The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: July, 2017

Aut Even

30 July Sunday

Aut Even means Beautiful Place in Irish. It is the name of a hospital in Kilkenny. I must go there for my cataract operation on Monday. One eye at a time. First the Right eye. Four weeks later they will do the Left eye. Breda assured me that I will be the youngest person in the waiting room. She said everyone else will be in their eighties. Yesterday at the Farmers Market, Jim, who is in his eighties, told me that when he had his own eyes done last year, the waiting room was full of nuns. There were nuns of all ages. Or all ages from about sixty upwards. He was the only man. He was the only person who was not a nun. Jim asked the doctor about the large number of nuns. He joked that perhaps they were getting a group rate. The doctor said they were all bussed in from a convent. He avoided the question of the group rate.

29 July Saturday

Tom told me that it is considered very unlucky to meet a woman with red hair on the road early in the morning. I asked if it was different to meet a woman with red hair on the road in the middle of the day. Was the luck different then? He did not answer me. He pretended not to hear my question.

28 July Friday

The figs are coming along. We need some long hot days. We need a week of hot days to bring the figs to ripeness. There are so many things not doing well this year. Tommie calls it Things Not Coming Good. I hope the figs are not another disappointment. Today I picked all the black currants. It is a job which was not difficult even with the splint on my arm. It is not difficult but it is slow. It is a slow job even without a splint. I thought it might take me an hour but I spent more than three hours clearing the bushes of every single berry. Then I spent another hour clearing the leaves and stems from my containers. The currants are now bagged up and in the freezer. I forgot to count how many bags I had. It seemed like a lot. Simon is making a black currant pandowdy.

27 July Thursday

Oscar is appearing irregularly these days. He is getting old and no doubt believing that he can keep track of the world as well from his hilltop yard as he can from his sleeping spot in the middle of the road in front of Sharon’s house. Perhaps his hearing is deteriorating. For years it has been impossible to walk the road without him racing out from wherever he was. If I whistled or if I did not whistle he always knew I was passing. He knew when anyone at all was passing. The sound of quiet walking conversation or even the sound of footsteps was enough to let him know.

A Fine Big Lump of a Lad.


13 July Thursday

From a distance there is a blue haze on the grass roof of the shed. The tall blue flowers growing there are not cornflowers. That was my first thought but this is not a flower I recognize. It is not easy to get close enough to see it and with my hand in this splint I cannot safely climb a ladder. Now Rachel tells me that she believes it to be Vipers Bugloss which usually grows at the edges of dry fields. It is not native to Ireland. A dry roof is probably quite similar to a dry field, only smaller.

12 July Wednesday

At 9 o’clock this morning the Fracture Clinic was teeming with people. Each person took a number and waited for the next step. In between things I sat beside an older lady who asked what had happened to me. She admired my flesh-coloured splint, and I admired her own navy blue splint. She said she had been wearing a blue blouse the first day she came in so she thought perhaps they had tried to match it for her. She asked where I lived. She was thrilled when I said Grange but disappointed to realize that we lived at opposite ends of Grange. She is nearly in Cahir and I am nearly Newcastle. She said we might as well be from different counties. She said Grange is nothing but one huge farmland full of fields. She said that we all get Lost in the Landscape. She was sad that there was nowhere in the village to meet anyone except the church or the school or the graveyard. I said “Well, there is Frank’s shop.” She agreed. And she was quiet. She said “ There is not much to buy in Frank’s shop. I can buy bread and a paper in Frank’s shop but it is scarcely worth driving in that direction as I can get those things anywhere, and other things besides.” I left the clinic with a spare flesh-coloured splint and an appointment to return after four more weeks of wearing it. The lady from Grange had left before me. She waved from the stonewall where she was sitting to wait for her lift home. She had been told that she need not wear her splint any longer.

11 July Tuesday

We walked over Joe’s fields this morning. We arrived up at the farm just as the cows were leaving the milking parlour to start their walk back down into the fields. They stopped dead and watched us until we were well out of the way and then they set off down the track. Our timing was perfect but it was perfect only by chance. More cows, another herd, are in the lower meadow. They have been moaning and bellowing for two days. These are Anthony’s cows. I think one cow makes a noise and then the others join in. I wish I knew if it were pleasure or annoyance or need which makes the moaning commence. It is the kind of question I always intend to ask a farmer but then I forget.

10 July Monday

Two women were discussing the son of a neighbour. They had nothing but admiration for the fellow. They spoke of his good manners and his hard work and his prospects. One woman said “Ah yes. He is A Fine Big Lump of a Lad.”

9 July Sunday

The shop installed an ice cream machine. It is popular. Whenever the temperature goes up no one enters the shop without buying a cone. It is that white kind of swirly ice cream that comes out of a nozzle in the machine. It is not scooped ice cream. There is no choice of flavours. There is just ice cream and it is white and in a cone. I understand there are milk shakes available too but I rarely see them. Today I saw two elderly men in their parked car outside the shop giving their cones full and careful attention. It was a muggy hot afternoon. There was not a breeze nor any movement in the air. The men might have been speaking to one another while they licked their ice cream but there was no way to know as they had their windows rolled up tight.

8 July Saturday

There is a muddy little nest just beside the door into my work room. I cannot enter without getting dive-bombed and I get dive-bombed as I exit. I am surprised every time. The swallow, or maybe a sparrow, is never in the nest but she appears the minute I go near. She moves fast. I duck to avoid getting hit. Maybe this is preparation for more babies.

I Call It Lunch.

7 July Friday

I never know if hanging up a dead crow is meant to be a warning to other crows or if it is just a proud show-off moment for the killer of the crow.


6 July Thursday

The small sign advertising HONEY FOR SALE is wrapped up with a black plastic bag and tape. A stone is in the middle to keep the plastic from blowing off. The sign has been there for years. It has two sides and is visible from both directions on the road at Kilnabutler near Cahir. If we forgot to buy honey on the way we were always reminded to get some on the return trip. We often read in the newspapers and hear on the radio about the destruction of the bee population by pesticides and big business. The covering up of this one sign brings the scary news a little closer. We note it as there is less and less honey to be found.

5 July Wednesday

I had never visited the barracks. Kickham Barracks are named after the poet Charles Kickham. Five years ago the Army people moved out and over to Limerick. The barracks have been mostly empty since. The area inside is visible through a fence on one side. A sign on the gate advertised a temporary café serving food for the duration of the festival. We went in and walked around. The buildings were low and white and small and cheaply built. Three of the shabby white buildings had large white letters painted in a window: HEALTH CARE. ANIMAL CARE. CANTEEN. The buildings were all locked up tight. There were no more signs for food, nor for the festival nor for anything else except a threat about parking within the grounds. There was no bunting, no colour, nothing to suggest a week long celebration. It was a bleak walkabout on a hot day. We left and went elsewhere to find something to eat.

4 July Tuesday

The days have been warm and sometimes hot. The days have been warm but the sky has sat heavily upon us. The sky has been oppressive and white or the sky has been gloomy and grey. The sun rarely breaks through until eight or nine at night. We waver between hoping for rain and hoping for blue sky. All conversations return to these two possibilities. I spoke to a man in a shop doorway. I did not know the man but as I was leaving I asked, “Is the sun going to break through today?” He took a big breath in and he said “I am going to tell you Yes.”

3 July Monday

For the first time in fifteen years I have not made elderflower cordial. I feel I have let myself down. It was a combination of not being in the right location when the flowers were in bloom and falling down and smashing my hand. After 3 weeks of what I thought was healing, today I spent 6 hours in the hospital getting x-rays. It turns out that my hand has healed but it has healed incorrectly and it might be that the fracture now needs to be broken so it can heal properly. I will not know anything for certain until next week when I attend a Fracture Clinic. I am not looking forward to a return to the hospital even as an Outpatient. The corridors are full of beds with people in them looking miserable and eating their dinner on trays while their families cluster around them with carrier bags full of useful thing which there is no place to put down and everyone is in the way because the corridors were never meant to have loads of beds in them much less guests so there is a constant clogging up of any and all movement. Everything is on wheels but that does not help as there is no room to maneuver. It has been a depressing day. And the birds have eaten every gooseberry off all four of my bushes.

2 July Sunday

I call it lunch but everyone else calls it dinner. She goes to the garden centre for her dinner most days. It is a popular destination as they do a big roast with two kinds of potatoes and loads of vegetables and gravy and thick slices of buttered bread. There is plenty of parking available. Everyone says that the garden centre dinner is Value For Money. She goes there because lots of other older people go there. She is looking for a man. Her husband died three or four or maybe five years ago and after all her training as a nurse she would rather have someone to live with and to take care of than to live alone and worry about things. When she goes to the garden centre for her dinner, she always dresses up tidy and she wears her wig. She looks perky as she sits and eats and she smiles as she looks around at everyone else eating their own roast dinner. Her theory is that if you have someone at home to cook a good dinner for you then you do not need to come out to the garden centre to eat. She assumes that most of the men eating are either single or widowed. She does not count the two priests who are there most days. She is convinced that at least one of the men who is eating his dinner would rather not be living alone. She just has to locate that one man.

1 July Saturday

Ferns are flapping all along the boreen. As the seasons go along sometimes it is the cow parsley that takes over and sometimes it is long grass and later it will be blackberries and honeysuckle. I have never seen so many ferns. The boreen is wildly overgrown and it looks like nothing but ferns are growing. I can walk down the grass in the middle without anything touching me but if I walk in either of the tyre tracks the ferns are flapping and slapping my face all the way. They are soft.  It is not unpleasant to be flapped at by ferns. I think of ferns as something growing more in damp and shady places. It has been hot and rain-less for ages now. The heavy high arching of the ferns is making its own shade.