labs often have. He was older but not elderly. He was sprightly enough to leap up into the back of the car without taking a running jump. I know most dogs in the area. It is unusual to see a dog I do not know. If I do not know a dog by name I at least know him by sight. I usually know the people he is connected with and it is unusual not to know where a dog lives.
I talked to the dog while I cleared stuff from the car and did a bit of window cleaning. I decided that perhaps he could smell Em in the motor. I was finding a lot of her long hair in clumps as I worked. He did not do anything except sit in the passenger seat. Sometimes he looked at me but mostly he just looked out the window. When I started the vacuum cleaner he jumped out and by the time I turned it off again, he was gone. I did not even see which way he went, but I am sure I will see him again.
Gone Down With The Weather
7 October Tuesday
The shops in the Market Place in Clonmel are all being painted. I do not know if they are owned by one person but suddenly almost all of them appear to be getting a fresh coat of paint. All of the shops being painted are unoccupied. Each of the empty ones has a sign in the window advertising that it is For Rent or To Lease or To Let. The signs vary in the shops. The street is a narrow pedestrian street. Today I counted five places which are still active while twelve of them are empty. The new and fresh colours on the shop fronts does cheer things up a bit but mostly it is very dreary to walk along there. I tend to walk a different route just so that I do not have to view all of the vacant buildings. It used to look toothy to see a few empty shops in between those which were open. Now that there are so many more empties than fulls, it is just sad.
6 October Monday
Breda’s father Jim slipped on some oil and broke his hip. He was operated upon down at the hospital in Waterford. I understand that he is already walking again, carefully and with the help of a frame. He is 85 years old and has always been a very robust and active man. He has seemed more youthful because of his terrific attitude and energy. He has a reputation as a great dancer. Now I am told that he will need to Soften His Cough. I did not understand the expression but the more I think about it, it is making better sense. It is just a way of explaining the slowing down and accepting of being a little bit older and a little bit more careful. To Soften His Cough means that he will need to accept change.
5 October Sunday
There are a huge number of spiders around. There are a huge number of spiders in this house. I thought it was just me because I am not so fond of dusting in corners. Now I read in the paper that there are a remarkably large number of spiders everywhere. It is a combination of the very mild weather we have been having and the fact that this is the mating season for spiders. I know so little about spiders that I do not know if they are laying eggs which will be waiting to hatch until next spring or if these new spiders will all be born right away. They must be arriving later otherwise we would have spiders crawling up the walls and in corners of the room all winter. I hope this is not the case. I do not relish a house full of spiders all winter long.
4 October Saturday
David had no eggs left. We were not very late arriving at the market. It was only ten o’clock, but he was already out of eggs. He had his table set up and he had his dark red umbrella in position as normal, but he was just standing and chatting with people who came to buy his eggs. He was happy to collect the empty egg boxes which we brought for him. He explained again and again that his hens have Gone Down with the Weather. He reported that with the cold mornings and the cold nights and the early darkness the hens go off to sleep sooner and that means they are laying fewer eggs. He said they might just get accustomed to the early darkness and then return to their usual production. But he said that for the moment it is A Tragedy. He said this is exactly the moment when everyone is making their Christmas Cakes. This is when they need eggs. He said there could not be a worse moment for his hens to have Gone Down with the Weather.
3 October Friday
An older man leaned over a pram in which a small child was sitting. The child was probably about two. The man made some little cooing noises at the child. Then he stood up straight and asked the mother ” Now was that one the baby once?”
2 October Thursday
I had a cup of tea in the kitchen of a friend this morning. Her table is directly in front of a large window. It is pleasant to look out this window. The view and the light across the hills and fields changes all the time. It is a pleasure to sit there. Everyone who passes directly in front of the house, in a car or on foot, is also visible. We watched a man in a red fleece walking rapidly down the hill. He had a dog running along with him. My friend asked me who the man was. I did not know his name but I described where I thought he was living. I really thought I recognized the dog more than the man. A few hours later I was back at home and I heard shouting. I looked across the valley and I saw a man with a red fleece up on the hill which used to be part of Johnnie Mackin’s land. It is such a steep hill that it seems as though it is at a right angle to the meadow below it. Anyone walking on the hill looks like they are balancing impossibly sideways in space. The man was shouting at a dog who was far behind him. From where I was standing I thought maybe it was the same man but I could not be certain that it was the same dog. At the end of the afternoon I was driving back up from the village and I saw a man in a red fleece in the distance. I felt confused. This might have been the same man and the same dog. It might have been the same man two of the times and a different man one of the times. I thought the dog I saw in the morning was black. Then I thought I saw a yellow-ish dog. Then I thought I saw a black dog again. If there was someone around who regularly wore a red fleece I would know exactly who it was. But no one would be walking all day long. Ordinarily I do not see too many different people out walking. This makes me feel I should know anyone and everyone that I do see out walking. Maybe these were three different men and three different dogs. Maybe it was a coincidence that today they were all three wearing red fleeces.
1 October Wednesday
Today is the first day of mandatory water charges in the country. There used to be charges for water but some years ago they were eliminated. Now charges are being put into place as part of the ongoing Austerity Measures by the government. Many people, or maybe most people, do not remember a time when they had to pay for water. A great many people feel aggrieved. This is a country with a reputation for being very wet and having lots of rain. People feel they should not have to pay for such a plentiful resource as water. The trouble is that there are systems to run and pipes to repair. The nation has been bankrupted and has had to be bailed out by the EU. Even though things are a lot better than they were a few years ago, there is still an enormous debt. Businesses have gone under. People have emigrated. Homes have been lost because people can no longer pay their mortgages. Jobs are still hard to find and people have taken huge cuts in their wages and pensions. People do not have the money to pay yet another charge, but the government does not have the money either. People have not finished feeling outraged and abused about the new property tax. Now the water charge has been dropped upon them.
In the last weeks, there have been lots of discussions on the radio about how to lower the water consumption in a household. People were advised to use showers at schools and clubs and places of employment as much as possible. There were a lot of suggestions about using water in other places rather than using ones own water. Water butts in gardens were advised. People were told to put a rock in the toilet tank and to flush less frequently. They were told to repair any leaky taps. In the last four days, people were advised to use the last days of free water to wash their cars and water their gardens and do lots of jobs that they might usually put on the Long Finger. As well as cars, things like curtains, patios, pets and garden furniture could be washed with impunity in the final days before the charges. The implication was that one might never again be able to afford to wash these things.
Today the radio is full of people who are busy running in and out of their houses trying to read the water meters each time a toilet is flushed. They are taking photographs of the meter and its red numbers with their smart phones. They are discussing the charge per litre and the information that they can and cannot get from the water board about the water charges.
We do not have to pay water charges because we have our own well. We have always been careful with our water. We know that our well is deep, but there is always the vague fear that even so the water in the well might someday run out. Being careful is a good idea for everyone, as well as for the environment. Maybe after the initial shock of this new charge, the people who are now upset will realize that being careful is a good idea. When the government put in a tax on plastic bags in shops about fifteen years ago, they thought that everyone would be too idle to carry their own shopping bags. The government assumed they would make a lot of money to put towards environmental projects. Instead everyone quickly became conditioned to carry their own bags and the government has not done well with making the money it expected. People might quickly embrace this water tax as a challenge in the same way.
30 September Tuesday
Every so often my phone takes a little film by mistake, instead of taking the still photograph I was trying to take. Those little films get deleted as they are never anything worth keeping. The only time I ever made a film on purpose was while walking up the path with Em about a year ago. She was already walking slowly enough so that I could follow her. I think of that kind of walk as her Stately Pace. Not so very long ago her racing and rushing up and down would have been impossible to keep up with. I kept the film. Now I am glad I did. Simon put it up on YouTube for me. It is a short quiet walk with Em. There is only the swishing through the grasses and a bit of birdsong.
29 September Monday
There has been a big sparrow hawk on a long bouncy stick in a field up past Flemingstown. The bird must be made of rubber or plastic. It looks very realistic and it is never not moving. It swoops and dives and looks a lot like a real bird with its wings outstretched in flight. The movement of the bird keeps it moving. I do not know what the stick is made of but it is strong enough to keep the bird bouncing and diving. The first few times I saw the bird I did not realize that it was attached to anything. I thought it was a real sparrow hawk and I nearly went off the road with excitement. As crow-scaring devices go, I have never seen anything better. Now it is gone. I shall look forward to seeing it reappear in another field, but I may have to wait till next year.
28 September Sunday
The raspberries are slowing down. We have day after day of hot sun. These raspberry canes usually keep producing well into October. I cannot understand why they are slowing up now when the weather is on their side. They did begin their season much earlier than usual so perhaps they have just worn themselves out. The productive season might be exactly as long as it has always been but if it started earlier it may need to end earlier.
The blackberries make up for the diminishing raspberries. I cannot pick enough of them. Today I picked for less than an hour in sun. I started up at the tar road and walked back down here while picking. I only picked on the left side of the boreen where the morning sun was warming both the berries and the bushes. I had a field full of frisky young heifers following me on the right side. They rushed and jostled each other to watch me over the ditch and kept changing position to go along with me as far as they could. We finally got to the narrow end of their field. I continued on without them so they took off racing one another back into the open space. I came home with enough to provide a big bowl of berries to eat and two big bags full to drop into the freezer. The house has been stained by blackberry eating birds flying over. It is a mistake to wear a white shirt while picking blackberries.
26 September Friday
I am always surprised when I find myself standing on Mitchell Street in Clonmel and suddenly it is full of people all rushing from one direction. It happened this morning. Mitchell Street is not a very wide street nor is it a busy street. It is not open to motor traffic so it tends to be a quiet street. To see ten or twenty people arriving quickly from the same direction is startling. Fifteen or twenty people is enough to fill the area. The side street is Abbey Street where there is a church about halfway down on the left. The people gushing up and onto Mitchel Street are coming from a mid-morning Mass. To a person they appear to be in a rush. They are each coming from the same place and now they are each going somewhere else. Since the opposite direction only takes them to the river, they are all moving away in the same direction and they do not move slowly. Once they get to Mitchel Street some go left and some go right and very quickly the sense of group movement is over. Everyone who was in the crowd coming from Mass are now just people walking out in the town.
25 September Thursday
Nonnie went to visit another woman who had recently lost her husband. The death had happened some months ago and far away. Nonnie went to pay her respects now that the woman had returned here. She asked if the husband had been buried close to their family home. The woman said that he had not been buried but cremated instead. She said she still had the ashes and had not yet decided where to put them. Nonnie gasped and dropped her head down hard on the table. She banged her head a few times and she moaned. She lifted up her head and said Oh How could you cremate That Beautiful Body? Then she banged her head down again.
24 September Wednesday
We drove to Thurles to take the train to Dublin. Once we were on the platform, we saw that there was an earlier train and that the earlier one was an Express. There would be no stops until Dublin. We decided to get on that one instead of the one we had planned for. After a few minutes, an announcement came on and we were told that the Express was running 12 minutes late. We did not mind. it meant that we would still be in Dublin sooner than we had planned. We were looking forward to tea and toast in the dining car.
As we boarded the Express there was another announcement saying that there would be an unschedualed stop at Port Laoise. The train was packed. Every seat was full and there was not much standing room. Just about everyone on the train was going to The National Ploughing Competition. The Ploughing is in Port Laoise this year. Almost all of the people who had boarded at Cork where the train originated were going to The Ploughing. There was no tea and toast in the Dining Car for us. There was no Dining Car. No doubt all those farmers and their families who were going to The Ploughing had eaten their breakfast hours ago, well before leaving home and probably before they had even done their farm chores.
At Port Laoise, the cars emptied out. We looked out the windows as the platform filled up. There were many buses outside the station waiting to take everyone on to The Ploughing. The few of us who were left on the train looked around and smiled at one another. Suddenly there was so much space. None of us needed more than one seat for the rest of our journey to Dublin, but there was so much space after everyone got off that we felt fortunate.
21 September Sunday
Today I was told that each of us dies twice. The man who told me this said that You die once when the breath goes out of you. You die again the very last time that someone says your name out loud.
20 September Saturday
Last night we had our first rainfall in weeks. It was a good soaking rain. It was probably not enough rain to make the farmers happy, but nonetheless, it was welcome rain. I took the walk through the woods and along the river in Cahir. It was no longer raining but there was a bit of drizzle in the breeze or just blowing off the trees. I met John, the Ancient Man, and we stood together in the dampness and spoke for a while. He had his umbrella but he did not put it up. I had a hood on my jacket but I did not put that up either. It was not really wet. He asked me about Emily and I told him that she had died. He was very sorry to hear it. He spoke about how he still looks behind him for his Ancient Dog who died two years ago. He still looks for her and he still feels surprised not to see her struggling long behind him. I know exactly how he feels.
I told him that he was looking well and he told me that he had Gone to 90 since we last spoke. He said his sister had Gone to 92 and that she has started riding herself out in a wheelchair. He is disgusted with her. He is still walking his 5 miles every day but he said that he is walking more and more slowly, so it takes him a lot longer than it did even a few months ago. Most of his day is now taken up with his morning walk. He does not want to shorten his route but he might have to consider it come winter. He asked me if I had heard the news about the Irish woman who had won 87 million euro on the lottery last night. No one knows who she is or what part of the country she is in. He is hoping that he might come across her on his walk today. He asked me if by chance she was me.
19 September Friday
It is not a wise thing to offer someone A Ride. Offering A Ride is a salacious invitation. Offering or asking for A Ride in a public situation is bound to cause some sniggers, especially if the one doing the offering is a woman. It is best to offer or to request A Lift. That way there is no danger of a sexual implication.
18 September Thursday
I just learned that Oliver Hackett is dead. His death was not recent. He died back in March. He had been unwell for a while. I was surprised that I missed the news of his death. The imperative of death makes such things big news when they happen, and immediately after that they are simply Already Known Facts. I had not even noticed that his grocery shop was closed and that the doors to his big shed where locked up tight. He sold firewood and coal and canisters of propane gas out of the big shed. I just did not pay attention as I passed by in the car. I did not pay attention for many months. There were several years when Oliver was trying to sell his entire business with his house attached. He had it listed on the internet. I am not sure how long he was trying to sell it, but after he died I guess neither his daughter nor his son wanted to take over the whole operation. Oliver often had a tetchy manner. Once he was delivering several loads of firewood to us and he said something about me being English. I said that I was not English. I told him that Simon is English but that I am not. He took offense and acted as though I had been lying to him for years. For a long while, he refused to speak to me at all when we met. If I entered his shop he made a snorting sound and ignored me. I do not think that he was angry because I was an American. He was angry because he had been so certain about who I was and he did not like to find himself wrong.
17 September Wednesday
There is a new sign announcing Wool Buying Every Thursday at the Co-op. The Wool Buying on Thursday is not a new thing, but the sign is new.
It Looks Well
16 September Tuesday
I walked out over Joe’s fields this morning. I wanted to walk up the mass path, but there is no way to get through. Branches and trees have fallen and there are masses of brambles blocking the way. It will take some big work before we can walk that route again. The grass in the fields was heavy with dew and my trousers were wet up to the knee before I had gone any distance at all. I could see Joe on his tractor far ahead. He was rounding up the cows for the slow walk to the milking. Rather than straggle along behind them, I stayed on the fields and walked through one fenced off area after another. I think there were eight fields to pass through. I had to crawl underneath the wire. It was a wet thing to do. Walking is a dilemma in these early autumn days. The ground is heavy with wet in the morning but once the sun burns off the wetness, it becomes too hot for walking. So I walked and crawled through the wet grass. Going under the two kinds of fencing is always a bit of a challenge. I hate to hit the wire and get an electric shock. There is a string which is used a lot on most of the fenced areas. I think of it as a new kind of fencing but I think it has been around for a while. It is not new. The string is white with either blue or yellow interspersed with the white. I can never be sure if the string is electrified. To a certain degree the cows get conditioned to understand that the string is on, but I think it is often not on. They see it and avoid making contact because they have been shocked by it before. Like the cows I choose not to make contact with it. In a few of the fields there was evidence of recent grass eating. Since the cows had been eating away, there was a lot of manure. in the remaining grass. Each time I crawled or rolled under a fence I had to check where I was going in order to make sure I did not land in manure. The fresh stuff is slippery and messy but the day old stuff has a crust over the top of it. It means crunching through the older stuff and then landing in the wet and slimy stuff which has been kept wet by being protected. None of it smells but it is messy. By the time I reached the gate and climbed over it onto the road, I was soaking wet. I had avoided all of the manure, except for a bit on my boots. I felt a real sense of accomplishment and it was still early morning.
15 September Monday
The postman was in a bit of a tizzy this morning. He is one of several substitute postmen who have been driving down to us since John is still at home recovering from surgery. Today’s man said it was a terrible day for him as the new Tesco Club Cards were being sent out and that meant that nearly every house was getting a delivery. He said that there are many houses which he only goes to once a week or not even that often but when the Tesco Club Cards get sent out the whole entire Post Office and all of the delivery men are just rushed off their feet.
14 September Sunday
The house is all painted. It is looking good. We step outside often to look at it and to admire it. It took a bit of getting used to the colour. I don’t know whether to call it dusty pink or raspberry ripple or what. It looks different at different times of day. It does look fine and the off-white surrounds on the windows look sharp. Maybe it actually looks ridiculous and we are only thinking that we like it because we are getting used to it. What I am worrying about is what we are going to do with Em’s house. We had to move it away from the wall before the work got started. The roof, which has been falling in for quite a long time completely collapsed. The floor fell apart as the house was moved. We found a large cache old bones, remnants of rubber toys and clumped up filthy blankets. The bones made me weep. The walls have served as a gallery for a long time. Every photo of another dog and announcements about puppies to be viewed and dog shows were put up on the walls. There were a few cat pictures on the left side but it was mostly dog things that got stapled up. Now everything is peeled, faded or torn. Em had not actually been using her house for a long time. I think she could not go inside perhaps for fear that she would not even know how to get herself back out. She was avoiding places like that. She no longer wanted to sleep in her wicker bed and preferred her sheep’s wool mat to anything that held her in position. Since she never slept outside and only used it during the day, I thought of her house as an office. Now the fact that we have moved it at all makes it seem crazy to move it back into its old position. To take it down and throw it onto the burning pile seems so final. It is all happening a bit faster than I would have liked.
13 September Saturday
People often say that something Looks Well. They don’t say that it Looks Good or even that it Looks Nice. It Looks Well is a real compliment.
Finishing the walk alone
12 September Friday
Father Sean Nugent died. He was local to the area. He was always spoken of as Father Sean Nugent, never as Father Sean or Father Nugent. I guess using his family name kept him connected to his people in the area. For some of his years as a priest, he was the priest in the village. Or I think he was the priest in the village for a time. Actually, I have no idea how long he was there, but I seem to have gone to a great many funerals where he was officiating. I remember him mostly because he often spoke of a man he was burying as AN INOFFENSIVE MAN. Hearing someone described as Inoffensive always sets me thinking. I cannot decide if it is a fine and complimentary thing to be described as Inoffensive or if it is tantamount to saying that the person in question was actually quite boring. It might be a way of saying that the person in question did not have a great many good qualities so it is best not to say too much. I will not be attending the funeral of Father Sean Nugent. I did not even know the man. But I cannot help but wonder if he himself will be described as An Inoffensive Man at his own funeral.
11 September Thursday
There is still a lot of haying activity. I get mixed up about what is hay and what is straw and how each crop gets collected and stored. Silage is baled up into black plastic. Today I saw a big tractor pulling a device behind it. The device picked up a bale of whatever goes into the silage and the whole thing got wrapped up into black plastic while the bale twirled around on a spindle sort of thing in the middle of the trailer. When the plastic wrapping was completed, two arms from the machine let the bale roll gently off, sort of catching the bale before dropping it on the ground alongside with the others. It caught the bale in bent places of its arms just like elbows. The dropping onto the ground was a gentle rolling off. The stubble which is left in many fields is from straw. I just learned that the cutting of hay does not leave stubble. Some things are collected into big round bales and some are in big rectangular shapes. There are also small flat bales from smaller older machines. I learn these things but I never seem to have complete knowledge of what is keeping everyone so busy in the fields and on the tractors.
10 September Wednesday
The nights are drawing in fast. They are already feeling chilly. I have decided to walk down into the meadow each night the way I used to walk with Em. It has been a long time since she gave up on that walk and just preferred her stroll in the upper grass near to the house before bed. I loved my walk through the meadow with her and now I have decided that I should re-start it sort of as a way to think of her and to have a breath of air at night. Some nights I feel a little bit lonely walking down the path in the dark. Some nights I feel a little bit nervous. It is not really fear. I think it is just the feeling of being alone in the dark with no light except that from a torch whose batteries are weak. Having Em rushing off into the night and barking was never really more than a nominal idea of companionship. It just meant that we neither started nor finished the walk alone.
9 September Tuesday
The house is about to be painted. The old wooden gutters have been taken down. Simon made the gutters himself. The ones on the house were square in shape and the ones on the book barn were vee-shaped. They were made of treated wood and they have lasted well, but this is a wet country. They lasted sixteen years. For the last two years they have been leaking badly in several places. So maybe I should say they lasted fourteen years. The wooden gutters have had their day. They will be replaced with aluminium gutters as used on farm buildings. But first the house must be washed with the power washer and then the painting will begin. After the painting is finished, the new gutters will be put in place. The week promises to be dry so we will not miss them for a few days.
8 September Monday
The man was here to do the yearly clean and re-conditioning of the Rayburn stove. The days are very hot so it is perfect time to have it done. If we wait too long and the days get cold, then the stove has to be turned off for several hours before the man can do the job. On a cold day, we kick ourselves for not having the job done in the warm weather. I came in from town while the man was halfway through the job. I was running back and forth putting things away and he was running in and out putting things in his truck. In a matter of minutes we had bumped into one another several times while both trying to go through the narrow doorway between the kitchen and the big room at the same time. Every time we laughed. It got funnier as it happened again and again. He said “You know what this is? This is called The Dancing Point.”
7 September Sunday
The raspberries continue to be ripe and ready every day. Some evenings I collect them before dark so that they will be there for breakfast in the morning. More often I have to step out in the morning in my bathrobe and my wellie boots to get just enough to eat with cereal. I go back out later in the morning to fill up a larger bowl, but I am enjoying the portion control of picking just as many berries as I want to eat. The leaves and the grass and everything are all drenched on these cool mornings. The days have been hot. There is so much picking to do. The blackberries have never been so plentiful although I think that I think this every year. I keep picking and picking. Some for the freezer and some for the eating. The blotcheens are delicious. We made jam with the wild damsons but somehow we never make anything with the blotcheens. We just eat them.
5 September Friday
The excitement about the new Rose of Tralee seems to be over. Or it has just been pushed aside while other things take priority in the news. The competition happens every year and even though it seems quite old-fashioned to hold a beauty contest, it gets a lot of young women entering and a lot of people watching it on national television. The women who enter are all of Irish descent although they can be from anywhere in the world. There is a Hong Kong Rose, a Dubai Rose, a Melbourne Rose and sometimes even a Japanese Rose. They come from everywhere. I do not know how they are chosen from the place where they live. There must be a preliminary Rose of Tralee competition to see who will represent a particular city or country. Once the competition arrives in Kerry, there are handsome young men assigned to each Rose. They accompany herself on whatever activities are done over the week or ten days of the competition. The escorts are chosen from all over Ireland. They often appear in tuxedos. The women have to perform different tasks such as discussing their jobs, their education, and answering questions about their dreams and aspirations. They have to perform some sort of Party Piece like a song, or a dance or playing a musical instrument. Some recite a poem. I do not think there is anything as sexist as a bathing suit contest but it is understood that the Rose of Tralee must be attractive. I have probably written about the Rose of Tralee competition before but I have not watched it for a long time. For me, once was enough. This years Rose is from Philadelphia. After she won the crown she declined a toast as she announced that she is a teetotaller. Later it was noted that she is gay. Some people seemed disturbed by this and there was a lot of discussion on the radio and in the papers. The new Rose was asked why she did not tell anyone beforehand that she was Gay.. She said that no one had asked. After a little flurry, the whole issue has died down and now the 2014 Rose can just get on doing whatever the Rose of Tralee does for the year of her reign.
Vocabulary of loss
4 September Thursday
There was a murder last night. It happened right underneath the bedroom window. I woke up to the squealing and screeching of a captured creature. I could not tell if it was a bird or a rabbit. It might have been anything at all. The sounds were terrible. They were the sounds of fear and desperation. There was struggle. The noises were all the voice of whoever was being killed. It varied as things went from bad to worse. I could do nothing and I could see nothing. For less than a minute, I thought of rushing outside with a light but I knew that it was already too late. The fox had someone already in his mouth and the screams were the last moments of a life. I lay in the dark and I listened. I had no choice but to listen. It was gruesome and noisy, and then it was all completely quiet.
3 September Wednesday
I went down into the meadow with the idea of demonstrating how lovely the mown paths were. The bright green short grass paths winding down through the long grasses always suggest promise to me, even though I know exactly where they lead. Instead of the lush short grass of the winding paths contrasting with the surrounding mixture of late summer burnt and golden grasses, I was showing off a meadow half devastated by the strimmer, with a scatter of cut grasses over everything. In some places the paths were barely visible. I could see the paths because I knew they were there. I am not sure anyone else could find them visible enough to follow, much less find them interesting. The apple trees are fuller than they have ever been. There are masses of apples reaching ripeness on every branch. Most of the branches are hanging heavily with the weight of all the fruit. The blotcheens are ripe and ready for eating. Every single fruit tree is heavily entangled with convolvulus vines. The vines are just reaching up from the ground and encircling the trunks and the branches and it is all a mess. I have been leaving the vines because if I start to tug at them I might lose a lot of fruit in the struggle. Between the messed up paths and the not raked up grass and the trees that look like they are being choked to death, the walk to view the meadow was not my best idea.
2 September Tuesday
The woman in front of me was filling out cards for the weekly GAA lottery. She had three of the yellow cards lined up on which to write her details. She was old and her hands were stiff. She held the pen awkwardly. Her handwriting was slow. She only needed to write her name and phone number. Because the writing was laboured and probably painful, she interrupted herself often to speak. She did not attempt to write and to speak at the same time. She remarked to the woman behind the counter that “It’s Heading Up Nicely.” Then she announced, in a louder voice, to anyone in hearing distance, that the jackpot had climbed to well over seven thousand euro now. She said, “There’s a lot of people waiting on that money.”
1 September Monday
I have a new vocabulary. It is the vocabulary of loss. There are a lot of words I rarely use in relation to myself. These are a lot of words which are now in my conversation every day: Bereft. Mourn. Heartbroken. Devastation. Vacuum. Absence. Grief. Death. Sorrow. Pity. Sorrow. Consolation. Sympathy. Remembering. Forgetting. Commiseration. Oh dear. The list goes on and on. Sometimes these words are only said in my head. Sometimes they are written. Sometimes they are part of conversations. Sometimes they are said out loud. Everywhere I go the news has spread. One person tells another. Each time I speak with someone we need to go over Em’s death and we need to find the right words to say everything that needs to be said. I have spoken with people who still miss their deceased dog after 34 years, or 12 years or 7 years. One person listed the things that she has saved from her dead dog. She has his hair clippings, his nail clippings, his baby teeth, his collar and his toys. She has made a sort of shrine so that she will never forget him. He has been dead for 6 years. She swears that she misses him every single day. Another woman told me that losing her own dog was like having the back wall of the house fall off. I know exactly how that feels. For now, I still expect to see Em appear from someplace indoors or someplace outdoors. I just assume that where she is is just somewhere nearby and that I will see her soon. There are grubby marks low down on various corners and on the edges of door frames where her body has rubbed as she passed by again and again. These marks suggest her presence not her absence.
31 August Sunday
In Waterford there is a bread roll called a Blaa. Sandwiches are always offered on a Blaa. I often intend to find out how and why the Blaa got its name and also to find out why it is only a Waterford word. As far as I know, no where else in the country serves up a Blaa. The Blaa is not an item for export. Not knowing and not getting around to asking keeps the mystery going for me. It also means that I am both surprised and delighted each time I hear the word again.
30 August Saturday
There was a man painting the door of O’Dwyer’s shop. It was a wooden door which is really just a piece of plywood with hinges. All day long the door is held open and attached to the wall of the building with a padlock. It has various notices for events and things for sale pinned on the inside of the door which is actually outside all day long. The man was holding the door open by leaning it against a can while he drew out two vertical panels with a long sign-painters brush. In the top half of the painted door he had already drawn a large square. I complimented him on his steady hand. Drawing out long lines with liquid is not easy. He was proud of his work. He explained that the two panels at the bottom would be painted as proper wooden door panels while the top section was to be painted to look like glass. I am wondering when I will ever see this door as the shop is open from early in the morning until quite late in the evening. This outside door is only closed when the shop is closed. Then the padlock is on the other side, and the notices are hidden inside and protected from the weather. I will have to go down at night specially to see the finished paint job. All this makes me realize that I simply do not know when they close the shop. It is a place that seems to be always open.
Emily D. 1999-2014
Emily is dead. Our wonderful friend died on Sunday 24 August. For twenty four hours she could do nothing but lie on her side. She would not or could not roll over onto her other side. She ate some small pieces of chicken and she took a tiny bit of water from a spoon. She lay in front of a glass window in view of the Galty Mountains. There is no way that her old eyes could see the mountains but it is nice to know that they were there for her. We were not there. She was in Skeheenarinky and we were far away. We are heartbroken. Her death was not a surprise but it was a terrible terrible shock. It is still a terrible shock. We have been moving around the house and outside always expecting to see her. We are always hoping to see her. We are not able to move her water dish nor any of her other things. We are pretending that she will be back soon.
20 August Wednesday
I have been drawing and drawing and re-drawing my rusted objects. I am collecting the drawings together into a kind of inventory. I think I am compiling an ironmongery on paper. Up until now, the found pieces have been lined up on the long bench. Some have been hanging on the wall. Some others are on the ground opposite the bench. One is in position near my door as it has the function of helping to open that door. There are a lot of different pieces and parts. Most of them are variations of the same things. Since everything I find here is usually agricultural in its initial use, the things are often repeats of the earlier found things. Now I am attempting to document the same things and the differences of the same things. It is often tedious as I am constantly feeling that my drawing has become a sort of stuttering. While I am drawing, I stop because I think that I just drew this exact thing. And often I did just draw that thing but it was not exactly the same thing which is why I am trying to draw it again. I dream each night of black ink drawings of the endless variations of the same objects. It is driving me mad.
19 August Tuesday
Emily has had a blood test. She had a section of her front right leg shaved to accommodate the needle. She has had an Ultra Sound. Her tummy was shaved clean for that. Her tail was already shaved except for a white plume of hair at its end. Her back legs and hips and all around her bottom are shaved. This is all in addition to her haircut of last week. Various other places around her body are worn down. Most of these places are just a result of age. The overall effect is piebald. Her various tests showed that she has a compromised liver. We now have special food and pills for her, as well as a fortnight’s supply of steroids. I wonder if the steroids will give her back her wasted leg muscles, and help her to stand herself up from a lying down position. I wonder if they will help her hair to look healthy and shiny and fluffy again. They cannot give us back a youthful dog but they can hopefully rejuvenate this old one.
A new bench
18 August Monday
A World War One commemoration is being prepared in the village. I think the discussions and planning for this have been going on for a long while, but it is only now that we are seeing it taking shape. A large stone has been placed on a raised plot just at the corner of the car park beside the church. I don’t know what kind of stone it is or where it came from but it is big. The area around the stone is paved and there is a ramp gently leading up to it. In the last week, someone has carved out a square. The next step is that a plaque with the names of the five local soldiers who died in the war will be placed in the square. At the end of the month, a ceremony is to take place. The people who are doing the presentation have been rehearsing with Irish songs and Irish poetry of the time. Everyone has the date marked on their calendars.
17 August Sunday
The three puffballs which we have been watching and waiting for have been destroyed. They were kicked by an animal or maybe by a child. There is nothing to be done about it. We will continue to watch that spot and maybe some more will begin to grow near by.
16 August Saturday
Some apples are ready to pick and to eat. The ones called Irish Peach are splendid. Lots of others are getting riper by the day. Our trees have never been so full of fruit. The blotcheens are ripening, as are the wild damsons. We lost a lot of the damsons in the boreen when Ned came down to cut the hedges with his big machine last week. We were pleased to have the heavy growth cleared but it is a pity he could not have timed it so that we had picked all of the damsons first. There are raspberries to pick every day. I pick some in the morning and some in the evening. The Mirabelle plum tree has only one plum on the entire tree. The figs are ripening but they need a few days of very hot weather. The mornings are cool and the nights are cool and already drawing in , but the growth is going well. It will be a great year for blackberries.
15 August Friday
Stopping at Rose’s for a quick drink, we talked with another Michael. He was complaining about how few choices we have for going out to dinner. We agreed that there were plenty of places for a certain kind of Big Feed dinner with lots of potatoes and piles of vegetables and meat and gravy. There is always somewhere for Bacon and Cabbage. For any different kind of eating, or for a more considered quantity of food on the plate, options are limited. Some places appear but they do not last long. If we do not test out a new restaurant quickly, there is always a chance that it will be closed by the time we do get around to going there. In cities, there are lots of places and the pricing is competitive. Here there are fewer choices and the prices are higher. This Michael spoke of a restaurant on the coast that we like very much. He was interested that it exists in an old industrial building. He liked the look from the outside. What he did not like was that a woman clapped her hands every time food was ready to be picked up from the kitchen and served. He did not like the clapping and the echo of the clapping. Most of all, he did not like the high ceilings and the exposed beams. He did not like the industrial look indoors. He said he did not like paying good money to go and eat in a shed. His wife did not like eating in a shed either, although she liked the new and shiny details of everything else inside.
14 August Thursday
I met a farmer I had not seen for months. We stopped to talk and to discuss the things that had happened since we had last seen one another. We both commented at how close by we can all live but how easy it is to not cross paths. Just walking a different field or driving a different route can change all kinds of things. He said “We lose each other in the landscape.”
13 August Wednesday
We have a new wooden bench and a new wooden table outside the kitchen door. They were made for us by the brother of the the woman at the timber yard. The bench is wide and comfortable. We sit there every chance we get. The old bench has gone down to the burn pile in the meadow. It is has not been possible to sit on it for a very long time. It had a narrow seat with a very straight back. It was originally a church pew. I loved how it looked but it was never a pleasure to sit upon it. Simon rebuilt its legs several times just to keep it standing. In recent years, we put things on it and we put things under it but we rarely sat upon it. Now we are enjoying this new bench and the new table which is more narrow than the previous table but is just fine for the space it occupies. The old table has joined the bench down on the burn pile. Half of its top had rotted and it was unsafe to put any weight at all on the surface. Everyday I expected it to collapse. One leg was rotten at the bottom and was held up by a brick and some pieces of slate. As with the bench, Simon had repaired this table many times. He built the table originally and he kept it standing upright for more years than perhaps he should have. It was positioned right up close to the bench so even if we had wanted to sit on the uncomfortable and shaky bench we would not have been able to move the table enough to get into the space to do so. Now that we have finally replaced both of these things we are wondering why we waited so long to do so.
12 August Tuesday
Em went for a haircut today. Her long sheep dog hair was matted and filthy in places. She is not very good at cleaning herself anymore. It is not even that she is not good at it. I think she no longer notices that it is something which needs to be done. I thought I would have to stay to hold her up on the table but Kate was able to maintain her in an upright position with two hanging straps. Her feet were standing on the table but her own energy and strength were not needed to hold herself up. She was not exactly dangling but it must have been a bit like being on tiptoes. When we returned from an hour of walking, she looked like a different animal. The area all around her bottom has been shaved right off and her tail is now like that of a lion. Her tail is a thin rope with a tuft at the end. The huge plume is gone, but so are the random clumps of old excrement which were wadded up there. Her back legs look very thin and extremely fragile. There is very little muscle left in her hips. It is sad to see but it is also very useful to see how old she is. We have become used to her moving with less agility but her eyes and her hair made her look like the same old youthful and cheerfully ready-to-go Em. Now the patches of pink scalp showing through her short hair and the shaky old dog legs cannot help but remind us that the old Em is gone. That and the perfumed shampoo smell.
11 August Monday
Peter explained that the rusty metal things I found are called FLAILS. I have been calling them PLOUGH TEETH. I like my name better but his name came with an explanation of how they function in a mowing machine. He explained how they are attached in a horizontal position and how they look when they start to be used. At a certain point when they are getting worn on one side, the flails are taken out and turned around so that the wear can then happen on the opposite edge. By the time I found my two, both sides had been rounded off. They were no longer rectangles with a hole at one end. Although the edges seem quite sharp to me, they are no longer useful for their job.
10 August Sunday
The Stonethrowers Rally has held us prisoner all day. Actually, we have been sort of captive for two days. All day Saturday there were cars tooling around the area. Each car had a sticker on the windscreen. The black and white sticker showed a number plus the word RECCE. The driver and one passenger were studying the route. I am guessing that they made note of sharp bends, pot-holes, the camber of the road as well as long straight stretches. Most of the passengers I saw had clipboards or notepads for taking down information. Today no one is allowed on the roads. From 8 am, the roads, though officially public roads, are no longer available to us. Early on Saturday evening, the officials were going around and taping people’s gates shut with red and white striped tapes, so they could not leave or at least they could not open their gates again. Some people sit outside their houses all day on Sunday to watch and cheer on the men in the numbered hot rods. They sit outside their houses but they do not sit too close to the road. Some people choose to escape for the entire day. They leave early in the morning and cannot come home until after 6 o’clock. Animals, especially domestic ones, get upset and have to be locked indoors. Grazing animals get put into fields as far from the roads as possible. This is not the first time this has happened. It seems to return to these roads and our area once every four or five years. The first time we encountered it, the cars on Saturday were doing SCRUTINY, and now the same activity is called RECCE. Otherwise things are the same. There are emergency numbers to ring if anyone needs to get out while the races are screeching around. No doubt the bales of hay on difficult corners are all in place. Some fences and walls will be crashed into. In the next few days, people will report to one another about whose walls and hedges got smashed. The high pitched roaring of engines and the loud popping of the exhaust are the same. From here in our valley, the sound is not so horrible but it is horrible enough.
8 August Friday
We ate the puffballs last night. We had kept two and given one away. Simon cut them into cubes and gently coated them in fine cornmeal. The cubes were then lightly browned in a skillet and served with a sauce made of fresh sweet peppers. They were delicious. There were seven of us eating them and when we finished, we all wanted more. We now have our attention on another puffball growing in the same vicinity. It is tiny but we will keep checking it every day in the hope that while it gets bigger, some others might grow up around it.
7 August Thursday
She goes into the open closet (or cupboard) (or press) and then half falls out and cannot get herself upright again. Shoes and boots fall out and tumble at her feet. Things tumble around her feet and they trip her and then she cannot stand up and so she collapses again. It is difficult to watch but it it easy to see that it is more difficult to be her than it is to watch her. Almost all of her movements are in some kind of circle. The back legs are weak and one leg is weaker than the other. When she is out of doors, her movement is almost always downhill. The downhill movement is not intentional. Watching the circling and the pull of gravity is not unlike watching water swirling down the drain in a tub or in a sink. The direction is inevitable, so it is not worth struggling against it.
Rainfall Radar, etc.
6 August Wednesday
The man who offered to paint the house said “I’d cost you less than the paint”.
5 August Tuesday
I now have a weather app on my phone. It is for the Irish weather and it can be accessed for various things. One is by region and another is a Rainfall Radar. There are other things to check for too, like wind and sea crossings. Everyone can check the things that concern them. There is a special place for Blight. Potatoes are always important here. When growing potatoes there is always a danger of the Blight. Blight can destroy an entire potato crop in no time at all. No one in the middle of the city is going to care about the possibility of Blight, but here it is a big topic of discussion, in season. When there is possibility of Blight, it appears as a place to check on the app. The rest of the time it is not there. Rainfall Radar is listed even when there is no possibility of rain, but Blight is only listed if the threat is present.
4 August Monday
We went to visit Johnnie and Marian. They have a farmyard which is completely decorated. There are many things painted red and blue and white. Some things are painted red and blue. Some things are painted blue and white, and some things are painted red and white. Some things are painted with all three colours. There is some yellow here and there, but red, white and blue are the predominant colours. A gate with wire mesh in between the bars is painted red, with white around the top edge. It stands open against a bright blue wall. There are dozens of bird houses. Some of the birdhouses are for feeding and nesting. Some have become only decorative because they are in places where the rats could get at them so they are not safe for birds anymore. There are planters with red and pink flowers in them. There are lattice work things in various shapes for plants to grow up and there are stable doors painted in several colours, both inside and out. There are tables and chairs everywhere as though at any moment anyone at all might want or need to take a sit down. One table has cups and saucers glued down in position for four people. Just inside one shed was another table with two chairs and a big ashtray. This is for sitting inside when there is rain. It is inside but it is still outside. It is not like going into the house. There is a gazebo which was probably planned for two people to sit in, but two people would be a squeeze. One person could sit there comfortably and again, be out of the rain. John and Marian are brother and sister. I do not know who has the ideas. We saw John’s big and very well organized workshop in one barn. Maybe it is just his or maybe they work in there together. There is a sound system with eight speakers all piled one on top of the other. I don’t know if they were all hooked up but Tipp FM has never sounded so good..
3 August Sunday
The Cabbage Whites are back. They have been flapping and fluttering over the lavender and the sweet peas for hours and hours. It looks like it is the same group all the time but perhaps some fly away and others take their place. It’s a breezy day, so the whole gathering of butterflies could even be blown away while a new gathering gets blown in. It is impossible to know. The clouds are racing along with the breeze, so in between moments of bright sun, there are moments of overcast greyness. When the grey takes over the whiteness of the Cabbage Whites seems even whiter. It glows. The whiteness of the wings glows while the wings are flapping. On the subject of white, I saw three small puffballs up near the farm yesterday. Their whiteness is another sort of glowing. They are really bright and fresh looking. I decided to wait a day or two before collecting them. I do not know if this is a bad idea or a good idea. Last year I saw a huge puffball in the same vicinity and while I waited for it to get bigger, it disappeared. I am now remembering what a friend who is knowledgeable about mushrooms told me after that. He said You must never wait. He said If you find a puffball or indeed any mushroom, grab it immediately. Here I am again, greedily waiting for my puffballs to get a little bigger. Maybe I should walk up and fetch them right now.
1 August Friday
Today I saw a bar doubling as a bicycle shop. It is normal and traditional to see bars which also function as grocery shops. Mary Halley’s bar in Clogheen used to have a huge smoked ham hanging over the bar. The whole place was two tiny rooms and the bar was not very long. Drinks had to be ordered around the ham. I have not been in there for a long time, but I would guess that there is probably still a ham hanging there. People running bars often double as undertakers, and sometimes as auctioneers or property valuers. There are not so many people to do business in a rural places so it is practical to double up on jobs. This is the first time I have seen a bicycle shop and a bar together, but it makes good sense. There is not so much day time drinking these days, so repairing bikes is a good activity for the quiet times. It keeps someone around just in case someone does want a drink.
31 July Thursday
I went to have my hair cut. The man doing the cutting loves to cook. I have never been there without the postman or a courier arriving with a parcel of new cookbooks for him. He loves cookbooks. He loves to cook and he loves to talk. He talks about what he has cooked recently and he talks about what he is going to cook. Today he told me that he has all the ingredients for tonight’s dinner cut up, prepped and in little containers in the refrigerator ready to go. He makes dinner for between 15 to 18 people every single night. He is feeding a large extended family. I do not know if they all live in one house or in several houses. I do not know how many are children and how many are adults. There is a large vegetable garden down the back. There are chickens and ducks. I know as much as he tells me in the time it takes for my hair to be cut. Last night, he organized those people still sitting around after dinner to help him cut up the vegetables for tonight’s dinner. He likes to get everyone working. And Thursday is his night for working late so he prefers to be ready. He described his newest favourite Sunday supper. He said it was such a hit with the family that they want him to make it every Sunday. He had three chickens which he rubbed with herbs and seasoning and he put butter under the skins. When he had finished with that, he pushed an open can of beer up each chicken’s bottom. The can made the chicken stand up straight. He then put the three chickens into a barbeque. It was a big barbeque, probably like a Weber, with a rounded top. The chickens were able to stand up in there in the dark on their beer cans. As the beer heated up in the cans, it fizzed out like a quiet volcano and the chickens were cooked from the outside in. He was delighted with the end result and so was everyone else. The older woman beside me was the only other person in the salon. Her hair had some gloopy mixture on it. She listened avidly to the whole description of the chickens. When he was done, she asked if she could do the same thing in her oven. He said Well, that wouldn’t really work, would it, as you need the heat to be coming from the bottom and you need to hold all the heat in a confined space to keep the steaming process going. He said you needed exactly what a barbeque could do. She still did not understand why her cooker could not do the same thing. He said she herself had been stewing too long and it was time for her to get her hair rinsed.
29 July Tuesday
We picked up Em in Skeheenarinky. Some flags have been installed along the road side of the meadow. There are about ten so far. They are small flags, not big flags. The road is narrow with grass down the middle. It dead ends just after the kennel. It is so narrow that it is not even easy to turn around. The only people who will see the flags are those come to drop off or collect a dog. Each flag is for a country connected to a dog, or rather to a dog’s owners. Most of the dogs who stay are Irish, but their owners are from various places. People are being invited to give Lukki a flag from their own place of origin. So far he has flags from South Africa, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, England, and Australia along with a few other European ones. I should have looked more carefully to be able to remember all of them. Although not a great fan of the United States, he suggested that I might want to contribute a flag.
11 July Friday
We have a long narrow sack with an elasticized opening at both the top and the bottom. The purpose of the sack was to hold all of the plastic carrier bags which every house acquired after trips to the shops. We shoved bags into the top of the sock-like sack and pulled one out of the bottom whenever we needed one. There are no plastic carrier bags in our lives now. It has been so long since the governement passed the carrier bag tarif. We are all conditioned to carry our cloth shopping bags or baskets. The ladies who invented this kind of storage sack must have been delighted with themselves. No more drawers full of unwieldy plastic. Every time the Irish Countrywomen’s Association had a sale someone would be selling these hand-made sacks. Now no one needs the sacks. I have been waiting and waiting to think up another use for my bag sack. It hangs limp and useless and faded from a coat hook. It is not even attractive. Somehow I cannot quite bring myself to throw it away.
10 July 2014
Rose has a method for serving up a hot toddy. Hot water, lemon, whiskey and sugar are put into a glass. The glass used is a particular glass with vertical ridges and a sort of lip about half way up the glass. The lip extends out from the surface of the glass in a way that allows the glasses to be stacked upon one another. When Rose has filled one glass with the hot drink for medicinal purposes, she sits the glass inside another glass. The person recieiving the drink can hold the glass which is not hot while drinking from the glass which is hot. Another method to solve the hot glass problem is a few sheets of newspaper torn off and wrapped around the glass with a twist where the newspapers join. This serves the same purpose but is not as attractive as a double height glass.
9 July Wednesday
Em walks and walks and walks. She walks as if she is measuring out space. Her steps will take her to a certain point and then she will change direction abruptly. Sometimes there is a bush or a wall or a chair in her path. Sometimes there is nothing in her path. Some instruction panal in her head gives the command to turn left or to trun right or to reverse direction, and she obeys. I have spent a lot of time watching but I can discern no order nor logic to her movements and her decisions. I am watching dementia in control.
8 July Tuesday
A Gas Man is someone who is humorous. To be called a Gas Man is considered a compliment. A funny or an entertaining person may be called a Gas Man, but something funny is not referred to as A Gas. I have never yet heard a woman described as a Gas Woman.
7 July Monday
The government gives grants for houses to be re-thatched. The grant is larger if the house is visible from the road. Houses near roads can be seen by visitors.. The thatched roof is a look the country and the government like to keep going. There are lots of complications to go along with a thatched roof. The belief is that a thatched roof is more prone to fire so the insurance on a thatched house is considerably higher than the insurance for a regular house. If a person buys an old thatched cottage, the person is obliged to keep the roof thatched. Roof repairs cannot be re-done with slates. If the thatched house is a wreck and must be torn down, a new house built on the same location must be thatched. Replacement thatching varies a lot. Sometimes it is done in the old traditional way. Sometimes it is a different sort of thatching and not at all what is traditional here but rather what is traditional somewhere else. The reeds might come from the area around the Shannon, or the reeds might be imported from Poland. The thatchers might be Irish or they might be over from England. Where the thatcher comes from will determine the style of the thatching. A small cottage nearby has just been re-thatched. No one lives in the cottage nor is there a plan for anyone to live in it. It has just been re-thatched and the ground immediately around it has been cleared. It all looks very nice. That seems to be enough.
6 July Sunday
People begin arriving for 11 o’clock Mass as early as 10 ‘clock. Some park way up near the bridge with the car facing in the direction in which they live. They park way up there in the hope that they will not be trapped in tight by other cars which come along later and park out towards the bridge. They park there so they will be ready to leave. The later drivers will park out there just because all of the places nearer have been taken. There are elderly drivers backing into spaces in front of the shop. They too are in Ready Position but they are closer to the church. They find it easier to back into a place before there are other cars to possibly bump into. Some people stay sitting in the car, waiting for others to arrive. Most get out and they go into the shop or they go into the graveyard to visit the dead. By the time they return from the graveyard there are more people arriving. They are able to talk and visit with the living. The older people arrive early. Younger people and families come racing down the hill at the very last minute.
5 July Saturday
The man on the radio said that one hurling team overcame another, rather than saying that one team defeated another.
4 July Friday
She has gone into hospital. She had a week in bed and then the pain got bad. It was so bad that she spoke of it, and she is not one to complain. The ambulance came and took her away on Monday. He said he did not like seeing her go off in the ambulance but he said again that she was not one to complain, so if she complained she must have been very bad. He said they were doing tests. He is old and she is old. He is very worried and he feels useless. He said he did not know what to do for a sick woman. He said “Give me an ailing horse or a sheep or a goat, and I know exactly what to do. I just do not know what to do for a sick woman.”
3 July Thursday
I was down in the book barn sewing book sections. I sensed eyes on me. When there are cows in the near field I sometimes feel I am being watched. It is not unusual to look up and to see two or three cows pressed against the fence and looking in at me. Cows are curious. There were no cows in the field today. When I looked up The Fox was just outside the window. The window is long and low to the ground. From the inside, it is at my waist height, but from the outside it is nearly even with the ground. The window is long. It is just under three metres long and about one metre high. The Fox was almost touching the glass. His breath was making the glass steam up. He looked at me and I looked at him. I did not move and he did not move. Standing so still in such an expanse of glass, made him appear to be less The Fox and more like a photograph of a fox. After a few seconds he raised his left front foot and then he waited a little longer. He turned his head away from my gaze, and he ran down the hill. For a few minutes, I watched the space where he had been standing and then I went back to sewing my books.
2 July Wednesday
These mornings, Em does not get up until 10 or 10.30. She wakes a little bit by opening her eyes to note the tea and breakfast making movement around her. She is aware of us stepping over her stretched out body, but she makes no effort to get out of the way nor to get up. She dozes in between our activity. Since she gets up so late and goes to bed so early, her days are short. She still spends a lot of her time pacing in circles around a chair or around a table. When she attempts to take a corner too quickly she crashes into a leg or a wall and just stands stopped and surprised by her inability to go forward. Sometimes the impact with something just knocks her to the floor. Then she looks around as if lying exactly where she is is exactly where she meant to be.
30 June Monday
It is hot. It is hot for here. It is hot enough for people to use the expression : It Is Hot Enough To Split Stones. This is the expression that comes out every time the heat builds up. It is not really that hot. I think the highest temperature is 23 Celsius or 73 Fahrenheit. That is not terribly hot, but it is nice. It does not get much hotter here, so we are at our optimum of summer heat. Everyone is excused for doing less than usual. This much heat brings the possibility of thunder and lightening. Last Friday the sky went black and there was thunder and a little bit of lightening. People are very frightened about lightening. The talk at the market was all about the fearfulness. I do not understand why it is considered so scary. They do not understand why I find it exhilerating rather than threatening.
28 June Saturday
I went to the market today. It was the first time in almost six weeks. I completely overdid it. I did not drive, but this is only the second time I have left our valley at all. The first time was just to the village and back. This trip had a great many installments. I climbed the stairs at the cafe where we went for breakfast. Stairs are difficult. I had no idea how difficult. Then we walked over to the market and there were ever so many conversations which should have been nice but everything took place while I was standing up. Standing up and talking is more difficult than I realized. It was Jim’s birthday, so we had to sign a card for him. The card was a secret. We were sent behind the table at the stall of the man who sells jellies and jams and chutneys. The card was hidden there. That meant another conversation and that meant more standing. It was a big birthday. Jim was turning 80. There was to be a presentation of the card and a gift for him at 11 o’clock. We were told this by the cheese lady. Everything was discussed, at each stall, in big whispers by everyone. Every discussion was accompanied by quick looks over at Jim to make sure he was at his stall and not near enough to hear the plans being discussed.. We promised to be back in time for the presentation. We rushed over the bridge and went to the supermarket. I walked at my usual speed. The excitement of the birthday plan made everything feel imperative and important and that everything must be done quickly. Everything was important. The supermarket was full of Saturday shoppers and their trolleys and conversations. Music played loudly. I got dizzy with it all. The walk over the bridge was too fast and the shop was too full. Looking for a place to sit down, I found a display made of three old pallets just beyond the check-out counter. There was an olive green rug spread over the pallets and there were various things on the old rug, not really as a proper display, but sort of on display. Things had been put there in clumps as a place for them to put. I found a little empty edge and sat down with my head low to stop myself from fainting. Within minutes an old man came along and grabbed at one of the items on display. It said GRIP N GRAB on the cardboard backing. The thing attached to the cardboard was about a metre long. The man bent the cardboard away from the gadget itself at both top and bottom. He nudged me so that I could observe how it functioned. He said his daughter had bought him one of these things. He threw a packet of cream crackers onto the floor and shouted “Watch this! I’ll pick it up,so!” He did something and picked up the crackers with the claw at the end. I nodded and dropped my head again. He stopped someone walking past and he threw the crackers down again and he did his demonstration again. After the third time, someone came and either took him away or took the GRIP N GRAB away. I did not look up. Simon came and found me and we walked slowly back over the bridge. We did not return to the market for the birthday presentation. We got into the car and went straight home. It was all much too much.
27 June Friday
Michael grew up in Clonmel. He said you could always tell when someone had recieved The American Parcel. They would be walking down the street wearing clothes that no one else was wearing. You would know that the clothing came from one of these parcels sent by well-meaning relatives from America, even if you did not actually know the person. The clothes looked different and they looked new, even if they were not exactly new. If you saw someone in a pair of checked trousers they had to have come from an American Parcel. Checked trousers were a dead give-away. Any time someone walked out in new clothes, he or she would be asked if The American Parcel had arrived. In one way it was a joke and in one way it was just showing that nothing happened without others taking note. If you were in a family who received an American Parcel, you wore the clothes but it did not mean you liked them. Recieiving the clothes was one kind of announcement. Wearing them was another.
26 June Thursday
Tommie came back to report that a second duck has been taken by the fox. He said he was not surprised by this news. After the fox took the first duck, Tommie knew he would be back for the second. He knows that the fox will now be back again for the third and final duck. The fox will not stop until he has had all three of them. He said that a fox always prefers a duck to a chicken. He explained how easy it was for a fox to grab a duck by its neck and to toss the duck over his shoulder while he or she carried the duck back to the woods to feed a family of young foxes. He said it is easier to get hold of the duck and easier to carry the duck. Chickens are okay but the feathers make the journey more difficult. The feathers and the shorter neck combined make the carrying more difficult. A chicken does not stay tossed over the shoulder like a duck does. Tommie ended his telling by saying, “You can believe that if you like, but I know it to be true.”
25 June Wednesday
When Joe’s cows are in the near field, there is often a wild tooting of his tractor horn at 5 o’clock. He races through the field rounding up the cows for their walk to the milking parlour. There are both long drawn out blasts and little pips. It is an exciting sound in the midst of the gathered quiet of an afternoon.. Sometimes he does not toot the horn at all. He just drives around and gets the cows walking in the same direction. I think they respond to the sound of the tractor as much as to the sound of the horn. The horn makes it all more imperative and makes me feel like they are really going somewhere special. This rounding up, with or without the horn tooting, is not an everyday thing. The cows are rotated around different fields eating their fill of one before moving on to another. We enjoy their company for a few days every few weeks when this is their field for eating. Along with their occasional presence comes the thrilling sound of their departures.
24 June Tuesday
The grass roof has gone brown overnight. In spite of day after day of hot sun and no rain, it has remained looking good and fresh and green with lots of purple strife standing tall and bright against the sky. Now the grass is burnt and the blossoms, though still purple, look weak and washed out. The difference from yesterday is shocking. We are promised a band of rain coming in off the Atlantic. I hope it’s arrival will be soon enough to rejuvenate the roof.
22 June Sunday
Yesterday was the longest day. The Summer Solstice. The sun rose at 4.56 and it set at 21.56. At midnight, the sky was still not dark. It was a dark blue but it was still a colour. I lay awake and looked out at the sky wondering if I would fall asleep before the blue disappeared into night black. I thought about the older woman who I had heard complaining so bitterly about these long bright evenings. She said she did not like to Go To Bed in the Brightness. She preferred the winter when it got dark early and she could go to bed early because everyone else went to bed early. It was okay to go to bed early because the darkness made the world quiet. With these long days she felt she had to stay awake simply because it was light. She felt lonely in the long light evenings but she did not feel loneliness with long dark evenings. She was not in the habit of sleeping in the day so why should she begin the habit of sleeping in the light. If she wanted to take a nap in the day she would have to remove her shoes and put them on again. All her life she has put on her shoes in the morning and she has removed them at night when she went to bed. She could not imagine taking off the shoes and putting them back on again in the middle of the day. That would be as disturbing as the long light nights, or maybe it would be more disturbing.
21 June Saturday
Now that the sun has come out and the days are long and dry and hot, we are surprised again and again by the absence of the shade. The big branches were cut off in the autumn. The cutting was years overdue as the main trunk of the tree has long been hollow and dangerous. Had the branches not been cut when they were they surely would have crashed down in the winter winds. The winds were wild. Trees and branches fell down everywhere. So regardless of how the branches came down, we would still be missing the shade as we sit out at the big table this summer.
18 June Wednesday
Simon wanted to make a rubber stamp of a fly. He wanted an image of a fly poised as if it had just landed upon something. His image of the fly was tiny. He wanted a smaller than life-sized fly but he still wanted it to appear real. He talked to someone at a rubber stamp company in Dublin. The man insisted that he himself had a better image of a fly than the image that Simon had sent. He sent his own fly image back by email. It was not a fly which had landed on something, rather it was a scientific diagram of a fly. When Simon phoned and explained that this was a completely different kind of fly and a different kind of portrayal, the man responded by saying “Well, what does it matter? Sure, a fly is a fly.” Simon returned to his original fly for the making of the stamp. When the invoice arrived for the finished stamp, it was described as Bee.
15 June Sunday
I found a wren’s nest over near the fig tree. It was down on the ground and empty, so I guess the wrens were finished with the eggs and the babies and the nest itself. The entire nest had been woven using Emily’s hair. There were a full selection of her long hairs. The black and white and a selection of grey hairs were all mixed together. A few tiny bird feathers were there too.
14 June Saturday
Tommie stopped down for a visit. He commented about the separateness of some neighbours. He asked us if we ever saw them and he asked if we ever spoke with them. He wanted to know if they ever spoke to us in response when we spoke to them. He told us that these people are people known to value their privacy. He announced: “It’s like they have their own language.”
8 June Sunday
At first I thought it was a grand idea for Em and I to take a stroll together. She cannot go very fast and neither can I. I felt we were more evenly matched. By putting her on the lead I thought we could do a slow journey up the track together. What I forgot is how often her back legs give way. I am not able to lift anything. My lifting ban includes her back legs. I cannot lift her hips and hold her up for the few minutes needed until she gets herself stable. All I can do is to stand patiently nearby until she is ready to push herself up and start her slow stagger again.
6 June Friday
It might just be a generational thing. There seem to be so many men with the name Michael. . There are of course a lot of men named John and Patrick, but it seems every other person of a certain age is named Michael. I have been remembering one Michael who was scheduled to have an operation which he did not want to have. I do not know if he did not want the operation because he was terrified, or if he did not want the operation because he felt he knew better than the doctors and he felt he did not need the operation. He evaded surgery for more than a year. Each time he was schedualed to go to hospital he would drink heavily for several days. He would drink so much that he would then be turned away by the hospital for not being in a fit state to be operated upon. Finally they took him into a bed early in order to control his drinking in the days before the surgery. After the operation and after a long recuperation, he was proud to tell anyone who would listen that he had been four hours On The Table. He felt sure that this long time of attention to himself was something unusual and special. It seems not long ago that he was bragging about all this but it must have been longer than I think, as this particular Michael has been dead now for at least seven years. The operation he avoided for so long was not the cause of his death.
5 June Thursday
I cannot hang out the clothes because they are too heavy when they are wet. I cannot carry the basket of wet laundry as far as the line anyway. I am continually surprised by my limitations. I tried to explain this to someone. She said “Oh You mean you can’t do the Pegging Out?” I forget that clothes pins are called clothes pegs and that the act of hanging out a wash is called Pegging Out. I never speak of Pegging Out since I never speak of Clothes Pegs.
2 June Monday
Every part of this recuperating brings me new ways of doing things. I can slip on my rubber shoes but I cannot put on my welly boots. The welly boots demand a degree of pulling and pushing which I am not yet capable of. Anyway, I cannot even do the bending which would be the first part of the boot putting on. The slip-ons are okay. Luckily, they restrict my movement to places with short grass. My little walks out feel adventurous to me but they are still very little walks. Short grass locations are just enough.
29 May Thursday
The bed is built into the walls. There are walls on three sides. The bed is high off the floor. The bottom of the mattress is at the same height as the window sill. I need a step stool to climb in and out of the bed. This bed has become my world. I have read about operations and the recovery time afterwards. I have visited people in this state but I had never been in this state myself. I understood that the world gets smaller when one is confined. Now I am living this smaller world. My immediate world is the only world. The window at the end of the bed gives me a view out into the garden. Most of the things I can see are white. There are white lilacs, ox-eye daisies, cow parsley, hawthorn blossom and stitchwort. It is a big year for stitchwort. It is everywhere. The green grasses, leaves and foliage in between things as well as mounds of purple sage set off all the frothy white. The grey of the stone barn is a further backdrop for the shades of white. Later there will be other colours as more blossom appears. For now, white is the colour of this waiting.
19 May Monday
Again: That Man Who Waits Beside His Car While His Sister Walks Her Dog. The man and his sister continue to stop and walk the dog on the same impossible stretch of road. He is parking his car more and more out in the road every day. He barely uses the lay-by area anymore. As he leans against the car smoking and waving to each passing vehicle, he is imposing himself further and further out into the traffic of the road. It is as if he is daring someone to hit him. He salutes enthusiastically at each passing motor. He is impossible not to notice. The sister still pulls the dog up tight on his short lead as soon as she hears a motor approach which means she is pulling quite often on the poor dog’s neck. Her stick looks like it has gotten bigger. It is now a very short but very thick black cudgel. She holds it close over the poor dog’s head all the while that she is choking him with the lead. I cannot bear watching them. They each seem madder than the other. And everyday between 2.30 and 3.30 when I head down to catch the last post, there they are. With so few people out and about, these two are usually the only two I see. I feel I am setting myself up to be annoyed by passing them and their unhappy dog every weekday.
18 May Sunday
Em and I are back to walking up the boreen. We proceed only as far as the gate to Scully’s wood. I am being extra careful not to overdo her energy and leg strength. She often sets off with reluctance, but very quickly she becomes involved in the smells and the possibilities. The cow parsley has been filling up the space of the track at head height. At my head height, not Em’s head height. She can walk in the arched space in either of the two tyre tracks. I am having trouble walking anywhere. Even the lumpy grass in the middle is not a free spot. The cow parsley is so heavy with blossom that it just droops and falls. Today it is also heavy with the remains of the rain. Wherever I walk, I am slapped in the face and flapped around the shoulders. It is a soft and gentle slapping and flapping. It might even be fun if it were not so wet.
17 May Saturday
The last few days have been warm and balmy. We all feel like summer has arrived and we joke about how nice it would be if this would just continue for the next four months. We pretend that it will be like this for four months. Of course, there is no chance of this weather continuing for four months. We already know that the rain and cooler air will return tomorrow. People are worried for the schedualed Ardfinnan Tractor Run. The town has been decorated with bunting since early in the week. There are many events and fund-raising things planned. It is all to raise money for the hospice. The tractors, mostly old but a few new ones too, will drive through the countryside and through selected villages. People have paid money to sponsor the tractors doing their slow procession. Even though there are huge stretches of road with no one to watch them, they will drive slowly through the landscape in a long line. When people do see them, both the tractor drivers and the people on the ground will wave like mad. Since rain is promised there will be fewer people standing outside and waving but the tractors will continue their crawl. The older ones rarely have a roof so those drivers will be wet. We are all worried about the tractors driving in the rain tomorrow but today it is sunny, and lambs and calves are in every field. Blossoms and birds and bees are everywhere. Joe’s blue Teat Trailer with all of the pink nipples is parked outside a gate. Everywhere looks like summer.
16 May Friday
I am enjoying the posters for this upcoming election. There are more and more posters appearing every day. Maybe it just seems like there are more and more appearing every day. The posters are on utility poles and on trees. Some are on fences and gates and sometimes they are on the side of a barn. Some of the candidates affect a glamourous pose in their photograph. Some look dazed and unhappy as they attempt a confidence inspiring expression. One man looks like his shirt is always untucked. This is immediately understood, even from his head and shoulders shot. The faces scattered through the landscape make the countryside feel more populated and active. I do not know these people but I feel like I do when I see the same few faces again and again. I think what I am most enjoying is the imposition of language in the landcape. There is so rarely anything to read as we move around on foot or in cars. Knowing that in a week or ten days all of the signs will be gone and we will be just looking at cows and green things again makes it okay too. For now I am enjoying all of the slogans and the few names which repeat themselves. There are three people on one poster and the slogan across the top is The Cuts and Charges. They have made themselves sound like a music group when all they are doing is protesting various austerity measures and the new water rates.
15 May Thursday
Throughout the winter months and in this time before vegetation and foliage fill in the ditches, dumping places are exposed. There is one particular place which I keep track of. It is a deep dug-out area, just under the ditch and near the road. There are feed bags, and rusted buckets and many rusted things which I cannot identify. There are broken fence posts and old churns, and a fair bit of wire in coils. Sometimes I think this place was simply a dumping spot for the farmer and sometimes I think it was not just a dumping place. I think it doubled as a storage place. If the farmer were out in the fields and a fence needed repair, he probably knew that the wire he needed was right there. Mid-summer, the whole pile of stuff in its pit would be tangled up with brambles and growth but during a great part of the year it could just be considered Things In Storage. The particular farmer whose storage pit I pass and look into is now dead. I doubt anyone else is using the place either for dumping or for storage so in a few more years the brambles will have made it all disappear. The last of the still useable materials will succumb to the weather and the spot will no longer exist as any sort of a place at all.
14 May Wednesday
The Smell of Slurry over the land is terrible. We have closed all of the windows but still the smell seems to just ooze in. It is burning my eyes and my throat. I am glad I had not yet hung the washing out to dry. If it were hanging out it would simply be absorbing all of the slurry smell with its drying. I think it is a good day to go to do some errands in town. It is a good day to be anywhere but here. When I return the smell will be less horrible. It won’t be gone but it will be a little bit better.
13 May Tuesday
Oscar is now the neighbourhood dog. He hangs around most of the day at The White Cottage but even if he is up the hill at his own house, he keeps track of anyone walking the road. When he hears someone coming along, he rushes out from wherever he is and then he walks along with them wherever they are going. If they come back the same route, he will split off on the way back, otherwise he will just go home alone when the walk ends for the people he is with. We all enjoy his company. If the people he sees a have a dog with them, he joins along with their dog. If they are on their own, they are happy to have him. We are all happier to walk with a dog for company. I especially enjoy him since Em can no longer go with me. Dogs pay attention to things in different ways. I feel a dog and I are exploring together. Tonight we sat out in the evening sun even though it was still a bit cold. Being out in the air was the best way to enjoy the light. Oscar arrived and rushed around greeting us and peeing on things and drinking water. We listened for voices. We assumed that he was walking with someone. We sat for a long while after his arrival and no one ever came down the boreen. No one on foot and no one on a horse. After an extended visit, we went inside and Oscar went home. To have Oscar come calling all on his own is a new thing.
12 May Monday
Tommie stopped and spoke to me on the road. He was in his car. I was on foot. He gave some news of a local man. Then he commented on that same man and said how well he looked. He commented that the man looked very young for his age. He was quiet for a minute as he thought about this youthfulness. He concluded by saying “It must be A Lack of Bitterness.”
11 May Sunday
The cows have been using the upper boreen to go in and out to the far fields across the tar road. The grass down the middle is completely gone. At first I thought the grass had been eaten but eating is not possible when they are moving in a group. The track is completely churned up. Both the grass and the lumpy section of earth down the middle are just gone. The lumpy section had been high enough to scrape on the bottom of cars. Now the grass and the earth it was growing on have been trampled into a single muddy evenness. It is messy, but even so, the walking over such a definitively flattened surface is grand.
10 May Saturday
My room is full of dead bumblebees. Well, it is not full, but today I counted seven. Other days I have not counted. I have just noticed the bodies. The dead are all just in front of the door. They must be diving at the glass trying to get out. The impact with the glass either kills them or it stuns them. Either way they end up dead. I let a few of the living out every time I am up there. Some I catch in a jar and toss outside and some just fly right out if I leave the door open. I can’t figure out where they are coming from.
9 May Friday
The fox walked into the yard. He moved slowly. He moved as though he were confident about where he was and where he was going. He stopped and sat near the big table. Then he moved over to drink some water from the low water trough. He wandered here and there sniffing at things and looking at other things. He looked good with his shiny coat and bushy tail. He did not look in the least bit scruffy. There were no clumps of rough old fur. He looked almost as if he had been freshly brushed. He never looked at the house, even though he was very near to it. He must have smelled Em out in the grass. Possibly he has already realized that she is not much of a threat. He wandered around for 15 or 20 minutes and then he continued down the meadow. I watched from the window until he disappeared from my sight.
8 May Thursday
I am waiting for a man to deliver some mulch. I dare not use the telephone because I fear he will either try to ring because he is lost or because he is stuck trying to fit down the boreen in a truck that is too large. That is, of course, assuming that his mobile phone will have any reception wherever he is, which is not very likely. Indeed, if my own mobile worked here, I could be using that instead of avoiding the land line to await his call. Or he might just come down, and dump the very big and heavy bag somewhere where I do not want it and then it will be impossible to move it until it is half emptied. It cannot be moved except with a forklift. Even half empty the bag cannot be moved. . So I have the window open, even though it is cold and miserable. I am trying not to use the telephone. All I can think of are calls I should be making. Today is his delivery day for fuels, fence posts and whatever in the area and I was promised he would be here right after 10. So I am staying off the phone and sitting in the cold. It is now 1.30. Surely by now he has decided to leave it until after lunch?
7 May Wednesday
Twenty-four hours of Nearly Dead Dog and today Em is back. She is not begging to go up the track again but she is walking. She got up off the floor without needing The Morning Hip Lift. I was so happy to see her moving about that I wanted to take her photograph. That made me realize that I have pretty much stopped taking photos of her in recent months. It is not so interesting to take pictures anymore. She looks like herself, but a photograph of herself staring off in the distance would not really portray the vacant staring of an elderly dog. It would just look like Em looking off in a direction. A photo would not show the vacant stare but I would know. Even in a photograph, I would know. This is not a look I want to remember.
6 May Tuesday
So—the new walks with Em have perhaps been a bit too much. Perhaps I should have tried every other day. Or perhaps I should have tried every third day. Every day, one after another, whet her appetite for more and she could not wait to get going in the morning. It was too many days in a row. We now have a dog who can barely stand up. She can barely stand and barely walk and she is collapsing in a heap after just a few steps. Either she is dying or she is just exhausted and needing a few days off. I hope it is only exhaustion. I really, really hope it is only exhaustion.
5 May Monday
Another Bank Holiday. Grey, overcast and cool. I am hoping the sun will come out. I have taken Breda’s advice and have been giving Em some strolls in the boreen. She suggested that I drive Em up as far as the farm and use the downhill slope to get her to walk back down to the house. It is difficult to get Em in and out of the car these days, so even though it is uphill, I have been putting her on the lead and setting off. By attaching her to myself, she has to come along with me and since she does not resist, I like to think she appreciates having the decision made for her. To begin, we only went to the first gate on the left, the one leading into Joe Keating’s field. Another day, we progressed as far as the gate into Scully’s wood. Today we went all the way to the farm and I think she wanted to Keep Going. It is a slow walk, but that is mostly because she needs to sniff at every single thing. It is so much better and more stimulating than wandering around in circles out in the grass. Since we got home she has been sleeping soundly. Both the stroll and the nap are an improvement on the ceaseless pacing around a random table or a chair.
4 May Sunday
We set off to walk down to the joining of the two rivers but when we got as far as the bee hives, there was a man working on the them. He was wearing the full protective clothing of a beekeeper. He did not say that we could not walk past but he quietly suggested that the bees were stirred up and that it might be best to come back later. He spoke to us from a distance but he kept his voice very low and calm. He did not want to upset his bees. We turned around. The hives are located along the edge of a field of rapeseed which is now in full bloom. The bright yellow flowers and the bright orange of the strapping material which had held the hives together look wonderful together. Rapeseed is a relatively new crop in this area. People still stop and make photographs of a bright yellow field when they see one. They show the photographs to one another and they admire the colour.They remark at how lovely it is. It is an exciting and welcome change from green green green. So far people only say good things about the fields of rapeseed. Maybe they have not yet noticed how horrible the smell is. To me, it smells like fibreglass resin. In large quantities, it smells toxic and the odour hangs heavy over the land. For now, it is all wonderful. Rapeseed is welcomed as a dependable cash crop which also makes the landscape look pretty.
3 May Saturday
There is a square white plastic bucket with a green lid on the ground just outside the gate at Michael and Biddie’s house. A rock sits on top of the lid. The lid is a clip-on lid. The rock is there just to be on the safe side. I think the container is positioned as a receptacle for the delivery of milk, but I am not sure. It might be for eggs or for anything else. The two words on the bucket are DRY COW. No doubt this bucket held some kind of something for the care of dairy cows. The bucket has been emptied and cleaned and now serves another purpose. Every time I pass, I check to make sure that DRY COW is still in position.
2 May Friday
The hawthorn is in bloom all around. I cannot decide if it is earlier than usual or later than usual. A woman in the village told me that the branches full of frothy white blossom look just exactly like heaven.
1 May Thursday
It was A Big Decision. I needed to buy a new bag of food for Em. I was buying a brand of dried food that was specially recommended for elderly dogs. There are a lot of foods for Seniors, but that usually means any dog over the age of 7. Since she is over 15, I was advised that this particular food was a better choice for her. We tried a three kilo bag of the food and she liked it. Along with her daily tablets, it seemed to help to keep her mobile, alert and bright-eyed. I went back to buy more food and I was faced with the dilemma of buying another 3 kilo bag or a 15 kilo bag. The food is very expensive. I was offered a special price on the larger bag. I stood in the shop and I wondered if it was crazy to buy such a lot of food. I then had to wonder if it was a very negative thing to think that Em might not live long enough to eat a whole 15 kilo bag of the special food. I stood in the aisle of the shop as I went back and forth with these thoughts. I did not want to wish an early demise on my basically quite healthy old dog. I bought the 15 kilo bag. As I was paying, the sales rep from the company who produced the food arrived. He was happy to see me buying his brand as the very first thing he saw when he entered the shop. He raced out to his car and ran back to hand me a ten euro voucher off the purchase of my next 15 kilo bag.
30 April Wednesday
There is a new outdoor table and chair arrangement at McCarra’s. It was made by the men on the FAS scheme. The table is constructed out of two metal bicycle wheels, without their rubber tyres. They are connected with a piece of metal which works like an axle. One wheel is flat on the ground working to stabilise the table and the other one is the table top. A piece of glass has been fitted on the top wheel so that a cup of coffee or a cold drink can sit safely on the flat. There are four seats. The seats are black bicycle seats fitted onto two welded metal structures which have been painted bright red. The idea of the project was to make things with recycled materials. Everything was found and re-used except for the seats. When it came to the placing of the four seats, the men were unhappy to have four different and old seats from four different bicycles. They chipped in together and bought four matching black seats so that the two seating structures look smart and welcoming. We are looking forward to sitting outside with a cup of coffee but we are waiting for the weather to improve.
29 April Tuesday
The young girl was whining to her mother. She did not want to scrape the potatoes for the midday meal. She asked “Can’t we just skip the potatoes and eat something else for the dinner?” Her mother answered,”Of course not! If we do not have potatoes, it will not be dinner. Dinner without potatoes is Just Salad!”
28 April Monday
I am often using the word Doctor when I should be using the word Mister. I always call a dentist Doctor, but a dentist is not a Doctor. A dentist is never a Doctor. A dentist is a Mister. Some Doctors are called Doctor and some are called Mister. The Surgeon is a Mister but the General Practitioner is a Doctor. I am better at using the right form of address than I used to be, but I continue to get it wrong more often that I would like. Some of these people do not mind but some get very upset and they correct me immediately. These people say “I am not a Doctor. I am a Mister.” They correct me so quickly that it is as if they fear someone will overhear them accepting a title which is not rightly theirs to have. I have never really found out definitively who is who and when who is who. And because everyone here is quickly on first name basis, the medical person very often becomes someone with a name rather than a title. In the case of my first GP, the doctor and her husband shared a practice. Since they were both Doctor Carey, it was easier for her to be Doctor Rosaleen and for him to be Doctor John. Now that they have retired and a group of new doctors have taken over their pracice, there are two doctors among them named Kelly. These two Doctor Kellys are not married. In this case to differentiate between them, the woman doctor is now always spoken of as Doctor Maria Kelly and the male doctor is just Doctor Kelly. We call our dentist Daniel.
27 April Sunday
There are 28 beehives just beyond the green barn. They were not there the last time we walked along this farm track. There is bright orange strapping on the sides and tops of the hives. These must have been straps to secure them while they travelled from wherever they were to where they are now. The loosened orange straps make the hives look like gifts which have been recently unwrapped. There is a rope across the area where the hives are stacked. The rope keeps people away the bee hives. The rope threads itself through a piece of slate with two holes in its corners. On the slate are very small white letters which read HONEYBEES WORKING!
26 April Saturday
I was waiting in the car outside the church and just across from the shop. Rain was bucketing down. Simon had gone into the shop to buy the papers. A little red car pulled up in front of me. A woman jumped out of the passenger seat. A billow of smoke came out of the car with her. She ran in a funny way in order to protect her burning cigarette from the rain. She had her hood pulled up but she had no umbrella. She opened the gates to the church and attached them in the open position. Then she ran around the side of the church and did something else. She scurried back to the car and opened the door. Another large cloud of smoke billowed out. There were two young men in the car. They were smoking and she was smoking. Everyone had their hoods up. The car with its inhabitants did a U-turn and went back in the direction which it came from. It all happened really fast. The church was now open for business.
24 April Thursday
When there has been a bank holiday everyone asks the same question of everyone else: “Did You Get Away?” No one says “Did You Go Somewhere?” Or even “What Did You Do?” Getting Away implies escape from normal life. Maybe Getting Away is the expression used because we are living on an island. Nobody Goes Away, they Get Away.
23 April Wednesday
Today, I picked up a coloured leaflet for a sale of hats. The hats were being sold off by Teresa’s Hat Hire in order to make room for New Stock. The hats shown in the photograph as well as Many More were all available for 50 euro each. Potential customers are advised: To ensure a perfect matching hat, please bring your outfit. The world of Hat Hire is a mystery to me. It is not unusual to be driving through the countryside and to be in the middle of nowhere and to see a sign in front of a bungalow offering Hat Hire. And now, here is the chance to buy the very hats which have been rented, borrowed, worn and admired at weddings, christenings, at the races and wherever else women are wearing hats these days. The leaflet made it all look very exciting. In fact, it is just the selling off of well-worn hats.
22 April Tuesday
Over the weekend, PJ and Gavin went up the Mass Path with a chain saw. They cleared the fallen trees which were blocking the way since the winter storms. In some places they just cut a section out of a lying down tree so that those of us who walk the path can walk through the opening. In other places, whole trees were pulled or cut and removed from the path. Where the fallen trees are at head height or higher, they have been left. Those trees make a series of arches. It is a kind of architected space along the track. It is lovely to walk through these places. We no longer have to climb over trees nor crawl underneath other trees. The walk is a fully upright and pleasant walk again. It is still very muddy.
21 April Monday
I am now so accustomed to going out for walks without Em that I no longer feel guilty when I close the door and leave her in the house alone. I do find that as I am walking, I look around for her. Out and about is when I expect to see her off in the distance in front of me or trailing far behind as she sniffs and explores things. Out in the world is when I miss her. Wandering around in the grass near the house is not the same as being off discovering each day together. She wanders in circles and I wander in and around with her. Her own aimlessness makes me walk aimlessly. The more I move about the more she walks so that is good for her elderly legs. Once in the house, she continues to walk but her journey is either around the big table or around a chair. The tight circles around a single chair are the ones that really depress me. She focuses on something and goes around and around and around it. She can continue the same path of circling for a very long time. Her little bell jingling as she walks reminds us that she is not resting but walking and walking and walking.
20 April Sunday
The Abbey Walk is our current favourite walk. We start off at the new graveyard and walk a narrow road to Molough Abbey which was an Augustinian Nunnery dedicated to St.Bridgid. The original nunnery was founded in the 6th century but the present remains date from the 13th century. There is a cloister with the intact frames of two high windows as well as two small domestic buildings. None of this information is available at the Abbey. I went on a walk with an archaeologist and a local historian a few years ago. There were about 40 of us gathered on a wild and rainy Sunday afternoon. We walked up from the village and we were introduced to the history of the Abbey and shown a very small area of orange paint on one wall as well as a carved symbol by the stone mason. We received all of the information while huddled under umbrellas. There were children in prams and elderly people who did not walk up from the village but who met us there. Everyone was eager to be a good audience but everyone was cold and wet and glad when it was over. Now I delight in returning to the Abbey. I am pleased to point out the few things I know about it. Sometimes when out walking, we stop at the buildings and sometimes we do not. We walk down the road and then through fields and down to the place where the River Nire flows into the River Suir. This meeting of the rivers feels like a very special place. Some options on how to make the walk into a circular walk are being explored. But walking back the same way we arrived is just fine.
19 April Saturday
The man who turns wooden bowls was at the market today. He had set up his lathe with the long curved branch held securely on the ground with cement blocks. On his early visits to the market, he wedged it under the back bumper of his automobile, but perhaps the cement blocks work better. He has a foot pedal with which to control the turning. Learning to turn wood and then the making of wooden bowls and plates seems to be a rite of passage for men when they reach retirement age. Some men become very skilled and enjoy using different kinds of wood to make different kinds of containers. Others just make the same thing over and over again. A table full of bowls with handwritten labels announcing each kind of wood is much nicer than a table full of matching bowls all made from the same wood.
18 April Friday
Every Good Friday is different but every Good Friday is the same. There is always a deep silence over the countryside. The silence is deeper than usual because there is less activity. Lots of things are closed. Restaurants, bars, banks, schools and post offices are closed but many other places like petrol stations, supermarkets and garden centres are open. Most places can choose whether or not they want to be open. This is the first day of a four day weekend. A long weekend means people need food and things, but it also might mean that they want to go away. Every business can decide but places which serve alcohol cannot decide for themselves. They must close. The laws decreed by the Catholic church are still in place. There is usually a lot of panic buying of alcohol on the Thursday before Good Friday. Just because it is not possible to get a drink on the Friday, people feel an imperative need to have a supply ready just in case. There are two places where it is possible to get a drink on Good Friday. One is a train station. If you have a ticket to travel, you can sit in a station bar all day long.. People used to go and buy the cheapest ticket possible and then sit and drink the day away. The other place is in a hotel bar. Legally it is required that one be resident in the hotel but there were lots of ways that people were able to get around that, like if they knew the bartender or if the waitress was their cousin. Now people feel confident enough to drink at home. In the past, most people did not ever drink anything in the home, except maybe for medicinal purposes. Still, this attitude that one must drink simply because it is against the law to drink is mad. It would be easier to change the law. And yesterday, I learned that it is also a Catholic rule that one cannot eat meat on Good Friday. Butcher shops remain open, and have ignored this for a long time.
17 April Thursday
The woman did not want to go to the event by herself. She did not want to have to arrive alone and she did not want anyone to notice her arriving alone. She wanted to arrive with someone else even if after arriving she would desert the other person immediately. She said she needed someone To Take The Bare Look Off Her.
15 April Tuesday
The phone books arrived again today. Last week, I phoned the Eircom people and asked for new telephone directories. We had not received a new one since 2010. The girl on the phone said they would post them out immediately. They did, and we got them the next day but the books they sent were for the 06 area not for our area which is 05. I phoned again and we were sent out two more books, one with the residential listings as well as a copy of The Golden Pages for businesses. Everything is smaller about these new books. The measurement from top to bottom and from left to right is the same but the thickness is greatly diminished. The text within tthe books is smaller. The paper is the same thin paper as is always used in the directories, but I think there are fewer numbers and names within as so many people have given up having a landline. We need a magnifying glass to read anything at all.. And even though we now have four books rather than the two requested, they still take up less space on the shelf than two of the older ones.
14 April Monday
The Man Who Waits Beside His Car While His Sister Walks Her Dog. The first time I saw this man, I was on the way to the post office in the afternoon. He waved to me as he stood beside his parked car. I waved back. On my return up the road, he was still there so I stopped to ask if he was alright. I thought perhaps his car had broken down and that he was waving to ask for help rather than just being friendly. He said he was fine and that he was only there waiting for The Sister to walk her dog. He was an older man and his sister looked to be about the same age. She was down the road with a sheep dog and a big heavy stick. At the time I thought it an odd place to choose for walking a dog. It is a narrow length of road and it is probably the single stretch where the cars go fast. There is no way to get off and out of the way of a big truck or a tractor. The ditches are high and there is no edge nor sidewalk. But then I thought that maybe the dog just had to get out of the car and that was why they had stopped where they stopped. Now, almost every time I go to the village in the afternoon, I see the man leaning on his car, smoking a cigarette, and waving to whoever passes. The Sister is either walking up the road or down the road toward the bridge. If a car comes along she whacks the dog with her heavy thick stick. The dog is on an extremely short lead so there is no way he could get out in front of a car even if he wanted to. I think she just hits him to let him know who is in charge. There are many quieter roads and plenty of field tracks where this dog could walk with a lot of pleasure. I think the spot is chosen both by and for The Man Who Waits. He has lots of people to salute while he waits and probably every so often someone stops to speak with him. The location is chosen for the man’s convenience and the poor dog gets a walk even if it is a terrible struggle down a busy tar road in between beatings.
13 April Sunday
Shovel Duty is a new part of life. The Elderly Em never goes far from the house anymore so when she poops we try to locate it and pick it up with the long handled shovel. Our walking routes through the grass criss-cross between buildings and it is easy to be stepping in something at any time. The little modules of excrement are firm and not squishy as long as we get them before they are stepped upon. They tend to be in a little line, three or four of them dropped as she moves away from the activity while still doing it. The shovel we use has a rounded surface with a dulled point on the end. It was the one Tom Browne always used for throwing sand and cement into the mixer. Because Tom always used it for that, it became the one which Simon also used for cement mixing. The surface of the shovel is coated and crunchy with old dried concrete. Now it has this new function which is good because the shovel itself is light. Since the handle is long, it is easy to swing and toss the little poops over the fence, over the wall or down the banking. It does have one downside and that is that there is a fingernail shaped hole in the middle of the metal. If the balance is not right, whatever has been picked up might fall through the small hole. I could go and find a less worn out shovel but it has become a challenge to balance everything while getting it out of the way. There has to be a modicum of satisfaction in every job.
12 April Saturday
I gave two empty egg boxes to David the Egg Man at the market. He thanked me four times. He was so grateful to receive them that I felt embarrassed that it was only two boxes. I wished it had been a dozen. He said that he has been so short of boxes that he was obliged to order some to be sent down from Belfast. He hated to have to do that. Paying for the boxes annoyed him and he hated having to order a large quantity of them. He fears people got out of the habit of saving their egg cartons over the winter. He hopes that everyone who buys his eggs will remember to bring him their empties now that spring is here. I am not sure what the weather or the season has to do with it but he sounded so very certain that the springtime would make a difference, I feel I must believe him.
10 April Thursday
I took some freshly cooked rhubarb down to Tommie and Margaret. He had told me that he loves rhubarb but he said he never ate it because he did not know how to prepare it. He does not know how to cook anything and Margaret is no longer allowed to cook. Her eyes are too bad. Her hip is bad too. It gives her a lot of pain so even if she could see to cook, she cannot stand up to cook. Not only can she not stand for long but she is also falling down a lot. I took some custard to go along with the rhubarb. Margaret answered the door when I knocked. She opened the door wide and called out “Who Have I?” She could see the shape of a person but she could not tell who the person was.
9 April Wednesday
Alma told me that they do not milk on a Sunday now. The quotas for milk production being what they are means that things have gone so official that farmers cannot milk every day of the week without producing too much milk. Too much milk will get them into trouble with their farm subsidies. I was confused at how the cows cope with eating grass all day in order to produce milk and then not being milked. The cows cannot understand about quotas and subsidies. They just eat grass and make milk. Alma said the cows can get used to anything and that one day without being milked was Not A Bother for them.
8 April Tuesday
When school lets out at the Loreto in the afternoon, the Gashouse Bridge is impassable. It is always a mistake not to think about what time it is before driving that way. The girls in their dark green knee-length pinafores and dark green socks or tights and bright red sweaters are everywhere. They are on the pavements and they are crossing the road. The many pairs of bare white legs look terrible on a cold day. There are buses to collect some of the girls and dozens of cars to collect others. Cars are parked all along both sides of the bridge. Other cars come along and stop right in the middle of the road when the drivers see the girl they are there to collect. None of the cars use an indicator when they pull over nor do they let other drivers know that they are about to stop. They know what they are doing and it is our job to let them do it. At this same hour every school day afternoon the Gashouse Bridge belongs to the Loreto School girls and their parents. For everyone else it is simply a bad route to have taken.
7 April Monday
Wild garlic everywhere. It smells good when I step on it. It smells good when I pick it. It tastes good and it looks good. I always welcome these first bright green leaves as a sign that spring is really here. Later the leaves will go darker and the white star-like flowers will appear. By then spring will be well established.
6 April Sunday
Em is still and always getting stuck under chairs or in amongst the legs of tables. She has been trapped between a wall and a standing lamp, and trapped between a door and the door jamb. Some times she can get herself out of these physically challenging situations but sometimes she just stops struggling and she waits. She waits for someone to come along and release her. Sometimes it is not easy as it is a case of lifting a chair or a stool up and over her but if part of her is straddling a side piece of the furniture it is not possible to lift both the object and the dog without hurting the dog. Her patience and her resigned acceptance of each new entrapment are upsetting for me. I don’t know if they are upsetting for her. This is just her life.
5 April Saturday
For someone to announce that she is Pushed To the Pin of My Collar is another way of saying that she is under great pressure or at the very end of her tether.
4 April Friday
Someone is moving into The Tailor’s Cotttage. It is always called The Tailor’s Cottage even though there has been no tailor in it for as long as I have been here. The tailor’s name was Willie Hurley. When anyone speaks of him, everyone else has something to add. People came from Clonmel and even farther away to have things made by him. His house was surrounded by bushes which were high and overgrown. Just outside his door there was a pile of marmalade jars. They were the two-pound marmalade jars. The heap of jars was higher than his head when he stood at the door. The high bushes and brambles meant that not much light got inside the cottage. The high bushes and brambles also made sure that the local children were terrified of him and his cottage. Willie Hurley knew everything. He listened to the radio all day. He knew everything that was going on everywhere and he could talk about it all. One of his many jobs was to sew uniforms for the guards. His house was piled high with cloth and with clothes. Some clothes were hanging and some were folded into piles. He had an old treadle sewing machine but he also did a lot of his sewing by hand. No one knows how he learned to sew. His own mother could not sew at all. Everyone is agreed that he was trained by someone else.
3 April Thursday
I met the Dulux Man in Cahir this morning. He greeted me enthusiastically. We have not met for maybe half a year. He immediately asked about Em, and then told me that his own sheep dog lived until she was 18. Since Em is only 15, he does not consider her particularly old. He introduced me to his new dog whose name is Cleo. She is a spaniel and was bred for a hunting dog but she was gun-shy. The owners were about to shoot her because a gun-shy gun dog was was useless to them, so the Dulux Man was happy that he saved her from that fate. Everything he tells me is always told in the same breathless and speedy recitation. He leaps from one thing to the next and there is no chance of the conversation being a conversation. It is just a chance for him to talk and for me to listen until I decide that it is time to continue on my way. He told me about a cat who was on television because it was 25 years old and he told me about a Jack Russell who had been thrown out by someone in Cork and then had his back leg ripped off by some other bigger dogs. His eyes filled with tears as he spoke about the poor dog who he has never known. He loves all animals. His tears provided a gap in the telling, so I was able to say my good lucks and move along the pavement.
2 April Wednesday
One bird sits on the top edge of the barn for hours. He or she sits right above the bird house but not on the roof of the bird house. I do not know if he or she is standing guard or just checking out the neighbourhood as a possibility for a future family home. Other birds are staying away. This bird seems to have marked the territory at least provisionally. I feel like an estate agent keeping track of possible new tenants.
1 April Tuesday
Tea time or just after tea time is when the candidates go visiting. That is the time when they have finished with their own daytime jobs and that is the time when they are apt to find people at home. They have to be careful to pitch the time correctly. Interrupting families while they are eating is not always a good idea but leaving it too late when people are settled for their TV viewing is not good either. Rural canvassing also means that they cannot be arriving after dark as it might frighten people and that is not going to win votes. Candidates in towns or villages can do a whole street quickly but visiting in the countryside means a drive from house to house. It might not be possible to hit more than ten or twenty places in an evening. It is easier now that the clocks have changed. Darkness does not come so quickly. Most people running for office in an area like this assume that everyone already knows them. If they are of the parish, and if their families have been of the parish for a long while, it is just a matter of letting people know that they are running for an office. Then there are the candidates whose father or mother or spouse held the office and if that person has died, especially while holding the office, there is an implicit acceptance that the job should of course stay in the family. A right to ascendency only works if everyone already knows that and adheres to it. Introducing oneself to strangers, who might even want to talk policy, is different than just reminding people that you are ready to step into family shoes.
31 March Monday
There is a someone new living in Michael O’ Connor’s cottage. There are new shrubs planted and there are flowers in pots on the windowsills. There are five baby goats, as well as cats and ducks. There is a large garden area dug and the frame for a polytunnel has been erected. After several years with the house sitting empty, it is exciting to witness all this activity. There is more happening in a day than ever happened in all the years that Michael lived there and still, the covering has yet to be stretched over the tunnel.
30 March Sunday
We put a bird house up high on the gable end of the barn. It sticks out from the profile of the barn and I am not sure that I like the look of the location. I was thinking maybe we should move it before any birds get settled inside but already the box is inciting busy interest. At different times during the day, the birds come and sit on the roof of the barn and then they hop onto the roof of the bird house and lean over to look inside. There is a lot of in and out and flying back to the tree and and flying back to the house. I do not know if the same birds are coming to look and look and look again or if it is different birds.
28 March Friday
Even with all of her confusion, forgetfulness and stumbling in circles, Em never fails to check the Crumb Jar. The Crumb Jar is not a jar. It is a wide mouthed metal pot which stands on the floor beside the Rayburn. This is a good time of year to check it because any crumbs from making toast on the stovetop end up being swept into the pot. In summer there are no crumbs being added to the pot because the stove is turned off. But just in case, Em checks it several times a day, everyday.
27 March Thursday
Simon is planning a trip to Galway. He looked up the train schedule. If he gets on a train in Cahir at 8 am and switches trains first at Limerick Junction and then again in Limerick, he will reach Galway at 2.30 in the afternoon. On the return trip he would need to get on a train at ten past nine, do the same two changes in Limerick and at Limerick Junction in order to arrive back in Cahir at 5.30. The trip there would take 6 1/2 hours. The return trip would take 8 1/2 hours. There is no way that the journey can be done in one day by train. Driving takes only about 2 1/4 hours. Is it any wonder few people bother to travel by train?
26 March Wednesday
Traditionally, busy butcher shops have had a woman sitting in a home-made booth. The booth is constructed out of plywood. The woman sits inside the booth either directly across from the counter with the meat or at a right-angle to it. After some meat has been chosen and cut and weighed and wrapped, the customer is given a piece of paper and he or she goes over to the woman in the booth. The person in the booth is never a man and never a girl. The woman takes the paper and tallies up the purchases with a pencil and tells the customer the total. The woman has a drawer where the money is kept. The woman never has a cash register. After paying her, the customer returns to the butcher who has usually watched the whole transaction. Nevertheless, he asks for the piece of rubber stamped paper and then he hands over the wrapped parcel. The butcher never touches the money and the woman never touches the meat. Some shops are now eliminating the woman and the booth. Increasingly, the butcher moves to the end of the counter and takes for the meat himself.
25 March Tuesday
I went to collect my dress from Jurgita. She is the seamstress from Lithuania who was making adjustments for me. When I arrived, my wool dress was on her dummy and standing right in the middle of the shop. An older woman was examining my dress very carefully while Jurgita finished pinning trousers for another customer. The woman asked what I thought of the dress. I said that I liked it. I said that it was my dress which might explain why I liked it. She was interested to know that it was my dress, but she offered no opinion of her own. She circled around the dummy a few times. She asked me where I would wear it. I did not know what she meant by that. I said I would wear it wherever I felt like wearing it. I said it was not a single occasion garment. She said, “Oh, you know what I mean! Now, would you wear it to the races?” Going to the races is a major social event here. There are always photographs in the newspaper of people dressed up for the races. Woman wear elaborate hats and fancy dresses. Even in terrible rain and mud they dress as though it was warm and sunny. I think they mostly dress like that in the hopes of being photographed. My dress did not look in anyway showy enough for the kind of thing I think she was suggesting. I thought about this all the way home. I decided that acknowledging that a dress is one which might be worn to the races implies its specialness, even if it is never worn for that purpose. Of course, I could be wrong.
24 March Monday
Lashing rain all day. Most of the rain is falling sideways. I am not sure if something can fall sideways. Maybe the word fall is what is wrong here. Nonetheless, sideways is how the rain is moving from the sky before it reaches the ground. The rain is sideways and sometimes diagonal and it is drenching and it has not stopped once all day. The daffodils have been beaten down. They are lying flat on the grass. Em has had a spring haircut, which offered a brief distraction from the weather. I stayed and helped to hold her up on the grooming table. Her back legs collapsed frequently. It was a job to get the horrible clumps cut off first and then to wash and dry her and then to start again to cut the rest of the hair. Altogether it took about an hour and a half. Most of the time she looked out the window at the rain and the few passing cars while the cutting was being done. There was no struggle and no wiggling. She is a placid dog even in her decrepit condition. I think for her it was a very big day out. She now looks like a much younger version of herself. And still, the rain falls.
23 March Sunday
Where you live is Home. Where you started from is your Home Place. The Home Place is hugely important. No one here ever gets over not being in their Home Place even if they never go back there for years and years. On returning from anywhere, one is always welcomed home whether where you are returning to is your Home Place or simply Home.
22 March Saturday
Em tends to walk out the back door and take a sharp left through the narrow space between the bench and the table. There is a step down and onto the slate path which she has been hesitant to take recently. It took me a few weeks to understand why she stops at the step and never goes further. Tendrils of honeysuckle were hanging down and blocking her way. They were not dense but they were there. The old Em would have pushed right past them, but now they are enough to stop her in her tracks. Today I got out the clippers and cut the honeysuckle. I made a clear opening for her to pass through. I thought she would be happy. She went out the door, took the left, stepped off the step and fell flat in a heap onto the path. The honeysuckle was just one obstacle. The step was another.
21 March Friday
I went to the hospital yesterday. I was told to PRESENT at the hospital at 8 am. I was not told to Present Myself, nor was I told simply to arrive. PRESENT is the verb used. Now that the things which needed to be done there have been done, I have been told that I will need to see the doctor IN ROOMS. IN ROOMS is where the doctor is when he is not in the hospital. IN ROOMS is the doctor’s office, or consulting rooms.
19 March Wednesday
The radio gives traffic and travel bulletins at various times throughout the day. It is especially thorough during the morning and evening rush hours. In addition to the road reports there are notifications of any flight and ferry delays. It is normal to be told that things are all moving smoothly, not only if there are problems The road bulletins cover the entire country. Information is given both for highways and for the traffic moving through the cities of Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Just now I heard that the movement in Galway is Slow Enough Through the City Centre. Anywhere where a problem or an accident has happened is mentioned no matter how obscure the road or in what part of the country the road is located. Back roads are given the same attention as the big roads. The AA Roadwatch covers the entire country and still, the whole report only takes a few minutes.
18 March Tuesday
I was waiting my turn. There were several other people in the waiting room and there were enormous stacks of magazines piled up on the chairs where no one was sitting. Underneath all of the chairs were plastic bags full of books and magazines and papers. There was very little unfilled space. Over near the doorway, stood a high stool with a torn grey plastic seat and back. Upside down on the seat was a small white plastic laundry basket. It was too small to actually be a laundry basket. It was rectangular and the same sort of shape and made for carrying or holding things. On top of the upside down white basket, there was an open lap top computer. Its back was resting against the back of the seat. The electric cord for the computer hung down and went right across the open doorway. Each time someone entered or exited through the door, the woman in charge cautioned them to be careful of the flex. I sat and waited for someone to trip over the cord. I waited for someone to trip over the cord and pull the lap top off its precarious perch. By the time my turn came and even as I was departing everything stayed standing, including the woman working at the computer. She said standing up was better for her back.
16 March Sunday
Yesterday we walked up the Mass Path for the first time in many months. The large lake which was at the bottom of the meadow has drifted off downstream or sunk into the ground. The entire area.is still wet. The mud is ankle deep. There is a line of dusty dried mud all along the edges to mark the height of where the lake used to be. The leaves and grasses look like they have been sprayed with something grey and toxic, but it is just mud. All the way up the path there are trees down. In some places we could squeeze underneath the trees. Sometimes we had to crawl up and over them. None of it was easy. In a few cases there were branches broken off but mostly it was entire trees pulled out of the soil by their roots. The ground was so wet and the wind has been so fierce that the entire root systems just could not hold on. In some places the trees have fallen away from the path. In a way this seems good because it opens up some light in the tunnel of the path, but it is not really good because it smashed up stone walls as it fell away. There must have been twenty or thirty trees down between the bottom where the stream is and the road at the top. It was hard work to get up through it all. We usually don’t like road walking very much but after all of that tree climbing and mud, it was a relief to be on the firm dry surface.
15 March Saturday
I have been watching Em’s deterioration into old age for so long now. I marvel that I can continually note new levels of her slow-down. She still shows a lot of curiosity about the world around her. Her reactions are just slower. She is able to stand and look out an open door for 4 or 5 minutes before making the decision to walk through it. She rarely walks all through the house any more. Her movements are in a smaller number of places and her sleeping spots are always new and often in places she has never before tried. I do what I can for her comfort and pleasure. It is hard to brush her as her scalp is tender. Strong and vigorous brushing is no good but a gentle bit of stroking with an old soft brush is okay. Her skin shows very pink and delicate through the thinning hair. There are a lot of clumpy bits which I keep hacking off with scissors. She is not so good at cleaning herself these days. We now divide her food into three small meals a day which the vet says is best for elderly digestion. It also provides for a bit of excitement and anticipation. When she and I go out and wander about on the grass she turns left and then she turns right and sometimes she stops abruptly as if she has hit a wall. Sometimes she follows me and sometimes she does not follow me. Sometimes, I leave her outside wandering around on her own and doing her about face turns until I worry that she is so tired that she will fall over. Today Oscar came by for a visit and his wagging tail hit her in the face and knocked her to the ground. That is when I knew it was time to bring her back into the house, even though I do think she enjoyed the excitement of his visit. Getting knocked down once was thrilling. Getting knocked down twice would be too much for one afternoon.
14 March Friday 14-3-14
The entire country is in a bit of a tizzy. Today is the last day of the Cheltenham Races. About half the country left by boat to spend anywhere from four days to a week there. Of course, lots of horses go too. The national news is full of Irish wins, Irish injuries and Irish odds on Irish betting. Then on Saturday the Irish play the French in the final of the Six Nations Rugby Championship in Paris. Hundreds or thousands of people will be flying off to France for that, or else they have already gone. The politicians are away celebrating Patrick’s day in foreign countries under the guise of diplomacy, and hordes of marching bands and majorettes and state troopers are arriving from faraway to demonstrate how Irish they are. They will all be participating in the parades to be held here on Monday. It is a particularly mad time with all of these things happening together.. Mostly, it is good for the airports and hotels and ferries.
13 March Thursday
The starlings are back. Today is the first day we have seen them. They are diving and swooping at the barn roof and its edges. Plans for nests are in the collective mind. Spring is officially here.
11 March Tuesday
Well, Girl! Well, Boy! This is what people in Clonmel say to one another as greetings. The Boy is not really pronounced as Boy it is more like By. Bey or By. I cannot really decide. I would never say it. I would never be able to get it right. Girl is also used to punctuate sentences. When used like that, it has nothing to do with whether the person being spoken to is male or female. It is just a form of friendly address.
10 March Monday
Three elderly men and on elderly woman were sitting together at a table. They each had a big mug of milky tea. While everyone was stirring in their sugar, the woman went back up to the counter. She came back and handed out Twix bars to each of them. They all made the same noises of delight and immediately opened the wrappers. They ate their Twix bars in unison. Treats are very often the same treats as they have always been. They are relished for their familiarity. A slice of brack or a scone is always welcome because it is familiar. A treat must not be a threat.
9 March Sunday
The endless rain has stopped. It is still cold. Some days are bright and clear. We have had mornings with a heavy crunchy frost which melts into a warm and lovely afternoon. Some days are grey and dull. Other days the fog sets in and we can see nothing in the distance, neither near nor far. Everyday, rain or clear, the shop still brings out its stand-up metal sign. The sign advertises Anti-Mould Products. Everyone who has not used them yet will still be looking to purchase something for their clean-up of some mildew somewhere in their life. I doubt anyone has escaped it but some of us are slower to clear it up than others.
8 March Saturday
There is a three foot drop from the edge of the flower bed down to the concrete path in front of the barn. I was inside working at the big table and Em was wandering around on the grass. She must have seen me going into the barn, or else she caught sight of me through the glass. I looked up just in time to see her making a straight line towards me. Lucky for both of us there are some stones along the edge of the bedded area. She was trying to raise her legs high enough to step over them. A more nimble Emily would have bounded over the not very large stones. This old Emily couldn’t handle such a lift of the leg. Her struggle gave me a bit of much needed time. I was able to deflect her from her straight line before she fell down the three foot drop to a very hard landing.
7 March Friday
The telephone is working again. We were on the verge of deciding that maybe it was enough to have only the internet phone and mobile phones. We thought we might give up on a landline, but everything in this valley is more difficult than normal. Since nothing works all the time, a landline is a pleasing constant, when it is working. The sun is out. Em is having a better and less bumbly day. The door is still not working right, but spring feels closer.
6 March Thursday
Simon took Em’s wicker bed out to the barn and he used a jigsaw to cut the front down to floor level. He also cut a bit off each side to widen the opening. Em has not used this bed much in recent months as she stumbles when she tries to get into the bed and then she falls when struggling to get out. I think she just decided there were other less complicated places to sleep, so she stopped trying to get in and out of it. Simon thinks this new opening will give her the enclosed cosy bed back. We keep trying to do as much as possible to make her life pleasant. He has glued up the edges so tomorrow, when it is dry we will see if she is interested to get in.
4 March Tuesday
A frequent sight is a dog lying in the space between the road and the place where he or she lives. It might be the end of a driveway, or the wide opening of a farmyard, or the bit of gravel and soil just outside the gate. These country dogs locate themselves between that which is their own territory and the territory which is the outside world. Sometimes the dogs are stretched out and almost on the road. Sometimes they are stretched out as long as their bodies can go and just their front paws are on the tar road. I do not know if they are expanding the sense of their own world or if it is a teasing taunt. They are not interested to chase the odd car or tractor which passes. They are simply watching. I think there is a strong sense that their world is inside and the world beyond is outside that line where the road begins. But maybe their world is everything that they can see.
The phone is still dead.
3 March Monday
The phone is still dead. It has not worked consistently since early December. There are phones out all over the place. It is not just us. Trees have come down and knocked out lines and the soggy ground has caused things to tip and drop and droop. Many trees are down and have been cut away from where they fell. We are lucky that we had the branches of the big ash cut in the autumn. They would never have survived the winter winds. Many people are terrified of trees which is why they do not like them near to their houses. There are people who claim to hate trees. How can you hate trees? After this winter, many people are more fearful than ever. A lot of trees planted are the wrong kind of trees. If the trees planted near houses were not the ones which can grow to be massive, some problems would never arise and the presence of the houses in the land might be softened. A lot of houses end up with a naked look in an over zealous attempt to keep nature under control. The houses sit on their plots surrounded by cement and tar. Nature, like mud, is something to keep at a distance.
2 March Sunday
Walking with Em is improving. We go out into the yard together and wander around. I look at trees and storm damage and the buds. She walks about and stops at odd moments and then turns and turns back again. She does not know where she is going or she does not remember where she is going but she seems to want to keep going. There is much less falling about. Her legs are getting stronger. Once again, I thought she was dying but she seems too busy for that now. I am delighted. Every so often we manage to get down into the meadow. I was worried that she might discover the new lake at the bottom where the stream has flooded. If she got into the water she would not be able to swim and I do not think she would be able to climb out. The rushing water against her weakened legs would be too much. So far there is much to examine in the meadow. The many turns and wrong turns take so much energy she has no chance of getting as far as the water.
28 February Friday
The door still will not open. It will not open nor will it close properly. Each time I bang my body weight against it to open the lower part of the door, I am hurt by the horse chestnuts in the pocket of my raincoat. I have bruises on my hip from the ramming of the horse chestnuts between the door and my hip. Getting in and out is such a job that each time I remind myself to throw the horse chestnuts away, but it is such a pest to get the door closed again, that I forget all about them until the next time. The phone is still dead.
27 February Thursday
There are orange signs everywhere. They are in the ditches, leaning against walls and buildings. They are usually positioned near to a group of sandbags. The signs say ROAD FLOODED in black letters on the bright orange background. At the moment there is not any flooding on the roads. There are long puddles and there is a lot of water but there is not enough to be called flooding. The signs are not being collected and put away as there has been so much flooding already, that the understanding is that there will be more flooding. On a certain level there is only one topic of conversation. On another level, everyone is so weary of this topic that they barely speak at all.
26 February Wednesday
Em is very fragile. She is stumbling and staggering. Most times her legs do not seem strong enough to hold her up. She is forever on the verge of falling over. It is difficult to watch her like this. The smallest thing in her path is enough to knock her off balance. A dead teasel lying on the grass, a shoe on the floor. I am moving things around manically so that I do not have to watch her struggle. When she walks, her legs are unequal in their strength so sometimes she is falling into a circular movement. She is falling into a circle. She is always on the verge of tumbling but the circling and the stronger legs mostly keep her from collapsing. Sometimes they do not and she falls to the ground in a heap. Pushing herself back up to standing is sometimes easy and sometimes very hard work. Twice today I have helped by lifting her back end up and she has immediately begun her wandering again. She is very interested in the smells. Her hearing is bad and her eyes are not good but there is nothing wrong with her sense of smell, even in this soaking and sodden world.
25 February Tuesday
Everything is wet. The world is wet. The kitchen door is nearly impossible to open. Once it is open it is nearly impossible to close.Walls are slimey with moisture and with mildew. The boreen is ripped up worse than ever. The damage has been done simply by the force of rushing water. The house is in pretty good shape. No tree limbs have come down on top of it. The telephone is dead and the mobile phones don’t work very well. There are daffodils coming up and there are snowdrops still in bloom and most trees have buds. Spring is burgeoning, but it is hard to believe anything can be happening in all of this wetness.
24 February Monday 2014
The landing was rough. The wind pushed the plane. The stewardess announced that since it was raining very hard, we would be sure to get wet while going down the steps and walking across the tarmac to the airport. She admonished us all to put up our hoods. If we did not have a hood, she told us to put on our hats. For those with only a hat, she said we would have to keep a hand on the hat or else it would blow away. She made these motherly suggestions first in English and then in Irish and in French. Everyone looked around at one another to see that all of our heads were covered before we even began the move away from our seats.