The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: August, 2016

Ditch is the word

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25 August Thursday

Competition for the figs is fierce with the local birds. I check them every day.  I compete with the birds. The birds are checking more than once a day.  They have the advantage of eating half a fig while it is still on the branch and then just leaving the it and maybe returning later.  I have the advantage of bringing the just barely squeezable ones inside for final ripening. The raspberries are coming on fast and furiously.  I pick a bowl full every morning and every evening and still I do not seem to get them all. The birds can be grateful for that.

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24 August Wednesday

Today is the second anniversary of the death of Em.  I miss her.

23 August Tuesday

Our mobile phones are without signal since last week.  It was the night of the big winds.  I cannot remember which night that was.  When we got in touch with the network people they told us that a mast had fallen down and that it would be repaired quickly.  As soon as we leave this valley our phones function. It is just here that they do not.  Today we rang again.  The person on the line had no proper answer to give us. He tried to sound like he knew what was being done but he ended up bumbling his way through.  He said “It can take the amount of time up to the time it has taken.” We know no more than we knew before.

21 August Sunday

The word Lashing is used often.  It is mostly to do with liquid.  Single or double cream can be applied with Lashings.  Rain is regularly described as Lashing.  Lashings of butter are essential for the eating of potatoes, but the butter is not liquid, or at least not till it melts.

20 August Saturday

Brambles are extending by the minute. They are reaching out for the light and they grab at anything that passes. They scratch hard if they can. Cars and faces and clothing are all under attack. I have walked along the top part of the boreen a few times and clipped the longest branches with my secataurs but the big cutting back of the ditches with machinery cannot be done for at least another week. Officially the ditch is not to be trimmed between 1 March and 1 September. Some people insist it is from 28 February to 1 September. The idea behind this restriction is to allow for birds and animals to safely use the time for nesting. Heavy cutting can disturb them and maybe even destroy nests. By now, I am used to hearing the ditch being called the ditch but sometimes talking about trimming a ditch still surprises me and I wish the word hedge could be used. Hedge is not the word for the bushes that grow along the road. Ditch is the word.

19 August Friday

The woman in the dentist waiting room came in and sat down and talked to me as if she knew me so I thought she must indeed know me. I thought that if I knew her I would remember her name or how I knew her within a few minutes of listening to her speak.  She never stopped talking. She did not take a breath. She told me that she had been in to the dentist yesterday and she had to return today to have something finished but she did not mind because she had read something in a magazine right here in the waiting room about a man who was at his daughters wedding and he did not walk the daughter down the aisle even though he could walk perfectly well.  He had both legs and he was fit and fine. She had been thinking about the article all night so she was delighted to come back and see what she thought about it all after thinking about it all night. She was not glad to be back to the dentist but she was glad to have another look at the magazine. She started to show me the photographs of the wedding but she did so really quickly as she was leafing though and she said she thought it such a terrible terrible shame that the father was not walking the daughter down the aisle and she had never in her whole life known such a sad thing. It turned out that the daughter was being walked up the aisle by Prince Charles instead of by her own father and the woman could not reconcile this in her own mind. Being escorted by a prince was of course special but a father is a father and there is no substitution for that.  She was still worrying about it all when I was called to go in.  By then I was certain that I had never met this woman before.

Clutches of Mist

18 August Thursday

The radio weather man announced the presence of Clutches of Mist everywhere.

17 August Wednesday

I was in the supermarket. Among other things, I bought two long narrow red peppers. The girl at the till got flustered and asked me to wait a minute. She had to void something on the till and start again.  By the time she was finished, she tried to tell me what had happened. It looked like I had bought four Chicken Pot Pies when in fact I had not bought a single Chicken Pot Pie. The Pot Pies were listed and then voided and then listed again and voided again. My till receipt was long and confusing. The girl explained it as best she could because she said she did not want me to get home and think I had paid for a lot of Chicken Pot Pies when in fact I had none at all. She said that it was all because of the red peppers.

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16 August Tuesday

We were given some Japanese geta sandals which are very nice but they are not exactly practical for life around here.  We hung them up on the wall in the entry to the sauna where they have been for seven years now.  Tom Browne’s slate mirror is wedged in up over the sauna door.  When I went to photograph it, I noticed that a swallow had made her nest on one of the shoes.  The mother was in the nest and she was agitated with my presence.  This morning both mother and babies are absent when I go to look. The nest is empty.  They might just be out for a flight around the place or they might be gone for good.

15 August Monday

This morning was completely white with fog.  We could see nothing beyond the fence.  A morning like this feels like the beginning of autumn, even though the calendar says August. By late morning the fog had all burned off.  The sky was blue and the sun was warm. After lunch the sun was hot. I lay down on the grass and fell asleep.  When I woke up I felt warm pressure on my back.  Oscar was stretched out beside me snoring heavily.  I never heard him arrive. He does not usually come down to visit unless he is walking along with a person.  He lives a kilometer away.  I got up from my nap and went on with my jobs.  He stayed where he was for another half hour and then he got up, had a drink of water and headed off in the direction of his home. He is an independant dog.

MassSign

13 August Saturday

Today was the day for the yearly celebration at the Mass Rock.  I had never attended so I decided that I really should see it for myself.  There was a lot of confusing information about the time but the place was fixed.  A Mass at the Mass Rock could only be held at the Mass Rock. Cars drove up into the Knockmealdowns as far as they could go and then people walked across the mountain for about 25 minutes to get to the Rock.  A few of the people setting off were wearing completely inappropriate shoes.  The day was dry and there was not much mud but little summery sandals did not seem like a good idea.

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John and Brendan Condon had tractors and trailers at the ready. They drove across carrying the elderly and anyone who was in any way unable to walk. They made several trips back and forth. Larry Doocey said he had The Sciatica on him so he could not walk but claimed that they needed him up there for taking the photographs because that is what he does every year. John drove a blue tractor with a blue trailer. Brendan drove a red tractor and pulled a red trailer.  Both of the trailers had been fitted with padded benches which could be lifted in and out as people entered and exited the trailers.  Brendan’s trailer was lined with carpet and he had covered the side rails with pieces of carpet which he secured with blue baling twine. He provided cushions and an umbrella for his passengers. Both bothers had upside-down plastic crates to help people to step down off the trailers. Brendan wore a cowboy hat for the occasion. John wore no hat.

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There were about 80 people at the service. Some people sat across the stream because the hill rose steeply up from there.  They were directly facing the Rock and the priest.  The priest wore a white robe and he held a microphone with an amplifying box at his feet. The amplifier looked like a yellow suitcase. The sound did not carry very well although it was probably better for those sitting across the stream. The steep hillside made it almost like they were on tiered seats.  Everyone else stood or sat along the edge of the escarpment. Some people had their backs to the priest.  It just had to do with what kind of rock could be found to sit upon. A few people sat on small folding stools. There was a little bit of music with both singing  and instruments.  The Mass did not last long and then everyone stood up and talked to one another for a while and then we all headed back across the mountain. By the time everyone had gotten back to their cars and we were leaving, a large bottle of whiskey appeared and several of the fiddles were tuning up again.

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Old Slates

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11 August Thursday

Eventually everyone makes something with slates.  That’s because there are a lot of old slates around.  Most people buy new slates for a new roof.  Old slates have become expensive. They  come in many sizes and different shapes. We have one kind of very thick slate on one side of the barn roof and another smaller rectangle on the other side of the barn.  I think many of the new ones are made in China.  Left-over slates get used in lots of ways around a place.  We have a path made of broken ones which makes a nice sound when it is walked upon. I find them useful to put around the base of a plant to keep the weeds down while the plant gets established.  Some get cemented and used as edging. Some people just throw them away. I never throw any away.  Anyone who has the smallest artistic leanings tries to make slates into something special.  A lot of people paint on them. A slate might end up as a little chalk board with a painted floral edge painted.  Or it might have a pastoral scene painted upon it. Or a cow.  Or the name of a house. The most popular thing is that they get made into frames for pictures or for mirrors.   One woman asked for an angle grinder for her birthday so that she could shape her slates before she painted on them.  Tom Browne made me this mirror fifteen years ago. A nail wedged into a piece of wood was his primary tool, mainly for tapping the rectangular shape out of the center.  He ended up chipping and cleaning off the outer shape with a pair of tin snips. His idea was that it should look like a shamrock.

10 August Wednesday

The figs are ripening.  The tree is heavy with fruit but most of it is still very hard. I have picked and brought in three so far.  They are not really ready for eating but they are ready for baking.  I need to get at least eight or maybe ten more before we can make a tart so I bring them into the house to finish the ripening. If I hesitate the birds will tear into them. They have already started.  We are competing. It is an evening job. The honeysuckle in the ditches is really blossoming everywhere at once and the blackberries are starting to ripen. It seems early for the blackberries but I think I say that every year.  Each morning I go out and fill a bowl with raspberries for breakfast which is a good way to start the day. Fig collecting at night, raspberries in the morning.

9 August Tuesday

Over seven and a half thousand English people have made inquiries about applying for Irish passports since the Brexit vote. Nearly three thousand people from Northern Ireland have done the same.  If a person has an Irish grandparent, the application process is a mere formality.  The application will not be turned down. The government has already run out of passport application forms.

8 August Monday

He is a practicing solicitor but in this court he was being questioned in regards to a case.  He was in the box as a witness and not as a solicitor. The questions for the defense began with him being asked if his legal practice was located on Church Street.  He answered Yes. He said Yes, my firm has been in the Church Street premises for twenty years now.  Then he was asked if the address was No. 5 Church Street.  There was a long silence.  He said I really do not know.  He said We do not use a number.  He said We do not use a street number. We have no number on our door.  We have no number on our writing paper. We do not use a street number because everyone knows where we are.

6 August Saturday

For three mornings in a row, I have found a small dead rodent outside the kitchen door.  Each time I have nearly stepped on it.  I am not sure if the dead rodent is a shrew or a little mouse.  Actually I am pretty sure it is a shrew but it is difficult to be certain because in each case the head has been bitten off.

5 August Friday

I finally finished picking all of the black currants.  The bushes are stripped clean.  I have been picking them off and on in a desultory fashion. Some days it has been too windy and the bushes blew around a lot. Some days it was too hot and some days just too chilly to sit on a box and pick carefully under the leaves.  I filled a bag for the freezer, then I filled a bowl for us to eat. We made them into a thick sauce which was delicious on every single thing we poured it over. We have eaten this sauce on yoghurt, on ice cream, on Fromage Frais, and on porridge. We have eaten it with sour cream and pancakes. Every few days I filled another bag for the freezer.  Then we would make more sauce. This has gone on for weeks.  The supply seemed endless. Every time someone came to visit they looked at the bushes and told me that I must hurry and pick the currants before the birds eat them. The birds are not interested.  I have taken my time. The freezer now has a good supply of black currants in it and we are eating our way thorough yet another batch of the lovely lovely unctuous sauce.

Quiet but Fruitful

4 August Thursday

When people speak of The Small Paper they mean South Tipp Today.  South Tipp Today is a free weekly paper with lots of advertisements for builders and chimney sweeps and painters and window cleaners.  The advertisements listed by individuals are called the Small Ads. There is always a bit of news and some photographic coverage of local events but mostly the paper is a vehicle for the small ads. People looking for jobs and people looking to hire other people advertise. People offering garden work and applications for building permits are listed.  If people are selling a washing machine, a motorcar or a sofa, they take out a small ad. Agricultural contractors list their services, as do farmers selling hay or animals.  Today I noted a Bull being offered for his reproductive possibilities.  He was described as Quiet But Fruitful.

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3 August Wednesday

Every field in every direction all over the county is full of bales. There are round bales, and rectangular bales and round bales of silage wrapped up tight in black plastic.  Already the fields are going from yellow to a deep golden colour.  There are some fields that look nearly red in their goldenness. Today I saw a long trailer in the middle of a field.  The trailer was stacked high with square bales. The trailer was no longer attached to a tractor. All of the bales still on the ground in the field were round bales.  It looked like that trailer load of square bales had been driven to that field full of round bales for some purpose but it was hard to imagine what that purpose might be. There were so many round bales in the field it is difficult to know how the trailer load of square bales even got driven into that position. Another field had every bale collected except for one.  That single bale sat all alone in a large expanse of field.  I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the logic of these activities.

1 August Bank Holiday

Tommie told me about a man whose car failed the NCT test last week.  He said the car did not get far enough along the testing procedure for the inspectors to find out if anything was wrong with it. The car just failed because it stunk so badly of dog. The inspectors refused to get inside the car and since they could not test it, they were obliged to fail it. Tommie said he could not say the name of the man whose car had failed, but he was quick to assure me that it was not his own car which had failed because it smelled so bad.  He reminded me that he did not have a dog nor had he had a dog himself for many years now and certainly not since he has owned the car that he is driving today. And anyway he said that he himself had never been a man to take a dog out driving around the countryside.

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31 July Sunday

I walked the Long Field at the end of the afternoon when there was a gap in the rain. I forgot what I had been told about a recent crow massacre up there.  Two men had been shooting crows.  I do not know why.  I quickly came across dozens of bodies and a lot of feathers.  Some dead crows were visible out in the middle of the yellow stubble of a field.  Most of them were on the dirt track where I was walking.  There were dozens. I could see the place where the two men had sat in long grass off to the right.  The grass was all flattened down. There were cigarette butts in the grass. There was a bad smell off the many corpses. It was more than bad. It was revolting. Some of the carcasses had been torn up while being eaten. In some places there were only wings left or some bits of boney stuff.  It was horrible but it was fascinating.  I could not stop checking each new body as I came upon it. I thought maybe I should turn around and go for a walk elsewhere but then I reached a clump of bushes and rounded a curve and there were no more bodies. I guess the men did not want to leave their shooting positions. I was relieved to be away from death and its thick smell. After a few minutes of walking and breathing fresh air, I came upon one more crow.  He was lying on his back.  He was a good distance from all of the other corpses and he had not been found by predators yet.  He was a dark profile in the grass which grew in the middle of the track. After all the wild carnage, this crow looked peaceful. He looked like he was just sleeping.

30 July Saturday

Laura and Richie have a new puppy. His name is Ted.  He arrived today from the dog shelter.  He is three months old and a mix of a sheep dog and a springer. He does not really have hair.  His black and white coat is a fuzzy surface.  His hair is more like a stuffed animal than like a sheep dog’s hair.  He looks like the sort of toy which might have a zip in the tummy for storing pajamas.  I am smitten.

29 July Friday

My Friday afternoon trip to Cork was a mistake. I did not think it through. I should have thought it through.  The Friday before a Bank Holiday.  Who would do that? The city was full of people arriving with suitcases.  The city was full of people departing with suitcases. Backpacks, rolling luggage, duffel bags, everyone was on the move with stuff and everyone else was in a mad shopping frenzy. The Gay Pride Parade Weekend was commencing. Some other festival was also cranking up.  All over the whole country things will be happening.  The August Bank Holiday is a big summer event.  Everything everywhere is planned for that one long weekend.  That is why everyone is on the move to somewhere. I made the trip to do one single thing and to settle my mind about that thing. Once I had done my errand, I walked through the English Market and bought an enormous bag of cherries.  I collected my car and headed home.  The traffic was terrible.  Everyone who had not specially gone to Cork for the weekend was trying to leave Cork. I ate cherries all the way home.  This is not a country where cherries are easily available. When they are available they are crazy expensive and often not very good.  These cherries were perfect. I love cherries. I kept saying to myself that I must stop eating the cherries while I was driving, but I never did.  I just kept eating them. They made the entire wretched journey worthwhile.