The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: January, 2015


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.

Deep mud

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 look out 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.