The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: April, 2016

Just inside the West Gate

29 April Friday

Another packet of greeting cards has arrived from the Mouth and Foot Painters of Ireland.  Usually I receive these cards before Christmas.  I never really like them and I never want them but I always end up paying for those which have been sent.  It feels churlish to send them back.  This new group of six cards and envelopes arrived as a Spring Pack.  A hand-written letter by Steven Chambers (Mouth Painter) explains the seasonal selection. Of course, it is not a hand-written letter.  It is a mouth-written letter. There are pictures on the back of the letter of the various painters, all Mouth Painters. No Foot Painters. I think Foot Painters are more rare. Each person is described by how they came to have no hands or arms.  I see the term limb deficient for the first time. Some of the painters are described as having other hobbies besides painting.  One woman with no arms is also a keen ballet dancer.  Steven himself paints in watercolors but what he really likes is fishing. I know I will not send these cards back. I know I will send the money instead.

28 April Thursday

I have only been in the house for a matter of minutes.  I took old bread out to the table. Today is another cold and windy day.  We are promised sleet and hail and even thunder by afternoon. Each day is long and bright with interludes of precipitation.  Each day is cold. Except for occasional moments of bright sun, it is not warm. Spring is simply refusing to settle this year.  I broke the bread into crumbs and small pieces.  I wondered who would come for the bread. Would the fox arrive to eat it? Or would the birds get there first? I have only been in the house for a few minutes.  As I look out the young fox is already standing on the table eating the bread in yet another sudden downpour.


27 April Wednesday

The shop just inside the West Gate heading into Irish Town surprised me today. It has been brightly painted and it is now THE HOUSE OF LOURDES.  Or it was The House of Lourdes and now it is ready to be something else. There is a sign in the window offering the place To Let. I do not walk down that way often when I am in Clonmel so I do not know how long The House of Lourdes has been The House of Lourdes. The last I remember there was a Polish food shop in that building.  Many years before that there was a shop which sold clothes and boots and equipment for hill climbers and for fishermen. I think there were a few other businesses in between but I cannot remember what they were.

26 April Tuesday

Johnnie Mackin was a man who knew how to do everything.  He is known locally as a man who could do anything. He knew how to do most things and he taught himself to do the things that he did not know how to do but that he wanted to know how to do. He invented a fair number of things that had already been invented. He invented a gun, and a record player, and he taught himself to paint and he built beehives out of cement. At some point he taught himself to carve letters into stone.  He made a tombstone for his mother and he made one for his sister.  He made one for himself too.  I am a little confused about this.  I think he must have made two for himself.  Anyway, he is the only dead person in the graveyard at Grange who has one tombstone at his head and one at his feet.

25 April Monday

The Wood Road has had two traffic lights moving along its length for two or three weeks now. The lights change the two-lane road into a one-lane road for a distance. I keep meaning not to use that road but I keep forgetting.  Each time the wait is as long as fifteen minutes. Each time I sit there with four or five other vehicles while we wait for the light to change and let us continue.  The radio is dead in the jeep so fifteen minutes is a long and quiet wait. The men and their digger are gouging, scraping and clearing out clay and undergrowth all along the edge of the road.  They are clearing a distance of a meter off the tarmac wherever they can. They are stopped going any further by stone walls or the ditch. The stuff that they dig out gets poured into a lorry and then taken and dumped somewhere down the road.  When the truck returns the digging and scraping begins again.  It is slow work.  The Wood Road is about four kilometers from Knocklofty Bridge to the Dungarvan Road turn-off.  At this rate, the work could go on for months.

24 April Sunday

Calves are in the field which is elevated above the track where I walk.  These are the calves who have just hit their teen-age years.  They are strong and feisty and they are always in a hurry. As I walk up the track, one calf runs over to see what I am doing.  Then they all rush to the side of the wall and they rush along beside me.  There is a lot of jostling to get closest to whatever might be happening. They do not want to miss anything. There is a place at the end of that field where wooden fencing comes together in a tight corner. It is the very last point at which the crowd can accompany me.  The only brown calf takes up position in that corner.  He does not rush with the others in the crowd. I guess I should call it a herd not a crowd but they make such a thing of pushing and jockeying for position I think of these calves as an unruly crowd not a herd. The brown one moves his head back and forth and back and forth.  Left to right and left to right as if he is saying no. No. No. No. I think probably he is just using the fence corner as a scratching place for his neck. The other calves ignore him and he ignores them and he ignores me.  He just keeps turning his head from left to right without a pause.

23 April Saturday

Breda and I took buckets and gloves and a spade and walked up the path to Johnnie’s orchard. Trees and branches are still blocking the path. We had a bit of a wiggle getting underneath the biggest tree with our equipment. Each time I crawl underneath that tree I promise myself that I will return with a saw. Breda wanted to dig up some wild garlic to replant near her riding ring. The dogs trampled what she had put in before closer to the house. I bring some garlic down to plant every year.  It is now coming up all over the place and multiplying.  I do not really need to transplant more but it is a thing I do in the spring so I shall continue to do it.  I have put it under the apple trees and under the birch trees and under a willow and near the water butt by the barn and near the sauna and on the primrose wall and near the flowering currants.  Soon it will look like Johnnie’s orchard which is completely carpeted with wild garlic.  The white flowers are not in bloom yet up there but when they are the carpet will be complete.  It is beautiful with the leaves covering every inch of ground.  We filled our buckets and dragged them to the end where the track meets the tar road.  We walked back down and drove up to fetch our supplies and then drove straight up into the mountains with the whole van smelling of garlic.  We walked in the late sun and silence surrounded by bright yellow gorse and a few sheep. We drove home in a cloud of garlic.

Not to tell anyone anything

22 April Friday

I reported to Jury Duty on Monday.  I did not want to be chosen but I was indeed chosen and put onto a jury.   Several people were eliminated because they knew a witness. Eventually we had a complete jury all sworn in. Four men and eight women.  I was the only one who asked to be sworn in without the Bible. I was the only person without an Irish name.  The judge sent us into a room to choose a Foreman.  A Garda accompanied us to the room which had a long table and twelve chairs.  No one volunteered for the job of Foreman.  There were twelve spiral bound pads of paper and a plastic box of red pencils on the table. Most of the pencils were not very sharp. We folded little pieces of paper and wrote numbers. Someone emptied the box of pencils and we put the numbers into the box and a woman picked a number.  The woman who was that number in the order around the table shrieked and said she just could not do it. Another number was picked and the young man whose number that was said he would do it as someone had to do it.   We rang our bell which was behind the door and the Garda came to fetch us and lead us back into the courtroom.  The judge assured us that the case would be finished by Thursday afternoon at the latest.  We were instructed about the case and the charges and told not to tell anyone anything.

Then we were sent home and told to return in the morning.  We were told that we must enter and exit the courthouse by way of a back gate.  A buzzer was present to let us in and to let us out.  We were also told that lunch would be provided each day.

I met an older woman in the car park who recognized me from the jury selection. She had been there in the initial group but she had not been chosen. She was deeply disappointed.  She said she was envious that I had been chosen. We talked for a few minutes and then she wished me luck.  As she turned away she said, And You, you are not even Irish. I was not sure if that was simply an observation on her part or if she felt that someone born in the country should have priority in these situations.  I decided not to ask what she meant.

The next day we spent a lot of time in our room. We had tea-making facilities and a water cooler.  There was one loo for men and one for women. The smokers could step outside the door for a cigarette. We were called into the courtroom and then after a little while and a few questions to witnesses we would be asked to retire.  We spent more time in our room than in the courtroom.  At lunch time we were invited to choose between chicken and lamb. Four lamb, seven chicken and one vegetarian.  Our Garda had to swear on the Bible to take care of us and not to let us discuss the case with anyone. When lunch was ready, we were led across the street.

Lunch was upstairs in a building which is a learning centre for people with special needs.  There is a coffee shop on the street level run by the students.  I went there once and it seemed to serve a lot of cakes and things made with jello. We were led up a flight of stairs and deep into the back of the building.  We went into a room where two long tables had been pushed together to make a large square table.  Twelve places were laid on the oilcloth cover.  We sat down and one lady served us all from a big hot stainless steel tray thing on wheels.  The Garda had his own table and sat by himself and ate by himself.  There was an enormous amount of food and two kinds of potatoes and three kinds of vegetables which kept being replenished on big platters.  We ate and ate.  Then we had huge slabs of cake and coffee and tea and when we were finished we were led out and back across the street and in through the back gate.  This everyday food for the jury was as plentiful as though we were working hard out on the land.

We spent a lot of time getting to know one another and discussing the case and mostly discussing how little we knew. Each morning we all had theories about the things we did know. The accused was defending himself and never seemed to have more than one question for each witness. It was frustrating to spend so much time not in the courtroom. It was frustrating that the things happening in there were not things that we were being told .

By the time the defendant changed his plea from Not Guilty to Guilty and the judge dismissed us for the last time, we were exhausted from several days of so much waiting and hanging around.  We were exhausted from the limbo of it all.  We all shook hands and said good-bye.  Most of us will never see one another again.  We came from all over the county. There was one man from way up in Nenagh.  We might bump into one another somewhere but we might not. I do not know if the order for us not to tell anyone about the case is still in effect or if we are now free to tell whatever we want to tell about it.

17 April Sunday

The boreen is a terrible mess.  The winter has been long and there has been so much rain. Huge holes have been gouged out by rushing water. Water poured off the fields and onto the track. Water poured downhill from wherever was above to wherever was lower.  Water poured out of the sky. There are deep holes and there are shallow holes. Some are long cracks and some are enormous and deep like sheep dips. It is not unusual for all four wheels of the car to be in holes at the same time. There are more than enough holes for there to be one for each tyre at any given stretch of the road. It is nearly impossible to swerve a little and avoid the ruts and the ripped out places as we drive in or out. This might well be the worst it has ever been. It is a new low in terms of road damage.

16 April Saturday

There was a bunch of keys left on the counter near where we were paying for our breakfast. I picked them up and handed them to the girl at the register.  She said, “Oh, they must belong to the couple who just went up stairs.” She threw the keys onto our tray. She said, “You’re going upstairs yourselves.  You take them.”

15 April Friday

Geraldine had been away for a few years. When she returned she was no longer as chubby as she once was. The Parish Priest saw her and declared “You are nearly not yourself! You look like a Rasher!”

14 April Thursday

I have been called up for Jury Duty.  I had the letter some weeks ago but now the time is nearly here. I told this to the hairdresser while I was having my hair cut. I asked him if he had ever been on a jury.  He said he was called up once, but he got out of it.  He had his doctor write him a note. He said if he gets called again he will get out of it again. I told him I believed in the jury system as a way for everyone to get a fair trial. I said I was not very eager to do it but since I believed in it I guess I should be willing to do it.   I asked him why he would not to do it. He said he knows everyone in the town and he is related to most of them.  And on top of that, he works with the public everyday.   He whispered, “I am in a position to Overhear Things.”

Wet Coffee Grounds

13 April Wednesday

There are the kind of daffodils which get planted out to bloom early. These are the ones which cheer people up after the long winter. The early-flowering daffodils are a great sign. The early-flowering daffodils are a sign of hope. The early daffodils are what most people plant. Then there are the late-flowering daffodils that keep the blooming going for a long time. There are also the sort of mid-season bulbs which again keep a display going. Most people are always eager for the earliest possible blooms so they put in the early-flowering bulbs and then they are always meaning to put in more to keep the blooming staggered and going for many weeks. Most people mean to put in more bulbs but by the time the autumn comes they forget that they meant to put more in and anyway in November they feel certain there will be plenty of daffodils in the spring.  in November, daffodils are not the main thing in anyone’s mind. This is what Marie explained to me in a big rush.  I have put more punctuation in than she said. She barely took a breath in the entire time she was speaking. I simply could not write what she said the way she said it.

12 April Tuesday

Irish language news comes on the radio at half past the hour.  The news is read in Irish but as soon as it switches to sport everything goes back to English.

11 April Monday

One of the side effects of all this rain is that the top of the plastic box which we use as our post box fills with water. It makes a rectangular lake of water about 2 inches deep. Today I went to lift the lid off the box to check for post. My scarf dipped into the little lake and immediately soaked up water.  Capillary action.  My scarf sucked up water so fast that it was already wet six inches up from the bottom by the time I got back into the house.

10 April Sunday

It has been lashing with rain for a solid 24 hours.  I have tried various things to ignore it. There is rain pouring in through the bathroom ceiling.  There is rain dripping off the edge of one velux window. There is rain coming through a crack over the window in the book barn. We have spent a lot of time moving things out of the way and putting towels and newspapers down.  We have spent a lot of time moving the wet newspapers and putting down more newspapers. We have spent a lot of time checking other places which might be leaking and which sometimes leak but so far are not leaking.  The wind is particularly wild and I think water is blowing in directions and crannies where it would never usually go. We have put on loud music to cover the sound of the wind and the rain. We have kept a fire going in the stove all day just to be rid of the sense of every single thing being damp. I cannot wait until this day is over.  I do not know why I think tomorrow will be any better.

photo 2

9 April Saturday

There is not much to like about Limerick Bus and Train Station.  The old tobacco kiosk is about the only thing to look forward to. Usually I only see it from the bus on arrival or departure.  Today I walked out and took a photograph.  It is a busy spot with a lot of car movement.  A park spreads out green and lush behind the kiosk.  The opposite side of the street is full of boarded up buildings and trash and broken down fencing.  It is a grim neighbourhood. This little kiosk and its park are the only pleasant things to look at.  I had to return to the station quickly because it was cold and windy. The rain came in gusts.

Starbucks has taken over the café at the station.  We were a bit shocked to see this.  We never go into a Starbucks anywhere.  There is always somewhere else to go. But there is only the one café at the station.  There has always been only one café at the station.  Everyone goes in to sit down because it is the only place to sit and not be frozen.  The station waiting area is high-ceilinged and drafty and cold. There are birds swooping and pooping all the time.  There is a little news stand and there are a few rows of seats.  Basically the waiting area is outdoors.  Even on a warm day it is cold in the waiting area. Everyone goes into the café where there is a tall fireplace and chimney breast.  The fireplace is not lit.  I have never seen a fire in there but everyone wants to sit nearest to the fireplace as if it has heat to offer.  It is the idea of heat which makes them cluster close.  There are big armchairs near the fireplace as there always have been. The café is much the same as it always was before Starbucks took over.  The walls have been painted black and the armchairs are newer and less torn up.  There are fancy lights and there are a lot of pricey coffee related products on sale. Everything costs more than it did before.  Still, it is the only place to sit while waiting for a bus or train.  A lot of people are just there for the waiting. They are neither eating nor drinking. They are just sitting and they are waiting. It is not a lot warmer than the big waiting area but it has two doors which close so it is a little warmer.  And there are no birds.

There was a bin full of packages of wet coffee grounds. These three kilo packets were being offered free for people to put in their gardens.  The lad loading up the bin said he used to work for the council doing landscape work. He said snails hate coffee grounds so that alone is a good reason to share them around outside.  He liked the recycling and he liked the way it reduced the café’s waste. He spent a long time making the display look nice. He was proud of his display. He was proud that the system was working. He said people loved to take the bags home with them but he did not think many people got on a bus or train carrying a bag of the wet coffee grounds.  He assumed that the majority of people who took them must live nearby.

8 April Friday

Dead pigeon in the road down near the stream.  It had been freshly hit by a car not killed by a fox. There were a lot of feathers spread around.  There would not be so much bird left if a fox had killed it. There was that little bit of something bright red which is always near to a dead bird.  It is a wiggly bit of an organ. I do not know which one.  I decided that it is the spleen. I do not even know if birds have spleens.  I do not know what any spleen looks like. Whatever it is the fox rarely eats this organ. Dogs sniff it and leave it. I imagine it is bitter and not pleasant which is why it is always left. When the death is recent and the red thing has not had time to be run over or otherwise further destroyed or dirtied, the red is so bright it looks artificial.  It is what I always look for when I see a freshly dead bird.

The First Swallow


7 April Thursday

This is the time of year for the return of the swallows. Everyone is on the alert to see The First Swallow.  There are discussions as to where and when a swallow has been seen.  Breda saw one the other day.  This is the first sighting I have heard of.   She saw a swallow on the 3rd. She checked her calendar and saw that last year she saw The First Swallow on the 8th.  She is delighted with herself. She is delighted with the swallow.  I have yet to see a swallow myself. I am so bad at recognizing birds that I will probably see one and not be certain of it.  It will be best for me if I am with someone else who can be trusted to know.  There is always the first something to see. The first snowdrop, the first primrose, the first daffodil or bluebell or crocus or apple blossom. There is always a first something to anticipate and to celebrate but nothing excites quite so much as The First Swallow.

6 April Wednesday

Every single day is a wild and windy day. Everyday, there is rain and there is sun and today there was sleet and there was hail.  There are rainbows every time the sun comes out.  Every rainbow is a pleasure but on a day like today after a while it is just another rainbow and we know that it will be followed by more rain and maybe more sleet. The threat of what comes next sort of takes the element of excitement out of a rainbow. Something has to be good in the midst of such bitter cold. We managed a short walk. While sheltering from a heavy burst of hail, I spied a bunch of lichen on the ground.  I picked up as much as I could. Usually I find one small bit or a branch with a tiny piece stuck on it.  The scrabbling of birds on branches might have loosened all this lichen or maybe it was just the wind.  I filled two pockets with it.  By the time I was done with my gathering the hail had stopped and we set off again.

5 April Tuesday

The presentation started well. A woman sat right in the front row with an empty seat beside her. Her telephone rang and she answered it. I assumed that she would say quietly that she could not talk right now.  I was wrong. She settled into a conversation and her voice was not at all quiet.  Then she jumped up and walked to the back of the room and out the door, talking loudly all the way.  I tried to keep reading. I raised my voice a little. It was not easy to speak above her but I did not know what else to do. She returned a few minutes later still talking but no longer on the telephone. Now she was talking with the friend who had just been on the phone. They chatted as they walked up the central aisle. They sat down together in the front row and then the first woman said to her friend Hey, Now we have to shut up.

4 April Monday

Today we have a break in the nine days of promised rain. Everything looks fluorescent in this very welcome and brilliant sunlight. The grass gives off an eerie glow and the daffodils seem unnaturally yellow.  Nothing looks natural. Everything looks a little bit creepy. There is one gate in a low place which has a row of the brightest yellow across its opening. Each time I spot it from a distance I am convinced this yellow is the best  of daffodil displays and each time I get closer I see that it is not daffodils. It is a row of  bright yellow plastic bags which were filled with plaster but are now filled with sand.  They are blocking the gate from rushing flooding water.  The bright glow from within is exactly like the glow of the daffodils.

bike on mat

3 April Sunday

The house is connected to the shop and the only way to know what is house and what is shop is that the colour of the walls and the window surrounds changes. This morning there was a push bike in a corner near to the division between house and shop.  The bicycle was standing on a little rug.  It was the kind of small rubber backed rug which is often right inside the door of a shop so that people will not slip on a wet floor.  The rug has rubber backing but some kind of man-made fibre top to collect mud and dirt and water. The bicycle was standing on exactly that sort of little rug.  It was not locked nor was it attached to anything.  After looking for a few minutes, I decided that the whole thing was inadvertent.  The rug was there for some unknown purpose and someone came along and placed their bike right on it.  The rug defined a place and as a result the bike, by being positioned on the rug, was in a place and not just leaning up against the building.

2 April Saturday

David the Egg Man at the market is packing it in.  He is 84. He has decided to give up his hens which means giving up the market and egg selling.  Today was his last day.  There was a sign on the egg table offering Laying Hens for Sale.  He has a lot of hens.  He has so many hens that he was fussing recently about how many fewer eggs he seemed to be getting.  It took him a few days or maybe a week to realize that there had been a break in his fencing and a fox had been in and out several times over a week.  The fox had eaten 40 hens. If David did not even notice the absence of 40 hens, he must have a lot of hens.

It is a sorry thing to lose another stall at the market.  Each time we lose someone we do not seem to get a replacement. We still have no cheese seller. I spent years calling the Cheese Lady Kathleen. It was not until her very last day that she told me that her name was not Kathleen but Katherine. She said she did not mind at all that I had been calling her by the wrong name all along but since she was leaving she thought it a good time to set me straight.

1 April Friday

It was an early appointment.  I had to be at the surgeon’s for 8.30.  It meant leaving the house with enough time to allow for a 50 minute drive. Because it was so early, I did not bother about the Ten Minute Tractor Time which I usually plan for to accommodate the normal thing of coming up behind a tractor on a road and being able to do nothing but drive slowly behind it until either it turns off or until I can pass it.  I did not know where exactly I was going, so I did allow a little extra time for getting around and finding the unknown street.  Simon came with me as I was told I could not drive after the eye procedure.  He set the street address into his phone so it should have been simple.  What we did not know and we could not know was that the city of Kilkenny had changed the name of the street.  It was no good having Abbeybridge punched into the phone because the name of the street had been changed to Friar’s Bridge.  I was wandering around in what was supposedly the area looking for a street which no longer existed.   I was also looking for someone to ask but because it was early there was no one out and nothing was open. I found an elderly man who knew the neighbourhood and knew about the change of name. He told me that he is always out early because he got into the habit when he had a dog. The dog is dead six years now but he still favours an early walk. He walked me very slowly to the narrow street and pointed out the new name.  When I got into the surgery, I showed my letter with the wrong street name on the letterhead.  The receptionist said I was lucky indeed to have found that man.