The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: August, 2018

The Bottoms

30 August Thursday

I am wrong again. I was certain that the name Haulie was the nickname for a man who moved whatever people needed moved.  He moved things like hay, silage, topsoil or stones with his tractor or his truck. I had no doubt that Haulie’s name came from his occupation. Peter has now informed me that Haulie is a nickname that comes from the Irish name Mícheál. The name is pronounced MEE-HAUL. MEE-HAUL to Haulie a logical development.

29 August Wednesday

It is still August but already the mornings are wet. The evenings are cool and the nights are cold so the mornings are wet with dew. Stepping outside to collect the breakfast raspberries is a different job than it was even a few days ago. Every morning I slip on my Wellington boots and go out with my bowl. Sometimes I take a cup of tea with me. Each time I reach in and underneath the leaves to take a berry my sleeve gets wet. Then the sleeve gets wetter. My dressing gown soaks up the water like a sponge.
I could gather my breakfast fruit in the evening or afternoon. I could collect a bowl of both raspberries and blackberries and they would be dry and I would be dry and breakfast would be a different breakfast.

27 August Monday

The Post Office committee is silent. I had a long talk with John. He explained the path of closures: Tooraneena is to close. Ballymacarbery is to stay open. Newcastle is to close. Ardfinnan is to stay open. Clogheen is to close and Ballyporeen is to stay open. It is a straight but wiggly line. It continues throughout the entire country like this. There are 400 post offices slated for closure. If the postmistress or postmaster retires or dies there is an immediate death sentence for that Post Office. No one is allowed to take over a Post Office. No rescues are considered.The couple in Tooraneena who have been running both the post office and the pub out of their house are now 70 years old. They want to retire. No one in their family wants to take over the job anyway. The village is tiny. No post office in any of these villages means quite a drive for anyone who lives there to get their pension or dog license or to pay their bills or anything else. This is a huge problem for people who do not drive. There is little or no public transportation to accommodate this problem.

26 August Sunday

I have always called the Keatings’ pasture the low meadow or the water meadow because it is the lowest piece of land in our immediate view. It has the stream running along one side of it. In very wet seasons the whole place is soggy because water runs downhill from both sides and it all settles there. Now I am told this is not called a water meadow. Nor is it a low meadow. This kind of field is called The Bottoms.

25 August Saturday

The hedgerows are heavy blackberries. They are full of blackberries and full of honeysuckle. The blackberries do not seem to have slowed down with the lack of water this summer. Long tendrils of brambles reach out and grab at me when I walk or drive by. I spent an hour walking up one side of the boreen and down the other side. I clipped off the long thorny bushes which were the grabbing ones. In between clipping I ate a lot of berries. There are many different kinds. Someone told me that we have 30 different kinds of blackberry variations growing. I do not know if there really are that many but there are a lot. Most of them are plump and sweet. Every so often I eat a desperately sour one by mistake. I was happily picking and eating and clipping when I heard a terrible screech just on the other side of the ditch. One of the scruffy farm cats came bursting through the bushes and smashed into me. She was startled and I was startled. We both made squawking noises at the moment of impact. She took off at speed. I continued picking and eating and clipping my way towards home.

24 August Friday

An elderly couple came into the shop. The girl at the counter ran around the place and collected the things they needed. The woman announced each item one at a time. Both the man and the woman were badly bent over. They both leaned heavily on their sticks. The woman was the worst. Her head was bent down well into her chest and her back was bent over too. Without the help of her stick, she would be unable to stand. She would just fall over. It was difficult to hear her voice because she was sort of talking down into herself. She could not project her voice any better. She said something into her chest and then the man repeated it. He said, “Did you say you wanted The Milk, Mary?” And then he repeated that to the girl at the counter. He said, “Mary wants The Milk so.” The girl ran to collect it. It was taking a long time to get all of the things but the girl was willing and eager to help. She was cheerful the whole while. When they finished with the edible items, the man said that Mary wanted a mop. The girl asked Mary if she wanted the Hairy One or the Spongy One. The man repeated the question to Mary who gave her muffled answer. The man said that Mary wanted the Hairy One. I was ready to leave the shop but I had to wait to see what kind of mop the Hairy One was. It was the old-fashioned kind of mop made of long stringy pieces of white rope. It is the kind of mop that is very heavy when it is wet. It is difficult to squeeze out and it is hard work to use. The white rope turns to grey after the very first use. Hairy was the perfect way to describe it.

23 August Thursday

Last night our Post Office committee met for the first time. I rushed off to the meeting with a pad of yellow paper and three pens (one a green Sharpie for the colour of An Post) and an initial list of nine ideas for publicising the campaign. I had a plastic folder to carry all my things in. I was ready. Simon and I designed a badge and we researched where to get badges produced inexpensively. I had all the information. I could not wait to get going on turning this closure decision around. I came home completely depressed. I could barely speak. Apparently local attitude is very negative and the committee did not feel it worth while to go forward without a meeting with John. The post office is located inside the shop so apparently there is a feeling locally that the family are getting something out of the deal. There is resentment and distrust. I have been told about the Irish problem of begrudging any good fortune of a neighbour. This is a really ugly example. I am stunned. It seems that few care about the Post Office. One committee member said that no one his age uses the post office. He could think of no reason to go to it ever. I wondered why he had volunteered to be on the committee. Suggestions to put things in the newspapers were met with the same kind of dismissal from him. No one who is young reads a newspaper. We know that we need to use social media in all of its forms but no one wants to start anything until we know where we stand with the local opinion. Our petition is printed up in multiple copies and ready to go. No one wants to distribute them nor go door to door with them until we have answers to the questions that we will be asked while asking for signatures. There is also the problem that if you write your name on a petition everyone else will see it and know that you have written your name on that petition.
Ger told us that the 18 September, the day for the Big National Protest March in Dublin against all of the Post Office closings, is exactly when the National Ploughing Competitions will be taking place. Rural Ireland will all be at the Ploughing. They will not be in Dublin marching to save their Post Offices.
I loaned Mairéad a pen to take a few notes. Everyone had their phones on the table in front of them. I was the only one with a pen. That was the least of the problems. I came home depressed. I went to bed depressed. I woke up depressed.

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Dirty Carrots in Kanturk

21 August Tuesday

I went to an emergency meeting in the village hall last night. The meeting was called because the post office in Newcastle is threatened with closure. As is the post office in Clogheen. Hundreds of post offices in small places all over the country are closing down. There are so many closure issues affecting rural villages, not only with the post offices though they are a huge part of life. . An older person going to the post office to collect their pension is bound to meet someone they know in the shop. They might buy milk or they might buy a paper while they are there. They might not buy anything. But they will have a conversation. They cannot go to the post office without having a conversation. And by the time that person gets home they will know the story of the whole town-land. Every one of us needs our post office for all kinds of reasons. We are going to fight this. I am now on the committee.

 

20 August Monday

I have stopped counting raspberries. It was a ridiculous thing to do anyway. It was easy to fall into when there were so few coming ripe. They are coming far too fast for counting now.  Every morning I pick some and every evening I pick more. We eat loads. I put some in the freezer. I take them to neighbours. The figs too are ripening at a rapid rate. They are ripe and unctuous and without doubt the best figs we have ever grown. They are not at all woody. They went from rock hard to squishy and wonderful within a week. There are plenty for the birds and there are plenty for us.

 

19 August Sunday

There is always another Tractor Run. It is a guaranteed way to earn money for a worthy cause. A long slow parade of tractors rolling through narrow lanes is a reliable draw. There are always some men happy to bring out their vintage machinery to show it off and give it a trip out in the air. It does seem an odd time of year for a Tractor Run as the farm workers are all so busy with haying and silage. The roads are already full of slow moving vehicles and machinery. The slow ones are not a problem.  It is the speeding ones that are frightening. This Tractor Run is advertised to benefit a man called Haulie Murphy. I do not know Haulie Murphy, but I like his name. I like names that tell you what job a person does. Whoever Haulie Murphy is, he is obviously someone who moves a lot of things around with his tractor and trailer or with his truck. Larry Doocey could be nicknamed Haulie what with all the runs he does with his small tractor. He delivers gravel and topsoil or whatever else people need. But he is not called Haulie.  He is always Larry Doocey.  No nickname. And never just Larry. He is always and only Larry Doocey For years we assumed that Christy Driver was the actual name of Christy Driver.  Christy was down at the bar every day occupying the exact same corner seat. But Christy Driver’s name was not Driver.  We missed a party celebrating his 60th birthday. We had been invited but because we did not realize that his real name was Christy Cullinan, we did not go. We did not know whose party we had been invited to and so it was easy to forget all about it. Christy Driver is only spoken of as Christy Driver.

 

18 August Saturday

Today is the beginning of Heritage Week. There are activities and tours and free access to buildings and monuments all over the country. There seems to be a lot of storytelling. In Clonmel, they are combining Heritage Week with the 50 year anniversary of STAG. STAG is the South Tipperary Art Group. The idea they came up with for the day is to set up four age groups from young children to adults and a list of locations. Any amateur painter is invited to go out to one of the assigned locations to paint a picture. They are invited to create A Brand New Original Piece Of Art From Scratch In One Day between the hours of 8 am and 5.30. The paintings must be turned into the art centre by 5.30. Winners from each category will be announced next week.

17 August Friday

The fox came running around the corner of the shed. He was moving at speed. I was sitting on the bench with a cup of tea. He saw me at exactly the same moment that I saw him. He skidded in the dirt and gravel and changed direction while he skidded. There was hardly a wasted movement except maybe a little bit while his legs found their place on the ground. He was gone in seconds.

16 August Thursday

I took a full load of stuff to the dump. As I was moving back and forth between the recycling bins and my car, a woman came over to me. She told me that I looked well. I thanked her. I wondered if I knew her. I did not think I knew her.  But I knew that being told I looked well had nothing to do with my health. She was telling me that I looked nice.  She was telling me that I was well presented. She said she herself never knew exactly how to dress for the dump. She said the gathering up of stuff to load into the motorcar was a certain kind of activity as was the unloading. It could get a little messy. If she chose to go into town for some messages after the dump-run she liked to look maybe a bit nicer than she would if she was only going to the dump. She did not like to waste a trip to the dump without going to town too. What with the price of petrol and everything. She liked to look carefully to see what other women were wearing at the dump to help her to decide exactly how to find the balance.

 

15 August Wednesday

The drive back from Kerry was scary. A soft drizzle had come down. It became a fog. It was impossible to see a thing. The road was winding and narrow with steep drop-offs into the sea. There were a few tour buses crawling along full of passengers who could not see a single bit of the Ring of Kerry which is what they had come for. The drive was slow and the drive was difficult.

We reached Kenmare where we planned to have a good lunch to reward ourselves for the terrifying journey. Cars were parked all along the road entering the town. A cattle market was in full swing right in the centre. There were trailers and tractors and cows and bulls and farmers everywhere. There were a lot of tweed jackets and caps and there were a lot of rain jackets. Some sections of the streets were completely closed off. They had been transformed into big holding pens for the cattle. There were deviations added on to deviations. It was not possible to stop the car. There was no where to park anyway. Hundreds of people plus all the animals and everything under a steady downpour. We escaped as best we could which was slow. We ended up in Kanturk which is a good name but the lunch we found was dreary.

There was a man on the corner near the restaurant with a small blue car. Four young children were squeezed into the back of the car. The children were tight in and screaming and making a lot of noise. They might have been happy or they might have been miserable. It was hard to tell. A woman stood quietly near the man. He had three bunches of Dirty Carrots on the bonnet of the car. He was a huge and loud man.  He kept banging the bonnet and shouting that he only had three bunches of his delicious Dirty Carrots left. He shouted that when he sold these last ones he would be able to go home and eat The Dinner. Each time he banged the bonnet more muddy soil fell off the carrots. There was no one about. It was not a busy location. I did not buy any of the carrots. I would have liked to have made a photograph of the man and his family and the carrots but I knew that if I took a photo I would be expressing more interest than I had. The man would certainly have pushed me to buy his carrots. It would have been difficult to refuse. I have marveled before about this love for Dirty Carrots. Somehow the heavy clumps of soil coated on the carrots hold great promise.  The promise is that they will taste better than another carrot which is just carrying a thin easily washable amount of soil.  I have never found this to be so. I find cleaning the Dirty Carrots much more work than they are worth. The sink is always full of mud and stones after the washing. A normal unwashed carrot is fine. A Dirty Carrot is not. When we left the restaurant, the car and the man and the family were gone so I assume somebody else came along and bought the remaining Dirty Carrots.

 

 

Em & me


11 August Saturday

A soft drizzle. The cows are gone from the near field. All day they were out there as a noisy and excitable presence. They were happy to be eating the grass even though it is not as long and green and plentiful as they might like. There was jostling and chasing and bellowing. The entire herd disappeared just before the rain began. Joe rounded them up with his tractor. Their departure was not a long orderly line. They frolicked and raced over the fields until they were out of sight. I think today was a real outing for them. They were a bit silly with it. The rain is a quiet rain. There is just enough sound on the roof for me to know while sitting in here that it is raining out there. It is a comfortable sound. And at least now I know there is no need for buckets and towels and odd shaped containers to catch the rain. The new roof inspires confidence. We are not so far removed from those endless days of drought. The grass roof still looks burned up and terrible. This is not the kind of rain to solve the farmers’ problems but it is pleasant. And it is a kind of relief to be enveloped in an indistinct view. The hills across the valley are reduced to shadowy shapes when seen through the wet.

10 August Friday

The figs are enormous. The figs have never been so big, but the figs are as hard as rocks. Not one fig is ripening. Not one bird is eating the figs. They probably do not want to hurt their beaks. Apples are falling on the ground. They are not fully ripe but they are falling off the trees. There are no plums. We do not have plums and no one else has plums. Wild or otherwise, all plums have suffered from the lack of water this summer. The raspberries are doing alright. Every morning I can pick a handful so we have between 5 and 8 raspberries each for breakfast. I will be happier when there are more than I can be bothered to count. There are plenty more berries ripening but I eat quite a few in the day each time I pass by the bushes. Blackberries are also coming ripe. They do not seem to mind the lack of rain.

9 August Thursday

I have been driving around with a large stone behind the driver’s seat. It was in the boreen and I stopped to move it out of the way. It had a nasty sharp looking edge and it was big enough that I did not want to be driving over it. It looked like the kind of rock that could do damage to a tyre. The place where I stopped was too narrow for me to open the door all the way. I could not get out. All I could do was to open the door a tiny bit and to lower my arm down and grab the stone. I could barely lift it with one hand but I did it and I sort of swung and sort of hefted it into the car behind me. I have been driving it around like a passenger ever since.

8 August Wednesday

Everyone is now required to get a Public Services Card. It is a new card and it will be necessary for many things whenever identification is required. If you want to get one or you do not want to get one, it does not matter. We will all end up with one. I went today and sat in a little booth with a woman behind the glass on her own side. I could stretch my arms out on each side and touch the walls. It was a spacious booth. At one point the woman pressed a button and a hard wall came down behind me. It was also about an arm’s length away. The wall was pale grey. It was not claustrophobic. It was just a rigid screen providing even light for taking my photograph while I staying sitting in the chair. The woman asked me if I was frightened. She told me that I was not really locked in. Then she said: “Well, you are locked in but you are only locked in for a minute or so.  No bother. It is no bother. As long as you are not frightened, it will be no bother. It will all be over soon.”


7 August Tuesday

I am thrilled to have my new book EM & ME here. It is beautiful. I am happy to see it and to hold it. I am happy again and again. I move the copies around the house so that I can be surprised and delighted each time I come across it. I like to pretend that I do not know that the book is in the spot where I find it. I try to startle myself with each next appearance. I pretend that I do not know that I placed it wherever I placed it. I pick the book up to open it and to look forward to reading it as if I have never before read any of it. As if I had not written it. There is plenty of opportunity to discover the book freshly again and again. It is not at all the same as coming around a corner and seeing Em herself again. That is never going to happen. Seeing her on the cover walking down the boreen through the cow parsley is pretty wonderful.


Simon has taken some copies down to the shop so they are available for sale in among the magazines about farming and fishing and knitting. I am sort of shyly pleased to spy it there when I go to buy milk. I look at it from the corner of my eye. I do not really want anyone to see me admiring and leafing through my own book.  I cannot imagine that there is anyone anywhere who does not want or need a copy of this book.

 

For those who cannot get to McCarra’s shop, it is already available at other shops like bookartbookshop in London, Boekie Woekie in Amsterdam, The Glucksman gallery in Cork, The Book Hive in Norwich, as well at other places I am not able to list here. Of course, it is also available directly from the Coracle website:. http://www.coracle.ie/em-me/

 

Fodder Shortage


5 August Sunday

There is much talk of Fodder Shortage. The things that cattle are eating now are the things that they should be eating in the winter. What will they be eating in the winter? Some hay fields are being baled up. I do not think any of whatever is done is can be enough at this late stage. We are not finished hearing the term Fodder Shortage. I think I just like the word Fodder.  Silage Widow is another favorite seasonal expression.

4 August Saturday

Tipp FM announced the winner of last nights lottery as someone from Waterford. Actually, they are not sure that the winner is from Waterford but they know where the winning ticket was sold. The ticket was sold from a shop in Waterford. This makes everyone happy. The radio announcer named the shop and said there was no doubt that having a winning ticket sold right there in that shop for a win of one million euro would provide a great cheering boost to the people of Waterford on this Bank Holiday Weekend.

3 August Friday

Replacing the roof was one thing. Clearing up after two years of leaks was another. Every time a new place flowed with rainwater, we gathered things into boxes or piles and pushed them somewhere just to get them out of the way quickly. Every time a solution came along we assumed it was the final one and that the dripping walls would end. The leaks moved along the seam between the fold where the two roofs joined together. The bathroom leak was a constant and always in the exact same section of wall. Except for the one time when it took over the ceiling and then the water came in everywhere. The kitchen leaks were in several places and they moved back and forth.The most worrying leak was the one that made its way through the fuse box and continued straight down to the floor. The kitchen ceiling flooded too. Both ceilings have big stains which are yet to be fixed. One part of the ceiling was ripped open and closed up again. That place is a large raw plaster area waiting for paint. It has been easy to condition myself not to look up.

In the big room, the three meter long shelves above the cupboard and the six shelves inside the cupboard, also three meters long, will no longer be soaked in the next rain. We cleaned and oiled the shelves.  We cleaned and coated the wall behind them with stain-covering paint. I was amazed at how black even the very bottom shelves were. Water damage is pervasive. The pans and plastic containers and newspapers and towels catching the rain water were never enough. After cleaning and painting, I began collecting the bags and boxes of stuff which had been spread around the house and down into the barn. Things just kept appearing. Books had been lined up on the floor and piled up on other parts of the floor. The trouble with it all was that the books had been rushed away from pouring water. They had not been examined. They had been moved in a state of panic and with great speed. Many cookbooks were completely destroyed. The pages were rippled with moisture and sometimes stuck together. Things had been moved and then they were moved again. There was no sorting.

With this dry weather, I moved chairs and rugs out doors while I struggled to regain order. Flashlights which had been on the shelves inside the cupboard and then moved out of the way were useless. The batteries and innards were full of rust. Some were still wet inside. They are good for nothing. Several old dog collars belonging to Emily had been saved. Why I do not know. They are now mouldy, but how can I throw them away? A dog whistle on a white string that never worked anyway but that someone gave me when Em was first going deaf. It is not water damaged but should I throw it out or shall I just move it somewhere else? Bowls and cups full of silvery lichen gathered on various walks. The big bowl of lavender from last years garden, or maybe from two years ago. Innumerable stones from various beaches. Every single thing in the room and from the shelves and on the windowsills came under scrutiny. Pine cones. Everything is precious. But a clean-up is a clean-up. Everything that I look at in the entire room demands a decision. I am no longer restricting the purge to the shelves that got wet. Usefulness is not always the best way to decide things. Do we need this stone which looks exactly like Prince Charles’ ear?

It has taken all week to get to the end of this indoor work. The roof is finished. The out of doors is cleaned up. The indoors is now cleaned up too.

There are now boxes full of stuff up in the barn. They are ready to take to sell at the Car Boot Sale in Fethard. I shall probably never get around to doing the Car Boot. Maybe Pat Looby wants them to sell at her weekly table.

30 July Monday

It seemed an auspicious way to begin the week. I trapped one of the enormous house spiders in the bathtub. It might have been a Cardinal Spider. Or just a Giant House Spider. I took it outside and a long way from the house. I am certain these spiders come back and crawling up the drain pipe and back in the tub. The spiders are everywhere especially at this time of year. The spiders make lots of cobwebs and the cobwebs get full of sticky dust and I feel the house is always in the process of being taken over. I never see so many spiders nor webs nor so much dust in other houses.

29 July Sunday

I drive past three farms on the way to the village. Only one has the flattened sheep dog. He is at the last farm on the way down. He is at the first farm on the way back. He lies on the road as flat as he can make himself. He sticks out quite far into the single lane road. He is black and white. He thinks he is making himself invisible but he is completely visible on the grey road. He waits until the car is almost beside him and then he rushes out as if he is going to bite the tyres. He never does more than a quick dash and then he gets back in ready position to await his next victim on wheels. He does not want to bite a tyre. He does not want to catch a motorcar. I always slow for him and his almost attack. It is a game we play together. There is so little traffic on the road he does much more anticipating than dashing.

 

27 July Friday

The yearly National Tidy Towns competition is underway. Some places get really busy with their floral displays and presentations. Some towns just ignore the whole thing. This year is proving tough for everyone because it is so hot. Everything is dry. Things like hanging baskets need a designated person with water standing beside them nearly all day long. As a village, Ardfinnan always takes its place in the competition quite seriously. There is a painted boat at a jaunty angle full of flowers on the green. Lambert’s garage has their usual painted tyres mounted on the wall with flowers tumbling out of them.

I am not sure if the painted cart is a new addition or just one I might have missed in recent years. In addition to the floral arrangements the cart has two milk churns, one inside with the foliage and one on the ground beside it. Both of the milk churns are chained to the cart and the one placed inside is full with a cement block and some  rubble just to make sure that the display position stays fixed.