The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: April, 2015


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

IMG_0471 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.