The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: December, 2016

Holly Not Holly

24 December Saturday

I am avoiding the Mass Path. I am worried about the killer dog. I do not like having him control my movements. I do not like this fearfulness. John told me that I am Planking It.  I think Planking It is a way of saying that one is very nervous. Or maybe it means one is terrified.

 

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23 December Friday

The Farmers Market took place today instead of on Saturday because they thought people would not want to come out on Christmas Eve. It was too windy for the market. A sign had been put up near to the entry with the single word TODAY.  It was early when we arrived but TODAY had already been destroyed by the wind. The threatened storm named Barbara was encroaching. Very few tent stalls were in place.  Stella was selling her bread and cakes out of the back of the car.  Jim was packing up and leaving. He had only a few turnips to sell anyway and he had no patience with the wind.  He was worried and he wanted to go home. Everyone was sort of frantic. They wanted to get their food stuffs and go.  The girl from the Apple Farm was happy. She was in the back of a horse trailer with her apples and juices and vinegars and ciders.  She was out of the wind. Her feet were warm for the first time in weeks and weeks of market days. The rain was coming from several directions at once.  Everyone spoke of Barabara as if she was someone they knew.  There was the very real worry that we all might lose power. We had a quick coffee before heading home. Someone had wrapped fairy lights all around the railing on the stairs at the cafe. It was not possible to walk up or down the stairs without grabbing onto wires and lights.  Electrocution by Fairy Lights seemed a very real possibility.  It added to the manic feeling of the day.

22 December Thursday

I bought the bunches of holly from the man at the market last Saturday even though I knew the bunches of holly were not holly.  He knew that I knew so neither of us used the word holly. We just made our little transaction.  He was selling the bunches of greenery strapped together with black tape as a bit of something extra and seasonal along with the wooden bowls and egg cups which he usually has for sale. I knew the holly was not holly but I was pleased to see red berries in such abundance.  I can step into the woods and cut loads of holly but there are never any berries on any of the holly I have ever found.  Maybe it is the particular breed that grows here.  I brought the holly which was not holly home and left it on the table outside the kitchen while I decided what to do with it.  In the day or two of lying around the birds have eaten every one of the red berries. If the holly I purchased had been real holly the birds would not have touched those berries and if they had eaten them they would be dead.   So now I have some shiny green leaves which are not holly leaves waiting to be used in some kind of seasonal way.  I have no red berries. I should have just gone out and cut some real holly and tied little red ribbons on to it which is what I usually do.

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21 December Wednesday. Winter Solstice.

Today is the shortest day.  Today is the day which brings with it the promise of longer days. I kept meaning to go for a walk and I kept putting it off as I found other things to do. In the back of my mind was the apprehension about the big dog.  I worried that he might be out again. I rang PJ Shine who is the neighbour up there.  He said the dog should not be out.  He was surprised and not happy to hear the dog was loose but he felt it was probably not too serious. He told me not to worry myself.  PJ only passes by in the safety of his tractor so he did not feel particularly threatened.  Then I saw the other PJ who said he had walked up by there the day before I did. He said he had been shocked to see the dog in the front yard.  It was barking and snarling but it did not come out on the road.  He felt unnerved by the dog.  I decided to go down and walk the Abbey walk. I decided to do the Abbey walk to avoid any chance of meeting the dog.   I parked at the cemetery and noticed that I had left it all a bit late. The light was really dropping.  I walked as far as the ruins of the Abbey and then I told myself I would just walk to the farm gate.  Then I said I would walk the track to the first barn.  Then I walked on to the lower gate. But the time I got there the sun had dropped behind the mountains and it was dusk.  I walked up hill with the light dropping by the minute. There were no lights anywhere.  No street lights of course. No house lights. No houses.  I walked the last part with a sense that the road was there. I could kind of see it but it was more about feeling it.  I was not afraid. There was nothing to be afraid of.  The dog was far away and on another road. There was nothing else to be afraid of.  By the time I reached my car at the top it was fully dark. If anyone had asked I could have answered There is No Fear in Me.

20 December Tuesday

Early afternoon broke through bright and sunny.  The whole day looked different. It was suddenly cheerful.  I walked up the mass path to enjoy it.  Sometimes it is gloomy walking through the wooded path. I like all of the mossy rocks and fern and the secret quality of the shaded rocky trail.  I even like the dangerous rotting rolling apples.  Little rays of sunshine through the trees are a bonus. There were views across Cooney’s fields where a fox has broken through  making his path.  I knew that arriving into full sunshine up on the road would be a fine thing. And it was. It was a fine thing.  I pretended that I actually could feel heat from the sun but really it was the heat of my up hill exertion.  It remained a cold day.

Before I got very far along the road an enormous dog came rushing out of Carbuncle’s yard and lunged at me.  It was a scary dog.  It was big and it was scary and it was barking and growling and baring its teeth at me.  It was either a Bull Mastiff or a Rottweiler.  I know very little about these dogs.  Carbuncle always has two large guard dogs inside the fenced in area behind his house.  When he built his house the land he bought was advertised as having panoramic views. It was true. The aspect across to the Knockmealdowns was spectacular.  It turns out he neither needed nor wanted a panoramic view as he quickly built high fences and filled his yard with cars.  Smashed up cars are piled high.  Some cars are not smashed but they are not visible over the fence. These get worked upon, repaired and sold. He keeps two dogs in the fenced in area all the time. They prowl around and bark when someone walks by the house.  They are protecting the good cars and the smashed cars and all of the tools and machinery which I assume must be in there. One is a big Alsatian and the other must be this monster on the road.  I do not know how he escaped.  I do not think he was supposed to be out. I tried to speak sweetly to the dog.  I used a gentle voice and I said nice things quietly.  I told him he was a good dog even though I was certain he was not a good dog.  I was terrified.  After several attempts at stepping along the road I gave up and turned around.  I walked slowly away from the snarling dog. I went back down the muddy path looking behind me every few steps.  I feared he might rush after me.  I had no doubt that he could tear me to shreds. There was no one around.  No one would hear if he tore me to shreds.  No one would know.

I was still shaking when I arrived home. I went over the fence and made a perimeter walk through some of Joe’s fields. I needed to calm myself and I still wanted to be outside in the sun. I tried to remember when was the last time I had met a dog that scared me.  Most of the dogs I see daily are walking free with or without a person. They are friendly gentle dogs.  They are simply going about their business.  They are as happy to see me as I am to see them and if the dog I see is a stranger I can always speak kindly and the dog will respond with a wagging tail.  I am shaken by this aggressive dog in my day.  I am nervous about my next walk up the path.  I am never happy for dogs to be locked up but I am really frightened by this dog being out on the roam.

Brown Coins

19 December Monday

Another grey and gloomy morning.  The grey sky is heavy.  I cannot animate myself.  I should not complain.  The weather continues to be unseasonably mild.  Some days are bright and crisp. Some are drizzly and wet and grey.  Day after day the temperatures are higher than normal. It is cold but it does not feel one little bit like December. Today the birds are all over the feeders.  They are lining up and waiting for their turn to eat nuts.  Most days they have been racing around without much interest in stopping to sample whatever is on offer in the feeders. There has been no desperation in the bird population yet.

18 December Sunday

Three hunters were out in the Long Field today.  They were all three dressed in camouflaged clothing and they had four dogs with them.  The Long Field is long and it is also wide. It is a result of many walls and ditches being broken down over the years.  We call it the Long Field but really it is two fields. Over time all the fields were combined to make two enormous fields with a rough track separating them. There is one place kind of in the center where the land dips before it climbs up again. There is a large outcrop of rocks and stones and growth in the dip.  More stones and rocks get dumped there as the farmer finds them in his ploughing.   The edges of the fields on both sides of the track are a long way from the middle. The three camouflaged men were walking up the dirt track.  There was not much chance that there would be any birds anywhere nearby for them to startle much less to shoot. Just as we began our walk downwards they veered off to the left around the rocky place and they headed for the edges in the hopes  of flushing some pheasants.  The area of fields is so large we were able to walk without ever getting near to them, nor them to us.

17 December Saturday

It was cold.  The morning had been white with frost. The hard cold lasted all day.  I stopped in Ballyporeen where there was some kind of Christmas party or maybe a wedding and a lot of people rushing around in fancy clothing.  People were in and out of the nearby pub. The church was close by.  I could not tell where they were going as everyone seemed to be on the move all the time.  The young women and some of the not so young women were all dressed in skimpy dresses.  Many of the dresses were sparkly. There seems to be an agreed upon behavior that women take off their coats before going indoors to an event like a night in a pub or a disco or a wedding.  I do not know if it is because a coat might ruin the look of a fancy outfit or if the women fear that things will get so exciting and out of control that they might forget their coat later. Coats get left in the car. These women and girls all had bare legs and little high-heeled strappy sandals to go with their flimsy dresses. They all had fake tans to make their legs look glamourous rather than white and goose-pimply.  As I walked out of the shop an old man in a tweed suit and a heavy jumper and wearing a wool cap pulled down low on his head stood in the doorway watching the chaos in the street and shaking his head .  He said “Just look at them. They’ve Nothing On Them, and it’s Gone Freezing Out and their legs are All Orange.”

16 December Friday

Up Yourself is an insult.  To be told that you are Up Yourself is a kind of a warning. To describe a person as being Up Himself is to imply that he is taking on airs and graces. It suggests that someone is stepping outside of their place.  Or the place that others think that person should stay in.  The man in Cahir who was not allowed to carry a small back pack when he was out walking was told by his wife that if he went about wearing a pack on his back people would think he was Up Himself.  It was okay for him to carry a back pack when on holiday because then the people who saw him would not be the people who usually saw him.  Anyone who saw him while he was on holiday would not be anyone who might know what place he was supposed to be kept in.

15 December Thursday

There is now a bus service called the AirCoach which goes back and forth between Cork to Dublin Airport. It only makes a few stops so it is efficient and fast. Each place where the AirCoach stops is well marked with an orange sign.  The sign now tells us where we have always been stopping on the regular bus but we did not know the name of the place.  It was always just The Bus Stop, which was outside a particular bar or a shop in a particular town or village.  When the Bus Eireann bus stopped today in Mitchelstown I noticed the AirCoach sign said it was Mitchelstown New Square. I never knew the big square was called New Square.  Thursday is market day in Mitchelstown.  The square which I now know to call New Square was busy and full of stalls and people. Unusually, a huge crowd was waiting to board our bus. There were at least thirty people.  Everyone who was already on the bus got very excited.  They discussed amongst themselves that this was the most people they had ever seen boarding the bus in Mitchelstown.  Everyone worried that they might not all fit onto our bus.  The driver worried out loud that it was all taking too long to get them loaded. Some did not have the right money and others had awkward bundles or baby buggies.  He feared he might be late for his arrival in Cork.

 

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13 December Tuesday

No one wants the Brown Coins.  Stella said that her house had been burgled. The robbers had come in and made a mess. They did not take much. They ripped into the airing press in hopes of finding a hidden safe.  They threw a lot of things around. They found the jar of small coins.  The jar was full of the 1 cent, 2 cent and 5 cent coins that no one uses anymore.  The coins are made of some sort of alloy.  Maybe it is copper and nickel. They do not look especially brown but they are spoken of as the Brown Coins.  No one wants the Brown Coins.  Children do not stoop to pick them up in the street.  Most of us save the Brown Coins in jars and eventually we cash them in somewhere. The Brown Coins may not be used much as currency but they cannot be refused. The robbers could have left the Brown Coins sitting in their jar.  They could have ignored them. Instead, they took the jar of Brown Coins and scattered them around the house in disgust.

12 December Monday

Annie told me that she was going to be an artist when she got older. She said her mother was certain that she would be a very good artist. Annie said, “She says she knows that I will be a good artist because I am easily distracted and because I like to glue pom-poms onto pencils.”

Little Cups and Saucers

gate-loops

11 December Sunday

Mardhea is the spelling.

I think.

It is pronounced Mah-re-Ah.

I think.

Someone might say Mardhea, I was watering the flowers.  What they mean is AS IF I was watering the flowers.  To preface an action with the word Mardhea means to say that you are doing one thing in order to find out something or to be on the watch for something happening or something which might have happened.  You are not really watering the flowers because they need watering.  You are watering the flowers so that you can keep an eye on the activity next door or down the road. It is basically a way to admit to being nosy. I do not think I can incorporate this expression into my daily conversation, because few Irish words sit easily in my mouth, but I am quite pleased to know what it means. I am glad to be able to listen for it.  When I next hear it said I will know that it is a kind of code and I will feel included.

10 December Saturday

The barber poles were not made of plastic nor of glass. They were not rounded.  They were not lit from within.  These barber poles were simply painted red and white stripes on two inch by four inch planks. They were planks not poles.  There was one nailed flat onto the wall just beside the door so that it was visible head on and especially from across the road.  On the other side of the door there was another board mounted on its narrow side.  I guess that one was to attract passing trade.  There was a third one which was about one and a half inches by one and half inches square right over the door. It was long and it sort of stuck out at a bit of an angle.  The word barber was not visible anywhere but the red and white stripes did the full job of advertising.

9 December Friday

This is the message received on Text Alert today:

Please be mindful of Elderly Friends and Neighbours who today may be receiving double Christmas payments from the Post Office and report any Suspicious Activity.

The elderly and any other people on benefits receive extra money to help them get through the holiday period.  It helps them to purchase special things as well.  To announce it like this might be a good thing or a bad thing.  Everyone knows the extra payments are made and in rural areas there are no banks.  People can only take their money home and hide it.  Any robber would know this and any robber will know there are just so many places that cash can be hidden. I am sure the Garda mean this alert as a good thing but it seems like it might be a bad thing.

apples

 

8 December Thursday

It is slippery and dangerous walking over the last of the apples falling off Johnnie’s trees and onto the path. The apples which fall on that side sort of roll into the gully which is the path.  Or the path is a gully and it is where we walk. Every day I tell myself I should use a walking stick for walking through the rolling apples and the slimy mud but every day I forget to take one along with me.  Rats or mice are eating out the flesh of the apples and leaving the tough skins spread around like delicate little cups and saucers.  I slipped and  landed hard on my hands and knees today which gave me a good chance to examine the tidy nibbling and the fragile remains. I am hoping the rats hurry up and eat the rest of the apple flesh or at least that everything rots down into moosh before I take another tumble.

7 December Wednesday

The days continue mild.  Ever since the recent spate of frosty frozen bitter days, I feel I have had my warning.  I am now saving and filling water bottles.  Water pipes are not buried very deeply here.  A week of freezing temperatures mean that the outdoor water pipes might well freeze.  Each winter I fill water bottles Just In Case.  Sometimes we never need the bottles of water but sometimes we do and then we are glad to have them.  I fill each bottle as we empty one.  We buy bottled water for drinking.  We do not buy bottled water as a fashion choice. I would prefer not to buy bottled water.  We buy it in big five litre containers.  We use our well water for cooking and making tea and for everything else but for drinking a glass of water we drink bottled water.  We need to have the well tested again.  We probably need to have the well cleaned again. Last time we were told the e coli content of our water was a bit high. We were advised not to drink the water. So as well as filling water bottles to guard against the possibility of frozen pipes I must also buy extra bottles of drinking water to have on hand.  I am not doing too well. I have only 25 litres, three large bottles, stored so far.

6 December Tuesday

A totally gloomy day all day.  The light never changed. At any moment, it might have been dawn or it might have been dusk.  The sky was heavy and grey.  The sky stayed heavy and grey.  Sometimes it rained a little and sometimes it did not rain. In the early afternoon, I took a walk up the boreen and around.  I felt I could not wait any later to walk as it might not be any better later and there was a good chance it might be worse. It was difficult to focus on anything because of the uncertain quality of the light.  It made me feel like there was something wrong with my eyes.  It started to drizzle as I left the house and it kept drizzling all the way around.  It was never proper rain. It was soft. It did not feel like rain. When I reached home I was soaking wet.

A Post Box Named Stanley

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5 December Monday

We pass the little bungalow all the time.  It was flooded inside a few years ago. The damage was extreme because no one was living there at the time. The pipes froze in the cold of winter.  They burst when they thawed and they just kept pumping out water. There was no one there to notice. The bungalow has sat empty ever since. A few months ago some men began to tear it down.   Then work stopped and the place was left standing without doors or windows or roof. After another month or so the bungalow is being worked upon again.  A new house is being built onto the walls and the foundation of what was left.  It is a peculiar looking operation. The house is not any bigger on the ground but it is a little bit taller.  I do not know if the additional height is enough to provide a second floor.

3 December Saturday

When I went down for bottled gas on Thursday I met Tommie Hally in front of the shop. He had walked from his house using a stick. He had just arrived as I was ready to leave. He does not normally walk with a stick. He does not normally walk to the shop either.  I think driving is becoming difficult for him. I admired his sturdy stick.  He said it was made of elm and that was why it was not very straight. He told me that he is not fond of the kind of walking sticks that can be purchased. He prefers this one because he made it for himself some years ago knowing that it was something he might need one day. He was prepared to settle in for a chat.  Indeed that was why he had walked to the shop. He was planning to have a few conversations along the way. We spoke for a few minutes. He reported that Margaret is not at all well. She cannot see and her hip has never stopped being a problem since her fall a few years ago.  He is having a difficult time taking care of her and she will not allow anyone from the outside to come in to help.  I was freezing and he should have been freezing too. It was too cold to be standing and talking outdoors. I told him that I had to go home with the gas bottle so that I could finish making my cake.  I told him I would bring him some of the cake later.  Tommie loves apples and he loves cake.  Today I delivered some slices of cake along with a pot of cream.  He was delighted to have the cake. He did not know that it was not the same cake that I had promised to bring.  We ate all of that first cake before I delivered any.  Simon made a second cake. It was not the same kind of cake but it did have apples in it. Tommie said they would eat it tonight when they returned from 6.30 Mass.

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2 December Friday

Another post box has been retired. The plastic has perished with the weather and with the weight of the stone that I kept inside the box to keep it from blowing away and from the second stone on the top.   Lifting the lid without removing the stone means that the sides of the lid are always getting strained, so then the lid cracks and then I tape up the cracks and then it cracks some more and then finally it is time to give up on that box because one day we go out to get the post and the box has three inches of water in the bottom of it and the post might be floating in the water. If we are lucky the envelopes are resting on the stone and the stone is not yet fully submerged.  Simon got annoyed with the broken box full of water and he went off looking for a new post box. The boxes that we have been using are large storage boxes which people fill and then store under their bed or in the attic or the shed. We receive a lot of awkward parcels so a small postbox is not an option. Simon came home with a fancy toolbox which cost far too much.  He put a weight in the bottom which now takes up half of the not very copious space inside the box.  John the Post is not impressed with the new box.  Neither am I.  I have no doubt this box will be stolen someday soon.  It might even be put into a workman’s van by mistake. The old postbox just looked like plastic box with a rock on top sitting outside near a bush. This one looks like it could be full of expensive tools.  Simon is the only one who likes it.  He is delighted with himself.  He thinks of it as A Post Box Named Stanley.

1 December Thursday

I made a cake.  It is not often that I bake. We had friends coming for tea. We have a lot of apples stored but they are starting to go soft, so I made a Dutch Apple Cake.  We have three kinds of ovens but they are all complicated. None are any good for baking.  My cake took hours to make as I had many many interruptions. As well as several phone calls, Ned came to deliver heating oil.  He cannot deliver oil unless we are at home because he needs to plug the generator on the back of his truck  into our electricity mains. We have to pull an extension lead in through a window to plug it in. Normal oil trucks are too big to drive down the boreen. This system with the electric generator allows us to get oil.  Since someone has to be here whenever Ned comes, he always has a cup of tea and we have a discussion of the world at large.  Today he kept repeating: We have to stop voting for what we are voting for.  After Ned left but before my cake could be finished and lunch could be eaten, the gas bottle ran out.  That meant unhooking it and loading it into the car and taking it to the village to get a replacement bottle.  I had to wait for awhile outside Teddie O’Keefe’s because there was a big lorry blocking the road.  I tried to fill the car with petrol while I was in the village but Seamus had run out of petrol in his pump.  He has one pump for petrol, one for diesel and one for agricultural diesel.  He was waiting for the man to arrive to refill the petrol one. The road on the way home was busy with tractors.  One tractor hit my side mirror because it was so big and it was going so fast and the road was just not wide enough. There were other interruptions both before Ned arrived and after I got the new gas bottle but the cake was finally baked.  It was delicious, but I do not feel I shall be baking again soon.

30 November Wednesday

Everyone exclaims—-The cows are still out!  It has been so unseasonably mild and now it is cold.  For a while it was frosty and freezing, but it continues dry so it is fine for the cows to be out in the fields and not shut up in their winter barns. There is not much grass for them to eat. The fields are all bright green to look at but still there is not much grass for the cows to eat. They mostly get fed on nuts or on hay delivered to their fields by the farmers. The thing being remarked upon again and again is that it is December and the cows are still out.

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29 November Tuesday

I brought in the remaining little chilies off the plant.  I am amazed at how many were left and that they did not seem to suffer in that hard crunchy cold last week.  They are hot and delicious.