The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: December, 2015

Deemed Essential

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.

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The Elements

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.

Firelighters

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?