The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: October, 2014

& Again, The Man Who Waits By His Car While His Sister Walks the Dog.

27 October Bank Holiday Monday

Twice in the last week I have seen the siblings.  He stands leaning against the front of his car and waves aggressively at each car that passes.  Not many cars pass so he puts a lot of energy into the wave. Perhaps I should call it enthusiasm rather than aggression. He takes a step out into the narrow road just on the off chance that as a driver you might not see him.  This means that not only do you see him but you have trouble not hitting him.  The sister is not far down the road.  The dog cannot escape these mad people.  He is held tight on the lead.  She allows him about a foot of length on the lead and he has the big black cudgel held inches over his head each time a car comes along.  There is no chance that he can forget anything.  His life looks like hell. The sister stops and holds the beating stick over the dog’s head and watches each car as it passes.  The brother smokes his cigarette without using any hands and he waves manically.  On the trip down to the village I felt so annoyed that I did not salute and I did not even turn my head.  On the return trip, he stepped out into the road even more dangerously than usual.  I nodded.  I did not salute.  Seeing them twice in one week makes me cross.  Wondering why they choose this busy patch of road for a dog walk is one question Why I let them annoy me so much is another.

25 October Saturday

I can hear winter rodents in the walls.  They are either in the walls or under the floor.  Sometimes they are noisy and working or just generally scrabbling about.  Every year we think there is no way for a mouse to get in.  Every year the mice find a way in.

24 October Friday

She is very ill and will need some chemotherapy or some radiotherapy or maybe both kinds of therapy.  She has also signed herself up as being willing for some medical trials because she knows there is not much hope for her anyway because her illness is very advanced.  She feels she might as well be useful as research.  Maybe it will help someone else.  Her niece is furious with her and says she has no right to be a human test tube so she has turned off her phone most of the time as she does not need or want the niece shouting at her. Because her phone is so often turned off, it is not easy to phone her and we have to wait until she turns it on again. She was glad to hear good things said about the radiotherapy being done in the hospital in Clonmel as that is where she will have to go because Waterford is just too far and she will need to be in and out a lot and often.  Her Home Help has been the best person to advise and reassure her about the hospital and their competence.  She always speaks of her Home Help as My Home Help.  She never says a name so I do not know the Home Help’s name.  Her Home Help has told her to eat lots of garlic and local honey as these things are especially good for fighting cancer.  She does not like garlic so she thinks she will double up on the amount of honey she eats.  I think it is very late for these solutions but when she is on the telephone she speaks a lot and very quickly so I do not have a chance to tell her anything she does not want to hear anyway.

23 October Thursday

My old hat is not even my hat.  It is Simon’s hat, but it is so old and faded and beaten that he never wears it. It has a bite out of it on the brim. Some visiting dog did that.  This is a hat from far away.  It is made of felt.  It is called a Crusher because it is made to crush up and stick into your pocket if you are out wearing it and then decide that you do not need it. These hats used to come in two colours.  Maybe they still do. One was a day-glo orange.  The orange is preferred by hunters when they are out deer hunting.  The hat makes sure the hunter can be seen. This hat which I now think of as my hat was once a forest green.  It has faded and it is pretty much not a colour.  It is just dirty looking. This hat has become my preferred walking hat.  If it rains when I am out the hat will keep the wet out for a while. Not forever, but for a good while.  It also has a bit of warmth. Each time I wear it, people comment on it. They are not commenting because they like it.  I think they are commenting because it is a sort of surprising thing to be out in the world wearing.  If I were an old farmer it would be okay but I am a woman and not a farmer and it is not really okay.  People who comment on it are always a little bit embarrassed for me. I am not embarrassed.  I like my hat.  I like that it reappears every year just now as the weather changes.

22 October Wednesday

There was a diagonal stripe on the road.  It was several feet wide and was made up of purple and black and bluish marks.  I looked at it and I looked at it again and I thought about it as I walked by and over it yesterday.  I could not figure out what caused this colour nor its odd angle and width.  I thought about it again today as I walked by.  I think I passed over this stripe of splotchy colour three times before realizing that it is made up of bird droppings.  The birds sit on the electricity cables crossing the road overhead.  They sit on the cable and they excrete all of the blackberries they have been eating.  A simple solution to my question but it took three days for me to get to the answer.

That kind of a way

21 October Tuesday

I thought we would be blown away last night.  The promises and threats for the encroaching hurricane announced that the entire country was in Yellow Alert. I gathered up a few things that I thought might go flying around outside.  As I was coming up from the barn I cut off a single rose bud which was just about to blossom.  I knew I would prefer to watch it open up indoors rather than have it beaten to death by wind and rain.  I also picked the very last sweet peas of the year.  I woke up off and on all through the night.  The noise of the wind was mighty but there was no rain.  This morning I expected to see branches down and lots of chaos but there was very little damage.  Leaves and small branches were scattered about but the big promised storm seemed to miss us.  It missed us or maybe it got weak before it got as far as here.  The mountains protected us.  I could not help but feel a little disappointed after so many dire warnings and the excitement of the radio announcers.  If there had been terrible devastation I would no doubt feel ashamed.  The day dawned bright and mild and breezy.  The hedge cutting man and his machine made more trouble than the storm.  There were stones out of the wall all the way down the boreen from where he bumped into it.  Some of them were too big for me to lift so I had to leave those for Simon.  Clearing them away made plenty of work.  We did not really need the mess of a hurricane.

19 October Sunday

We took the X51 from Galway.  It was fast and it traveled on the new motorway, so it was a smooth journey.  There was an old man sitting in the front seat behind the driver.  He fell into a deep sleep as soon as the bus started.  He slept the full hour and a half .  He woke up as we pulled into Limerick station and he was the first one off the bus.

We went into the station café for tea and toast while we waited for our connection.  The old man came in soon after us.  He ordered a piece of apple pie.  The counter lady poured cream over it.  He took the pie to a table and ate it fast.  He ate one bite right after the other without stopping.  He finished the pie and left his plate on the table.  The man then went up to the counter and ordered a big slice of layer cake.  The counter lady held up the jug of cream and he nodded.  She poured a lot of cream onto his cake.  He came over to our table and asked if he could join us.  He sat down and began to eat his cake with the same undivided attention with which he had eaten his pie.

He had a short sleeved tee shirt and he had no bag with him.  It did not seem that he was going far.  The weather was too cold for a tee shirt and no jacket.  He sat down with us when there were a lot of empty tables so I knew he wanted to talk.  He asked if we lived in Limerick.  I said no and I asked him if he lived in Limerick.  He said no.  He said he lived in Galway. He had just come over on the bus for a slice of cake but the pie looked good, so he had a piece of pie first and now he was having cake which is what he came for.  He told us that he was retired and that he used to be a farmer.  I asked if he missed the farming and he said no.  He said he did not miss the farming but he did miss his wife.  She had been a teacher and she died two years ago in December. He said the hardest thing was losing your life partner.  Losing your partner and living in retirement had a way of making life empty.

He said he enjoyed his travel card.  Every person in the country over the age of 65 has this card.  The card allows them to travel on buses and trains for free.  They can take someone along with them too.  Two people can travel for free. He enjoys the freedom of his card but he would like it better if his wife could travel with him.  Today he had ridden for an hour and a half to get to Limerick.  He ate pie and cake and soon he would be on the bus back to Galway.  That would be another hour and a half.  Riding the buses was a way for him to pass the time.

We said goodbye and went out to wait for our connecting bus.  We watched as he came out of the station and climbed back on board the X51.

17 October Friday

You Know That Kind of A Way.  This is said in lieu of You Know What I Mean. It is said often and it seems a way of not expressing what one means very well and just hoping that the listener knows enough about what is being discussed.

16 October Thursday

I like being out on the road.  I like the possibility of seeing who I might meet.  I am not necessarily wanting to meet anyone, but there is something nice in knowing that if I walk out and if I do meet someone that someone will be someone I know.  As with the man in the red fleece last week, an exception is possible, but it is rare.

Today I met Sean while walking.  He is still recovering from his treatments and he has been walking out most days to build up his strength. After months and months, he is looking well and getting stronger.  We walked together.  When we got down near the road we call Neddins, we heard the sound of toenails clicking and hitting the road.  Oscar rushed out to greet us and was excited to see two of us.  He  licked and leaped and pranced around and then we all three continued with walking.  We reached my turn to go down the boreen and home.  Sean was continuing to the cross at the top of the hill.  We stood in the sun while we said goodbye.  Oscar looked back and forth at each of us.  He was torn and he rushed first to me and then to Sean and then to me again. He did not know who to go with.  He did not know who would give him the best walk.  Finally he decided on Sean who would definitely give him the longer distance.  I was glad to watch the decision making process.  Oscar is loyal and loves us all.  I like to watch him share his love.

15 October Wednesday

The bridge into the village is an ongoing worry.  It is an old hump-backed stone bridge.  Every so often someone announces that it is about to collapse.  Someone always says the bridge will cave in any day now.  Ten years ago some work was done underneath it and the report then was that collapse was imminent.  We all feel worried for a while each time this discussion comes up.  Then we forget about it as we drive or walk over it every day.  When the bridge collapses there will be a great many of us who will not be able to get to the village without a very long detour.  As the fears build up people discuss the idea of a temporary bridge or of a little boat to take people over the river.  Discussions about how we will deal with the collapse of the bridge can keep a lot of people talking for a long time.  It is never a matter of IF the bridge collapses. It is always WHEN. I am back in a worrying phase about the bridge.  I really do not want to be the one driving over it when it decides to let go. I look forward to forgetting the scary rumours once again.

In Residence



13 October Monday

Every morning starts with a dense fog.  Today the postman came down and said there has been an accident on Knocklofty Bridge.  The road has been closed and all movements are being made difficult by detours and by further fog.  We cannot see over the valley.  We cannot see past the fence into the field. Everything is wet with heavy dew.  The heavy fog holds everything in silence.  I went out to pick my breakfast raspberries today wearing the high rubber boots. My sleeves got soaked immediately just from the water on the leaves.  By lunchtime everyday, the fog burns off and each afternoon is hot and bright. Mornings are for hats and waterproofs and the afternoons are tee-shirt weather. There is a manic feeling that every single job which needs doing before winter comes must be done in these four or five bright hours.  No matter what else needs to be done the dry sunlight hours are for out of door jobs.

12 October Sunday

Simon and I took a working walk up the Mass Path. He carried a big saw and a small saw.  I carried a small saw and clippers.  We worked at clearing away a dead tree which fell and has been blocking the way.  A few weeks ago the lower level was cleared of nettles and brambles and thin branches but this fallen tree has made further passage up the hill impossible.  If we had had a chain saw it would have been a really quick job.  With hand saws, it was slow and complicated.  We were tangled up with brambles and branches.  I worked away at one big branch which came down hard on my head.  We both ended up bleeding and slightly beaten.  We did get the tree cut and moved but then as we went up towards Johnnie Mackin’s there were more sections all closed in with brambles and vegetation and hanging tendrils of thorns.  At that point we gave up and decided to continue the struggle tomorrow.

11 October Saturday

Hay and straw has been baled up and stacked for the winter.  Every single barn and shed everywhere has enormous piles right up to the ceiling.  The sheds are  open on one side so that there is air to circulate around the bales.  Some bales are still outside.  There is a big stack on the Cooney’s corner on concrete slabs so it is off the ground but it is still out of doors.  It looks like a building.  It is six bales high and seven bales long by five bales wide.  The bales on the front of this bale building look like structural columns as they are the cylindrical rather than the rectangular bales.  As a building it is domestic in scale.  It is a golden house in the end of afternoon sunlight.

10 October Friday

The trees are still laden with apples.  The very warm weather and the craziness of the whole growing season all the way back to last spring means that the different varieties have all ripened at abnormal times. I do not understand it at all.  We are a bit overwhelmed.  I have boxes of apples picked and stored in different places.  The mice have found some.  A lot of them are not as great for eating as they usually are.  We have started to make applesauce with a combination of different varieties.  We have started to make applesauce to defeat the mice.  The applesauce is delicious.  I have frozen some and I have taken bowls full to different people. I saw Tommie and I asked him how Margaret was.  I asked him if they liked applesauce.  He said that she liked it and that he loved. it.  I told him I would bring some down later.  He said “If I know you are coming, I will be In Residence.”

9 October Thursday

I needed to clean out the car before taking it in for inspection.  I use the excuse of the NCT test as a reason to give it a thorough interior cleaning once a year.  This level of cleaning is not expected. It is my own requirement.  The outside of the car is more important especially the inner wells around the tires.  The wheel wells of this car always have a good three inches of caked in mud and soil just from our daily driving up and down the boreen.  If we were to take the car in with all that mud they would refuse to do the test.  We would have to pay for the refused test and then we would have to re-book it, return mud-less and pay again.

I had been to the dump, so I was unloading the various re-cycling containers.  I thought it a good idea to do the dump run before the cleaning.  I had both the back and the front doors open.  A big yellow Labrador arrived as I was making trips back and forth to the shed.  He followed me around for a while and then he jumped up into the back of the car.  He sniffed around inside and then he moved up and sat on the passenger seat.  He looked out the windscreen.  I have never seen this dog before.  I expected to see someone walking down the track.  I expected to see someone who would call this dog by name and who would continue on their walk and take the dog along.  He was not a young dog.  He was an older dog with that heaviness that Labs often have.  He was older but not elderly.  He was sprightly enough to leap up into the back of the car without taking a running jump.  I know most dogs in the area.  It is unusual to see a dog I do not know. If I do not know a dog by name I at least know him by sight. I usually know the people he is connected with and it is unusual not to know where a dog lives.

I talked to the dog while I cleared stuff from the car and did a bit of window cleaning.  I decided that perhaps he could smell Em in the motor.  I was finding a lot of her long hair in clumps as I worked.  He did not do anything except sit in the passenger seat.  Sometimes he looked at me but mostly he just looked out the window.  When I started the vacuum cleaner he jumped out and by the time I turned it off again, he was gone.  I did not even see which way he went, but I am sure I will see him again.

Gone Down With The Weather

7 October Tuesday

The shops in the Market Place in Clonmel are all being painted.  I do not know if they are owned by one person but suddenly almost all of them appear to be getting a fresh coat of paint.  All of the shops being painted are unoccupied. Each of the empty ones has a sign in the window advertising that it is For Rent or To Lease or To Let.  The signs vary in the shops. The street is a narrow pedestrian street. Today I counted five places which are still active while twelve of them are empty. The new and fresh colours on the shop fronts does cheer things up a bit but mostly it is very dreary to walk along there.  I tend to walk a different route just so that I do not have to view all of the vacant buildings.  It used to look toothy to see a few empty shops in between those which were open.  Now that there are so many more empties than fulls, it is just sad.

6 October Monday

Breda’s father Jim slipped on some oil and broke his hip.  He was operated upon down at the hospital in Waterford.  I understand that he is already walking again, carefully and with the help of a frame.  He is 85 years old and has always been a very robust and active man.  He has seemed more youthful because of his terrific attitude and energy.  He has a reputation as a great dancer. Now I am told that he will need to Soften His Cough.  I did not understand the expression but the more I think about it, it is making better sense.  It is just a way of explaining the slowing down and accepting of being a little bit older and a little bit more careful.  To Soften His Cough means that he will need to accept change.

5 October Sunday

There are a huge number of spiders around.  There are a huge number of spiders in this house.  I thought it was just me because I am not so fond of dusting in corners.  Now I read in the paper that there are a remarkably large number of spiders everywhere.  It is a combination of the very mild weather we have been having and the fact that this is the mating season for spiders.  I know so little about spiders that I do not know if they are laying eggs which will be waiting to hatch until next spring or if these new spiders will all be born right away.  They must be arriving later otherwise we would have spiders crawling up the walls and in corners of the room all winter.  I hope this is not the case.  I do not relish a house full of spiders all winter long.

4 October Saturday

David had no eggs left.  We were not very late arriving at the market.  It was only ten o’clock, but he was already out of eggs.  He had his table set up and he had his dark red umbrella in position as normal, but he was just standing and chatting with people who came to buy his eggs.  He was happy to collect the empty egg boxes which we brought for him.  He explained again and again that his hens have Gone Down with the Weather.  He reported that with the cold mornings and the cold nights and the early darkness the hens go off to sleep sooner and that means they are laying fewer eggs. He said they might just get accustomed to the early darkness and then return to their usual production.  But he said that for the moment it is A Tragedy.  He said this is exactly the moment when everyone is making their Christmas Cakes.  This is when they need eggs.  He said there could not be a worse moment for his hens to have Gone Down with the Weather.

3 October Friday

An older man leaned over a pram in which a small child was sitting.  The child was probably about two. The man made some little cooing noises at the child.  Then he stood up straight and asked the mother ” Now was that one the baby once?”

2 October Thursday

I had a cup of tea in the kitchen of a friend this morning.  Her table is directly in front of a large window. It is pleasant to look out this window.  The view and the light across the hills and fields changes all the time.  It is a pleasure to sit there.  Everyone who passes directly in front of the house, in a car or on foot, is also visible.  We watched a man in a red fleece walking rapidly down the hill. He had a dog running along with him.  My friend asked me who the man was. I did not know his name but I described where I thought he was living.  I really thought I recognized the dog more than the man. A few hours later I was back at home and I heard shouting.  I looked across the valley and I saw a man with a red fleece up on the hill which used to be part of Johnnie Mackin’s land.  It is such a steep hill that it seems as though it is at a right angle to the meadow below it. Anyone walking on the hill looks like they are balancing impossibly sideways in space. The man was shouting at a dog who was far behind him. From where I was standing I thought maybe it was the same man but I could not be certain that it was the same dog. At the end of the afternoon I was driving back up from the village and I saw a man in a red fleece in the distance.  I felt confused.  This might have been the same man and the same dog.  It might have been the same man two of the times and a different man one of the times.  I thought the dog I saw in the morning was black.  Then I thought I saw a yellow-ish dog.  Then I thought I saw a black dog again.  If there was someone around who regularly wore a red fleece I would know exactly who it was.  But no one would be walking all day long.  Ordinarily I do not see too many different people out walking.  This makes me feel I should know anyone and everyone that I do see out walking.  Maybe these were three different men and three different dogs. Maybe it was a coincidence that today they were all three wearing red fleeces.


Rubber sparrowhawk

1 October Wednesday

Today is the first day of mandatory water charges in the country.  There used to be charges for water but some years ago they were eliminated.  Now charges are being put into place as part of the ongoing Austerity Measures by the government.  Many people, or maybe most people, do not remember a time when they had to pay for water.  A great many people feel aggrieved.  This is a country with a reputation for being very wet and having lots of rain.  People feel they should not have to pay for such a plentiful resource as water.  The trouble is that there are systems to run and pipes to repair.  The nation has been bankrupted and has had to be bailed out by the EU.  Even though things are a lot better than they were a few years ago, there is still an enormous debt.  Businesses have gone under.  People have emigrated.  Homes have been lost because people can no longer pay their mortgages.  Jobs are still hard to find and people have taken huge cuts in their wages and pensions.  People do not have the money to pay yet another charge, but the government does not have the money either.  People have not finished feeling outraged and abused about the new property tax.  Now the water charge has been dropped upon them.

In the last weeks, there have been lots of discussions on the radio about how to lower the water consumption in a household.  People were advised to use showers at schools and clubs and places of employment as much as possible.  There were a lot of suggestions about using water in other places rather than using ones own water. Water butts in gardens were advised.  People were told to put a rock in the toilet tank and to flush less frequently.  They were told to repair any leaky taps. In the last four days, people were advised to use the last days of free water to wash their cars and water their gardens and do lots of jobs that they might usually put on the Long Finger.  As well as cars, things like curtains, patios, pets and  garden furniture could be washed with impunity in the final days before the charges. The implication was that one might never again be able to afford to wash these things.

Today the radio is full of people who are busy running in and out of their houses trying to read the water meters each time a toilet is flushed.  They are taking photographs of the meter and its red numbers with their smart phones.  They are discussing the charge per litre and the information that they can and cannot get from the water board about the water charges.

We do not have to pay water charges because we have our own well.  We have always been careful with our water.  We know that our well is deep, but there is always the vague fear that even so the water in the well might someday run out.  Being careful is a good idea for everyone, as well as for the environment.  Maybe after the initial shock of this new charge, the people who are now upset will realize that being careful is a good idea. When the government put in a tax on plastic bags in shops about fifteen years ago, they thought that everyone would be too idle to carry their own shopping bags.  The government assumed they would make a lot of money to put towards environmental projects.  Instead everyone quickly became conditioned to carry their own bags and the government has not done well with making the money it expected.  People might quickly embrace this water tax as a challenge in the same way.

30 September Tuesday

Every so often my phone takes a little film by mistake, instead of taking the still photograph I was trying to take.  Those little films get deleted as they are never anything worth keeping.  The only time I ever made a film on purpose was while walking up the path with Em about a year ago.  She was already walking slowly enough so that I could follow her. I think of that kind of walk as her Stately Pace.  Not so very long ago her racing and rushing up and down would have been impossible to keep up with.  I kept the film.  Now I am glad I did.  Simon put it up on YouTube for me.  It is a short quiet walk with Em. There is only the swishing through the grasses and a bit of birdsong.

29 September Monday

There has been a big sparrow hawk on a long bouncy stick in a field up past Flemingstown.  The bird must be made of rubber or plastic.  It looks very realistic and it is never not moving. It swoops and dives and looks a lot like a real bird with its wings outstretched in flight.  The movement of the bird keeps it moving.  I do not know what the stick is made of but it is strong enough to keep the bird bouncing and diving.  The first few times I saw the bird I did not realize that it was attached to anything.  I thought it was a real sparrow hawk and I nearly went off the road with excitement.  As crow-scaring devices go, I have never seen anything better.  Now it is gone.  I shall look forward to seeing it reappear in another field, but I may have to wait till next year.

28 September Sunday

The raspberries are slowing down.  We have day after day of hot sun.  These raspberry canes usually keep producing well into October.  I cannot understand why they are slowing up now when the weather is on their side. They did begin their season much earlier than usual so perhaps they have just worn themselves out. The productive season might be exactly as long as it has always been but if it started earlier it may need to end earlier.

The blackberries make up for the diminishing raspberries.  I cannot pick enough of them.  Today I picked for less than an hour in sun.  I started up at the tar road and walked back down here while picking.  I only picked on the left side of the boreen where the morning sun was warming both the berries and the bushes.  I had a field full of frisky young heifers following me on the right side.  They rushed and jostled each other to watch me over the ditch and kept changing position to go along with me as far as they could.  We finally got to the narrow end of their field.  I continued on without them so they took off racing one another back into the open space.   I came home with enough to provide a big bowl of berries to eat and two big bags full to drop into the freezer. The house has been stained by blackberry eating birds flying over.  It is a mistake to wear a white shirt while picking blackberries.

26 September Friday

I am always surprised when I find myself standing on Mitchell Street in Clonmel and suddenly it is full of people all rushing from one direction.  It happened this morning. Mitchell Street is not a very wide street nor is it a busy street. It is not open to motor traffic so it tends to be a quiet street.  To see ten or twenty people arriving quickly from the same direction is startling.  Fifteen or twenty people is enough to fill the area. The side street is Abbey Street where there is a church about halfway down on the left.  The people gushing up and onto Mitchel Street are coming from a mid-morning Mass.  To a person they appear to be in a rush. They are each coming from the same place and now they are each going somewhere else.  Since the opposite direction only takes them to the river, they are all moving away in the same direction and they do not move slowly. Once they get to Mitchel Street some go left and some go right and very quickly the sense of  group movement is over.  Everyone who was in the crowd coming from Mass are now just people walking out in the town.