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 schedualed 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 afterward. 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 stirrred 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 favorite 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 archeaologist 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 thatn 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 embarassed 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 dfferent 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 scheduale. 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 cozy 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.