24 December Thursday
The brother and sister have been spotted again. I have not seen them for months and months. Someone told me they had seen them but I had not seen them myself. They are no longer parking on the road into the village. The brother always stood leaning against his car in the tiny lay-by, smoking and saluting anyone who passed. His sister walked on the narrow stretch of road with her dog on about two inches of lead all the while holding a huge fat stick just above his head ready to whack him if he made a wrong move. It made me crazy to see them. I assumed the terrible choice of a place for walking a dog was just because the brother needed to be able to watch a bit of traffic while he waited for his sister. I thought that was why the location was chosen. Now the brother is parking way up the mountain on the New Line. He parks near The Boulders which is just about the only place to pull off. The sister walks along the road with the dog still held close to her body and still with the dreadful heavy cudgel hovering over his head. This spot cannot be chosen for waving at passers by. It could easily be an hour between passing vehicles up there. I still wonder why the sister does not take the dog to walk on the mountain instead of on the hard road. Today the brother was not outside smoking and waving. He was sitting inside the car smoking with the windows rolled up tight. That might just be because of today’s soaking drizzle.
23 December Wednesday
The remains of one dead bird near the compost heap. Feathers are scattered in a tidy circle from a central point. There is nothing left, not even any blood. Small white feathers are in the center and longer grey feathers make a secondary circle. It was a pigeon.
22 December Tuesday
I stopped by to see Bea. Her motor was parked very close to the house. There was an extension lead out the open window of the car and in through a window of the house. Bea came to the door and explained that she had taken the car to the car wash but she left the back windows open during the washing. She now has a heater going in the back seat to dry it all out. The heater was plugged in inside the house. She explained the situation by saying that of course the car had to be washed before Christmas. It is one of many things which are deemed essential to do before Christmas.
It is essential to have one’s hair cut before Christmas. It is essential to go to the hygenist and have one’s teeth cleaned before Christmas. It is essential to have the windows of the house washed, both inside and out, before Christmas. It is essential to go to and tidy around the graves of family members before Christmas because other family members might be visiting from far away and they will of course make a visit to the graves and so the graves must be looking good. The people who live in the area are sort of responsible for the upkeep of the graves or at least they are the people who will be blamed if the graves are found to be in disarray. Now I learn that going to the chiropodist and getting toenails clipped and any hard skin scraped off the feet is yet another job which must be done in anticipation of Christmas.
I would not have remembered this list nor its newest addition if Bea had not washed her car and left the windows open.
20 December Sunday
There is a green smudge down the center of the road. It’s there every winter. Dampness makes a little low moss grow down the raised middle of the road. Car tyres straddle the smudge because we all drive the narrow road as if the road was only ever meant to be a single lane. I love the smudge. I love how it glows from afar. I enjoy the smudge as I am walking along. It has one kind of brightness from a distance and another kind of brightness when I am just upon it. The smudge cheers up the greyest of days.
19 December Saturday
I locked Simon into the printing shed. I did not plan on locking him in. It just happened. It’s been another wild and blustery day. He was inside setting type for a small job and I went to ask him something before I left for the post office. He had the bolt closed from the inside and he let me in when I shouted. When I left I slid the other bolt from the outside. It was so windy that the door would not stay closed unless it was fastened from one side or the other. I went to the village and did my posting and bought the papers and dropped things off at one house and then at another house. I refused cups of tea and kept moving as I felt rushed. The incessant noisy wind made everything out in the world seem imperative and slightly crazed.
Simon was not in the house when I returned. Nor was he in the book barn. I went to the print shed. I saw his head through the small window. Then I saw the closed bolt on the outside of the door. I knew right away what had happened. He did not say a word. The situation was grim. There is not much light in the shed nor is there any heat. On a day as gloomy as today there would have been barely light enough to print. But, of course, he could not print anyway because the things he wanted to print were down in the book barn. He had the type set and the platen inked and ready but he was locked in.
The printing shed is about 6 x 10 feet and there is very little floor space inside. There is a tall unit full of drawers of type, a big cast-iron folding machine, a counter with shelves underneath, another homemade set of shelves and a wooden unit holding the small press and more type and print furniture drawers. When we cleaned out the book barn early in the autumn, we filled the print shed with big boxes of old cardboard and paper, all for a big bonfire which we never got around to lighting.
With all of the things that are always there and then all the boxes of things to burn, there was barely enough room to stand and print. There was no room to sit. Simon spent a lot of time thinking about breaking the door down but he spent an equal amount of time thinking about having to replace the door himself. He just did not feel like doing that. He spent a lot of time thinking about why he did not have a phone with him. He waited. He stood up and he waited. It was lucky for Simon that I was gone for less than two hours. It was lucky for him that the day was windy but not cold. I fear he has not yet had enough distance on the whole event to see either of these two things as lucky.
18 December Friday
Nora is outraged that those people in Paris think that they have the power to control the Elements. She said there is no kind of agreement they can sign that will stop the rain and the flooding. She said, “They can sign what they like but not one cow in the whole of Ireland will ever eat a single blade of grass off a field that has been flooded. It is a known fact. But sure how would people in Paris know a thing like that?”
17 December Thursday
She had to wait for her friend. It was raining hard and she was in a town she did not know at all. She said she needed to Put Down an Hour which was another way of saying that she needed to kill some time.
16 December Wednesday
I could not get into the village yesterday. The road beyond the bridge was completely flooded but that was not the reason. There were cars parked all along that bit of road. They were parked in the knee deep water. When I got close enough to see the church I could see that the road in front of the church was blocked by a hearse with a coffin being unloaded and dozens of umbrellas and lots of flowers. A man in a reflective vest was signaling for me to turn and go away or to stop and just get out of my car. He did not know if I wanted to attend the funeral or not. There was no traffic moving through the village. I returned an hour later and there were still many cars. The service had ended but the burial had been right there in the churchyard and now everyone was walking up to the hall for refreshments. Cars were still parked everywhere. The cars were parked and they were double parked. I did not know the elderly woman who had been buried. Pat said that the reason there was such a crowd was because she was being laid to rest in a fitting way by A Lifetime of Family and Neighbours.
15 December Tuesday
I sat in the waiting room with two extremely old people and one older man and a youngish man. The five of us filled all of the chairs. The older man was looking out the window and he commented on the big building across the road. He asked the room at large if the nuns were still there and if the convent was going strong. No one answered him, so I did. I told him that the few remaining nuns had gone off to a convent in Carrick-on-Suir or to residential homes and that the building and land had been sold. I told him an auction had been held and that the building had been bought by an order of Egyptian Coptics. He listened carefully. He said nothing but he listened. The two very old people said nothing. They were both badly bent over with some spinal deterioration but I could tell they were listening too. The younger man had drops in his eyes and had been told by the doctor to keep his head well back. When I finished telling all I knew about the former convent, the first man asked, “So, are you here on holiday then?”
Rain. More rain.
14 December Monday
Rain. More rain. Rain all night. Rain running down the wall in the bathroom again. Water is rushing down the the boreen like a stream. Wind. Rain. It is desperate, this rain day after day. The fields which have become lakes get bigger and bigger. The greyness never lifts. There is barely any reason to get out of bed. But I am out of bed and there are endless things to do. All of them are connected to rain.
13 December Sunday
We walked in the mountains. It was soggy underfoot but we were ready for the wet. We were fully expecting rain but we went anyway. And instead it was wonderful to be out for a few hours without being rained upon. In some places, there were torrents of water running down off the tops. The streams we crossed were full and fast moving. Breda has named this walk The Cottage Walk as we begin and end near an old cottage. She likes giving each walk and each place a name. Anyone who walks with her is quick to take up the use of the name so that we all know exactly where we are talking about. We used to go in the same vicinity for The Mass Rock Walk, but now we are hooked on The Cottage Walk. Even though we start this walk quite high up, there is still a good climb in it and as usual we did not see a single human. Even the sheep were absent today.
12 December Saturday
We walked up the path, around and back down the boreen. We wore rubber boots as the bottom was flooded again. The little bridge made of a wooden pallet has been swept away by the rushing water. There has been astonishing force in the rushing water from the not very large stream overflowing. The water was deep. We walked very very slowly through the water so that it did not spill into our boots. Moving in our boots was a sideways movement rather than an up and down movement. The mass path was full of mud. Everything was slippery. Many things have died back but the ivy and the ferns and the Hart’s Tongue are rampant and lush. I have never seen so much Hart’s Tongue. I like it as a name and I like it as a plant and I like that it is taking over the path this year.
11 December Friday
On Friday nights bread is delivered to the bar. Usually the two women who make it and deliver it arrive at about 5. Tonight it was nearly 5.30 before several of the regular customers started to ask one another where the bread was and if it was coming tonight. Finally somebody said that they thought that Carmel had a new job and that she did not get out of work until 6 so tonight the bread would arrive sometime after 6 o’clock. This news made all the bread buyers relax and most of them opted for another drink as they waited. Once the bread arrived, there was a feeling of calm in the bar. One man left right away as soon as he received his loaf. Otherwise the big dark loaves of soda bread wrapped in cling film sat on tables and on the counter right beside pint glasses. Each person seems to keep their loaf near.
10 December Thursday
Oscar walked home with me as usual. He flushed seven pheasants just near the entrance to Scully’s wood. It was not a proper flushing. I think that would imply intent. Oscar did not really know what he was doing. He just walked close to where the pheasants were and they all fled. The woody clattering sound as they rushed up and into the air en masse startled us both. They were such a crowd. They made such a racket as they lifted. Oscar did not know where to go or what to do. He stared at the place they had come out of and then dashed into the undergrowth as if perhaps there were more in there.
9 December Wednesday
I am certain it would be different to live in a house where we did not hear the rain. We could live in a house which was well sound-proofed from above and we would not be aware of this endless beating down of rain. In most of the house the sound of the rain only comes in through an open window but in the big room, the sound is present all day. When it rains all day long the rain is in our ears all day long. To go outside means the rain is on us and all around us but somehow it is quieter than being indoors with this desperate noise.
8 December Tuesday
I walked into the hardware bit of the shop and asked Kieran a question. The fellow wearing a wooly hat much like Kieran’s wooly hat looked up at me said “I am Kieran but I fear I am not the Kieran you are looking for.” He was right. He was the wrong Kieran. He was only a customer like myself and his name happened to be Kieran. It took a while to get anything done while down there today. The things I needed to buy were behind some plastic coal bunkers and some signs and a bunch of leaning Christmas trees. There was a lot of lifting and moving around of things before anything could be reached and moved and carried into the back of my motor. One of John’s daughters was behind the till. I think she is only 12 or maybe 11. I asked why she was not in school today. She said there was no school because there was some kind of religious thing going on. Outside there were a lot of cars arriving and turning and parking in lumbering kinds of ways. None of the movements was fluid nor easy. Any vehicles passing up or down the road had to wait. People were going in and out of the church. Most of them seemed to be elderly. I could not tell if they were settling in for a Mass or if they were just popping in and popping out. As I was leaving someone told me that today was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I do not try to keep up with church activities but I was surprised to learn that this one was important enough for the schools to be closed for the day.
7 December Monday
More rain. More wind. More reports of disaster in all directions. The lakes around the village are getting bigger. The lakes around the village look normal. They look like they have always been there. The swans swimming around in the lakes look like they have always been there too. Nothing is as it should be. The day is mild and strange. Roses are blooming. The blackcurrant bushes are sprouting buds. Trees which should have lost all of their leaves by now are still covered with leaves. The grass is growing. There are lots of flying and biting insects. December is rarely a month for insects. The weather is the only topic of conversation.
6 December Sunday
Thursday was a terrible day and then Friday was fine. The world was very squelchy underfoot but it was clear and even sunny for a while. Friday night the winds started up again. Saturday was terrible. The wind was fierce and the rain lashed and beat down for a straight 36 hours. We were promised a months worth of rain in that 36 hours. All of the places that were badly flooded on Thursday are now even more flooded. Flooded fields have joined with other flooded fields and the new lakes are enormous. The landscape looks like it belongs somewhere else. We did not lose our power but a lot of people did. After having the loud noise of wind in our ears all day and all night, today’s silence over the land is spooky.
4 December Friday
The woman ahead of me in the shop was old. She was old and she was distressed. The woman wanted to buy some firelighters. She wanted to buy firelighters and she wanted to buy the kind of firelighters that are individually wrapped in paper. She knew that they were a bit more expensive but she did not mind. She explained that if she bought the unwrapped kind, she was then required to break off a piece from the big slab of firelighters and she always ended up dropping bits onto the floor while breaking off a piece that was too large. If she broke off a piece that was too large, she then had to break it again. Her hands were swollen and stiff with arthritis. There was a good chance that she would end up with two pieces which were both too small rather than one the right size and one small one. She wanted to buy the wrapped firelighters because with those she was able to start her fire without needing to go and wash her hands after touching the smelly firelighters. She hated how the smell lingered on her hands for hours even after the washing. She wanted to buy the wrapped firelighters and there was only one box on the shelf which had wrapped firelighters in it. The box had been opened and some of the contents had been taken out. The girl at the till offered to count what was left in the opened box and to then charge the woman only for the number remaining in the box. The woman was frustrated with the effort of explaining and frustrated with the opened box. She became querulous. She was prepared to buy a box of wrapped firelighters which she needed and wanted. She did not want to buy a partially full box of firelighters as then she would need to come back soon and buy another box. She felt like she was being tricked and this made her angry. I felt sorry for the woman. I felt sorry for the girl behind the counter. I left before the issue was resolved and now I find myself worrying about it.
3 December Thursday
The rain is lashing down. It has been raining all night. The rain has pounded down without even a small break. This rain is a steady beating rain. There is no wind and there is no changing of direction. It just rains, hard and without cease. There is a leak in the bathroom where we need to fix the flashing on the roof. We have known about the need for this repair since last winter. We have known about the need for this repair since the last installment of relentless rain. This is not the weather for climbing up on a roof to do it but it is certainly the weather for being reminded that it needs doing.
I drove to the village. There are huge flooded sections of road everywhere. The grass that grows down the middle of the boreen is underwater. The river is overflowing in all directions. There are lakes in the middle of fields. There are swans swimming in the lakes. The entire landscape has changed. There is no place for the water to go. It is bucketing down from the sky too fast and too hard. When I returned from the shop, I thought to go for a walk just to be out in the weather rather than just continuing as a prisoner of it. It was all so awful I kind of wanted to be outside with it. I dressed in full waterproofs and got as far as the stream. The stream had overflowed and there was now a large deep lake which I could not wade through. I came back home and made a cup of tea. Probably it was a bad idea to go for a walk anyway.
2 December Wednesday
Will I put your name in the pot? is the question, or I’ll put your name in the pot as a statement. Both function as a way to know that one is being included and expected at the supper table.
1 December Tuesday
Yesterday Liam Harper phoned and asked for the electricity reading. Simon was standing nearby so he went up on the step stool and shouted out the numbers to me. I then repeated the numbers to Liam Harper. I guess I was sort of shouting because Simon was shouting so Liam shouted back to me. He shouted thank you and then we shouted good bye. Today he phoned back because he was worried. He said our reading had gone up really fast in just 24 hours. He was worried that something was wrong or why would we be going through so much power? We had no answer and neither did he so he said he would keep his eye on it. Today Simon spoke in a normal voice so Liam did too. There was no shouting.
30 November Monday
Non-alcoholic beer is not sold before 10.30 in the morning because regular beer is not sold before 10.30 in the morning. They both come up as beer on the till even though one is not an alcoholic drink. It is still called beer. There is no logic in this but it is not possible to challenge it.
29 November Sunday
Fiona told me that there used to be a Pet Mass each year. People could bring their dogs and cats and even their birds in cages into the church and the priest would say a special group blessing for the animals. It was a day when the church would be full and every single person there would have a pet with them. She told me that the animals were always well behaved and that everyone looked forward to that particular Sunday. She could not remember when this special Mass stopped.
28 November Saturday
Are You Feeling Alright in Yourself? This is another way of asking How Are You?
The Last Apples of Tullaghmeelan
27 November Friday
Today we are promised an end to this crazy balmy spring like weather. I walked out early to miss the rain. We are promised rain and wind and maybe even snow in high places. We are promised the low temperatures which are normal for this time of year. Knowing it is November while marveling at the small buds appearing on trees which have not even lost all of their leaves yet is unsettling. As I write, the winds are gusting. The rain has begun. I have had to drop the latch on the top part of the kitchen door as it keeps blowing itself open.
26 November Thursday
I asked for ten stamps. The post mistress offered me the yearly Christmas bonus book of stamps. For the price of 25 stamps I could receive 26 stamps. This extra stamp is our annual gift from the government. I never refuse it.
25 November Wednesday
I went up and gathered The Last Apples of Tullaghmeelan. I took a large backpack and a big bag. I filled the bag and left it in the path. I walked through the orchard thinking that there might be some other drops off other trees but there was not one entire apple left anywhere on the trees nor in the tall grass. There were some chewed and mushy ones, but not even many of those. I went back and filled the backpack and topped up my bag from the ones on the path. There were still many left on the ground when my bag were full. I walked back down the path slowly. I could hardly move with the weight. The backpack was far too big, far too full and far too heavy. I had to stop and rest five or six times. I have gone from feeling smug and pleased with myself for getting all of this free and unexpected bounty to a slight sinking feeling as I realize that I am now stuck with the job of doing something with it.
24 November Tuesday
I walked up the boreen noting the many branches blown down by recent winds. There were a few new wiggly turns through narrow places where the places were not narrow before. A length of the path up beside Johnnie’s orchard was full of large yellow apples. They turned the path into the deadliest apple walk ever. They have fallen into a sort of gully and the gully is the path. Or the path is a gully. There was no where to put my feet down except on the apples as the undergrowth was thick on either side. It was a matter of walking on the apples or turning around. I examined the apples which were some kind of mix from Johnnie’s experiments with grafting. These had a bit of russet mixed with whatever they were. The majority of the apples were freshly fallen. They were not yet squashed or rotted or eaten by animals or insects. The taste was not great for eating but I knew they would be good for cooking. I picked up three apples and then I had to make a decision. The apples were big and there was no way I could carry more than four using my coat pockets. I could either walk back down and fetch a bag from home or I could continue on my walk and come back tomorrow. The light was dropping by the minute. I chose the walk hoping the apples would still be good for the gathering tomorrow.
23 November Monday
Everyone was wearing new shoes. A lot of the shoes did not look comfortable. Most of the shoes did not look comfortable. The newness of the shoes was evident. Everyone was wearing new coats. There were new scarves, new sweaters, new trousers and new hats. There were lots of new suitcases and every suitcase was loaded and heavy. One woman wore a bright orange coat and had a matching bright orange handbag and a small bright orange suitcase. She wrestled two enormous bright orange suitcases off the luggage round-about. It was a plane load of shoppers. They had flown off on Wednesday and caught their return flight on Sunday for a marathon of manic shopping in America. Flights are cheap in November. What was saved in airfare was spent on shopping. The entire journey was full of loud and boisterous discussion about who had shopped where and who had bought what. The women, and it was mostly women, talked to the people they were traveling with and they talked to everyone else. There was a strong air of competition. When the duty-free cart rolled along, everyone did a little bit more shopping. The frenzy and the excitement of so many new purchases was dampened as everyone walked out into the bleakness of Shannon Airport at 5.30 in the morning. There was no one to admire all of the new stuff. It was damp and dark outside and the terminal was devoid of people.
3 November Tuesday
Numbers have been sprayed onto the road with white paint. 100. 200. 300. I am not sure why. There might have been a race. There might have been some digging to be done. The numbers probably represent metres but I have not paid enough attention to the distance between them to know if that is the case. They are far enough apart that I can forget about them and be reminded and then I can forget again. They are not near to any buildings nor any gates. I have been waiting for their meaning to be revealed to me. I have been waiting but I have not done one single thing to find out what the numbers mean. It is not pressing. They are no longer freshly painted. The numbers appeared sometime in the spring. 200 is still clearly visible. 100 is faded and I can no longer locate 300.
2 November Monday
Margaret was out walking. She was delighted with the warm bright day. It was almost hot. Her delight was over-shadowed by her feelings of depression about the early nightfall. She said she feels a terrible pressure to get jobs done before the dark. There are jobs to be done before the dark and then there are the jobs to be put off and done after the darkness falls. She complained that the darkness comes so early and there is so much dark that she cannot get enough jobs done in the light and then when it is dark she does not want to do the jobs that she would have done in the light. She said she spends a lot of the day saying that she will wait and do that job after dark or this job after dark but then she leaves too many things to be done. Or maybe it is not true that she leaves too many jobs it is just that the days are shorter and shorter. Really she just cannot stand it. She decided to take a walk out today because the sun was shining and she knew that a walk was a thing she would not and could not do after the darkness fell.
1 November Sunday
Not very long ago the naming of dogs was simple. It was all names like Whitey and Blacky and Pal. Increasingly the names for dogs are the names of people but they are not the same names that people here would name their children. It is fine to call a dog Max or Oscar or Bruno or Zeke. These are not the names of any people that anyone knows. There are people names for dogs and then there are people names for people. There is no one calling their dog Michael or Paddy or Seamus. No one would call their dog Kevin because they no doubt know a Kevin and they would not want that Kevin to come to their house and take offense that the dog has his own name.
31 October Saturday
HIs nickname is Bapty. I am desperate to know what Bapty is short for. I may have to ask Bapty himself what his name is shortened from. I do not feel familiar enough to make such a query.
30 October Friday
This morning the world beyond our fence had disappeared, again. I went down to the village and all of the mountains were gone. The Galtees were gone. The Knockmealdowns were gone and the Comeraghs were gone. Three mountain ranges completely disappeared in the mist. It was a mist more than fog. It was a wet mist. It was almost rain but it was not rain. It was just soaking wet air which could not be seen through. Tommie shook his head as he told me “We are nearly lost in the wet.”
29 October Thursday
I walked into a shop at half ten this morning. The door was wide open but the place was dark. A boy of twelve was inside. All of the children are off school this week so I guess this boy was spending his day watching the shop. He told me that the electricity had gone off. It was not off everywhere on the street but it had gone off in this shop. I asked if his mother was there. He said she would not be back until two. I said “So she’s gone and left you here in the dark?” He answered “Yes. But it’s okay. There is no fear in me.”
28 October Wednesday
Kieran called out that he had put the box into the back of my Jeep. I do not think of the motor I drive as a Jeep, but everyone else calls it a Jeep. Any vehicle which is a little higher off the ground than a normal car is called a Jeep. A People Carrier. A Range Rover. An SUV. A four-wheel drive. There are a lot of names for these kinds of utilitarian vehicles. Some of them are really working motors and some look like they are working motors when really they are just a version of a station wagon. There are a lot of different brands and models of high up and off the ground vehicles. There are many variations. No matter. They are all called Jeep.
27 October Tuesday
This autumn is very yellow and very golden. The wood road is lined with yellow leaves on the trees and yellow leaves along the edges of the road. It looks and feels like there is special lighting in place.
Six drops are hard.
26 October Monday Bank Holiday
I walked up the boreen in a hard drizzle without much vision. I pretended that the rain was giving everything soft edges. Everything was fuzzy but it was fine. I could see the path because I know it so well. I could see the path because the yellow leaves on the ground have made everything look bright. The crabapples were a bit deadly to walk through. It was like walking on ball-bearings. The fallen trees across the path looked more like graceful arches with my impaired vision and I liked the little nod of my head which was needed to pass underneath them. Anyone taller would need to duck but for me it is a nod. The nod is an acknowledging that the trees have re-defined the path. I did not see any people. Oscar joined me for the second half of the walk. I did not need to see any more than I saw.
25 October Sunday
I have been struggling with my vision. I am not allowed to wear my contact lenses. It has been a trying week. My ancient glasses are barely okay for distance but they are hopeless for anything close-up. I have been wearing them for days now. Yesterday I got an emergency pair of prescription glasses for close-up. Taking one pair off and putting the other pair on has been a constant juggling act. That ended late afternoon when I sat down to put in my drops. I stood up after I was finished and I stepped on the distance glasses. They are completely broken. Now I can see up close but I cannot see anything in the distance. I will not be able to drive. I am not sure what I will be able to do.
24 October Saturday
David the Egg Man sold all of his eggs right away. Once again his hens are suffering from the longer dark nights so they are not laying much. He began to pack up his tiny table to put it into his motor and head home early. His table was taken away from him and put into the exact center of the market. A birthday cake was put on the table and he was given a card and a song. Everyone was offered cake and everyone said Happy Birthday or Many Happy Returns. David stood eating his cake and explaining again and again that he had been just about to go home because he had run out of eggs. He was delighted to be the center of attention and everyone was delighted to help him to celebrate turning 84.
23 October Friday
Six drops are hard. Six drops are a lot harder than four drops. Four drops was easy. Morning. Lunchtime. Six o’clock. Bedtime. Six drops spread through the day needs more attention and more remembering. I dot the back of my hand with a marker pen. By bedtime I should have five dots. I have the shadow of yesterday’s drop dots on my hand too. It does not matter at what time I do them. I just have to put drops into my eye six times during a day. The last one never gets marked. There is no reason for me to take a marking pen to bed with me.
22 October Thursday
I went back to the Medical Eye Doctor. A woman in the waiting room spoke about the weather. She said it was a lovely day. She said it was unseasonably warm for the time of year. She said the SuperValu in town was having a Gala Opening on Friday. I did not want to talk and she seemed to run out of things to say after these three things. She did not seem to mind that I was not responsive. I held my book two inches from my face. It was the only way for me to read but it was very dark with my book held so close. When another woman came in the first woman said the same three things and then she went silent again. It was more like a recitation than making conversation.
21 October Wednesday
Next week the country is getting rid of little coins. It has been costing more to produce the small coins than they are worth. One and two cent coins will no longer be made and they will no longer be used. When we pay for something the price will be rounded up to the nearest five cents. Or it will be rounded down to the nearest five cents. Eighty-seven will be rounded to eighty-five. Eighty-eight will be rounded to ninety. Everyone seems pleased with this development. I find it a little sad but no doubt I will get used to it and forget that it was ever different.
20 October Tuesday
I went to get my eye looked at yesterday. The specialist had a sign outside which announced her as a Medical Eye Doctor. Her office was huge. There were several different chairs in there as well as various stools on wheels and a bed. There were many many different kinds of machines. There were many kinds of charts and posters about eyes and diagramming eyes. I had never seen so much eye-related paraphernalia. I was in there for a long time so I had a lot of time to look around. The doctor did lots of tests and when she was nearly done she asked if I had arrived by car. I said that I had, so she asked where I lived. She said that I should not be driving at all but since there were never more than a few tractors on that road, she would send me on my way without worry.
19 October Monday
I have been moaning. I have been moaning a lot. The cows up in Joe’s field are moaning and I have become obsessed with trying to make the same sound. I started to think of it as lowing but now I am convinced it is just a moaning. I moan when I am outside and I moan when I am walking. I moan in the house. It is a deep in the throat kind of sound. It is a drawn out kind of sound. I think I am sounding pretty good. I am now trying to get a cow to respond to my moan. I do not know what their moan means so I do not know if answering is even an issue.
Just the right wood
18 October Sunday
Simon’s wooden gutters were taken down last year when the house got painted. Slowly they have been getting re-used. The treated Douglas Fir will last maybe forever, so it has been good for the wood to find new functions. It has been used to make new table tops on two outdoor tables and it has made a new bench just outside the sauna. The props for the lean-to have been strengthened and replaced. The broken fence where the cows broke through down below has been repaired with the gutter wood. There is still more of the wood. We are looking around not in any kind of a hurry but knowing that there will be another job needing to be done and knowing that this wood will be just the right wood when the time comes.
17 October Saturday
Every one of these sunny afternoons is full of activity. Cows are out in fields which have already been cut or chewed short. Hundreds or maybe thousands of crows are gathered on a freshly ploughed up field. I think they are eating worms. They lift and they land in huge crowds. They are too many for me to call them a flock. Young heifers rush along beside the stonewall. The field where they are grazing is just above the level of my head as I walk. They race along in a group jostling and trying to get as close to me as they can. They push each other as they follow and look over the wall to make sure that I am still down below but just beside them. They seem to just want to be going somewhere and they want to be going in a big excitable group. Wherever I am going is just somewhere to be going.
16 October Friday
A Garda was buried yesterday. He was shot and killed while trying to calm a domestic dispute. The country is in shock. The media keep reporting details of the attack and details of the funeral. They list the objects which were lined up on his coffin. Alongside a family portrait were the things that he loved to enjoy in his relaxing time. They included a shirt from his local hurling club, the remote control for the television, a can of coke, a chocolate bar and a bag of Hunky Dory crisps.
15 October Thursday
I sat in the small narrow room where everyone sits while waiting for their car to be inspected. Some people were waiting for their turn. Some people had their cars in the inspection bay already. Some were just there to keep other people company. There are ten seats in the room, eight along one wall and two at the end. The seats are close together. There are three doors as well as a little counter space. It is a cramped room. I read a book while I waited. All of the other nine seats were taken and two people were standing. Every single person in the room was talking. The room was loud and cheerful with the noise. People talked to the person next to them and they called down the line to others. They spoke with people they knew and they spoke to the people they did not know. My book was the wrong sort of book to be reading in such cacophony. I struggled to keep my focus. I was just about to give up on reading altogether when the older man in the next seat nudged me and said “So, have you nothing to say for yourself then?”
14 October Wednesday
Another foggy morning. Every morning is foggy. It is no longer a surprise to not be able to see beyond the fence in the morning. Every morning is the same. Today there was bright sun. It was bright and it got very high in the sky before it was able to burn off the fog. Through the white emptiness around us, we could hear cars on the Dungarvan Road. It is rare to hear cars from such a distance. The sound might have been from the Knocklofty Road. The sound of cars on any road is not something we normally hear. It might be the wet surface of the road but I think it is just the strangeness of the fog. It muffles and it amplifies at the same time.
13 October Tuesday
What brand of tea do you drink? This might be the question asked the very first time a cup of tea is drunk together. Or it might not come up for a while. People are divided between being drinkers of Barry’s tea and being drinkers of Lyons tea. If you are one you rarely cross over. If your family are all Barry’s drinkers you will be a Barry’s drinker too. If your family have always been Lyons drinkers you will continue to be a Lyons drinker. The transition from loose tea in a pot to tea bags is not a much commented upon issue since almost everyone goes for the ease of tea bags these days. Which tea you drink is always important.
12 October Monday
Each time I walk up the mass path and around is a chance to collect a few more horse chestnuts. I pick up at least one at the bottom near the stream and at least one at the top near Maisie’s old house. Sometimes I collect four or five in each place but one is my minimum. I think of it as a kind of toll. There is a bowl by the back door. I put my chestnuts into the bowl before I enter the house. The bowl is filling up. Soon I will need a bigger bowl. No one but me knows that I am paying into the bowl with each circuit of the boreen.
11 October Sunday
Trying to remember when a death had occurred, I asked Tommie. I said “Wasn’t it nearly a year and a half ago?” He thought for a moment and said “No, it was last May twelve months.” However I think about it Last May Twelve Months is exactly eighteen months ago. Tommie just said the same thing in a different way.
10 October Saturday
A side plate is placed to the left of one’s dinner plate at the table. The side plate is for potato skins. Each person peels their own potatoes leaving the skins on the side plate. Some men do not peel their own potatoes but wait for it to be done for them by their wife or mother. The skinned potatoes are then ready to be eaten with butter and gravy. No one seems interested that the skin is where the fiber and the vitamins are. No one seems interested that the skins taste good.
Washing the sugar bowl
9 October Friday
There are apple blossoms on three of our apple trees. All three of the trees have apples ripening on their branches. The same branches have both blossom and fruit. I feel confused looking at them. I feel disturbed looking at them. What will these trees be doing in the spring if they are in blossom in October?
8 October Thursday
Jeri is making capes for his ducks. He has a few capes left over from last year but he now has more ducks than he had last year so he needs more capes. The ducks are white and the capes are black. Each cape has a ruffle at the neck and a bit of red edging on the top of the ruffle. The capes are held onto each duck with a little piece of velcro at the neck fastening. The ducks wear these capes for the evening of Jeri’s Halloween Scary Garden. They make little swooping flights from here to there. The whooshing of their wings and their capes both thrills and frightens the visiting children. The children race about with torches in the darkness screaming and finding sweets. Jeri’s ducks usually go to bed quite early but they stay up later than usual on Halloween. They seem to enjoy both their capes and the company.
7 October Wednesday
When the sugar bowl is empty or almost empty there is the feeling that you should wash it. There are always some clumpy bits of sugar at the bottom of the bowl. Someone has always dipped a wet spoon into the sugar bowl. There is sugar stuck to sugar and there is sugar stuck to the side of the sugar bowl. It might always be like this but it is more noticeable when the bowl is nearly empty. So the normal thing is to wash your sugar bowl so that you can start fresh with a clump-free offering of sugar. It is a known fact that if you wash your sugar bowl you will have visitors.
6 October Tuesday
A mean person is a stingy person. A mean person is tight. A mean person would not give you the steam off his porridge.
5 October Monday
I should know better than to drive down to the village anytime after five o’clock. There are bound to be cows on the road. There are three farms to pass. Sometimes everyone is moving their animals so I have to wait for first one herd and then another and then a third. They will be being driven back from some fields to the barn for milking. After that they will be on their way to another field. Some of the cattle are just being moved from field to field. It is a foolish time of day to be on the road. When the animals bar my way I have nothing to do but to turn off the engine and to wait while they amble towards me or away from me. Sometimes they jostle the car as they pass. It is a good idea to fold in the side mirror so that the weight of a cow swaying by does not snap it off. There is no way to hurry the movement of the group. Today as I waited I watched a cow jumping up on a gate in an attempt to get into a field where there was a bull. I have never seen a cow jumping at a gate to get out of a field so it is even more peculiar to see one jumping to get into a field.
4 October Sunday
Yesterday we visited the newly built extension to the SuperValu in Cahir. It is not altogether complete but it is being shopped in as if it is complete. A lot of areas are empty where the shelves have not been moved into them yet. Other areas are crowded because there is such a large chaotic incomplete movement of boxes and products and shelving. Every single person in the shop looked confused. Nothing was where it used to be and some things were not anywhere to be seen at all. There was a man painting the outside doorways with bright red paint. Another man was sweeping up the area just outside the doors. His sweeping was sending great clouds of dust into the air. The man painting the doors did not take any notice of the dust flying and floating and landing on his fresh paintwork.
Nor the sky over him
3 October Saturday
Two women at the market were discussing someone who had returned after being away for a very long while. They both agreed that this man had changed beyond all recognition. To emphasize how different he was now from how he had been before, the older lady said, “I would not know him nor the sky over him.” The other woman said that she felt the same.
2 October Friday
We have not missed potatoes on our plates. I guess it has only been about a week. Oddly, there is a large potato plant growing in the compost heap. Strange to see it when we did not plant any potatoes this year and we do not care if any are growing. I shall have to pull it out and see what kind of volunteers are growing there. I am not averse to eating whatever is growing. I am only against the buying of potatoes for now. Several people are shocked with our decision not to purchase or cook potatoes. Some people are disgusted. One man said “Sure all the meat in the world wouldn’t fill you unless you had a potato.”
1 October Thursday
Thick fog this morning. We could not see beyond the fence until after eleven o’clock. The grass was wet with heavy dew. Even while wearing short rubber boots my socks got soaked, and my hands were frozen as I picked the morning raspberries. The leaves were wet and it was hard not to get soaked all over just from reaching in among the canes. It is time to start collecting our fruit for morning the night before. The postman arrived down the boreen while I was picking berries. He had his headlights on but he said they were not much help in the fog. He was not surprised to see me picking raspberries in my dressing gown. He said the first days of back to school waiting for the bus are over. The children now go out and wait by themselves. The mothers in their fluffy robes and slippers are no longer standing with the youngest children by the edge of the road making sure that they get on the bus okay.
30 September Wednesday
Mornings are cold and a little foggy and wet. When the fog burns off we have hot summer days. We have hot summer days every day. We have summer days which are better than most of the days we had in the actual months of summer. Everyone is enjoying the weather but they are all making noises about how it cannot last. There is an ominous tone. We are promised or threatened that we will pay for this good weather.
The barn has been emptied out. We moved things to the sauna and to the print shed and to the upstairs room. The barn is clear and clean and it looks like a new place. The man who came to put down some carpet for us said that what we had planned will not work. We thanked him for his time and we thanked him for his honesty. I did not really want so much carpet down there anyway. I did not want the wide boards covered up. I do want a workshop where the cold does not come up through our legs while we work. Already we have found a more flexible solution. We feel like we have had a lucky escape.
29 September Tuesday
There was a radio announcement from the horse races. I think it was from Leopardstown but maybe it was somewhere else. The man said “We have a change to the Going. The Going is now soft.” He seemed very pleased.
Thor went back to his own home yesterday. We miss him. The house seems empty and a little bit lonely.
28 September Monday
I went to visit Pam in the Knockmealdowns. She lives in a castle which is full of home-made solutions. When she was a young woman, her husband was in the British army. They moved frequently around India and the Far East as his assignments changed. She said that is how she learned to make do and to furnish a home with things that did not need to last forever. She said her curtains were never hemmed up with proper sewing. They were always pinned so that when she got to a new home she could just unpin them and then pin them again to fit the next set of windows. The castle is full of these solutions even though she has lived there for a great many years. She pointed to a large pouffe or hassock in the middle of a room. It was covered with chintz and made a nice wide low seat or footstool. She giggled when she explained that underneath the chintz was a tractor tyre. The pelmets around the top edge of most rooms are made with plywood. They are quite roughly cut and then painted a bright red or whatever the colour the room is. They sort of blend in. One staircase was rotten so they had a new one cast from concrete. That too is painted red. Pam likes red. At the age of 90 she finds it a cheerful colour.
27 September Sunday
Jim announced that he is glad that the haying season is over so that he can stop Consulting the Glass. Consulting the Glass is often discussed as an essential activity before doing out of door jobs during hay and silage season. It is done at night and it is done in the morning. I am pretty sure that what he calls the glass is a barometer.
26 September Saturday
Every Saturday morning Simon eats a bowl of porridge in the cafe in Cahir. Some mornings I join him for the porridge and some mornings I do not. The porridge is so slow to arrive that it makes me cross. I prefer to breakfast at home and have a walk down the river instead. Since the porridge is so painfully slow to arrive, he is usually not finished by the time I get there. I have a coffee. Every Saturday we see a couple who come in and always sit at the exact same table. They arrive with photocopied crossword puzzles. They work quietly and intensely on their crossword puzzles and then they switch pieces of paper. There is very little conversation. They eat and drink but they never stop working on their puzzles.
25 September Friday
Joe has put up new signs at each of his gates. The signs are white with printed black letters reading LANDS PRESERVED AND POISONED. Preserved means that the lands are off-limits for any kind of hunting. I never really understand what poisoned means in this context. I think there is law which says if poison is laid down on farm land it has to be a certain distance from a road so that dogs will not be killed by it. I do not know what kind of poison is being laid nor who the intended victims are. Usually there is just a hand written sign which gets made with whatever is available around the place. Joe’s signs are all new, all clear and easy to read and all very official looking. What they are not is friendly.
24 September Thursday
The tent is gone. I am not certain if this means that Tommy has been been re-housed. It might just mean that the recent nights of terrible torrential downpours were too much for him in his tent. I hope that he is warm and snug in a new home of his own in the village. There is nothing to show that anyone was ever there at all except for a slightly pale rectangle of flattened grass where his tent was.
23 September Wednesday
Thor was collected on Sunday on the way to the Honey Show. He has come to stay for a week. It is good to have a dog in the house again. It is good to have a dog to walk with. He is quite demanding about heading off first thing in the morning. He has met the local dogs and he enjoys the rushing and sniffing which they all do together. Each dog must sniff and pee and examine everything that the other dog has sniffed and peed upon. There is nothing new about this but since everything is new and exciting for the dogs, I find it is new and exciting for me too. Being with a dog is a reliable source of pleasure. Most days I go for several walks with Thor. He knows our routes now. He loves the Mass Path with the smell of foxes and pheasants. He just looks around to make sure that I am still with him when he is rushing off ahead. For an elderly deaf dog he has a lot of energy.
22 September Tuesday
We have decided to stop buying potatoes. We have decided to stop buying potatoes and to stop preparing potatoes. If we are served potatoes elsewhere we will eat them but we are tired of buying potatoes because we are tired of being disappointed by potatoes. I heard on the radio that the government is thinking to offer an incentive for people to eat more potatoes. I do not know why other people are eating fewer potatoes, but for myself I am just weary of floury, dusty, fall-apart in the water potatoes and I am tired of hard-as-rock salad potatoes. The struggle does not seem worth the eating.
21 September Monday
The Honey Fair was much as I expected. It was a grand event and it was a disappointment. The room it was held in was not large. There were four rows of things on display with three aisles for walking up and down and looking. The aisles were not wide but there were not too many people there anyway, so it was not difficult to walk up and down. The day was wet and windy which kept people away. The All-Ireland Final kept a lot of other people away. I am not certain that there would have been much overlap in the audiences.
In one corner of the room there were some women pouring tea and serving big platters of sandwiches and cakes. Nothing they were serving had anything to do with honey. There were tiered displays of honey in jars all up one side of the centre aisle and there were large flat cakes of wax, as well as candles and little decorative objects made of wax. There were bars of wax which had come out of moulds so that they had the words Bees Wax on them. All of the different categories had names of the winners noted on pieces of paper on the tables. All of the displays had signs saying Do Not Touch The Displays. There were bottles of mead and there was a long row of trophies along the edge of the stage at the far end of the room. One trophy was in the shape of a bee hive.
The judges were wearing long white lab coats with STBA (South Tipperary Beekeepers Association) logos at the pocket. Five of the judges were men and one was a woman. They walked about talking to people and pointing at things. Their white coats made them stand out and kept them looking very official. There were photographs of bees and beekeepers and of beehives out in fields. There were some live bees crawling around in a honeycomb safely behind glass. I had looked forward to seeing a lot of kinds and shapes of bee hives but there was only one hive on display and it looked flimsy and cheap. It did not look like it would last long in this wet climate. Still there was plenty to look at. Everything in the entire hall was presented with equal importance.
One category was honey cakes. There were many honey cakes on display for the competition. All of the honey cakes were round and all of the honey cakes were the same size. The color of the cakes varied from bright golden to deep brown. There were also honey cakes for sale. The tea ladies were not serving honey cakes. We bought one, which we ate with a cup of tea when we got home. It was very dry.
20 September Sunday
Today I am going to The Honey Show in Clonmel. Clonmel, which is Cluain Meala in Irish, means Honey Vale. I am not sure if the Honey Show is located in Clonmel because of this name or if Clonmel is simply a convenient and central location. The Honey Show is organized each year by the South Tipperary Beekeepers Association. It is a two day event. I do not know exactly what happens at the Honey Show. I assume that there are competitions for wax and honey and mead and other things. Maybe there are discussions and presentations on all kinds of topics. I cannot really say what the topics are as I have not been there yet. No doubt one topic will be hives. Every year I mark the show on my calendar and every year I miss it. The paying public is allowed in to The Honey Show between 2 and 4 o’clock on the Sunday afternoon. It is a narrow window.
19 September Saturday
I passed a field with about fourteen cattle in it. Each one had a wide white stripe around its middle. The rest of the animal was black. The hair was very fluffy. It was almost more like sheep’s wool than the usual cow hair. These are obviously some special breed. Maybe they are not special at all but they are new for around here. Maybe they are not new for around here but they are new for me. They were so odd to see that I had to turn around and go back to look at them again. One of these heifers alone looked odd but in a group they were difficult to read.
17 September Thursday
The fields are all full of stubble. They have changed in the last week from golden stubble to just light brown stubble. There is no longer a glow off the fields neither from a distance nor close up. There are still a lot of hay in bales spread around and waiting for pick-up. Some of the hay is in big round bales and some is in the big square bales. Sometimes, in small fields, there are very compact rectangular bales which are leaned up against one another to let some air move through in between them. There are also the black plastic bales from the second cutting of silage. I keep thinking that we should be at the end of the season of dangerous driving and ferocious roaring farm machinery rushing up and down the roads. There is always another enormous machine roaring toward me whether I am on foot or in the car. The driver is always on the phone with his head bent sideways to keep the phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder. The drivers are often smoking and drinking minerals from two litre plastic bottles and mostly they look very young. Mostly they look too young to be driving.
16 September Wednesday
I walked out into the darkness before bed. The sky was clear. It is unusual for the sky to be so clear and perfectly cloudless. There were millions of stars. The large constellations were all easily visible and zillions of little tiny far away stars were visible too. The sky was bright with stars but it was extremely dark on the ground. I could not see my own hand. I lay down on the bench in the meadow and looked at the stars until I got cold and I had to come in.
15 September Tuesday
The man who is camping beside the road in Marlfield is not camping for a holiday. He is living in a tent because he has been evicted from his home in the village. I am not sure why he was evicted. His presence beside the road is a protest. As soon as I mentioned him, people have been telling me things about him. His name is Tommy. He has been living in the tent all summer but at first the tent was inside the gate and near to the boundary wall of the big house. That is why I never noticed it. Someone advised him to move out into this new and more prominent location so that people like me will wonder about him and wonder why he is there. He is waiting to be re-housed by the council. The area around the tent is spotless. I still wonder where and how he eats. If he were to make a mess around the tent, I suppose he could be removed as a public nuisance. He is so tidy that he is almost not there. Maybe someone is feeding him at their house. There is neither a restaurant nor a shop in Marlfield. Tommy has a long way to go to get anything at all, and he would have to go wherever he goes on foot. I do not see a car or a bicycle near his tent. As far as I can see there is only the aluminium lawn chair and his umbrella for equipment.
14 September Monday
It poured with rain all night and all day. Larry Doocey arrived in his red tractor and trailer bringing us a load of pebbles. He was not bothered by the rain except that he had to take a different route to get here. He told us that he drove over to Silver Sands on the windy hilly road to Cahir but he drove back to us on the flatter route through Grange. He needed to compensate for the 6 ton of stone in his trailer and he needed to compensate for the slippery wet roads while towing such a weight. His journey was slow. He was ready for a cup of tea when he got here. He had several cups of tea while he talked. We all ate biscuits too. We had always assumed that he was a native of Newcastle but he told us that he had moved down from Ballinamult to live in the village. He said he did not miss it up there. He said “There’s nothing exciting to me about a mountain.”
Five men named John
13 September Sunday
Lambert’s garage has four floral displays on show. The plants are each hanging out of a tyre. The tyres have been painted different colours. At intervals across the building the tyres are white, red, yellow and blue. The paint does not work too well on the yellow one, but the idea is there.
12 September Saturday
There is stuff to collect. Apples have been disappointing. I thought it was just our own trees, but I understand there are problems all around, even over at the Apple Farm. Some varieties just fell off the trees early and unripe. Others have ripened but lack flavour and texture. Our figs are doing remarkably well considering this is not really a fig-growing climate. I have to squeeze and test them at the end of the afternoon as the wasps are all over them in the daytime and birds get them in the early morning. I do not like to compete with the wasps. I gather most of the figs a little unripe and let them ripen inside the house. The blotcheens are coming ripe but they are not plentiful. Most plums have had a bad year. The wild damsons sort of shriveled on the branches before they ripened. I marked three different puffballs with sticks in the ground and kept checking them every day. They have shriveled up into nothing. Raspberries and blackberries are rampant. I pick masses of them daily. And the Cavolo Nero, which is a glorious shade of green, just goes on and on.
10 September Thursday
The elderly lady at The Cross keeps an eye on the road. I rarely see her. I do not think she goes out often. I saw her at the ceremony to install a commemorative stone for five local men named John who all fought and died in WWI. She was sitting in the front of the two short rows of chairs which had been set up for older people. She was pleased to greet me. She commented immediately that since we now drove only one car rather than two, it was easier for her to keep track of our movements. I next saw her at her brother-in-law’s funeral. She asked me why I do not wave to her as I pass the house. She said that most people salute or sound their horn as they pass. Now I wave each time I pass the house. I do not know which window is the room where she sits. Simon and I have decided that her room is the end room on the front of the house so I slow down and wave directly at that window no matter which direction I am coming from. If it is late, we sometimes say to each other that she must have gone to bed so we need not wave. We cannot see anyone through the window so I have no idea if she is waving back or if she is sitting there at all. There is a fair chance that I am be waving at the wrong window. I just do not want to be reprimanded again.
9 September Wednesday
Someone is camping near the edge of the road as we drive through Marlfield. A brown and orange tent is set up just outside the big field on a small mown corner of grass. The tent is tidy and self-contained. I have been noticing it for two or three weeks. Today the man who lives in the tent was sitting on a lawn chair in the drizzle with a large umbrella. He was facing out toward the hill. Last week I saw him in the chair under the umbrella but that day he was facing the road. When the man is not sitting in the chair the chair is put away inside the tent. There is not any of the stuff of camping visible. There is neither a fire place nor a cooking stove. Nor is there a lot of passing traffic to watch. There are no cattle in the field right now either. The field was part of a big plan to turn the area around Marlfield House into a fancy golf course a few years ago. The project ran out of money before it was finished. Now all of the fields around the big house are back to being used for grazing cattle and for growing hay. It is an odd place to set up camp. It is an empty and slightly lonely spot but it is not a very private spot.
Desirable parking positions
8 September Tuesday
SuperValu is having a French Food & Wine Sale. There is a large handwritten sign outside the shop. Beside the sign is a mannequin dressed up to appear French. It is wearing black trousers and a black and white horizontally striped shirt. I think the striped shirt is supposed to look like a Breton shirt. It looks more like a shirt worn by a gondolier in Venice. The very white arms and feet of the mannequin are visible but it has no head. A black beret rests on the neck, nearly hiding a jaunty red neckerchief.
7 September Monday
I was on the road returning home. A car came around the far corner just as a small rabbit ran out and ran diagonally across the road. The other car accelerated and aimed at the rabbit. He was racing toward the rabbit and he was racing toward me. The rabbit jumped into the bushes just at the last minute. The rabbit escaped. The driver swerved at the last minute and did not smash into me. He passed me with a big smile and a wave. If he had been a young man I would have thought he was a creep. But he was an older man with white hair and a round cheerful face. I still thought badly of him, but my disgust was mixed with shock.
6 September Sunday
Heading to the village to get the papers this morning, I thought I was early enough to miss the crowd arriving for mass. A short wait behind Tomas’ cows on the road meant that I arrived exactly at the time as many others were arriving. The desirable parking positions in front of the shop were already filled. Every single car had backed in so that they could easily drive out after mass. This is a way for the people in the cars to stay sitting in their seats so that they can watch everyone else arriving. They can stay in their cars right up until the last minute. This is especially good on a wet day. People were walking toward the church from all directions. It was a lovely morning so people stopped as they met one another and they chatted on the pavement. There was no reason why people could not talk while they walked but every single person stopped walking to talk. Some cars halted to let out an older person and then the car went off to park. No one parks directly in front of the church. That is one space always left open. A lot of men have the habit of dropping their wife off and then they go to find a parking spot. This way they arrive separately. They do not go into the church together. They just meet up again when it is all over. The men were all tidy in their new sweaters and most of the women wore cardigans. It was a lovely morning but still there was a chill in it.
5 September Saturday
The big cow flap down near the stream has stayed in an unusually liquid state for a long time. It was deposited by a cow during the break out or break in through the meadow. That must be several weeks ago now. Normally manure forms a crust over the top. The underneath stuff remains wet and mushy but the top crust forms and then slowly the whole thing dries from the top down. This manure has looked the same for all the time it has been there. I think maybe the top crust has not formed because it is well shaded by the chestnut tree and other bushes. I think there is not one bit of sun all day long in that spot. I will continue to hop over it each time I walk the path but I will be glad when it has broken down into mud.
4 September Friday
I do not go to Dublin often. I never want to go to Dublin. I never have an urge to rush up to Dublin simply because I have not been there for a while. I know Dublin is there but somehow I do not need it. It is not that I do not like cities. I love cities and there are cities I look forward to visiting and re-visiting. Dublin is not one of them. For most people the capital city is the place to go because it is full of pleasures. I always feel disappointed after a trip to Dublin.
As a result of my foot-dragging relationship with this city, I have missed something I really wanted to do there. Back in January, Donal told me about two short films which could be seen at the An Post Museum in the General Post Office. One was of a postman in Donegal doing his rounds. The other film was watching somebody sorting the post in the Athlone center. I put a reminder up on my wall. I looked at it often. I have been to Dublin a few times but it was never the right time. It was either a busy day for errands, or just passing through on the way to a plane or a ferry, or it was a Sunday. For various reasons, I failed to get to the GPO during opening hours.
I finally got there this week. I finally made it a priority on my list of things to do. Unfortunately the museum has been closed. It will not be re-opened until next year and then it will no longer be a museum but an Interpretive Center. The reason for the renovation and the re-naming is because of the anniversary of the 1916 Uprising. Perhaps the museum will be exactly the same when it re-opens. I will not know if it is the same. The woman at the nearby Philatelic Counter could not tell me if the films will be included in the new Interpretive Center. She was not even vaguely interested. Her job was selling stamps to collectors. And because the museum had been closed she was required to sell a few of their souvenirs because her counter was nearest to the closed door. I bought four postcards. She was not happy with her added workload.
3 September Thursday
Breda, Molly and I walked in the mountains this morning. The sky was grey and heavy looking but we felt sure that it would not rain. It is always a pleasure to be in such a high and empty place with only a ten minute drive from home. The heather is in bloom. From a distance it shows itself as a smudge of colour across the hills. Up close it is brilliant and reads as many different shades of pink and rose and purple. The sheep scattered around are all looking wretched. They have been shorn. Their skin looks scruffy and baggy. The red or blue paint markings look more like bruises and wounds because of the lack of hair. The mountains are all commonage which means more than one farmer can feed sheep up there. There are no fences. The coloured markings are all that distinguish the sheep of one farmer from the sheep of another farmer. The sheep meander about in groups. They run away at the slightest provocation or sometimes for no reason at all. Many of them were interested in Molly but she is too well-behaved to chase them. At times I think they set off running just to see if she will give chase.
We walked past a tree with a knot of blue rope hanging from a branch. There was a piece of white plastic hanging beside the rope. I did not pay much attention to either thing. Breda told me that they had been put there to mark the way for the recent mass at the Mass Rock. I have never been to the yearly mass up there since I do not go to any mass ever except for the occasional Funeral Mass. Now I wish I had gone to this mass. We saw tracks from a tractor. Breda told me the tractor pulled a trailer load of people up to the Mass Rock. The people were all standing up in the trailer. There were no seats and anyway there was no room to sit. The passengers were all people who would not walk or could not walk up to the rock. Most of the people in the trailer were older people. Maybe some mothers with small children were in the trailer too. Everyone was packed in upright and the number of bodies held up the rest of the bodies. Other people walked up from wherever they were able to park to get near to the Rock. The little single track road was completely blocked by cars. The rope knot and the plastic were tied onto the branch just in case people lost their way on route through the boggy undergrowth.
2 September Wednesday
The house on the hill opposite has been under construction all summer. We are increasingly aware of it. The scaffolding has now been removed. A red van has been parked in front for a few days now. The van looks tiny from here but the red draws my eye. The gap left by the tree which we removed for the internet signal makes the house more visible. It was easier to ignore it before. The house is big. It is too big. It is annoyingly symmetrical. It is at least three kilometres away as the crow flies and eight kilometres by road. I fear this house will be the kind of house which wants to show itself off. It will be the kind of house which shines lights on itself at night so that any people passing will not be able to miss it. It is on a road with almost no traffic. The blinds will be pulled down so the people inside will not be disturbed by the lights but for us far across the valley we will be constantly reminded of this house. I hope I am wrong about this.
1 September Tuesday
The opticians has a sign saying that they open at 8.45. Their website also says they open at 8.45. When questioned about this, they said No, they actually open at 9.40. They do not see any reason to change the listed information as everyone knows that they open at 9.40.
31 August Monday
We have had no internet since Saturday. Our signal comes off the roof of Michael Hickey’s house. As always when there is a signal problem, we telephoned Michael. He told us that his own service is just fine. We had to wait until today when the office in Waterford was open. They sent up two Polish men with ladders and binoculars. The men did things inside the house and they did things outside the house. We cut down a tree two weeks ago to clear the Line of Sight which makes the internet signal possible. For a while we had a signal, but then we did not. The tree could have stayed where it was. The men decided to hook up the signal box from one side of the chimney. That did not work. One man waved a receiving box in the air on the end of a long stick while the other kept an eye on his computer, and shouted back and forth in Polish. Finally they found a spot one and a half metres above the flat kitchen roof. They put up the box on a bracket and a pipe. It looks pretty awful. We are trying to convince ourselves that it is not so bad. We are trying to remind ourselves that we want the internet and that for now this is the only way we can have it down in this valley. We are trying to convince ourselves that we will learn to love this box on a pole. It looks like we are living in a submarine.
30 August Sunday
I listened to Jimmie. He was giving out to anyone who would listen. He said he had been on his way to Limerick. He said he was not actually going to Limerick, he was going to a place well beyond Limerick. He decided before he got to where he was going that it was always the same. He said The more you go West you realize you should be going East.
29 August Saturday
Potatoes which fall apart when they are cooked will always fall apart when they are cooked. These terrible potatoes cannot be trusted for making potato salad. Potato salad made of cooked floury potatoes becomes a kind of cold mashed potato mush with some salad-ish seasoning. Today I saw pots of it in the deli section of a shop. It was labelled Smooth Potato Salad. It is a shocking thing to receive this when anticipating potato salad.
My favourite honey label
28 August Friday
It used to be easy to buy nice honey wherever we went while travelling. It was lovely to return home with honey from somewhere else. Honey made by bees eating different things tastes very different. I like to bring honey as a gift and I like to eat honey. I like noticing the difference of honey made by bees eating lavender or heather or apple blossom. I have almost stopped looking for honey when I am away from here. I read a lot about the dangerous disappearance of bees in the world. Bees are dying everywhere. So far we are still surrounded by lots of bees and lots of honey, but not everyone is. Those who have it are less apt to be selling what little they have.
27 August Thursday
I went down to the shop and did a few errands. I was a bit early so I sat in the car and read the newspaper. Then I got out of the car and I leaned against it. I looked around and I watched people coming and going. The village is a busy place in the morning. There were delivery men unloading things from trucks and vans. One would finish and leave and then another would arrive. People went into the food shop and the post office. Other people went into the hardware shop. Some people went in and out of both places. People stood and talked with one another outside the shop or with one person already in their car and the other outside talking through an open window. Everyone had things to do. I recognized everyone I saw. Some people I knew by name and some people I only knew by sight. Or maybe I did not recognize them but I knew their vehicle.
Tommie came down the road slowly. Tommie always drives slowly. He pulled up to the curb. He did not pull up very close to the curb but it was close enough. His car was not exactly blocking the road but it was making the thoroughfare into a single lane road rather than a place where two vehicles can pass each other. He got out of the car and left the door open while he came over to say hello. We spoke a little about things in general. We spoke about the weather and about his wife Margaret, who is not well, and about all the farmers getting their hay and silage in. I told him that I was waiting to meet someone. I said that I was waiting to meet a man so that I could lead him with my car to our house. I said it was easier to do this than it is to give directions. I told Tommie that I did not know the man I was waiting to meet. I did not know if he was old or he was young. I did not know what kind of a car he would be driving. I did not know one single thing about what he would look like. I said that so far I had recognized everyone I had seen so I knew that not one of those people was the man I was waiting for. Tommie reassured me. I was not at all worried, but he felt I needed reassurance. He said You will know right away when you see the person you are waiting for even if you have never seen him before.
26 August Wednesday
Mick is disturbed by the sugar spoon. He knows that he always has four heaped teaspoons of sugar in his tea. The spoon in my sugar bowl is made of cherry wood. It was carved by a friend. I like having it in the sugar bowl so that we can see it everyday. Mick is confused because the bowl of my spoon is bigger than the teaspoon he would ordinarily use. He wants to have one spoon to portion out his sugar and then he wants to stir his tea with the same spoon. The teaspoon is the measure. Since my spoon is not the teaspoon he has lost his measure. He does not enjoy adapting. I usually try to put out a regular teaspoon when he is here but today I forgot. He is too polite to say anything about the incorrect kind of spoon but his discomfort is obvious.
25 August Tuesday
We have been given an Eircode. There was a letter in the post which assigned us this seven digit number. The letter tells us that we do not have to use this code when writing our address. The letter is written in a pleasant tone. It implies that it is understood that most people do not like change therefore no one is being asked to change. The letter has a tear-out card at the top which we are instructed to carry in our wallets. If we do not actually need to use the Eircode, I am not sure why it would be useful for us to carry the number around with us. One of the benefits is supposedly for ordering things on the internet. For years we have had to write a bunch of zeros or a random number whenever we were asked for a postal code. Now we can give this number. Already we are hearing stories that it is no good to put the number into a GPS or any other kind of system. I thought perhaps it would make deliveries by couriers easier as there are so few road signs in the countryside and there is such bad phone coverage and there is never a person to ask for help with directions when out driving. The Eircode has not yet been set up to be used by any computer or satellite system. So far, it is no more useful than not having a number.
23 August Sunday
Em died a year ago today. I still miss her. I miss her everyday. I miss her in funny places and at odd moments. I mostly miss her when I am out on a walk. I miss her when I am out on a walk with another dog who is not her. I miss the sound of her soft snoring and the sound of her feet tapping through the house in the night. I miss the lapping sound of her tongue in her water bowl. I would not say I am mourning. I am just noting her absence. Her sounds were part of the house sounds. Her bed is still in place. Her lead is still on the floor of the car. Her water bowls, both indoors and outdoors, get re-filled regularly. Visiting dogs use them. There does not seem to be any reason to move these things since they are getting used regularly. People ask weekly if we have thought about getting a new dog. We have thought about getting a new dog but we have done nothing about getting a new dog.
22 August Saturday
Blackberries are ripening by the day. It does not matter if the days have been hot or if there has been a lot of rain. Every time I walk up and down the boreen or anywhere at all, I see hundreds of berries. I stop to eat as I walk. Sometimes I take a container and I pick the berries to bring home. Sometimes I am just noting a location that offers easy picking and loads of berries so that I can return.
21 August Friday
Patsy Tom sat up on a high stool in Rose’s. He sat at the same stool in the corner where he always sits. He announced that he had been speaking with a man who told him that you cannot have a road without two ditches. As the hedges bordering each road are called ditches, we are used to seeing them on the sides of just about every road we traverse. I could not understand what the issue was. Instead, this was an opener for what became a long and heated conversation. Everyone within earshot had an opinion about this man’s statement. I left before anything was resolved.
20 August Thursday
I bought a Half Sliced Pan. Or a Half Pan Sliced. I can never remember which way to speak about this bread. It is sliced bread available as a small or half loaf. I do not like this bread and I do not buy it often but some days and in some shops it is the only bread to buy. The reason I mention it is that when I opened the package to take out a slice of bread the first thing I saw was a piece of cardboard in the shape of a piece of bread. It had rounded bottom corners and the top was rounded. The cardboard had one shiny side and one rough side. The cardboard was white and the bread was brown. The cardboard was not heavy. It was like shirt cardboard. It was not strong enough to protect the bread if something heavy fell on top of it. There were not two pieces of card, one at each end. I have no idea what function the shaped bit of card had for the half loaf of bread.
Rubber bands on the path
19 August Wednesday
We woke up to rain. It was heavy beating rain. We had been warned that this rain was coming and that it would continue for a few days this week. The wet air felt different. It felt like summer might be over. I was sad. Then I decided to cheer up and to believe the forecast that promised better weather for Friday and the weekend. The postman promised that They are Giving Good for the Weekend. This is an often used expression and one can always choose to believe it, or not.
Andrzej arrived to do some heavy outdoor work. The early lashing rain had changed into a soaking drizzle but it was still much too wet for him to even consider doing anything. Then we understood that he had made the trip specially to bring us a big plastic container full of fileted mackerel which he caught in the sea last night. He said it was only a few hours since he caught it and that we must eat it fresh for lunch. We were delighted and he drove off happy with his gift-giving. I worried that he might meet Mary in the boreen forcing one of them into a difficult backing up. Fortunately, she was late. She came in announcing that she had brought lunch today for us all. She brought bread and a rhubarb tart and mackerel. Lucky for us that her mackerel is smoked so we are spared eating a mountain of fresh fish for lunch.
18 August Tuesday
I saw another bunch of the bright pink silage bales in a field today. They were piled, placed and shaped together to look like a tractor and trailer.
16 August Sunday
The announcer on the radio spoke about how a player in today’s match had made a long reach. He said He was Stretched Out Long, As Though It Were Morning and He Was Still On The Bed.
15 August Saturday
There was another escape of cows. There are always cows escaping. This lot got out of their field, went down the Long Field, then took a left onto the Ardfinnan road and took a right down the hill and into the village. One of the cows bit a chunk of hay out of the Two Bale High Man who is standing at the corner near the bridge advertising a fun event. After the cows crossed the bridge into the village, they spread out in all directions. Local estimates claim that there were 80 cows. It was 2 in the morning when they were discovered. I do not know how long they were there before someone noticed them. Most interesting was how anyone figured out where they had come from. Who would miss their cows at 2 am? And these cows had made a journey of 4.5 kilometres from the farm where they lived.
14 August Friday
Everywhere feels quiet. The land is quiet. There is little birdsong to be heard. It is so quiet that it nearly feels worrying. Someone told me that the silence of the birds is because they are moulting. I do not understand the logic of this but it is something to think about.
13 August Thursday
Three of us took a walk in Killballyboy woods. Sometimes the path we were on was narrow and sometimes it widened. We walked side by side or single file or two together and one alone. Our positions were changing constantly. The track was not rough so we did not have to look down all the time but still it was important to scan the area ahead for roots or stones or holes as we walked. Early on I noticed a rubber band on the ground. It was a nice fat rubber band and it looked new. I like rubber bands. I noted that it was a good one. Minutes later I saw several more rubber bands. These were also thick and also new. To see one or even two rubber bands out in the woods is not noteworthy. Walkers might have them on their their lunch bags, or they might be used to hold something onto a pack. They might have been on someone’s wrist or in a pocket. Very quickly, I realized that the number of rubber bands which I was seeing was not a normal amount of rubber bands to be finding on a forest path.
Later, I learned that this wooded area, which has been completely invaded by rhododendrons, is a popular spot for people who export the leaves. Each bunch of leaves on thin branches is held together with a rubber band. These are then shipped to Holland where the Dutch like them. I do not know what the Dutch do with these bunches of rhododendron leaves. Maybe they arrange them as greenery with various kinds of flowers. The industrial scale cutting and gathering of these leaves is not legal in the forest. The people doing the exporting hire Romanian workers who work deep in the forest well out of sight of the paths. The workers then gather somewhere discreetly at the end of the day to load the gathered leafy bunches into trucks. It is hard to imagine how many bunches of rhododendron leaves it takes to fill a lorry. The rubber bands are the only sign that the pickers have been there.
Every night there are slugs.
12 August Wednesday
Every night there are slugs in the bathroom. I never find them anywhere else in the house. That is not to say that they are not anywhere else. I just do not see them anywhere else. I throw at least two out the window each evening. In the morning, I try to remember to pick up the pieces of tissue off the ground outside. Maybe the same two or three slugs just creep back up the wall and into the window every day. Even on the nights when I do not see any slugs, I know they have been there. I see their wiggly trails all over the steamed up mirror in the morning.
11 August Tuesday
Mary arrived this morning. She and Simon had just started working on their separate computers. I was half-way listening to them discussing plans for the day and halfway listening to a lot of noisy bellowing from the cows in the field. I looked out the kitchen window and saw two cows in the yard. I rushed out and Mary rushed out behind me. We chased the cows down the meadow and they jumped over the banking back into the field the way they had come in. They had broken through the last section of the fence. Maybe they wanted to get at the apples. Just as we were congratulating ourselves, we discovered five more cows running up towards Johnnie Mackin’s. Or they had been running up towards Johnnie Mackin’s but now they were coming back. They saw us and turned around again. Simon was guarding the place where the cows were trying to come back in from the field. Each time he turned his back a cow jumped the banking. Mary followed the ones up the boreen and managed to drive three of them back down and over to Simon. Joe was on holiday but I got through to his brother Michael who was just having a cup of tea. He came rushing down with Tommie, the young man who is taking care of Joe’s herd while he is away. It was all exciting and chaotic. They both had short lengths of stiff black rubber hose to wave at the cows. We had sticks. Two of the cows who were being pursued up the mass path by Mary crashed over another banking and off into Paul’s field. Tommie went after them and drove them across the high field toward Paul’s farm yard and eventually to the road. Except for those two, the rest of the cows are back on their own side of the fence. Every single one of them is lying down and they are all silent. The broken fence is blocked off with one of Simon’s old wooden gutters. He has been wanting to find a use for those gutters.
10 August Monday
John the Post is not well. He had surgery last year. I thought he was getting stronger but he is now off work again. When I last saw him a few weeks ago, he did not look good. He was in a lot of pain. For now we get our post delivered by Mick or Tom or Lee. If Lee is on, the delivery is very early in the morning. He arrives so early that we rarely even see him. If Mick or Tom are on, there is a chance we will receive some news about John.
9 August Sunday
I strolled down the meadow path this evening. Earlier in the day Simon finished making a new bench which he made with a long piece of Douglas fir. He had been saving the wood for a long time waiting until he knew just what to do with it. The new bench was just the right thing. I sat on the new bench and looked at the pink clouds. It was a beautiful evening. I admired my new vantage point. I had never sat in just this spot. I knew right away that I would enjoy sitting exactly here in the future. I thought about Em and about how often I had stood down there in the dark just waiting for her to finish barking and to come back and join me. I thought about sitting on the bench in the darkness later in the year. It might be a bit lonely to just sit there unable to see a thing if the sitting were not also waiting. Tonight the cows were all in the adjoining field. I could not see them through the bushes, but I could hear them pulling and tearing grass. It was a companionable kind of quiet.
7 August Friday
I spoke to a young man who regretted that he had never been inside a pub where people were smoking. He was too young. The smoking ban had already been in place well before he started going to any pub. He had heard of the strong smell of old cigarette smoke mixed with the smell of fresh cigarettes and pipes and cigars. He had heard stories about yellowed paintwork and nearly brown ceilings after years of smoke held inside in bars with closed doors and closed windows. He was proud that the ban on cigarette smoking in public places was one of the first such national bans. But he sort of felt like he had missed something.
6 August Thursday
Joe has an open platform system for wintering his cows. The cows stand on this big concrete platform which has lots of drainage. There is no roof over the cows all winter. This worries me. Joe assures me that the cows do not mind. They are most concerned that their feet are not wet. It is bad for cows to have ice forming in their hooves. It is bad for cows to have wet feet all day and all night. The drainage in the platform keeps their feet dry. Once, or maybe twice a year, an enormous load of wood shavings gets delivered. It is dumped in the yard. The pile is bigger than a large lorry. It is not really shavings, it is more like long thin shredded pieces of wood. Joe cleans all of the old wood stuff off the platform and then spreads the new shredded wood so that the surface will be ready when the cows are no longer able to be out in the fields all day. He has been doing this work over the last few days. I love it when the pile of shredded wood arrives. It smells good. Then I enjoy seeing it disappearing one load at a time. Winter seems a long time away but I guess it is wise to be ready.
5 August Wednesday
The raspberries are coming ripe. They seem a bit early but I am not complaining. They are delicious. The black currants need picking. Mostly we have very little growing this year. A lot of apples are ripening on all but one of the trees but plums are not doing well. Maybe the plums will come later. Even the sweet peas are fewer than normal. The figs are plentiful on the tree, but I wonder if there will be enough heat for them to ripen. The weather is so un-summery and grey and cool it is hard to know if the plants know to continue or if they are just skipping the season.
4 August Tuesday
Everything is closed. Well, not everything, but a lot of things. The framer is gone for his two week holiday. The tool hire place and the lawn-mower repair place are both closed. The wood yard is closed. The electrical supply place is closed. Most workmen take this time off as even if they were trying to do a job no one else would be open for them to purchase materials. It is the same two weeks each summer and every year it takes us by surprise.
3 August Monday Bank Holiday
There was torrential rain last night. It started at about five o’clock and continued all night long. I woke up several times and heard it coming down hard. By morning it had stopped and the sky was not clear but there was a bit of brightness in it. We took a walk over Joe’s fields. The long grass was wet and the grass which had been eaten down short by the cows was wet. When we got to the dirt track the mud was deep. The mud sucked at our boots as we walked up the hill. There was the regular after rain mud and then there was mud which had been churned up by the cows walking through it. There was mud which was a slippery mix of fresh manure and rain and mud. Then there were puddles which were full of muddy water and other puddles which were full of a mixture of rain water and cow pee. The different kinds of puddles were distinctive by the type of liquid in them. The track is long so there was plenty of time to consider all of this mud. When we reached the farmyard and went out of the gate and onto the road, we scuffed along in the grass to clean our boots. We always walk in this same stretch of grass to clean our boots after a particularly mucky walk up the track. Walking backwards, then forwards and a bit sideways through the long grass is the method for cleaning up.
1 August Saturday
A coach load of tourists from Israel arrived at the market. They were there to see the castle and the cottage and since the farmer’s market was on they looked around. Many of them took photographs. It is not easy for tourists on buses to buy things at the market as they are usually eating in restaurants and hotels and many of the market goods are in need cooking or preparation. Things like eggs and fish and broccoli are not going to be very interesting for them. They can buy apples or berries and maybe individual cookies or cakes. Wooden egg cups tend to be popular as they are small and not perishable. Today one Israeli tourist bought fresh garlic from Jim and Keith. Pretty soon another one came and bought some garlic. Then another. At least half of the busload of tourists bought Jim’s garlic. More people might have bought the garlic but he ran out before they could do so. It seemed an odd souvenir.
31 July Friday
A Fun Dog Show is scheduled for August. There are five classes listed for Pure Bred Dogs and nine classes for Fun. One of the Fun classes is for Rescue Dogs in Best Condition. I have been wondering about this. Are these dogs who were rescued and are now in good shape, or are these dogs who have led a life of rescuing others and who are still in good condition despite all of their work?
30 July Thursday
There is a stack of plastic wrapped bales of silage in the field. It is not unusual to see plastic wrapped bales piled up, especially not at this time of year when everyone is rushing to cut and prepare their silage for winter. What is unusual is that these bales are not wrapped in the normal black plastic. These bales are wrapped in bright pink plastic. Bright pink is not a colour that we come across very often in our landscape. I did a double-take when I saw these. I nearly drove off the road. Later I was told that the Co-op is selling this pink plastic and each time it is purchased by a farmer a percentage of the cost goes toward supporting research and treatment for breast cancer.
white (rose) bay willow herb
12 July Sunday
There is a large clump of white rose bay willow herb in bloom beside the round topped shed. I had never heard of nor seen the white version. I am not sure if it is called white rose bay willow herb or just white bay willow herb. Laurie sent me some from Scotland. She wadded wet paper towels around the roots and loosely wrapped it all in a plastic bag. It arrived through the post in a padded envelope in only a few days. It survived the journey well. The plants have taken a few years to root and to settle. This year is the best it has ever been. The white blossom on tall stalks against the stone wall is beautiful. Today’s watery grey light makes the white look whiter.
11 July Saturday
I met the man who walks down the river every Saturday morning. I do not see him every week but I know that whether I see him or not, he does the exact same walk every Saturday. He told me that he walks every single day and that where he will walk that day is the first thing he thinks of when he wakes up. He gave up smoking five years ago and started to walk daily. Now he cannot live without his walking. Most of his walks are circular walks but on Saturday he walks the road from his house and drops down through the woods and then he walks the river path. He walks into Cahir and does one errand and then he turns around and walks home with his single purchase in a white plastic bag. He carries the white plastic bag in his pocket. The walk takes him exactly two hours. Today I asked him why he does not try using a small back pack so that his hands are free when he does his return journey. He said that he has a backpack at home but his wife will not let him use it here close to home. She says that people will think ill of him if he uses a back pack in the local area. She said that people will think that he has some sort of attitude or that he is trying to get attention. She only allows him to use the back pack when they go away on holiday.
A Cold Kettle.
10 July Friday
Simon has been lightly cooking gooseberries with a few elderflower blossoms. The perfume off this combination is wonderful. It is more like muscat than like what it is. The blossom is just about gone now. We are hoping that later in the year we will be able to recreate this taste of summer by using my elderflower cordial in place of the actual blossoms. There is a good supply of gooseberries stored in the freezer. I feel wealthy when I see them in there.
9 July Thursday
Margaret noticed that a fox was coming to eat the food that she had placed out for her dog. She started to put extra food out when her dog was safely inside the house. She kept a watch and saw the fox arriving and gobbling the food. She changed the position of the bowl so that it now sits up on her wall. She no longer has to worry about the dog getting the foxes food. She is also able to watch the fox easily from inside her house. She can not go too near to the window as the fox will sense her presence. She stands back in the room a little ways. She can look out but the fox can not see her. Margaret tells everyone about her fox. She has started to speak of him as her pet fox. People are discussing this among themselves. The Knocklofty road is a busy road and the bend where Margaret lives is a bit of a blind bend. People zip around there quickly in their cars. Some people think that it is wonderful that Margaret has this pet fox to feed and to watch and to think about. Other people think it is an accident waiting to happen. Either the fox himself will be hit by a car or else a car will swerve to avoid the fox as he jumps up or down from the wall directly into the road and there will be some sort of a crash. They shake their heads and make distressed sounds when they discuss the potential disaster. There is not one person who does not have an opinion about the feeding of this fox. I am wondering if this fox is the fox who lives up in Scully’s wood, or if it is a completely other fox who might live down in the quarry.
8 July Wednesday
First I learned the word Perisher. I learned that I am a Perisher. Being one who feels the cold and is always taking my sweater on or off, I am pleased with this new word. I often find myself telling people that I am a Perisher. I am interested to know if absolutely everyone else knew this word long before I ever even heard it. I mentioned it to someone recently and she said “Ah, you mean to say that you are a Cold Kettle!” This is another way of saying the same thing, but these are words that belong to a different part of the country.
7 July Tuesday
We do not have mosquitoes. Summer guests are always surprised and even a little confused that we have no biting bugs of any sort. We have no screens on our windows. The only reason we ever close our windows in summer is if it gets too cold, or maybe if the rain is being blown in a particular direction. I can feel smug about the lack of biting insects but I am less self-satisfied when I think about the slugs. This has been a bad week for slugs. There is always a slug in the bathroom at night. I have taken to closing the window tightly quite early in the evening. I have put the plug into the bathtub. Now I am thinking that maybe I have not been keeping the night slugs out. I am not stopping a slug who might have oozed up the wall and in through the window. I fear that they are already inside and that during the day they are simply staying out of sight under the tub or somewhere dark. At night they come out and travel around. A few nights ago, I picked up my glasses and touched a slug that was draped around the bow. I dropped the glasses with a little shriek. I am lucky that they did not break on the stone floor. I am not afraid of slugs but I find them horrible to touch. I do not wish to be surprised by the feel of a slug. The next night I found a medium-sized slug stretched out on the side of the sink as though it were sunbathing. It had a little curve in the body which suggested more than just sleeping. I threw that one out the window. Last night I found another slug curled around my toothbrush. It was not on the bristles. It was down where my hand holds the toothbrush, but that does not mean it had not already crawled over the bristles. I used to dread stepping on a slug in my bare feet in the night. Now I feel I am under attack.
6 July Monday
It was all day wet today. The rain varied between lashing and just coming down. It was never a mere drizzle and it was never warm. It is July and it is chilly and wet and hateful. I spoke to Marianne who was pleased that it was raining because she felt she now had an excuse to stay inside and watch the afternoon match at Wimbledon. She was delighted with her change of plan until she remembered that their television does not work properly in the rain. The screen shows nothing but static when it rains which is not very good for tennis. I set off for a walk at one point because I felt I just had to move. If Em were still alive, I would of course be going for a walk. She was not bothered about the rain. If we all stopped everything in this country every time it rained no one would ever get a thing done. I dressed in full waterproofs and headed off and up the Mass path. I did not get any further than the stream. Branches have fallen and brambles have thickened and there was no way I could push my way through. I got down on my knees to crawl but even that did not work. I was trapped. The growth was dense and clawing at me. Everything was dripping. The only way through will be with a saw and some secautars. That was not a job to do in the rain and that was not a job to do when what I wanted was a walk. I went the other way, up the boreen and out onto the road and once I met Oscar, we were both happy to march along in the gusty rain. I wondered if maybe walking with a dog was even more of what I needed than simply walking.
5 July Sunday
A sign on a tree is advertising A SILAGE EXTRAVAGANZA — Family Day. I have no idea what a Silage Extravaganza might entail, but I assume the farmers will be cheerful to be celebrating.
4 July Saturday
I finished bottling my cordial just minutes before the rain came lashing down. Everyone has been wanting this rain. The gentle rain of last night was perfect for sleeping, but everyone at the market today agreed that such a gentle rain was tantamount to useless for gardens and crops. This loud beating rain is bound to cheer everyone up as long as it continues for more than a few hours.
Four Bianconi horse-driven carriages traveled from Clonmel to Cahir this morning in a re-creation of their historic journeys. People were lined up waiting for them. They were expected at 11 am and they arrived at 11.45. One man told me that that was spot-on for Irish timing. One side of the usual market area was cordoned off so that the horses and carriages could be on display there when they arrived. It meant that David the egg man, Pat with his vegetables and the English man who sells potted plants all had to relocate for the day. One man walked into the market and exclaimed “You’re all to one side like the town of Fermoy!” It was good to hear the expression. I had only heard it once before many years ago when Rose said it to someone who was walking with an exaggerated limp in order to get sympathy.
3 July Friday
I went out last night in the early evening sun to pick elderflowers for making cordial. I was really tired and it was really hot, but I had to do it. The blossoms are starting to go over. I knew if I did not gather them then, I might just miss them for this year. They looked so plentiful and big and round and creamy in the distance but getting up close to them was not easy. It was still hot but I put on long trousers and long sleeves and welly boots and took a basket and some scissors. Not one of the easy to reach trees had any useful blossoms left anywhere low enough for me to reach. I walked up the boreen and then I walked down again. I went out into the fields and all around the edges of Scully’s wood. Wherever I could see good blossoms I had a struggle to get close. Most of the trees had deep swathes of tall nettles growing right in front of them. In some places there was two metres of nettle between me and the tree. The top of the nettles was as high as my face and wading through the dense growth was hard. My face and neck and hands were thoroughly stung. Not one of the several paths made by the fox to go in and out of the wood from the field was of any use to me. It took me a ridiculously long time to collect my forty blossoms. But I did it. The cordial is made and is now it is infusing for 24 hours. Later I will no doubt be glad that I did this, but when I finished last night I was only annoyed with the whole process.
2 July Thursday
We had the big table all lined with books and cards. Every pile of publications had a little piece of paper on it with the year. The earliest year was 1964. We had twenty five years spread out. We could not fit everything on the table up to the present day. That will involve a second laying out. This was the first installment of sorting. The three of us were organizing, placing, re-positioning and listing the books and cards for several hours. For the entire time we were working the door to the barn was wide open. We needed the air. The upstairs door was open too. We had a nice little cross breeze keeping us from being too hot. Suddenly a big gust of wind blew in. Every little piece of paper with the dates written on it blew off the table. I had jiggled the piles around at one point to make them fit the table better. Sadly, that meant the piles were no longer in chronological order. Getting the piles re-identified was frustrating It all took far longer than we would have liked.
1 July Wednesday
As of today, the cost of postage has gone up. It went up last year at the beginning of July too. I do not know if it also went up the previous year. An International letter stamp, which is for anywhere outside of Ireland, was 1 euro yesterday. Today it is 1 euro 5 cent. The domestic, or National, stamps have gone from 68 cent to 70 cent. There are two ways to buy stamps. If the postmistress sells them to me directly, she prints the stamps out from her computer and each stamp has a different picture on it. If I buy a book of stamps the pictures will be the same for all ten stamps. The new National stamp has the head of a handsome red fox. The International stamp has the head of an otter. I would prefer to be using the fox but unfortunately the majority of what we post is going out of the country.
29 June Monday
Mary’s mother wanted to know some things about us. She wanted to know how it was for Mary to work with us. She wanted to know more about who we were than simply being two names. Mary told her a few things that she hoped would help her mother to form a picture. She told her mother that we had walked to Dublin a few years ago. She told her mother that we walked to Dublin because that was our idea of fun. She explained that it took us ten days to get from our house to Dublin. Mary’s mother asked “Do they not have a car then?”
28 June Sunday
We went to Veronica’s funeral today. She died on Thursday. She had been ill for a long time but her death still took a lot of people by surprise. The funeral was at the church in Fourmilewater which was where her husband Tom was buried five years ago. Tom’s funeral took place on a bitterly cold winter day. That day the priest rushed both the service and the burial because snow was falling heavily and everyone was eager to get going before the roads got too slippery. That day the altar girls wore winter coats over their robes and so did the priest. In contrast, today was a glorious sunny day. The church was full. The community really turned out. The funeral mass took place at the same time as the usual morning mass so I do not know if everyone was there for Veronica or if they would have been there anyway. People were wearing sleeveless dresses and light summer shirts. I think she would have enjoyed the light and bright clothing of the crowd. The priest kept calling her A Gentle Woman. I think that must be the female equivalent of An Inoffensive Man. A dead man is often described as An Inoffensive Man. I am always unsure if this is a compliment or an insult. I wonder if being described as A Gentle Woman is a similar way to say something without saying much. When the coffin was led outside to the grave, everyone followed. Some people walked right down the hill and into the adjoining cemetery. Other people lined up along the concrete wall between the church and the cemetery. Some people leaned against the wall and others stood right up on the top of it. There was a lot of quiet conversation and even some giggling as we waited for the burial. People exchanged little anecdotes about Veronica. Everyone who had ever met her knew that she was a great talker. The consensus seemed to be that she was well able to talk for all of Waterford. The view out across the hills was south east towards the foothills of the Comeraghs. The hills looked stunning in the bright sun. It looked like the entire congregation stayed for the burial.
27 June Saturday
Everything looks dry. The grass roof on the book barn is completely brown and dead looking. Fields are full of bales of hay scattered around or piled up. Other fields have black wrapped plastic bales full of silage lined up or clumped in a group. The freshly cut fields are all golden. The fields full of things like barley, and potatoes and corn are still growing. They remain green but still there is an overall look of dryness over everything. The boreen is lined with long meadow grasses. There are very few scratchy things. It is just grass. The cow parsley is either completely gone or it is just a skeleton plant now. The grasses have never been so long in the boreen. It is necessary to close the car windows on both sides to prevent the grasses slapping us in the face as we drive down. It is better than the brambles and the wild roses which have grabbed at me in other years. They tear and scratch at the skin whether I am walking or driving. I should enjoy the softness of these grasses fluffing against my face.
Good-looking to talk to
13 June Saturday
I overheard one man saying to another “She is very good-looking to talk to.”
12 June Friday
A car was left with the motor running right in the center of the completely empty car park at the graveyard. It is a very small car park so being right in the middle of it meant movement was pretty well blocked by this car. The driver of the car was down in the graveyard visiting with someone who is buried there. I mentioned this to a friend. I said I found it odd. She said it is a normal thing to stop on a daily basis to to visit your mother or whoever is buried just so that you can say whatever it is you need to say. She said that just because someone is dead you do not need to stop talking to them. I agreed that that is fine and I agreed that it was not unusual, but what I wondered is wasn’t it strange to leave your motor running. She could not agree that it was strange. She said, Well, sure aren’t we are all in a rush this days?
11 June Thursday
There is a big machine doing this particular job. All of the farm machines are big now. It is silly to comment about one of them being big. Driving on these narrow lanes is getting more and more dangerous especially when everyone is getting the hay and the silage in. The machines are as big as the road. More and more often the huge machinery coming at us will be preceded by a car or a truck with lights flashing. We see the lights and we slow and we salute but still sometimes there is no where to go. Pulling off the road is not always easy as there is no where to go except into some bushes but the bushes won’t let us in even if we wanted to drive into them. A few days of good weather means nothing stops. The weather has been good.
The big machine I am currently most interested in lays out long strips of plastic. After this machine has been in it, a field looks like corduroy. There are brown mounded rows of earth and then there are long parallel strips of plastic which look white or silver depending on the light. This method was first used for carrots but now it is used for corn and maybe for other things too. The plastic heats up the earth underneath it and the seeds germinate faster and the plants grow faster. This machine unrolls strips of plastic which work as incubation. As the plant grows, the plastic, which I think is biodegradable, breaks down to let the plant through. Maybe there are little slits in the plastic to let the plant grow up. I do not what happens as the plant grows more. Maybe the plastic breaks down in the sun and the weather. Maybe the plastic gets ploughed back into the soil. I need to find out more about the corduroy method.
10 June Wednesday
The man on the radio said that the livestock population of this country is larger than the human population. I think that the human population rests at about 3.8 million. I wish he had given a number for the livestock.
9 June Tuesday
Flower boxes are now in position on the long sweeping corner out of Ardfinnan. There are thirteen of them. They are freshly coated with red gloss paint. The arrival of these boxes along the low concrete wall on the edge of a potato field is a sign of summer. I think they are attached to the fence so that they won’t topple into the road. Each box is about three meters from the next box. The boxes are densely planted with petunias, geraniums and something white which I cannot quite identify while driving. I will be better able to name the flowers as they grow a bit bigger. It is not a place where I would ever be walking. I do not think it is a corner where anyone would be walking. These flowers are for viewing as one passes in a moving car. They are also for viewing from the four of or five houses across the road. I think they are mostly there for viewing by the Tidy Towns Competition Committee who will be around later in the year. As a village, Ardfinnan is very competitive in the world of Tidy Towns. It took me three times going by in the car before I was able to be certain that there are thirteen boxes.
The Fox & The Fox.
8 June Monday
A baby fox came to the kitchen door this morning. The door was wide open. He was just walking into the house when I appeared. We were both startled. He was gone almost before I had a chance to register his presence.
6 June Saturday
I was pleased to meet John as I walked through the woods on the river path in Cahir this morning. He is walking a bit slower but he still has a steady pace. He continues to do his five mile walk but since March he is no longer doing it every day. He said I am still walking five miles but it is taking longer and longer. He now walks five days a week. He is feeling bad about not doing the full week but he said that he is feeling tired. He is nearly 92. He told me that he will never see 91 again and that indeed he does not feel certain that he will make it to 92. Two weeks ago he traveled to Istanbul with his daughter. He liked the architecture very much but he did not like the food. He said everyone there had a new car. There was not an old car to be seen. He would have liked to have seen a bit more of the traditional building methods but it was too difficult to go out into the countryside. He said he was glad to have gone but he was more glad to get home and to have some normal food. He was glad to return to his walking schedule.
5 June Friday
I am sitting upstairs in the cafe looking out at the ducks and the river and the castle. I have the newspaper. I have a coffee and a scone. I have five new books purchased for one euro each from the Lion’s Club fund-raising bookshop. I am waiting while Mike gives the car a service. Another customer arrived with a problem before I did so he needs to take care of that car first. I will have a longer wait. The bookshop and the post office were my first stops. Now I am here.
I am taking a closer look at the books I bought. Two women sat across from one another at the little table in the bookshop. There was a tablecloth and a small money box on the table. One woman sat behind the table and the other sat across from her blocking all movement on that side of the shop. They each had large cups of tea. They never stopped talking for one second. They went on and on in minute detail about anything and everything. Actually one woman talked and the other just repeated things back to her like an echo. Everything was imperative. I was the only customer. It was difficult to focus on the books in such a small space with so much talking. I do know quite a bit more than I want or need to know about the woman who was doing the talking.
There is one other table occupied up in this part of the cafe. It has been lovely and quiet while I have been sitting here. The silence was just interrupted by a woman at the other table. She made a phone call to a man named Frank. She cancelled her twelve o’clock appointment for getting a tattoo. She told him she was chickening out.
4 June Thursday
I learned a new word today. Perisher. I am a Perisher. I am someone who feels the cold. I spent all day today pulling my sweater on and off. It is not only the unseasonable strange weather, it is me. It is normal to hear someone say that they are Perished With The Cold. The word Perisher is a new to me. Now I have this word so even if it does go from sun to cold and cloudy several times an hour, I can enjoy my new word. Everyone else can wear T-shirts but as a Perisher I will always keep something warm near.
3 June Wednesday
It is still colder than it should be for this time of year. The greyness is the depressing. Walking across Joe’s field, I saw The Fox outlined against the flat colour of the sky. He was very close to me. I stopped and he stopped and we looked at each other. After a few minutes he moved off slowly up towards his woods and I continued over the hill. When I mentioned this casual meeting with the fox to a neighbour she immediately wanted to know if it was Her Fox. She has been worried about a fox loitering near her ducks and geese. She described the fox to me. She said Her Fox had a light coloured tip at the end of his tail. I do not think Her Fox is the same as The Fox. I always call the fox The Fox. I never call him mine. Yesterday there were two foxes walking up the boreen just beside the house. When they saw movement through the window one ran off in one direction and one turned and went back the way it had come. I shall still call each individual fox The Fox, but I am happy to see that there is more than one.
2 June Tuesday
It used to be normal that if a person was at home, the door of the house was open. It was mostly the kitchen door that was left open but it could be another door. It was a way of letting passing people know that there was someone there. It was also a way of letting air into the house. It is not such a common thing now for lots of reasons. Most people do not want to let all of their heat out. Nor do they want passing people coming in. It is not such a friendly world and not everyone who passes is someone that one knows. Most people are off at jobs so there is no one at home in the daytime anyway.
Today I went to the Breast Check Mobile Unit. Every two years we women are sent an appointment for an X-ray. The Breast Check Unit is a long trailer which is driven to the grounds of the hospital and parked there for a few months. The truck part of the trailer drives away, then metal steps are put in place and the unit is open for business. Everything needed is inside. The big machines, the curtained changing rooms, waiting benches and a desk. Everything is attached to floor and walls, so that when the unit is moved somewhere else nothing will be disturbed. When I arrived this morning the door was closed. The keys were hanging in the lock. I opened the door and walked in. Two women were there putting on their uniform tops. They were not fully dressed yet. One of them snapped at me and said that they were not open yet. I said that the door was unlocked. She said “Unlocked yes. But Not Open. When we are open, the door will be open.” I went back outside to wait for the door to open.
1 June Monday
The rusty metal things which the blacksmith scraped and prepped were all mounted on wooden blocks by Simon. Sadly, not one of them is a success for printing. Each piece looks fine on its little block. To the naked eye they look flat and smooth, but as soon as we tried to print them the defects and the unevenness were all too evident. After work on the Adana failed, I tried hand-rolling them with ink and doing individual prints by rubbing on the back of a sheet of paper. That was a failure too. They might have been interesting in any of these methods even with all of the defects. They might have looked fantastic with all of the unevenness and bumps but instead they just looked messy and kind of ugly. We are disappointed. So far we have not found a new solution.
31 May Sunday
We walked to the Abbey and down toward the river. Wild wind sun rain wind sun cloud rain sun rainbow rain sun kind of weather continued during the whole walk. The barley is thigh-high on both sides of the track. At the bottom gate we spoke with four Frenchmen in full fishing gear. They were getting ready to cross through the field full of calves to the riverbank. They were surprised to see us. We were surprised to see them. We never see another person down there except maybe the farmer who owns the fields. They had extremely long fishing rods which flapped about in the wind. They knew the rain was coming again. They spoke no English. We discussed the weather in French and then we all continued with what we were doing. We all knew we would get drenched. I had to change my trousers when I got home.
30 May Saturday
It was cold at the market this morning, but it was dry. I spoke with the woman who sells knitted things. A few weeks ago she made a tea cosy that looked like the front of a Volkswagon camper van. She was very pleased with it. Everyone admired it. Since then she has made two more versions of the camper van. She says she is trying to get the windscreen wipers right. I like the early version where the wipers are made up of several little stitches but she is working on a longer loop which does look more like an actual wiper. She has three camper vans and a beehive and little Aran sweaters with buttons up the front, as well as some other styles of tea cosies. They are lined up on two levels on her table. They look wonderful as a group. She rarely sells one. She says that she makes tea in a mug with a teabag herself. Maybe no one is using tea cosies these days. She said she won’t make another camper van until she sells one of the ones she has already knitted.
It has been trying to rain since 11 this morning. The weather report promised that it would rain all evening and into the night. Evening is anytime after lunch so we knew the afternoon would be a wet one. After returning from the market, I stalled on going out to do anything. Simon rushed outside to do some jobs immediately before lunch. I stalled and stalled. It was cold and windy as well as threatening rain. Just changing into my grubby garden clothes was something I put off. A few minutes ago I walked down to the book barn and a steady soft drizzle was coming down. I finally have my excuse not to go and work outside. Now I can settle to something inside. It is a real relief. We are so weary of this cold and gloom and sun and rain and no sun and the never-ending chill over everything. It is not so many hours before the month of June begins and it is not very nice.
29 May Friday
I followed a car pulling a horse box for about 20 kilometres. On the back of the trailer there was a blue net sack with hay in it. The sack bounced and twirled as the car and the horse box moved along. Sometimes the wind caught the hay and made it spin even more than the bumping along on the back of the trailer already made it do. I could not help but worry if the horse inside the box had some hay to eat during his journey or if his supply was what I was watching bouncing and blowing away in small bits all along the road.
27 May Wednesday
The posters have all been taken down. The feeling of exhilaration and celebration after the successful YES vote has all settled now. For the weeks and days before the referendum the topic was never far from our lives. Directly after the results no one spoke of anything else. People flew from as far away as New Zealand and Australia just to be able to vote. It was the Yes voters who traveled. I do not think the No people were as committed. There were many stories being told. People were both thrilled and proud to have voted for equality. Now it seems that it is time to move on and to talk about other things.
26 May Tuesday
The driving entrance to some houses is called an Avenue. I think an Avenue usually has a tarred surface. If not tarred, it is at least a hard surface. An Avenue is not a dirt track with grass in the middle. An Avenue simply by its name suggests something a little bit finer and a bit wider. An Avenue implies something grand. I never hear an Avenue called a drive nor a driveway. Nor is a boreen an Avenue. A boreen is too rough.
Our own boreen has become a tunnel. It is horribly bumpy underneath and it is wildly overgrown on the sides and the top. The cow parsley has come into its largest and most frothy and effusive mode. The cow parsley is meeting itself at the top and making a canopy under which we drive and walk. It is a fluffy tunnel. The blossoms touch the car on both sides and on the roof as though they are some kind of car wash. An Avenue would never have anything at all touching a vehicle as it drove along.
21 May Thursday
Tomorrow is voting day for the referendum on Same-Sex Marriage. Both radio and television have been full of discussions and arguments. The newspapers have been teaming with articles and essays. There are posters up on trees. Polls report daily on the swings of the Yes, the No and the Undecided. It has seemed clear that the Yes vote is way out ahead but I think no one dares to feel certain. The rural vote is less positive than the urban vote. And now we are dropping into this day of silence from the media before voting begins. The referendum is a huge thing in this old-fashioned but strangely progressive country. It is a huge thing, period.
20 May Wednesday
Late afternoon sun. Suddenly at 5.30 it is a beautiful day. It is almost enough to make me forget the rain and hail and the broken heating system. It is almost enough to make me forget how unpleasant it is to even be thinking about a heating system at the end of May. We have had Thor staying for a few days. It has been so nice to have a dog in the house again. He is quite deaf so he follows us around because he needs to know where we are. I find myself looking for him if I do not see him often. I do not know who is following whom. I took him out walking. We met Oscar. Male dogs do not always get along very well but both Thor and Oscar are agreeable animals. They quickly fell into step together. As a result of their exploring and sniffing, I made the walk much longer. Thor would look back every so often to check if I was with them. I could shout out a direction to Oscar and I could be certain that Thor would follow. It is not possible to shout directions to a deaf dog but hand signals do work. Oscar became the guide dog. A guide dog for a dog. We all had a great walk yesterday. We had another great walk today. Thor is very small and Oscar is very big but somehow they managed to find a pace to satisfy them both. I was worried about Thor struggling through the cow parsley and the long grasses but he was so determined to keep up that no obstacle slowed him down. It is so much better to walk with a dog. Everything is better with a dog.
18 May Monday
Jo Hyland locks and unlocks the church and keeps track of the cleaning. I do not know if she does the cleaning herself, but I think she does. She is also the bell-ringer. She pulls the thick ropes to ring the bells for Mass and for funerals. She is a very small woman. She is described as being Low to the Ground. I just learned that she is 93 years old. She will let her daughter or someone else unlock or lock the church if she is unwell or if the weather is wretched, but she will not allow anyone else to ring the bells.
17 May Sunday
We have eaten Lumpers! Up until now my only experience with a Lumper was in reports of the famine. It was one of the potatoes which suffered badly from blight. Because there were so many Lumpers planted at the time of the famine, they contributed to massive crop failure. I understood Lumpers to have a bad reputation. I have never seen a Lumper for sale in a shop nor at a market, so I was surprised when Simon arrived home with a bag of them. He was excited. My heart sank. I feared that we were stuck with yet another bag of floury potatoes which would not behave properly. I feared that we would complain and moan through this bag of potatoes. The Lumpers were ugly. They obviously earned their name because of their bumpy and not beautiful appearance. To our surprise, the Lumpers are lovely to eat. They are a delicious potato with a great texture. They are not at all floury. We cooked them in several different ways and each time the eating was pleasurable. These Lumpers came from Antrim. I wonder if we will be able to find them again or if their presence here was a freak. If no one but us likes them, the shop where they came from might be tempted to say No when next offered a load of Lumpers.
Stand clear. Luggage doors operate.
15 May Friday
I went to catch the 3.45 post. The village was full of cars. I parked at the bottom of the bridge and walked in. I thought the cars were lined up for a funeral but I knew that funerals are always always at 11 in the morning. This was not the right time of day for a funeral. People were standing in front of the church and across the street in front of the shop and facing the church. Everyone was talking but there was not much sound. It was quiet with the waiting. I nodded and spoke to people as I went along and into the shop. The entire side of the street in front of the church was blocked off with striped plastic tapes. I went into the shop and posted my parcels. By the time I had done that, the lights were turned off, the shades were pulled down and the door was shut. Kieran pulled the grating halfway down. I was trapped in the shop. I did my photocopying in the dim light. The three of us talked in low voices even though we were inside the shop and we could have spoken in normal voices. The man who died was 85 or 86 and had been poorly for 14 years. For the last 8 years he had been badly taken with Alzheimer’s. He had a large family. I did not know the man and I do not think I know his family. I might know some of them by sight but this was not the time to find out. He had six or seven daughters and one son and they all had children and then there were some great-grandchildren too. The reason that the funeral had to be so late in the day was because they were waiting for the sister of the deceased. She was 84 herself and had to take several planes to get here from the western provinces of Canada.
When the hearse arrived all of the striped tapes were quickly removed and the family was able to park all along in front of the church. We watched from a small unshaded area of the window. Dozens and dozens of floral wreathes and bouquets were taken out of the back of the hearse. Each one was handed to a young girl. There were lots of little girls in bright outfits. In no time they were each holding flowers. When the coffin was carried into the church, the girls and their flowers followed close behind and then the rest of the family went in and then other people filed in. Not everyone went into the church. There are always some men who stand outside and smoke and speak among themselves while the service goes on inside. Other people simply take their leave after the coffin has been carried into the church. That was when I slipped out and under the grating and headed back to my car. In the thirty minutes or so that I had been in the shop, another 8 cars had pulled in and parked behind me. Cars were parked right up the side of the narrow bridge.
11 May Monday
I am obsessed with the recorded announcement: STAND CLEAR. LUGGAGE DOORS OPERATE. It repeats again and again for the entire time that the luggage doors are open. The doors swing upward from the side of the bus whenever there is a stop and when someone needs to get something out or to put something in under the bus. Underneath is the storage place for baby prams, suitcases and other cumbersome packages. Each time I listen carefully to the announcement. There is something wrong with the sentence. I feel certain it should say LUGGAGE DOORS OPERATING or LUGGAGE DOORS ARE OPERATING. I listen hard to try to hear if I am missing a syllable or a word. I have listened so hard and so carefully so many times that I now find myself saying the words along with the announcement. I repeat the words at exactly the same speed as the recording. It is more intoning than speaking the words. If they are repeated ten times I chant them ten times. I harbour a fantasy of everyone on the bus repeating the words along with me and along with the announcement. It would be a quiet kind of joining in. When the announcement stops and the doors return to their closed position, everyone will continue reading or texting or sleeping and not one of us will refer to the chanting which we did together. The next time the door opens we will all do it again. And again. All the way to Cork or Dublin or wherever the bus is going.
10 May Sunday
It is crazy weather. The sun is out most of the time. The rain is lashing down most of the time. The sun does not disappear behind clouds. The rain just falls hard and then not so hard and then just a little. The rain continues without cease. The birds keep singing. Sometimes the noise of the rain on the roof of the big room is so loud that it is difficult to hear myself think. But beyond the sound of the heavy rain the bird song breaks through. The wind is gusting and blowing all the time. The wind never stops either. Nothing stops. Rain. Sun. Birds. Wind. Nothing stops so nothing else stops.
9 May Saturday
As I walked toward the entrance of the market, I saw a man walking away from the market. He had four leeks in his left hand. He had nothing else. He carried neither a bag nor a basket. I could hardly believe that he came to the market just to purchase four leeks. I have been thinking about him all day.
8 May Friday
A cardboard box had been cut open and flattened out on the ground. On top of the cardboard there was a brown rubber backed door mat. and the whole thing was topped by an orange rubber traffic cone. I thought it was all covering up a hole in the tarmac, but instead it was covering up a spill. Someone had dropped a bucket of paint. Sky blue paint oozed out from the edges of the cardboard. The apparatus and the traffic cone were in place to protect customers to the shop from stepping out of their car and right into the pigment. After three days the cardboard and the carpet have been removed. What remains is a sky blue shaped mess with orange cones on either side of it. I assume that the cones are still there because if the paint was oil based, it might still be wet.
We walked out from The Boulders.
7 May Thursday
We walked out from The Boulders. There has been a lot of rain lately but this morning was bright. Everything was squishy underfoot. The Boulders are large stones beside the narrow tar road about two kilometres up the New Line. There is a little bit of blue paint on a few of the stones. We call this spot The Boulders. The Boulders is just the place to pull off the road and park in order to walk in the Knockmealdowns, in one direction toward the Mass Rock and in the other direction down toward the river. There is just enough space for one car to pull in at The Boulders. As we walked we were closely followed by twenty or thirty sheep who must have hoped we were the farmer bringing them something to eat. After we left the river, we went through a gate and left the sheep to their free wandering. We dropped down through grass roads for about an hour. We met Michael who was on his way home for his dinner. We told him that we had heard a cuckoo for the first time this year. He had heard it too. We reported on the heron which we see every time we are up there. He spoke of some unknown birds being From Foreign. He just meant that they were not normal birds for these parts. After arriving down in the village, I drove Breda back up to The Boulders to get her van. A tiny lamb tumbled out of the undergrowth and right onto the road. I nearly ran over it. Another one had his head stuck out of the vegetation. I turned in at the next farm and knocked on the kitchen door. A woman shouted for me to come in. She was setting the table for dinner. A big table. Six or seven places were being set. Four cars and a tractor were parked out front. I explained about the escaping lambs and she asked questions about the location of the breakthrough. I described the spot and told her which side of the road it was on. She nodded and said she would ring Johnnie whose sheep are in that field. Her kitchen was full with the smell of potatoes and cabbage. Today’s walk was both quiet and eventful. We felt fortunate that it did not rain.
6 May Wednesday
For a couple of years there used to be two kids in the SuperQuinn car park in town. In the middle of a school day there would always be the same two kids. There was a boy and a girl. The girl was about twelve and the boy a little younger. They would pace all around the car park constantly watching for people returning to their cars. One of them would politely offer to return your shopping trolley for you. It costs a euro to get a shopping trolley and the only way to get your euro back is to return the trolley to the correct place. The kids must have thought we were all stupid. Today, I found myself wondering when I last saw them. SuperQuinn was taken over by SuperValu more than a year ago. It must be a good while before that since they were last doing their rounds.
5 May Tuesday
Clearing weeds off the patio always seems mad. The patio is not a patio. We just call it a patio. The patio is the remains of an old milking shed. The concrete floor has grooves in a diagonal pattern to allow for run off. The places where the concrete meets other areas of concrete are not tight. Weeds and daisies and all sorts of things grow up from the cracks. I am torn because I love the daisies when they are all in bloom, but when they are all in bloom there is no way to walk on the patio without marching through all of the plant life. Increasingly there is no way to walk through the patio at all. The good part is that the ugly concrete is disappearing. The plants are taking over the whole patio. The bad part is that on a wet day it means that our trousers get soaked.
4 May Monday Bank Holiday
An announcement on the radio about failing to pay your TV license ends with the warning that as well as a fine, you risk having your name listed in your local paper.
2 May Saturday
I was told that a sure method for defeating weeds was to throw shells onto a path. Any sort of shell will do the job: mussels, oysters, scallops, cockles. The shells break down when pulverized and the weeds will not grow, probably because of the salt or calcium and whatever else shells are made of. I love the idea of a shell path. I love the sound of crunching shells. Today, after shucking some oysters, I took the shells out onto the gravel of the car park area. Even while doing it, I knew it was a ridiculous effort. The weeds are so dense this spring that in some places, it is difficult to see the gravel. I lined the shells up in a spot where I knew they were going to be rolled over and well crushed by the car tyres. I have been doing this for years. It has never stopped a weed. At this point, we could dump a ton of oyster shells out there and I do not think we would defeat one weed. I looked out and saw the fox arrive about ten minutes after I came inside. He quickly flipped the shells over and licked out the taste of the oysters. When he was finished, he left the shells scattered about and walked off into the field.
1 May Friday
Walking up the Mass Path is different every day. New growth is appearing quickly. Each day there are more things to note. There are fallen trees and branches which were not down even a few days ago. Some I can step over and some I must slip underneath. Some of the big ones which fell in the autumn are easy to walk under without me bending at all and now they are getting covered with vines and leaves. They are becoming arches. Everything is adjusting itself. There are violets in places where I have never seen violets before. Up near Johnnie’s orchard there are branches of an apples tree blocking the path. Their buds are still tightly closed and they are bright pinky red. I like them best now just before they open. Because the branches are across my path, I come upon the buds at eye level. There is no way not to look at them before I duck down low to go underneath them. There are lots of plants in early stages. There are bluebells, ferns and Alpine Milk Vetch as well as bright moss and all of the other things that I cannot or will not name here. The orchard itself is a solid blanket of wild garlic with thousands of white flowers in blossom. Each time I walk up the path, I think that it is perhaps time to carry my clippers with me just so that I can clear the path of the things that grab onto me. Today I found a good stick and beat my way through some of the brambles. After the ease of moving through winter vegetation, a stick is suddenly once again both useful and necessary. After I am free of the bushy stuff, I am happy to march the whole way home with my stick. I beat at the air and I wave it around. I salute the odd passing car or tractor with my stick. Sometimes I give it to Oscar when we meet but usually I find him another one as I am always reluctant to give up a good stick.
30 April Thursday
We drove up the New Line to The Boulders with Breda, Siobhan and Molly. It was cold but clear and crisp as we walked across the hills. When we dropped down to the the river, Simon left us and continued alone down the rough track towards the village. We walked up and down and around. We were able to see a long way in every direction. As we returned to the road and the van, an old man in a bright orange vehicle stopped. It was a tiny little pick-up truck with a very small bed behind a tiny cab. He called it My Kubota which was the name printed on the side. It had no road registration at all. It was sort of like a dune buggy truck. He had a sheep dog in the front seat beside him and a dead lamb in the back. The back was small enough that the young lamb just about filled it up. It had not much more space than a wheelbarrow back there. The man was dressed like old farmers are always dressed. The old man was dressed the way all of the old farmers used to be dressed. He was not wearing a fleece nor a T-shirt nor jeans. He wore a woolen suit jacket over a pull-over sweater with a white checked button down collar. Nothing was very clean but everything was tidy. He was wearing his working clothes. He had been out on the mountains checking his sheep. He asked a lot of questions because he needed to know who we were and where we lived. Where we lived would help to explain who we were. Once he knew that Breda lived next door to Jimmie and Esther, he was pleased. He explained that the dog in the seat beside him was the brother of Rex. He himself had given Rex to Jimmie as a pup. A tractor came along and we all had to move off the road so we did not get much further in the game of questions.
29 April Wednesday
I spent a cold hour in the blacksmith’s shed. The door was open and the concrete floor and all of the piled up metal made the cold feel even colder. He had been grinding and sanding flat some of the rusty objects from my collection. We are going to try printing some of them but they were too rough in their found states. I can draw them when they are rough but to use them as printing blocks demands a better surface. He had the pieces laid out on a piece of wood. As he showed me the sanded pieces, he identified each one by its function. Several of the pieces were ones I had been certain that I knew the function of. I was completely wrong about every single one of them. We also had a conversation about horseshoes and he showed me his collection. The shed seemed to be in chaos but he was easily able to put his hand on anything he needed. It was his stuff and he knew where everything was. I picked up a broken thing with a curved end and he said I could have it. He said that he and I were probably the only two people in Tipperary who would be interested in it anyway.
28 April Tuesday
A text arrived from the library telling me that the two books I requested were ready for collection. They were on hold for me to get at my convenience. I had not requested any books. I am no longer surprised by these messages. When I receive one it means that the librarian herself has decided that I should read a certain book. Sometimes the book is one of her own books and she just thinks I must read it. Sometimes it is one to be checked out from the library. The librarian is a voracious reader and cannot help but share her finds with other readers. Most of her recommendations are good. If I read one that I do not like she is always disappointed. I hate to disappoint her. I love rushing in to town to get whichever book is her next offering.
27 April Monday
Yesterday I was happily obsessed about spring and all of the white blossom visible in every direction. I was not too happy with the hard cold of the day, but at least it was sunny. Today is wretched. There is wind and rain and grey sky with only small moments of sun. There has even been hail. The hailstones were the size of bonbons. This morning the postman told me that it was snowing in Donegal. Now the lunchtime radio announces snow in Wicklow. Winter seems to be getting closer.
26 April Sunday
The stitchwort has turned all of the ditches into masses of tiny bright white flowers. I never know if what I am seeing is the Greater Stitchwort or the Lesser Stitchwort. I do not mind which it is. The distance is full of white flowering blackthorn and there are various fruit trees with white blossom. The wild garlic is in flower too so that means lots of exploding star white flowers amongst dark green leaves. Lots of white flowers and lots of bright sky. It all looks like spring even though today is a bit colder than I would like.
25 April Saturday
We went into the Convent of Mercy to view the items to be auctioned. The advertisement announced an Auction of Antique and High Class Furniture, etc. A great many of the people wandering around on the ground floor were there just for a chance to look around inside the large building. We were among the curious. One man who was snapping photographs in the chapel announced that he was only there for the memories.
The furniture on show was a disturbing conglomeration of utilitarian stuff. Some of it was old but a lot of it was just second-hand. I am not sure that much was of real antique worth. There were a lot of religious paintings and objects, church kneelers available in groups of three, four or six, an altar and innumerable boxes of assorted china, glassware, and cutlery. There were many many tables and many many chairs. Everything was brown. People were marking things on their blue cards in advance of the auction. There were twelve rooms and corridors jammed full of things. The objects were marked on the card by the room in which they were displayed as well as by a number. Number one was a crucifix in the Kitchen. The last number was 488 and denoted 6 plastic deck chairs in the Green Room.
I liked a wooden kitchen chair which had been attached to a little platform. (No.321 in the Dining Room). The platform had two big wooden wheels on each side and a small wheel at the back. The whole thing had been covered with dark brown paint. The all over brown made it into a wheelchair instead of just a chair on a wheeled platform.
Just as we were leaving, it began to rain, so we stayed to watch the beginning of the auction. Everyone was telling everyone else that the convent has been purchased by a group of Egyptian Coptics. Several of these men were there in the auction room, wearing long black robes and long black cardigans and black head coverings with brightly coloured floral embroidery. I wondered why a group of Egyptian Coptics have chosen Cahir for their new home. The auctioneer began the proceedings by instructing everyone on the procedures for bidding, paying for and collecting items after the auction. He announced that throughout the proceedings the Seventh Commandment was in effect.
24 April Friday
The fish and chip man spends more and more of every Friday night inside the pub. Every so often, he steps out for a cigarette. While he is outside, he checks on his fryer and his van. Maybe his customers are a late crowd. He comes back week after week. I rarely see anyone buying fish and chips.
23 April Thursday
There are several grubby places which remind me of Em. They are low down on corners. One is on the way out of the bathroom. Another is on the edge of the wood box. Maybe she used these spots to give herself a nice rub in passing. Or maybe they only mark the spots where she was rushing and cut the corners a little tight. The grubby places are exactly at the height of her body. I have been unwilling to clean away the marks. I like being reminded of her movements.
22 April Wednesday
I waited behind a man at the Motor Factors store. He was buying some part for a piece of farm equipment. On the back of the man’s T-shirt were the words: If she’s not blue she won’t do. The words were printed in blue letters. It was taking a while to identify what was needed. Both the man behind the counter and the customer looked in catalogues and made phone calls to identify and locate the correct part. I had a lot of time to study the words on the back of the man’s shirt. I could not decide if the message was sexist or what it was. The more I looked at it the more I did not understand it. When the man finally turned around to leave, I saw that there was a blue tractor on the front of his shirt. The blue and the she were both a brand of tractor.
20 April Monday
I have not heard the man with the strong Dutch accent who reads the weather on the radio for a while. I cannot remember when I last heard him. He is often absent for long periods of time. Sometimes he is gone for so long that I think he must have found another job, but then he comes back again. Maybe this time he has indeed found another job.
18 April Saturday
I have stopped feeding the birds. I have stopped filling the bird feeders. I ran out of nuts the other day. The wild bird seed had already run out a few weeks ago. I have been asking other people if they are still feeding the birds. One person told me that she feeds the birds all year long because she likes to have them outside her windows all the time. Another person told me that he has stopped ever since he saw the birds feasting off a bush full of berries. One woman told me that it is time for them to learn to fend for themselves. She said if she continues to feed them they will only get lazy and then they will not know how to take care of themselves and their young. I stopped feeding the birds only because I ran out of nuts and the shop had no more when I went to refill my bucket.
I have stopped feeding the birds their special bird nuts but I continue to take scraps of bread and crumbs outside. Rather than throw crumbs and bread into the grass, I put them onto one of the wooden tables. I also put bread and crumbs along the top of a stone wall. Sometimes the table and the wall are covered with snacking birds before I even get into the house again. I cannot see the top of the wall from the house but I can see the table. Today I found myself wondering once again if the birds are eating the things as quickly as it seems to be disappearing. I wondered out loud if it was a rat or if the birds were indeed eating everything. I am certain if a rat were dining on the table there would be recognizable droppings and since I have seen no droppings I can believe it is not rats. I watched some birds pecking at the table and then I went off and did some other things. I came past the window a little later and saw a fox standing on the table eating bread. A magpie stood on a nearby chair observing the fox, or maybe waiting for a turn at the crumbs. The fox threw back his head and chewed with his mouth open and his head rolling from side to side. He stood on the table and ate with gusto. He ate just the way Em used to eat when something was a treat and she wanted to make it last.
The things we need.
17 April Friday
Every day things are moved outside to be on display in the space between the food shop and the hardware shop. At the end of the day everything gets put away again. Without exception, it is all useful stuff. I watched this morning as a wheelbarrow, and various things on wheels were all moved out. There were bags of kindling, small bags of coal, peat briquettes, 40 kg bags of coal and a big sack of timber blocks, 75 litre bags of multi-purpose compost, a display of gas canisters and a sign advertising key cutting. The sign was not on wheels. And now, since the weather has been so good, the bicycle table and the four seats made from red bicycle seats are out too. The arrival of this outdoor seating is a real sign of spring.
16 April Thursday
Someone won the jackpot. The total was 12,050 euro. The winner was someone over in Ballinamult. John told me that it was a fine thing that it had been won. He said that after all these months now everyone in the village can stop dreaming about being the Biggest Winner Ever.
15 April Wednesday
The boreen is a mess. It is more like a dried up river bed than a road. After a year of ringing the council to try to get some repairs done, we received a form inviting us to apply for a road repair scheme. Today a man came down. He was an engineer. He never got out of his car. He talked to us through the open window. He said that he has seven people applying for the allotted amount of grant money. One of the other roads needing repair is a mile long and it has 14 houses on it. There are only two houses on our road. He said our road is too narrow for the machinery anyway. He said that our road is not really a road. The whole time he was talking he gestured with his hands. He had PEANUT BUTTER written in capital letters across his left palm in blue ink. I could not stop looking at it. I wanted to mention the peanut butter, but I kept to the subject of the road which of course will not be done this year.
13 April Monday
Michael Keating died yesterday morning. He had eaten his breakfast and he was getting ready to go to Mass and he just died. It was very sudden. Everyone is stunned. The wake was held today from 3-8 at his son Joe’s house just down the road from his own home. We walked over the fields at about 5 o’clock to pay our respects. It was the usual time for the cows to head up for their milking so they were already on their way to the barn. We drove them along ahead of us as we walked.
Joe had been out in the morning and put down a few loads of gravel at the entrance to the field nearest to his house. Cars were being directed into the field to park in order to get them off the narrow road. A metre wide piece of plywood was laid down over the cattle grid in the driveway so that no one would twist an ankle walking over it. People were arriving and leaving all the time. The field never had fewer than fifteen cars in it. I think we were the only ones to arrive on foot. There was a constant stream of new arrivals. Three men wearing reflective vests directed the traffic in and out of the field. There was another man out at the Knocklofty road directing people down to the house. Michael lived in this area for his entire life. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. One man, standing in the road, announced that Michael had been universally liked and respected. He repeated the word Universally several times.
We went into the house and spoke with Biddy and the family in the darkened room where Michael was laid out. There were some photographs of him on the mantel. There was also a photo of his daughter Mary who died two years ago. Then we sat down and had a cup of tea. The biggest tea pot I have ever seen was being carried about. The tea pot seemed to provide endless cups of tea. It had to be carried with two hands. Someone said that it was borrowed from the village hall. I think maybe there were two of these gigantic pots making the rounds. Everyone had a cup of tea and everyone talked quietly. Everyone said that Mary’s death had broken Michael’s heart and that he had never been the same since.
When we left the house, the evening was still bright and more people were arriving. As we walked home on the road, we met many other people on their way to the house. A few stopped to ask us if they were going the right way for Joe’s house. Others stopped to speak of the sad and sudden death of Michael. Some people were on their way to the wake and some people were on their way from the wake. Not one car passed us without stopping. It took longer than usual to walk home. The wake was supposed to end at 8, but people kept arriving until 10 o’clock. I understand that big lights were put up in the field to help people find their way to and from their cars. The funeral is tomorrow at noon. There will be masses of people there too.
11 April Saturday
It has been one of those days. Just as I was about to leave the house there was a downpour. The downpour was heavy and included about ten minutes of hail. It stopped as abruptly as it started. I walked out in bright sun with a large rainbow off on my right. The sun stayed strong while I climbed the Mass Path. As I reached the tar road, a wind began to gust and everything went dark. I zipped up my jacket, put up my hood and kept walking. It did not rain. On reaching the corner the sun came out again and the wind dropped. My hood went down again. Things remained blustery but bright. Oscar heard my whistle and joined me. We walked together until we were stopped by cows crossing the track. They were moving from one field across to another field. As we waited the sky went dark again and rain poured down. I hunched in my coat. Oscar squeezed in close to me. There were no trees nearby to shelter behind or under. We just made ourselves small and we waited. By the time the cows were in their new field the rain stopped again. I walked the last bit down the boreen with my jacket open and my hood down. Oscar ran ahead of me. Once we arrived here we wandered around together. He sniffed at things and I examined things like the new buds on trees. It was so lovely that I did not want to go inside and Oscar did not want to home.
10 April Friday
I am disturbed about the absence of the dog on the bus. The look of the national bus service, Bus Eireann has changed over the years. The actual buses get more modern, but the basic bus colour combination is always red and white, with the words Bus Eireann written in green. Sometimes the bus colour is more red. When the buses became less rounded and more square and modern they also became more white with less red. Whatever colour was predominant there has always been a running dog on each side and on the front of the bus. The dog was a drawn picture of a red and orange Irish setter. It was not a photograph of a dog. The new express buses are nearly completely red and the dog is no where to be seen. I hope this is not the norm and just some aberration for the express service.
Dung on offer.
9 April Thursday
We walked up along the hill by Flemingstown early this morning. The heat was already building up. The ground was dry. There was no mud anywhere, even in the very low bits of the fields where we usually sink ankle-deep. Once we were out on the road, Michael came along in his car. He did not say hello. He just asked straight off if we might be in need of a load of dung.
8 April Wednesday
There is yet another group of new-born calves in Joe’s concrete holding place beside the barn. They are struggling to get their legs working correctly. They look surprised about everything. Skittish is the word to describe them. The calves who were born a few weeks ago are still down in the lower field and they are getting stronger, more confident and more boisterous by the day. This is one of the teat feeders which is being used to provide both sets of calves with their fattening up formula. It can be hung as high or as low on the gate as is needed.
Below is a home-made feeder which belongs to the other Joe. I call it the Teat Trailer. I do not know what Joe calls it. It can feed a real crowd, but the height does not look optional. The rubber teats are replaceable and appear to be available in various colours.
7 April Tuesday
DO NOT JUDGE A BOOK BY IT’S COVER! is a new sign in the library. Below the sign there is a table with about twenty books on it. Each book is wrapped in newspaper and there is a piece of pale blue or bright green paper taped on its front with the words: CHOOSE ME! or PICK ME! or READ ME! Under the big letters is a clue to the subject matter of the book. One clue was Bio-fiction/Scandal and another was Humour/Tourettes. I am wondering if after you decide to take a book on the strength of these clues you are then allowed to change your mind when you go to check it out. The book will need to be unwrapped so that the librarian can stamp the due date. Not knowing what you got till you get home would prolong the mystery but would probably not be practical.
6 April Easter Monday
It is too hot to do anything outside. A heat haze sits over the valley. I am torn between thinking I should be doing a thousand jobs in the garden and thinking it is better to just sit down and savour this unexpected warmth. Marian told me that she has not seen the inside of her house for three days now. Everyone jokes that we better enjoy this stretch of heat as it might be all the summer that we get. I prefer not to believe that.
5 April Easter Sunday
I love the daffodils which appear in unexpected places. Sometimes they are on the side of the road in a little group, or far off at the edge of a field not anywhere near a house. Sometimes they are up on top of a stone wall. These have never been planted in the place where they are growing. Maybe some soil got dumped or something got moved and the bulbs just got carried along to a new spot. The daffodils had to have traveled to their new location by some human act. They are a variation on the sort of volunteers which plant themselves by being blown to a new spot. Daffodil bulbs are too heavy to blow anywhere.
4 April Saturday
One woman was reassuring another. Sure, she said, we all have more liver than we need.
3 April Good Friday
Good Friday is not as massive an event as it used to be only a few years ago. Bars and restaurants are still forbidden to serve alcohol. As a result they are all closed. Shops and supermarkets are not allowed to sell drink either. The only way to purchase a drink is to have a ticket to travel. One can sit in the bar of a train station or at the airport and drink. Some people buy a ticket for the next nearest station and then sit and drink for the day just because they can. Not so long ago the pub would be packed with people on the Thursday night before Good Friday with everyone trying in a manic way to drink two days worth of alcohol just so they would not miss anything. Mostly people do not care these days. It is no longer unusual to have alcohol at home. If people want a drink on Good Friday they are free to have one in the privacy of their home. Most people are not concerned with what the church and its lingering hold over the government decree. And the entire country is not shut down any more. Many shops are open and the big stores all have sales. It is easy to not even notice that it is Good Friday except for the deep quiet over the countryside.
2 April Thursday
Along the road at the end of a drive or directly in front of each house there are three bright orange plastic barricade things. Each one is about one metre by one and half metres and standing on two black moulded plastic feet. The three barricades support one another and stand as a triangle shape over the place where the water pipes go from the mains system into that property. It took me a while to figure out what the barricades were for. Any house which has a well has none of the barricades in place. The bright orange is a shock to see as we move along the roads. It is so garish in contrast to the early spring greens and the greys of stone walls. The plastic things have been appearing over the last week or two. An white flat bed truck dropped them at each spot and set them up in their little triangles. Now some of the barricades are no longer standing and they are lying flat in a pile on the side of the road. On investigation, I see that each house has a newly concreted place with a metal square for the new water meter system. The new meter is hidden below the metal square. In some places the new meter is in a grassy verge so there is no concrete. When the meter has been installed, the plastic things are laid to one side. The same white truck which drove around putting the barricades up is now going along and collecting the plastic things.
There has been a lot of noise and protest about the new water charges. Many people still feel outraged about being asked to pay for water in such a wet country. More people feel angry about this new tax on top of so many other new taxes. Every weekend there are Anti-Water Charge marches in Dublin and sometimes also in various towns and cities around the country. There is a lot of anger. It is less noticeable around here. Seeing the orange barricades going up and then slowly seeing them be removed is encouraging conversation about the tax but the conversation is still a quiet conversation. It is harder to gather people together to make a mass opinion on anything when we are all so widely spread apart.
Wind. More wind.
1 April Wednesday
The jackpot continues to grow. It is now 11,900 euro. This week’s draw included 4 winners of the Match 3 numbers and the usual one Lucky Number, Since Easter is coming there were 6 special Easter prizes of 5o euro each. And 6 other people won Easter eggs. I do not think anyone would be thrilled with an Easter egg when they were aiming to win 11, 750 euro. Still, there is always next week.
31 March Tuesday
The young calves are moaning and bellowing up above in the field. Their voices join together in a booming chorus. As soon as one gets started, they all join in. I think they are shocked and thrilled by how much noise they can produce from their small bodies. Joe has several blue teat feeders hooked onto the sides of the gate. The formula to fatten them up is poured in twice a day, I think. The calves jostle and shove one another to get themselves a rubber teat and a good sucking spot. There are always one or two calves who stand quietly off to one side. Maybe they are waiting for something better to come along.
30 March Monday
We are being beaten hounded buffeted tormented and lashed by loud and wild winds. Day after day the winds do not stop. The sound is in my ears all day and all night. Even when we think we are not hearing it, we are hearing it. I suppose many people live in their hermetically sealed houses and do not notice it as much as we do. We have lots of drafts. We have doors which do not fit tight. Sometimes I envy those people their snug houses. I would like a bathroom that was less cold. I would love a bathroom which was less cold. Most of the time I like knowing that the weather is part of my every day life. Weather is never not part of my life. The moment I write this I am reminded that I just returned from the barn where I had to give up working with paper because my hands were too cold. I could not carry the paper up from the barn to finish the job in the house because it was too windy and too wet to even try.
29 March Sunday
Shift is a word used when people talk about a Snog. It took me ages to know what a Snog was. A Snog is what the English call kissing and cuddling. Neither a Shift nor a Snog is actually having sex. It is the anticipation and the pleasurable playing around with face and lips and body. It is what we would call Making Out, or Necking, or Parking (if there was a car involved). Shifting or Making the Shift is I guess just about the same in meaning. I cannot really find the connection between the word and the activity but probably I am missing something.
28 March Saturday
There are fewer primroses in the boreen than usual. Each time I walk down I wonder and worry about it. At first I assumed that most of them had not blossomed yet, which is still partly true. There are a lot of leaves which have no flowers blooming yet, so there will be more. I thought that the final heavy cut back of the ditches in the autumn might have had an effect but that does not account for the many primroses which grow low down on the side of the banking and which were never touched by the cutting blades.
Fewer primroses but masses and masses of wild garlic. Johnnie Mackin’s orchard is a thick blanket of leaves of garlic. Every so often some daffodils appear but mainly there is not much else to see but wild garlic surrounding every apple tree and stretching as far as I can see. I detour into the orchard daily and walk around sort of dragging my feet just to make myself dizzy with the smell. Simon has gone a bit crazy with making varieties of pesto with the young leaves. His latest version uses buttermilk. His latest version of everything uses buttermilk. So far everything he does with the wild garlic is delicious.
Fewer primroses, loads of garlic and an unusual number of pheasants in the fields and the woods and on the road. This morning two unknown dogs spent a busy hour in the garden sniffing and exploring. One was a big Alsatian and the other a black dog of indeterminate breed. I do not know them by name but I recognize them as local.
Not a gift.
27 March Friday
Simon took his old tablets to the pharmacist. The plan was for her to incorporate them together with his new monthly prescription. When he went in today to collect them, she gave him back the flowered box in which he had delivered them to her. He said Oh dear, I was hoping to be rid of that box. I was hoping not to have it back. She said Everyone here thought you had brought me a present!
26 March Thursday
The wind is wild. The washing I hung out earlier seems to be gone. Or some of it is gone. I decided to wait until the rain stopped before heading out to check it. When I did get outside it did not seem to me that there were as many things on the line as there had been but I could not decide what was missing so I did not know how to miss it. I walked out into the field wearing Welly boots thinking I might see something that looked like clothing or towels in the long wet grass or tangled on a bush. Either whatever flew away flew far away or I just did not hang out as many things as I thought I did.
The reason things are falling onto the ground and blowing away is not only because of the wind. My clothes pegs have not weathered the winter well. The plastic ones have suffered from being out of doors over several winters. They are cracking and breaking and generally falling apart. The plastic pegs have perished. The wooden pegs are giving up too. There are divided opinions about clothes pegs. People feel strongly about them. The plastic ones are supposed to be better because they do not leave brown marks on clothes the way a wet wooden peg might do. But I am fond of the wooden ones. I try not to use them on things like white pillow cases so I always have a mixture of the two kinds. When I buy wooden pegs I always buy the ones which promise to be Storm Proof.
25 March Wednesday
He kept waking up to the sound of scratching. It was early early in the morning. It was just Coming Light. The extremely manic sounds of the dawn chorus were loud. The scratching woke him up and as a result of being awake, he lay in his bed and enjoyed the birdsong. He had no doubt that the scratching sound was mice in the walls and the roof. He put out mouse traps and a little bit of poison. He knew it was just a matter of time before the mice were silenced. A week passed and the scratching continued. Maybe the scratching got worse. He was woken up every morning. Listening to the morning birdsong had been a pleasure but now it was annoying. He was feeling defeated by the mice.
Jimmie stopped by one day and they talked about things. The subject of the mice came up. Jimmie told him that his problem was not mice but crows. The two men went outside and looked up at the steep pitch of the roof. Jimmie pointed to the bits of moss growing on the slates and in between the slates. He said the crows are eating bugs and things that live in the moss. The scratching he was hearing was their claws trying to gain purchase while slipping and sliding on the roof. Jimmie told him that unless he cleaned out the moss he wouldn’t get rid of the crows. Jimmie reminded him that the same thing happened when they were children in their father’s house.
He told me all of this when we met on the road. I was on foot and he was speaking out his open car window. He was pleased to have a solution for the scratching sound, but irritated that it had to be his own brother who put him straight. Both brothers are well into their seventies but they maintain a competitive kind of relationship. Jimmie was older and he had always known better. He would always be older and he seemed always to be the one in the know. It was getting late for a change.
24 March Tuesday
On describing a current court trial, the reporter said that The Victim and the Accused were known to one another.
23 March Monday
Everywhere we look when we drive or walk through the mountains there is gorse in bloom. The bright yellow flowers are a delight. Usually in the places where the gorse grows, there is not a lot else growing. As soon as I say that I can look out the window and see exceptions. But it does not grow everywhere. I think it is about acid in the soil. I always start to describe things which I do not know much about and then I get trapped by not knowing and by not stopping. The gorse is also called furze which is a word I like and I would like to say furze when I speak of gorse but I always say gorse. Not many people say furze but some do. Breda told me that her sister was out of doors near her house and was startled by the sound of popping. Lots of popping. It took her a while to find the source of it. It was the gorse blossoms popping. I have never heard this sound. I do not know when it happens. We see the gorse in bloom from February through to May or June so maybe it is when the flowers are first coming out. I am longing to hear this. There must be someone to ask who will know when to be listening to the gorse popping. There is always someone to ask. There is always someone who knows.
20 March Friday
I nearly missed it. I nearly missed the time of the solar eclipse because I was busy trying to find out what time it was supposed to begin. It was an overcast and drizzly morning. It had been grey and gloomy since first light. I tried to use the internet to get the information but it was not working. I turned on the radio and after a while the announcer began to talk about the eclipse. He talked about the coming eclipse and then he talked about the actual happening of it. As I listened, the birds stopped singing and the sky went from grey to a rusty reddish brown. The soft drizzle did not stop for a minute. The announcer spoke with various people around the country. He paused for a chat with a postman in County Cork who had stopped his van on a hill to get a good view of the whole thing. The postman described his bit of blue sky getting dark. He described the silenced birds. There was no rain where he stood. The radio announcer asked if there was a big crowd there with him. He said No, I am here all on my own just outside Bantry. He added, And if anyone complains about their post being late, I will be telling them that I was forced to stop for electrical problems due to the solar eclipse.
There are a lot of things described and made visible on the radio. Every afternoon, there is a program which follows nesting birds and their eggs and later their hatched chicks. We can sit in our houses or our cars or our tractors all over the country and listen to someone on the radio describing what they are seeing on a special camera which has been installed in a bird box. They can see the birds. We cannot. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people around the country follow these birds over several weeks simply as a result of the power of description. Listening to the eclipse being seen by someone else was much like listening to someone else watching eggs hatch.
19 March Thursday
The day is bright. The nights are cold. There is frost on everything each morning but it melts away quickly. Joe’s cows are in the near field. The other Joe’s calves are out in the field above. They have only been out of doors and in the field for a day or two. First the cows and then the calves. These are signs of spring. For a few days the calves were just in the farmyard on their thin legs which did not look strong enough to hold them. They all had new tags in their ears. The tags look huge in relation to their heads. Now the calves have been moved into the field and there are two white plastic houses for them to go into if they feel weak or cold, or maybe there is food in the little houses. Oscar was walking with me and then he ran off and wiggled through the gate. He ran over to the little houses. He went right inside. I was worried that he might frighten the calves. He is big and black and larger than most of them. Perhaps they would think he is a mother. I worried that he might be eating their special calves formula. Mostly I worried that Joe would see him down in the field among the calves. Joe has never liked Oscar and each time Oscar walks by with us Joe makes noises to shoo him out of the farmyard and away. I am not sure that Joe likes any dogs. If he sees Oscar in his field surrounded by the calves I do not know what he will do but I fear it will not be nice for Oscar.
18 March Wednesday
People do not seem to be joking so much about who will be the winner. The whole thing has become serious. There is a careful, quiet attention to the results of each weekly draw. I feel I too must keep my attention on the draw. The Jackpot has still not been won. It has now risen to 11,600 euro. It is a lot of money. Monday night’s draw had 14 winners of the Match Three Numbers variety. They each won 20 euro. One person won the Lucky Ticket prize of 20 euro. And there were six Special St Patrick’s Day Prizes of 50 euro each.
17 March Patrick’s Day
We went down to the village to meet Greg and Breda for a walk in the mountains. While we waited for them, I studied the display of St.Patrick’s Day stuff which was right inside the door of the shop. It was sited in such a way that it could not be missed. Almost everything was cheap and shiny, and of course, it was green. Or it was both green and orange. There were a lot of things on the display stand. There were flags and hats and banners and bibs and small ribbons with a safety pin. There was so much on the display rack that I wondered how much had been purchased. I wondered if much of anything had been purchased and now, on the morning of the day, it was nearly too late to sell another thing so it will have to be put away until next year. Beside the display was a basket of products to be raffled off for Easter.
We left the shop and all evidence of the National Holiday and drove up to The Boulders. We walked for a while until we reached the river and then we dropped down through a rocky overgrown boreen and eventually back to the village. There was a lot to look at in the bright spring morning. We saw sheep up on the mountains. We saw two herons. There were many birds and buds and some lesser celandine in bloom as we dropped off the moorland and back into farmland. We did not see one other person.
16 March Monday
No one says that they will Knock on the Door. They say they will Knock the Door. Or that they did Knock the Door.
14 March Saturday
Jim and Keith had very few vegetables on their stall at the market today. What they did have was big bunches of daffodils for sale. The daffodils were being sold for the benefit of the Hospice. There was a big bee in one of the blossoms. It was a sleepy bee. It might have been a bumblebee. It was fat enough to be a bumblebee. The flower was one of those very pale almost-cream-coloured daffodils. It was barely yellow, so the bee was very visible. Keith moved the bucket with that one bunch of flowers to the edge of the table so that the bee could be in the sun. He thought if the sun warmed it, it might wake up and fly off. Every person who walked by stopped and commented on the bee. Every person stopped and examined the bee quite close up. It was the first bee I have seen. I think that it was the first bee that any of us were seeing this year.
13 March Friday
The security van was backed up in front of the shop. I am always a little nervous when I see these vans. The men who get out with helmets are sometimes wearing bullet-proof vests. I know it is rare for these vans to be held up but I know that it is not unknown for these vans to be held up. When they are held up by robbers it is always in some rural village. This is a rural village. It would be as good as spot as any to rob the van. I always feel the tiny bit of nervousness and then I just continue with whatever I am there to do.
There were two people in front of me waiting for Helen at the Post Office window. It is rare to have even one person in front of me. This is not a busy post office. It has a lot of regular activity but it does not have lines of waiting people. It is just a small facility in the middle of the shop.
The security man came out of the post office with his special sealed up box with its built-in handle. Helen dialed a number and told someone that the money had been collected and was on its way. While she was making her phone call, the security man stopped to look at some stuffed animals on a shelf. He put his money box down on the floor and he tossed a small bear into the air a few times. Then he went to the counter up front in the shop and asked something, perhaps he asked the price of the bear. He returned and put the bear back on the shelf. He picked up his secure money box from where he had left it standing on the floor and continued walking out to his secure van.
12 March Thursday
The rain has been coming down sideways. How can I say the rain has been coming down when in fact it has been moving sideways. The wind is gusting and blowing. The rain is not able to fall straight down. The rain never stops. It is not vertical rain. It is horizontal rain and it is a drenching rain. It is impossible to go even the shortest distance without being soaked by it. Every activity which involves leaving the house is carefully considered. It is hard to open the back door. It is easy to postpone going to one of the barns because there is the hope that the rain will let up soon and the day will clear. Other days this week have begun wet and windy and then they have cleared and become glorious blue sky days. This day holds none of that optimism. It is grey and cold and gruesome. The compost bucket is full but there is no way I am walking out to empty it. The compost can wait. So far, nothing is important enough to merit the soaking which simply stepping out the door makes inevitable. Everything can wait.
A List Called Later
11 March Wednesday
I always have A List Called Later. When I am going away for either a short or a long time I begin the list in the days before I leave. The list is comprised of the things I have not had time to do before I go. It has things that have been put on the Long Finger maybe for quite a while. The list contains things which I want to remind myself not to forget when I get back. The failure of the List Called Later is that I can avoid looking at it for quite a while after my return so later becomes even later. Making the list does not guarantee that I will look at it.
10 March Tuesday
There continues to be no winner in the village lottery. The jackpot now stands at 11,450 euro. At last night’s draw, seven people received 25 euro each for matching three numbers and one person got 20 euro on the Lucky Ticket. The wait for a winner continues for another week. The conversations and speculations continue. I must ask someone what is the largest amount this lottery has ever reached before being won. From most of what I hear there has never been a jackpot bigger than this one.
9 March Monday
Joe has been down and scooped up a lot of the manure. We were not here when he came. There is not much to be done for the broken and squished daffodils. The snowdrops were dying back anyway so their wreckage is not such a pity. The lawn looks crazy. The grass has been growing already and growing fast, so it is long and the impressions of the cows feet are deep. The whole area looks madly bumpy. It is treacherous to walk over the grass as many of the holes are potential ankle-breakers. The holes are deep and slippery. It would have been worse if the ground had been very wet when the cows arrived. It is all so rough that I think it will take a long time for it to even out. The idea of running a lawn mower over it all is hard to imagine. Joe must have looked at the problem of all the holes and decided to pretend it was not there. Nothing has been said about it. Nothing has been done. It has never been a smooth croquet playing kind of lawn but now it is a more like a lumpy mattress with a lot of trampled grass and broken daffodil stems.
8 March Sunday
A big white sign with red letters is stuck up in the door of the shop. It reads NO TRESPASSING. It seems like an odd thing to have on the door of a shop which you want and need customers to enter. I commented about the mixed message. John said that the signs are very popular with farmers. He said they want that exact sign especially now in lambing season. He said they forget that they need such a sign until they get out to their fields. They want to know where to get one so it is good to make the sign both visible and available. Some fields have signs made from odd bits of tin which has been hammered and flattened out and painted with these same words. Often the signs have been up for so long that the painted words have flaked off and now there is nothing but the piece of flattened metal on a gate. It is easy to know the intention of the farmer just by seeing the piece of tin.
7 March Saturday
The sun is out. It is cold and bright. The lawn looks even more dreadful. There are no breaks in the fence that we can see. It is easy to see that the invading cows came down from the farm above. The grass in the middle of the track is trampled all the way up and the tyre tracks are churned up with hoof-prints and manure. As we drove up this morning on our way to the market, Joe was there just opening a gate. He apologized for Friday’s invasion. The winds were terrible for the whole day. The winds are still terrible today. The gusting wind had closed the gate which he had left open across the track while he was bringing the herd up from a field. They all took off and rushed down as far as our house. Cows get excited to go somewhere new and especially to go in a crowd. He said he ran after them but that only got them going faster and he could not get in the front of them all to turn them around. Since it was a downhill run they were able to go faster and faster. By the time he got to our yard they were eating everything they could find, tearing the young grass and rushing around. He offered to come down to scrape up the manure and to try to flatten or fill some of the hundreds of holes.
6 March Friday
The lawn is a mess. Cows have been in and walking about. I am not sure if they came in from Joe’s field after breaking through the fence or if they came down the boreen from the other Joe’s farm. No doubt we will be able to figure it out in the daylight. In this fading light, the churned up grass, the patties of manure and the broken daffodils stems look terrible. It is best not to look too closely.
11 February Wednesday
The jackpot continues to grow larger every week. The jackpot continues to not be won every week. The jackpot now rests at 10,850 euro. Conversation continues about the who and the when of the win.
31 January Saturday
Michael was pleased with himself. He stepped into the bar. He came in with something to tell. He had seen the advertisements for the special silver paper with adhesive backing. He had noticed the advertisements for years now. The advertisements were always in the back of the shiny magazine that came with the newspaper on Sunday. The silver paper was expensive but it promised to save money. Even more important, it promised to save heat. The silver paper came in a package of six sheets. The advertisement claimed that by sticking the sheets on the wall directly behind a radiator, the heat would reflect back into the room. Michael said he had always wanted to try this silver paper but he always felt it to be Savage Dear. He felt it too dear to take a chance on. Last week, he came across a whole roll of the paper in a shop. The roll was not expensive and it promised to do the exact same thing as the stuff in the magazine.
He had to buy it.
He bought the roll and he took it home. He cut pieces to fit behind several radiators. He and his wife were quickly impressed with the results. He claimed that the spare room had never been so warm. His bargain roll provided so much silver paper that he began to stick it up in other places. He cut pieces to size and put the paper all around the window surrounds, first in the spare room and then in other places. The problem he then had was that there was a lot of silver to be seen. His wife said that maybe he should slow down until they decided if they wanted to live with shiny silver window surrounds. She was not certain that the heat would reflect into the room anyway if there was no radiator in front of the silver paper. His next step was to paint the window surround with white paint. He said that the heat difference was maybe not so good with the silver painted over but at least they were no longer overwhelmed by silver. And his wife did say maybe he should have used a ruler to make the pieces straight when he cut them. But he said the white paint kind of made everything look more even and anyway they were probably warmer than they had been. When he was further quizzed by other people in the bar, he said Sure, but who sits and looks at the window all day?
27 January Tuesday
Thread is not called thread. Thread is cotton.
24 January Saturday
The more seed I put out for the wild birds, the more the birds come. I keep finding new places to put the seed. I continually seek the safe places where I do not think the rats will go. I know that rats can go anywhere. I know they can and will go anywhere but still I try to find good feeding spots. And, so far, the birds are happy with every single place. I cannot stop putting seeds in the places where I already placed the seed because now the birds expect to find it there, so the number of deposit places gets more and more. The amount of wild birdseed I need every week grows and grows. Tommie was scornful. He told me that it is a bad idea to begin feeding birds because they will never stop eating. He said you can feed them as much as you want and you will never get anything back. He said if you are going to feed animals you should only do so if you are going to get something in return.
23 January Friday
I went to have my hair cut. The Waiting Until It Is Your Turn couch at the hairdressers’ was covered with boxes and bags and Christmas decorations. The woman in charge directed one of the girls to clear the couch so that I could sit down. The girl moved most of the stuff to the floor. Just as I was about to sit, another girl came flying out from the back and jumped up onto the couch. She stood there in her heavy boots wrestling with the last of the lights and the tinsel in the window. She was oblivious to anything except the job she was doing. Lucky for me, my turn in the cutting chair came quickly.
22 January Thursday
I have a new text message from the Community Alert system. It instructs us all to be on the look out for a Silver Opel Vectra. It describes a tell-tale dent on the driver’s side and says the car is using two different sets of number plates. One number is a Cork registration and one is a Dublin registration. We are to alert the Gardai if we see the car. They end the message with this warning: The Occupants May Engage in Crime.
20 January Tuesday
Three young men were standing on the street talking. Maybe they were not even young men. Maybe they were boys. Anyway, they were young. They looked very rough. They looked like they hoped that they looked tough. They all wore similar clothes. They had hooded sweat shirts and baggy track suit bottoms. They were all skinny and two of them had tattoos visible on their necks. They were all smoking cigarettes. I was standing near them as I waited to cross the street. I heard them discussing something in loud voices. Every bit of their conversation was full of swearing and cussing. One of them punctuated a sentence by saying “Well, I know I am Blessed that way.” One of the others answered by saying “Yes, I know. I am Blessed in that kind of a way myself.” It is not unusual to hear people speaking of being Blessed. It is usually older people who say it. When these boys said it I know they meant that they were fortunate or just lucky. As many times as I hear someone speaking of being Blessed, I am still surprised by it.
19 January Monday
I rushed down to the post to get some parcels there in time for the pick-up deadline. I thought I had timed it exactly right to get there before the pick-up time at 3.45. As I got out of the car I saw the postman loading up his van. I felt cheated as I knew it was not even 3.30 yet. I called out to him and said “Is that the afternoon collection? Are you early today or am I late?” He said “No, no, you are grand. This is a sack of coal. I am just getting it in now to save time on my way home.”
18 January Sunday
Both pockets of my jacket are full of dry pieces of lichen. Each time I walk up the path I see lots of lichen and I cannot pass without picking it up. Lots of the pieces are still attached to sticks and branches that have fallen into the path. I love the silvery green colour of it. Some days when I come home I remember to remove the days collection from my pocket and I put it into a bowl. Most times I forget. That is why my pockets are full of dry pieces of lichen.
17 January Saturday
Most Friday nights the fish and chip man sets himself up across from the bar. He has a very long van which he drives into position in the afternoon. He parks it right in front of Shirley’s house. If she were at home she would not even be able to see the street because the van is that big and he parks it that close to her front. Luckily it does not matter anyway, because she is in France and her house is for sale. After positioning the van, he drives off in his car and returns at about 5.30 to get things set up. He spends a lot of time going in and out of the bar. He comes in to get a pint of lager for his fish batter. Sometimes he comes in to borrow a bit of kitchen equipment from Rose. I never see many people going to his van to get fish and chips but if he is inside the bar he can keep an eye on possible customers by just looking out the window. When he was first locating himself in the village he used to bring in free chips so that everyone could taste his wares. He still does that at the end of the evening when he has left-over chips but when the customers have stopped coming. In the summer months he is rarely around because he sites himself at seaside locations or at the fairs around the country. He comes back for the dark and winter months and he must get enough customers as he returns week after week. Everyone knows him even if they do not know him by name.
Rolling a rock down the road
16 January Friday
After several days of wild winds and storms, today the sky is blue and bright. The Galtees and the Knockmealdowns have snow on them. It is still bitterly cold and there are sticks and branches down everywhere but I have not seen any fallen trees. Most parts of the country have had it much worse than we have had it here. I took Molly for a walk and found that I was babbling away to her the entire time. Children and dogs give freedom to talk any amount of nonsense. Or maybe it is not always nonsense but it is just the freedom to talk out loud. I really enjoyed my conversations with her. Walking with another person is nice but a dog is something else.
15 January Thursday
Rocks fall out of the walls and the ditches of the boreen. They fall out and into the track and then it is not possible to drive without hitting them. The space for driving is barely wide enough already. There is no room to go around anything. Sometimes the rocks get dislodged because of the rain and the softening of the earth. Other times it is the foxes and pheasants and cats and badgers who traverse up and down along the edges of the boreen in and out of the woods and fields who loosen the stones. Today I found a huge stone in the middle of the track. It was far too big for me to lift. I pushed it and rolled it and kicked it downhill for a long way. There was no where to get it out of the way. The banking and the ditches on either side all went up. Eventually I got to a place where I could roll it off and into some undergrowth. It was hard work. Oscar was walking with me and he was impatient with my slow progress with the big stone. I was enjoying the struggle. He jumped up and down with excitement when I finally finished with the rock and started to walk normally again.
14 January Wednesday
There was a little covering of snow this morning. Looking across the yard I could see that the barn roof was completely white. Not a slate could be seen. The ground was covered with snow and anyplace where the grass was not too long was all white. Tall grass remained visible and uncovered so I could tell the snow was not a big snow without looking much further. The fields and the hills in the distance looked lovely. Everything looked lovely and it all looked completely different. It is so rare to look out and not to see bright green fields that it looked like we were somewhere else. Here did not look like the same place. Being here while being elsewhere did not last for very long but it was nice while it did.
The birds have been eating from their feeders like maniacs. Some days I fill the feeders and they are empty again in just a few hours. The cold and the storms must make them hungrier than usual or else the hours available for getting food are just shorter due to the bad weather. To provide more food for them, I have started spreading some out on the table. At first I was nervous that a table covered with seeds would attract rats but instead I see 12 or 15 birds on the table eating away. Not a rat in sight. Every so often a pair of magpies come along. They scare all the small brown birds away. I think the pickings are not filling enough for them so they do not stay long and very soon the small tits and finches are back. Today the food was completely eaten off the table before all the snow had melted.
The lower barn is full of the sound of chirping birds. It sounds the way it usually sounds in the spring. There are a lot of young birds up in the roof. It is not normal for there to be babies and nesting at this time of year. Everything is a bit off. I hope the parents are finding enough to feed the infants as they are promising that the cold will now get much worse. It is really cold down there already. It is cold outside and it is cold inside. We have been packing and organizing books all week and we have to keep making trips back up to the house just to get properly warm. We wear hats and scarves and sweaters all the time but still it is cold. Sometimes the noise of all the birds makes it hard to even hear the radio while we are working.
13 January Tuesday
The Jackpot in the village GAA Club Weekly Lotto has still not been won. There were a few weeks after Christmas when there was no weekly draw, but now things are back on schedule. The Monday night draw had 9 winners of three Match Numbers with each of the 9 people winning 20 euro each. The Lucky Number for one person was also 20 euro. The Jackpot is now 10,250 euro. Everyone continues waiting and watching to see who will win it. People who never usually buy tickets are now buying tickets. It is too large a sum of money not to be interesting.
Black Cat. Black Kitten.
12 January Monday
The expression used most frequently is The Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree. Another version is You Didn’t Pick That Up Off the Road. Both things mean that someone is demonstrating a characteristic which is familial. It might be that you are doing, saying or otherwise behaving like your father. Or maybe you are like your mother. Maybe you are doing something that everyone in your family does. Now I have learned a new expression, which means the exact same thing: Black Cat. Black Kitten.
11 January Sunday
We are still saying Happy New Year to everyone we meet. If we have seen the person since the new year began and we have already said Happy New Year once, we do not need to say it again. Each person responds by saying And Many Happy Returns. Most of us get a little confused as to whether we have said Happy New Year to every single person or not. It is better to repeat ourselves and to say it again rather than to fail to say it at all. Some people accompany every Happy New Year with a handshake. Today we were out for a walk when a car slowed and stopped. It was Donal and Breda and they wanted to say Happy New Year. Donal turned off the motor. No one came along so we talked for a while in the middle of the road. After ten minutes or so, Peter and Breda came walking around the corner. They started Happy New Years all around. Since Peter and Breda began by shaking hands with us and with Donal and Breda who were still in the car, we all had to begin again and shake hands all around. We shook hands through the car windows and we shook hands outside. Breda and Breda and Peter and Donal and Simon and myself. We laughed as we shook hands and said Happy New Year again and again.
I reach a point each January when I wonder how much longer it is essential to continue saying Happy New Year. I always want to make note of the time when we stop saying it and when we stop hearing it being said. But every year it is suddenly no longer part of our daily greetings and I do not know exactly when it stopped.
10 January Saturday
Today’s walk was down to the Abbey and then down as far as the final gate. The fields on both sides of the track have been plowed up and turned over. The earth is churned up in deep dark brown chunks. We did not go all the way to the river. The wind was blowing sharp and cold. From the gate back to the Abbey and then to the graveyard at the top is a long continuously uphill walk. It is not a steep uphill walk but it is always climbing, both gently and not so gently in places. The wind was against us all the way. I was pushed by the gusts. I had a hard struggle walking in a straight line. I had a hard struggle walking at all. By the time I reached the car I was tired. I felt a bit beaten up.
9 January Friday
A sign has been put up near the river in Cahir. It is right beside the place where the The Foreign Nationals gather to drink beer. The men have been standing and drinking and smoking in this spot for five or ten years now. There are two large bin bags attached to the side of the wall. On both Saturday and Sunday mornings the blue bags are completely full to the tops with beer cans and bottles. Perhaps they are also filled on other days. There are never any bottles or cans on the ground. The drinkers are tidy. There used to be a mess on the ground but since the two bags have been provided it seems a very organized system. There is never one bag, but always two. Now the new sign proclaims that this area is an Alcohol-Free Zone. The round sign says that a fine of 1905 euro will be imposed on anyone breaking the rule. 1905 is a strangely large and strangely odd number for this fine. And even while the sign has been put in place, so have two fresh empty bags.
8 January Thursday
The opportunity for women to go to a clinic and get artificially inseminated is openly available in ways which never could have been imagined not so many years ago. The possibility and the option and the costs are all freely discussed. It is not called AI as it is when farmers speak of Artificially Inseminating cows. No one speaks of the AI Man coming down on Friday or of going to meet the AI Man. It is all in more delicate terms, even though it is the same thing. I do not know the language of these fertility clinics but I am interested to learn that the majority of sperm being used in Ireland comes from Denmark. The sperm comes from Danish men. It is an interesting situation. If a huge number of women seek to be artificially inseminated over a long time, the entire look of the Irish people could change. Perhaps this will become a race of tall, blond-haired and blue-eyed people.
7 January Wednesday
I spoke to Peggy and wished her a Happy New Year. She was cross because Robert and Geraldine have not started building their new house yet. They have had planning permission for some months already. She feels that there should be nothing stopping them. She thinks the house should have been started by now. She thinks that the house should be finished by now. Their house, when it is built, will be right on the opposite corner to her. Actually it will be up in a field sort of high above the corner. To listen to her speak it sounds like the house will barely be off the edge of the road. At the moment there is a long-derelict house and a lot of tangly growth right on that corner. Peggy is often fearful at night because she is certain that there are people hiding in the bushes waiting to see if she is going out or coming home in the dark. She is frightened of turning off her outside lights. She believes that having new neighbours will prove a deterrent to any bad people hiding in the bushes. She is eager to feel less alone in her home.
To Soften His Cough
6 January Tuesday
Breda corrected me about the expression To Soften His Cough. I thought that it was was a way to say that someone, especially someone elderly, needed to slow down. I misunderstood the expression. It is more like a form of reprimand. She gave me two examples: If a young man was in the habit of driving fast and recklessly and then he had a crash, it might be said that the crash would certainly make him Soften His Cough. He would have to adjust his behaviour. As with a wild young man whose partner had a child. The change in life circumstances would require him to Soften His Cough.
5 January Monday
Mattie Hayes owned a shop on the Cashel Road. It was a sort of general store with food and hardware and everything. Out back there was coal, and bags of turf and piles of sand and gravel and bags of cement and any number of useful things. It was possible to go there with a car trailer and to shovel as much sand as you needed into your trailer. I don’t know how Mattie charged for it, but it never cost very much to get a load of sand, especially because you had to do the shoveling work yourself. I am not sure when Mattie Hayes closed down, but it has been a while. Now the same premises contain a grocery shop called CostCutter. There are no more rolls of fencing wire or things piled high on palettes out back. The only remnant of Mattie Hayes is on the gable end of the building. The gable still has an H, for Hayes, in a circle, painted yellow and blue in the Tipperary colours.
4 January Sunday
Simon had a small cylinder of Kilkenny limestone cut for Emily. It is not polished. It has simply been sanded. It is a soft grey colour. When wet it is dark and shiny. It has her name and the years of her life carved into the top. He placed it in the grass over near the fence and just close to the fig tree. The location is sort of facing out into the sloping field where she played afternoon games with the frisbee. It is not a big stone. It is about 275 cm. It is small and low, and it is placed so that you have to walk to it. It is not something to be viewed from a distance. We planted snowdrops in the grass around it. They should be coming up soon. There are also some little grape hyacinths which will come later in the spring. Small and delicate blossoms seemed like the right thing.
Simon goes to the stone and speaks to Em often. He goes and speaks with her before he leaves to go away on a trip and sometimes just in the middle of a day. I do not have the same relationship with the stone. It is a lovely thing and I am glad it is there. I talk to Em at any moment all day long when I am anywhere at all. I can miss her and think of her anywhere and everywhere. Most days, I feel that she is with me wherever I go in the same way that she always was. When I look around I am always sorry not to see her.
3 January Saturday
Last year discussion began about the possibility of a Community Alert for this area. In a district with such a spread-out population, it is not always easy for people to know what is going on. If something bad or unfortunate happens, some people might not know for days or weeks or even ever if they do not bump into someone who remembers to tell them. Frank’s shop is in the center of Grange and there is also a school and the church there. For a long time, I thought Grange was a town land, and not even a village, but now I know it is a village. It covers a huge area geographically with small winding roads through farmland, but it is easy to go for a long time without ever going into the center of Grange. For those who do not frequent the shop or the church or the school or visit someone in the graveyard, there is no reason to be there at all. It is a bit of a stretch to even call the center the center.
There were numerous meetings about setting up the Community Alert but there seemed to be a lot of snags and a lot of disagreement about how to proceed. I did not even know such meetings had been happening until six or seven months into the discussions. At some point I was told by a neighbour that the alert system had finally commenced. All of us who had signed up were promised texts about any local problems.
I was in the middle of London in November when my first text arrived. This is what it read:
Alert re small blue/grey car trailer, full load of briquettes stolen from area 9th or 10th/11/14 Report any sightings to Cahir Garda Station
On getting the text, I looked around me at the noise and activity of Tottenham Court Road. It was hard to even think about the trailer load of briquettes but somehow I still sort of felt I should be on the look-out. I felt like I wanted to help.
Today I received my second ever Text Alert. Today’s message reads:
Alert – diesel stolen recently from the area, please be alert for any suspicious vehicles and report same to Gardai
I have not heard if the Alert system is being helpful to catch any criminals. Two alerts in two months suggest that we are not living in a high crime area.
2 January 2015 Friday
Today we took the longer walk over Joe’s fields. The cow track was full of deep mud and muck. There was no where to walk but right through the mud, as the fields are all flooded and sodden at that low point. I was sinking ankle deep in the mud and hoping that it would not go over the tops of my boots. I was sort of wishing that I had worn my Welly boots even though I dislike walking any distance in them. This was the one day I absolutely should have worn them. The only way to walk through the morass was to keep looking down and to be constantly on the lookout for a less deep area of mud or for a bit of raised grassy banking to step up and out of the wet for a few metres. Each time I looked up I was blinded by the bright sun which was still low in the morning sky. If I looked down I could only see mud and if I looked up I could see nothing. The wind was sharp and cold.
Later I went down to the village and I met a man who had just returned from his own walk. He told me that tomorrow will be desperate and wet beyond all belief so it is the right thing to be out on a walk today. This man and I were the only ones thinking and talking of walking. The village was all in a flurry. One of the McCarra family was getting married at 3 o’clock. There were men in suits and women in sparkly fancy dresses and high heels. Kieran was wearing a suit and tie as he carefully loaded a sack of coal into an old woman’s car. There were several women rushing in and out of The Hair Den. One woman drove up and jumped out of her car and ran inside. She was wearing a hairdressers big black cape, with a small towel tucked in around her neck. Her hair was all up in curlers. She had driven home to do something and now she was back to have her hair finished.
1 January 2015 New Year’s Day
The whole day was wet and grey and windy. Sometimes the grey of the sky was very bright. It almost looked like the sun might break through, but it never happened. The rain was not all day rain and we managed a walk around the boreen without getting drenched. We just got sort of misted by the on and off again drizzle. During the entire circuit, we did not see one person, nor one dog nor one motor vehicle. There was a deep, damp silence over everything. I did not feel much enthusiasm about taking a walk but I knew that if the youthful Em were still here with us, there would be no question about whether or not we took a walk. The only question would have been when we would walk and, indeed, would the walk happen soon enough to satisfy her impatience. Rain and cold were not her problems so she had no patience with excuses. Heading off reluctantly today made me think of her. I quickly decided that it was wonderful to be outside and that the bit of rain was not a problem for me either. It was not a very beautiful day to begin the year, but it was quiet.
31 December Wednesday
The jackpot in the village lottery has still not been won. No one managed to secure the big prize before Christmas. Now the jackpot has gone up to 10,100 euro. The last draw had eleven people sharing the Bonus Numbers with each person winning 20 euro. One person won the Lucky Number. That was also a 20 euro pay-out. The prize continues to grow and now the speculation is who will win it and get to pay off all their holiday debts in one fell swoop.
30 December Tuesday
People who have just passed their driving test are now required by law to have a large white sticker with a big red letter N on their car. The N stands for NOVICE. I think this law has been in effect for a year or so now. A Novice driver must keep the sticker visible on whatever car he or she is driving for two years. I assume the sticker can be peeled off and put onto another vehicle. I do not know if it matters if the sticker is on the front of the car or on the back of the car. Today I saw a young woman with the big red N on the windscreen of her very small car. The white square sticker was so big that she had her head bent at an impossible angle trying to see around the sticker. For the first time, I felt that the N might be more of a danger than a help.
29 December Monday
The field has been planted with some kind of winter crop. It looks like grass and has not yet grown much. There is no height to it. It is just grass growing in long even rows maybe for no other reason than to keep the topsoil from blowing away. Or maybe it is a grassy crop which will rejuvenate the soil for spring planting. I was not very interested in the crop even as I wondered about it. I was interested to see a black and white form lying exactly in the center of the field. Even at a long distance I could tell that what I was seeing was not a reclining cow or calf. I was looking at a dog and I was pretty sure it was a sheepdog. I called out a Whoo-hooooo! kind of noise and the dog looked up. He looked up and then he looked all around and then he stood up. It was indeed a sheepdog and after identifying where the sound came from he quickly picked up whatever it was he had been chewing. From where I was walking, I had not been able to see that he was chewing on anything. He had been chewing on the long leg of some tall animal. I would guess it was a deer leg. He picked up the leg by one end and half dragged and half carried it off down a banking and into some long grass. All the time that he was running he was looking behind to be certain that I was not coming after him. He did not want to share his bone and he did not want anyone to take it away from him. I did not want to follow him and I did not want his bone. I was just happy to see a sheepdog, and ever so happy to see a sheepdog with a secret.