The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: October, 2016

A Real Dote.

27 October Thursday

There is a new book.  The cover of the book is taped up in the window of the shop along with a telephone number to ring if we want to buy a copy. The title of the book is The Rabbit Industry in Ireland.  I did not have my glasses with me so I could not read the short descriptive text about it but I shall be sure to take my glasses with me the next time I go to the shop. There are plenty of rabbits here but I never knew they were abundant enough to constitute an industry.

26 October Wednesday

Last October we were presented with The Rounding Off.  The government decided that the costs involved in producing 1 and 2 cent coins exceeded their value. It was decided that prices and change would henceforth be rounded to the nearest 5 cent. There would still be some 1 and 2 cent coins floating around and people could still use them.  They could still request their proper change not rounded off to the nearest 5 cent.  Most people were happy to see the end of the small coins. This summer the cost of a postage stamp for an inland letter went up to 72 cent.  This price presents an ongoing dilemma at the post office counter.  The post mistress cannot charge 75 cent for a 72 cent stamp.  Giving change which no one wants or simply giving away the 72 cent stamp for 70 cent makes the raising of the price completely redundant.  I am most bothered by the use of the word cent in the singular. I would be happier for it to be plural, when it is anything other than 1 cent.

25 October Tuesday

It is now common knowledge. Everyone repeats it. Everyone repeats it as if it has always been a fact but I do not know if it was always such an irrefutable fact.  Everyone says that it is imperative to eat honey which has been produced as near to your own home as is possible. It is important if one is ill with cancer or with a cold, or recovering from surgery.  It is important to eat local honey as one is aging.  It might have indeed always been true but I do not think every single person knew it and repeated it and believed it. Mrs. Hally is one person who does not subscribe to this theory. For as many years as anyone can remember she has been eating Manuka Honey from New Zealand at 40 euro for a small jar.  She eats it daily.  I do not know how much Maunuka Honey she eats.  It might be a tablespoon full or it might be more than that. Mrs. Hally is 98 years old.  She is known to be A Fresh Woman. Especially for her age.  She looks well.  Each week, the pharmacist asks her for the secret of her glowing skin. The pharmacist wants to know whether it is the Manuka Honey or the Lancôme Face Cream which keeps Mrs. Hally looking so fresh.

24 October Monday

It is one of those mornings where it might remain grey and white and shadowless all day but it might burst out and become a bright sunny afternoon which means it will be nearly impossible to stay indoors even while almost of the things to be done are all needing doing indoors. How the days weather evolves affects everything.  It is an issue for today and for every recent day. With the shorter hours of light and the colder mornings, it is difficult not to be seduced by these unseasonably mild afternoons. Suddenly emptying the compost or picking apples or even loading up for a trip to the dump are all pleasant chores.  Moving old branches or cutting back the willow herb, whatever the job, everything is pleasant.  Chores are still chores but it is 24 October and if the morning clears it may again be good to be outside doing one thing while looking around at everything and anything else that might need doing.  Tommie told me that people in the town go out for drives on a good day as they do not want to be inside and they have no outside to be out in unless they are out for a drive, but then they are not really outside because they are inside a motorcar.  He said they are not outside anyway. They are only out of the house.

21 October Friday

In my vocabulary, dote has always been a verb. Someone who is doting upon another person lavishes them with love and uncritical attention.  The person doing the doting usually choses not to see any fault whatsoever in the object of their affection. The one doting can dote with infinite adoration upon their treasured person.  Around here, the word Dote is more commonly used as a noun.  A cute person is A Dote.  Someone sweet and adorable is called A Dote.  Or they might be called A Real Dote.  A Dote can be a grown person or a child, or it can just as easily be a dog.

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All Milk to Cheese

20 October Thursday

Pat was delighted to eat the marrow out of the bone and to eat the beef around the bone and when she was finished, she asked if she could take her bone home.  She said she had made a similar bone into a necklace when she was at school. The other girls made fun of her. They said her necklace looked like a soggy cardboard loo roll on a string. Now she is not bothered what people think. In all she took six bones away in a plastic bag.  They were each one and a half or two inches long. Fitted together they had been the entire shin bone of a small cow. Pat took them home and put them in a basin of water.  After a few days she will put them into salty water. I do not know how long it will take for her bones to be ready to be made into a necklace.  She loves the sound the bones make when they collide.  She calls it a kind of klick-klack. When the necklace is finished, we will hear her coming.

18 October Tuesday

Fruit continues to grow.  The raspberries look good but most of them are soggy from the wetness of the night and the morning.  To gather a few freshly ripened ones at the end of a warm afternoon is okay.  The blackberries are the same. The bushes along every field and every bit of road are heavy with berries but the berries are wet and many are inedible. They squish between my fingers when I try to pick them. It is a deceptive time.  Some apples are still on the trees.  It is time to drag a ladder down into the meadow to collect the last of them.  There are figs too, which keep growing but they will never be ready to eat or to bake. The rose hips were unused this year. They just sit on the bushes looking lovely and bright. They too are soggy. The birds are happy to have them. Roses and sedums and daisies and poppies keep flowering.  Everything looks good and in today’s bright sunlight, it looks like full summer plenty.

17 October Monday

The woman was from Dingle and she was just visiting the area. She stopped at the craft shop and bought a walking stick made of ash.  The word ASH was carved in capital letters into the wood up near the top. The woman walked down the street with her new stick and turned to enter the Lazy Bean for a cup of coffee. A man sitting outside yelled across to her.  He shouted: “Where did you get that stick?”  She said she bought it.  He said, “Well I made it!  I am the man who makes those sticks.”  She was pleased to meet him and he was pleased that she had bought one of his sticks. She was so pleased with the whole thing that after she drank her coffee she went back to the craft shop to tell the lady there that she had met the very man who made her stick.

 
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16 October Sunday

Maud sent me the photo of a sign from the Dairygold Plant in Mitchelstown.  Big shiny stainless steel Dairygold tanker trucks drive around the countryside filling up with milk.  The trucks are big.  They are too big and they go too fast on these narrow roads. They terrorize everyone.  If you are walking or if you are driving, you know that the Dairygold trucks will not make space for anyone.  The Glanbia trucks are just as big and just as scary. Lucky for us they only come around a few times a week.  At least they do not come every day. The milk at each farm gets stored in coolers awaiting pick up.  When a tank is full, the truck heads to the Mitchelstown co-operative plant.  The ALL MILK TO CHEESE sign must be directing drivers to deliver milk to that part of the plant which turns it into processed cheese.

15 October Saturday

I recognized the man.  He was discussing lead flashing with someone who worked in the store. He wanted to fold the flashing into a join between two roof sections to ensure that there was no way for rain water to leak in. The man who worked in the store was telling him again and again that this was not the best solution.  I recognized the man but I could not place why I recognized him.  I could not locate him.  I thought if I listened to his voice I might remember.  That is why I learned so much about the roofing job he needed to do. I walked up and down the aisle where he was talking.  I thought if I could get a good look at his face I might be reminded of who he was or why he seemed so familiar.  At a certain moment something clicked.  I remembered Toss and Walt.  I did not know if this man was Toss or if this man was Walt. Whoever he was, he was an older version of himself.

It was 1997 when I last saw him.  We had a desperate need for windows to be installed in the house.  The old wooden frames were rotten.  Sometimes a pane of glass just fell into the house.  Sometimes a pane of glass fell out and onto the ground outside.  The frames were rotten and rotting and the soft old wood was just giving up.  We spoke with several people about installing new windows.  When we finally decided on a solution, the man who did the measuring and the estimating told us that the windows would be made rapidly.  He said that Toss and Walt would arrive in two weeks to do the installation. We were pleased with the speed.  Living without glass was draughty and living with pieces of wood in place of missing glass was gloomy.  Anyway, winter was coming. The house needed to be secured from the weather.

Toss is one of those names that evolved out of Thomas. There are a lot of men named Thomas.  Some become Tom or Tommy or Tommie. Some remain Thomas. Some use the Irish Tomás. I think Toss as a short version comes from Thos. as written on gravestones, in bibles and in the phone directory. It is just another shortening.  And Toss said is more literal than Thos. I had never met a man called Toss.

Toss and Walt arrived with half of the windows and began installing.  They worked over a few days. They returned with the rest of the windows and finished the job.  They were quiet and efficient and they were funny when I made them cups of tea.  Everything in the house was in chaos with all of the building work.  I kept moving piles of stuff and pieces of furniture out of the way of the windows when Toss and Walt were heading for those windows.  They needed space to work from both inside and outside. As workmen go they were easy to have around.

A few months later I developed several rolls of film. I had an old Minolta camera.  I used it to try to keep a rough record of how some parts of the house looked before we did work. Eventually I wanted to be able to compare how it all ended up. I kept the camera around all the time to remind myself to keep documenting our progress. Instead I got so used to seeing the camera lying around that I rarely picked it up.

When I brought the batch of photographs home, I found a picture of Toss or Walt.  One day while doing the window installation, Toss had picked up the camera and taken a photograph of Walt or Walt had taken a photograph of Toss.  I was more than a little surprised to find a photograph of one of these two men in among my snapshots. The man in the photograph was not smiling but he was looking straight into the camera.

The man I recognized in the store was Toss or maybe he was Walt.  I did not need to stick around any longer because now I knew who he was. I did not need to wait to find out how he resolved his roof problem. I did not need to say hello.  I very much doubted that he would remember me and anyway it did not matter one bit if he did.  I remember him whether I want to or not because I have a photograph of him.

14 October Friday

Mick often prefaces what he says by saying “Now, I am not going to lie to you.” I can never decide if this is a way to ensure the veracity of what he is saying or if maybe when he does not say this he might actually be lying.  I think I have come to believe that it means he is very serious about the thing he is telling and therefore it is important that one believes him.

13 October Thursday

More and more women are using the large clicking stove lighters for lighting a cigarette.  It is startling to see a woman whip this long thing out of her purse and light her cigarette with a flourish of huge flame before shoving it back in the bag.  These lighters are at least ten times bigger than a normal lighter.  I have not seen any men using these things to light their cigarettes but that may just be because they are too big to carry easily in a pocket.  And no one anywhere seems to use matches anymore.

Not a Bother.

12 October Wednesday

Mornings are wet with dew and heavy mist.  Leaving the washing out on the line over night guarantees that it will be wetter in the morning than it was at the end of the previous afternoon.  I am not averse to leaving the washing hanging for a few days.  Margaret says that if it gets wet again it is just a second rinse. Or a third rinse.  The problem arises when one Joe or the other Joe is spreading slurry.  Then the washing takes on the smell of the decomposing excrement sprayed over near fields.  The slurry does not have to touch the clothes or even come anywhere close to them. The strong smell permeates everything.  If I bring wet clothes into the house they carry the stench with them.  Once a nearby field has been sprayed with slurry it is best to leave everything out on the washing line for a few more days.

11 October Tuesday

I heard voices.  I went outside and saw three men and a long narrow truck.  It was an odd looking vehicle. They were from the council and repairing holes in the road.  I was pleased to see them. They commented on how narrow the boreen was and how their truck had been scraped on both sides by brambles and branches.  They had been nervous as they drove down that they might be unable to find a place to turn around. They were worried about having to back the truck all the way up to the farm. I was happy to see them and happy to know the new holes were getting filled. They were happy to see space to turn the truck.  I said I was surprised that they were here at all as I had been told again and again by the council that the trucks that did the sort of repairs we needed doing were all too big to drive down the boreen.  This excuse has been given to me for several years now.  The men said that this truck is a new truck. It is only a few weeks old.  They said their job now is to go around to all of the impossible small roads with this new long narrow vehicle to repair places which have not been repaired for years and years. They are proud of the new truck and they were pleased to have me appreciating it.  They kept pointing out features so that I could continue admiring the truck for longer.

10 October Monday

Dilly has taken to announcing each job that comes along as one that she can do or one that she cannot do.  She prefaces each observation with either the sentence:  This is something I Can do. or This is something I Cannot do.  She is not complaining.  She is simply maintaining a running commentary on herself as she gets older. If she is asked how she is getting on, she always answers: Not a Bother. Not a Bother.

9 October Sunday

The walk up the path is clearing.  Much of the vegetation is dying back so there is less of a thorny grab on clothes and skin as I walk.  One tree which fell across the path has dropped lower.  Now I need to bend deeply from the waist to get under it where as a month ago I could just bend my head a bit.  Crab apples are falling off the trees and that part of the track is deadly.  The small hard apples fall on this same length of path every year but I never get any better at walking over them. It is like walking uphill on ball bearings.

8 October Saturday

The morning fog is white and thick.  I could not see beyond the fence when I woke up.  I could not see the fence.  As the morning went on and the sun slowly burned off the fog, things appeared. Fence. Field. Cows.  I was surprised to see Joe’s cows in the near field.  They had been so quiet and invisible that I had no idea they were out there. I still cannot see the hills yet but I suppose they will appear in the next hour or so.

7 October Friday

The girl in the supermarket had no place on the till to ring up the onions from France.  She suggested that perhaps I would prefer local onions?  I told her that I always have the local onions and that these French onions would be nice for a change.  I said that if I waited until the next time I was in the shop the French onions might be gone so today I wanted to buy French onions because they were there and available for the buying. The girl was flustered.  Then she asked if it was okay if she charged them as bread.  She said that it would appear on my receipt as if I had bought bread when really I would have bought onions. She worried that I might mind. She worried that I might be confused when I got home. We finally agreed that I understood fully that there would be no onions listed on the till receipt but that did not mean I had not bought onions. The girl was reassured that it would not worry me at all.